The short-lived animated series Invader Zim (2001-2003) is yet another twisted creation of artist/writer Jhonen Vasquez. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's quite a strange concept indeed, but I'll try and be brief.
In short, "Zim" is a small alien from the planet Irk whose frequent accidents nearly destroy the planet. Eventually, Zim is sent to the faraway planet Earth on a "secret mission" (along with a defective robot known as "Gir"), although his superiors really sent him there in hopes he wouldn't make it back. Zim quickly becomes fixated on ending the human race, but his identity and intentions are immediately recognized by Dib Membrane, a young X-Files reject whose paranormal research fuels his desire to stop Zim from conquering Earth. Zim and Deb go to the same school, and this show revolves around their strange rivalry.
Got all that?
As mentioned earlier, this isn't the first twisted creation of creator Jhonen Vasquez. Hardcore comic book fans may be familiar with his first creation, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, a character that has garnered quite a cult following since the first issue landed in August 1995. Normally, you'd think a creator with such a demented sense of humor wouldn't fit inside the usual mold of a cartoon seemingly geared toward kids, and you'd be half-right. Fortunately for us, some of TV's most memorable and original cartoons don't exactly fit inside this mold either: Ren & Stimpy, The Tick, and other classics such as The Simpsons (and even Looney Tunes) immediately come to mind. While Invader Zim isn't quite up to these levels, it's an interesting show that really took chances by just being itself, and it makes for quite a unique viewing experience.
Unfortunately, Invader Zim was cancelled within a year of its premiere, much to the dismay of its relatively small (but rabid) fanbase. It lasted a total of 37 episodes, although there were many more in production at the time at the time of cancellation. Nickelodeon blamed low ratings, but the show's content may have been the real reason for the early demise. While it's far from the gross-out factor of Ren & Stimpy or the adult themes of Family, this still isn't a show for younger kids. NOTE: According to the geniuses at Nickelodeon, Invade Zim was targeted towards "2 to 11-year olds", which is about as demographically responsible as airing Ninja Scroll at 3:00 in the afternoon.
Regardless of this issue, Zim has finally arrived on DVD courtesy of Anime Works (an imprint of Media Blasters). This first volume, Doom Doom Doom, contains the first nine episodes of Invader Zim in their original chronological order, and features a total of 18 shorts for your maniacal viewing enjoyment. A brief episode listing for this 2-disc set has been provided below, and a link to the full episode recaps (including spoilers) appears at the conclusion of this review.
List of Volume One Episodes:
Episode 1: "The Nightmare Begins, Part 1 and 2" (airdate: March 30, 2001)
Episode 2: "Bestest Friend", "Nanozim" (airdate: April 13, 2001)
Episode 3: "Parent Teacher Night", "Walk of Doom" (airdate: April 6, 2001)
Episode 4: "Germs", "Dark Harvest" (airdate: April 20, 2001)
Episode 5: "Attack of the Saucer Morons", "The Wettening" (airdate: April 27, 2001)
Episode 6: "Career Day", "Battle-Dib" (airdate: May 4, 2001)
Episode 7: "Planet Jackers", "Rise of the Zitboy" (airdate: August 31, 2001)
Episode 8: "Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain", "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy" (airdate: August 24, 2001)
Episode 9: "A Room With a Moose", "Hamstergeddon" (airdate: August 17, 2001)
Quality Control Department
Presented in its original TV-friendly 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio, the video quality for Invader Zim is generally quite pleasing. The highlights of the overall presentation are bold colors and deep black levels, which are about as solid as fans could ask for. In short, this is a near-perfect visual representation of the show, if not for one drawback: interlacing. This is a common problem in animated DVD releases (Family Guy is a great example of this), and keeps Invader Zim from achieving the immaculate look it would like to have. Still, this isn't a major issue (CGI-rendered objects do not suffer from this defect), and this problem is almost impossible to avoid in most cases, so I won't be too critical. Overall, it's a fine effort that should really thrill fans of this visually stunning series.
