The 4Kids Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon from 2003 isn’t just good, it’s *really* good. But… But HOW? It was produced by 4Kids! Do you KNOW what kind of reputation they had? 4Kids was like the reverse King Midas; everything they touched turned to SHIT. And yet somehow the company most famous for dubbing anime about elementary schoolers who fight with trading cards, and for doing it BADLY, managed to bring us what’s often considered the best animated incarnation of the Ninja Turtles ever made.

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When I sit back and ruminate on the “how” aspect, I try to look at the actual people involved in making the 4Kids TMNT cartoon and not just the production company logo. And they actually bused in some top shelf talent that typically kept their distance from “The guys who took Yu-Gi-Oh and made it WORSE somehow”.

Although all the voice acting is strictly non-union, and the same people known for dubbing anime and dubbing it poorly, the voice direction was headed by none other than Susan Blu. She often goes toe-to-toe with Andrea Romano as the best voice director in the American animation industry and her work includes series like Beast Wars, Men in Black and… the 1987 TMNT cartoon! So even though this is the same cast responsible for that first awful dub of One Piece, it’s amazing what a talented director can squeeze out of them.

And then you’ve got writers! The first season features scripts from pros like Marty Isenberg, who wrote for Batman: The Animated Series and story edited Transformers Animated, and Eric Luke, who co-plotted the opening miniseries of Disney’s Gargoyles. You hire good writers and see what happens?

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Then you have the animation, done in South Korea by one of my favorite studios: Dong Woo. It used to be that South Korean animation was guaranteed to be lousy. If you go back and watch an ‘80s cartoon where the animation studios would bounce back and forth between Japan and Korea, you could always tell which episode was done by a Korean studio because it would have the unmistakable thumbprint of looking like utter trash (I’m looking at you, AKOM). Dong Woo was the first South Korean studio to buck that reputation by offering competent, consistent and QUALITY animation, doing shows like Men in Black, the 2002 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Jackie Chan Adventures. The animation in this TMNT cartoon is the polar opposite of what we saw in the ‘80s: Good and consistent from episode-to-episode.

Finally, the last ingredient that worked to make this incarnation of the TMNT awesome in spite of the production company heading it up: Peter Freakin’ Laird. Yes, the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles himself.

Laird was SERIOUSLY invested in this show, not just financially, but creatively. He WANTED it to be good as a matter of pride and professional integrity; he wasn’t going to passively glance from the back seat like he did with the 1987 cartoon. Laird has posted much of his notes to the writers on his TMNT blog, and while his candor can only charitably be described as “brutal”, it’s clear that he was fiercely dedicated to making a show that didn’t suck, challenging 4Kids every step of the way.

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Anyhow, this intro’s long enough. I just wanted to reassure anyone reflexively gagging at the sound of “4Kids” that TMNT is the jewel in their otherwise turdly collection. 4Kids was a company that made nothing but shit… EXCEPT THIS ONE TIME. And if you read some of those notes and emails that Laird has published, you can see that it was often an uphill battle to prevent them from making a terrible cartoon.

So, with all that out of the way, let’s get started. There’s 157 episodes of this thing, so it looks like I’m going to be at this for a few years. Oh boy…

“Things Change” (written by Michael Ryan)

When a pack of Mouser robots destroys their sewer lair, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles must journey to the surface while Splinter searches for a new home. Immediately, they’re beset by the Purple Dragon gang and the far more formidable Foot Soldiers.

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Although much of the 4Kids TMNT cartoon is original content, an equal portion of it is adapted directly from the original Mirage comics. While we’ll never see any of the Fred Wolf era TMNT characters in this show, at least until the Turtles Forever crossover, I think sticking to Mirage was a good choice for when this show was made. It gave audiences a filtered look at what the source material had to offer, and while the adaptations were notably watered down, they still succeeded in bringing what had previously been Mirage-exclusive ideas into the TMNT mainstream.

