Alright, there’s no sense wasting any time; I’m just gonna jump right into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Season 5 and keep moving.
The fifth season of TMNT is pretty darn unremarkable. Of the locations you remember seeing the Technodrome waylaid in, chances are you either recall the center of the Earth or Dimension X. But the arctic? Yeah, who recalls that era with all that much nostalgic affection.
This season is basically “more of the same” and the formula which was wearing thin partway through season 4 becomes almost unbearable by the start of this run. On the bright side, there are some diamonds in this rough and some great action figure-friendly characters who’ll show up. In this batch alone, we’re gonna get to meet Mutagen Man and Mondo Gecko.
But first we have to get through a two-parter that was released on home video as “The Turtles’ Awesome Easter”. Pre–tty lame.
“The Turtles and the Hare” (written by Misty Taggart)
When the Shredder starts zapping people with his docilizer ray to make them timid as rabbits, the Turtles discover the only antidote exists in a fairy tale dimension. To get it, they’ll have to team up with Hokum Hare and defeat a giant.
There wasn’t one original idea in this whole stupid episode.
Remember when Krang disguised Bebop and Rocksteady and sent them to infiltrate Channel 6 in the season 4 opener, “Plan 6 from Outer Space”? Remember when Bebop and Rocksteady used a machine to turn everyone into cowards in “Bebop and Rocksteady Conquer the Universe”? Remember when the Turtles used their portable portal generator to meet an anthropomorphic rabbit from another dimension in “Usagi Yojimbo”? Remember when this show was fucking creative?
God, they even find a way to recycle the shrinking episode again by spending a chunk of the third act in the giant’s house with the Turtles running around on tables amongst humongous knick-knacks. Technically nobody shrank, no, but they might as well have!
What a way to start a season. There’s nothing even remotely awesome about this Easter.
Well, scratch that. I think Mighty Max possibly made a cameo:
So I guess it’s got that going for it.
And for the record, the “Awesome Easter” two-parter, by the looks of it, was meant to air during the syndicated episodes at the start of season 4, but got held back (likely so it could tie-in with Easter). You’ve got storytelling clues, like the Technodrome not being buried in lava, but there are other dead giveaways. The title sequence is the original one, last used during the syndicated season 4 episodes, and there are also the old title cards rather than the title and credit overlays. So basically we’ve got two episodes from the beginning of season 4, airing at the beginning of season 5.
We’re off to a great start, here.
“Once Upon a Time Machine” (written by Michael Maurer)
The Shredder takes Bebop, Rocksteady and their old gang 45 years into the future to defeat the Turtles when they’re helpless old men. The Turtles and Hokum Hare follow him and help their older selves get back into fighting shape.
So those of you who bought the Lionsgate TMNT Season 5 DVD set are probably wondering, “Where the fuck are these episodes?” Funny you should ask. For some stupid reason, “The Turtles and the Hare” wound up on the season 4 DVD set. For some other stupid reason, “Once Upon a Time Machine” was skipped altogether and didn’t see a release until the season 10 set, where it was included as a bonus feature. The two-part season finale, “Planet of the Turtleoids” also got omitted from the season 5 set and had to wait until the season 10 set to get a release (again, as a bonus feature).
On the off chance you were curious, that’s where these episodes are at. And it certainly made screencapping the episodes for this article a pain in the ass. I had to break out my season 4, season 5 and season 10 DVDs to just gets screencaps of these six freaking episodes… all of which are supposed to be from season 5. Well, it’s good to know the DVD releases are as incompetent as the show. Consistency is important.
Anyway, this second half of the “Awesome Easter” two-parter is quite a lot better than the first half. The plot is original, for one thing. Though one oddity is that the Turtles are only 45 years older in this episode, yet they’re all geriatrics. Assuming they’re around 15 in this cartoon (Michelangelo swoons over a 15 year-old in “Poor Little Rich Turtle”, so they’d better be), that would make the elderly Turtles around 60. Despite that, they look and act like octogenarians. I dunno what the retirement age for Hollywood animation writers is like, but for you and me, we’re probably going to be working well into our sixties.
