We’re at the home stretch of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation! All that’s left is the 4-part series finale (that wasn’t meant to be the series finale) and an inexplicable clip show tacked on at the very end because this show died the way it lived: Cheap and terrible.
So without any further delay, because God knows we all want this to be over with, the last five episodes of Next Mutation…
“Unchain my Heart, Part 1” (written by Dan Clark & Michael Mayhew)
In New York, the Turtles have their hands full dealing with Bonesteel and his relentless ambushes. Across the ocean in China, however, a more serious conflict is brewing. Vam-Mi, vampire and ancient adversary of Chung I, has been resurrected by her 1200 year-old child henchmen, Bing and Chi Chu. Vam-Mi has exactly four days to find her disembodied heart so that she may regain her full power, and her heart lays in the possession of Chung I’s shinobi disciple: Venus de Milo.
The last big storyline of Next Mutation introduces a new faction of antagonists in Vam-Mi and her vampire hench-children. They’re actually a fairly interesting inclusion, though they don’t serve to fill any particular niche among the ranks of the bad guys. The Dragon Lord already had the supernatural element with the Chung I connection covered, while Quease covered the sci-fi elements, Silver had the street crime angle on lockdown, and Bonesteel was all over the comedy relief villain routine. Not that there can be only one villain per category, but Vam-Mi and her “I’ll get revenge on Chung I for imprisoning me by attacking his disciple” bit isn’t especially distinct from Dragon Lord’s deal.
Vam-Mi is played by model Kira Clavell who tried her hand at acting throughout the ‘90s and into the early 2000s. She’s very nimble and appears to do a lot of her own fight scenes, at least when it doesn’t involve too many backflips. She’s dubbed over by Canadian voice actress Saffron Henderson, probably best known for voicing Gohan in the old Ocean Group dub of Dragon Ball Z. Personally, I’ll always remember her for getting brained with an electric guitar by Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.
Vam-Mi’s hench-children, Bing and Chi Chu, are played by Justin Soon and Lauren Attadia, and dubbed by Colin Musback and Sherry Thorson, respectively. The idea of her sidekicks being children who are actually over a thousand years old adds some levity to what’s otherwise a sort of grim background for Vam-Mi. And I’m rather glad they’re dubbed by adult actors; the whole “precocious kids” thing gets real annoying, real fast when it’s kids trying to sound like grownups.
Speaking of fusing grimness with levity, Vam-Mi’s origin and resurrection are bizarrely gruesome for a show like Next Mutation, but presented in a way that’s scarcely gruesome at all. They talk very matter-of-factly about how Chung I cut her heart out and chained her corpse up in a coffin, and the heart-itself is shown without any hesitation by the camera. It’s first depicted as shriveled (causing Venus to mistake it for a root in her healing chest), but as Vam-Mi gets nearer to it, the heart begins to regain its color and propensity for beating. And yet… it’s not gross or gory. Probably because the heart seems deliberately designed to look like a rubber prop.
Vam-Mi and her clan are in the background for most of the episode, catching up to the Turtles. The Turtles generally just hang around and goof off while Bonesteel repeatedly tries to kill them with booby traps. Scott McNeil continues to be the highlight as Bonesteel; something about his hammy physical performance and exaggerated dubbing make a comedy relief villain that by all right should be obnoxious, pretty damn fun.
I suppose if any other compliments are in order, it would go to the suit actors during the skateboarding sequence that starts the episode.
While you aren’t going to see any Tony Hawk s--t or anything, the fact that they can fly up and over those ramps while wearing those 100lbs. animatronic suits and not break every bone in their body is worth a round of applause.
“Unchain my Heart, Part 2” (written by Dan Clark & Michael Mayhew)
As Bonesteel continues his hunt for the Turtles, Vam-Mi continues her hunt for her disembodied heart. Raphael doesn’t think it’s their job to safeguard Vam-Mi’s heart, especially if it puts them at risk, and goes behind Venus’ back to make a deal with Vam-Mi.
So this is one of those episodes that makes it clear “Unchain my Heart” didn’t need to be a four-parter. Vam-Mi tries to get her heart back from the Turtles, she fails, the Turtles go home with her heart and everything is exactly where it was when Part 1 ended. You could skip from Part 1 to Part 3 and you’d be at a loss for nothing.
Compared to Part 1, Part 2 looks pretty cheapo and was clearly done, both in story and budget, to stretch the content out and get us closer to 26 episodes. Much of the episode consists of the three factions of characters, isolated from one another and confined to a single set, discussing or opining the predicament and plot points for as many minutes as they can justify.
