Gir: I love this show!
If that line doesn't make you laugh – or at least bring a smile to your face – then you clearly have not been exposed to the maniacally funny, wackily inventive show that is called Invader ZIM. Amazingly enough, a few short weeks ago I had never even heard of the show, until a friend pressed a copy of Invader Zim Volume 1: Doom Doom Doom into my baffled hands. "You have to watch this!" he assured me. Okey-dokey... I popped it into my DVD player, to discover a true gem of animated humor. Clearly, I absolutely had to get my hands on Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity.
You see, Zim is an alien who has been sent to conquer Earth as part of the Irken Empire's Operation Impending Doom II. Well, not quite. Actually, he (and his hastily cobbled-together robot companion Gir) have been sent to this little backwater planet to get him out of the way, because while Zim has a monomaniacal belief in his own superior intellect and abilities, in truth he... well, he tends to screw things up.
Volume 2 picks up where Volume 1 left off, with episodes from Season 1 (2001). In terms of air dates and episode sequences, it gets a bit messy from there on, as this set includes most (but not all) of the Season 2 (2002) episodes that actually got aired, plus one of the episodes that was never aired in the US. The order that the episodes is presented on the DVD also differs from the air date, as far as I can tell from my research. In any case, we'll hopefully get the balance of the Zim episodes in Volume 3.
The brilliance of Invader Zim shines most brightly when creator Jhonen Vasquez sets up ordinary circumstances for Zim to deal with, and develops them in utterly bizarre ways. The gem of this volume is probably "Battle of the Planets," a half-hour episode in which Zim has the brilliant idea of investigating Mars for possible weapons to use against the Earth... and it all gets really weird from there. Other highlights are "Bolognius Maximus" (featuring a bizarre DNA fusion between human, alien, and... bologna), the delightfully wacky "Door to Door," which will hit a particularly funny note with anybody who had to sell candy at their school, and "Mysterious Mysteries," in which Zim and Gir make it onto TV in one of Dib's attempts to expose Zim as an alien.
One thing is, I think, quite evident: Nickelodeon's boneheaded ideas about the show's audience aside, Invader Zim is a show primarily for adults, not kids. Like The Simpsons, there's material here that the younger set can laugh at, but the skewed perspective that Invader Zim takes on everyday life is most certainly aimed at adult viewers. The world of Invader Zim is a dark, twisted place, populated by parodies that hit dangerously close to the truth, from the warped schoolteacher Ms. Bitters to Bloaty the Pizza Hog.
The episodes here have a tough act to follow, considering how insanely funny Volume 1 was, and although there are some definite highlights, overall they're not quite as good as those on the earlier volume. I think we can see some effects from the see-saw of cancellation threats and reprieves (sadly too few of the latter) that Invader Zim went through. The show's focus seems to shift slightly in the episodes here: while the very best Invader Zim episodes focus on Zim (and Gir!) dealing with life on Earth, some of the later episodes seem to shift to a more purely science-fiction premise; for instance, we see a lot more of the Almighty Tallest, who don't really work all that well. Episodes along these lines, like "Hobo 13" or "Abducted" are still funny, but they don't represent Invader Zim at its best. Similarly, the "Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom" and "Game Slave 2" have their moments, but they're missing that certain spark that comes from our alien friends. We want Zim! (And Gir!)
Even accounting for a slightly lower level of delightful insanity than in Volume 1, Invader Zim Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity is still amazingly funny and creative. The thing is, it's almost impossible to just describe why Invader Zim is so memorable and fun to watch... you basically have to experience it to see what I mean.
The following episodes appear on Volume 2:
Invader ZIM Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity is a two-DVD set, packaged in a single-wide keepcase. It's pretty clearly a continuation of Volume 1, as the DVDs are labeled "Disc 3" and "Disc 4." There's an insert booklet, but unlike Volume 1, it's just stuck in the middle without anything to hold it in place.
This show looks great. And I do mean great. Colors are bright and vibrant, blacks are solid and dark, and the image overall is extremely crisp and sharp. It's also squeaky-clean, with no noise at all. Animation is perhaps the most unforgiving of all styles in terms of image quality, as any flaws tend to show up very distinctively, but the flip side is when it looks just right, as it does here, it's downright stunning.
All the episodes are presented in their original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Given the absolutely (and delightfully) over-the-top voice acting featured in Invader Zim, it's a good thing that we get a nice soundtrack to handle it. Any hint of harshness or tinniness would surely be revealed the first time Zim proclaimed his greatness to the world at the top of his lungs, but in fact we get a nicely handled soundtrack that does a great job of reproducing all the actors' voices quite naturally. I do tend to miss the occasional line here and there, but I think that's more to do with the actors sometimes speaking very quickly (or in odd accents) rather than anything to do with the soundtrack itself. The theme music sounds great, too.
The soundtrack is a Dolby 2.0, which works fine as there's no real need for surround channels here. A Spanish language soundtrack is also included.
The special features here consist of commentaries and animatics, and are divided between the two discs. 13 of the 16 episodes have a commentary track from the cast and production crew; "Game Slave 2," "Hobo 13," "Megadoomer," and "The Sad Sad Tale of Chickenfoot" have multiple commentary tracks.
All the episodes except for "Megadoomer" also have the option to view the episode as animatics. In each case, the opening and closing sequences are presented in the normal format, with the rest of the episode presented in animatic form, with the regular soundtrack continuing to play. This feature is mildly interesting for about 30 seconds if you're just a fan of the show. I can imagine, though, that for budding cartoonists this would be a very illuminating feature.
We also have optional Irken subtitles, which rather annoyingly are on by default.
I've never seen anything quite like Invader Zim. This animated television series has a truly off-kilter and bizarrely funny way of looking at the world, and if you're looking for something fresh, new, and surprising, then look no further: Invader Zim fits the bill. While in terms of pure comic brilliance Volume 1: Doom Doom Doom comes out ahead, Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity is no slouch, offering fans a nice selection of wacky episodes. Especially when I consider the superb transfer, Invader Zim Volume 2 gets a "highly recommended."