When I'm considering the animated
series Invader ZIM, a Spanish proverb comes to mind: "Lo
bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno": Something good, if short, is
twice as good. That helps explain the brilliance of Invader ZIM:
most episodes are made up of two 15-minute mini-episodes, and even
the "longer" episodes only run half an hour. Into those
tightly compressed spaces, creator Jhonen Vasquez and his team have
poured an amazing amount of completely insane, brilliantly funny
material. Sadly, Invader ZIM is also short in terms of how
long it ran on television, as its ill-fated matchup with Nickelodeon
meant that it only ran one full season and part of a second. But
again, on the bright side, in that short run we do get an explosion
of completely way-out-there imagination. Would this intensity have
been sustainable over the long run? I wish we'd been given the chance
to find out, but at least the short run of Invader ZIM is
If you haven't ever seen Invader
ZIM... well, it's quite a trip. It's so way, way, way out there
that it's highly appropriate that Zim, the protagonist, is a small
green alien who's bent on conquering Earth, all by himself. Well, not
quite all by himself: he has the assistance of his wacked-out robot
servant Gir, who alternates between demonic "duty mode" and
his normal state of being completely off his rocker.
Watching Invader ZIM is like
taking a tour of someone's imagination... if that someone is very
strange, very creative, and more than a little hyperactive. From
start to finish, Invader ZIM has a manic, edgy feel to it. The
world that Zim, Gir, Dib, and Gaz inhabit is a dark one, in which
school is a prison run by sadistic adults, and in which the world in
general is populated by equal amounts of idiots and arrogant fools.
In his disguise as a "normal boy," Zim thinks he has the
ideal vantage point from which to achieve world domination, but he
really can't accomplish a whole lot (if anything at all). Of course,
that's probably because Zim is remarkably incompetent as an invader,
but at the same time his "disguise" provides the show with
the platform to throw a lot of sharp darts at society from the
perspective of those caught in the educational machine.
Artistically, Invader ZIM has
a highly distinctive feel as well. The bold animations and lively
style keep the image constantly moving, and on top of that the
editing and cinematography shake things up considerably: the "camera"
frequently moves around and gives us unexpected angles. It's easy to
see just by looking at it that Invader ZIM is a cartoon for
adults, not kids (even without considering the content and sense of
humor): it's visually sophisticated.
The boxed set contains all the
Invader ZIM episodes, in three volumes.
Volume 1: Doom Doom Doom is
the strongest of the three volumes, with several of my favorites. How
can you go wrong with "Attack of the Saucer Morons," in
which Zim and Gir have a run-in with UFO enthusiasts, or the surreal
"A Room with a Moose" (in which we learn that there is no
fate worse than... a moosey fate). "Hamstergeddon" is pure
brilliance: Zim uses the devastating cuteness of Peepi, the new
classroom pet, as a weapon... in fact, he makes Peepi into
Ultra-Peepi! Actually, as funny as that episode is, it's topped by
another favorite, "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy," involving time
travel and (you guessed it) lots and lots of rubber piggies, and the
unforgettable "Rise of the Zitboy," in which Zim discovers
that his giant pimple, named Pustulio, has the power to hypnotize
anyone. Yes, it's just as weird as it sounds. Probably weirder,
actually. Yes, it's also really, really funny, in a completely odd
and twisted way.
Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity
has a lot to live up to, but it has its fair share of great episodes,
including the double-length "Battle of the Planets," which
just keeps escalating the level of wackiness to unforeseeable heights, "Bolognius Maximus," involving DNA fusion with
bologna, and "Door to Door," a devastating send-up of the
ubiquitous practice of forcing schoolchildren to peddle candy as a
Volume 3: Horrible Holiday Cheer
wraps up the series (sniff). We get the last few aired episodes,
starting with the very funny "Gir Goes Crazy and Stuff"
(sure to please any fans of the manic little robot), the wacky
"Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom," and the double-length "Tak:
The Hideous New Girl." The final episode that was actually shown
on the air is the Christmas special, "The Most Horrible X-Mas
Ever"; here, it's restored to its original position in the
sequence as the final episode, after the unaired episodes. These nine
episodes (six mini-episodes and three double-length episodes) were
those that were produced but never aired in the U.S. We get "Backseat Drivers from Beyond the Stars," "Mortos der Soul Stealer," "Zim Eats Waffles," "The Girl Who Cried Gnome," "Dibship Rising," "Vindicated!", "The Voting of the Doomed," "Gaz, Taster of Pork," and "The Frycook What Came from All That Space." As with Volume
2, it's hard to match the pure brilliance of Volume 1, but this is
great stuff. It's Invader ZIM!
