Sunday, February 3, 2013

It Came From Japan...

Before I begin this article, I think I need to clarify a term I've used a lot recently.  People will frequently see me use the term "insane" in my reviews, but I don't think I express very well what I mean when I say that.

A perfect way to clarify this is to look at anime I've watched over the years, starting by what many would describe as a truly insane choice, FLCL.

I won't deny it, this anime is completely nuts.  The overall "story" (if we're being generous) is that a twelve year old boy's head acts as a portal for giant robot monsters to emerge into our world, just to be fought by another robot with a television for a head and a woman who beats things to death with a vintage electric guitar.

Much like the shade of yellow of that Vespa in the picture, this show is b-a-n-a-n-a-s.  However, I get the plot.  I understand who the characters are, why they're doing what they're doing, and they're presented with a consistent character that doesn't suddenly swerve to no end without any reason why.

Another series I loved which qualifies as insane is Excel Saga.

This is the touching story of two young women working for a secret organization with plans to take over the world fighting against the world's mightiest afro, the world's cutest race of alien invaders, and bringing eternal torment to a small dog that the main character (the one on the right) keeps around as "emergency food."

I will grant you, this series is one you have to watch twice to figure out what's going on, but it's more "random" than "insane."  Instead of the characters having a path that goes from point A to B with a few diversions in between, I remember thinking it felt like someone just threw darts at a list of plot ideas and, when they hit a writing block, just started throwing more darts.

This isn't to say I don't love it, just that acting completely random isn't the same thing, in my eye, to being completely insane.

So now we come to what I just recently watched, which I maintain is the most insane thing I've seen come out of Japan.

NOT ONLY does this two-part series take established characters from media and adapt them to a more Japanese storytelling model...

NOT ONLY does it keep the original animation style from the original series, just changing it when the characters bring out new powers...

NOT ONLY does it introduce things into the "canon" that will never be talked of again and make absolutely no sense in this world... decides to do all of this to the most popular cartoon series ever.

I present... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Superman Legend.

Now, if I was going to bring a series from another country, one that was sort-of staggering to the end of a decade long dominance of toy sales and cartoon watching (before Mighty Morphin Power Rangers took it all away, anyway), and then try to drastically change it up by bringing in local flavors, I might try to make it a more gradual process, giving the audience a chance to acclimate itself to this sudden shift in storytelling focus.

This two-parter says "Screw that!" and gets the job done in the first two minutes before the title sequence.  I'm not even kidding, just watch.

So instead of being a series that stemmed as a satire of Frank Miller's run on the comic book Daredevil, with four teenage turtles who love pizza, build wacky gadgets, and fight an evil ninja, his two henchmen, and a talking brain in a gender-neutered muscle body with tiny red shorts...'s now about four mutant turtles who use crystals to mutate themselves further into what I can only describe as action hero bodies with Wolverine's mask helped by a fairy to fight another fairy who can snuff out the stars in the sky just by trying to wake up.  Oh, and Shredder turns into a dragon.  Because Japan, is why.

I just- let's just get through this, starting with episode one, "Super Turtles In Danger! The Debut Of The Saint!"

So this episode begins with what might be one of my favorite bits, where someone on the space shuttle (remember when we had those?) is contacting NASA to report that the stars are disappearing from the skyHe has difficulty reaching anybody because NASA, of course, only has one person on staff and he was coming back from lunch.

Now, the response to a galactic-level crisis as the universe seems to be getting obliterated?  NASA (rather, the one guy) dismisses it as the astronaut left his glasses at his apartment on his way TO SPACE.

We quickly learn that the stars are being snuffed out like candles because Krang, Shredder, and Bebop and Rocksteady are trying to awaken "Dark Mu" from her crystal prison.  The end goal is to use Dark Mu to destroy the Earth (as well as the Turtles), at which point Shredder proves two things with a single question:

1)  He keeps his priorities straight.
2)  He really needs to ask more questions before Krang puts plans into action.

Fortunately, the local media take a bit more interest in this, and April meets up with the turtles to deduce that the universe being obliterated is obviously actions of Shredder and Krang.  April also proves that she's not afraid to ask the questions that make her a star reporter for Channel 6 News:

Fortunately the Turtles are informed by the fairy that lives with them that only Dark Mu has the power to make stars disappear, and someone must be trying to wake her u-the fairy that lives with them?, yeah.  Anyway, something I need to point out here is that the Turtles and villains are all voiced by the same cast who dubbed over the American cartoon.  I can only assume they meant for this series to somehow fit into the canon established by the American cartoon.

