Alright, I’ve reached the point in these TMNT cartoon reviews where I have to cover the two-episode anime OVA (original video animation) spin-off of the Fred Wolf series, ostentatiously known as Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend.
There’s no avoiding it; it has to be done.
What is this I don’t even—
Thanks to YouTube and the like, these episodes are pretty easy to find and just about everyone with a mild interest in TMNT cartoons has seen them. About ten years ago, though, they were a little harder to come by. The only way to see them back then was by getting your hands on a bootleg DVD which contained fansubs and a few bonus features (like Japanese toy commercials). I shelled out the dough on eBay and I still have the thing on my shelf, staring at me with white, dead eyes. A doll’s eyes.
Lots of internet nostalgia sites have covered this oddity, so I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow rundown of the thing. Instead, I’ll endeavor to possibly educate you all with context. Sweet, merciful context! So before I can get to the episodes, let’s talk a little about the Japanese broadcast of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon…
TMNT: The TV Tokyo broadcast
Alright, as you may or may not know, the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon was dubbed three times for the Japanese market: First for the satellite network NHK-BS2, again for the home video market by Towa Video, and most prominently for TV Tokyo. I’ve covered the Confusing History of the Ninja Turtles in Japan before, so check that out if you’re interested in a more in-depth look at TMNT’s history in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The TV Tokyo dub was the most popular of the three dubs and the longest lasting, ending its 102-episode run with “Donatello’s Badd Time” (a very unfortunate series finale). And in case you’re curious, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lost its timeslot to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Of course, that just means viewers were trading one cacophony of half-baked, incomprehensible bullshit for another.
The closing credits for the last episode featured voiceovers from the characters thanking the audience for watching before bidding farewell (which is typical of kid’s cartoons in Japan). The credits also featured promotional art for the new Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend OVAs:
So at least the kids at home were aware that the adventures of the Ninja Turtles would continue… For two more episodes, anyway. The Super Turtles OVAs would use the same cast as the TV Tokyo dub of the American show, with only one cast change (Kyousei Sukui replacing Shinichirou Miki as Bebop).
The continuity, however, would require one more vital stepping stone…
The Super Turtles Manga
Alright, so I remember that back in the day, the “previously…” segment attached to the beginning of the first episode caused a lot of confusion. It even resulted in rumors that a third anime OVA existed, covering the origin of the Super Turtles.
Well, no. The “previously…” segment that summarizes their origin is actually a condensed adaptation of the first Super Turtles manga volume, titled “Mystery of the Sacred Mutastones”. It was written and drawn by Hidemaki Idemitsu and published by Dengeki Comics. If you’re absolutely dying to read it and other TMNT manga, you can check it out here.
I’ll try to make this summary quick.
Down in the sewer lair, the Turtles are celebrating the absence of the Shredder. Apparently, they destroyed his old suit of armor and figure he’s been too ashamed to show himself ever since.
And then suddenly, they disappear in a flash of light to who knows where.
Meanwhile, in Dimension X, Krang and the Shredder (who has a new set of armor Krang built him) have finally succeeded in conquering the Neutrino Kingdom by making hostages of King Xenter and the royal family (from “Four Turtles and a Baby”).
Apparently, it’s all part of Krang’s sinister plot. After locating a legendary subterranean temple beneath the Neutrino Kingdom, he obtained one of the fabled Mutastones: Stones made from highly concentrated mutagen that can transform the wielder into an unstoppable warrior. Although the power of one Mutastone is limited, Krang can use it to find the others. And once he has them all, there will be no stopping him.
As for the Turtles, they’ve been teleported into the very subterranean temple Krang was talking about. They’re immediately met by Kris-Mu (or “Crys-Mu”, whatever), the fairy-like spirit of the Red Mutastone of Courage.
