Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book 1: The Invasion


The Summary
Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Marco, and Tobias are all walking home one night after a day of loitering in front of the food court. They decide to cut through an abandoned construction site to get home faster, but then a UFO shows up. Inside is an alien who is basically a blue centaur with extra eyes and a sword for a tail. His name is Elfangor, and he is dying, and it's 1996 so nobody can call an ambulance or even take pictures.

Elfangor explains that the whole planet is being invaded by Yeerks and there's nothing anyone can do about it. To fight the Yeerks, Elfangor gives the kids the power to turn into any animal that they touch, because apparently a bird, a bear, an elephant, a tiger, and a gorilla can take down an entire alien army equipped with flying saucers and lasers and whatever ridiculous thing Visser Three is building this week. Visser Three himself shows up in his totally awesome Andalite body and proceeds to morph into a monster and eat Elfangor alive. You know, for kids!

So they run for it and somehow manage to escape with their lives. Now aware of the alien threat, they realize that 1) tons of people around them, including Jake's brother Tom and their Vice Principal, Mr. Chapman, are Controllers, 2) The Sharing is a front for the Yeerk Army Recruitment Center and 3) They are totally boned.

After much angsting and giving their new alien technology a cursory glance, the kids christen themselves the Animorphs. Then they manage to find the Yeerk pool, which is like their base/cafeteria. It's located...under their school. Just go with it. But before they can think up a proper attack strategy, Cassie is captured, and they have to go charging in there without a plan to save her. Despite the odds being solidly against them, they manage to not die and even rescue a grand total of one human host.

Oh and Tobias gets trapped as a red-tailed hawk. He will spend the next ten or so books complaining about this even though he totally did it on purpose.

The Review
Ifi: Well, I liked the cover art. This was one of the better covers. They got really terrible at one point.
Adam: I don't know, this always struck me as a bit awkward
Ifi: I think the full-body transformations were more awkward than just the heads
Adam: Well, that can be true, but I find it a bit strange how it is Jake's head and torso, and then for the rest of the transformation it just shows his head
Adam: It’s also a lot more cgi-ey then the other covers
Ifi: He morphs into just a head.
Adam: Ah.
Adam: I see.
Adam: Now it all makes sense.
Adam: They could morph into individual body parts?
Adam: Suddenly that makes the scene in a later book where Rachel beats away a controller with her own severed arm even more awesome.

Whatever, it's still better than whatever the hell this is meant to be.

Ifi: I wish they actually did that in the books.
Ifi: But nooo they can only go full-animal.
Ifi: Or something.
Ifi: There are actually lots of silly rules surrounding morphing. The two-hour time limit is the very least of it.
Ifi: You can't go from animal to animal, you have to change back to human first.
Ifi: You can't morph parts, like just claws or wings or something.
Adam: You probably could do that, if you got good enough at it
Adam: But birds are smaller, and have hollow bones.
Adam: So just growing a pair of bird wings wouldn't really let you fly.
Ifi: The aliens all speak English and you are quibbling over bone density?
Adam: It says in one of the chronicles books that they have some sort of translator chip in their heads.
Adam: The Andalites do, anycase.
Adam: If anything, I remember my Animorphs fanwank.
Ifi: Okay, okay, let's just move on.
Adam: Fair enough.

Ifi: We have those iconic opening lines 
Adam: "My name is Jake."
Ifi: I had flashbacks.
Ifi: To middle school.
Adam: I know, I know.
Adam: I read this book in kindergarten.
Ifi: Really?
Ifi: It's sort of dark.
Adam: I had a subscription to Nickelodeon magazine, and they gave a sample of the first book in it.
Ifi: Actually, it's quite dark, even if most of it is just implied.
Adam: Yes, but it had a guy turning into a lizard on the cover, and I was one of those kids who liked scaley things.
Adam: So I didn't really care, and much of the dark stuff sort of flew over my head at that point.
Ifi: Very true. Only when I reread the books much later did I realize all the horrible stuff that was happening.
Ifi: In this book, around the end, it's heavily implied that Cassie murders a Yeerk and his host.
Ifi: I’d have never caught that before.
Adam: Is it? Gosh, I missed that even this time
Adam: Could you quote that section again?
Ifi: Let me find it.

And Cassie had gotten away clean. It had been the suspicious Controller policeman who had grabbed her. He was the only Controller to know her name, where she lived, and that she had been spying on The Sharing.
Cassie said we didn't have to worry about him anymore. She didn't want to talk about what had happened to him.

----Book One, The Invasion. First blood goes to Cassie.

