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Western Animation / Wing Commander Academy

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Wing Commander Academy was an American animated series produced by Universal Cartoon Studios in 1996 as part of the USA Network's Saturday-Morning Cartoon lineup. Based on the Wing Commander series of video games, it featured several of the games' characters, most of them played by the actors who portrayed them in the later games (including Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell), and filling in backstory on The Kilrathi and Admiral Tolwyn. The plot centers around a group of cadets going on their final cruise before graduating from the Military Academy.

Character info can be found on the general Wing Commander universe sheet.

Tropes employed by the cartoon:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: Averted, the Kilrathi are actually portrayed as practical and pragmatic, and are stated to never take actions without sound motivation, though said motivation may not always be readily apparent, and occasionally rely on alien reasoning.
  • The Anime of the Game: Well, duh.
  • Artifact Title: Strictly speaking, the title only accurately describes the show for one episode. While they are cadets through the entire course of the show, the Academy itself only appears in the pilot episode before they are transferred to the Tiger's Claw.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The Kilrathi.
  • Authority Grants Asskicking: Commodore Tolwyn. See Back in the Saddle below.
  • Back in the Saddle:
  • Badass Boast: Upon being informed during a briefing that they will be going up against a Kilrathi Dreadnought, which nobody in Confed has been able to defeat in combat yet, Maniac declares "If the Kilrathi can find a way to build it, we can find a way to blow it up!"
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Maniac and Archer seem to make quite a few abortive attempts to get each other to open up. Almost universally results in them bickering, or on one occasion, Maniac getting tossed across the room by a woman who must have been half his size.
  • The Brigadier: Commodore Tolwyn, also a Four-Star Badass.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: In the final scene of the series, towards Tolwyn, who everyone has come to see as a Blood Knight with a vendetta against Prince Thrakhath. Of course, they don't know that Tolwyn is himself dealing with a chain of command who refuse to give him reinforcements and who keep sending the Tiger's Claw into high-risk operations alone.
  • The Chains of Commanding:
    • Several episodes focus on the weight and responsibility of leading people in combat, and the certainty that some will die following your orders. This trope is also used to give Commodore Tolwyn some Character Development to balance against what we see of him in the games. Most of the cadets see him as an all-powerful flag officer who makes things happen by ordering them to be so, when in reality he is just as restricted by the orders his superiors hand him as the cadets are by his orders. So when he requests reinforcements for a major operation and is told they can't be spared, the cadets simply see him as a glory hound willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve his goals. This leads to a Medal of Dishonor moment when Blair refuses a medal since he is outraged to learn he was used as bait on a suicide mission.
    • In another episode Tolwyn explains this problem to Blair. He then tells Blair that his decision to ram the enemy flagship, which was blockading the jump point, was not a bluff. It was the only chance for escape and if the flagship had not moved then both ships would have been destroyed.
    • A somewhat subtle example in that Tolwyn always owns the orders he hands down to his subordinates in order to fulfill the orders he is given by his superiors. He never tries to pass the blame by telling the cadets that he is Just Following Orders, and seems to accept this as part of the responsibilities of command.
  • Character Development: Several characters, but especially Gwen "Archer" Bowman's arc where she starts hesitating in combat after having to shoot down another cadet. On the other side, Kilrathi captain Garahl nar Hhallas gradually grows disillusioned with his Prince's motives for prosecuting the war. Also, outside of the books, the series is the source of almost all of Admiral Tolwyn's character development.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The payoff to a Running Gag where Maniac keeps wanting to try and attack the Kilrathi carrier by flying into its hangar bay and gut it from the inside. Turns out, Maniac really is that good. Prince Thrakhath's dreadnought is crippled when Maniac finally gets to try this.
  • Continuity Nod: The Battle of Repleeta gets depicted in a flashback. Repleeta was occasionally referenced in the manuals as being a particularly drawn out and brutal battle over a planet nobody really wanted, both sides fighting simply to spite the other side and keep them from gaining it.