She tells them that they are the Chosen Heroes who will wield the Mutastones to vanquish evil. She explains that Krang and the Shredder have stolen the Dark Mutastone of Greed and unless they are stopped, the whole Universe will be destroyed. She gives them the Light Mutastones of Courage, which they immediately try to eat. The Turtles hold the stones aloft and mutate into the Super Turtles.
The Turtles rush off to fight the Shredder before Kris-Mu can explain that their Super Mutation will only last for a limited time.
Meanwhile, the Shredder is ordering his Foot Soldiers to scour the temple for the other Mutastones. The Super Turtles then confront him and brag about how powerful they’ve become, wasting time taunting their inferior foe. Krang mutates Bebop and Rocksteady (In a scene adequately recaptured for the OVA’s recap):
Because they wasted time bragging, the Turtles’ Super Mutations wear off and they’re beaten up and hurled down a crevice. They’re met by Kris-Mu who leads them to a cache of advanced technology leftover from the ancient Neutrino civilization. While Donatello builds a vehicle (The Cyclone Cycle) to get them out of the chasm, Kris-Mu teaches the Turtles how to use all of their new special moves.
The Turtles return to the surface for a rematch, once again Super Mutating. Bebop and Rocksteady also Super Mutate and attack, but are beaten by Donatello’s “Super Smoking Rising Dragon Blast” (just in case you forgot this was a Japanese comic). Suddenly, the time limit elapses and the Super Turtles return to normal. Krang then Super Mutates Shredder into Devil Shredder, who looks a little like this:
He begins to trounce the Turtles when the whole temple collapses. Apparently, with the Mutastones of Light and Darkness separated, the spiritual balance holding the temple together became undone. The Turtles escape the cavern as the bad guys are comically buried alive and left to dig themselves out.
So that’s the origin. The manga and the OVAs would divert from here. There were two more volumes of manga and they told a story similar in plot to the first OVA, but different in many ways. Still, they both stem from this first volume of manga. And now that I’ve recapped it for context, we can finally get started on this stupid anime…
The Great Crisis of the Super Turtles! The Saint Appears! (written by Masashi Sogo)
Krang and Shredder plan to awaken Dark-Mu, the spirit of the Dark Mutastone, and use her power to destroy the Earth. For the Turtles to defeat her, they’ll have to combine into the Saint. But first, they’ll have to deal with the massive Dark Devil Shredder.
So I’m not really sure what the qualifications are for something to be considered “anime” or whatever. It can’t just be “Japanese animated” because then, what, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh would be called “anime”, right? Honestly, I don’t care. All I can say is this s--t looks pretty anime:
While the American TMNT cartoon was all about satirizing American media and cartoons, the Super Turtles anime is essentially the same deal, but focusing on Japanese media. This first episode is a send-up of “henshin heroes” or “super sentai” or whatever you want to call them: Heroes who transform into powered up forms and, when that fails, combine into a single, more powerful form to take down the ultimate bad guy. So Power Rangers, I guess.
The problem is that it doesn’t try hard enough. I called it a send-up, but there isn’t any sort of satire to the genre; it goes through the motions of all the usual Super Sentai clichés and then the cartoon ends. It’s not a very strong story or script and everything about the production feels bland. Once the gimmicky surprise factor of “OMG a Ninja Turtles anime!” wears off, you’ll yawn your way through the rest of the episode.
There are a few chuckle-worthy moments of humor, though. Stuff like the Foot Soldiers going on vacation:
Or a random cameo from the Punk Frogs (minus Napoleon Bonafrog, for some reason):
Or a pretty neat confrontation between Splinter and Krang in the Technodrome (where the Technodrome gets flooded because Splinter left the backdoor open when he broke in):
Unfortunately, Masashi Sogo’s script is mostly filled with annoying running gags (a bit where a space shuttle captain trades barbs with ground control about his glasses that goes on forever) and a lot of tired old anime visual clichés. This isn’t clever stuff.
