Review: Niko and the Sword of Light (Amazon Original Series: Pilot Season)

Amazon recently launched their new “Pilot Season” of 2015, which is where they post several pilots for new series, then allow the viewers to watch (for free) and review them, and help decide which series will continue on Amazon Prime. This year, there are several new kids shows, but one of them specifically caught my eye – an animated series, Niko and the Sword of Light. 

The show, based on a fully-animated comic that premiered through Kickstarter and is available on iTunes, opens with a quick prologue describing how “the world was full of light and promise,” but the greed of man led to their own downfall, as a great darkness destroyed them, swept the land and poisoned everything it touched. Now there’s only one human left, a ten-year-old boy named Niko who has a glowing sword that lets him fight creatures corrupted by this dark force. This is a pretty epic opening / premise, and instantly sets this show up as more mature than most shows targeting the 6-11 age group.

The show lends itself to comparisons to two shows specifically – Samurai Jack (especially with the solo human warrior traveling across a strange world full of incredible character designs) and Avatar: The Last Airbender (with that hero being a child, and having a grand mythic destiny, as well as a way to fight people without murdering them). Yet the actual animation for this series is some of the best I’ve ever seen – the fights are fluid and dynamic, and the digital colors are vibrant and rich, even in scenes shrouded in darkness.

Niko himself is a great character – you can tell that he very badly wants to be the great hero people look up to. He narrates his own adventures, and tries to act brave and courageous around others. But this isn’t all an act – Niko really is exceptionally brave (if not always particularly bright), facing off against horrifying monsters without blinking.

He also seems familiar with the tropes of adventure stories – a wise-man character asks if Niko is planning to go on his quest alone, and Niko answers, “Hmm… Join me, small creature! You can be my humble sidekick! A wise mentor to guide me along my path!” The creature, subverting the story a bit, declines.

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Niko is honor-bound to his vow, to travel to the volcano and defeat the darkness forever, but beyond that, he seems to have no memory of who or what he is. He doesn’t even seem to know what human beings are, which is pretty heavy stuff when you think about it.

Also, let’s take a minute to appreciate that this bad-ass little kid, who is sort of like a blend between Luke Skywalker and Conan the Barbarian, is not caucasian.

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Representation is so incredibly important, and nowhere more so than in children’s media. There are few things as special in this world to a young person as being able to see yourself in the main character, and it helps the worlds of fiction feel more authentic (and less stale). Korra in Legend of Korra was a big step in that direction, but it’s nice to see that other creators are doing the same thing.

As for the monsters themselves – the character designs are fantastic. The one we get to see the best is the Mugwhump, the villain of the episode. I’m just gonna slap up a screenshot and let it speak for itself.

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A particularly nice touch is the Sword of Light itself. Presented as a powerful artifact that Niko barely knows how to use, the sword can create shields and call down lightning, but most notably, it allows Niko to “slay” his foes without killing them, simply exorcising the darkness inside that turns them into horrifying monsters. For a children’s show, bloodless victory over enemies is essential – it’s why Avatar has bending, and Harry Potter has expelliarmus.

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What’s more, since he’s expelling darkness from his enemies, and from the environment around him, he is literally making the world a brighter place with his actions. It’s not very subtle, but fantasy doesn’t need to be.

As I mentioned earlier, all of Amazon’s new pilots are available to watch for free (you don’t even need an Amazon Prime account), so I highly recommend that you check it out, and review the show – if we want to see more episodes, all we have to do is ask.

Niko and the Sword of Light was originally created by Kei Acedera, Bobby Chiu, Jim Bryson, and Adam Jeffcoat. The pilot is produced by Titmouse Inc., with Ben Kalina as executive producer, Antonio Canobbio as art director, and Rob Hoegee as story editor.

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