If you’re a fan of animation you’ve probably watched Cartoon Network’s critically acclaimed series, Steven Universe. If you’re really plugged into it you might have noticed Rebecca Sugar, Steven Universe’s creator, posting about a new show that’s coming out titled OK K.O.!: Let’s Be Heroes.
The synopsis of OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes is as follows.
The series follows K.O., an endlessly optimistic kid attempting to level up to be the best he can be in a dynamic universe of friends and challenging foes, including the evil Lord Boxman who is on a quest to destroy Lakewood Plaza, a mall for heroes.
That sounds likes a ton of fun, but will Steven Universe fans find anything to like in it? Show creator (and former supervising director on Steven Universe) Ian Jones-Quartey thinks so. In fact, there’s a lot of overlap between the two shows.
“In Steven Universe, Steven has a favorite toy called G.U.Y.S. Guys Under Your Supervision,” Jones-Quartey explains. “It’s about a bunch of weird different guys that all fight together and stuff. I created that and that’s OK K.O.! If you ever wanted to know what Steven’s favorite show is like, it’s basically this show. It’s a bunch of different guys who are a bunch of cool weird guys. A ninja guy. A fighter guy. An alien guy. That is essentially the show that I made. “
Thankfully OK K.O.!’s cast are defined by more than one word. There’s the main character K.O. who, according to Jones-Quartey, can be compared to Steven in Steven Universe. “(K.O.’s a) loveable main character just trying to do the right thing,” Jones-Quartey says. “He really just wants to be a person who helps people. He’s a very empathetic and caring kid. He really just wants to find his place in the world just like we all do.”
K.O. goes to work at Gar’s Hero Supply and Bodega where they sell superhero supplies and occasionally defend it from super villain attacks. His coworkers include the apathetic Enid and the slacker Radicles (Rad). Enid treats the retail job with a side eye and a heavy helping of exasperation while Rad just uses it as an opportunity to goof off.
These characters are a complete delight to watch on their own but some fans may be wondering if the series will include the kind of diversity Steven Universe has received rave reviews for. Specifically answering if there would be LGBT representation in OK K.O.!, Jones-Quartey simply answered, “Watch, you’ll be delighted.”
Other cast members include K.O.’s mom, Carol, who is a kick butt fighter in her own right, Mr. Gar who harbors a not so secret crush on her, and the villain Lord Boxman who sends robots to attack Lakewood Plaza and ruins friendships simply because, in his own words:
“I hate people enjoying each other. When they don’t hate each other, they don’t buy robots.”
That kind of zany humor runs throughout OK K.O.!, with a villain rolling a pair of dice to determine his stats and Rad creating his own mini soda can soap opera.
(Image courtesy of Ian Jones-Quartey’s twitter.)
The series comedy extends to the fight scenes, which poke a lot of fun at the tropes present in genre action shows like G.I. Joe and Thundercats.
“We have a lot of dorky villains over explaining what’s going to happen. Characters going, ‘oh no, they betrayed us! We’ve gotta revenge ourselves! Let’s get ‘em!’ I just love to have fun with that kind of stuff.”
While the show does feature a heavy action component, Jones-Quartey stresses that fighting is “never the solution to the actual problem of the episode. Fighting is just currency in this action based world. It’s more of a place where fighting might get us there but we have to put our heads together and also be an empathetic person to find a solution.”
That solution is usually hilarious, such as in the episode “You’re Everybody’s Sidekick” where K.O. succeeds in helping people not by beating up robots but instead going through their social media and deducing their personal problems.
A lot of the humor is also amplified by the fast and loose animation, which features the characters over the top reactions. Jones-Quartey is a huge fan of using animation this way and it was actually instilled in him by the creator of Adventure Time, Pendelton Ward.
“(What he) always instilled in me was that people think of a joke as a set up and a punch line. Well that’s not all a joke is. A joke can be the funny way a character sits down in a chair. A joke can be the funny look that someone has on their face.“
He even compares the style to what he had done on Steven Universe,
“What’s more important than the characters being on model is seeing that look on Steven’s face when he turns around after he thinks he just told a really funny joke. It’s more important to show the audience how a character is feeling through the way they look. It’s so much more important in animation because you wouldn’t want to watch an animated show where the characters looked 100% realistic. You could wanna watch that but I don’t know why you would want that. It’s a cartoon!”
Jones-Quartey goes on to explain his crew of “great artists” drawings go directly from their storyboards to the screen and how that helps define the visual look of the series.
“We actually told our animation teams not to fully ink the drawings. They are kind of done with sort of a sketchy pencil line. I just want it to be more approachable. If you’re a kid watching the show you can think in your head, ‘Oh! It’s a drawing! Maybe I could draw this.’ That’s something that’s very important to me. I remember that feeling when I was a kid. I want to make sure the audience gets to have that to.”
As revealed in the OK K.O.! panel at San Diego Comic-Con, Jones-Quartey’s strong vision that the series be seen as being “not real” is reflected in its ending theme. Sung by Rebecca Sugar, it features lyrics about how animation is like magic. It’s super adorable.
Now with all these connections to Steven Universe, many fans have wondered if the series will develop its own deep mythology and storyline. Basically, will OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes get “serious”? Jones-Quartey actually refutes the idea that Steven Universe takes itself super seriously.
“So much about Steven Universe is just based on what’s cool and what’s funny. When I was in the writer’s room anything we talked about was ‘what’s the coolest/funniest way to introduce something?’ What if we did foreshadowing of the whole series in a rap about a cookie? What if when they combined into a homunculus giant woman it was a magician who could spin her torso around? Yes, it’s very seriously done and it’s heartfelt but so much of it is based around comedy. Making people laugh and making people have some fun.”
Jones-Quartey is taking that fun one step further with OK K.O.!, saying its own arching story is a parody of over arching stories.
“The over arching plot is there but it’s just there to be funny. It’s set up for more jokes and humor.”
In summing up why Steven Universe fans should give OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes a shot, Jones-Quartey explains, “If you like that same kind of weirdness and that kind of thing that does anything to get a little laugh or a little bit of thought or introspection from the viewer that’s what I think you’ll get out of the show. A lot of people go to Steven Universe and they really like the dramatic elements but it has a core of just being a silly cartoon. If that’s something you like? I think you’ll like OK K.O.! as well.”
We at Den of Geek agree. If you’d like to see our furthur thoughts on the series, head over to our review of the first six episodes.
OK K.O.!: Let’s Be Heroes launches August 1st, 2017 at 6:30PM.