At the end of the episode, the Saint vanquishes Dark-Mu and Kris-Mu (who sacrifices herself) and all the characters lose their ability to Super Mutate. Easy come, easy go, I guess. I’m glad to be rid of Kris-Mu, because Rei Sakuma’s voice is so obnoxiously high-pitched and cutesy-wootsy I don’t think I’d have been able to suffer it for a second episode.
The Coming of the Guardian Beasts – The Metal Turtles Appear! (written by Masashi Sogo)
One of Splinter’s old pupils, Kinzo Hattori, asks him to come to Japan on an urgent mission: He fears the Myutaishi, seven powerful Mutastones his clan has been tasked with guarding for centuries, are under threat. Naturally, the Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady steal three of them, leaving the Turtles to use the last four to become the Metal Turtles.
Man, Japanese animation is basically just an exercise in how to make a cartoon by animating as *little* as possible. The overall lack of movement, of *animation*, is one of the primary reasons I have such a hard time suffering anime. Japanese cartoons like this one are basically glorified slideshows with some nice stock footage of transformations and attacks spliced in to give the illusion of quality.
The animation studio, Bee Media, cuts every corner they can by using every hackneyed trick in the anime guide book. There is no such thing as lip syncing, just mouth open/mouth closed. Characters only emote in the broadest of strokes; their faces are either neutral or they explode into overblown, exaggerated eyes and mouths that move at a blistering two frames per second. Character designs are busy and detailed, but SO detailed that the animators can’t afford to animate them, so nobody moves unless they absolutely, positively HAVE to (I call this “the Madhouse Studio effect”). When the Metal Turtles unite with their Guardian Beasts or levy one of their special attacks, it’s done in stock footage which, despite this being the one and only episode, can be reused up to three times in 22 minutes. When characters get hit by said special attacks, it’s a static image of them suffering as the camera pans up or across it while the voice actors scream or talk.
I swear to God, there’s more actual animation in any given episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle than you’ll find in a typical Japanese cartoon.
Anyway, the reason I went off on that tangent is because those various anime clichés are what makes watching these OVAs so difficult for me. I just don’t have the “otaku callus” built up so I can tolerate Japanese animation outside of Ghibli movies, and these Super Turtles OVAs are just a nonstop string of everything revolting about anime.
The Metal Turtles episode is quite a bit worse than the Super Turtles episode, primarily because it has to give the origin for the Metal Turtles (while the Super Turtles skipped it via recap), so we spend the whole story building up to the Turtles getting their Guardian Beast armor. If the Super Turtles episode was a parody of Super Sentai, then the Metal Turtles episode takes its cues from shows like Knights of the Zodiac and Ronin Warriors; heroic toys with chromed clip-on samurai armor. But like the Super Turtles episode, the Metal Turtles episode is less of a “parody” and more “this is the genre we’re doing now and we’re just gonna go through the motions until our paychecks clear”.
The primary conflict of this episode is that the Turtles and Hattori’s clan are desperate to keep the Shredder from getting his hands on the Myutaishi. In the end, Shredder escapes with three of the Myutaishi, so… the Turtles lose? In the final scenes, they give back the four stones they used to Metal Mutate and vow to retrieve the other three for Hattori’s clan. Though how do they plan on doing that without the Myutaishi they need to counter Shredder?
No, really, the Shredder WINS in this thing. He gets exactly what he was after, even if they try to play it off like the Shredder lost (getting comically set on fire before being shoved through the portal back into Dimension X).
Oh yeah, and what’s up with the Technodrome? Last episode it was underground and in this episode it’s in Dimension X. There are only two episodes to this series, both written by the same guy, and there are STILL continuity errors between them.
Well, I guess in that regard it’s consistent with the American cartoon.
Anyhow, this was a… unique diversion, but I’ll be happy to get back to the Fred Wolf cartoon with my next article. If you can’t tell, I’m not big on anime and I really can’t stomach it. As bad as the Fred Wolf cartoon can be, even at its most quality-challenged and incoherent, the episodes were rarely ever this boring.