The time travel device was pretty cool in theory, though alas, the animation isn’t up to snuff when it comes to visualizing the thing. The Shredder and the Turtles travel to the future in a subway car that blasts through a temporal anomaly located in a tunnel, and it exits the warp with a trail of flames behind it. The animation doesn’t do the concept justice and its winds up looking really clumsy.
There are some tacked on characters, too. Bebop and Rocksteady’s gang, who previously appeared in “That Gang’s All Here”, inexplicably return to contribute absolutely nothing. Shredder wants an army to conquer the peaceful wimps of the future, so he has Bebop and Rocksteady bring precisely three members of their old gang with them. Couldn’t he have just brought along a few Foot Soldiers? And Hokum Hare continues to be a worthless piece of shit, but at least he vacates the series at the end of this episode. As far as being the second half of an Easter special goes, a reference is only made to the holiday at the very start. And Hokum hardly offers anything to the story and sort of just follows the Turtles around. I suspect this was a completed script which he was only added to at the last minute; he’s that superfluous.
While this one is enjoyable despite those shortcomings, the series would do the idea much better in its tenth season. There’ll be a 3-parter where the Turtles team up with versions of themselves brought from the past rather than the future and it’ll be played straight instead of for laughs. The two cross-time team-ups are very unique from each other, so it actually won’t be a case of plot-recycling for a change.
Anyway, can you believe Easter of all holidays warranted a two-parter on this show yet there wasn’t so much as one episode exploiting Christmas? There better not be a Flag Day episode somewhere in this shit…
“My Brother, the Bad Guy” (written by Dennis O’Flaherty)
After the Shredder steals the diary of the Kojima Brothers from the Ninja Hall of Fame in Tokyo, his brother, Police Lt. Kazuo Saki, follows him to New York City and teams up with the Turtles. While the Turtles and Lt. Saki battle holograms of the Kojima Bros, the Shredder uses the distraction to hijack a fusion reactor magnet to pull the Technodrome loose.
I know it seems a little weird seeing this sort of “event” episode three episodes into a season; this is the sort of big story we usually get as a season finale. The Shredder and Krang finally get the Technodrome loose from the Dimension X asteroid, they bring it through the portal to Earth, the Turtles waylay it at the last second (this time in an Arctic chasm)… all the hallmarks of a TMNT season finale are here.
I don’t include airdates in my reviews (and there’s apparently lots of contention and conflict regarding the “proper” airdates, anyway), but the deal is that the “Awesome Easter” thing was a between-season special. Season 4 ended in December of 1990, the “Awesome Easter” aired as a two-part special in March of 1991, and then the proper season 5 episodes began in September of 1991 with this episode. So while not a “finale”, it’s functionally a “premier” and works in that way as a big event episode.
And what a good episode it is, too. “My Brothers, the Bad Guy” features a really memorable one-shot character in Lt. Kazuo Saki who acts as Oroku Saki’s opposite in every way. For however evil Shredder is, Lt. Saki is ruthlessly by the book. It makes for some amusing interactions as he teams with the Turtles but proceeds to get on their nerves by reminding them of traffic laws and other such violations at every possible moment. It’s a real shame he never came back; just one more of the interesting characters introduced in this show but never utilized to their full potential.
There’s a certain surprise quality to this episode, too. As it begins, the Shredder’s evil scheme looks to be pretty mundane; he steals the diary of the Kojima Brothers in order to create holograms of the greatest ninja masters in history (so they can destroy the Turtles). Partway through the second act, however, that’s all revealed to be a ruse and Shredder’s true plan, to use the fusion reactor to free the Technodrome, hits you out of nowhere.
There are some weird cultural discrepancies in this episode; stuff they get right and stuff they get wrong. Kazuo Saki is a Lieutenant of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, actually using the proper designation for Tokyo’s police force (it may not sound like much, but imagine how “off” it would sound if a show referred to the NYPD as the “Manhattan Police”). Likewise, his police officer underlings are garbed in the riot gear you often see members of the Tokyo Metro Police wearing, right down to properly drawn helmets. So there’s a level of authenticity present indicating actual effort and research went into this episode on various levels of production.
