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PUNCHING DAY

Punching Day: Captain Pronin 🌭

Captain Pronin was a short-run Russian action-comedy parody cartoon from 1992, and the only words I’m not half-sarcastic about are “Russian” and “1992.” It’s kind of like an experimental animation you’d find on early MTV, but the complete philosophical opposite of that. It looks like a 2FPS proof of concept done by a lone overwhelmed stoner in his first year of animation school on a budget of $200 over a few depressed summer weekends after getting dumped by a Debbie. But it had a staff in the dozens and the backing of an actual production company. Don’t ask yourself what went wrong, you’ll see it was all right by the end or you’ll see the inside of a gulag. 

Here’s the cover of something, I don’t know what. 

It’s not for a DVD or even a VHS, there was an inexplicable LP at one point but this image doesn’t seem like the right dimensions for that. This must be some other format only Russia had, like a Byetamax.

Yes, of course I found this on a YouTube channel that only hosts war atrocities and Captain Pronin. Did you even have to ask?

Every six-minute episode of Captain Pronin, all four of them, start with the Russian version of the MGM animatic.

And it fucking rules. I know we’re all rightfully down on Russia right now for their war and their crimes and their combination of those two, but don’t mistake a government for its people. My favorite part about Russia is that nothing kicks enough ass for a Russian. A lion roaring? Is pussy. In Russia it would open its mouth and its teeth would be machine guns. They would shoot down passing jet and eat ejecting pilot. This is animatic for very best Russian company: MGM (Machine-Gun-Mountainlion). 

If you’re going to search out and watch Captain Pronin yourself, you’ll have to give views to the war atrocities channel, so congratulations on being on the same list as me. We’re like bunk buddies! For horrors! But you better brace up before clicking play. I said they’re all 6 minutes long, but each one is still an hour and a half of cartoon. Every episode hits the ground running, every character breathlessly screams every line like they’re warning you of a loose MGM, and no scene lasts for more than 2 seconds. This is not an idle toilet watch. It’s like overdosing Adderall on Bring Your Own Bat night at a Russian fight club. You need to stretch first, have fluids at the ready, and tell your kids you’re disappointed in them in case you don’t get another chance.

We’re talking about my favorite episode, with all of its delicate cultural commentary:

This is a story about the ultimate Russian superhero visiting the USA, made just months after or possibly during the fall of the Soviet Union, as written and performed by sheltered and gaslit citizens who could only guess at the new and terrifying outside world available to them. If art is about understanding how another person sees the world at a certain point in time, this is the best way to understand an overwhelmed post-collapse Russian short of Freaky Friday body-jacking the little guy from Goldeneye

The opening two seconds of Captain Pronin always tell you everything you need to know about the plot immediately, so you can feed it straight to a pack of feral subway dogs and never bring it up again.

Now, because I’ve watched enough Captain Pronin to speak a little Captain Pronin and less of every other human language, I can tell you this is trying to say the American president is so scared of the cyborg assassin that the mafia sent after him, he’s losing sleep. But what it’s actually saying is that Don Corleone – not a letter switch, not a silly pun, the actual character straight from the Godfather – hates that the president can’t sleep, so he’s going to kill him with a cyborg to help him rest.

There’s actually no way of knowing which interpretation is correct because all of this happened four seconds ago, and is therefore irrelevant. There is only the present in Captain Pronin. The past is propaganda meant to fool you into thinking there were better times, and the future is for decadent westerners who take for granted they’ll see tomorrow.  

The police storm into Captain Pronin’s office, who may also be a police officer, there’s no time to even guess at that, and tell him they arrested a metalhead.

So you think, “okay, I get it – this is a parody, it’s mocking what the Russian police waste their time on, by fighting for arbitrary Russian values against the so-called corruption of the west and-”

No, shut the fuck up. I’m trying to train you out of thinking about things. It’s a betrayal, every time. The setup to a Captain Pronin bit is that it looks like it’s going to have an observation, and then something insane about an osmium goblin. I’m not being random, here’s the next sentence:

You think it’s a cutting observation about culture police; it’s really a punk rock cinnabar troll mafioso. Internalize this lesson. Remember Captain Pronin is a parody not of any single genre, but of coherence itself.  

The plan is for Captain Pronin to take the osmium goblin’s place and fly to America instead, in order to beat the shit out of something. It’s not at all clear what or why, but it happened three seconds ago, so it’s lost to history now. Just enjoy the way Captain Pronin flies: Unbrokenly staring out the window, waiting for something’s ass to foolishly come into view so he can destroy it.

Captain Pronin lands in America, meets with his contact, and is brought to a Typical American Alleyway, with its too much material garbage and not enough loose dogs. The lead goon tells him, in broken english, “this is your money, give me your smoking.”

