Thursday, October 3, 2013

THE 99 (2011) REVIEW:

THE 99 (2011) REVIEW:

Narrator: “It is said that the light of one heart can illuminate all the darkness in the world.”

Once in a while Netflix completely surprises me and shows me something that I really like. In this case, it’s the animated superhero show The 99. The 99 is a 26-episode series written by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, that focuses on a group of heroes who are powered by magical gems called Noor stones. Supposedly, there are 99 stones. Each stone grants it’s user different powers. The first one to be found is a paraplegic man with the power to send out pain waves/healing waves from his hands: John Weller.

   The others found all have different abilities and powers, and all have Arabic names given to them once they join the 99. I suspect it has to do with the 99 names of Allah…well, and 99 Noor stones. Of course, I myself am an Agnostic, but I love discussing multiculturalism! As for the superheroes: There is (mainly) Jabbar The Powerful, (Superstrength and invulnerability) Darr The Afflicter (John), Mumita The Destroyer (Superstrength and agility.) Noora, The Light, (Light-based  powers and  empathy.) Jami The Assembler (Super engineer.) Those are the main three from what I see. Although the series plays off of Islam, the show itself is more about universal values of good and evil, and happens all around the world (Hong Kong, St. Louis, Hungary, and Jakarta, to name a few…) just  like the X-men and the mutants.
Dr. Ramzi Razem serves as the mentor (The Professor X, if you will.) of The 99. One thing I liked about the show was how well it depicts in my mind, how people would react to being superheroes. John doesn’t just get on a plane and fly off with them! No! He tells them to get out of his house and go away until his powers go out of control and they chase him down! Although John is a little bitter in the beginning, and generally has a negative view of his chair (Except when The 99 upgrade it into a sort of armored Permobil powerchair!) I tend to think that’s due to his tough-as-nails persona and background, rather than pity.

    In fact, I have to say, for all it’s cheesiness, I really liked The 99’s depiction of John’s disability. He sort of moves extra-consciously…with a click before he moves from his powerchair of course. And although I never realized it…that’s how I move too. I sort of have to think “Okay, turn here; then straight ahead.” but of course it’s all habit. Early episodes have some nice examples of John’s POV, all punctuated with clicks from his chair. Little things like this I notice. I’m always somewhat pleased when I see disability in mainstream superhero media!

     Of course, opposite Ramzi and The 99 is Raghul. Raghul is the Magneto to The 99’s X-men. A nice plot twist occurs when John becomes suspicious of why Ramzi brought them to The 99 Mansion, and gave them codenames. Why do superheroes need secret identities, anyway? (I know, to protect their loved ones.) It turns out that they had been working for Raghul, and the man they were told was Raghul was Ramzi! Nice twist on the secret identity theme. Anyway, Ramzi reasons that since they already have codenames and a secret base, he might as well use them for Good.

     The base of The 99 is in Selville, Spain, on the ruins of a 13th century Islamic library. I like how the show is based in Arabic/Islamic mythology and culture, and explores themes of ethics, social justice, and multiculturalism, in much the same way as X-men does…but just as X-men is not specific to any religion…The 99 has a different cultural/historical setting which adds to the backgrounds of the characters and Good vs. Evil narrative of the show.

Though Islamic culture is important to the show, the religion is never explicitly  discussed. Though I felt like maybe it’s time we have strong Islamic superheroes? I felt like it was a missed opportunity. It’s time we had a serious intercultural dialogue in that respect. If Nightcrawler can discuss Christianity, why not John Weller discuss Islam? Though I really like that the show went for (to me.) something new, to show how people act on cultural values; and for including a bit of disability culture as well.

The only thing I didn’t like about this series was…the animation. Until Beware The Batman proved me wrong, I’ve always kinda thought 3D animation was inherently clunky and awkward…and it’s still pretty bad here. Often, it feels more like a product of the late 90s than modern animation…but the action and themes covered are good, even though animation is lacking! If you’re looking for more disabled superheroes, or just a new show to watch about superheroes, I highly recommend The 99 for its cultural settings, sneaky plot twists, and cool superheroes! I’d rate this 3.5/5 stars, but just for animation issues! Give it a watch! I was pleasantly surprised!


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  2. Pardon if this comes off as random, but I'm happy to see someone who watched and enjoyed The 99 when it was on Netflix. Sadly, it is no longer there, but I really enjoyed watching it when I did, and the animation wasn't a turn-off for me, either.

    Along with John and the original "recruits", my favorite plotline has to go to Higgins/The Red Shroud and his son, who's name I tragically cannot recall. It was another example of the level of tact The 99 had when it came to dealing with sensitive matters, in this case with regards to hardworking parents and kids with developmental issues.

    There's also a comic of the same name, though I never had the pleasure of reading it myself.

    In truth, I would love to be able to watch this show again someday.

  3. Yeah it was a great show for discussing disabilities! I'm sure it's around somewhere. Actually, I'm less harsh on the animation these days since my number one favorite show is RWBY! Which is exclusively 3-D. It's not bad it's definitely unique. But, it would be nice to see something that dealt with the issues the 99 did. Thanks for reading!