And yet… his name is “Kazuo Saki”. As I’m sure you’re well aware, in Japan the familial name comes first and the given name comes second, so his name should have been “Oroku Kazuo”. It’s a mistake, but it’s a consistent mistake. When Shredder’s mother showed up last season in “Shredder’s Mom”, she was introduced as “Miyoko Saki”, so I’m willing to bet that the writers caught their error by this episode but it was too late to do anything about it. Of course, when Shredder encounters his ancestor in the season 7 episode “The Legend of Koji”, said ancestor will be introduced as “Oroku Sancho”, finally getting the naming convention correct.
There’s also simultaneously continuity nods and continuity flubs in this one. Splinter recalls Shredder’s plan to replace Ronald Reagan with a hologram in the season 3 episode “Cowabunga Shredhead”, which was an extra exertion of effort on the writer’s part that I appreciate. Splinter also says that he emphatically does NOT believe in ghosts, despite having come face to face with one in “Blast from the Past” and having been in New York when a 100-foot ghost started blasting everything with magic lasers in “Farewell Lotus Blossom”. Selective memory, I guess.
Be all that as it may, “My Brother, the Bad Guy” is a strong episode and an important one for the arc of the season.
“Michelangelo Meets Mondo Gecko” (written by Gary Greenfield)
When Michelangelo meets another mutant named Mondo Gecko, he feels the two of them share some sort of connection. Convincing Mondo Gecko of that will be a challenge, as the lizard works for the villainous Mr. X, who plans on stealing a powerful new military explosive.
Mondo Gecko was a character I really liked as a kid for no other reason than because I had the action figure. He didn’t show up often (I think he makes all of three appearances), but I had a lot of fun with his toy and the character was a major draw for me.
If his origin seems familiar to you then that’s probably because you had the misfortune of watching Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. Venus DeMilo’s origin as “a fifth reptile mutated alongside the Turtles but taken away by another individual while the Turtles got nabbed by Splinter” was almost a wholesale ripoff of Mondo’s origin from this episode. Of course, while Venus went to China to study bad mid-90s CG special effects, Mondo was trained in the art of crime by Mr. X.
Speaking of Mr. X, he’s another forgettable bad guy made even more disappointing by the episode’s inexplicable desire to build him up. He spends the first two acts as a disembodied voice over a loud speaker and when Mondo and Michelangelo approach him in his office, he remains obscured behind an office chair Dr. Claw style for an extended period of time. When he’s finally revealed… he’s just some guy. What was the POINT of all that if he’s just some guy? Peter Renaday plays Mr. X with a pretty darn good Boris Karloff impression, though; really exaggerating Karloff’s lisp, which not a lot of impressionists do.
Is “Michelangelo Meets Mondo Gecko” really all that good? It’s alright; the animation from the Japanese studio is consistent and sometimes flashy (Mondo’s skateboarding in particular) with only the occasional fuckup (Mikey speaking with Mondo’s voice in one scene). Mondo’s origin as a villain who had to be turned to the side of good made him more interesting than other protagonists who merely started out as heroes and there’s actual payoff since we’ll be seeing him again. John Mariano’s voice is pretty solid, too; tough but not entirely menacing. So yeah, I like this one.
“Enter: Mutagen Man” (written by David Wise)
After deliveryman Seymour Guts falls into a vat of unstable mutagen, he becomes Mutagen Man: A hideous freak with the power to mimic the appearance of others. Shredder and Krang then force Mutagen Man to assist in a plot to mutate all of New York.
Mutagen Man was the coolest toy, wasn’t he? You pour ooze (or water if your parents didn’t trust you) in his hollow torso and watch all his innards and litter float around… such a bizarre gimmick, but damn if it didn’t make him one of the most memorable toys in the line. Likewise, his backstory on the action figure card (recreated wholesale for this episode) is pretty interesting, making him out to be a sympathetic villain forced into servitude under Krang in order to get doses of the mutagen he needs to survive.
