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 fourth volume, viewers are given the last solid story arc in the series, before things hit a bump in the road.
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 fourth volume consisting of the remainder 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.
Volume Four starts off with a slower, mediocre two-parter, "Proteus." I noticed a trend with the series, trying to give viewers a breather between the grander arcs, such as the case was during the beak between the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix arc. This appears to be the case here, as the previous volume concluded with a fun, three-part, time traveling, alternate universe tale, and following "Proteus" is the last truly engaging Magneto-centric two-parter, titled "Sanctuary." Sanctuary is a strong representation of some common, classic X-Men themes: Magneto's original (but ultimately misguided) desire to help mutants, and what it means to be an X-Man.
The four-part "Beyond Good and Evil" arc is a bittersweet point in this series. It was originally intended to be the final episode produced, and later episodes support this notion. It would have been a strong conclusion for the series, and with a few exceptions, of the remaining episodes on this disc and the inevitable final volume, is the last high point for the series. It's a blowout to say the least, with a great deal of action, loads of heroes and villains, and some solid twists and turns. In retrospect, as memorable as the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix saga was, "Beyond Good and Evil" is the high-water mark of the series in terms of multiple episode storytelling.
The remainder of the volume consists of one-off stories that feel like a letdown compared to the preceding arcs. The final two episodes could have really been fleshed out into another solid arc; they are entertaining, but ultimately rushed which is unfortunate, especially since they deal with the past of Professor X and Magneto. The less said about the Rogue-centric story and Christmas themed episode the better.
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 Four" delivers a technical presentation consistent with its predecessors. I hope the final volume delivers at least some sort of bonus features, since the quality of storytelling continues the trend set in motion with the latter half of this collection. Recommended.