I get it. I really do it get it. Beneath all his massive, high-octane bluster of pure evil and villainy, Hater is an impetuous whiner who wants to be loved. Yet Wander Over Yonder never really made it seem like Hater wanted to love–his previous attempts to woo a suitor (“The Date,” and to a lesser extent, “The Fancy Party”) were less about a desperate need to find a significant other so much as it was a hilarious showcase of his misguided, massive ego. His desire for a girlfriend stems from the same self-serving zeal as his desires for galactic conquest, respect, and Wander’s demise–these are just things that he thinks he should have, because he’s Lord Hater. “The Battle Royale” is sufficiently epic, a massive all-out brawl between every villain we’ve met so far (but no Star Bradlight?), culminating in an even more epic one-on-one fight between Hater and Dominator. The ultimate reveal that Dominator is a woman, and that Hater immediately falls head over heels in love with her, however, feels anti-climatic.
“Anti-climatic” seems to be the inherent thrust of the episode. After all, it begins right in the midst of the battle, the beginning of which is told via a couple of Wander flashbacks. And… I don’t know, the flashbacks didn’t quite work for me. Wander recognizing Dominator for who she really is, and coming up with an insane plan to try and bring Dominator and Hater together in marriage feels like an amazing episode in itself, but we only see funny, if lacking, glimpses of it. Sylvia, quite rightly, points out how absolutely insane and crazy that idea is, and the episode kind of builds towards exposing the real fallout of Wander’s terrible plan, but it doesn’t commit to it. Wander mentions how disastrous things are going as he lures Hater towards his fake ring of invincibility, and it’s supposed to be really, really uncomfortable… right? Watching Wander make weak, tossed-off apologies as he takes out (or allows Hater to take out) various villains for his vision of romance is purposely disconcerting. But then Hater makes goo-goo eyes at Dominator and Wander notches it as a win? Sylvia facepalms but the episode doesn’t call Wander to account, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.
I would’ve probably given this episode a B, maybe even a B-, if the rest of “The Battle Royale” wasn’t freaking glorious. The animation, timing, and comic scale of the conflict was incredible, bringing back classic villains at their most dastardly and their most wacky. The episode alternates between epic clashes that resemble the more audacious moments in something like The PowerPuff Girls, and direct, small-scale conflicts that disrupts that chaos. They come off like small, comic bits to showcase some visual panache and hilarity, and they’re hit-or-miss, but mostly hits. The arrival of Something the So-and-so and his wildly awkward speech was unexpected and hysterical, probably the funniest moment of the episode, but there were other great moments too: Hater’s inability to say that red monster’s name, the Black Cube’s inability to grab the ring and his Charlie-Brown-esque, depressed floating. Wander Over Yonder really just has fun with its set up and its characters, playing around with the brawl and makes it all look good to boot.
The more significant moment is Sylvia’s and Peeper’s inevitable encounter. First of all, Peeper’s ripping off his shirt and exposing some his tight V-shape is excellent. Secondly, having the two come to the realization that they’re more or less in the same predicament regarding their charges is a really nice, strong moment, leading to their temporary truce as they go off to save Wander and Hater. This most likely will lead to more team-ups between the two in the future, especially as Dominator becomes more of a threat to both Hater and Wander, but as awesome as the below screenshot is, it doesn’t exactly lead to a real showcase of what that pairing means or what they can actually do together.
That’s essentially what “The Battle Royale” really is, though–less of a culmination of the events of the past episodes and more of an extremely energetic set-up for future developments. Which is fine–again, it’s just a great episode in terms of sheer ambition–but it is a slight disappointment, because at end of the day, we haven’t really learned anything different or new about any of the characters. And not to say that Wander Over Yonder needs every episode to expose new approaches to these characters and how they work, but “The Battle Royale” was built to somewhat question Wander’s overall approach and/or Hater’s ultimate aspirations, and I’m not sure we’ve gotten (satisfying) answers to either. We got a heck of a lot more episodes to explore all that, particularly Dominator and her “whole thing,” but “The Battle Royale” ends really with its characters more or less in the same exact place as when it begins.
- “Stop… being… so… cool!” This is meant as joke but the idea that the thrust of evil is driven by “coolness” is interesting. Hater is obsessed with coolness, underneath Dominator’s exterior of sheer power is a fairly goofy girl, and all the other villains are broad depictions of coolness–or lack of it. “Coolness” is a bullshit term but it does reflect a sense of confidence, which is a big theme of the show.
- I’m going to hold my tongue over Hater’s infatuation with Dominator, as I’m sure they’ll have fun with it in subsequent episodes, but the idea of a bunch of episodes with Hater “chasing” after her in various ways fills me with dread.
- Just as an example, Teen Titans Go! just did an episode where it called the Teen Titans out for being so destructive in their attempts to fight evil. Obviously these shows aren’t comparable, primarily because Teen Titans Go! doesn’t get two craps about anything, really. It’s just that Teen Titans Go! had the idea and went right at it, but Wander Over Yonder just danced around it. We’ll see if it leads to anything.