  • Cross Through: The USA Network's 1996 Saturday morning cartoon lineup had a storyline on November 16 about "The Warrior King" (voiced by Michael Dorn), a man chasing an "Orb of Power" through various dimensions. After an expository intro, he confronted M. Bison in Street Fighter ("The Warrior King", Season 2, Episode 9) and battled The Fiend in The Savage Dragon ("Endgame", Season 2, Episode 8), both of whom attempted to abuse the Orb's powers. From there the Orb landed in the hands of Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm ("Resurrection", Season 1, Episode 9; the Warrior King only makes a cameo as a shadow), after which Raiden tossed it to the universe of Wing Commander Academy ("Recreation", Season 1, Episode 9), where the Warrior King's quest ends and he flies off into the stars.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr. Kyle, of the medical ship Pleiku. Commodore Tolwyn as well.
  • Dead Star Walking: Blizzard, Bokh nar Ragitika as well.
  • Death from Above:
    • Several episodes featured air strikes on ground targets, but the last episode, notably, featured this trope being invoked with Prince Thrakhath's own flagship being dropped on the temple which was concealing his troops, and presumably the fighters he had parked around it.
    • Visually invoked in several episodes, where fighters attacking enemy ships are shown "diving" down at their target, even though there really isn't strictly any "down" in space.
  • Defector from Decadence: Bokh nar Ragitika. He is a veteran Kilrathi pilot who has grown tired of war against Confederation and came to believe that it only serves as an excuse for Prince Thrakhath nar Kiranka and royal family to subjugate other clans and thin the herd so that nobody would be able to oppose their rule. Eventually, he tries to defect to Confederation — not out of greed, but due to belief that he can thus help bring the Kiranka clan down, stop this war and save his own kin.
  • Downer Ending: Several episodes, and arguably the whole series. Even in victory, war really sucks.
  • Dramatic Irony: Due to its original conception as a tie-in of sorts to Wing Commander III, the audience already knows the fates of several of the characters, and how their relationships will develop.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: "The Last One Left" focuses on a pilot who went renegade. He and his gang of Space Pirates get wiped out towards the end of the episode, leaving shattered wreckage floating in space, including a destroyed helmet.
  • Drill Tank: In a flashback scene involving Grunt's time as a Marine on Repleeta, the Kilrathi use one to dig up into human rear areas.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Several of the pilots who don't get introduced until later episodes have non-speaking cameos in the earliest episodes.
  • Enemy Mine: Subverted. Sometimes, the other guy just plain hates you and will stab you in the back after you help him out.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Justified, as the show is about the characters still technically being in school.
  • Expy: Garahl nar Hhallas, who's basically the same as the games' Rhalga "Hobbes" nar Hhallas prior to defecting.
  • Fake Static: In "The Lords of the Sky", Maniac uses faked radio interference to ignore an order from Blair for the flight wing to stay together on a reconnaisance mission.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Having grown disillusioned with war, veteran Kilrathi pilot Bokh nar Ragitika tries to defect to Confederation if only to help bring upon Prince Thrakhath's downfall. However, when Blair tells his story to Tolwyn, the latter flat-out refuses to believe it and instead uses intel thus gained to ambush Bokh's carrier, killing all his comrades aboard in result. Bokh himself is shot down by Archer soon thereafter.
  • Heroic BSoD: Archer suffers from a recurring form of this every time she has to pull the trigger, after being forced to kill Blizzard. Earns her a What the Hell, Hero? (see below).
  • High School AU: Oddly enough, the original premise of the show was basically the characters of Wing Commander III transplanted into an Academy class together, with Tolwyn as their instructor. Most of the changes that occurred (Many of the younger characters from WCIII are replaced with Expies to better justify them actually being in school together, for starters) can be chalked up to this being a Pragmatic Adaptation.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • The fact that the Kilrathi pilots in one episode launched a suicidal attack against the Tiger's Claw for no readily apparent reason is a clue that something is wrong in the episode "The Most Delicate Instrument".
    • Played straight in other episodes though, sometimes even resulting in disputes between characters on either side who differ on how Honor should best be pursued.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: As it turns out, Maniac really is as good a pilot as he thinks he is, culminating in his Airstrike Impossible against a Kilrathi Dreadnought's hangar bay in the series finale.
  • Inksuit Actor: Commodore Tolwyn is a dead ringer for Malcolm McDowell. (McDowell had previously played the character in the live-action cutscenes of the video games, so the resemblance was already established.)
  • Ironic Nickname: Maverick, who is in fact notorious for being a stickler for the regs and knowing them inside and out.