Again, much like April's jumpsuit, b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

So Shredder, Bebop, and Rocksteady show up to fight the Turtles and keep them busy while Dark Mu is being awakened, and Krang sends out energy that "mutates" them into a dragon, a green lizard rhinoceros, and, Bebop looks like one of the mohawk guy from Mad Max now.

But the turtles have their own crystals, which allows them to mutate into...

...excuse me a moment, I seriously need a stiff drink to get through this.

It's the return of the "time passing" image!
...okay, now, where to begin?  I've already established that they clearly stole their masks either from Wolverine or 90s-era Batman, but the fact that their shells now have shoulder pads is, I think, the other major indication that this show took place during the 90s.

So yeah, moving ahead, the Turtles fight the bad guys, Splinter finds Krang (with no reason given as to how) and fights him, and then Dark Mu awakens, causing earthquakes across the planet.  We see Tokyo Tower collapse, the Eiffel Tower collapse (hey, stock footage, just different backgrounds!)...and a painting falls down in the Forbidden City.  Not all earthquakes are made alike, I guess.

Oh, and in case you were wondering where the Foot Clan were?  They were all on vacation at Miami Beach (the pineapple tropical shirts they have on over their ninja costumes cracked me up), and then they get hit by a tornado.

Keep in mind this was two years before Pokemon brought that phrase into pop culture.

Oh, and also a tidal wave hits New York that reaches the Statue of Liberty's crown and covers the entire city.  So yeah, most of the population of New York is now dead.  Fortunately, we don't have time for that, as April (conveniently alive in the Channel 6 chopper) points the turtles to where Krang unleashes Dark Mu...whose first action is to turn "Dragon Shredder" into "MechaGodzilla Shredder."

So, Donatello has the best idea ever for taking out giant mecha Shredder...he lures him into what's left of the city and gets him to slice a building in half so it falls over and smacks him in his horned head.

Donatello, allowing whatever survivors were left in that building to die so others may live!

Dark Mu escapes into space, but the turtles are able to merge into "The Saint" (not Val Kilmer) and chase her, where, after Splinter talks to them from the moon (?) while holding up an egg timer showing that the amount of time they can stay merged is running out, their fairy friend pins her darker self so the good guys can use their ultimate attack and blow them both up.  Both fairies are trapped in crystals that spin out into space, the turtles somehow end up on the space shuttle, Michaelangelo makes a pizza joke, and it's revealed that they'll never be able to mutate again.

...and then there's episode two.

After a recap of everything we just saw in episode one (wait, seriously?  I could've just watched that and been just as confused?), we get our title "The Advent of Guardian Beasts: The Metal Turtles Debut!"

....huh, my drink's empty.  Easy enough to fix!

So, what did I miss?  Okay, the Turtles, Splinter, and April arrive in Japan and im- ....they flew?  On a commercial plane?

Okay, I just recently learned just how hard it is to get a sword from one side of the country to the other.  I'm pretty sure that even in 1996 they wouldn't just let a giant turtle onto a plane with two swords strapped to his back.

So the turtles climb into a cab (..........) and take off for the bullet train, while Krang sends Shredder, Bebop, and Rocksteady to Japan as well, because apparently there's another one of those mutating crystals there because of course there is. 

The Turtles and the bad guys get into a fight on top of the bullet train...which, okay, I'll admit could be pretty awesome...and then suddenly, NINJAS!

Or rather, "Ninja and his Ninja Minions," which is a band name I think would work.

The best part in this scene is that Bebop, Rocksteady, and Shredder completely flip out because genuine ninjas are suddenly there and seem like they're actively trying to kill the bad guys.  I guess when you fight the same guys for ten-plus years with no fatalities, you just assume it's because nobody wants anybody to die.  This must have been quite a shock.

It turns out the lead ninja is the one who summoned our heroes there to help him and his village of ninjas (who, I'll point out, absolutely terrified the bad guys) keep their mystical mirror from being stolen.  The mirror has inlaid in the back seven magatamas, comma-shaped beads that provide mystical power to Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright and do other stuff, I guess.

Oh, and the ninja presents the turtles with special suits of armor, as thanks!

Also known as "pants and misplaced football padding."
Man, it's too bad those shells the turtles have don't act as any kind of armor.  That would've been nice, I bet.

