I do not envy the folks who were tasked with taking Halfbrick Studios’ wildly successful Fruit Ninja mobile game and turning it into an original animated series for YouTube Red. What do you do with Gutsu and Truffles? How do you decide to introduce Sensei and his Fruit Facts? And how do you take all the slicing and dicing action away from the player and put it into the capable hands of a group of young ninjas?
Enter Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force, the super-silly and action-packed animated series from the very same studio that created the game. Halfbrick’s first foray into the world of cartoons follows the humble beginnings of four Fruit Ninjas–Seb, Niya, Peng, and Ralph–who run a juice stand as a front for their secret ninja dojo. The ninjas, who have been training to unlock the ancient secrets of Juice-Jitsu, work together to take down a rotating cast of evil characters who have pledged to wipe out the Fruit Ninjas once and for all.
This all sounds very silly, and it is, for sure. But it’s also bright and colorful and fun. Viewers don’t need to have any experience with the game, though a basic familiarity will help with some of the in-jokes. We’re introduced to Seb, the de facto leader of the group who powers up with dragon fruit; Niya, the level-headed one (and the only girl) who keeps the others out of trouble thanks to her common senses and pineapple power; Peng, the pint-sized, berry-boosted, energetic warrior; and Ralph, the dim-witted but super-strong coconut-wielding ninja. These characters, who will appear in future iterations of the game after making their debut on the show, are great throwbacks to the cartoon shows of old in which each team member has a signature style, power, and specialty. But they’re also a creation of the modern era: a diverse cast of characters brought to life through effortless computer-generated animation.
You could easily dismiss Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force with the wave of a hand, but with over a billion downloads and counting, there’s a great chance that a lot of folks will give this cartoon a chance. And they should. It’s not much deeper than “good guys vs bad guys” but neither were the majority of 80s and 90s cartoons that many (including myself) still hold dear today. There’s a lot of humor to be found here, either in Ralph’s continuing struggles with catchphrases, Peng’s amped-up energy drink obsession, or the cleverly named villain, Durian Gray. I only had a chance to check out the first two episodes, but the villains on display are just as entertaining and zany as the heroes themselves.
The only shortcomings, aside from a lack of an overarching narrative that ties episodes together (there may very well be one, but I didn’t see it in the early goings), are a treatment of Sensei that lazily dips into Asian tropes and an intense DayGlo color scheme that assaults the eyes once the ninjas get powered up. As far as Sensei goes, I’m not sure how much of his dialogue and behavior is ported over from the game, but he’s used sparingly in the early episodes and his humor and weirdness are more delightful than offensive; I particularly like his Fruit Facts that appear over each episode’s end credits. As for those costumes, well my eyes are not as young as they used to be; the bright, neon citrus explosion that blasts onto the screen when the ninjas transform aren’t for old fogies like me, but they’re likely to hold the attention of viewers in the intended demographic.
Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force is a surprisingly funny, action-packed cut-up of a cartoon that’ll have young viewers begging to take Juice-Jitsu lessons. (Pro-tip for parents: Tell the little ones that making fresh-squeezed orange juice every morning is ancient, traditional Fruit Ninja training; you can thank me later.)
Rating: ★★★ Good