Thursday, January 24, 2013

From the Power of a Super Brain: Solely about Seasons Six and Seven of the 4Kids TMNT

This time, there will be no ancillary Turtles stuff. I've been busy, and the brightest blip on my radar are the old Archie comics, which I feel are fun enough to deserve a proper overview once I'm finished with them.

With that out of the way....

I am a dirty cheating bitch. An awful capricious harpy. I couldn't, just could not tackle Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward in full.

Instead I went through other fans' lists of the "good" Fast Forward episodes, looked some up on the TMNT Wiki, and decided which ones I would try for. And even then, I got through very few of them. And I don't regret it.

We've sailed to calmer waters of irritation, and there's nothing so aggravating as Karai's story in "The Lost Season", but few that's gratifying, either. This rebranded season, naturally, reeks of executive meddling and so on and so forth. It's dumbed-down, garish, and ugly.

I really disliked the character of Cody Jones. Yes, it's cliche the old nerd to hate the child sidekick, but I don't care. "Just like yoouuuu" characters are such lazy creations, and Cody's character arc is founded on good ol' American hatred of introversion--it's not quite as bad as the anti-intellectualism that underlies a lot of entertainment for children, but even so, it's grating. Cody's desire to stay inside is presented as a Bad Thing, the product of manipulation and sheltering.

And of course, because a series set in the future can't abide new characters standing on their own, Cody's robot butler turns into a mech with a hockey-mask face on its chest, and a laser hockey-stick weapon thingamagoober, because Casey is his great-grandfather.

I don't at all mind putting the Turtles in a more overtly science fiction setting. I liked the earlier seasons' take on that sort of thing, the Mirage comics they were based on, and all the times the Turtles went into space in the Archie comics. Changing the setting helps to keep things fresh, and there are many potential new stories. But this was not an organic outgrowth of the story. This is just a mess of a mess, one that never hides the executive meddling that motivated its creation.

In addition, all the Turtles act like morons, or double-plus-morons. I don't care for another set of obviously toyetic redesigns. I don't care for the new villains or anything....

Except that President Bishop is here to class up the joint. Bishop is simply the best new character created for this series: a stoic, driven man who believes he is doing good but who is ruthless, and whose original occupation is a natural fit for the Turtles franchise.

His new job as Earth president, still looking the same as he did before, was a fun surprise, and the best of all the twists in the FF series. However, the season's explanation for Bishop's change of heart was a howler: having his life saved by an alien once, that was all it took to turn him around. I don't know where it actually would have fit, but such a radical transformation needs at least an arc.

The first episode of "Fast Forward" I ever saw was "Head of State", when I took a crash course in 4Kids Baxter Stockman because of my new interest in the character. I'll be talking a lot about 4Kids Baxter Stockman and comparing him with the FW version in the near future, but I must talk briefly about "Head of State" now, to complete the review.

On the second viewing of "Head of State", the same problem came up: Baxter's change of heart and situation was too rushed. I don't know how long it was between the end of season five and the flashback in "Head of State", but Bishop's genuine concern for Baxter in that flashback is very different from the callous way Bishop last handled him. I can buy the regret of the future Bishop since he's a changed man, but the material in the flashback feels like it was made to be more kid-friendly.

The promise of a resolution for Baxter is nice, but it comes at the tail end of the episode, and the way the other characters talk Baxter down from his rage also feels rushed. If there was any sense that Baxter had grown more mellow or resigned over time, it could have worked, but Baxter acts as he usually does, and after all he's been through, it doesn't seem like one episode would be enough for a resolution.

"Head of State" simply feels hasty, as if it were made simply in service of the moral that the Turtles' evil clones could turn out to be good, because, hey, these other pre-established villains made good, right?

I loved the design of the ambulatory Baxterbrain (though it looks a little condescending when Bishop pats him), and the "Organic Mousers", which were giant one-eyed dinosaurs/wyverns, some with retractable wings.

