It's easy to forget that TMNT is not exclusively for children. Originally created as a hyper-violent satire of then-popular comics like Daredevil almost 35 years ago, the series amassed a cult following and exploded in popularity once action figures and the 1987 animated series came around. Yours truly was among the impressionable scamps captivated by the weirdly wonderful---and surprisingly durable---characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird...but only in kid-friendly form, since I learned their true origins much later. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles works best when it toes the line between ridiculous comedy and darker material, which is why Nickelodeon's 2012 series remains, in my opinion, the most appealing and well-rounded incarnation of this franchise to date.
That's not to say there haven't been a few speed bumps along the way. The first few volumes were mostly strong, with the only obvious weak points being a handful of borderline ridiculous villains that looked more goofy than threatening (a problem that never fully went away, if I'm being completely honest). From there, the series refined its formula a bit, adding in new regulars like Casey Jones and Tiger Claw while not continuously relying on Shredder as the Turtles' main foe. But while the start of the third season earned a point or two for changing direction, the end result was a mostly forgettable chunk of "monster of the week" outings that spun their wheels. For the most part though, that's my rather small laundry list of complaints for a series that's been overall very good, with more recent volumes like Revenge and Beyond the Known Universe being the best of the bunch. In these episodes and other great ones, you even get some hard-hitting drama, suspense, and outright horror mixed in with the slapstick and pizza. Since the kids who first got hooked in 2012 are now five years older, they can probably handle it.
But despite its welcome reliance on heavier stuff, this newest collection of TMNT episodes---titled Super Shredder, in reference to their greatest enemy's recent Bane-like mutation---often feels like it's either cheating viewers or simply coasting off the strength of earlier volumes. On at least two occasions, the forced drama of a "commercial cliffhanger" is changed after the break, and several characters suffer massive injuries without dying (I know, I know, looking for realism in a show about mutant turtles...). To make matters worse, this cheapens the death of at least one major character several episodes in, especially since one of them was "killed" already and came back without a scratch. Cutting these dramatic corners for short-term shock value rarely works more than once.
My other complaint this time around is the drastic shift in tone that occurs right around the same time: this double-length collection of 11 episodes is divided rather sloppily, with the shift occurring right between "Owari" and "Scroll of the Demodragon" (which bridges the fourth and fifth seasons, although they originally aired just four weeks apart). Complete with a new opening, Season 5 also features a different theme song and title card---it's now Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles---and leads off with an occult-themed story featuring nightmarish Kavaxas (voiced by Mark Hamill) and Tiger Claw attempting to revive their fallen leader. But the overall atmosphere just feels a bit forced, as if certain elements were shifted to serve its story instead of the other way around.
Even so, several stretches of Super Shredder work great. Despite its recycled shock ending, "Requiem" is one of the series' best outings, while the final two episodes build a similarly strong amount of momentum. Others, like "The Power Insider Her" and "Tale of Tiger Claw", give singular characters a chance to shine and develop. The condensed nature of Season 5's initial story arc is also resolved by the end of this collection, giving our heroes a much-needed break before for their next adventure; reportedly, we've got 16 new episodes left after this. And despite some of those tonal changes along the way, the series' heart hasn't changed a great deal: TMNT still offers a pleasing mix of juvenile comedy, nods to classic films (Aliens, Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, Drunken Master, and even the first TMNT live action movie, to name a few), terrific action, and characters we've grown to love.
As a whole, Super Shredder still feels like a good collection of episodes in a series that's certainly capable of great ones...but I appreciate the quick turnaround time on this collection, as three episodes included here haven't even aired yet. Similar to past volumes, this two-disc set serves up a fine A/V presentation with no extras...but with the series' end in sight, the chances of a complete collection (possibly with a Blu-ray option) are entirely possible.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, my only continued complaint about this series is that it still hasn't been made available on Blu-ray. Other than that, the stylish visuals look excellent from start to finish, boasting a moody color palette and solid black levels. Image and texture details are also very strong for a standard definition release, and this season's varied locales play to almost every technical strength with a great deal of variety and inspired touches. Aliasing and banding are present on several occasions (and honestly, they're almost expected on animated DVD releases), but it's no biggie when you consider all the positives here. From top to bottom, fans should still be happy...even if, like me, they're still wishing for a long overdue bump to high definition.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also terrific, preserving the series' action-packed sound design perfectly well. Either way, TMNT regularly features plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) atmospheric touches, from the low rumble of volcanic cult rituals to the steely clang of weapons striking one another. Dialogue is typically anchored up front and crisply recorded, while the sporadic music cues are dynamic but not overpowering. Overall, it's an effective mix that anchors the series' frantic, exciting pace. No optional subtitles are included, only Closed Captions support.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the interface is colorful and easy to navigate with a static advertisement beforehand. This two-disc release is packaged in a clear hinged keepcase with double-sided artwork and a matching slipcover that looks especially awesome. Like most recent volumes of TMNT
, however, we don't get any bonus features.
Nickelodeon's bold TMNT reboot is now entering its fifth and final season, with the upcoming spin-off Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set to replace it...and while the recent shift in tone doesn't always feel like a step in the right direction, it's still got some gas left in the tank. The series looks to be all-in with darker material at this point: featuring occult resurrections, character deaths, psychological torture, and a li'l alien turtle named Chompy Picasso, it's an odd but only occasionally effective formula that feels like it's coasting off the successes of earlier episodes. Still, I'd imagine that die-hard fans (young and old) are willing to follow it until the end, and Mark Hamill's presence as the nightmarish Kavaxas is an unsettling highlight. Paramount's DVD package is once again terrific in the A/V department, while the larger collection of episodes---at a similar price point to the single-disc collections, even---helps to offset the lack of bonus features. Recommended, if you've come this far.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.