Animorphs: That thing in-between my Ninja Turtles and Anime Phase

Let’s all be honest. Reading was never cool when you were younger. Even with those periods in the school day known as SSR (“Sustained Silent Reading,” though people would always just say “Silent Reading Time” which always made me wonder why it wasn’t “SRT” to begin with) it was still something that those weird adults would do… and for pleasure no less. Still, when looking at the damn ne’erdowells that would spend their free time waiting for glue to dry in their pencil holders so they can peel them off and sell them during recess time (a friend of mine did this, I swear) reading seemed like it would pay off in the long run.

So the question at hand wasn’t whether to read or not, but just exactly what a 7-year -old is supposed to read in the first place.

I remember whenever my teacher would take the class to the school library, we’d go one table group at a time to wander the rather small room looking for something to read. Now, I don’t know about what your grade-school library looked like, but mine was rather cramped. From memory, I’d say the room was slightly smaller than a living room you’d see in sitcoms. And once you put the tables and chairs in, there wasn’t exactly that much space for actual books. And to further limit myself, I was a pretty status-quo type of kid. I knew off the bat that I wasn’t that athletic, so I started to immerse myself in reading. But I was never all that into fantasy (at least, fantasy in terms of knights and dragon-slaying), which was a majority of the fictional books available. The Harry Potter series wasn’t released in the states until ’98 and would follow with a plethora of copycats banking on the concept of a wizarding world; similarly, the Lord of the Rings books were released in the ‘50s, setting the standard for a world of fantasy and the like for years to come. But what about that in-between period?

That’s where Scholastic Publishing comes in. To this day, I still relate the publishing company to long series of episodic books for young readers. No one in my class ever took the volume number of the spines of these books seriously and would always read the stories out of order, since there was little to no continuity between them anyway. They were kinda like the equivalent of American comics in that sense, but heaven forbid anyone read comics during SSR. I remember hoards of kids from my class just eating up the Goosebumps and Baby Sitters’ Club series. But I wasn’t all that into horror, and I was a guy that clearly had no idea how the female mind worked, so neither series was really up my alley.

And then I saw the Animorphs books.

They were in the same area as the Goosebumps and Baby Sitters’ Club books, but didn’t nearly have as many kids crowding around them… or any for that matter. And for that reason alone, I decided to take a look. The cover had a neat little logo of the series, almost futuristic looking in design (actually, the font kinda looks like the Spider-Man logo from the Sam Raimi movies; the cover had this neat little step by step image of a kid morphing into an animal; there was a hole on the cover cut out where the animal was, leading to a full on illustration on the first page of that particular animal; this neat overly-vague series synopsis:

“We can’t tell you who we are. Or where we live. It’s too risky, and we’ve got to be careful. Really careful. So we don’t trust anyone. Because if they find us… well, we just won’t let them find us..

The thing you should know is that everyone is in really big trouble. Yeah. Even you.”

but to top things off, there was even a little flipbook in the book itself showing the kid changing into that animal (which would piss me off for the longest time, since my other classmates would get the books solely to flip through them repeatedly like the illiterate dumbasses they were). It was just so different and yet it wasn’t being given any attention to, which was why I decided to pick up a volume.

I forget which volume I read first, but I definitely know it wasn’t the first one… not like it mattered. The way it was written, in its non “Times New Roman” font, was done in a way that could get any newbie into the series quickly without getting too redundant. Talk of alien slugs called “Yeerks;” the warrior alien Elfangor crash-landing on Earth and giving a ragtag bunch of kids the power to morph before dying; the bad guys being able to assume the form of anyone. The whole feeling of conspiracy and aliens was very much of the time. But if that wasn’t enough for you, leave it to the ragtag kids to give a pop culture reference every now and then. The one I still remember is a conversation about which Spice Girl you’d prefer be stranded on a deserted island with you. And as cheesy and dated as it came off as, it’s those things that really made the series for me.

15 years later, and I like to think I’ve moved on (at least somewhat) from my Animorphs phase. Even in its peak popularity with its TV series in ’98, I’d never make a point of reading every volume, and would just read what I could in libraries or pick up a random volume at the bookstore, stopping at around volume 35. It wasn’t until I saw a random numbered somewhere in the ‘40s that I got back into the series, noticing that they changed the little series synopsis on the back significantly:

“Here’s the deal these days: They know exactly who we are. They know exactly where we live. We’ve got a few secrets left, and we’re gonna use them. But just know that the end is coming. And we don’t know how much longer we can do this. How much longer can we fight.

What about you? Where will you be when it ends? Think about it. Think hard. Because the countdown has already begun…”

Hoooly crap. At that point, I didn’t even care about catching up, and dove straight back into the series with the earliest volume that had that new synopsis text. Everything ended by volume 54 in an epic fight, filled with deaths on both sides and followed by a little epilogue and cliffhanger that I remember continuing for a class project. The series definitely stands as something I identify with my childhood, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t call it my sole childhood-defining factor.

Enter the present when I literally just found out that they’re re-releasing the series for the kiddies of today and apparently “time neutralizing” everything. Translation: things like “walkman” aren’t being updated to “iPod,” but something more generic like “music player.” From what I’ve heard (I love the series, but there’s no way I’m gonna go back and re-read them now) such an approach has led to minimum edits so far, but I know for a fact that this is gonna bite Scholastic in the ass eventually. Believe it or not, Animorphs actually has a good number of pop culture references in it, all of which help shape the characters. Over-generalizing everything, while it may bring new readers into the series, just feels wrong to me.

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About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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