2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Turtles count it off! 1!2!3!4! Turtles! Mutant chain reaction! Turtles! Living under ground! Turtles! Ninjutsu action! Turtles! It’s a shell of a town!…Yeah, I never said the theme song was good. In case it isn’t obvious by now (if not, seriously, what blog have you been reading?), I love this version of the TMNT.

Wow, bold and italics?! You must be serious.

Yeah, yeah. Anyway, this show holds a special place in my heart for being my first introduction to the TMNT as well as my first meaningful introduction to Usagi Yojimbo. TMNT 2003 has affected me in everything from my taste in cartoons to my favorite color. More on that in a minute, but until then, I’ll break the show down into the main characters and overall commentary. I’m not discussing the origin, because it is pretty much the same as in my issue #1 review, so read that instead pretty please. The only difference is that Splinter did not want the Turtles to know about Master Yoshi, and didn’t want them fighting the Shredder. Also, I would like to warn that here there be spoilers, so read at your own risk.

Characters:

Leonardo: He is the unofficial leader of the group. I say unofficial because there are only one or two instances where he is actually called the leader. Usually the rest of the team naturally looks to him for orders because he is the most level headed. I loved this character from the start, mainly because, unlike the other show, they gave him a personality that doesn’t make you bored or want to punch him. He has flaws, and that made him more like a person than an ideal. He’s a perfectionist and doesn’t take failure very well. In fact, his character arc is the greatest in the show and probably the greatest in any cartoon I’ve ever seen. After the Turtles’ shell kicking by the Shredder at the end of the third season, Leo becomes obsessed with his training and distances himself from his brothers. In the episode “The Ancient One,” we learn that he behaves this way because he blames himself for not being able to defeat the Shredder. This arc was foreshadowed from the first season, most notably in the episodes “Monster Hunter” where he falls into a depression after being severely injured in battle and in the episode “The Darkness Within”, which I briefly summarized in my TMNT #45 review. Leo may be a complex character, but what little kid likes a character for his nuances? I loved him because he was ridiculously awesome. Skip to the eight minute mark in this link to get a taste of his awesomeness; it truly is a thing of beauty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idLPN_lIWiE#t=8m6s. A few episodes later, Leo takes on the entire Foot Clan single-handedly, without a break, and, at his most exhausted, he faces the greatest warriors under the Shredder, the Foot Elite. Sure, he loses, but he was able do better on his own than the rest of his family working as a team. Then after he recovers, his family storms the Foot building. In the final showdown of the episode, Leo and the Shredder leap in the air, swords drawn. They both slice at each other, but when they land, guess who is the only one left standing. My personal favorite though, is in the episode “The Darkness Within,” where, after being tempted by an Old One and nearly joining his side, Leonardo snaps out of it and stabs the eldrich abomination and destroys the creature’s physical form, allowing himself, his friends, and his brothers to escape. Yes, he rejects and defeats a cosmic horror without losing his sanity. Leonardo is awesome, need I say more?

Donatello: Donnie is a genius, and the inventor of the group. Out of all the Turtles, he’s the most soft-spoken and gentle. Gentle, that is, until you threaten his family. Then, whether with his trusty bo staff, or some brilliant technological breakthrough, he can and will unleash a can of whoop-shell on anyone in a three mile radius. In one of the most famous episodes of the show, “Same as it Never Was,” Donnie is sent to an alternate dimension where his good nature is put to the test. After Donatello disappeared Shredder took over the world. Master Splinter is dead, and the only thing standing in Shredder’s way is the resistance, led by April and the three remaining Turtles. When our Donnie shows up, they decide to defeat the Shredder once and for all. Shockingly for a “kid’s show” every character dies except for Donnie and April.This is Donnie at his most awesome, especially his method for defeating the Shredder, but it is also the most horrifying in the context of the show. In “The Darkness Within,” it is revealed that Donnie’s deepest fear is that of losing his brothers. In this episode, he is forced to watch as what remains of his family is killed before his eyes. That’s harsh. The final season, Back to the Sewer, is Donnie’s moment to shine, and shine he does, even if the rest of the season isn’t perfect. Final Verdict: Donatello is awesome.

