Picking Lice and Killing Guys in Downtown Japan
Hit-Monkey: Season 1
Marvel has tried, on several occasions, to get a toe-hold into the TV landscape. Where DC hasn't had as much success as Marvel on cinema screens (just look at the relative quality, and success, between the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. and the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.), Marvel hasn't hadn't had as much luck, for years, on the smaller screen (as cheesy as it can be at times, the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming. is still held up as the gold standard for how to do a modern superhero TV-verse). It wasn't until Disney started putting MCU tie-in shows on Disney+ that things started to turn around at all.
Of course, up until Marvel Studios took over the TV projects, all those shows people liked (or didn't like) from Marvel came from a different subsidiary: Marvel Television. While MTV has some success on NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it)., the quality was hit or miss and, eventually, the streaming service pulled the plug on that distant corner of the MCU. A similar setup was supposed to happen on Hulu, with shows like M.O.D.O.K. and Hit-Monkey all building to their own big "Offenders" storyline. That didn't happen, and most of the connecting shows were scrapped, but Hit-Monkey did eventually come out and, you know what? It's kind of a hit.
The concept is both blessedly simple and mind-bogglingly stupid. Ace assassin Bryce Fowler (Jason Sudeikis) goes to Japan to take on a contract, assassinating a potential political rival for Japan's Prime Minister in an upcoming election. Bryce, being really good at what he does, pulls off the hit without a care in the world (getting drunk and partying hard the night before and the performing at peak the day of). He flees the scene, goes to the drop to get his payment, and then gets double-crossed. What's better than hiring someone to kill someone else? Having them do the job and then killing them to save all that money. Bryce, however, survives and kills the men sent to kill him. Badly injured he wanders off into the snowy woods of Japan, seemingly to die after all.
Instead, though, he's found and saved by a pack of intelligent macaque monkeys. They take him to their hot spring and fill him full of herbs (he calls it his "monkey day spa"), and it seems like he'd be ready to head out and kill all that betrayed him... except then he, and all the monkeys (save one) are killed by a hit squad that tracked Bryce down. That one lone monkey left alive, though? He's mad. His whole pack was just killed and he wants payback, so his picks up all of Bryce's gear and heads back to the city to find the people that did him dirty so he can kill them all. And joining him for the ride: the ghost of Bryce there to find his own bit of closure. It's a mis-matched buddy adventure like none other.
So, suffice it to say that Hit-Monkey is a very strange show. That really shouldn't have been in question since this series grew out of the same deal that also gave us M.O.D.O.K., which was itself a very weird show. Where that show, though, played with the concepts o family sitcoms funneled through a bit of Robot Chicken and Marvel, Hit-Monkey has a very different vibe. It's like Archer mashed against an anime with a monkey in the head roll. If the bobcat Babu in Archer had it's own story, in Japan, with Archer tagging along to commentate, that would be Hit-Monkey.
The show comes with two leads, the very Sterling Archer Bryce and the titular Monkey (whose various noises are voiced by Fred Tatasciore). Bryce does all the actual talking (as Monkey doesn't speak English), but what's interesting is that both of them feel like fleshed out, fully realized characters. Bryce is a drunken shit-heel whose life took a wrong turn early on (as we eventually learn in flashbacks late in the season's run). Since then he'd been drugging and drinking himself into stupors with the money he made (and he made a lot of money). He has very little conscience, and doesn't really know how to connect with people, but being stuck with the Monkey on this whirlwind adventure, he finds someone he can related to and even become friends with.
The Monkey, meanwhile, has probably the more complex story. Despite being a simple monkey, Monkey has an internal conflict raging within. The members of his pack were peace-loving, aiding all that needed help. Monkey, though, felt rage, especially at outsiders, and only wanted to fight. This conflict made him something of an outsider even within his own pack. Even after they were killed, though, he struggled with finding a way to balance his desire for justice against what were the tenants of the clan. Finding that balance, and being true to himself, is the main arc for Monkey this first season.
While all of that plays out, meanwhile, comes a lot of swearing, shooting, gore, and violence. For all that Monkey's tribe might have been peace-loving, Monkey is very good at being a hired gun. Over the course of ten episodes he cuts, shoots, and bites a swath through the underbelly of Japanese society. The damage he causes, and the body count he racks up, is higher (probably) than everything seen in the whole of the main MCU. This is a show designed only to run on Hulu despite it bearing the Marvel name and street-cred. Hulu, of course, is the home at this point for all the FX shows including, naturally enough, Archer. I'm sure that's no coincidence.
Thing is, this actually makes Hit-Monkey a perfect adaptation as the original comics (from everything I've seen) are bloody and violent, just like the show. The season has been praised for being a true and faithful adaptation of the original comics, and while I've only glanced at them in passing (I still have yet to really get into Marvel comics) I can see what people are talking about. The show had depth to its characters while still maintaining a gleeful level of violence and offensiveness. Anyone looking for a solid adult cartoon will ind plenty to like in the material on display here.
Artistically this show really works. It's got a blended hand-drawn and CGI-quality to it that does feel jarring at first, especially as it seems like everyone is animated with half-the-frames they need for a TV show (like it's done at 12 frames a second). But that then blends into this weird manga-esque vibe that permeates the show. Before too long the series is playing artistically with the concepts of anime while adding in splashes of comic book goodness, and it all comes together in a tight and well executed artistic style.
I honestly didn't know what I'd be getting into with Hulu's Hit-Monkey. I hadn't read any of the comics before so I went into the show blind. It was Marvel, I had to watch it at least for the site. Coming out of it, though, I have found my new favorite adult cartoon to watch. It's funny, it's silly, it's violent, and it moves at a great clip. It's everything I liked about the early seasons of Archer without all the flabbiness of the later seasons of Archer. Plus it has a violent, sarcastic, awesome monkey. What more do you need in a show?