I’ll try to note in each review which issues the episodes adapt. In the case of “Things Change”, it’s an amalgamation of several moments from many different issues. The Turtles fighting the Purple Dragons in a “trash-strewn alley” is taken from the opening pages of TMNT (Vol. 1) #1 and the cold open is a direct homage to that, going so far as to quote right from the issue. The sewer lair getting destroyed by the Mousers and Splinter’s battle with them is taken from TMNT (Vol. 1) #3, though played very differently. And lastly, the Turtles acquiring an armored car for personal use is taken from TMNT (Vol. 4) #3, an issue written by Laird that was published only about a year before this episode aired. While the show will stick mostly to “classic” Mirage stories for inspiration, a few of the Volume 4 characters and plot points will sneak in, as that was the contemporary TMNT comic being published at the time this show aired.

The serialized pace of the series is pretty evident in this opening episode, which teases a number of plot threads that will take seasons and seasons to explore and resolve. Some we’ll get to right away (the Mousers), some will take half of this season to roll out (the Shredder and the Foot Clan), and some will take years and years to get the full scope of (the mysterious subterranean chamber the Turtles turn into their new lair and all that it entails). It’s one more way that the 4Kids show is the polar opposite of the previous Fred Wolf series, which most frequently favored episodic stories to drawn-out arcs and “deepest lore”.

So with that in mind, “Things Change” teases a lot of story without actually offering a lot of story. The first act introduces the characters and their setting (rather nicely, as Splinter challenges the Turtles to extinguish a candle he’s holding, naming and critiquing them as they fail) and boasts a skirmish with the Mousers, act two has a showdown with the Purple Dragons in an alley (after they’ve robbed a store), and the final act is a gorgeously animated fight with the Foot Clan. There are a lot of fights in this episode, just not a whole lot of plot.

I loved how the Foot Soldiers were introduced in this episode; they’re legitimately worthy opponents and the Turtles don’t actually beat them in the fight, but run away once Donatello hotwires the armored car. They make it a point to show that the Foot Soldiers get back up once they’ve been knocked down and they display a lot of intimidating martial arts prowess (there’s a superb sequence where a Foot Soldier runs along the side of a wall and clashes swords with Leonardo, only for a second Foot Soldier to appear behind him and try to take him by surprise). The Foot Soldiers will inevitably decay into cardboard target henchmen, but they put up a good fight in their introduction.

Er, naturally, because the Foot Soldiers are human in this series and not robots, there is a bit of a problem regarding the Turtles and their weapons. The Turtles fight with their weapons, which is great, but only Donatello and Michelangelo are permitted to hit the Foot Soldiers with them. Raphael and Leonardo tend to lock blades with the enemy and then use their muscle to shove them back. On occasion, we’ll see a Foot Soldier POV shot of, say, Leo leaping down and swinging his blade toward their face. Then it’ll cut to a Turtle POV shot as we watch the Foot Solder fly backward like he just got hit with a baseball bat and not something sharp enough to chop his head off. You’re gonna be seeing a lot of that, so make your peace with it.

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To talk about the cast, they’re still getting a feel for their roles in this episode and some of them are going to take most of the season to figure it out, while others basically have it down right out the gate. Michael Sinterniklaas as Leonardo is one of those “right out the gate” guys. His Leo is intense and boring at the same time but a perfect fit for the character. It’s funny, because he just sounds like a grownup Dean Venture of the Venture Bros. and I kinda love that as a take on Leonardo.

Sam Riegel’s Donatello is pretty comfortable, too, though I always felt his higher pitched voice sounded maybe a little too close to Sinterniklaas’ Leo. Did Riegel audition as Leo, or Sinterniklaas audition as Donnie, but they wound up with the opposite roles, hence their vocal similarities? I dunno, but he still does a good nerd voice without going into overblown poindexter territory. Instead, Riegel’s Donnie sounds less geeky and more, uh, “sensitive”.

Frank Frankson’s Raphael is one of those “it’s gonna take a little while to settle in” voices. He sounds about twenty years older than his “teenage” siblings in this episode, going way too gruff with the voice in an attempt to tap Raph’s “badass” element. The Brooklyn accent is a nice carryover from the live-action films, though I’ve always wondered how one Turtle could have an accent while all the other Turtles are missing it if they were raised together. If anything, shouldn’t they all have Japanese accents since they were raised by Splinter? It doesn’t matter.

