For those who aren't familiar with the X-Men, here's a brief background. The X-Men exist in a world of mutants, humans who have had their genes mutate to grant them extraordinary powers. The heroes, led by Professor Charles Xavier protect humanity against super villains, including the Brotherhood, a mutant faction run by Xavier's former friend, Erik Magnus Lehnsherr aka Magneto. The heroes existed for three decades, primarily in comic book form, but gained new popularity with the launching of a highly successful live-action franchised helmed by Bryan Singer and a truly talented cast.
Before Bryan Singer's "X-Men," in 2000 many fans had come to enjoy a Saturday morning cartoon series from Fox, aptly titled "X-Men: The Animated Series." For years the same fans had begged for the complete series to be released on DVD, only to get a handful of select episodes and story arcs tossed at them in the infancy of the format. Now, two volumes of this beloved series have hit shelves, with this first volume consisting of Season 1 in its entirety, along with 3 episodes from Season 2. The question that many fans may be asking, now that their wish has been granted, is "Does the series hold up after nearly two decades, and two fantastic live-action films?" The answer is, absolutely.
I had been one of those fans who loved the series and had fondly remembered watching it in its original release on Saturday mornings. Over the past years as I've taken time to try and revisit some of the programs I enjoyed from my youth, I've found the majority of them were flat out awful. "X-Men" on the other hand has stood out as a shining example of well-made programming made for kids, which also has adult appeal. First and foremost is the voice acting. It took me an episode or two to get use to some of the old voices again, especially Wolverine's but once I did, it was familiar territory. The voice acting in this series is top-notch, and even with the two characters that I just couldn't love as much as their movie counterparts, Professor X and Magneto, still were appropriate. These voices help suck you into the world of these characters and make you believe these characters are as real as cartoons and superheroes can get.
Aiding the great voice cast are great stories. The series isn't a series of "one-off" tales, but rather builds on the mythology as it should, considering the source material. Right away, the viewer should know this is a different animated series, when the first two episodes aren't a tired rehash of the origin of the X-Men but rather an introduction to a character who was relatively new to the universe at the time, Jubilee. Through Jubilee, the viewer gets pulled into this world of mutants and the persecution they undergo on a daily basis (a theme making up the backbone of all three X-Men live action films). While this theme isn't as deep as the films, it's still fairly heavy stuff for a kid's show, but handled with class. Jubilee soon meets up with the heroes and we are thrust into their world. As the series progresses we are introduced to familiar villains such as Sabertooth, Mystique, and the granddaddy of them all, Magneto. These introductions are never rushed and viewers will enjoy seeing these characters pop up in later episodes and seasons.
In terms of overall quality of Volume 1, is representative of the series as a whole. There are some stellar episodes present here, beginning with the two-part "Night of the Sentinels" arc that begins the series. Wolverine shows his true humanity as he mourns the loss of a fallen comrade, willing to risk his own life just so no man is left behind. His subsequent rage and revenge leads to some classic destruction and defiance of authority. Beast's willingness to stay captive and await trial (for completely false charges) in "Enter Magneto" relays a powerful message of non-violence amid a very violent (but bloodless) series. Other standout episodes include "The Cure" and the two-part "Till Death Do Up Part" arc which features a great plot twist that I will not begin to hint at.
In all aspects, this series is top-notch entertainment. Fans will want to scoop this release up along with its companion Volume 2 (Which comprises the entirety of Season 2 as well as a portion of Season 3).
This release is presented in the original 1.:33:1 aspect ratio and for an early 90s Saturday morning cartoon, the video quality on "X-Men The Animated" series looks about as good as it can get without a remastering. I didn't notice any glaring technical problems, aside from interlacing. The coloring isn't as bright as I thought I remembered it being, but it didn't look washed out due to source material damage. It isn't the best looking animated series but still a lot better than others.
This release sports an English Dolby Surround track. It's a front heavy track and the surround use strikes me a bit phony; in addition, the subwoofer gets very mild usage. Still it's far from terrible as dialogue, music, and effects are all equally clear. Optional French and Spanish tracks are available as well as French, Spanish, and English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles are included as well.
With the exception of some previews for other Buena Vista releases, this release is barebones.
Great voice acting, intelligent, well-paced storytelling, and good old-fashioned comic book action make this series a must-own for X-Men fans. If you love animation and/or comic book stories, chances are, you'll love this series just as much. After all these years, these stories have held up and feel just as entertaining as they were when I was a young child; it's not often this kind of programming has that staying power. "X-Men The Animated Series" definitely deserves attention. Highly Recommended.