Ifi: She totally ripped his face off with her teeth.
Adam: Geez, how did I miss that?
Ifi: I read that and actually did a double take.
Adam: And now I am having some weird interpretations on Cassie.
Adam: IE: The one who once got upset after killing a termite queen.
Ifi: The thing is, these books pretty much never make a distinction between Yeerks and hosts. And in retrospect, it's pretty gruesome.
Adam: Well, I know that later on, some Yeerks make the connection that the "Andalite bandits" are human based on the fact that there are so many fewer human casualties than Hork Bajir or Taxxon ones.
Adam: But still.
Adam: Yes.
Adam: They're running around killing innocent victims here.
Adam: Yuck.
Adam: Yuck is a profound understatement
Adam: But yuck.

Ifi: At the same time, things can be pretty silly. I mean, some of that is just typical "I love the 90's" fare. But I also liked the implication that schools are evil because there is a Yeerk pool beneath theirs.
Ifi: I feel like all kids would have identified with this.
Adam: Well, they do subvert it in that Chapman turns out to be a pretty good guy when not being possessed by a Yeerk.
Adam: (ignoring his characterization in Andalite chronicles)
Ifi: Hush, we don't talk about that until next review.
Adam: Blah blah

Ifi: Okay. Let's discuss Tobias for a second.
Ifi: The dude who totally-by-accident and not-at-all-deliberately trapped himself in morph.
Adam: I didn't notice this as a kid, but Tobias is completely batshit nuts in this book.
Adam: Excuse my language.
Ifi: Yes. Yes he is.
Ifi: I actually liked him. When I was a kid he was one of my favorite characters, because he was a loner. And I would have totally rather trapped myself in a hawk body than go to school.
Adam: Yeah, what makes this weird is that he also comes off a lot of the time as the character you're supposed to identify most.
Adam: Almost calculatingly so.
Ifi: Hey, what's the lifespan of a red-tailed hawk?
Adam: I will look it up now.
Adam: 13-20 years.

Adam: I still think it was remarkably stupid of him not to get a battle morph.
Adam: I mean, they were right there.
Ifi: Nobody got enough morphs.
Adam: Indeed.
Adam: They should have all gotten morphs of each thing.
Ifi: They were like, "Okay I got like one animal, we're good."
Ifi: NO.
Ifi: You do not go home until you acquire every living thing in the Gardens.
Adam: Or even, "Okay, Marco took the gorilla. Well, I guess he has dibs on that one."
Ifi: And they were like, "Hey, look dolphins. Naw. When could those ever come in handy? It's not like we live in coastal California."
Ifi: So the morphing technology was incredibly easy for them to master. 
Adam: Yes, exactly!
Ifi: I mean, I know it was a kid's book, but it literally took them ten seconds
Adam: I mean, surely the Hork Bajir soldiers would have had some sort of combat training
Adam: But Jake was just swatting through them like flies
Ifi: Also, they should have totally acquired some of those...
Ifi: If I was in these books, I'd be running around like a maniac, acquiring everything
Ifi: Pets, circus animals, trees, Visser Three...
Adam: Right after getting the morphing power, they all should have acquired Elfangor right there
Ifi: You're right.
Ifi: He should have thought of that.
Adam: For that matter, why couldn't Elfangor morph into something to heal his injuries?
Ifi: Yeah. I mean, it's implied that morphing heals you when Jake gets his tail broken off in lizard shape
Ifi: Though it's not really fully explored until book 4 or so
Adam: Wait
Adam: I just realized something though
Adam: When Jake morphs his dog, he mentions being neutered
Adam: How does that work?
Ifi: *facepalm*
Ifi: That doesn't work. That's not even consistent with later books, when they morph cows.

Ifi: Since this is the first book, I wouldn't mind talking a little more about the characters. It's narrated by Jake, who is pretty much the leader of the group, though I'm not really sure why. Jake is sort of a control freak sometimes, but a little generic. Even as a kid, I never found him interesting. 
Adam: Really? Jake was always one of my favorites.
Ifi: The thing with Tom would have been notable but then Marco blows him out of the water four books later.
Adam: That's true.
Adam: But I kind of liked Jake. He was snarky, but without being obnoxious about it like Marco was.
Adam: And Marco had a good reason for being like that, but it doesn't really get into that until later.
Ifi: Jake was okay, and I do think I preferred his personality to Marco's. Marco is such a jerk in this book.
Adam: It’s true. He mostly just antagonizes people about the whole situation.
Ifi: He's like that one guy, in all the books or TV shows, that has to shoot everyone else down so he can be proven wrong later.
Ifi: Except in this case, it's more like, the readers totally want to see the main characters kick ass, and Marco is obstructing that, so pleh to him.
Adam: The Complainer is Always Wrong
Ifi: But it's true. And the sucky thing is, in the real world, Marco would be the intelligent one.
Adam: Well, in a way, he is.
Adam: Well, in this book, yes.
Adam: Later ones, he's the one who plans for things going wrong, and so forth.
Adam: It’s the whole "is it paranoia if everyone is out to get you?" thing.
Ifi: I guess that is true.