Wayne Grayson is all over the place with his Michelangelo in this one and it seems like he figured it out midway through the episode. Listen in the first act or so and Mikey’s got a stronger “California surfer dude” accent going on, but it mostly disappears by acts two and three. Grayson’s Mikey, and the 4Kids Mikey in general, can best be characterized as “intentionally obnoxious”. He loves getting on everybody’s nerves and is “that” little brother you either had or were. It’s a wholly unique take from the Fred Wolf Mikey, who was a laid back bro, and the current Nickelodeon Mikey, who is annoying but genuinely good-natured. This Mikey’s a mischievous jerk and you’ll either love or hate the portrayal as the series proceeds.

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Darren Dunstan’s Splinter is a similar take to what we had in the past from Peter Renaday and Kevin Clash: Someone who isn’t Asian trying to do an Asian accent and sounding a few decades out of date. That said, it’ll grow on you and the writing for this Splinter is equal parts “ponderous sensei” and “concerned father”. While the accent’s insincere, you’ll stop noticing after a while, and I love when Dunstan “breaks character” throughout the series as Splinter struggles with modern technology (the Shell Cell in this episode) or does something silly like fawn over soap operas.

Lastly, we got our first glimpse of Oroku Saki/The Shredder at the end of this episode. How do we know that THIS Shredder isn’t an incompetent boob like the Shredder of the ‘80s cartoon? Because he kills a member of the Purple Dragons for failing him (it’s not shown, but implied). Yeah, that’s some pretty uninspired shorthand, but it gets the job done and we know right from episode 1 that THIS Shredder isn’t one to be fucked with.

Extra lastly, keep your eyes peeled for a pair of cops designed in homage of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird:

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They aren’t voiced by the TMNT co-creators, but they’ll appear infrequently throughout the series as the only cops on duty in all of New York City.

“A Better Mousetrap” (written by Marty Isenberg)

When the Turtles learn that the Mousers are being manufactured by Baxter Stockman, they make a B-line to Stocktronic Industries to settle the score. Meanwhile, Baxter’s assistant, April O’Neil, learns that Baxter is in cahoots with the Foot Clan and is subsequently ordered to be assassinated by the Baxter’s Mousers.

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This episode adapts the first half or so of TMNT (Vol. 1) #2 and much of its events should be familiar to anyone who has witnessed any interpretation of the Ninja Turtles. April getting rescued by the Turtles and fainting is something that makes it into nearly every version; it’s what you’d call “classic”.

Like the first episode, “A Better Mousetrap” does stretch out the plot to fill three acts quite a bit. The opening Mouser arc of the series is three episodes, but feels like it could’ve made a more substantial two-parter. As it happens, the Turtles already know that the Mousers are being built by Stocktronic Industries, but spend most of the episode following one to “find out where they’re coming from”. Then, after they rescue April, they’ll backtrack back to the lair and wind up getting the skinny on the Mousers from here, anyway. So half this episode’s plot with the Turtles following a Mouser winds up feeling rather wasteful.

All storytelling inefficiencies aside, this episode introduces two important characters into the series. First is April O’Neil in an interpretation closer to her Mirage counterpart (but with better hair). She’s a computer programmer, not a TV news reporter, although that aspect of her will slowly fade away in favor of her becoming a, like, back-up ninja or something. Veronica Taylor’s April is sassy and smart and a good portrayal, though unfortunately Taylor will get saddled with voicing most of the incidental female and child characters in the show, so the limit of her range will become evident very quickly.

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Also, what the fuck is April WEARING? Is that a tube top with cargo pants? That’s a lateral move from a yellow jumpsuit, at best.

Now we get to talk about Baxter Stockman, one of the best things to come out of the 4Kids series. He’s inspired by the Mirage incarnation, of course, but Mirage Baxter was only in a handful of issues and didn’t leave the writers much to work with. He appeared in TMNT (Vol. 1) #2 and then disappeared for years and years until resurfacing in TMNT (Vol. 2) #2 where he became a cyborg (a storyline the cartoon will play with soon). Much of this Baxter’s personality had to be crafted wholesale by the writers and, especially, Scott Williams, whose voice-over is so infuriatingly yet loveably smug and condescending. Baxter’s going to stick around for every season of the show as that villain that just keeps coming back and you’re gonna love him for it.

