After a successful two-volume initial offering on DVD a few months back, "X-Men: The Animated Series" is back with another two-volume offering that very nearly finishes up the entire series run. In this third volume, a fan favorite story arc, the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix saga makes its way to viewers and stands out as the crown jewel of the release.
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 more volumes of this beloved series have hit shelves, with this third volume consisting of the remainder of Season 3, along with the first portion of Season 4. 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.
As with the previous two releases, the tradition of good storytelling is combined with memorable voice work continues here. I had commented in previous reviews that what made this series standout for years in my mind, was it's telling of arcs in serial format. That trend continues here with two, two-part stories, but most importantly, the four-part Dark Phoenix story. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in charge of these releases have failed to rectify some storyline continuity issues. I'll spare the big details, but a memorable episode, aired later in the series should have been placed in between the five-part Phoenix Saga from Volume Two, and the Dark Phoenix saga featured here. The episode in question, "No Mutant is an Island" focuses on Cyclops' struggle with overcoming the loss of his beloved Jean Grey and fills a plot hole for the Dark Phoenix arc. Some additional episode order consistencies remain on this release, but nothing as important as this one.
Purists, not familiar with this series should understand that many storylines from the comics adapted here are simplified, but by no means does it affect the how enjoyable this series is. Frankly, the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix adaptation from this series shows much more care and concern for the source material than the big budget films did. Jean Grey remains the focus of these stories and the Phoenix remains a separate cosmic entity, not merely a split personality plot device that gets shoved to the backseat for Magneto (in fact, I love that the writers give a wide variety of villains chances to shine over the series' run).
It's not all perfect though, as the disc's opening two-parter set in the Savage Land is as much as a snooze as it did back the Reunion two-parter, especially when it relies as the bridge between the Phoenix arcs. Fortunately, episodes that follow the Dark Phoenix saga give viewers a chance to relax, as they are a series of one-off's that include the introductions of both Iceman and Nightcrawler, as well as the always welcome Wolverine-centric episode. These one off episodes do take opportunities to send a moral message to viewers, but given the original target audience, the sometimes heavy-handed nature (i.e. don't judge people on the outside) is acceptable, especially since the writers didn't have as long to develop and deliver these messages as the comic team did years ago.
Finally, if there's one area I should address it's the animation quality. Fans of animation as visual art are not going to be impressed here. The character design and action are very rudimentary (the cover art is from another source altogether), but the seriousness (compared to similar products) and memorable voice acting make it worth checking out.
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 2.0 track. It's a bit flat overall, but dialogue is reproduced with good clarity and effects are mixed at an appropriate level. 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.
"X-Men: The Animated Series Volume Three" delivers another worthy addition to any fan's library. While it would have been great if the source material had been remastered, the technical presentation is by no means a deal breaker. If you liked what you saw in Volume One and Two, then by all means pick this release up. Unlike some programs, due to way the episodes have been released, I can't recommended this volume to new viewers though, as crucial plot points were set up on previous volumes (although the "previously on." recaps nearly does an adequate job of bringing you up to speed). Highly Recommended.