That said, there are little moments in the episode that stand out. Vam-Mi spends most of this one in a blood bank, chugging bag after bag of “plasma”. Yeah, this show aired on Fox Kids, the network that made the Spider-Man cartoon and its vampire Morbius refer to his beverage of choice as “plasma” to get around Broadcast Standards & Practices. By the time she’s satiated, she begins acting like she’s drunk, slurring her speech and wobbling while trying to walk.
“Vampire seductress drunk on human blood” wasn’t something I was expecting to see in this show, so bonus points accrued, I guess.
There’s also a small, seemingly pointless sequence where Bing tries to spy on Bonesteel at his camp. Bonesteel sniffs him out immediately and then reveals that he’s hunted and staked vampires all over the globe; so many that they aren’t even worthy prey anymore. Bing then runs away scared and we get a brief reminder that Bonesteel actually IS the world’s greatest hunter just as he boasts… he’s just no match for the Turtles.
The rest of the episode is pretty s--t, though, and the climax occurs in that old standby location for saving money: The nondescript alleyway.
“Unchain my Heart, Part 3” (written by Dan Clark & Michael Mayhew)
When the Turtles fail to defeat Vam-Mi using the ninja method, Venus decides it’s time to try the shinobi way. She lures the vampires to her in the hopes of defeating them with a magic spell, but her plans are foiled when Bonesteel shows up (again). In the confusion, the hunter steals Vam-Mi’s heart and sets a trap of his own.
Man, this episode is at least 2/3 stock footage and it’s amazing what they lift footage from. There’s the usual stock footage of the Turtles readying their weapons and piling into their vehicles, and all the same aerial footage of the vampire bats flying that we’ve seen through this whole multi-parter is reused. But then they also reuse footage of the Turtles scaling a wall from the first segment of “Unchain my Heart”, even using some shots twice. And even little things, like the Turtles jumping down from on top of a wall is reused footage. And when Bing and Chi Chu set off magic fireworks as a distraction, they cut to positively ancient file footage of Fourth of July fireworks (the film stock is drastically different).
Man, this season is positively LIMPING to the finish line with the pennies it has left. It’s all a little embarrassing.
One of the subplots that’s been going on since “Unchain my Heart” started involves Leonardo trying to become a better hunter than Bonesteel, studying up on the hunter’s methods. When Bonesteel makes off with Vam-Mi’s heart, Leo finally puts what he’s learned to the test and tracks Bonesteel back to his campsite on the roof of an abandoned building. It’s been kind of a meaningless subplot, and I don’t know why Leo cares so much since the Turtles have never had any trouble defeating Bonesteel (he’s a nuisance at best), but I guess it gives him something to do.
There seems to be some, er, confusion about the location of Bonesteel’s camp. It’s definitely filmed on the roof of a building (or a set made up to look like one), except during a sequence where he drops the jar containing Vam-Mi’s heart and all the characters play soccer trying to pick it up. Those 2nd unit shots are of grass and dirt. Who didn’t get the memo?
The episode ends with the Turtles recovering the heart and Bonesteel trapping the vampires, setting up the finale. If it weren’t for that ending with Bonesteel and the vampires, I’d be tempted to say you could skip THIS episode to, jump straight from Part 1 to Part 4, and be none the wiser.
“Unchain my Heart, Part 4” (written by Dan Clark & Michael Mayhew)
Sick and tired of getting in each other’s way, Bonesteel and Vam-Mi decide to work together in ambushing the Turtles. The plot almost works, as Bonesteel captures Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael, but Venus escapes with Vam-Mi’s heart. While the Turtles try to find a way to escape from Bonesteel, Vam-Mi summons help from the Elemental Vampire to defeat Venus and regain her heart.
So another plot thread that’s been running through “Unchain my Heart” involves Venus realizing what a s----y shinobi she is. All of her attempts to cast spells and duplicate Chung I’s techniques to defeat Vam-Mi fail. Ultimately, Splinter gives her a final pep-talk before the finale and his words of wisdom can be summed up as, “You’re a terrible shinobi so try something else.” Sound advice. In the end, Venus defeats Vam-Mi with trickery rather than magic, but it leads to a very disappointing climax for this four-parter.