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Also, the Sewer Slider Vehicle (available from Playmates!) is introduced in this episode, but where the heck did THAT come from? It wasn’t built from the armored car (that’ll come later), so did the Turtles just ALWAYS have a freakin’ hovercraft down there in the sewers with them? Oh toy tie-ins, the one thing beside rainbow bandanas forever linking all the different TMNT cartoon series.

Since there isn’t much else to say about this episode on its own, I’d like to say a thing or two about the music. The theme song is… Well, it’s pretty bad. Disagree with me? Fine. But that means you have to confess to enjoying these lyrics:

“One: Live by the code of the martial arts!
Two: Never fight unless someone else starts!
Three: Always stick together no matter what!
Four: If all else fails then it’s time to kick butt!”

Wow, they shoved an anti-violence PSA into the lyrics of the theme song. What a load of shit.

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The song’ll grow on you, if perhaps like a fungus, and they’ll fiddle with it in later seasons. When they replace that “never fight unless someone else starts” bullshit with a more appropriate roll call, the song will instantly become more palatable. For now, we’ve got to deal with those lyrics for every episode.

While the theme song is obnoxious, the incidental music is GREAT! There are a few instrumental tunes we’ve heard in these first two episodes that won’t appear in later installments, so enjoy them while you can. The first happened in “Things Change”; it’s the music they play when the Turtles do their rooftop run in pursuit of the armored car. The next is from this episode and it’s when April escapes from the Mousers on the factory assembly line. There’ll be theme tunes for most characters, but they’re usually only heard as momentary stingers; these numbers are longer length and sound very cool. (Unfortunately, when the show starts trying to include “insert songs” in future seasons, the lyrics will be as awful as what can be heard in the theme song.)

“Attack of the Mousers” (written by Eric Luke)

April befriends the Turtles and together they take a trip back to Stocktronic Industries, determined to stop Baxter Stockman and his Mouser robots which are currently robbing the city blind.

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This episode adapts the remaining parts of TMNT (Vol. 1) #2, while the partial origin Splinter recounts to April is of course derived from TMNT (Vol. 1) #1. It’s interesting how this series only slowly ladles out the origin in small doses throughout the first season. There’s no origin story to speak of in the opening episode; we’re just expected to be totally cool with mutant turtles right from the getgo. And in this episode, Splinter only covers the part where he found the Turtles covered in ooze from the TCRI canister, deliberately excluding all the back story with the Foot Clan and Hamato Yoshi (to be recounted at a later date). Again, it’s all part of how decompressed the 4Kids cartoon is. What takes most incarnations five minutes to tell is a half-season ordeal in this show.

The episode proceeds as you’d imagine once April is onboard following the first act. The Turtles break into Stocktronics, they chop up the Mousers, Stocktronics explodes, The End. It follows a routine formula, but I will admit that I looooove the Mousers. Always have. So even if this opening arc stretches a rather thin story across three episodes, I was happy to get three episodes packed with Mousers over the usual one-and-done they tend to get. Mousers will appear infrequently and in small cameos throughout the rest of the series, but this was their one big moment and I’m glad they got it.

Hun, the Shredder’s right-hand henchman, is introduced at the tail end of the episode to drag Baxter before the boss for his punishment. Hun isn’t going to really shine as a solid villain until he breaks from the Shredder a few seasons from now, but he’ll fill the niche of “scary powerhouse” nicely until then. Greg Carey’s voice is extremely unique and I actually wish Hun was a bit scarier as a bad guy to better fit the vocal performance. Although Hun will eventually be played as a stooge during the low-point in his career, he DOES do some pretty scary shit in the first season (if always off-camera).

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I hope you enjoyed seeing Baxter Stockman intact, because he’s going to get fucked. UP. as the serious progresses. One of the darker implications in this show sees Baxter Stockman have a body part brutally removed every time he fails the Shredder, and it’s indicated by their animosity that Hun is the one excising the parts. It’s positively gruesome for a show aimed at kids, especially one on a broadcast network (how’d they get it past BS&P?), and after a season or two of Baxter getting chopped up like a side of beef but never actually killed, you’ll realize that the Purple Dragon stooge Shredder executed in the first episode got off LIGHT.