For the longest time, THIS was Mutagen Man’s one and only appearance in any TMNT media; seemingly a waste of a potentially fascinating villain. The Nickelodeon TMNT cartoon at last saw fit to bring him back in their second season, though reinterpreting him in a similar-but-different sort of way. Admittedly, I like his more anthropomorphic look from this series over his “big jar with goo limbs” look in the new show, but the gimmick remains consistent across the incarnations, so it’s all good.
There are highs and lows to this episode. Seymour “falling to pieces” after taking a mutagen bath is sort of dark for this show, as you see his head and limbs floating around detached in a bubbling froth of chemicals. As a villain he’s played for laughs and isn’t especially threatening, though Wise fumbles his characterization in an attempt to fill time. Seymour attempts to kill April with a time-delayed deathtrap (whilst apologizing profusely) and it does kind of chip away at his sympathetic angle (likewise, the Turtles and April forget all about it when they help him at the end).
Oddly, unlike pretty much every other action figure villain introduced in this show, Mutagen Man is introduced and cured of his ailment in the span of this one episode, ensuring we’d never see him again. Kind of a weird thing to do; usually villains just sort of wander off and vanish in case the writers should elect to bring them back. Here, Seymour is indisputably restored to normal and his toy goes back to the bottom of the bin.
And while I’m on the subject of Mutagen Man, the character was actually conceived not by some Playmates action figure designer, nor by some freelance animation writer working for Fred Wolf. No, Mutagen Man was conceived by TMNT co-creator Peter Laird.
Albeit he was originally referred to as “The Unknown” (great name) and described as a failed attempt to combine several animals into a single mutation, but all the gimmicks are there. Neat, huh?
“Donatello’s Badd Time” (written by Misty Taggart)
When a trio of hillbilly hoodlums known as the Badd Family steals the Turtle Van, Donatello gets framed for their crimes. On his own, he has to try and get the Van back and clear his name.
Wow, what a batch of episodes this was. Four enjoyable ones sandwiched between two slices of shit. And man, “Donatello’s Badd Time” really competes for one of this show’s absolute worsts.
I remember this episode from when I was a kid. However, I remember it as “that episode I’d never finish watching”. Every time it came on, I changed the channel after a couple of minutes because even at age 6, I had better things I could be watching.
If you can get past the stupid one-shot villains and the lousy jokes, “Donatello’s Badd Time” is still just a boring episode. It consists of twenty minutes of Donatello in a pickup truck chasing around the hillbillies in the Turtle Van and man, does it get old. Writer Misty Taggart also abuses one of the most overdone, tacked on conflicts in this whole show: The plot device that will explode in X amount of time for no fucking reason whatsoever.
Yeah, halfway through the episode the Badd Family steals a power generator that has some bullshit caveat that it’ll explode because sure, why not. Man, we have been through this a LOT, lately. As recently as “Michelangelo Meets Mondo Gecko”, but also at the tail end of season 4 with “Beyond the Donatello Nebula” and “Raphael Drives ‘em Wild”. And that last one was ALSO written by Taggart.
Oh yeah, and Townsend Coleman conspicuously fills in for Peter Renaday as Splinter in this episode, because there just needed to be something ELSE wrong with it, I guess.
Anyway, you want to know who I REALLY feel sorry for? The Japanese. You see, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon ran on TV Tokyo in Japan for 102 episodes; a pretty healthy run, all things considered. Want to know what episode it ended on? “Donatello’s Badd Time” (or as they called it, “Donatello the Crook!?”). Yeah, imagine if THIS was the series finale for the rest of us. Brrr.
Well, so long as I’m on the subject of the Japanese broadcast of TMNT and ending this review on what was, for them, the series finale, I might as well use this opportunity to segue into the two-part TMNT anime OVA series. I’ll be reviewing those next time with lots of prefacing for context because holy shit those things are weird even when you DO know all about the marketing that led up to them, much less going in cold.
You can download individual episodes of Season 5 or the entire season with a single click from Amazon Instant Video.