So the next morning, a ghost appears who looks uncannily like "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski ...who pretty much does nothing but laugh, point at things, and get described as being "the worst of the worst."  So in other words, it is "The Dude" just mistaken for someone else again.

Shredder shows up, and to keep the mirror from falling into the wrong hands, the head ninja activates a small, localized mushroom cloud to appear (?!) that destroys the building they're all in (?!!!) and summons a giant ninja fortress to emerge from the ground (?!!!!!!).

It's a race to the top to see who can get the mirror first!  Shredder arrives moments before the ninjas, who unleash the brilliant plan of throwing fake mirrors everywhere so the bad guys can't figure out which one is the real mirror.  ...of course, the bad guys are quick to point out that the good guys have no idea which one is real anymore either, so now it's time passing watching people crawl around on their hands and knees.

Oh, and the Turtles bump into Krang on their way up the stairs, but pretty much go "pfft, whatever" and run past him. 

So Casper The Dickish Ghost points out the real mirror to the bad guys, Shredder gets it, and three out of the seven stones activate, summoning mechanical animals from Mount Fuji and....I'm really suspecting someone writing this script just stole a script from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and went "just write the turtles in and we'll sort it out in post."

Bebop merges with a giant mechanical fish (because of course he does), Rocksteady merges with what appears to be a mechanical hydra, and Shredder gets a metallic silver tiger.  They immediately unleash all sorts of attacks on the Turtles (including one called "Metallical Snakes" which I believe are snakes that enjoy metal music and plot the demise of music-sharing websites) while the ninjas attempt to reclaim the mirror.

Krang manages to get hold of the mirror for all of five seconds before he's dog-piled by ninjas, and the Turtles quickly get hold of it, allowing them to summon four "good" metal, man, I don't know, I'm just going with it at this point.

Leonardo gets a mechanical blue dragon!  Raphael gets a mechanical phoenix!  Donatello gets a winged bear-lion creature!  Michaelangelo gets..., I don't even know where to begin with that thing.

So the Turtles now have armor as well, and the head ninja points out that the guardian armors only stick around for six minutes (it's a recurring theme I'm noticing here, phenomenal power always comes with a time limit), and he even has an egg timer on hand to keep track of how much time is left.

I had no idea that the first rule of ninja training is to always keep around an hourglass.

So, now that everybody knows about the time limit and is at equal power, Shredder comes to the rather humbling conclusion that they've already lost because the bad guys summoned theirs first.  So when their time runs out, it's not going to be pretty for their side.

And that damn ghost keeps laughing.

So now we have special attacks being thrown back and forth (and I won't lie, the names of the Turtles special attacks are pretty lame.  "Beef Bee-Tonic" sounds like the worse medicinal cure ever.  "Thundra Tonic Buster" is a close second.), and right when it looks like Shredder might have Leonardo on the ropes...the time limit runs out.

Our heroes being heroes, they immediately take advantage of this opportunity to light Shredder on fire.

So, the bad guys got away with three stones, the Turtles swear to get them back, the sun goes down as they realize they haven't even had breakfast yet (...this fight took that long?), and....the entire fortress they're standing on top of crumbles, plummeting our heroes to our death, I can only assume.  The credits are rolling, that's all I care about.

This show is madness.  It feels like a continuous series of "And then, and then, and then, and then," with the most blatant Japanese cartoon themes being thrown at a series which already had four mutant ninjas fighting the forces of Dimension X.  This is a series that already had a mutant Cajun crocodile and let Michaelangeo have a one-episode romance with a pixie-like girl from another dimension.

You forgot about them, didn't you?  You're welcome.
It's not random, because they seem to fit into their continuity and don't introduce anything for its own sake, the rules of this "new" TMNT universe make sense when you look at it from an anime perspective, I just can't figure out why you would impose an entirely new set of rules to how the universe works on a series that's already been established for ten years.

...oh right, to sell toys.

Watching these two episodes, each time I thought I figured out just how absolutely bonkers things were going to get, it kept one-upping me the whole time, until I gave up and just watched the last half of each episode with my jaw hanging open.  It's almost brilliant in how it copied everything from the original cartoon and imposed its own logic over it.  Had this series gone longer, I'm sure we would've had some Mothra version of Baxter Stockman show up, and maybe we would've learned how long it took to rebuild New York since it was buried under water.

...maybe it's the drink talking, but I need to lie down

No comments: