The producers of the Teen Titans animated series on Cartoon Network have always worn their anime influence on their sleeves. In fact, the combination of the hyper-stylized Japanese technique with silly humor and good old-fashioned American superheroes was the particular scientific formula that made the series work so well. Though I haven't kept up with the show for a while, seeing the adolescent heroes go to Tokyo in their first long-form movie seemed like a good time to stick my head back in and see what was going on. If nothing else, I figured the animators would at least have some fun with the setting.
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo starts off with the Titans defending their homebase from a new villain named Saico-Tek. Fans of Japanese TV will see a clear Ultraman influence on Tek's design, the first of many riffs on popular Japanese characters and clichés that will show up in the movie. Tek let's slip that he was sent to America by a big-bad named Brushogun, sending the super-powered quintet--Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire--across the Pacific to get to the bottom of this latest plot. Once there, however, things don't go smoothly. Commander Daizo, head of the Japanese police force dealing with super crime and a dead ringer for Lupin III's archenemy Inspector Zenigata, informs them that Brushogun is an urban legend and instructs them to leave Tokyo crimefighting to the natives. Naturally, the part about Brushogun isn't really true, and Robin continues investigating, running afoul of the law and causing a conflagration of crazy villains in Brushogun's employ.
Trouble in Tokyo doesn't tread any new ground story-wise, and older viewers will likely figure out who the real villain is and where he's hiding out pretty quickly. Younger kids will naturally have no such problem, and they won't get hung up on plot structure and miss the fact that this movie is just supposed to be a good time. Packed with action and humor, it's a fast-paced piece of light entertainment and should give even the most jaded viewer a few good chuckles. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Teen Titans creative team do their own takes on the giant robot, Godzilla, and Astro Boy, as well as playing with Tokyo youth culture by letting the Titans indulge in Guitar Hero and karaoke and populating the backgrounds with people from different fashion subcultures. It's clear they had a blast paying homage to a lot of the manga style innovators who have inspired them, designing specific characters in familiar veins. I personally liked the sushi chef that looked like he leapt straight from the pages of an Osamu Tezuka comic.
As a one-off movie, Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo has enough meat to justify its longer running time. As part of the series, it delivers fans all the elements that entice them to watch the show, as well as giving a little something extra in the form of a long-overdue payoff on a romantic subplot. The animation is clean and colorful, with the complicated designs of the neon-laden Tokyo streets looking particularly impressive. What can I say? Trouble in Tokyo is a simple pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.
Originally produced to air on the Cartoon Network, Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo is shown here in full frame. The picture is clean and bright.
Viewers can choose from three language options: English, French, and Spanish. The English mix is 5.1, while the other two are in 2.0. There are also subtitles for all three languages. The mix is good. The dialogue is always easy to hear and the explosions are big and booming.
"The Lost Episode" is a twelve-minute, self-contained segment. There is no explanation as to why it was "lost," and I did entertain the notion that maybe that was actually the title of this particular show and it was some play on the hearing-loss jokes in the story. Whatever the reason it's included here, it's a goofy segment where the Titans battle Punk Rocket, an obnoxious Brit with a guitar. Think back to when Sting played Billy Idol on SNL, and you'll have an idea of what this villain is like. It's a bit of a one-note story, but on the plus side, the fight scenes in particular looked really well choreographed.
"Robin's Underworld Race" is a game you can play using the arrows on your remote control. It's rather simplistic, so geared largely at the youngest members of the audience. I found the menus leading into the game a little confusing, though. Having the lighter background appear behind the option I wasn't choosing kept tripping me up. It seemed backwards.
About four trailers are in the special features menu (and also some on load-up), with the one that a lot of people will be interested in being the action-packed teaser for the new CGI-version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Recommended. Basically an extended edition of the television show, Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo has the same enjoyable blend of humor and action that makes that series popular. What sets this first full-length movie apart is the setting. The animation team makes good use of Tokyo, recreating the brightly lit cityscape and having some fun with their favorite conventions from Japanese anime.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joëlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.