If you were alive at any time between 1987 and now, chances are you've heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even before that, the popular characters starred in their own comic book created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, an oversized black-and-white funnybook that enjoyed its own enormous level of success. Essentially, TMNT was a true kitchen table project; two independent creators simply having fun, unaware that their creations would quickly grow beyond their wildest dreams. Spawning an endless supply of merchandise, a video game series and several feature films, Eastman and Laird's creation proved to be one of the most successful franchises of the late 80s-early 90s. In fact, it's still going fairly strong today.
Of course, the most well-known adaptation of the Ninja Turtles' adventures came in the form of their first animated series. Premiering in December of 1987, the first run of TMNT was quite a success: it eventually became one of the longest-running animated shows in television history, spanning roughly 200 episodes over nearly a decade. The first few years were chock full of classic moments, but each passing season saw the show get a little more ridiculous, eventually collapsing under its own weight. Though I saw and generally enjoyed the latest CGI feature film, other recent "resurrections" like Fast Forward have caused mild constipation. This ninth "season" is actually 8 episodes in length; this is a far cry from earlier years, but at least it's finally seeing the light of day on DVD (heck, Season 8 arrived almost two years ago!). Episodes include "The Unknown Ninja", "Dregg of the Earth", "The Wrath of Medusa", "The New Mutation", "The Showdown", "Split-Second", "Carter, the Encforcer" and "Doomquest".
Season 9 doesn't mark a definitive "turning point" for TMNT; that happened during Season 8 when the series was given a darker visual overhaul. The sky became red, the opening theme changed, new villains were ushered in and familiar characters were pushed to the background (or erased entirely). This darker approach was most likely for two reasons: to stand in contrast with more colorful kids' shows like Power Rangers and, to a lesser extent, more closely resemble the comic books. For my money, TMNT's finest hour was the first two seasons of this animated series, as well as the original movie. It marked the perfect balance of darkness and goofy humor, and the franchise never reached those high marks again. Even still, Season 9 isn't a bad block of animation. I never caught these episodes the first time around, having grown out of my TMNT phase by then (heck, I didn't even know it was still on in 1996!), but what's here does its job during the season's short run.
For my money, Season 9's only awkward change was the PC addition of Carter, a teenager who acquires a seemingly incurable mutant power and studies martial arts under Splinter's direction. The series already had four teenage characters and it didn't need a fifth, plain and simple....but if you've stuck with the series this long, odds are you won't mind that much. Season 9 arrives on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate---and while it's far from a perfect effort, die-hard fans should be happy that they're only one more release away from a complete collection. Well, except for the missing Season 4 and 5 episodes "Once Upon a Time Machine" and "Planet of the Turtleoids, Parts I and II". Why in the world haven't they seen the light of day yet?
Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios, these episodes look fairly decent for their age. Colors are generally strong and black levels are usually solid, but a mild amount of digital combing and compression artifacts can be seen along the way. These problems are especially puzzling since there's only about three hours of content on this DVD.
The audio, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, is slightly better than the visuals. Dialogue is generally crisp and it doesn't compete with the series' frequent music cues. Overall, it's about what you'd expect from a 1990s animated series. Optional subtitles are not included, but each episode includes Closed Captioning support.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 9 is hardly the series' finest hour, but it's finally here after a two-year gap and hardcore fans should be happy. Unfortunately, there's no bonus features to be found, the A/V presentation could be better and there's no word yet if the 10th and final season (or the three missing episodes) are around the corner. For now...well, at least this short season is priced accordingly, making it a cheap and easy pick for its nostalgic target audience. Recommended.