“Meet Casey Jones” (written by Michael Ryan)

After losing control of his anger and nearly braining Mikey, Raph goes to cool off on the surface. There, he runs afoul of the hockey mask-clad vigilante Casey Jones, who has a grudge against the Purple Dragons. Raph wants to help Casey control his anger, but Casey may be even more unhinged than he is.

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This episode adapts Raphael (microseries) #1, which was the first of the character-themed one-shots (or “microseries”) that Mirage published and the first appearance of Casey Jones. Casey’s origin as presented in this episode, the stuff with Hun and the Purple Dragons burning down his family’s business and killing his father, would later be adapted by the Mirage comics and merged with the source material. Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #56, by Tristan Jones and Paul Harmon, wound up being an adaptation of this adaptation. Funny how brand synergy works, right?

After a three-episode story arc, we get our first standalone episode of the series. It’s a very faithful adaptation of the original Eastman and Laird issue, even working in some of the more violent aspects that I still can’t believe dodged Broadcast Standards & Practices in 2003. When Casey goes berserk on the Purple Dragons during act one, he’s shown beating them SENSELESS with his hockey stick as they writhe on the ground, begging him to stop. Much of it is displayed only through shadows and audio heard from off-screen, but the intent remains. Again, it’s amazing what the show could get away with thanks to creative direction (from director Chuck Patton) without having to sacrifice any of the more brutal details.

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The 4Kids incarnation of Casey Jones is something of a mixed bag, as I remember him. He starts out very strong in this first season, acting as a formidable ally to the Turtles through several of their more important battles and always capable of holding his own, even against the Foot Clan. He’s crazy, a little dim, but still a worthwhile inclusion to the team. Marc Thompson’s performance has a nice mix of fury and fun to it and I love the guitar theme that accompanies Casey whenever he shows up.

By season 2, however, he’s going to begin rapidly decaying into incompetent comic relief who has to sit out battles while the “big boys” fight and will be humorously beaten up to elicit a cheap laugh from the audience. It’s gonna be awful and one of the few major missteps from the otherwise superb early seasons of the series. He’ll get his cred back in season 4, but Casey’s gonna be a drag in seasons 2 and 3.

Luckily, we’re still in season 1 and Casey remains in top form. The fight with Raph in the alley is some fluid stuff, but the animation really shines during the motorcycle showdown midway through. The Battle Shell (built from the armored car) and the Shell Cycle are introduced (yay, toys!) and Raph has a pretty cool chase scene as he runs Casey down on his motorcycle. Expect ample visual cribbing from “Akira”. Several of the Mirage crew, particularly Laird and Jim Lawson, are noted motor-heads with overbearing affection for motorcycles, so I’m not surprised so much detail was put into the motorcycle sequences.

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Pretty as much of the animation is, there are plenty of goofs in this episode, mostly on the layering front. When the Purple Dragons discard a victim’s purse to go fight Casey, it hovers in the air in front of them when it should be in the background behind them. And after the Turtles and Casey beat up the Dragons in Central Park, they’re shown lying unconscious on the background painting in ways that don’t work; like they’re just sort of floating in midair. But these sorts of mistakes are about as bad as the animation errors in the series are ever going to get, and coming off of the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon, these sorts of screw-ups feel like “no big deal”.

There’s a B-plot in the episode, too, where the Turtles discover a strange elevator covered in crystals and mysterious runes. It’ll lead into a story arc that’ll be explored in the second half of the season (and in turn will be expanded for four more seasons), but you can see that they’re trying to tease it as early as possible. There’s a lot of forward thinking in this show’s story arcs.

“Nano” (written by Eric Luke)

When a hive of nano-machines escapes from a research lab, it takes on the persona of a child named “Nano”, albeit a child with the ability to disassemble machines and rebuild them as an ever-growing body for itself. Nano is soon “adopted” by a con artist named Harry, who tricks the child into embarking on a crime spree. The Turtles find themselves facing down the two-story Nano when Harry tries to rob April’s antique shop.

