The first season of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series from Murakami-Wolf-Swanson is considered by many a fan to be the best season of the entire series. Incidentally, it also happens to be the shortest. It was initially a five-part miniseries, which TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird worked on rather closely. While I canâ€™t say that the first season is a perfect interpretation of the dark and gritty Mirage comic books, it certainly does have a much harder edge to it.
The first episode of the set, â€œTurtle Tracksâ€, gets the ball rolling, introducing all the characters, their origins and the general plot premise in a matter of twenty-two minutes. News reporter April Oâ€™Neil is reporting on the crimewave of the Foot Clan and drawing lots of attention in their direction. The mysterious villain known as the Shredder orders a gang of street punks to â€œsilenceâ€ her. April escapes into the sewers where she is rescued by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo, Raphael, Michealangelo and Donatello.
The first episode is really quite good, with the Shredder (not yet completely revealed) actually appearing rather menacing as a villain. The fight at the end on top of the skyscraper is a nice reference to the rooftop battle from the first issue of the Mirage comic series, though the similarities end there. A decent battle agains the Foot Clan, with the android ninjas actually being a threat for a change and using some decent weaponry (I liked the sonic boom-fan, personally).
Next is â€œEnter the Shredderâ€, where the Turtles go up against their new arch nemesis. We discover that Shredder is piloting a mighty subterranean battle fortress, the Technodrome, which was lent to him by Krang, a disembodied warlord from Dimension X who desperately wants a new body. Shredder uses mutagen to transform two of his street punk goons, Bebop and Rocksteady, into powerful mutant henchmen. The two mutants take on the TMNT, but due to their limited intelligence, donâ€™t get very far.
Ah, the days when Bebop and Rocksteady were actually a threat. After the first season aired, parents complained about the level of violence in the series, causing some massive changes in season two. One of these changes was the lobotomizing of Bebop and Rocksteady, making them more naÃ¯ve than genuinely evil. Here, however, they are quite violent and very, very angry. Krang is also drawn grosser than usual, with purple veins all over his brain-like â€œbodyâ€ and puddles of goo about him.
â€œA Thing About Ratsâ€ has the Shredder enlist the services of the mad scientist Baxter Stockman. Stockman builds a legion of Mouser robots; little chomping monsters made to hunt down rats. That means Splinter is in trouble.
Baxter Stockman would prove to be a returning villain throughout the rest of the original TMNT series, though he would end up being mutated into a fly-monster halfway through season 2. Oddly enough, he was actually a black guy in the original Mirage comics. Why they chose to make him white for this series is beyond me. Iâ€™ve heard explanations range from â€œto make him resemble the mad scientist stereotypeâ€ all the way to â€œhaving a black guy being forced to work for someone else is racistâ€.
â€œHot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension Xâ€ is probably the weakest link in the season. Krang opens a portal to Dimension X and a flying hot rod containing the Neutrinos, punk kids from Dimension X who hate war, escapes to Earth. They are followed by Generals Traag and Granite, Rock Soldiers from Krangâ€™s army. Traag and Granite wreak havoc across New York, culminating in their unleashing a terrible storm upon the city.
Maybe my least favorite episode of the bunch. It took me a while to get to like the Neutrinos, as they were honestly rather irritating. Mikeâ€™s attraction towards Kala, the female Neutrino, feels especially forced (and it never goes anywhere). On the bright side, thereâ€™s one awesome gag where Traag sets the weather device â€œHmmmâ€¦clear skiesâ€¦noâ€¦partly cloudyâ€¦noâ€¦aha! Total Chaos!â€
â€œShredder & Splinteredâ€ is the incoherently titled season finale. The TMNT head down to the Technodrome for a finale showdown, determined to send it back to Dimension X. Meanwhile, Krang at last gets his new body and lays waste to New York. Even further complicating things is the Shredder and his retro-mutagen ray gun, which will turn the TMNT back into pet turtles.
A grand finale and one of the few times you see Krangâ€™s body utilized to its full potential (hell, itâ€™s one of the few times you even get to see Krang actually fight). One of the best fights between Shredder and Splinter, as well. There was always a theme with the season finales, at least for the first three seasons. The technodrome would become operational, Shredder and Splinter would do battle and the Technodrome would end up being stranded in some horrible place. The season finales were always some of my favorites.
The first season of the original TMNT cartoon was animated by Toei Studios in Japan, and as a result, looks fantastic. Yes, there are animation errors here and there (particularly with bandana colors) but the animation-itself is very smooth and detailed. The martial arts moves look great and the action sequences have some excellent effects to them. The animators also toss in a few whimsical Japanese anime effects here and there to add some comedic sight gag-value (though they never go overboard with them). Toei would only animate a handful of episodes of the rest of the series, and their work would never equal the quality of this first season (though season threeâ€™s â€œTurtles on Trialâ€ looked rather good).
Family Home Entertainment included a few bonus episodes from the tenth and final season of the TMNT series. While they claim these episodes were â€œnever before seen!â€ theyâ€™re only half right. The episodes were only aired in certain parts of the country by CBS, rather than nation-wide. Itâ€™s an interesting extra, as it makes for a nice â€œalpha and omegaâ€ feel for the set; you get to compare and contrast between the beginning and the end of the series. Unfortunately, FHE botched the order of the bonus episodes, including their episode numbering. They claim â€œThe Beginning of the Endâ€ is episode 187 (when it is really 188), â€œThe Return of Dregg is episode 188 (when it is really 187), â€œMobster from Dimension Xâ€ is episode 191 (when it is really 192) and â€œThe Day the Earth Disappearedâ€ is episode 192 (when it is really 193). Confusing, eh?
The episodes are a nice thought, but without the context of the entire tenth season, missing several episodes inbetween one-another, and being presented out of orderâ€¦theyâ€™re rather hard to follow. The final seasons of the TMNT series, dubbed â€œthe Red Sky seriesâ€ had very tight continuity between episodes and some darker plots (as well as a new villain in Lord Dregg, replacing Shredder and Krnag), so seeing the episode presented this way is rather confusing.
This is a budget DVD, so donâ€™t expect to pay more than $10 bucks for it anywhere. So I canâ€™t think of any reason why anybody who even remotely likes the TMNT shouldnâ€™t buy this DVD. It contains the best five episodes of the series as well as asome wacky bonus episodes from the forgotten era. Definitely worth picking up.