Oct 032012

I kept up with the first season of Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated for the most part. I didn’t quite catch every episode, but I saw enough to get a feel for the thing. I liked it. It wasn’t quite on the level of other American shows I like, such as Adventure Time or Venture Bros, but it captured all the stuff that made Scooby a good kid’s cartoon to begin with.

I didn’t realize there was a second season until I was flipping channels during the afternoon this past week and saw an episode I didn’t recognize. I went to check up on it on Wikipedia. Turned out said episode was a first season one I missed, but then I noticed that there were listings for second season episodes. I didn’t even realize there was a second season.

So I tracked down the second season episodes that have already aired and plowed through most of them this weekend. Damn, this is some good stuff.

The gist behind the latest iteration of Scooby Doo is that it has an actual ongoing storyline. Each episode is self-contained, but there’s a larger mystery afoot that interlinks many of these single episode monster of the week mysteries. Not every mystery ties into the greater one, but there’s almost always some tidbit in each episode that helps elaborate the bigger picture.

This larger mystery deals with the actions of a similar group of detective kids who operated in the same city in the past. Scooby and the kids come across the same mystery that apparently led to this prior group’s disappearance. The old gang came across these puzzle pieces that will tell the location of some mystical treasure hidden away by the Conquistadors who founded their city several hundred years ago. Said mystery starts off pretty tame– lost Spanish treasure and such– but recent episodes have upped that ante and have tossed in apocalyptic undertones to this artifact. Hell, a couple of characters have tied it into Nibiru. The actual Nibiru thing described by Zacharia Sitchin. Velma pretty much reads the Wikipedia description in one of the later episodes. This thing is getting downright Coast to Coastian.

So there’s this underlying story that has persisted through both seasons. At the same time you get bonafide character development.

Yeah, gasp and stuff.

When I first heard about this I was kinda weary. I heard claims that they were gonna interject romance into Scooby Doo. Yeah, everyone’s joked about Fred and Daphne sneaking off to get it, and we’ve heard plenty of “Velma’s a lesbian” jokes, but that’s just it– the very idea of romance in Scooby Doo is firmly planted in snarky pop culture jokes. Turns out they actually do a decent job with it.

Fred and Daphne are an item. Or at least Daphne wants them to be such. She’s head over heels for him, and she isn’t coy about it. As for Fred? The dude’s bonkers. Whacked out. He’s completely obsessed with traps. The physical “I’m gonna snare you in a net and hit you with a piano” sort of traps. In the Scooby Doo universe, traps are a thing. You can subscribe to magazines detailing them. People become famous for rigging these devices. It makes sense given the way the world works. While the supernatural isn’t really a thing, the imitation of such to basically commit domestic terrorism is a thing. While Crystal Cove seems to be the hotbed for this sort of activity, you get the feeling that this is normal for this universe, and the series is aware of that. Therefore, while people find Fred’s obsession with traps to be odd, it’s odd in the same way your typical uptight sort would look at a role player or comic nerd. Fred’s a trap otaku.

So Fred isn’t exactly aware of Daphne’s feelings, at least on the surface. The dude clearly likes her, but he’s so preoccupied with his obsession that he’s oblivious to Daphne’s forwardness. The catch is that he slowly becomes aware of how much he likes her, and once it finally dawns on him he’s able to propose to her. Then, in an appropriately soap opera-like moment, Fred discovers his parents aren’t his real parents, breaks off said engagement, breaks Daphne’s heart, and runs off to find his real parents. Once Fred comes back in the second season, he spends it trying to get Daphne back, and she isn’t too willing. There’s also the fact that Fred starts acting more like a stalker than someone trying to win over a girl he likes. Things go from there, and yeah, you basically have your typical romantic subplot that you’d expect in some high school romance anime, but not in Scooby Doo.

Shaggy and Velma even have a short-lived thing that gets the axe when Velma realizes Shaggy’s way too immature. Then again, she does give him a rather awkward ultimatum: it’s either her or Scooby. Not that she wants Shaggy to send Scooby to the pound or anything, but she does lay that down, and Shaggy chooses his strange little friendship with his dog.

The thing that really drew me into the series is the way it’s keenly aware of Scooby Doo’s history and the history of Hanna Barbara’s “detective” shows.

The first season had an episode where Scooby has a fever dream that involves a bunch of other HB characters. He’s at a detective award ceremony, and the other recipients are Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman, Jabberjaw, and Funky Phantom. Pretty awesome lineup, save for Funky Phantom. Fuck you, Funky Phantom. It turns into a bit where all those sidekicks have to band together and save their respective crews from a monster of the week. It’s a pretty cute episode that acknowledges HB’s fetish for these sorts of teams.

But the second season takes this to a whole new level. The very concept of “four kids and a mascot” becomes something of a plot point. While the first season mentioned a previous Mystery Incorporated that disappeared in the past investigating the same Nibiru mystery, the second season reveals that such groups are practically a universal constant in this world. The gang ends up in a mansion straight out of The Shining, and they find out that the mansion was owned by the Fred equivalent of another group of detectives from the 1800s with a steampunk look about them who had a pet orangutan. Turns out that this guy had been investigating similar groups from the past, and we see pictures of a masked Spanish bandit group with a pet skunk (also wearing a Zorro mask), a group of Catholic monks with a pet donkey, and a group of cowgirls with a pet bull. All of these groups are tied into this Nibiru scheme, as if the universe demands that a four-kids-and-an-animal gang be at the focal point of this cosmic event.

Between this and guest appearances by other HB characters (Moby Dick, Johnny Quest, and Blue Falcon all get referenced at various times.), Mystery Inc has developed a similar vibe to the likes of Giant Robo and Shin Mazinger Z. Those series pulled from their respective creator’s oeuvres to create a series that wasn’t just an homage to the original creation, but an homage to an entire feeling.

Mystery Inc is the Giant Robo of Hanna Barbara detective shows. It isn’t just the latest Scooby Doo show, it’s playing off of that feeling I got growing up and watching shit like Josie and the Pussycats, Clue Club (God damn is the Clue Club theme awesome.), Jabberjaw, and all that stuff. Kinda like how some guys in Japan grew up reading Go Nagai’s shit, I spent the 80s watching Saturday Morning Cartoons and reruns on Cartoon Express. The same can probably be said about the peeps making Mystery Inc, and they’ve taken that childhood knowledge and turned it into something that captures that vibe while also being totally new and accessible to new viewers.

It’s great stuff, man.

Also: There’s an episode that’s all about H.P. Lovecraft. Yeah.

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