Posts Tagged ‘Bakugan’

I hope you’re still with me as I continue my trip back in time, following some of the connections that have made contemporary fandom what it is. We’ve walked backward from Yu-Gi-Oh! to Magic: the Gathering to Dungeons and Dragons, and how each of these would not have been created without the one before it. There’s just one more stop on our journey.

Lord of the Rings was written as a single massive epic, but printed as three volumes between 1954 and 1955. Author J.R.R. Tolkein is sometimes dismissed as a bookish Oxford scholar, but his work was visionary. It won an International Fantasy Award in 1957. That hardly begins to describe its impact.

With paperback publication in the 1960s, the series became much more affordable. It swept college campuses all over the world. The humble Hobbits were seen as counter-culture protesters against forces of industrialization. (This was also the era of Rachel Carson and the first modern action against air and water pollution.)

When I first read them, in the early 1970s, the books were like the Harry Potter series. Smart kids read them, because you had to be smart to understand Tolkein’s vocabulary and follow the multi-threaded plot.

All of us had grown up reading fairy tales and legends such as the Norse mythology Tolkein loved. What electrified aspiring writers was the idea that we didn’t have to be content with the dusty tales of dead cultures. We could write our own! Not only that, Lord of the Rings introduced us to an incredible world with several cultures and a complicated history between them. This is world-building, a bedrock of fantasy today. It’s Tolkein’s great gift to the genre.

Previously, fantasy had been just a niche genre published in a few SF and men’s adventure magazines. Even those were withering. With Tolkein’s success, the genre exploded. First with a score of imitators, some better executed than others, but since about 1980 with more and more work that stands on its own merits.

Tolkein’s ground-breaking innovation led to a host of other ground-breaking innovations. Without Tolkein, we wouldn’t have D&D. We wouldn’t have video games like Skyrim or Assassin’s Creed. We wouldn’t have Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bakugan. Game of Thrones wouldn’t be on TV. Lots of us wouldn’t even have a genre to write in.

All these things we take for granted. We forget there was a time when they didn’t exist. What would our lives be, as writers, as fans, without Lord of the Rings? This is what I tell people who don’t get the problem with film-makers massively changing Tolkein’s story in The Hobbit.

We owe Tolkein, big time.

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Here I am, fresh from watching a batch of Bakugan episodes and ready to tell you about the dragons!

The setup is that the dimension of Vestroia exists alongside Earth and is inhabited by creatures known as Bakugan. A beam of light came down from nowhere and granted special powers and spiritual properties to all but a few of the Bakugan. Depending on their powers, they divided themselves into six kingdoms: Pyrus (fire and strength), Subterra (earth and toughness), Haos (light and wisdom), Darkus (darkness and lust for power), Aquos (water and cleverness), and Ventus (wind and speed).

Alas, a civil war broke out, which was ended by the sacrifice of several heroic Bakugan, “The Six Legendary Soldiers of Vestroia.” All evil and negative energy became condensed into the Silent Core, while all good and positive energy formed the Infinity Core. With these two cores in balance, Vestroia maintained its integrity.

Until… Somehow, Earth and Vestroia collided. Some Bakugan were shunted onto Earth, where they took the form of the familiar plastic critters and cards. Not knowing their “toys” were sentient beings, the Earth kids who found the cards made up a game to play with them. This allowed even more Bakugan access to Earth. The story, unfolding over the course of several seasons, tells how benevolent Bakugan convince humans to help them fight off the power bid of an evil Bakugan and the humans he has corrupted.

As I mentioned, the Dragonoids are key players in all this. They are Drago, Naga and Wavern. Naga and Wavern are brother and sister, rare White Bakugan not aligned with any particular kingdom. This made them outcasts (although not so much that Wavern and Drago couldn’t enjoy a deep and faithful love). Naga was bitter and craved control of both the Silent and Infinity Cores; Drago, the king of Pyrus, tried to stop Naga, but failed. Naga wasn’t able to control both cores, but became bonded with the Silent Core. In reaction, the Infinity Core bonded with Wavern.

Drago, stuck on Earth, is initially very proud and angry. He’s found by the feckless Dan Kuso, a teen Bakugan player who boasts about Drago’s power and has a habit of challenging players he knows nothing about. Over time, Drago and Dan develop a close friendship, and Drago reveals his true self: a great leader and knight of virtue who fights for peace and is willing to sacrifice himself for the greatest good. Drago becomes Dan’s conscience and moral guide. He appears in the anime as a huge, red and gold, humanoid dragon.

Naga, by contrast, is selfish and power-hungry. He finds several human partners, who he either deceives or dominates. His powers, when he has them, tend toward Darkus. Much of the action in the first season revolves around his efforts to find and control the Infinity Core. Naga appears as a huge, skeletal, dragon (not a humanoid).

Wavern, sister of Naga, was fused with the Infinity Core and ended up on Earth. She forged a bond with Joe Brown, one of Dan Kuso’s friends, and sent him mental visions warning of Naga’s evil intentions. Like Drago, Wavern is a good and pure soul. Her powers, when she has them, tend toward Haos. Ultimately, Wavern sacrifices herself to give Drago power to defeat Naga, but she continues to appear through the next three seasons in memories and visions that encourage Drago when things look bad. Wavern appears as a huge, white and lavender, dragon (neither humanoid nor skeletal).

Having seen these episodes, I can see why the series never reached the stature of its rivals, Pokémon and Yugi-Oh. The storytelling felt formulaic, and the characters are all very stereotyped. I know, I’m a really demanding viewer, and I’m also way above the reading level of the intended audience for Bakugan.

I give the creators props for making the dragons important characters, rather than just pets. Still, the show struck me as really flat in contrast to shows like Yugi-Oh, where they took time to build the character conflicts and relationships.

These shows are best for the twelve and under set, and may try the patience of adult viewers.

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Last week I wrote about Lego dragons built of plastic bricks, and that got me thinking about other forms of game and toy dragons in mass media. One of the biggest recent conglomerations has been Bakugan. I say conglomerations because there are anime, manga, toys, cards, and more about Bakugan.

The series began as competition to the enormously popular Pokémon video, card game, anime, manga, etc. conglomeration at the turn of the 21st Century. The first Bakugan products were released in Japan around 2007, where they were considered a flop. However, the line caught on in North America. US and Canadian audiences really took to the toy/card game and animated shows.

I first became aware of Bakugan when I was a school staffer. The toys are small, plastic creatures that compress into a sphere about the size of a walnut. Our school didn’t allow toys, because they distract from learning, but Bakugan easily fit into pockets and I was taking them to the office quite often.

Along with the plastic creatures are playing cards. “Gate cards” contain magnetic strips. When you roll the plastic toys over the cards, it causes them to pop open and, the tale goes, absorb the powers of that Gate. You can also play non-magnetic “ability” cards on your creatures, or play trap cards to handicap your opponent. Add it all up, and the highest total wins.

Sounds like fun, but are there any dragons? You bet! Dragonoids are one of the most popular types in game play, and in the anime one of the main Bakugan is a Pyrus Dragonoid called Drago.

Now, I must confess, I have some homework to do. I need to watch a few episodes of the show before I can write any more. So in a few days I hope to be talking more about Drago and his fellow Bakugan.

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