Friday, January 11, 2013

Shoulda Stayed Lost: Season Five of the 4Kids TMNT and Other Stuff

I could make an overblown speech about making the world burn with the sheer force of my nerd and not-nerd rage. I'm not gonna, but that's the state of mind I was in towards most of season five, the "lost season" of the 4Kids TMNT series. And after thinking it over…my complaints were totally legitimate.

No, nothing was ever bad enough to destroy the goodwill of previous episodes, but it was one hell of a firewalk. It started out mildly annoying, then went straight on to making me angry. Thank God it was half the length of a regular season.

I know this might sound odd coming from someone who loved Splinter so much, but I've never been all that excited when full-blown Martial Arts stuff comes into play in a Turtles universe, when it's all fantasy ninja stuff, all the time. So then, the Ninja Tribunal parts bored me to tears. Even the appearance of nicely-designed dragons couldn't help.

Apparently there is now this huge backstory involving the Ninja Tribunal and the Foot Mystics--and while it doesn't come out of nowhere, the support for it still feels weak. Furthermore, you push all these new characters on viewers, along with the Turtles' fighting companions, and expect us to care about them in such a short timeframe, and it doesn't work. What they tried to sell, I wasn't buying.

To make it worse, there are such blatant toy advertisements here, character redesigns and new characters that scream, "action figure variant!". The Turtles with their mystical patterns, Karai with her "Proton Pack", Bishop with his red circuitry suit, and so many of their enemies—it just looks silly.

I hated the idea of Tengu Shredder from the start. First off, his introduction starts as a cheesy McGuffin chase, and it results in a villain that has no panache, no style. He's just a roaring megalomaniac, without the cool air of Ch'rell. Even though Ch'rell eventually goes nuts, there's the principle to consider. 

Furthermore, while there's precedent for Shredder being a mantle, it still feels a little silly to hype up this powerful new villain, only to have him be one who looks and sounds like the former main villain. Calling him the "True Shredder" makes it feel even more fanfic-y, and I say this as somebody who's indulged.

And then there is Karai...the point at which my nerd rage tipped over into something stronger. It seemed that no one involved understood how terrible it looked to have the series' only female villain be completely at the mercy of the new Big Bad, especially when she had had barely any time to shine on her own.

This is shown without question, accepted without hesitation: a naked contempt for Karai's skills as a warrior and her strength as a villain. Every character accepts it, every character tries to tell her how futile it is, making Karai look ever more stupid for trying.

It's not about her being defeated by Tengu Shredder, really, but how she gets so little a chance to stand up to him, and after so short a career as the Shredder. She is frozen in mid-attack, fleeing in terror from a giant serpent, calling on her minion for help—and Tengu Shredder pins her to the wall and causes her armour to fall off and talks about making her his "slave".  Yeah, she's wearing a black body stocking underneath, but does that really make a difference? There is just no way to see this but that Karai being the damsel in distress. And it is absolutely awful. 

I've had my issues with this franchise's treatment of female characters before, but this takes home the prize. None of the blows that Karai manages to deal in the aftermath of the Tengu's attack  on her, nor the Turtles treating her as a threat, can do anything to change this.

The final twist of the knife is that Dr. Chaplin's attachment to Karai is valourized, treated with gravitas, is a romance in all but explicit name. This, from his introduction as a creepy Nice Guy who made robots in her likeness but never could be honest about what it meant, and who never had any positive traits at all.  

In short, Chaplin is living every creepy nerd-boy's fantasy of being given a hot chick without doing anything. There is enough of that disgusting shit in media made for adults; we don't need it here.

(Next time I see someone compare Dr. Chaplin to Fred Wolf Baxter, I'm probably going to twitch a little.)

The goofy style of the earlier episodes never quite disappears, and in the end, it all seems like it's cribbing from children's anime in the worst way, with all the silly glowing doodads and garish, over-designed costumes. And you know what? I love dragons, but we still don't need 'em here.

Also, when did Hun become so stupid? He's acting like the meathead lazy writers would have already made him into.

It therefore is no surprise that I felt no sense of suspense, no sense of tension, when all of this came to a head and there was a huge battle between Tengu Shredder and basically the entire cast. I just watched, fuming in silence. The arrival of Hamato Yoshi's spirit was pure deus ex machina, made worse that it happened multiple times.

There were only a few things to cool the fire. A story with Splinter and the younger Turtles is always a treat, and the design of the Bone Demon was really cool (hey, Playmates, where was the action figure of that?). I'm also always happy to see Baxter, even if he's never happy anymore—at least his robot body has "put on some pants". The Baxtertank was sure unexpected, and I'm glad he didn't get eaten by a dragon.


Ancillary Turtles Stuff

Naturally, with such a short period of time, there isn't much of a chance to build up things. But, I have to talk about something else, so let's get this circus rolling.

Hearing that the IDW comics series has dark and edgy Neutrinos made me laugh so hard that I've come the closest ever to going to pick the series up, though I still haven't.

I am still taking it slow going through the Fred Wolf series, watching more of the third season. I guess I sometimes need to prep myself before watching this series, which I still feel weirded out by. Where the heck are my nostalgia goggles? I remember many of these episodes from when I was a child, but I'm looking at them like I would a show airing today, with a sharp adult cynicism.

Some of them are still too annoying to finish, and I give myself leeway to stop any time and not finish every episode.

I let myself do that, because out of the almost two hundred episodes, there are none I actually need to see. With the 4Kids series I want to be a completist, because I still respect it, and there's continuity and things.

However, there was one goddamn episode I hated but forced myself parts of, because I needed something in it for something. That was "Raphael Knocks 'Em Dead", which didn't have the prime Fred wolf villains, but, it was basically the "giggle ray" episode. It centers around the characters telling jokes, and I don't have to paint a picture of how horrid an episode like that for this series is. Stick to sass, Raphael.

And somebody got the brilliant idea to recycle human Baxter Stockman's model sheet, give him orange hair, and say he was "Barney Stockman" still voiced by Pat Fraley, and make him the mad scientist of that particular day.

Naturally, Baxter Stockman is irreplaceable, but I found the execution really funny, because Barney acts like Baxter on crack, constantly yelling and screaming and always showing his malicious side. He also seems to be more confident and competent a mad scientist, and treated like an equal by the gangsters who hired him. Despite his making the usual jokes you'd expect, hating to be mistaken for his brother and pitching a fit when it happens again and again, these are still hilarious contrasts, and I wish Barney was in an episode I could sit through.

I don't know how much of Barney's different personality was supposed to be different, and not just something the writers came up with at random, but it works. Hell, it even unintentionally suggests a reason for Baxter becoming insane and evil—it just runs in the family. Baxter might've wanted to go legit, but the little guy was a powder keg.

Depressing, ain't it? Heh, heh, heh.

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