The Turtles escape from Bonesteel easy enough; Raph does the whole “I’ll betray my friends if you unchain me and let me go” routine and of course as soon as he’s unchained he knocks Bonsteel out and saves the others. That’s predictable, but appropriate for a comedy relief villain like Bonesteel. But Vam-Mi…
She spends much of the episode summoning the Elemental Vampire, Prince of the First Blood. Basically, their magical vampire god. He arrives as a floating orb of light and reluctantly agrees to help her get her heart back. Now, you’d think that he would, I dunno, power her up or something and set things up for a big, action-packed finish. Nope. He teleports her to where her heart is located (a sewer tunnel) and that’s it. Venus is waiting there with the other Turtles, who open a manhole cover to let the morning sun in, then use mirrors to reflect it against her, causing her to combust.
It fits with Venus’ storyline about being a s----y shinobi and having to use other methods, but what the hell kind of storyline is that? “You suck, do something else” is not a storyline! Especially if it’s used to justify such a letdown of an ending to a multi-parter.
Well, I guess so far as season finales go, this wasn’t so bAW S--T THERE’S ONE MORE EPISODE.
“Who Needs Her?” (written by Rhonda Smiley)
When Venus casts a “togetherness spell” that backfires, the Turtles find themselves stuck together under a force-field. They kill time by telling stories about how terrible Venus is, which causes her to leave the lair in anger. Eventually, Splinter frees them from the spell, but at the same time, the Rank Lieutenant ambushes Venus in the sewers. Realizing how much they need Venus, the Turtles rush to her rescue.
Really? A clip show? They end the season on a clip show? Forget what I said before about this season limping to the finish line, it has officially collapsed from exhaustion and had to be carried across the finish line on a stretcher.
The previous episode felt like it was meant to be the season-ender, even concluding with a narrative montage from Venus, describing everything she’s learned in her time with the Turtles. It felt like something akin to closure. But this episode was strictly commissioned to fill a mandatory 26-episode order.
So I mentioned how last episode concluded with Venus realizing she sucks and having to try another angle to beat the bad guys. “Who Needs Her?” takes the idea of Venus being awful and uses it to fuel 20 consecutive minutes. Venus was already a hard sell, but they end the season (and, inadvertently, the series) on the note that she’s incompetent and lame. Way to move that toyline, Saban.
As far as clip shows go, they try to work in a little bit of new footage to make it more interesting. The Rank Lieutenant ambushing Venus was a nice thought, but do you want to know how that subplot ends? Venus escapes from them off-screen. She just shows back up and says “Turns out I got away” and then everyone cheers and the credits roll. Way to half-ass the hell out of that one.
And what’s worse is that this episode isn’t even competent by clip show standards. There’s a line where Donatello says, “And remember her first encounter with the Rank?” We’re then treated to a scene where Venus fights the Foot. Yeah, they didn’t even use the right clip. What a way to finish a series.
Okay, so that’s the end of Next Mutation. I suppose, to sum up my feelings, I’d have to sAW S--T THERE’S A CROSSOVER.
Power Rangers in Space: “Save Our Ship” & “Shell Shocked” (written by Judd Lynn)
Astronema, Princess of Evil, decides to destroy the Power Rangers once and for all by brainwashing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into her servitude. The Turtles quickly earn the trust of the Rangers and are taken for a tour of their spaceship. A bad idea, as the hypnotized Turtles soon strike, taking over the ship and taking the Rangers captive. A few bullshit plot contrivances later and the Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers must team-up to defeat Astronema and her horde of Quantron foot soldiers.
Alright, so you can’t talk about Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation without mentioning the crossover with Power Rangers in Space. With Power Rangers having survived uninterrupted for over twenty years, this one episode has gotten considerably more play in reruns over the decades than any actual episode of Next Mutation. For a lot of people, “Shell Shocked” is their one and only acquaintance with the Next Mutation incarnation of the TMNT.
It’s not exactly an honest representation of the Next Mutation Turtles, either. Their voices are all different (overlay work for Next Mutation was done in Canada, overlay work for Power Rangers was done in Los Angeles), none of the obnoxious circus sound effects or rapid nonsense editing are present, and the tone, while goofy, is of course in-line with the Power Rangers in Space series… which was marginally less goofy than Next Mutation. And on top of that, the budget for Power Rangers was vastly larger than that of Next Mutation, so everything just looks so much more… expensive.
With that in mind, this crossover might set your expectations rather high for Next Mutation if you use it as an introduction. As we’ve learned from these reviews that are now coming to an end, Next Mutation was NOTHING like this.
And the fact that the TMNT are crossing over with the Power Rangers is funny for a less obvious reason. Two years before this episode aired, Archie published a TMNT Adventures comic miniseries called “Year of the Turtle” (written by Dan Slott!). The first issue opened with the Turtles beating the s--t out of parodies of the Power Rangers, all while ragging on them for being pathetic losers.