Raphael: He’s the hot head. Also, for whatever reason, he’s the only Turtle with a Brooklyn accent, but it fits him. He’s the tough guy who is the first to fight and the last to retreat. He suffers from anger issues, and has been known to lose control when fighting, especially when Mikey taunts him.  He actually meets his best friend, Casey Jones, after blowing up at Mikey. At the time, Casey was a psychopathic vigilante, and Raph, of all people, played the voice of reason. He and Leo have a subtle power play going on. He takes orders from Leo, but would be the first to criticize him or physically fight him. I really liked how, in this series, when Leo and Raph fought, they both had a point, instead of Raph being in the right and Leo being punch-able. For example, in the “City at War” story-line, he and Leo get into an argument over whether or not they should get involved in a gang war. Leo takes the position that they should because they are the ones who accidentally started it, and Raph thinks their involvement will only make things worse. This is one of my favorite story-lines because not only is it handling the repercussions of the Turtles’ actions maturely, but it also introduces one of my favorite characters, Karai, which I’ll get to in a minute. Raphael also has a softer side, which usually shines when he has to team up with a kid or blind old lady. The most shining moment of this happens in the episode “Tales of Leo.” Leo is thrown into a coma by the Shredder, and his family tells stories about his childhood in the hopes of bringing him back. After Raph tells his story, he actually starts crying. This is even more meaningful when you realize that this is one of the only times he cries in the series. Then, when Leo is moping about the battle, he is the one who snaps him out of it. Raphael may be the most likely to be fight with his brothers, but at the end of the day he will always be there when they need him.

Michelangelo: He’s the super athletic goofball of the group. Mikey is the first to crack jokes in battle, and the one his brothers pick on the most. He may have the most natural talent of the Turtles, but he is a fanboy who would much rather read comics than train, (something I can identify with). Mikey even briefly became his own superhero, Turtle Titan. He’s also the one who most easily gets under Raph’s skin, as seen in the episode, “The Big Brawl.” In that episode, all four Turtles enter a contest where they fight they greatest warriors in the multiverse. He and Raph are pitted against each other, and he defeats his brother without landing a single blow. He then goes on to win the tournament, defeating a warrior named Kluh. In a later episode, Mikey ends up in a rematch against Kluh and defeats him again while the safety spells aren’t working. That battle was glorious. Mikey also has a pet kitten named Klunk. I like kittens.

Splinter: Like most of his incarnations, he’s the wise, stern, protective master and former pet of Hamato Yoshi. This is one of the few versions where he actually refers to the Turtles as his sons and the Turtles refer to him as father. So, whatever you do, never, ever threaten his sons. Splinter will beat you up so badly the doctors won’t ever be able to tell your hands from your feet.

April O’Neal: She was a brilliant intern scientist working for Baxter Stockman until she discovers that Stockman works for the Shredder. Stockman sics his weapons on her, and that’s how she meets the Turtles. I always liked her scientific background more than her being a reporter, because, as a scientist, she’s smart enough not to be captured all the time! Seriously, unlike her eighties counterpart who got captured every other episode, she was only captured three times in series. Her brains mixed with her love interest, Casey Jones’s brawn is a lot of fun and the two characters have great chemistry. Speaking of Casey…

Casey Jones: He is a vigilante who fights the Purple Dragons after they burned down his dad’s shop as a child. He is the first to make friends with Raphael, and later marries April. Casey can go from a scary vigilante to a lovable goofball in the blink of an eye, and is the Turtles’ closest ally. Unlike the first series, which only had him as minor character, Casey is vital to the plot from the start. He is also awesome. One of his coolest moments happens in the episode “The Shredder Strikes Back.” The Turtles are cornered in April’s store by the Foot, and about to lose when Casey rides his motor cycle through the window and single-handedly takes down twelve or so ninja without breaking a sweat. Goongala!

Oroku Karai: Before I move onto the villains, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite anti heroes of the show, Karai, the Shredder’s adopted daughter. Out of all the characters, she is the most frustrating, but in a good way. Even though she was raised by Shredder, she has more of a sense of right and wrong. From the “City at War” story-line onward, she teeters between her loyalty to the man who cares for her and raised her as his own, and her own sense of honor. She is just so likable and interesting that you desperately want her to do the right thing, and you feel the Turtles’ disappointment every time she sides with the Shredder. Her relationship with Leo was always interesting because they never became love interests. They were fair-weather friends out of respect for one another’s skills. I always felt like Karai is what Leo could have been if Splinter had been evil. When the Turtles finally defeat the Shredder and Leo and Karai become enemies, you reluctantly root against her,  because Leo would react the same way if she had killed Splinter.

Oroku Sakai, Ch’rell, Duke Acureds, The Shredder: There are actually multiple Shredders in the series, but he is the main antagonist, so I’ll only talk about him. In this version, he is an alien war criminal from the race of  the Utroms. The Utrom were the ones who accidentally dumped the toxic waste on the Turtles and mutated them. I’ll admit, the idea of the Shredder being a brain-like alien is silly. Silly, at least, until you see him in action. The villain is dangerously competent and smart. If he leaves the Turtles to die in an explosion, he’s intelligent enough to go back and have his underlings make sure there are bodies. He’s also a deadly warrior that can bounce back from almost anything. In season one, he gets a water tower dropped on him and is (sort of) decapitated. In season two, he gets blown up, twice. Yes, twice. And is finally exiled at the end of the third series, but not after giving the Turtles a good beating. He then is killed once and for all in Turtles Forever.  Jeez, the guy has more lives than a cat.

