The X-Men are back in their classic early 90s animated series. Having introduced the huge universe in Volume 1 and introducing classic heroes and villains, the series takes time to give viewers a peak into the backstories of some of their favorite heroes (Rogue, Gambit, and Wolverine), and culminates in the set up for one of the biggest stories in the history of the X-Men series, the Dark Phoenix.
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 second volume consisting of Season 2 in its entirety, along with the first portion of Season 3. 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 (in this volume, there are many multi-part stories and plot lines are set up for later episodes). Right away, the viewer should know this is a different animated series, when the first two episodes of the series (featured in Volume 1) 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.
Volume Two will be of great interest to many fans as it features the epic five-story Phoenix Saga arc. I greatly enjoyed revisiting this arc, but did find the numerous side characters that popped up to be a little too much, and the story could would have been better paced over the course of four episodes. The finale of this arc and the final episode in this set, gives the series another chance to show its heart and maturity in terms of emotional story telling.
While it does not cover the classic comic arc of the Dark Phoenix, it does serve as a more faithful buildup to this story, than either of the latter two X-Men films. In "X-2", the Phoenix is briefly alluded to at several points throughout the film, ultimately culminating in a selfless act by Jean Grey to save the team (the same theme is explored here). In "X-Men 3," the (Dark) Phoenix is explained by Professor X as being a split personality of Jean Grey, who is unable to control her full potential. While this worked well for a live action film, it is pleasing to see the original back-story of the Phoenix being a separate entity, more powerful than Professor X himself, presented. Hopefully sales of these first two volumes will be strong enough to warrant releases of the rest of the series, and the Dark Phoenix arc will also see the light of day.
Other great episodes include "Beauty and the Beast," the story of Beast finding a romantic bond with the blind daughter of an anti-mutant supporter. At the surface, the plot of this episode sounds cliched, but the writers and actors handle it with care and the result is a wonderful, one-off story that shows the importance that even a Saturday morning kids cartoon can have in terms of relaying a message of acceptance. The Wolverine flashback, "Repo Man," and the two part "Out of the Past" arc featuring Wolverine's female nemesis (and ex romantic interest), Lady Deathstrike are also here. Hardcore comic fans may feel frustration at the series combining one of Wolverine's great foes with one of his true loves, but I felt it's a necessary evil, as there is only so much the writers can cover in 20 minutes of programming. These cartoons aren't meant to be literal translations of the comics, but instead adaptations. On the opposite spectrum, not every episode left me fully entertained; the "Reunion" two-parter fell flat on its face. I love Magneto but the story here feels like it's been done way too many times in other mediums.
In all aspects, this series is top-notch entertainment. Fans will want to scoop this release up along with its companion Volume 1 (Which comprises the entirety of Season 1 as well as a portion of Season 2).
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.