When I'm considering the animated series Invader ZIM, a Spanish proverb comes to mind: "Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno": Something good, if short, is twice as good. That helps explain the brilliance of Invader ZIM: most episodes are made up of two 15-minute mini-episodes, and even the "longer" episodes only run half an hour. Into those tightly compressed spaces, creator Jhonen Vasquez and his team have poured an amazing amount of completely insane, brilliantly funny material. Sadly, Invader ZIM is also short in terms of how long it ran on television, as its ill-fated matchup with Nickelodeon meant that it only ran one full season and part of a second. But again, on the bright side, in that short run we do get an explosion of completely way-out-there imagination. Would this intensity have been sustainable over the long run? I wish we'd been given the chance to find out, but at least the short run of Invader ZIM is great stuff.
If you haven't ever seen Invader ZIM... well, it's quite a trip. It's so way, way, way out there that it's highly appropriate that Zim, the protagonist, is a small green alien who's bent on conquering Earth, all by himself. Well, not quite all by himself: he has the assistance of his wacked-out robot servant Gir, who alternates between demonic "duty mode" and his normal state of being completely off his rocker.
Watching Invader ZIM is like taking a tour of someone's imagination... if that someone is very strange, very creative, and more than a little hyperactive. From start to finish, Invader ZIM has a manic, edgy feel to it. The world that Zim, Gir, Dib, and Gaz inhabit is a dark one, in which school is a prison run by sadistic adults, and in which the world in general is populated by equal amounts of idiots and arrogant fools. In his disguise as a "normal boy," Zim thinks he has the ideal vantage point from which to achieve world domination, but he really can't accomplish a whole lot (if anything at all). Of course, that's probably because Zim is remarkably incompetent as an invader, but at the same time his "disguise" provides the show with the platform to throw a lot of sharp darts at society from the perspective of those caught in the educational machine.
Artistically, Invader ZIM has a highly distinctive feel as well. The bold animations and lively style keep the image constantly moving, and on top of that the editing and cinematography shake things up considerably: the "camera" frequently moves around and gives us unexpected angles. It's easy to see just by looking at it that Invader ZIM is a cartoon for adults, not kids (even without considering the content and sense of humor): it's visually sophisticated.
The boxed set contains all the Invader ZIM episodes, in three volumes.
Volume 1: Doom Doom Doom is the strongest of the three volumes, with several of my favorites. How can you go wrong with "Attack of the Saucer Morons," in which Zim and Gir have a run-in with UFO enthusiasts, or the surreal "A Room with a Moose" (in which we learn that there is no fate worse than... a moosey fate). "Hamstergeddon" is pure brilliance: Zim uses the devastating cuteness of Peepi, the new classroom pet, as a weapon... in fact, he makes Peepi into Ultra-Peepi! Actually, as funny as that episode is, it's topped by another favorite, "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy," involving time travel and (you guessed it) lots and lots of rubber piggies, and the unforgettable "Rise of the Zitboy," in which Zim discovers that his giant pimple, named Pustulio, has the power to hypnotize anyone. Yes, it's just as weird as it sounds. Probably weirder, actually. Yes, it's also really, really funny, in a completely odd and twisted way.
Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity has a lot to live up to, but it has its fair share of great episodes, including the double-length "Battle of the Planets," which just keeps escalating the level of wackiness to unforeseeable heights, "Bolognius Maximus," involving DNA fusion with bologna, and "Door to Door," a devastating send-up of the ubiquitous practice of forcing schoolchildren to peddle candy as a fundraiser.
Volume 3: Horrible Holiday Cheer wraps up the series (sniff). We get the last few aired episodes, starting with the very funny "Gir Goes Crazy and Stuff" (sure to please any fans of the manic little robot), the wacky "Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom," and the double-length "Tak: The Hideous New Girl." The final episode that was actually shown on the air is the Christmas special, "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever"; here, it's restored to its original position in the sequence as the final episode, after the unaired episodes. These nine episodes (six mini-episodes and three double-length episodes) were those that were produced but never aired in the U.S. We get "Backseat Drivers from Beyond the Stars," "Mortos der Soul Stealer," "Zim Eats Waffles," "The Girl Who Cried Gnome," "Dibship Rising," "Vindicated!", "The Voting of the Doomed," "Gaz, Taster of Pork," and "The Frycook What Came from All That Space." As with Volume 2, it's hard to match the pure brilliance of Volume 1, but this is great stuff. It's Invader ZIM!
Fans who pay lots of attention to these things will be interested to know that the version of "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever" on Volume 3 is the edited version, as shown in its original broadcast. The complete, unedited version is included on the fourth volume, which contains the special features. However, it's nothing to get really worked up about: the title of this bonus feature is, after all, "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever: The Unseen Seconds."
In general, Invader ZIM can't adequately be explained; it has to be experienced. So if you have a slightly off-beat sense of humor, by all means, make sure you give it a try. I was certainly hooked from the get-go.
The Invader ZIM boxed set contains four volumes. Volumes 1, 2, and 3 contain two discs each (which are numbered continuously from 1 to 6), with each volume having the two DVDs in a single-wide plastic keepcase. The fourth volume has one DVD containing the additional special features, and is also in its own plastic keepcase. Volumes 1-3 are identical to their release as separate DVDs.
Now we get to the packaging. The four volumes are packaged inside a replica of Zim's house. To get to the discs, you open the "front door." The roof also opens up to reveal a small Gir figurine in the "attic." The whole thing is constructed out of extremely sturdy, glossy, heavy cardboard: this is no flimsy paperboard case, but a quite rigid case with a sleek finish. The house box itself is packaged inside a larger black box, which is also fairly sturdy and is decorated with Invader ZIM art.