  • Irony: Pretty much the only time Archer doesn't hesitate to kill a Kilrathi pilot was when she unknowingly killed Bokh nar Ragitika, who Blair was on the verge of turning to the Confederation. The only Kilrathi she faced that she shouldn't have killed.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Maniac. Although he'll never admit to it.
  • Large Ham: Maniac. Also, the mole's last words as he's being thrown out of airlock.
    Burroughs: We had a deal! A DEEEEEAAAAAL!!!
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Archer in the first episode.
    Archer: Ah go f- fly your ship.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: On Wing Commander Academy, many Kilrathi capital ships resemble the huge Hvar'kann-class Dreadnought from Wing Commander III (that you only actually fight against if you are playing the last losing mission, Sol 1) but of varying smaller sizes than the massive ship in the videogame (the one depicted by the simulator in the first episode is described as a carrier, while the second ship shown in the same episode is sized like a scout ship or corvette and can be taken out by just two fighters with their lasers without needing torpedos from a bomber to get through the shields; later episodes have that ship design act as the generic Kilrathi enemy carrier). The feared dreadnought in the animated series instead is portrayed by a much bigger version of the Fralthi II class Cruiser from Wing Commander III, meaning the two ship designs have somewhat switched roles from their original portrayal on the videogame.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Justified and invoked by Commodore Tolwyn in he first episode. Maverick and Maniac are very competitive with each other, so they are chosen to lead opposing teams in a combat simulation. Subverted by The Mole, who sabotages the fighters, giving them full-powered weapons and reprogramming the flight computers not to register shield damage.
  • Loose Lips: The Confeds might not have figured out why the Kilrathi were on Oasis if a Kilrathi warrior hadn't slipped up and invoked I Know You Know I Know and decided to just dispense with the falsehoods altogether. Maniac knew they were up to something, and figured he could get the Kilrathi to get mad and slip up by, well, being Maniac.
  • Love Confession: Blizzard to Archer. Because of the epic levels that he takes being The Stoic to, his low-key, understated stating of his affections for her is correctly interpreted by Archer as being a complete emotional breakdown on his part, leading her to realize that there is something wrong with him.
  • Military Academy: The show being titled Wing Commander Academy should be a big hint. Several different academies are also mentioned in the game manuals and novels.
  • Military Maverick: Maniac is infamous for this. Tolwyn's liberal interpretations of his orders and criticism of his superiors are what got him his current assignment. Amusingly enough, Maverick is very much not an example.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Kilrathi pilot Bokh nar Ragitika saves Blair's life and protects him from his comrades. In return, he only asks that Maverick help him defect to Confederate side. Instead, he is used by Tolwyn to destroy a carrier he was based on, and later killed by Archer.
  • Nom de Guerre: Maverick, Maniac, Payback, Archer, Jazzman, Viking, etc.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: In "The Last One Left", after being captured by Space Pirates, Maniac and Blair are brought in to dine with their leader Daimon Karnes, a former Propaganda Hero of the Confederation, where he explains why he went renegade.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Daimon Karnes acknowledges Maniac as a Worthy Opponent after Maniac stays on his tail during a dogfight, but says he was more like Blair in the old days.
  • One-Hit Kill: Discussed in the first episode. The Kilrathi warship can destroy a Scimitar fighter in one hit. Justified in that, well, it's a full-on warship and carries more powerful weapons than the smaller fighters can.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: The computer running the flight simulator crashes before Maniac can complete his run on a carrier that massively outguns the Hellcat he's flying, so we never get to see him make a fool of himself (or not).
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The show's original premise was basically how everyone in Wing Commander III went to school together.
  • Ramming Always Works: Bizarrely, ramming always works when you use an Ejection Seat to ram the ship with. It just seems to completely throw the Kilrathi off their game. Probably because they assume that the humans have packed the ejection seat full of explosives or something that might actually harm their ship, and thus freak out and get themselves killed in some other fashion.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The reason that the famed Commodore Tolwyn is babysitting a bunch of cadets on their middie cruise.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The Mole in the premiere episode "Red and Blue" leaks information to his Kilrathi contact and is killed by him moments later. The Kilrathi wasn't necessarily offended by the treason, but because said mole was just spiteful over being washed out of the Academy.
    Kilrathi Captain: A man without honor has no reason to live.
  • Running Gag: Maniac really wants to try that hangar-bay attack, but nobody will let him.