Ifi: Animorphs managed to be pretty gender-blind in an era of useless pink chicks. None of the aliens gave a crap, and the humans were fairly balanced.
Ifi: Rachel was basically an axe-murderer.
Adam: Yep.
Adam: And Cassie, though she fits more into that demure female stereotype, she was the best morpher out of them, and there was that whole morally ambiguous bit you mentioned earlier.
Ifi: Yeah. She was also scientifically smart, and she had the coolest parents in the whole world.
Adam: I am now realizing that it seems impossible to do a literary analysis on something without going into the feminist implications of it.
Ifi: The characters do all develop, and I appreciate that. Especially when the stories can get pretty simplistic.
Adam: Can you elaborate by what you mean by "simplistic"? Just out of curiosity
Ifi: I guess it varies from ghostwriter to ghostwriter, but sometimes the plots of each book were sort of...well, simple, and even silly. The bad guys would do silly things and the good guys would thwart them in equally silly ways. It was like a Saturday morning cartoon.
Adam: Maple and ginger oatmeal?
Ifi: Yeah exactly.
Adam: Ah.
Ifi: But not just that.
Ifi: Many of the books, to me, felt like filler.
Adam: Most of them were.
Adam: That's bound to happen when you're having a series where a new book comes out once a month.
Ifi: That is true, maybe I'm expecting too much of it. I mean, no matter how silly it got, I still love the series. With its totally radical nineties lingo and all.
Adam: The book starts out with them at the mall, for christsake.
Ifi: It is very dated.
Adam: It could be worse, honestly.
Adam: They aren't constantly surfboarding and calling each other "dude"
Adam: And she doesn't try that method of avoiding feeling dated by making up slang, which for me has the effect of making a work automatically feel dated.

Ifi: So how do we feel about the not-at-all blatant or forced pairings? 
Adam: I generally didn't have a problem with the romantic pairings in this series.
Adam: They didn't take over the plot, which I was very appreciative of.
Adam: There were a few exceptions, which caused much groaning, but I will get to that when we get to it.
Ifi: Yeah, it could have been worse. It's mainly limited to hand-brushing and embarrassed looks. Which is pretty much the definition of middle school love anyway.
Adam: Indeed.
Ifi: Animorphs is about the action, first and foremost. I'm sure if it was YA it would be romance with a background of, "Like, aliens or something, but none of that is important compared to our LOVE."
Ifi: I hate the whole world.
Adam: One thing I just found silly is the fact that Visser Three can apparently turn into a fire breathing hydra. 
Adam: I completely fail to comprehend how that works.
Ifi: Oh god.
Ifi: I could write a whole separate article on Visser Freaking Three.
Adam: You should!
Adam: I can't really think of any better way to destroy someone.
Ifi: Even if you CAN turn into a fire-breathing hydra, among other awesome but implausible things.
Adam: Exactly how does an animal develop a biological mechanism that allows it to breath fire, let alone in earth's atmosphere?
Adam: Did the Yeerks invade the world of someone’s dungeons and dragons campaign or something?
Ifi: This is not even the most ridiculous thing he ever morphs. Not by a long shot.
Adam: He once morphed a superheated blob of fat creature
Adam: I'm not sure how he was able to come into contact with that
Ifi: He could totally destroy everyone in a second. But he never does. He's always left just shaking his fist as the Animorphs run away.
Ifi: Now I understand that that would make a lame story. But still.
Adam: Well, this was the 90's, and Visser Three was essentially a 90's cartoon villain, even after this became out of place in later books.
Ifi: And it became evident that all the other Yeerks were laughing at him.
Adam: So I suppose I have to give Applegate credit for this then.
Adam: She recognized a flaw in her writing and then basically deconstructed it.
Adam: Not too shabby.
Ifi: Very true.
Ifi: So this book was more about establishing the setting and characters than the actual conflict.  
Ifi: But there's plenty more of that later.
Ifi: And it does do its job very well. It lays out all the main concepts in an understandable way, and I'm always able to suspend my disbelief even though I have absolutely no idea why.
Adam: It’s young adult science fiction. Suspending your disbelief is a necessary requirement for the genre.
Ifi: And I think a lot of the ideas have become engrained in my psyche.
Adam: They've made you the woman you are today
Adam: God help us all.
Ifi: They've made me...

