As future adults of the glade, I’m sure you’re aware that as you grow older, your physical appearance will change. Maybe you’ll get taller, or prettier, or more muscular. Some of these changes will happen on their own, and some will be the results of your actions. This is one of those areas where you think fiction would deviate from reality, as you can’t have your characters grow old and die, or else it suddenly becomes much harder to get money out of their franchise. But that’s actually not the case at all. If the writers feel they can use it to tell a good story (or the executives and the boys at marketing think it will draw in a big audience), characters can change. Batman’s many costume changes through his 70-year history have been well-documented, with the characters costume changing with the tone people were trying to tell. When people want a darker, more serious Batman, the costume is usually grey and black. Lighter incarnations of Batman tend to turn the cape and cowl to blue.
The character designs of Alien Force and Ultimate Alien aren’t really as good as compared to Ben 10. Now, you expect people to look different after a five-year timeskip, and that’s fair. But some characters look very different. One of the most extreme examples can be found in the main trio: Ben, Gwen, and Kevin. Here they are as teenagers:
And here they are as kids:
Ben and Kevin look like teenaged versions of themselves. Gwen, however, looks like a completely different person. Now like I said, people change as they grow older. And while it’s a gradual change, it happens much more quickly in adolescence. And girls, who use make-up and traditionally work a lot more on their appearance than boys, don’t tend to look the same in public as they do at the beginning of the day. People can choose to grow out their hair, and hair color can change rapidly (or hair can be dyed). I had a friend in high school who went from being a normal blonde to a dirty blonde in just a couple of years. Facial structure can change as well, and every female character in the show has lips. But in spite of all of this, something feels off. A lot of the ways Gwen’s changed can happen in reality, but she really doesn’t look like the same character at all. Especially when you consider how she’s supposed to look as an adult, it just seems wrong.
I’ve also gone on before about how Vilgax’s character design was changed from something unique and imposing to something generic and boring. Another weird design choice was to get rid of Grandpa Max’s trademark Hawaiian shirt in the later seasons. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that unlike the other characters, Max, already an old man, didn’t change physically at all, and without the shirt, his character design is really bland.
But those kinds of details are just part of the equation. The other part is art style. Now we’re taught when we’re younger not to judge things by the surface. They say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, or “don’t knock it until you try it”. But that’s bullshit for a number of reasons I’ll get into in another post somewhere down the line. For now, let’s just say that art style is very important. If I don’t like the way something looks, I’m probably going to be bothered by it the whole time I’m watching it. This is the reason I’m not currently reading Justice League Dark, even though Deadman, one of my favorite heroes, is a member of it.
I don’t know if it’s the coloring or what, but something about this image just turns me off.
However, it becomes something even bigger in animation. Watching a cartoon is not like reading a comic. It’s not just that the show has to look good, it’s that it has to look good in motion. I scoffed at the first promotional image I saw for Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but was completely surprised by how nice the art looked once it was in motion. But in Ben 10, the transition to Alien Force is a little different.
The art style in Alien Force isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as in the original series. One complaint I’ve heard is that the alien designs aren’t as imaginative, but I don’t think that’s true. Going on the details alone, I’d argue that aliens like Brainstorm, Chromastone, and Water Hazard were actually pretty cool. I think the real problem is the art style. Put simply, Alien Force and Ultimate Alien’s artwork is a bit more cartoony than the original series, and it suffers for it. It’s kind of hard to tell when you look at the human characters, until you look at Grandpa Max. There’s definitely something that looks a little off compared to the original series. It’s almost like an uncanny valley within the Ben 10 franchise. It almost perfectly resembles Grandpa Max, but there’s just something weird about it that makes it off-putting.
It’s even worse when you look at aliens that return from the first series. Here’s Diamondhead as seen in the original:
And here he is as seen in Ultimate Alien:
Again, there’s just something off. It feels like they had a tighter animation budget or something. I honestly just don’t know. But hey, I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson. It’s not like the art will get any worse in the next series, right?
What the fuck!?