Now here the Turtles are, guest-starring on an episode of Power Rangers in a desperate attempt to ride their coattails back into pop culture relevancy. If you can’t beat them, join them, I suppose.
The plot of “Shell Shocked” barely hangs together (FYI, the Turtles only appear in the cliffhanger at the end of “Save Our Ship” that sets up the crossover) and the whole thing was clearly done as a flimsy excuse to get the characters on the same stage for 20-odd minutes. Astronema makes them evil with a quick zap of purple lightning, the Turtles take over the Megaship, then a cosmic storm undoes their brainwashing, everyone escapes and because this is a Power Rangers show, the climax takes place in a rock quarry. Always a rock quarry.
But as is the case with most media crossovers, the ends always justify the means. “Whatever it takes to get them together”. No one REALLY cares how threadbare the plot device is so long as we see the Power Rangers and the Ninja Turtles team-up to fight bad guys. And since we DO, I’d label this a success.
I mentioned earlier how much BETTER this looks than anything from the Next Mutation series and I do mean it. The Power Rangers crew were either working with a bigger budget or were just better at their jobs, because the fight sequences that bookend the episode are so much more vibrant than anything I watched over the past 26 episodes. The editing is coherent and the choreography is lightyears better. The opening fight scene with Electrotrap (a throwaway monster with electric powers) looks especially cool, as the Turtles do all sorts of fancy jumps and flips and even show off some weird energy-manipulation moves as they toss around a f----n Kamehameha like they never did in Next Mutation.
There’s also a certain sort of cinematography that’s exclusive to Power Rangers (and Super Sentai, I guess) that’s interesting to see applied to the Ninja Turtles. You ever notice that the Power Rangers always jump the same way? I mean, the way it’s always shot is the same. There’s a close-up of their boots, planting firmly on the ground and bringing their heels together. Then they bend their knees like they’re about to jump. Then the next shot is pointing up in the air and we see the Power Rangers flipping through the sky like they just bounced off a trampoline off screen. Then the next cut sees them falling into battle, landing their weapon across the chest of whatever the f--k they’re fighting. There’s a RHYTHM to it, is what I’m saying, and it’s bizarre to see that rhythm applied to the Ninja Turtles.
As for me, I’m not really into Power Rangers, but I don’t have anything against it. I was 8 when Mighty Morphin Power Rangers premiered and I loved it, but I grew out of it very quickly. I stopped watching in whatever season Lord Zedd and Rita got married. It’s neat to know that it’s still going after all this time, and I was a little surprised to learn that it’s been one big ongoing continuity since the beginning (the latest season, Megaforce, included cameos from different Rangers from all across the show’s history). But that leads me to point out a strange moment in “Shell Shocked” I didn’t quite get.
So, when Astronema first meets the Turtles, she says she wants them to destroy the Power Rangers, but Raph laughs it off and insists that the Power Rangers aren’t real. What? HOW can anyone question their existence? They pilot a giant robot that knocks over skyscrapers EVERY WEEK!
Even weirder, when the Turtles first show up to help the Rangers fight Electrotrap, the Yellow Ranger immediately, IMMEDIATELY identifies them as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. By name! So, if I’m understanding this correctly: The Power Rangers, the team that solves every problem with a giant robot that stomps through city streets, are an urban legend that many refuse to believe exist, and the Ninja Turtles, a team of stealth experts who live in the sewers and only leave after dark in order to maintain the secrecy of their existence, are public figures recognized and beloved by all.
Did someone ELSE miss a memo?
Anyway, that officially ends Next Mutation. I have to say, it was a BAD show but very fun to watch in small doses. The stupidity rubs off on you in an endearing sort of way and the show was at its best when it embraced that wackiness. I’d say its biggest enemy was the petering budget, making the last stretch of episodes a real grind of stock footage, clip shows, bottle episodes and meandering decompression.
Oh, and Venus de Milo? My final verdict on her is: Not That Bad.
I suppose her greatest fault is that she was too bland. Hardly the Scrappy-Doo that annoyingly hogged the spotlight with irritating antics, she more often than not faded into the scenery and rarely justified her existence by doing anything of use. The last few episodes seemed to try to make a case for her, but that case wound up being “she sucks now, but give her time”. Not a great argument when the show only lasted a season.
With Next Mutation behind me, I can jump ahead to the year 2003 and the 4Kids TMNT animated series. I haven’t watched it in something close to 6 years, so I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing how it holds up. I recall the first four seasons fondly as some legitimately good television. Memories, don’t fail me now.
If you’re just tuning in, check out my previous reviews of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation: