Space royalty, giant robots, alien teens going to high school...these are all standard trappings of science fiction television. But previous shows that mined these scifi conventions lack one big thing that Sym-Bionic Titan has: the animated panache of Genndy Tartakovsky.
Tartakovsky, who's been roundly praised for creating Samurai Jack and his work on the 2003 Star Wars: Clone Wars miniseries, brings his trademark solid colors, zippy humor, and gargantuan monsters for a satisfying Western take on the tokusatsu genre. The pilot episode of Sym-Bionic Titan ("Escape To Sherman High") keeps the exposition quick and light — this is a good thing, as it leaves plenty of time for frenetic robot fight sequences.
Sym-Bionic Titan's story should be familiar to scifi fans. A trio of refugees from the planet Galaluna — Princess Ilana, Corporal Lance, and their robot Octus — crash in Sherman, Illinois and attempt to blend in at Sherman High. Ilana and Lance pose as siblings while Octus disguises himself as Newton, a Buick-sized alpha nerd. The Galaluns have a tenuous grasp of Earth customs, and their technology far eclipses that of their gibbering homo sapien classmates. Despite their politeness and message of peace and goodwill, Octus and Ilana are dubbed "doofuses." Lance is less interested in assimilation and beats the crud out of some jocks. Paradoxically, his martial fervor gains him the respect of his classmates. High school is sooo barbaric.
The show also sets up a number of plot lines for future episodes. We meet the enigmatic General Modula, who's unaware of the trio's whereabouts and has Ilana's father hostage on Galaluna. Modula was once the king's friend, but now he's conquered Galaluna using a species of beasts known as the Mutraddi. On Earth, we have a potential antagonist in the form of Solomon, the leader of the Galactic Guardian Group, Earth's shadowy defenders against alien threats. So far, the Earth military treats the Galalunans and the Mutraddi monsters who are pursuing them with equal distrust.
Of course, this pan-galactic pandemonium makes for some fancy kaiju fighting, which is Sym-Bionic Titan's selling point. The eponymous Titan is the combination of Lance and Illana's fancy alien armors and Octus' permeable cybernetic body. The Galalunans become the Titan unexpectedly when a Mutraddi lava monster drops by Earth to look for the Princess. The robot transformations and armor battles are seamless — it's like seeing Tartakovsky's previsualizations on Iron Man 2 realized as a cartoon.
All in all, Sym-Bionic Titan is a boon to scifi TV. The pilot may be primarily set-up, but the fight sequences are stylish and there are enough loose ends to keep viewers interested. Tartakovsky's work's been rock-solid in the past, and Sym-Bionic Titan looks to be a welcome addition to his oeuvre.
Sym-Bionic Titan airs on Fridays at 8:00 PM on Cartoon Network.