Did I forget to mention something about black market cigarettes? Could this be a dig at how western contraband was actually the backbone of the Soviet economy? Fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you. You’ve forgotten the joke structure: We set up an observation, and then try to kill each other with bricks. 

Pronin replies, “No smoking, you gib me berry little money!” and tosses the cash back in his face. So the lead goon hefts a brick, and you see where this is going.

How dare you see where this is going.

Stop trying to predict Captain Pronin, no matter how many times I force you to do it.

Anyway, Pronin answers “yes I can,” and bashes him over the head with another brick. That’s… holy shit that’s actually a recognizable bit! It’s just that instead of setting it up by having the goon talk up how strong he is and try to prove it by breaking a brick with his head, there’s nothing. Nothing. It just happens. So it scans like a schizophrenic practicing self harm and Captain Pronin deciding that’s enough practice, this guy’s ready to go pro.

The goons all pull their guns and Captain Pronin runs away. It is 1992. It is time for a goofy action montage. It is time, you’re so welcome for this by the way, it is time for a barely post-Soviet Russian rap breakdown footchase. 

Again, I sort of speak Captain Pronin – I think it’s trying to tell you that he’s called Captain Pronin, but only to good guys. Villains might as well call him Captain Fear, for what he should inspire in them. It looks like I cut off the first part of the rap to make this look ridiculous, but no – this is the first part. It jumps right into the last half of a thought it maybe had, and then while you’re looking for the start, Captain Pronin flipkicks into a Guns Shop, which only sells spears, and throws an axe at the mafia. 

Look at this master of investigation investigating the mystery of why goons don’t have axes in their heads. Look at this fan of pursuits, all pursuits, from footchase to trivial. By telling me he’s the best investigator as he kicks in a gun store to throw axes, it makes me question his subtle deductive skills, but the rap knows this, and the rap will not brook questions.

The action montage continues, and in true Russian fashion it kicks fucking ass in a way that no second draft could. The goons hit Captain Pronin with a rocket launcher, he does not notice. He dives into the sewer and emerges into a fat bald woman wrestling match, like we have here in the States, so they instantly attack him, like we do here in the States. 

The goons hit him with a grenade and a car, neither of which he notices. He climbs the Statue of Liberty, who does not approve of the goons and vomits policemen. 

Oh shit, that’s actually kind of a brutal commentary on the American justice system, having Lady Liberty herself disgorge corrupt authority figures from every orifice like she’s got swine ebola. It’s the kind of cutting social observation you can get fucked for making, dipshit, this is Captain Pronin. He’s already gone, he leapt from the torch into a mafia helicopter, took the lead goon hostage, made him talk, flew to Don Corleone from the Godfather’s penthouse, and crashed the helicopter into the roof because it was faster than landing.

All of that took three seconds, and you missed it because you had a thought. Good luck revisiting it, Byetamax does not rewind, it only marches forward, forward like glorious Soviet Union!

We finally see Don Corleone from the Godfather, who is skinny, and pink. If you thought Captain Pronin picked Don Corleone because he was going to be a metaphor for the bloated influence of fatcat capitalism, you got an osmium goblin.

Don Corleone uses a computer. This is shorthand for evil, because remember: Russia. Remember: 1992. In the ‘90s computers were all pure magic, you should never trust them, and if you see anybody using one they’re a terrorist.

Don Corleone from the Godfather hits the Death Button on his computer, all Russian computers have one, it’s their most used key outside of Tab and that’s only because Tab in Russian translates to something like “I have become weary of joy, it is always proven a lie by time.”

This starts a countdown that, like everything in Captain Pronin, is already over. 

3! 2! 1! Captain Pronin is too late, we all know what happens next. 

Of course that sentence is a trap, but it’s too late – you read it. Write down what happens next. Do it, you sap, take a second and write down what happens next.

No, I’m waiting. You do it.

You were wrong.

Haha, you wrote down Carman right? You wrote the words “the computer turns into Carman, who does the Carman dance and is impervious to bullets and his eyes are headlights.” Right? Because that’s what the writers of Captain Pronin wrote down. That’s something other human beings wrote down in response to the prompt “Don Corleone from the Godfather hits the Death Button on his PC.” Then they put together a budget for it, and dozens of people animated it, and at no point did any of them turn to the other and say “hey Vadim, what the fuck are we even doing?”

Carman and Captain Pronin have a knockdown dragout breakdance fight where Carman punches Captain Pronin’s head straight off-

But he keeps fighting, Russians are just that tough. Is rattlesnake rules. Even with head off, Russian still headbutt. Is muscle memory.

Captain Pronin tosses Carman into a fridge, his one weakness, I guess, and then dies himself. 

But who’s this walking in? It’s Captain Pronin!

