If you haven’t guessed it by now, I am a firm believer in the idea that every creator is inseparable from their culture of origin, and that their work reflects this culture whether they intend it or not. That’s why I walked you through a Quebec-centric re-intepretation of Blade Runner 2049, examining whether French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve allowed the politics and culture of his native province to seep into his critically celebrated yet flawed sequel, and whether that was the reason for some of the rather strange choices that affect the film for good or for ill. A mystery certainly befitting the famously enigmatic Blade Runner franchise… but even if I was seeing something that isn’t there, looking at Blade Runner 2049 this way does more to explain the “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” that is Quebec to an outsider than rehashing the province’s history.

But ultimately, what holds Quebec within the federation? And beyond that, what binds a place like Alberta – with its independent streak and cowboy sensibilities, and its own not-as-famous separatist movement – to the Gaelic-inspired seafarers of the Maritime provinces? I’ve made the argument, with some success, that the provinces of Canada are like the original American Thirteen Colonies, distinct religiously, ethnically, and linguistically from one another, but ultimately bound together by shared opposition to the British yoke. Yet at times Americans found themselves fighting one another, in actual armed civil war, or across deep political and racial divides.

Canadian elites would have you believe that their people are simply more docile, more decent, and less likely to be swayed by demagoguery. But a closer examination puts the lie to this rosy picture: periodic outbreaks of racism and the more deeply held prejudice against Native Canadians, a history of irresponsible Premiers claiming the federal government is out to get them, general strikes, domestic terrorism, and, looking abroad, Canadians at the centre of money-laundering operationsoffshore tax havens, and privacy breaches. While larger powers battle it out for global supremacy, Canadians maintain low-level warfare with one another, or involve themselves – often accidentally – in high-stakes conflicts, far removed from the hinterlands of Essex County or Letterkenny.

The consequence free hipster odyssey of Scott Pilgrim and the gritty, blood-soaked path trod by Wolverine do not contradict one another – they are one and the same. This contradiction plays itself out in a concept called “the garrison mentality“- broadly, the idea that Canadians invent or seek out their own personal wars despite living in relative peace. But rather than explicate this confusing concept through politics or history, I will do it using two children’s cartoons with Canadian roots.

One, “Transformers: Beast Wars,” is likely well known to you. Everybody knows the robots in disguise thanks to Michael Bay’s explosion-soaked series of films. (Hilariously, and proving my point in a way, “Beast Wars” was deemed to be too violent a title for Canadians, so the show was known in Canada as ‘Beasties.'”) The other, “ReBoot,” is acclaimed in animation circles but enjoys much less popular fandom. Both were created by Vancouver-based Mainframe Entertainment.

Visually, these two series have not aged well. Being early-to-mid 1990s CGI, the uncanny valley runs deep through them. But the writing, voice acting and character development remain top-notch and surprisingly deep. And, for the purposes of our discussion, the ancient animation actually helps convey the sense of unease and low-level threat central to the garrison mentality.

The story of “ReBoot” is deceptively simple: White Knight Dudley-Do Right Guardian Bob must mend and defend the city of Mainframe, located inside a computer. Humanoid sprites, lowly binomes (resembling 1 and 0), and menacing viruses all fall under Bob’s jurisdiction. Why does he put it all on the line to help diner owner Dot Matrix and her irritating little brother Enzo, and his cringey catchphrases? (“Alphanumeric!”) We don’t actually find out until the fourth season, but the clear and present threat to Mainframe, more powerful than the merciless yet impeccably well-mannered virus Megabyte and the insane yet alluring Hexadecimal, who switches emotions and masks with a wave of her hand, is the never-seen User, who inputs games for pleasure and can wipe out entire sectors if Bob and his friends can’t win.

Do you recognize Megabyte’s voice? That’s Tony Jay, who famously voiced Judge Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Anybody with that kind of voice is not to be trifled with, and Megabyte’s desire to rule Mainframe is clear, but even he is forced into alliances of convenience with Bob when the giant purple game cubes come tumbling out of the sky. This is typical of a “ReBoot” episode: The main action of the story can be interrupted any time, or sometimes multiple times, by the actions of the User. Yet nobody objects to the Users’ toying with the inhabitants of Mainframe: They simply double click their icons and transform into video game characters – wizards and warriors, racers, track and field competitors – and challenge the User’s avatar. Much like Canadians, they have learned to live with the constant threat of being swallowed up by global conflicts, and they do so without complaining.

Then we have “Beast Wars: Transformers,” which shows its desire to live up to the example set by the Saturday morning cartoon. We have the burning conflict between the Maximals (the descendants of the Autobots) and the Predacons (who follow the Decepticons). We have the noble gorilla Optimus Primal, a worthy successor to his famous Robot Jesus ancestor, and the tyrannical Megatron, who, unlike his screechy-voiced  and easily distracted counterpart from centuries ago, is every inch the magnificent bastard, terrorizing his subordinates and frequently outwitting the Maximals. But unlike the original series, the two warring camps are much smaller – starting at five robots on either side, once the stoic and determined Dinobot defects to the Maximals – and the arena of battle is much smaller, on a single planet with plentiful Energon reserves, with both teams’ ships having crashed.

This makes for much deeper characterization of the shape-shifting robots in between the battles. The fatalistic and angry Dinobot is the standout, meditating at one point on the nature of fate and predestination in a “To Be Or Not To Be” speech, but we also have the sadistic scientist Tarantulus, the gentle giant Rhinox, the perpetually victimized Waspinator, and the cynical Rattrap. The cast expands slowly, as does the robots’ understanding that their conflict is only a small part of the larger agenda of – once again – an invisible alien race called the Vok whose designs for the planet are unlike anything either side has ever seen. Once again, the two sides must put aside their differences and work together despite being mortal enemies. A particularly strong episode that illustrates this tendency is where the noble Silverbolt and the berserker Rampage each try to befriend a strange and almost non-verbal robot that is neither Maximal nor Predacon, but that possesses enormous power. This is no show meant to sell toys. The Canadian creators had a deep and well-plotted story to tell, and they told it well.

It is important to note that despite brimming with action and an anyone-can-die atmosphere, both shows manage to be relatively light in tone for the most part. The games in ReBoot create the potential for parodies ranging from Star Trek to James Bond to Mortal Kombat to Wacky Races, while Beast Wars features quite a few fourth wall breaks, running gags, and light-hearted bickering between Rattrap and Dinobot. Rather than lower the stakes, this humour makes it the more jarring when someone in either show dies or sacrifices themselves (for real, or temporarily), or when an end-of-season cliffhanger leaves everything in doubt. But then, this is the garrison mentality in its essence- humour and quirkiness in the face of constant and looming and poorly defined threat.

We will cover more of the weird and darkly wonderful world of Canadian cartoons in a later episode, but for now, let us tilt back towards the lighter side of things with an introduction to the irony-free and boundary-pushing world of Canadian music. Prepare yourselves for the sometimes unbearably dorky but definitely legendary prog-rock legends Rush – next week.

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