Fans who pay lots of attention to
these things will be interested to know that the version of "The
Most Horrible X-Mas Ever" on Volume 3 is the edited version, as
shown in its original broadcast. The complete, unedited version is
included on the fourth volume, which contains the special features.
However, it's nothing to get really worked up about: the title of
this bonus feature is, after all, "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever:
The Unseen Seconds."
In general, Invader ZIM can't
adequately be explained; it has to be experienced. So if you have a
slightly off-beat sense of humor, by all means, make sure you give it
a try. I was certainly hooked from the get-go.
The Invader ZIM boxed set
contains four volumes. Volumes 1, 2, and 3 contain two discs each
(which are numbered continuously from 1 to 6), with each volume
having the two DVDs in a single-wide plastic keepcase. The fourth
volume has one DVD containing the additional special features, and is
also in its own plastic keepcase. Volumes 1-3 are identical to their
release as separate DVDs.
Now we get to the packaging. The
four volumes are packaged inside a replica of Zim's house. To get to
the discs, you open the "front door." The roof also opens
up to reveal a small Gir figurine in the "attic." The whole
thing is constructed out of extremely sturdy, glossy, heavy
cardboard: this is no flimsy paperboard case, but a quite rigid case
with a sleek finish. The house box itself is packaged inside a larger
black box, which is also fairly sturdy and is decorated with Invader
What I'm really pleased with is the
fact that the fancy box is optional: you can take the DVDs out of the
case and put them on your shelf just like any other DVD, or you can
leave them in the novelty case... whichever suits your fancy.
Personally, I don't care for elaborate cases, so I really appreciate
the fact that Media Blasters didn't make the discs built into the
Since the three main volumes have
all been released separately, the only reason to pick up this set
would be because of the fourth volume with the extra special
features, and (if you like it) the fancy box. Again, Media Blasters
has shown consideration for fans by making it possible to get these
last few goodies without having to re-buy the first three volumes. If
you already own Volumes 1-3, you can buy the House Box with Volume 4
separately (at an appropriately lower price), or if you don't have
any Invader ZIM yet, you can get the whole shebang at once
with the House Box Complete Set (which includes Volumes 1-3 as well
as Volume 4 and the fancy box).
Menus for all the volumes are
attractive, with themed images from the show, and pleasingly easy to
Invader ZIM looks fantastic.
Animation is perhaps the least forgiving of all formats to put on
screen, so it's great to see the series looking crisp, clean, and
colorful on DVD. Blacks look dark and strong, colors look bold and
bright, and in general everything is a pleasure to look at. The
prints are perfectly clean and free of noise or flaws. All the
episodes are presented in their original television broadcast aspect
ratio of 1.33:1.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack really does
a great job here. The sound is always clear and clean, and never
shows the slightest hint of harshness or tinniness. That's no mean
feat, considering the extreme range of volumes that we get in the
voice actors' dialogue... Zim, for instance, is at the top of his
lungs in practically every other sentence. The music is also
full-sounding and pleasing to the ear. A Spanish Dolby 2.0 soundtrack
is also provided. The gimmicky Irken subtitles are, annoyingly, on by
default, but it's possible to turn them off on the fly.
There's quite a lot of bonus
material in this set... it's been given loving care in its DVD
treatment even if it didn't get that care in its original TV run.
Each of the three previously released volumes has some special
features, and then there's the fourth disc that contains additional
Volume 1: Doom Doom Doom
Audio commentaries have been a
strong suit across all the volumes, starting here. All but four of
the episodes here feature audio commentary tracks from a variety of
cast and crew members; everyone sounds like they're having a lot of
fun, and offering some interesting thoughts on the episodes as well.