Adam:  I started on this series before I could really read.
Adam:  So it’s pretty much these books that got me into books as a whole.
Adam:  Which is pretty impressive, come to think of it.
Ifi: Yes. I don't think I'd be the SF dork I am today without them.
Ifi: Plus, we had different books aimed at us. I’d never encountered anything like this before. My section of Borders was all about ponies and the magic of friendship.
Adam: I'm very sorry.
Ifi: You ought to be.


  1. The thing I love about that new cover is this: How would a person new to the series ever NOT get the idea that the bug-eyed vaguely human thing on the cover isn't the one doing the invading?

    (Also, I'm just about to start writing my brief -very brief- Let's Play of the GBC game later today.)

  2. Well, it's actually a lenticular cover, so if you look at it from an awkward left angle you see Jake normal, and if you see it awkwardly from the right it looks like an anole, but you do still have a point.

  3. Oh man, I am ridiculously excited for this blog. Looks like it'll do what Blogger Beware did for Goosebumps (except Animorphs is awesome, so there might be less hate. At least until we hit the 30s)

  4. You guys are so hilariously right. I just reread this series myself; I'd forgotten how dark it was, but mostly I'd forgotten how utterly stupid the animorphs were before they got a grip. Pure luck and enemy stupidity kept them alive for at least a quarter of the series.

    And Visser three getting his morphs from a DnD manual makes so much sense!

  5. Nice review, but I have a question: Is this going to be a snark blog? Or a blog to squee about our favourite childhood books?

    Personally, I prefer the squee :) Specially since I started reading the books way late, after I'd watched the TV show (I'm not American), and thanks to the idiotic publishers stopping at book 12 I'm only now, at 24, continuing with them. And I love them, with all of their little mistakes.

    Which brings me to another thing: will there be spolers for the following books in each review?

  6. Why not both? I absolutely love these books, and they've absolutely helped to shape me as a person. It doesn't mean they're perfect though, so if I see something that doesn't sit well with me, I will point it out. That said, it applies in reverse as well. I'm just as willing to point out what I like about something.

    As it stands, there probably will be some spoilers for later books. Like if something appears that will set up foreshadowing for something later, I will probably bring it up. However, we'll try our best to point out the existence of spoilers ahead of time.

  7. This should totally be an animated series, I bet the guys who did Avatar (the last Airbender) or maybe gargoyles could do an awesome job of an animorphs cartoon series

    1. I'd like to imagine what would happen if Disney got ahold of the Animorphs. Elfangor SINGS about the Yeerks to the Animorphs.

    2. They crall into your head
      Their first host was a Gedd
      Then they got Hork-Bajir
      And now the're comin' here!
      Taxxons are just big boobs
      Here, have a Morphing Cube!

  8. Seconding Adam! I wouldn't be the writer I am if it wasn't for these books. This series is what kicked off my interest in sci fi. If I'd never read it, I might not have discovered my passion for years because there's not much sci fi aimed at little girls. Yeah, they get pretty silly, especially the filler books, but the concepts are awesome and reading the books, even now, feels like going home.

  9. I read this entire book thinking "This book would be a lot shorter if the Yeerks used CCTV." Because it doesn't occur to them that the Yeerks will think they're Andalites until Visser Three loudly makes that mistake, they morph in some really dumb places.

    I mean, it's a public school. Stuff gets stolen.

  10. Nobody in this series uses security cameras. At all. Ever. You sort of learn to deal with it, I guess.

  11. It bugs me more in this one because they morph in exceptionally dumb places. Even for not having cameras. Like... behind a guy. At that point, it's a matter of turning around. They honestly don't even discuss hiding their identities; it just sort of happens by accident. Or because morphing is gross and embarrassing. I dunno.

    I think the no cameras thing also bugs me because even though I was young when the series started, we already had cameras in my school... my elementary school... my Christian, private, no-one-ever-does-anything-bad-we-just-send-them-to-psychiatrists-or-ignore-them elementary school. But no cameras in the Yeerk public school.


    I freaking love this blog btw. So glad I tripped over a link. :)

    1. Yeah, but your Christian private school probably had the money to do that thanks to tuition. Most public school systems don't, or didn't have it readily in their budget in the 90s when security cameras were so much more expensive than they are now. My last year of high school, I know my school system spent 1.1 million dollars to put cameras in all the middle & high schools and didn't consider elementary schools because it was too expensive and unnecessary, and that was in 2004. Granted, the Yeerks would have had the funds but I think the PTA might ask some questions...