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This is the first truly original episode of the series, not being an adaptation from any issue of the Mirage comic. Although the villain and the plot are new, the episode DOES introduce the 2nd Time Around shop, April’s family antique shop that originates from TMNT (Vol. 1) #3.

Anyway, I’ll confess that this was the episode of the series that sort of “lost” me back when the show premiered. I was finishing up my senior year of high school at the time (this episode aired in March of 2003) and I worked at a Blockbuster Video on the weekends. I was taping the show on Saturday mornings so I wouldn’t miss it while I was at work, and just an FYI to those of you too young, but programming a VCR every week and making sure it and the cable box were on, and that the volume level on the TV was sufficient, and that everyone else in the house knew not to mess with the TV between certain hours, was a colossal pain in the ass. “Nano” disappointed me and was my excuse to stop taping the series and just catch it in reruns or on DVD.

Rewatching it over a decade later, “Nano” isn’t as bad as I remember it being. Nano is a sympathetic villain, essentially just a powerful child that’s misguided by a selfish parental figure, and he feels more appropriate for this darker series than some of the other bad guys that’ll show up later (I’m looking at you, Garbageman). Nano “speaks” almost exclusively in electronically distorted child-like shrieks, provided by Veronica Taylor, and they get pretty horrific when you realize that it’s a toddler shrieking because it’s getting its arms chopped off by the “heroes”.

Nano will proceed to make scattered reappearances throughout the series and they’ll mostly be tragic and depressing until it ultimately receives a happy sendoff. But until then, this kid goes through nothing but Hell as all it wants is a loving family and all it gets is repeatedly incinerated by four rather indifferent Ninja Turtles. The ending to this episode tries to absolve the Turtles of the responsibility for “killing” Nano, as Donnie catches it in an electromagnet at a junkyard and steadies it over a smelting pool, only for Harry to try and free Nano by switching off the power, which of course sends Nano plummeting to a fiery doom. Again, it tries to put the blame squarely on Harry, but I’m certain Donnie was going to dump the kid in the fire, anyway.

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Casey meets April for the first time in this episode, and despite some cool staging as he stands guard over the 2nd Time Around shop in the dead of night, he sort of takes it on the chin during the first encounter with Nano. That said, it isn’t the same as how he’ll be disregarded during fights in the subsequent seasons that treatd him as dead weight, and the only reason he doesn’t join in the climax of this episode is that he’s playing up his injuries to get some “alone time” with April. A rare display of cunning on Casey’s behalf.

“Darkness on the Edge of Town” (written by Marty Isenberg)

A citywide blackout leads the Turtles to an operation being conducted by the Foot Clan on the East River. They’re using a powerful weapon called the Sword of Tengu to try and recover a strange artifact from the river’s depths. Only the Turtles and their Extreme Sports Gear can stop them! Groan.

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At least half of this episode is positively obnoxious, which is a shame, since it is the first episode since “Things Change” to directly reprise the ongoing Foot Clan story arc (the Foot being in the shadows through the other installments in the Mousers arc). Oroku Saki makes a more substantial comeback, though he’s yet to don his Shredder armor, and more elements of this show’s mythology are hinted at, such as some very alien-looking tech in the form of the Sword of Tengu and the robot body dredged up from the East River.

What makes the first half of the episode a pain is that it’s forced, rather crudely, to promote the Extreme Sports Turtles action figures: Scootin’ Leo, Skatin’ Raph, Thrashin’ Mike and Biker Don. So the Turtles spend an act and a half battling the Foot Soldiers with extreme sports gear. You can only make fighting with roller blades and razor scooters look *so* cool, and that level of cool sits somewhere alongside Jefferson Starship and parachute pants.

The Extreme Sports Turtles aren’t the last of the TMNT variant action figures we’re going to see promoted in this series, but they’re definitely the most poorly realized. One of the rules of the 4Kids/Playmates synergy, at least during the early seasons, was that the Turtles wouldn’t receive any weird variant toys unless they were somehow employed in the actual TV series (with some exceptions). Think of it as a response to all the weird variants that the TMNT received in the ‘80s toyline that were never, EVER included in their tie-in cartoon. Sometimes we’ll get shit like this, where the toy promo eats up half the episode, but other times the variant toys will only make token appearances for a few seconds, like the Battle Nexus Armor Turtles. Give and take.

