Visser, K.A. Applegate (Animorphs series)
Edriss' encounters with television, human warfare, and her first invasion of a human brain were all fast-paced, fascinating, and pretty funny. Everywhere else the story is drags. Awkward dialogue, unbelievable characterization, and constant stupidity make the author's lack of effort plain. Earlier books are contradicted and Edriss makes a phone call on the toilet while on trial for treason. -Himeko Inaba
Animorphs, a mostly obscure series from the late 90's and early 00's, is an absolutely wonderful series that doesn't deserve to die. Since everyone else has, I'll list the positive points and negative points. Let's start with the negative:
- The ten books or so leading up to the final arc were consistently badly written with stupid filler plots and little character development.
- The ghostwritten period made the books much more hit or miss; there were some really good ones, but most of the worst also come from that era.
- The overarching plot was obviously unplanned, only gaining speed in the final ten books or so, and the fillers in between were mostly boring. Also, the fillers were too frequent; almost half of the books in the series could've been removed without anything really missing.
- There were often huge lapses in logic to serve the plot, meaning that you needed large suspension of disbelief in almost any given book.
- The cast of characters is one of the strongest I've ever seen anywhere, let alone a kids series; every one of the main characters feels acutely like a real person, and they grew realistically throughout the series.
- The tone was shockingly dark a lot of the time, and the more successful books were quite intense.
- The overarching plot doesn't come up much, but when it does, it's well worth the wait in terms of unpredictability and suspense.
- More tropes were deconstructed than I've seen in anything else anywhere.
- The prose was almost always strong, if not usually special.
- Even when the plots were stupid, the pacing was always fast and engaging.
- The books managed to be gender-neutral in an era where nothing for kids was gender neutral. It also had exceptional gender politics.
- The final arc was very well planned and suspenseful.
- There's moral ambiguity to the whole thing, the likes of which I've never seen in any other kids series.
- The ending to the series was beautifully realistic and tender; I was bawling afterwords. It also completely changed my opinion on wars and their necessity, in a way that nothing else has.
- It was clear that diversity was important to Applegate, which is important in a kids novel.
Somehow Better Than When I Was a Kid
I'm 25 and read the series again. Shush. Was bulleted list, format disallowed. Good: Catching all the "What do you mean, this is for kids" moments (gore, G-rated mention of drugs, gore, character emotions, gore). More character development than one would expect in a series aimed at kids with supposedly-lower literary standards. Surprisingly realistic (considering limitations of the narrators) discussions of "What do we do with [insert weighty topic]?" It is my opinion that a book series which has the exact same meaning to an adult as it did to the child was either very literal (think factual presentations, instruction manuals) or lacked depth (intentional or not). Animorphs overall (not commenting on specific books) avoids this. Flanderization. It seems realistic that under the circumstances, the personality traits that help an individual cope (Rachel's violence, Marco's humor, Cassie's morals, Tobias' isolationism) would become exaggerated vs. starting point over time. Things that stretch Suspension of Disbelief are usually handled without too many "Ass Pulls." This is not universal to every book! Bad: Suffers from "Star Trek Voyager Syndrome"—or, that in my opinion, the Status Quo is God, except when there's a story arc (20-22 for example). Extension of previous: stock plots (kids find enemy doing Some Bad Thing, kids try to scope out that Bad Thing, may have extraction issues, then GIANT BATTLE, Bad Thing is stopped). That said, there is some variety in how each situation is presented. Varying quality/author-on-board comes with the territory (ghostwriters). Yeah, the used car has some dents, stains on the seats, etc. but you buy it and accept it with those known flaws. What's the opposite of Chekov's Armory? 'Cause sometimes it breaks the Suspension of Disbelief when characters blatantly forget things which were important in previous books... Holy loose ends Batman! So many hanging threads that could have been used to develop interesting stories! Again, ghostwriters and being a relatively long series, but there's still a tendency to point out "What If?" Absolute biggest criticism: The repetition, annoying-level Flanderization (Cassie...), author-on-board, etc. is excused (we keep reading) by appealing to our action-junky, combat sadomasochist, gore-hound inner (Mean) Rachel. Kid or adult.
Read it!... If You Have Patience And Dedication
I'll keep this review simple. Pros — Holy Deconstruction Batman: Everything in the series is deconstructed. If the series had a different author it might've been a lighthearted monster-of-the-week type romp. But as it is it's a gritty, very realistic, and often brutal take on many popular tropes. No victory is unambiguous. — Cool premise: Turn into animals, fight aliens! — Believable and deep character growth: The characters start out as kids and by the end of the series they've all matured and changed in perfectly natural ways. It's a real (sadistic?) pleasure to see how the war affects them over time. — Sci-fi: This is a huge world with many cool alien races and cool techno gadgets. A plus for sci-fi lovers. — Many points of view: The book cycles between the six Animorphs as narrators which is good for keeping things fresh. The 'Chronicles' books give you even more (nonhuman) points of view. Cons — Repetetive: The books are very formulaic. Usually goes something like this: Kids are doing something mundane (or finishing up a mission) - Inciting incident - Morph bugs to investigate - Suicidal mission - Lose limbs - Narrow and ambiguous victory or loss - Lament over lost innocence. The repetition wouldn't be so bad if the series weren't SO LONG. 58 books (including 'Chronicles') Often I'd be put off of reading the next one because it's a safe bet that it would follow the same formula. Now don't get me wrong some books with this formula are still intriguing and great. And the ones that break the formula are really great. But overall you'll probably find yourself thinking "Oh here's Erek with the plot." This is why I think patience and dedication are necessary for this series. Some books are really great, but you'll need to be able to stick through the more repetitive books. Minor cons — TSSEEEWWW: Maybe it's just me but the ubiquity of onomatopoeia like these got to be annoying. — The humor: It's either hilarious, and I mean hilarious, or flat and cringe worthy. — Continuity errors: These are understandable in such a huge series but the occasional logical or continuity errors can be a bit jarring. Overall I recommend it if for nothing else than the brutal deconstruction of so many tropes. Great characters, interesting story, mature issues. Just beware repetition is rampant.
Doesn’t hold up as well as some claim, but not bad.
First what doesn’t work: The whole science-fantasy aspect of the plot rarely rings true. A lot of the scenes involving aliens, battles with aliens, alien technology and other worlds never quite invoke the wonder/terror/authenticity that they should. Instead, what these scenes evoke is the voice of a ten year old boy exclaiming over and over “ISN’T THIS JUST AWESOME!”. No doubt it works for the target audience (it did for me when I first read the series), but now I’m older I find it all a bit too silly. A severe case of mood whiplash. KA Applegate and the other writers of the series seem to have difficulty balancing the darker aspects of the series with the silliness of the sci-fantasy elements. Interesting idea’s not executed as well as they could be. This tends to happen a lot when the series goes dark. One novel involves the Animorphs deciding to allow a serial killer live, because he kills Yeerk controlled humans. The decision itself is well done, but the Animorphs never have to live with the consequences of it. None of the Animorphs reflect back on this decision in subsequent novels and the character never appears again. The rampant abuse of wacky sound effects during action scenes. About 80% of the series attempts at humour fall flat. The large number of filler novels, often badly written. What does work: The characters are all unique and for the most part compelling.