The audio presentation for Invader Zim features an English Dolby 2.0 Surround mix, and does a terrific job of enveloping the viewer. This show really has a strong sound design, and the overall atmosphere is very immersive; in short, it's about as effective as 2.0 Surround gets, and really took me by surprise. This is easily the best technical aspect of the release, and really puts you in the middle of the action. Also available is an alternate Spanish 2.0 track, and Irken subtitles for the human-impaired.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Menu designs were bold and colorful, just like the show itself. Although I was surprised the menus weren't animated in any way, they do feature the distinctive background music from the show. Each 20-odd minute episode is divided into three chapters, and no layer changes were detected on either disc. The DVD packaging itself is somewhat confusing; specifically, the choice of cover art. The artwork style doesn't really match the show itself, and that's not good for a show with such a distinct style. Still, this isn't a major complaint, as the actual cover design is quite attention-getting. This 2-disc set is housed in a slim double keepcase, and a loose chapter/extra guide is also included.
To cut right to the chase, Invader Zim fans will really appreciate the inclusion of some quality bonus features. Spread over both discs are a series of Audio Commentaries, which are present for nearly all 9 episodes (except for 3A, 5B, 6, and 7B). Featured participants include Jhonen Vasquez, Rikki Simons, Andy Berman, Melissa Fahn, Wally Wingert, Danielle Koenig, George Takei, and many more! These are all great listens, and it's obvious the cast and crew had a lot of fun making these episodes: there literally isn't a dull moment, and there's tons of great insight shared. There are several times where the commentary will "disappear" on occasion, almost as if it was edited for content. The exact reason is not known at this time, but it's nothing major. One sidenote: episode 8B ("Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy") also features a bonus Pig Commentary; there's not much to learn during this squeal-fest, but it's here for your enjoyment anyway. Another great feature spread over both discs are a series of Animatics (or storyboards) included during every episode (except for 3A, 4B, and 6A).
Confined to the second disc are a few more great features, the first being the original Pilot Episode (11 minutes). This will be especially interesting for Zim fans, as it's always nice to see the early stages of any show (as shaky as they often are). Even so, the pilot really isn't too far off base from the actual series, save for a few basic character designs and voices (including the incomparable Billy West of Futurama and Ren & Stimpy fame as the voice of Zim!). Rounding out the extras on Disc Two is a Voice Actors Interview (13 minutes), including appearances by Richard Horvitz (Zim), Rikki Simons (Gir), Melissa Fahn (Caz, seen above), Andy Berman (Dib), and Wally Wingert (Almight Tallest Red).
While these features were excellent overall, there were a few things notably absent from the lineup. For example, I'd have appreciated a little more visual participation from Jhonen Vasquez, the main madman responsible for this wacked-out show (*gasp*...maybe he's camera-shy?). An interview with this guy would have been especially nice, or at least a text-based biography/filmography of his work. An additional Art Gallery or Sketchbook would have also been appreciated---on top of the great Animatics---since this artwork is so sharp and attention-getting. Still, there's a nice amount of stuff to go through here, and Zim fans will surely get a kick out of these solid bonus features. For future volumes, I'm wondering if we'll ever be able to see some of the previously-unaired episodes, as that would really be quite a treat for die-hard fans of the show. We'll have to wait and see!
If you like your animation with a side order of schizophrenia, look no further than Invader Zim. Each episode is a real head trip, and the series succeeds on DVD despite its relatively quick exit from TV land. It's not the most consistently funny cartoon you'll ever see, but the strongest portions of the show are unlike anything else on TV...and that's what sets this one apart from the crowd. Featuring a warped sense of humor, a truly unique cast of characters, and---most importantly---a solid DVD presentation from Media Blasters, this is a release worth looking into. Hardcore fans have demanded it, and now they have much to look forward to with this satisfying 2-disc set. Invader Zim has finally landed, and he isn't going anywhere for a long time. Recommended.
Other Links of Interest:
Official Nickelodeon site for Invader Zim
Complete Invader Zim Episode Guide
Immortalizing the Moment (Dedicated to Jhonen Vasquez)
Randy Miller III is an art instructor and gallery assistant based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.