What I'm really pleased with is the fact that the fancy box is optional: you can take the DVDs out of the case and put them on your shelf just like any other DVD, or you can leave them in the novelty case... whichever suits your fancy. Personally, I don't care for elaborate cases, so I really appreciate the fact that Media Blasters didn't make the discs built into the house box.
Since the three main volumes have all been released separately, the only reason to pick up this set would be because of the fourth volume with the extra special features, and (if you like it) the fancy box. Again, Media Blasters has shown consideration for fans by making it possible to get these last few goodies without having to re-buy the first three volumes. If you already own Volumes 1-3, you can buy the House Box with Volume 4 separately (at an appropriately lower price), or if you don't have any Invader ZIM yet, you can get the whole shebang at once with the House Box Complete Set (which includes Volumes 1-3 as well as Volume 4 and the fancy box).
Menus for all the volumes are attractive, with themed images from the show, and pleasingly easy to navigate.
Invader ZIM looks fantastic. Animation is perhaps the least forgiving of all formats to put on screen, so it's great to see the series looking crisp, clean, and colorful on DVD. Blacks look dark and strong, colors look bold and bright, and in general everything is a pleasure to look at. The prints are perfectly clean and free of noise or flaws. All the episodes are presented in their original television broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack really does a great job here. The sound is always clear and clean, and never shows the slightest hint of harshness or tinniness. That's no mean feat, considering the extreme range of volumes that we get in the voice actors' dialogue... Zim, for instance, is at the top of his lungs in practically every other sentence. The music is also full-sounding and pleasing to the ear. A Spanish Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is also provided. The gimmicky Irken subtitles are, annoyingly, on by default, but it's possible to turn them off on the fly.
There's quite a lot of bonus material in this set... it's been given loving care in its DVD treatment even if it didn't get that care in its original TV run. Each of the three previously released volumes has some special features, and then there's the fourth disc that contains additional bonus material.
Volume 1: Doom Doom Doom
Audio commentaries have been a strong suit across all the volumes, starting here. All but four of the episodes here feature audio commentary tracks from a variety of cast and crew members; everyone sounds like they're having a lot of fun, and offering some interesting thoughts on the episodes as well. (On the other hand, the pig commentary for "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy" is, like the Irken subtitles, good for a "heh, that's cute" moment but that's it.) Also featured for almost all the episodes are animatics/storyboards for the episodes. 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 get the original 11-minute pilot episode for Invader ZIM (with Billy West doing the voice for Zim), and a short but interesting set of interviews with the voice actors.
Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity
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.
Volume 3: Horrible Holiday Cheer
The commentaries continue to be both frequent and interesting in this final volume, with the cast and crew presenting lively commentaries for all of the episodes here. Nearly all the episodes also have the animatics/storyboard feature as well.
A mildly interesting short set of interviews with the production staff is also included, touching on issues like post-production, art direction, and storyboarding.
Volume 4: Bonus disc
Since the bonus disc is only available as part of the boxed set, the big question is: is the content really outstanding? I'd say that it's not bad, but not great either. You can judge for yourself whether it sounds like something you'd be interested in, but I'd describe the material here as only for really die-hard fans. (I think the show is absolutely brilliant, but I'm not so fanatical as to be all that interested in these final extras).
First off, we get the uncut version of "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever." Given its subtitle "The Unseen Seconds," it's fair to say that this is probably of most interest to completists. Also for completists is the section of "Audio from Unfinished Episodes." Here, we get the voice tracks for seven unfinished episodes: "Ten Minutes to Doom," "Invader Poonchy," "Mopiness of Doom," "Nubs of Doom," "Return of Keef," "Robo Parents Gone Wild," and "Simon Says Doom." Listening to these made me realize how much of the effect of Invader ZIM is in the combination of brilliant voiceovers with the great visuals; it's really hard to get much out of the sound-only tracks. That's not to say that some fans won't get a kick out of them; it's just that it's more of a for-diehard-fans-only feature.
Two substantial interview segments with composer Kevin Manthei are also included here: the general "Interview" and also the "Invader ZIM Sound Design" featurettes. While these could have been edited better (there are some draggy moments) in general Manthei provides some interesting insights into how he created the music and audio effects for the series.
Lastly, we get over an hour of selected musical score segments, taken from various episodes. The 34 different clips can be selected individually, or with the "play all" feature.
I'm not sure if it counts as a special feature or not, but the House Box also comes with a plastic Gir figure, about three inches tall.
I love this show... Invader ZIM is one of the most unique, brilliant shows I've seen, and certainly one of the most memorable animated series I've ever come across. Invader ZIM gives us our real world "through a glass darkly": it's a twisted, dark, warped, and bizarre vision of reality, but it's recognizable as the dark side of what we experience every day (or suffered through as a child). And it's really, really funny... in its own wacked-out way. I suspect that Invader ZIM is one of those shows that you either completely love, or you simply don't get at all; there's really no way to just like it a little bit. Chalk me up as a fan!
So if you're a fan, you've probably already bought the three volumes of episodes as they were released separately. What should you do about this special boxed set with the fourth volume of special features? I'd say that the extra bonus material is not bad, but it's only worth picking up if you're really, really into every last detail of the show, since the most interesting material (the commentaries) is already present on the first three volumes. The last selling point is the fancy "house box." If you like novelty packaging, you'll adore this bizarre (but very nicely made) box... and you'll love Media Blasters for selling two versions of the set: a "complete" set with Volumes 1-4, and a discounted version that's just the fancy box and the bonus disc. No double-dipping here! (And if you really want the bonus disc but not the fancy box, at least it's possible to remove all the DVDs from the house box and store them on the shelf normally.)