  • Semper Fi: Grunt, a former Space Marine who became a Star Fighter pilot after a battlefield injury got him discharged.
  • Shout-Out: A space pilot character played by Mark Hamill, captured by primitives, spending some time hanging by his arms and legs from a pole, then convincing the primitives to join the fight against the bad guys? Hmm...?
  • Shown Their Work: You do have to hand it to the production team, some real effort was made to be true to the source material:
    • The major characters were played by their original actors, when getting some unknown soundalikes would have been cheaper and even almost expected in Western Animation (and especially on the USA Network, which was better known then for being a rerun farm with very little in the way of original programming).
    • Confed uniforms resemble those from the games.
    • Ship designs were close enough to the in-game ones that you could recognize Hellcats, Broadswords, Scimitars, and Dralthi fighters. Arrows, Longbows, Sabers, and numerous other ships were used in minor roles, giving the idea of a military that used a wide variety of ships rather than the small handful the heroes appear to be checked out on. The Kilrathi similarly use a wide variety of fighters from the games, with the Dralthi (AKA the "Flying Pancakes") being only the most easily recognized.
    • Cockpit instrument panels resemble the ones from the games closely enough that a regular player could assess the characters' tactical situation from the instruments.
    • The cadets flew Scimitar medium fighters. At first this would seem an odd choice. Shouldn't cadets get light fighters or even dedicated training craft to fly? But many who have played Wing Commander believe that the Scimitar was by far the worst fighter in the game, so most in-universe pilots would probably spurn them, making them the only fighter in plentiful supply for cadets to train in.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Universal Animation's previous sci-fi combat series, Exosquad.
  • Stealth in Space: A Kilrathi prototype stealth fighter wrecks havoc among the Confed in one episode. Surprisingly, it's played straight- the fighter itself is not invisible to the naked eye, although it is painted black (which is naturally harder to see against the background of space). Rather, it's invisible to Confed scanners, probably using similar stealth tactics as real-life stealth fighters (radar-absorbant paint, unusual geometry, etc.).
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Daimon Karnes, in "The Last One Left", to Blair. The two kinds of people in the galaxy, according to him, are those who fly in order to get somewhere, and those who love to fly.
  • The Shrink: A mix of all three Types, actually, but mostly a subverted Type 2. The cadets don't like him, and given his personality, they probably wouldn't like him even if he didn't have the ability to get them dropped from the pilot program due to a bad evaluation, but he does have considerable authority in regards to pulling them from combat duty, and has the ear of their commanding officer regarding matters of morale. In short, obviously he cares about the cadets and the ship's crew, but the rest of them don't particularly care for him. He also shows shades of being an Open Heart Dentist, being knowledgeable enough in other fields to know how they might affect human behavior and psychology, such as how reports of fried electrical systems in a group of fighters leads him to conclude that the pilots had their heads screwed up by the same electrical storm that fried the electronics. Up till he came across that information, he just assumed that the pilots' behavior was just them being stressed out hormonal young officers. You know, normal.
  • Space Cadet Academy: The Terran Confederation Academy of the title, although the series actually doesn't spend a lot of time actually at the Academy itself; just following the cadets.
  • Spare a Messenger: In "The Last One Left", Blair is captured by a renegade group of ex-Confed and Kilrathi Space Pirates who are eventually wiped out by the Kilrathi forces. Assuming Blair is one of the renegades, Prince Thrakhath allows him to live so he can tell others that anyone who defies the Kilrathi WILL DIE!
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Inverted. When an argument between Maniac and Blair is about to escalate to Maniac throwing a punch, Archer restrains Maniac this way. Before throwing him across the room. Worth noting, Maniac is pretty much the biggest human character on the show, appearing to be close to twice Archer's mass and considerably taller than her. After he lands, he snarkily comments that she must be fun on a date.
  • They Called Me Mad!: The Mole states his reason for treason was he washed out of the Academy after failing a psych evaluation for being "unstable". He rants and raves and really gives the impression his evaluators were on to something when he admits this.
  • This Is Reality: After one of Maniac's brags about what he would do in a combat situation, Blair replies "Hey, this isn't a game you know!"
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Captain of Kilrathi carrier does this to The Mole after finding out about his motives, as such a dishonorable person is not fit to live.