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Marty Isenberg writes this episode with his brain in the ‘80s. There are a lot of elements in his script that feel like they belonged in the Fred Wolf cartoon and are an awkward fit for the 4Kids series. There are jokes about pizzas with weird toppings (“chili pizza”) and the Turtles are constantly shouting out cringe-worthy battle cries in unison (“Extreme Green!” or “Let’s Turte-ize ‘em!”). Chalk it up to the writers still trying to get their feel for this new incarnation of the brand. That said, the lame battle cries will come back with a fuckin VENGEANCE by the fifth season (“It’s Ninja Time!”).

Actual story elements included in the episode are intriguing. The Foot steal an 11th century Japanese sword called the Sword of Tengu from a museum, and it has strange vibrational powers when activated with electricity. Likewise, there’s the robot body dredged up from the river and its empty stomach cavity. The Shredder makes cryptic references to how long he’s waited to see the sword again, and how he now knows that his ancient foes are in New York City, alluding to the fact that THIS Shredder is super old. We won’t find out the full details on that until season 2, and I want to wait until we get to that big moment before I comment on it.

“Darkness on the Edge of Town” is proof that just because an episode is part of the larger Foot Clan story arc, doesn’t instantly mean that it’s better than the standalone episodes like “Nano”. There are solid moments in it, like a great bit during the dock fight where Donnie stamps a Foot Soldier on the toes, trips him with his staff and then flings him into a life boat, but most of it is filled with references that were dated even by 2003. Hadn’t the whole “Extreme” thing run its course by the time the ‘90s closed out?

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Alright, so that’s it for this round. One of my longer articles, but the opening of a new series always leaves me with more to discuss than when we wind up in the thick of things. I’m anxiously looking forward to getting to the next bunch of episodes. Say what you will about decompressed, serialized storytelling, but it definitely succeeds in leaving you hooked for more.

If you’d rather watch/have all these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Season One episodes in one place instead of watching individual episodes, pick up the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 1, Part One collection from Funimation. (Click the image.)

  • Will113

    And to think 2003 was thirteen years ago. I never actually watched these specific episodes on TV, instead I saw them on DVD, I only started watching the show on TV during season three.

  • Cyberwulf

    I was in college when this show came out and I remember being put off by the animation style and theme song. Really though I was probably too old/cool for it, having drifted away from TMNT before the Red Sky episodes. (Now I’m older and comfortable with my childish geekery, I’m super into the Nick Turtles.) I’m looking forward to the rest of your reviews – they’re funny, informative and even-handed, and I’ve been curious about “the middle cartoon” for a while.

    • Mark Pellegrini

      Thanks! The 4Kids series isn’t perfect, and it decays hard in the final 3 seasons, but when it was on point I think it trumps any other animated incarnation of the brand. Hopefully the overlooked “middle child” symptom afflicting the series will clear up once we move past the trend of 90s nostalgia and step up into early 2000s nostalgia. But we’ve still seen plenty of impact from it with 4Kids original concepts like Karai as Shredder’s daughter/descendant being her default portrayal, or original characters like Hun and Bishop popping up in the new cartoons and comics.

      • Hm, I don’t remember the second to last season being bad, just a Fast Forward and, to a lesser degree, Back to the Sewer.

  • trustno173 .

    I honestly thought 4Kids did a pretty decent job with Pokemon, not perfect by any means but I think they did an alright job with what they were given, especially because I went back and watched the show (the first five seasons anyway) and watched interviews with the VA’s and there was some genuine effort and affection for Pokemon at least.

  • Dan

    How come you make no mention of Scottie Ray’s voice acting?

  • This is probably one of my top favorite incarnations of the TMNT, so glad to see we’re finally here with these reviews. =)

    I also look forward to learning more about which elements were original to the series, and where others came from. I mean, I know some, but not others, such as Nano being toon-original.

  • Dani

    I hope April gets kidnapped a lot in this series. That is a staple of TMNT!

  • Pedro Ferreira

    It was okay but had some annoying faults. The 80s cartoon was the best.