He built a robot double because he didn’t feel like doing all this. No really, I know you’re going to completely believe me, but there’s no explanation. An American show would have the hero be like “I had to build a robot because I couldn’t do this myself, for you see I was Dr. Blythe Smith-Woople all along!” And then George Peppard pulls off his George Peppard mask to reveal the Dr. Smith-Woople mask, and then he pulls off the Dr. Smith-Woople mask to reveal he was actually George Peppard. It sounds confusing, but if you’re 8 years old and being brain-barraged by quick-cut ads for skateboards and flavored slime, you wouldn’t question it. But there were no skateboards in Soviet Union. The slime? Is unflavored. Maybe that’s why Captain Pronin opts to not. To simply not.

Anyway, then Captain Pronin makes the exact word-for-word call I make every time I get drunk:

Guess how it ends. Fucking guess. I’m not even going to play with you. You’re in the shit now. You are pot committed to madness. You just ante’d up your brain against a weeping Russian who eats a little bit of a bullet every day trying to build an immunity.

You do it. Guess.

No, we’re not going to continue until you write down the very last scene in this cartoon. You tell me how it ends, based on everything we’ve seen so far. 

I’m serious, I’m checking your work. You have to post your responses in the comments and I’m going through all the traffic logs to match them up. If I find out you read this and didn’t write down your response, I’m going to be your computer and then turn into a man and fight you.

Write it!

You were wrong.

Haha, did you write down “a freeze frame of Captain Pronin, Russian Superman shaking hands with actual Bill Clinton?” You god damn liar. If you actually wrote that down I’m calling the cops, you’re a danger to yourself and others.

This is such pure lunacy you have to assume you’re missing something, and you’re right, and it will not help. I told you at the start this was an action parody, but not in the sense you’re thinking. It’s a parody of bootleg Russian action movies that poorly ripped off big-budget western action films Russians weren’t legally allowed to see. So this show is parodying tropes that were unintentionally parodying mistranslated tropes from another culture’s bootlegs. It’s not a copy of a copy, it’s a copy of a Turkish menu written with AI translation found long after the fall of man in the flooded wreckage of an amusement park by archaeologist aliens and remastered to the fickle tastes of the primetime Bip*rt audience of Gnorks ages 🦠 to ௵.

This is the deep madness, banality filtered through so many levels of abstraction that if you go down there, all the way down to the place of understanding at its core, you’re down there forever, you’ll die without ever seeing the sun again. 

And we haven’t even talked about the video game.

19 replies on “Punching Day: Captain Pronin 🌭”

Alright Brockway, I’ll play your game. Is it that the President of the United States is Harrison Ford and he invites Captain Pronin to be in his next movie in broken English?

Love that you brought this to our attention!

I’m like two seconds in, and already digging that Capt. Pronin is listening to an old-timey banjo rendition of the national anthem as he reads the US news.

We’re more than just our organized crime, sex pest presidents and action movie tropes, so its nice to see some loving references made to the iconic American hillbilly.

Oh my God, and there is a swinging rendition of the Godfather theme on Don Corleone’s radio! I know the song says “Captain Pronin Superstar”, but the real superstar might be the music director. This cartoon rules.

Welp, I knew this day would come.

*cracks neck, slowly puts on Computer-Man fightin’ gloves*

This feels like someone tried to write the steps to converting you to a secular religion over the course of 50 years but only had 4 minutes to deliver it. It’s so shockingly wrong in every direction that by the time you move onto the next step, the previous one’s already blood poisoninged you to lost of sleep..

Ok, guessing how the Pronin cartoon ends after Captain Pronin somehow dials the White House directly –

Pronin tells the President (who is Reagan, but even wimpier) that the cyborg-killer is destroyed, and Pronin is coming for him instead. Pronin then steals a jet from the roof of Don Corleone’s destroyed penthouse and flies it directly into the White House as the Supreme Soviet leaps from the craft to demand America’s formal surrender.

I was hopping for a Zangief/Gorbachev dance number from the end of Street Fighter 2, but this ending topped it.

It ends with the White house turning into a Voltron with the Washington Monument as a sword, piloted by the President. The Kremlin also turns into a mech, piloted by Captain Pronin. Together they beat the shit out of the whole Middle East.

The final scene: the president is revealed to be a pack of feral dogs in a trenchcoat. They shower the Captain with decadent western wealth

I’m guessing it ends with something about a hamburger, perhaps a hamburger fight, except the president is somehow also beef.

This is far closer than I’d liked for it to have been as I remember one of the things Bill Clinton would be mocked for being “ha ha, he’s a fat guy who likes burgers” before all the other stuff happened.

I wanted to play your game. I swear I was actually going to guess he had dinner with the president, but I saw the picture when I scrolled past.

“I know we’re all rightfully down on Russia right now for their war and their crimes and their combination of those two, but don’t mistake a government for its people”

I know we have laughs here, but this is a great and important point, bravo Brockway, thank you for making it.

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