With Regular Show officially out of production and Adventure Time in the midst of its final season, the head honchos at Cartoon Network are hoping audiences will tune in to witness the goofy antics of their newest show — OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes.
Featuring an overly optimistic lead and a super powered supporting cast, Let’s Be Heroes is nothing revolutionary, but it’s certainly a series that could grow into something special. If the show looks at all familiar it’s likely because the characters and plot have been floating around the web for the last four years. The original pilot short, dubbed Lakewood Plaza Turbo, was revealed as part of Cartoon Network’s Summer Shorts program in 2013, and went on to become a web series for the channel early last year.
K.O.’s quirky adventures and surroundings are the brainchild of Ian Jones-Quartey, a veteran animator, voice actor, and writer, known for his work on cartoon favorites such as Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Bravest Warriors. Though the animation and many of the character designs have been altered slightly between the release of the pilot and the premiere of the full fledged television series in August, the show still holds true to Jones-Quarty’s well-crafted and over-the-top universe.
The plot of Let’s Be Heroes is a relatively simple one. In a world filled with heroes and villains the titular K.O. strives to uphold justice and help those in need. Only instead of patrolling an entire city, K.O. is confined to Lakewood Plaza Turbo, a strip mall that caters to heroes of all backgrounds. Though only six-to-eleven years-old (a running gag on the show), K.O. works part time at Gar’s Bodega, assisting the customers and learning questionable life lessons from his slacker co-workers.
Across the road from Lakewood Plaza Turbo sits Boxmore, an industrial factory and super store that churns out deadly robots under the watchful eye of Lord Boxman. With a never-ending stream of mechanical menaces infiltrating the plaza, K.O. and his crew are constantly fighting back new models and attempting to thwart Lord Boxman in any way possible.
And while the fight between good and evil is a very apparent overarching theme, the show does a wonderful job of not forcing conflict from only Boxman and company. Everyday problems, like bullying, responsibly, and trying to find your loving mother the perfect gift, are featured just as often as robotic baddies.
When it comes to characters, Let’s Be Heroes has a nearly unbeatable starting roster. K.O.’s upbeat attitude and cluelessness are both very reminiscent of a young Goku from the original Dragon Ball series. It certainly helps that K.O. is voiced at times by Stephanie Nadolny, known for her portrayal of both Goku and Gohan in the English dubs of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z respectively. It wouldn’t be difficult for a character as peppy and ignorant as K.O. to come off as annoying, but there’s something about the pint-sized heroes overall outlook that makes him both endearing and entertaining.
Another key player (and my personal favorite character) is K.O.’s tank-driving, excessively encouraging mother, Carol. She is one bad mamma-jamma. Formally a super hero by the name of Silver Spark, Carol is now a full time fitness instructor who works in the plaza. She is very supportive of K.O. and all his ambitious endeavors, only intervening when she feels he has lost his way. K.O.’s father is nowhere to be seen, and it’s obvious that his identity and background are planned to be an ongoing mystery for fans to theorize about. But until then, let’s all just enjoy Carol.
Inside Gar’s Bodega K.O. is paired with alien dude-bro Radicles (Rad) and laid back ninja warrior Enid. Rad (who bares a striking resemblance to Dragon Ball’s Piccolo) is overconfident and narcissistic, viewing himself as a role model for K.O., whereas Enid is too apathetic to care about much of anything. Both come off as a bit shallow in the personality department, but later episodes have started building up a solid background of interesting tidbits about their past and inner workings.
And then there’s Mr. Gar. One part Mike Haggar and two parts Ron Swanson, Mr. Gar is the beefy, no-nonsense owner of Gar’s Bodega. When he’s not yelling at his employees for goofing off, he can be found pile driving evil robots into the cold hard pavement of the parking lot. Mr. Gar is a legend, and one of the most powerful heroes that resides at the plaza. He only has one true weakness — K.O.’s mother Carol. Their mysterious history is already the fuel of much fan speculation, but all we know is that Mr. Gar and Carol used to fight side-by-side as members of the super hero team P.O.I.N.T.
On the evil side of things we have the aforementioned Lord Boxman, main villain and cooperate leader. Channeling Sonic’s Dr. Robotnik, the bumbling bad guy trope is at its worst when Lord Boxman is on screen. Boxman’s nefarious robot children, who sport surprisingly normal names like Darrell, Shannon, and Jethro, all seem to outshine him on screen. He has his moments, but Lord Boxman is the only regularly occurring character that seems to outstay his welcome in a matter of minutes. Even from a character design standpoint, Lord Boxman is very off putting with his chunky body, chicken leg arm, and cybernetic eye. The heroic cast of Let’s Be Heroes hate Lord Boxman, and many viewers may find his disgruntled screeching and aloof personality to be the most unappealing aspect of many early episodes.
When it comes to influence, Let’s Be Heroes is riddled with nerd culture references and homages. Recognizable parodies and slight nods to some of the most prolific video games, anime, comics, and classic cartoons can be found in every aspect of the show. Special moves and power ups are just part of everyday life in K.O.’s world. Crafty blue hedgehogs walk the streets, a real magic skeleton sell frames from his shop, and android foes pose with flair before attack. It’s a fantastic mashup of all things science fiction and fantasy.
One of the greatest testaments to Jones-Quarty’s nerdy genius is the inclusion of Pow Cards. Reminiscent of both collectable sports cards and trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic the Gathering, Pow Cards feature the portraits of different heroes and villains along with their current stats. The cards, which K.O. collects, are actually small screens that relay real-time representations of power levels, fear resistance, agility, and more. Anyone and everyone can have a Pow Card, even a level 0.01 scrub like K.O.
Let’s Be Heroes looks and flows like a cartoon out of the late ‘90s. A fact that can be viewed as both a strength and weakness. The simple and overly expressive characters, coupled with classic cartoon sound effects, and sweeping action sequences harken back to the days of Dexter’s Lab and The Powerpuff Girls. There are times when the animation can look jarringly crude and outdated, but this astatic is part of what makes the overall package so undeniably charming.
The vibe of Let’s Be Heroes is wacky and weird in the same vein as early seasons of Adventure Time. Talented voice actors like Ashley Burch (Life is Strange, Horizon Zero Dawn), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Goof Troop) and David Herman (Office Space, Bob’s Burgers) bring an alluring energy to their respective characters. It’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. One that embraces stupid humor and somehow manages to pair it perfectly with over-the-top action and heartfelt storylines.
It’s not hard to imagine Let’s Be Heroes eventually garnering the same kind of dedicated fanbase that shows like Steven Universe and Gravity Falls have managed to amass in recent years. In its current state the show’s characters and universe as a whole have a lot of room to grow. With many modern cartoons diving deeper into the mythos and meaning of their source material, it will be interesting to see what direction Jones-Quarty and his team decided to take the show in future seasons.
For now, viewers should give OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes a chance. It certainly has its flaws, but fans of animation and silly humor alike will find plenty to love in Cartoon Network’s newest series. It’s more than OK, it’s pretty darn good.