(On the other hand, the pig commentary for "Bad, Bad Rubber
Piggy" is, like the Irken subtitles, good for a "heh,
that's cute" moment but that's it.) Also featured for almost all
the episodes are animatics/storyboards for the episodes. In each
case, the opening and closing sequences are presented in the normal
format, with the rest of the episode presented in animatic form, with
the regular soundtrack continuing to play. This feature is mildly
interesting for about 30 seconds if you're just a fan of the show. I
can imagine, though, that for budding cartoonists this would be a
very illuminating feature.
We also get the original 11-minute
pilot episode for Invader ZIM (with Billy West doing
the voice for Zim), and a short but interesting set of interviews
with the voice actors.
Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity
The special features here consist of
commentaries and animatics, and are divided between the two discs. 13
of the 16 episodes have a commentary track from the cast and
production crew; "Game Slave 2," "Hobo 13,"
"Megadoomer," and "The Sad Sad Tale of Chickenfoot"
have multiple commentary tracks. All the episodes except for
"Megadoomer" also have the option to view the episode as
Volume 3: Horrible Holiday Cheer
The commentaries continue to be both
frequent and interesting in this final volume, with the cast and crew
presenting lively commentaries for all of the episodes here. Nearly
all the episodes also have the animatics/storyboard feature as well.
A mildly interesting short set of
interviews with the production staff is also included, touching on
issues like post-production, art direction, and storyboarding.
Volume 4: Bonus disc
Since the bonus disc is only
available as part of the boxed set, the big question is: is the
content really outstanding? I'd say that it's not bad, but not great
either. You can judge for yourself whether it sounds like something
you'd be interested in, but I'd describe the material here as only
for really die-hard fans. (I think the show is absolutely brilliant,
but I'm not so fanatical as to be all that interested in these final
First off, we get the uncut version
of "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever." Given its subtitle "The
Unseen Seconds," it's fair to say that this is probably of most
interest to completists. Also for completists is the section of
"Audio from Unfinished Episodes." Here, we get the voice
tracks for seven unfinished episodes: "Ten Minutes to Doom,"
"Invader Poonchy," "Mopiness of Doom," "Nubs
of Doom," "Return of Keef," "Robo Parents Gone
Wild," and "Simon Says Doom." Listening to these made
me realize how much of the effect of Invader ZIM is in the
combination of brilliant voiceovers with the great visuals; it's
really hard to get much out of the sound-only tracks. That's not to
say that some fans won't get a kick out of them; it's just that it's
more of a for-diehard-fans-only feature.
Two substantial interview segments
with composer Kevin Manthei are also included here: the general
"Interview" and also the "Invader ZIM Sound Design"
featurettes. While these could have been edited better (there are
some draggy moments) in general Manthei provides some interesting
insights into how he created the music and audio effects for the
Lastly, we get over an hour of
selected musical score segments, taken from various episodes. The 34
different clips can be selected individually, or with the "play
I'm not sure if it counts as a special feature or not, but the House Box also comes with a plastic Gir figure, about three inches tall.
I love this show... Invader
ZIM is one of the most unique, brilliant shows I've seen, and
certainly one of the most memorable animated series I've ever come
across. Invader ZIM gives us our real world "through a
glass darkly": it's a twisted, dark, warped, and bizarre vision
of reality, but it's recognizable as the dark side of what we
experience every day (or suffered through as a child). And it's
really, really funny... in its own wacked-out way. I suspect that
Invader ZIM is one of those shows that you either completely
love, or you simply don't get at all; there's really no way to just
like it a little bit. Chalk me up as a fan!
So if you're a fan, you've probably
already bought the three volumes of episodes as they were released
separately. What should you do about this special boxed set with the
fourth volume of special features? I'd say that the extra bonus
material is not bad, but it's only worth picking up if you're really,
really into every last detail of the show, since the most interesting
material (the commentaries) is already present on the first three
volumes. The last selling point is the fancy "house box."
If you like novelty packaging, you'll adore this bizarre (but very
nicely made) box... and you'll love Media Blasters for selling two
versions of the set: a "complete" set with Volumes 1-4, and
a discounted version that's just the fancy box and the bonus disc. No
double-dipping here! (And if you really want the bonus disc but not
the fancy box, at least it's possible to remove all the DVDs from the
house box and store them on the shelf normally.)