Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Quick Bit O' Nicktoons Turtles

I told myself I wouldn't actively seek out the new Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, not because I'd hate it, but because there was already so much stuff to go through, and go back through, if I wanted do extend my brief, rekindled interest in TMNT, I'd start with the older stuff and work my way forward.

But, I saw YTV was showing some of the latest episodes, and I had a free hour. It was the first time I'd watched YTV in a long while, which is sad considering what an icon for my fandom and my childhood the station used to be. I should tune into Legend of Korra so I can see it on a real TV screen, but I am always somewhere else at noon on Saturdays, and it doesn't have a 6-7 pm re-run like TMNT does.

Okay, so I know that by this point it's cliche to compare the Nicktoons Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Teen Titans, especially since there's a producer who worked on both shows, but dammit, the comparison is apt, so I'm gonna make it again: Nicktoons Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is like Teen Titans. More specifically, it's like the early episodes of the series, before it got to pushing the envelope with the Trigon arc or the various things Slade did.

That is, it's goofy and dopey a lot of the time, and the plots are cliches, but there are some moments that hint it is capable of greater intensity. In addition, you've got "anime-style" double takes, which here are represented as 2D-style effects like teardrops, blank eyes, and cross-popping veins, inserted into the 3D animation.

Personally, I think it's all...okay. Not great, but not horrible. A nice thing to kill a half hour with and then forget about, nothing to become deeply invested in. I'm sure a lot of people will find it to be insufferable, but it's really not. It's just...okay.

The two episodes I watched were "Old Friend, New Enemy" and "I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman". The first one was worse, being like a rehash of the Gargoyles episode "Leader of the Pack" (though I know it didn't invent that plotline, my brain just happens to go to Gargoyles a lot), but with Michelangelo wanting to pal around with a serious-minded Chuck Norris parody who turns out to work for the Shredder, briefly crushing Mikey's dreams of forging a greater connection to the outside world.

The second was a little more fun, though it had the cliche of "young heroes grounded who screw up after they sneak out". With my newfound liking for Baxter Stockman, I enjoyed this latest version of the character, who's voiced by Phil LaMarr and has a similar ineffectual dorkiness to his whitewashed counterpart from the old Fred Wolf show. Not quite so stupid mind you, and this time written by writers who are more aware of just how pathetic he is, but it got me laughing in a similar way.

(Why are people already asking that he become a fly in this version? He's already going the robotic/cybernetic route, we don't need to overload him with another mode of transformation. I like Baxterfly, but the ship's sailed, guys.)

Inevitable comparison to other Turtles stuff: It's midway between the old show and the 4Kids show when it comes to how seriously it takes itself, and how well it develops its world. It skews towards the goofy, but can feel serious, and takes more care in what it creates. After two episodes, I'm not ready to call out the series for being unable to decide on its tone: it still hangs together despite the shifts from dark to goofy.

The characterizations of the Turtles are mostly the same. They're played as more youthful than usual, Raphael is angry instead of sassy (more Mirage accuracy), and Mikey is very childish, with Greg Cipes drawing a lot on his previous Beast Boy role. Donnie or Leo pretty much are who they are. Donnie is a little more petulant, which I like. Flaws are always a good thing.

I don't care whether it's Rob Paulsen voicing a different Turtle, since as a spawnling I was all about Splinter anyway, and now I'm just about Splinter and Baxter. Splinter isn't in these two episodes very much, and shows only the harsh disciplinarian side to his character, rather than the wise and fatherly side. I was a tiny bit disappointed in that, but there's some episodes I missed, so I'm not going to react as though this is the whole of Splinter's character.

(Though because Splinter is such an icon from my childhood, I don't know if I could ever get as attached to any other version of Splinter, or even if I'm capable of liking a Splinter as an adult, without the nostalgia factor.)

I like the animation okay. The Turtles having individualized character designs was the best part. Even though the series takes place mostly underground, and at night, on my TV it was still a little too dark, visually, to make out some of what was happening.

So, that is all I have to say. It's still up in the air whether I'll actively keep up with this show, but I enjoyed it on a surface level.


  1. This is pretty much where I am with the series so far. It's fun, and I'm super-appreciative of their willingness to do different things, but right now, it's a good way to pass half hour and little more. I hope that the series will eventually be able to have it own version of "Things Change" (the Teen Titans one, not the TMNT one).

    Re: "Old Enemy, New Friend", I didn't immediately notice the similarities to "The Thrill of the Hunt" (I think that's the one you mean--the one where The Pack is introduced?), mostly because I was too distracted by how similar it was to TMNT 2003's "The Way of Invisibility". Sharing a premise is one thing: it's another when both episodes share the structure of "The Shredder tasks two of his people (who don't like each other) to find out more information about the turtles; they kidnap one of them and then allow him to escape with the pretense of following them to their lair; the Foot goons are washed away".

    I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I'd be more supportive of individualized designs if artists didn't inevitably use it as an opportunity to incorporate visual stereotypes. I liked that Don was an utter geek yet didn't look like it; it felt subversive--like a way to establish that not all geeks look alike. Now, with the gap tooth and the lankier build, it feels as if a message has been lost.


  2. That's a fair point about how symbolism leads to stereotypes. It's something I also struggle with when I consider the issue of characters' physical appearances.

    In this case, I guess stereotypical distinction is better than the lack of distinction, which most Turtles character designs have so far displayed.

    I haven't had the pleasure of watching the 4Kids series all the way through, as it was airing when I had thought I was out of the Turtles game. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, I watched some 4Kids series episodes to do some "research" on a more accurate and serious Baxter Stockman, and found myself pleasantly impressed by the quality of the show. Maybe it's too stereotypical for me to praise a darker and more serious show over something funnier, but that's just the way I am.

    So far, the 2012 series isn't making me feel much of anything.

  3. I'm utterly biased--I'm like the show's eighth biggest fan--but if you liked "Gargoyles", then I think you'll find a lot to like about TMNT 2k3, should you decide to delve deeper into it; its approach to storytelling and world-building owe a lot to the earlier show. Its quality isn't entirely consistent--its last three seasons suffer tremendously from a short turnaround time and reduced budget--but as a whole it's one of the most satisfying and overlooked western action cartoons out there.


    1. I'm certainly giving serious thought to watching the entire 2k3 series, because I'm still confident I'll enjoy it--there are just other things I need to get through.