Honestly, I hate feeling like I'm only talking about my favourite character to the exclusion of everything else, but nobody is giving me anything to work with, here. I understand this was always a children's series always meant to sell toys, but I had high hopes for this show, and a lot of the time it met them. Now that it becomes more blatantly marketed to children, it's irritating.

I can't help but compare Fast Forward to the World Tour arc of Gargoyles, which focused on four characters traveling about the world, rather than in the regular New York with the rest of the cast, though we looked in on them from time to time.

While not all of the World Tour episodes were great, even the worst was miles ahead of...this. They broadened the Gargoyles world, laid foundations for future stories, and above all, the brief transformation of the series felt organic and natural--not to sell toys. Hell, the one time the World Tour arc introduced a potential "toyetic" device (Goliath enhanced with the Eye of Odin), nobody followed up on it. :P But Fast Forward serves no purpose, and just isn't fun.

And now we're on to:

Season Seven

Somehow, I managed to sit through all the episodes for this. I've heard it was bad, and while it's not good, at least it's more digestible than seasons five and six.

I remember what I said about it being lazy to use another Shredder instead of creating original villains, and I stick by that. However, establishing a principle doesn't meant you accept all examples. Khan is a dull new villain who shows up out of nowhere, and he just ends up being Cyber Shredder's minion, anyway.

The "cyber" theme of this season was unexpected and pretty silly, especially when you have Turtles on TRON cycles, or engaging in a parody of World of Warcraft. And there are more ugly new outfits designed to sell action figures.

A lot of the characters are redesigned to be reminiscent of the 2007 Turtles film, which was current at the time. I love Splinter's new design, with the Splinter sagely facial hair always reminds me of Nicodemus from The Secret of NIMH (the film version), and I can only nod my silent approval.

April looks off, though. She looks de-aged, and too blatantly "anime", even more than the Turtle's big, shiny pupils.

And now we have Another Damn Shredder. At least this one is a copy of the original, but still, it's derivative.

And Hun is still stupid, which is still disappointing.

While I've said before that it's hard to get attached to 4Kids Splinter, I winced at the idea of Splinter being sundered into computer data and becoming a mere MacGuffin for the Turtles to chase. He deserves so much better.

So April and Casey are getting married, eh? I never thought their relationship had much substance, and I really dislike the "childish husband, responsible wife" dynamic they're running nose-first into. However, it's cute that they're deciding...even with the idea that you must get a woman a huge rock for her engagement ring. And look where it got you, eh? A low-rent version of "Eye of the Beholder", that's what!

Baxter Stockman's latest robot body doesn't look right with a perpetually frowning, Bruce Timm-esque face, even if it's a fake faceplate. It's also strange that he can apparently leave Bishop whenever he likes, working for Hun in "Hacking Stockman" like it's no big deal.

(By the way, is the title "Hacking Stockman" some kind of tortured pun? I'm glad to have found something worse than the one I came up with, "Cracker Stockman".)

4kids Baxter needs a delicate balance: darkly comedic but never without a fundamental sense of pride in himself, or at least some emotional seriousness. Giving him one-liners like offering to make Cyber Shredder a body with "all the razor-sharp features" and saying, "Sorry, but I just had that back panel servo installed last week" just sounded too corny, even for a character who isn't "cool".

Once Baxter ejects his head container from his robot body, though, he's more like he used to be, including a self-aware joke about knowing that a current body is never long for this world.

Serling really is annoying, but I feel a tiny bit sorry for him, just being stuck there. That's because I've always had a soft spot for fussbudgets. It's why Cogsworth was one of my favourite characters in Beauty and the Beast. Still, why the hell did the writers bring him there?

Oh, and I did watch the "Mayhem from Mutant Island" shorts, because I couldn't resist Baxter Stockman and dinosaurs, but it was dull. More silly outfits for the Turtles, and Baxter as a generic "Curses, foiled again!" villain who is to all appearances working alone feels extremely unnatural. (He might've been replaced by the Mirage comics version while we weren't looking.)

Next up, Turtles Forever (to cleanse the palate and how!) and final thoughts on this series.

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