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 poking fun at a darkening industry, unaware that these creations would grow beyond their wildest dreams. Spawning an endless supply of merchandise, a video game series and several feature films, Eastman and Laird's humble creation proved to be one of the most lucrative franchises of the late 80s and early 90s.
After that, Turtlemania was left gasping for air, as the franchise was still being forced on audiences that had already moved onto the next big thing. The craptastic third live action movie pretty much signaled the beginning of the end in 1993. On the small screen, the classic animated series ended in 1996 after ten seasons and 193 episodes of gradually diminishing returns. A daily comic strip, which I didn't even know existed until recently, was finally canceled that same year. Nonetheless, Saban Entertainment (they of Power Rangers fame) produced a short-lived live action series dubbed The Next Mutation that debuted in the fall of 1997 and lasted only one full season of 26 episodes. This effectively ended the franchise's pop culture presence until the successful second animated series launched in 2003.
As for The Next Mutation, it falls somewhere between "reboot" and "sequel", offering a few passing similarities to the first animated series and all three live action films. Unlike both previous incarnations, The Next Mutation starts campy and stays campy, serving up a product not unlike Saban's own Power Rangeers: the villains are goofy, our team has been "diversified" (with a new female turtle, Venus DeMilo) and the color palette makes Dick Tracy look like a black and white film. Much like later seasons of the first animated series, Shredder is pushed to the background; this time, he's been largely replaced by Dragon Lord (leader of humanoid dragons known as The Rank) and a rotating stable of colorful, equally over-the-top villains. Familiar favorites like Casey Jones and April O'Neil are gone, but Splinter and our four heroes are kept pretty much intact, personality-wise. Overall, it's a product aimed squarely at the younger crowd...but if you've got a soft spot for extra cheese, you might actually enjoy yourself.
The first and only season has been divided in half by the pop culture enthusiasts over at Shout! Factory, who have served up the first 13 episodes for this two-disc release (and for those worried about being left hanging, Volume Two has already been announced for December 4th). It's priced fairly enough to entice curious TMNT fans, though I'd imagine that most of 'em will want to try before they buy.
"East Meets West" (Parts 1-5) • "Staff of Buki" • "Silver and Gold" • "Meet Dr. Quease"
"All in the Family" • "Trusting Dr. Quease" • "Windfall" • "Turtles' Night Out" • "Mutant Reflections"
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios, these episodes look a little better than expected. Most TV releases from the era (especially kid's shows) are simply transferred to DVD from aging tape masters with poor image detail, compression artifacts and a general lack of polish. Shout's treatment of The Next Mutation obviously uses better source material...and while this is a low budget affair, there's very little to complain about from a technical standpoint. The wild "1990s kids' show" color palette is generally bold and bright. Black levels are occasionally inconsistent and image detail falters during certain scenes, although no major digital imperfections could be spotted along the way. It's a solid effort, and I'd imagine that most die-hard TMNT collectors will be more than satisfied with Shout's efforts in this department.
The audio, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, is similarly better than expected. Dialogue is crisp and doesn't fight for attention with the frequent music cues, though the limited budget doesn't lend itself to a dynamic presentation overall. It's been reported that the theme song used for these episodes is different than the original broadcasts...but oddly enough, the original theme song in question is present on the DVD menu. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the anamorphic menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. Each 23-minute episode has been divided into several chapters, though no chapter selection screens are present. This two-disc set is housed in a clear hinged keepcase with an attractive matching slipcover. No inserts of any kind have been included, although an episode listing is printed on the interior artwork. A quality effort overall.
Nothing, which isn't very surprising. The other 13 episodes would've been nice, or at least a featurette.
It's far from the best incarnation of TMNT, but The Next Mutation has a goofy Power Rangers vibe that younger audiences might enjoy. This largely forgotten, left-field production does seem more than a little pandering, though, and the low budget factor is definitely a handicap. Shout! Factory's decision to chop this 26-episode series in half doesn't make much sense, though everything else about this release has been handled with care. It's probably not worth a blind buy...but curious fans should give it a weekend spin, if only to see how far a franchise can deviate from the original source material. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, 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.