  • Title Drop: Maniac to Blair, "Oh come on, you know you wanna be Wing Commander"
    • Justified, seeing as how "Wing Commander" means "Commander of a wing of fighters" and is an actual rank and title.
  • Tragic Hero: Tolwyn. Not so much in the series itself though. The Expanded Universe in general tends to build Tolwyn's backstory so that he comes off as more of a Tragic Hero in the later games, rather than an Anti-Hero. Or, as of the fourth game, a Fallen Hero.
  • True Companions: Blair and Maniac really don't like each other that much, but they make a hell of a team when the going really gets tough.
  • Universal Driver's License: Played straight, but limited. The cadets mostly only ever fly Scimitars or Broadswords, though many other fighters and bombers are shown. They do occasionally fly other ships, but it seems that the Confed ships all have standardized controls. The few times they ever fly a captured Kilrathi fighter, it's specifically stated that only a handful of the pilots have any experience with them, and a Kilrathi pilot who manages to get into a Scimitar isn't able to do much against a Confed pilot except be a gunnery target.
  • Veteran Instructor: Commodore Tolwyn
  • War Is Hell: As much as a mid-'90s cartoon could portray, anyway. The show is not at all shy about the death and occasional moral ambiguity of war, on both sides.
  • We Have Reserves: Subverted: The cadets gradually begin to think that Tolwyn looks at them this way. While he tries to look after the cadets, he is a commander in time of war and recognizes that some of them will die in combat.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Several, aimed at several different characters throughout the series.
    • Archer gets one from Maniac and Payback because she always hesitates before pulling the trigger, out of fear that she will unnecessarily take an innocent life (What Measure Is a Mook? hits her hard after being forced to kill a comrade who had gone insane, humanizing all of her potential enemies in her eyes). They rightly point out that in a dogfight, if she hesitates, even for a second or two, she or one of her wingmen could be killed by an enemy who will not hesitate.
    • Payback meanwhile gets one from Blair because of her excessive Blood Knight tendencies, wanting nothing more than to kill as many Kilrathi as possible, at one point violating direct orders and endangering herself and Blair on a recon mission.
    • Blair gets the occasional low-grade one from his fellow cadets who suspect that he is benefiting overly from favoritism by Commodore Tolwyn, as well as one from a Kilrathi defector after he believes Blair reneged on their deal to work together against Thrakhath, although it was Tolwyn who made that call, not Blair.
    • Tolwyn] finally gets one from Blair because he believes Tolwyn willingly lied to Blair about the planned Marine assault and sacrificed the Cadets' lives just to pursue his vendetta against Prince Thrakhath. He doesn't know that Tolwyn had requested reinforcements for the operation, but was ordered to go it alone by his higher ups. Similarly, Archer gives Tolwyn one or two in private. Commodore Tolwyn seems remarkably inclined towards taking these lectures from his cadets in stride.
  • Wrench Wench: Maya McEaddens, the chief mechanic aboard the Tiger's Claw, is drawn as a fairly attractive woman.
  • What Measure Is a Mook? and What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Viking and Archer both become extremely uncomfortable with taking a life in combat. Viking drops out of the Academy and leaves the military after The Mole's sabotage nearly causes her to take the life of a classmate. Archer finds herself hesitating in combat after circumstances force her to intentionally take the life of a classmate to save the Tiger's Claw.
  • Wingman: A given, since it is a show about fighter pilots. Maniac and Maverick have an ongoing argument over who gets to be whose wingman.
    • In one episode, nobody is willing to fly with Archer because of her hesitation to kill the enemy. When the Claw is attacked with very few pilots aboard to defend her, Commodore Tolwyn declares that he is her wingman. note 
    • In the episode "The Invisible Enemy", Maniac's wingman is taken out by a prototype Kilrathi stealth fighter. Everybody accuses him of abandoning his wingman in combat, in part for his well-earned reputation as a Glory Hound. Maverick ends up teaming up with him to hunt the stealth fighter later on when he is similarly disgraced.
    • In the series finale, Maniac decides to press an attack on the Dreadnought's hangar bay, and several other characters take his wing to provide cover for him.
  • Wronski Feint: In "The Lords of the Sky", Grunt uses the bottom of a canyon to scrape off some Kilrathi fighters chasing him, by diving down at it and then pulling out at the last moment.

Alternative Title(s): Wing Commander