This past week, I finished off another block of Animorphs books, numbers 36-40, and they stood out to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, they aren’t terribly great. I don’t think they are terrible, but there is a feeling that the wheels are spinning without the overall plot really going anywhere. From some feedback I’ve heard from a few podcasts, this chunk of ghostwritten books is regarded as a low point for the series, and it sounds like a lot of that is because they main writers/editors for the series were working on the finale, and weren’t around to help these ghostwriters out too much… Listening to me talk about the weaknesses of these books wouldn’t be very interesting, though, so I wanted to talk about the other thing that unified them, which is that all five of these books look at the idea of cooperation and coordination, within the team, their allies, and even the Yeerks.
This chunk of five books represents one cycle through the viewpoints of the five characters, which means that the first, The Mutation, is written from the perspective of Jake, the fearless leader of the team. In this story, the Chee, a race of hyper-advanced, pacifist, dog-like androids, reach out to the Animorphs for help to prevent the evil Yeerks from finding the crashed, Snoopy-shaped ship the Chee and their now-extinct-except-that-their-spirits-live-on-in-domesticated-dogs creators, the Pemalites, came to Earth in thousands of years ago, which is sitting at the bottom of the ocean (holy smokes, this series is bonkers and I love it). We get to allyship at the very end of the book, when the Animorphs realize the only way they are going to escape from a mutated civilization of fish people is to forge a tenuous, temporary truce with Visser Three, the leader of the Yeerk invasion force, and embark on possibly my favorite trope of serialized storytelling: a road trip with the enemy! It’s short, but this is a nice example of how even your worst enemy can be a valuable ally in the right circumstance.
Book 37, The Weakness, pulls an interesting and unique trick in the series by giving us an Animorphs book without all the Animorphs. Jake is off on a family vacation when an opportunity to make Visser Three look bad in front of a visiting superior pops up and Rachel takes charge of the team as a self-proclaimed “warrior king” with nearly disastrous results. This book shines two distinct lights on the ideas of teams and allies, one by showing how the Animorphs depend on the diversity and uniqueness of their whole team to be successful, and the other in the adversarial relationship of Visser Three and his evaluator. In fact, if the Yeerks has gotten over their silly internal politics for about three minutes, they would have been able to wipe out the “Andalite bandits” and secure victory in their invasion of earth.
Next up is an Ax book, The Arrival, which introduces the teens to an Andalite assassin team that purports to be there to take down Visser Three, rather than actually do anything to assist the team in stopping the invasion. The Animorphs put on a show of giving up the fight when they realize reinforcements aren’t on the way, in order to find out the visitors real plot, which is to unleash a biological weapon against the Yeerks, which just might also wipe out all of humanity. Seeing this book from Ax’s perspective is really interesting, as he struggles with whether to maintain his loyalty to Jake, his Prince, or to the only representatives of his species he has encountered on Earth. Ultimately, this is a nice look at how loyalty and cooperation are earned, rather than inherent, as Ax sides with his human friends to stop the misguided Andalites plans.
Cassie’s book in this series, The Hidden, is the most buck-wild and nightmare-inducing of the lot, with a focus on an African Cape Buffalo who gains the power to morph, changes back-and-forth into the kids’ Assistant Principal/Yeerk lieutenant Chapman, and starts to display signs of intelligence. The “buffa-human” also imprints on Cassie and the teens as its herd and follows them as they run from the Yeerks into the woods. Cassie struggles throughout with the knowledge that there’s no way the buffaman can live, since it could be captured by the Yeerks and reveal her identity, but she never seems to consider any ways that it could live and protect her secret, like by tricking him to stay morphed as another animal. Throughout the chase, Cassie and the whole team are saved over and over again by their new friend, right up until Cassie watches it just get obliterated by the Yeerks, saving her from having to bloody her own hands. I feel like this book likes the idea of finding a friend when you least expect it, but then, like Cassie, couldn’t figure out how to get rid of an ally that really couldn’t fit in the group.
Finally, we come to The Other, the Marco book, which again features potential Andalite allies. This time it’s two surviving warriors who have abandoned the fight to live together in hiding. The whole team is suspicious of their motives until they realize that one of them – who is old, sick, and dying – is trying to rescue the other – who is disabled and therefore disgraced, because a lot of Andalite cultures is way backward – from the Yeerks. Also, they are totally in a same-sex relationship, even though the book won’t outright say it (but Michael Grant has confirmed it, which is canon enough for me). This book is really heavy-handed on the idea of disabilities and how to respect the differently-abled, but even a heavy-handed message about respect is still a good thing, and the fact that zero concern is given to the subtextual gay relationship is a nice nod towards allyship, too. It’s not perfect, but for a YA book from 2000, it’s nice that it hints at inclusion and acceptance of both of those ideas.
I’m still really loving the Animorphs books, and if this chunk is as much of a slump as I’ve understood it to be from mumblings on podcasts and online, I’m excited to move in to the home stretch towards the end of the series, and I’m really curious to see if the next chunk of books has a running theme through them as well.