Aimed at the Saturday morning and weekdays-after-school crowd, Xiaolin Showdown has been a hit with the kids for the WB network and for Cartoon Network. Unfortunately the series seems to have stalled out after three seasons and 52 episodes.
The series features the adventures of four martial arts students who have to go in search of powerful mystical artifacts that have been lost throughout time. Called Shen Gong Wu, these artifacts give the bearer tremendous powers. In addition to our four stalwart heroes, an evil witch named Wuya and her flunky, Jack Spicer, pursue the Shen Gong Wu as well.
This season one collection contains the first 13 episodes on two discs. There’s no extra content for more bang for your buck, but if you love the show, the 13 episodes are great at the price.
I watch the show with my nine-year-old on a regular basis. Xiaolin Showdown had a deep and richly textured history for those that care to delve into it. The magic, the fighting, and the responsibility of the characters all fit into the cartoon world really well. Kids that don’t really care about the development of the world can cruise through the episode superficially and pick up the jokes and the fighting sequences. There are plenty of those.
But for kids like my son, and willing adult participants like myself, Xiaolin Showdown delivers that history and connectivity like pieces of a much larger story unfolding. You can watch the episodes out of order, of course. I did, because I was hit-and-miss with watching them with my son, but as I sat down with the season one discs, I realized how well the pieces fit together and how hard the writers made them stand apart at the same time. It was like viewing an old serial movie from the 1930s or 1940s. Even though every episode ended in a good place instead of a cliffhanger, you know there’s more to come.
In fact, the season one cliffhanger really is a cliffhanger when Raimundo goes over to the evil Heylin side to join the bad guys. That storyline isn’t resolved till a few episodes into season two, which is more tightly plotted.
Our four heroes in the series are Omi, Clay, Raimundo, and Kimiko. Omi is an innocent and naïve young warrior who was raised his entire life in the Xiaolin monastery. At the same time, he can be a bit of an arrogant jerk, and it’s this juxtaposition of qualities that makes him a blast to watch as he pretends to know everything — including stuff that all the kids know he’s got wrong.
Clay Bailey is a down-home Texas boy whose gentle nature and words of wisdom (if you can ferret them out from the really pronounced Texas twang) often guide the team in times of trouble.
Raimundo Pedrosa is the team’s bad boy and actually went to the evil side out of jealousy. He’s the street-smart, hip-hop character.
Kimiko Tohomiko is the team prep and is always changing hairstyles and clothing. Since most cartoon characters never change their clothes, much less their looks, for the purpose of instant identification, I can only guess this drove the show’s artists insane at some point. She’s also the one the team goes to for computer stuff.
They’re aided by a size-changing temple dragon named Dojo Kanojo Cho. He can sense the Shen Gong Wu and take the team to them by changing from a pocket dragon to a forty-foot flying dragon. He’s also the source of a lot of the comic relief.
Wuya is a 1500-year old witch who influences and empowers Jack Spicer, who has a lot of technical skill and often invents robots to do his dirty work.
A Xiaolin Showdown occurs when the good guys and bad guys face off for the possession of a newly discovered Shen Gong Wu. The match-up is always one-on-one, but several Shen Gong Wu that the combatants have can be used in the battle. This is where the younger viewers go nuts as they know what power comes from each Shen Gong Wu.
There’s a multitude of other characters in the shows. Some of them get introduced quickly, then fade away only to be brought back at a later time and used more extensively in a plot. That’s part of the magic of Xiaolin Showdown: pieces and people of the world get brought back time and time again. Several of the Shen Gong Wu artifacts put in several appearances. Kids like my boy will already know what the powers are as soon as the artifacts are brought on stage in a new episode.
For the moment, and for what seems like forever, the show has been put on suspension. It aired for three seasons on the WB Network, then wrapped. Currently it’s showing on Cartoon Network, so hopefully it will find a new home and new episodes will be made.