    2. That is a good point, we do need to keep in mind that these books take place in the 90's and so technology is not as available...but throughout the series, the Animorphs morph in all sorts of places (not at school) that should probably have cameras. We sort of talk about it in Megamorphs #1

  12. To be fair as far as the whole 'why don't you acquire everything' angle goes, you've gotta keep in mind that the Animorphs knew p much nothing about how the whole morphing process worked, and suggest in another book - I think it's 2 or 3 - that they don't know if there's a limit to how many things you can acquire. If I wasn't sure whether or not I'd only have a total of 10 animals to save the world with, I'd try to choose carefully too. And after a certain point they do start acquiring more morphs as a team, but by then seem to have fallen into the habit of 'if I don't need it now, I won't acquire it.'

    1. There is also some discrepancies, though. In this book, when Jake and Marco are running around the zoo being chased by security, they mention that Rachel & Cassie & Tobias went unnoticed and just "went around acquiring morphs" without anyone bothering them. Yet, the only morph they show any sign of having acquired is Rachel's elephant. In the Yeerk pool, Cassie turns into a horse, and Tobias never uses anything but a hawk until he gets his power back. Rachel uses an elephant and has no other morphs. I think in the next book they list all of hers (in that conversation you refer to, where they are wondering if she'll hit a limit), and they are the elephant and a bunch of animals she got in that book. So what were all these morphs they acquired while Jake and Marco were implied to be wasting time acquiring the tiger that would become Jake's signature morph? Cassie too never uses anything she could have acquired on this trip. The only thing I can think, is that Tobias might have got a couple of battle morphs, only to lose them because he stuck with the hawk for the hasty & spur-of-the-moment attack on the pool, and that's how he got trapped. I'm fairly sure he never morphs that cat again... Even if your explanation makes sense (and it does to me), it is not what is implied in the book.

      Oh, and first post, nice reviews guys. I'm looking forward to checking this site out.

  13. ThoughtlessCogitationMarch 26, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    One thing that always irritated me about this book, back when I read the series... and reread it every so often until the last book came out and I washed my hands of the whole thing... was that they have Jake, very explicitly, use mind-speech whilst human.

    It's in the scene where Tobias morphs in front of Jake, the very first time a human morphs in the series (in order of publication, if nothing else). Tobias mind-speaks to Jake, and he. Mind-speaks. Back. Tobias even hears and responds, saying that he heard him.

    It's just... Gah! I can understand from an out-of-universe perspective why having the Animorphs capable of mind-speech while human would defuse any number of tense situations, and that Ms Applegate may have realised this after Book 1 went to print, but still! If you're going to retcon something, at least have the decency to actually do so, rather than just ignore it and hope no-one notices.

    ...And I can't believe I remember that, after all this time.

    1. My official coverup of that would be that you have thought-speak from the device, but you lose it once you morph for the first time. That would also explain how Elfangor seemed to be aware of their thoughts/dialogue after they were hiding and he was confronting Visser Three.

      Also, Elfangor can REALLY mentally multi-task, can't he? In his dying moments, he carried on a conversation with Visser Three and fought back feebly, provided commentary for his secret human audience, AND narrated his hirac delest. I imagine I'd have trouble focussing on anything more than the fatal wound I'm currently suffering, yet he's able to talk to his enemy, explain the context to a bunch of concealed children without giving any clue to their presence, and dictate a book that might be the pinnacle of KAA's writing career. Imagine what that's like for her - "This is the best thing I ever wrote. But an Andalite could do the same thing with a third of his attention, in a few seconds, when he's about to be eaten."

    2. after all this time?
      always. <3

    3. He doesn't narrate his hirac delest (I hope the html tags work), though, does he? Doesn't he transfer all his thoughts to a computer? Maybe it's a "life-flashes-before-my-eyes" thing. I dunno.
      Sorry if it seems like sarcasm; even though I am sarcastic a lot, I was actually asking here. Thanks! :)

  14. to be honest the time limit makes a bit of sense since it is later stated that excess body mass is stored in zero space and it is presumably a b**tch to keep open for a long time period

    1. Especially with the fact that Zerospace can shift around, among other things - it might not be SAFE for it without this time limit!

  15. I knew a boy in middle school that looked exactly like Jake.(<-- Off topic), but these books were dark!

  16. This was funny! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the reviews on this site. The Animorphs were so awesome and this brought back a lot of nostalgia.

    In the spirit of nit picking though, I have to say, I always thought Cassie's cop died in the confusion, maybe got hit by a stray fireball or something. It seems kind of OOC, and I can't imagine how she deliberately would hunt and kill one particular guy as a horse. They might be big, but they have bad eyesight.

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