Hun: He’s the leader of the Purple Dragon and the Shredder’s top lieutenant. Hun is a giant of Liefeldian proportions, and relishes in being evil and violent. He is the one character on the show with absolutely no redeeming qualities outside of his blind loyalty to the Shredder. Heck, even Baxter Stockman loves his mother. Hun is just an evil sadist, but boy, is he a fun one. The guy is a thug who relishes in beating the shell out of the Turtles. He always comes into a fight cocky and arrogant, but gets his butt kicked every time. In a way, you just have to admire his scrappiness. Every single time he is defeated, Hun faces the Turtles again with an arrogant smile. The guy just doesn’t know when to give up. Oh, and here’s an interesting fact, they were planning on having Hun and a minor villain named the Garbageman to have been conjoined twins who were separated by a seedy back-alley surgeon. Hun was kept and raised while poor Garbageman man was thrown in a dumpster and left for dead. The episode was meant to air, was scripted, and animation was started, but then it was decided that the episode was too dark.What the shell? I mean…just…wow. As much as I’d like to have seen such an incredibly dark episode on a “kid’s show,” isn’t that just a little too horrifying? This is the stuff of an R rated movie, so, in a way, I’m impressed that they got as far as animating the episode. Good for them…I guess.

Baxter Stockman: He’s a brilliant scientist who falls in with the Shredder. Every time he fails Shredder, he gets a limb removed until the man is reduced to nothing but a brain. The brain part was a little silly, but this character is just so magnificently arrogant that you don’t care. Even as he has limbs chopped off left and right, he still remains insufferable. This is the only man who will openly insult the Shredder. He wasn’t always bad though. In the episode banned for graphic content, “Insane in the Membrane,” we see that he truly cared for his mother before she died. It’s too bad that the censors decided that the episode was traumatizing to kids, because it has some genuinely sad and character developing moments. I accidentally bought it on DVD in first or second grade, and I watched it without batting an eye. Again, at that age, I was freaked out by a fake horror movie scene in a Disney channel original movie, but could take this.

Overall this show is–

Whoah, whoah, whoah, wait a second. You only talked about the first half of the series. There are seven seasons, and you only discussed seasons one through four.

*Sigh* Fine, but the first four seasons are the best out out of all of them. Rassum Frassum Executive meddling…

Season Five/Lost Episodes: This is actually a really good season that I don’t want to spoil. It was originally meant to be aired after season four, but, partially due to complaints about the dark tone of the other seasons, it was shelved in favor of Fast Forward. They later released the episodes, and I initially thought they were too weird. Tpon rewatching, though, I see that they were quite good, and a satisfying conclusion to the series. I highly recommend it.

Fast Forward: This season was okay. The Turtles are accidentally brought to the future by Casey and April’s wealthy and brilliant  great-grandson, named Cody. He’s a sheltered, lonely kid who’s only companion is his snarky robot butler. Cody isn’t a bad character, he just isn’t all that interesting. He is marked for death by his evil Uncle Darius. It’s up to the Turtles to thwart Darius’s evil plans. Um… I thought this was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not the Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Anyway, this season is much weaker than the first five, but isn’t necessarily bad. Heck, I’ll recommend a few episodes right now. “Night of Sk’Okanabo,” “Obsolete,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Bad Blood,” and especially “DNA is Thicker Than Water” are all pretty good episodes.

Back To The Sewer: For whatever reason, this season is stuck in the 1990’s awe of this magical thing called the Internet. During their attempt to time travel back home (using the Internet??) Master Splinter’s data bits are scattered across the world wide web. It is up to Donnie to bring their father back while the rest of the team discovers that they were gone for a year. Now, in the first five seasons, the Turtles would have returned to a post apocalyptic nightmare, but since they were going for a lighter tone, the fact they returned after such a long absence has little bearing on the plot. They may as well have been gone for a week. This season is not very good, and the only reason to watch is to find out what happens to Master Splinter and see Casey and April get married. There are a few good episodes, but none are very memorable. It’s entertaining, but not up to the usual 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles caliber.

Overall–oh who am I kidding? I freaking love this show. Sure, the dialogue has its corny moments, sure, some plot points were silly, and sure they overused the word shell in the later seasons, but the awesomeness outweighs the corniness. I love the complexity of the characters, the action, the animation, the one liners, the witty script, and the fact that the Turtles are, above all else, family. 2003 TMNT never talked down to its audience, and knew how to balance mature subject matter with great action, funny dialogue, and lots of heart. This show is the Justice League Unlimited of TMNT franchise.  TMNT is the show that got me used to the multiple part format of comics and introduced me to my all-time favorite comic book series. Since the second grade, my favorite color is blue, for my favorite Turtle. This is the show that had me fall in love with the characters and mythos of that universe. What can I say, other than “I love being a Turtles fan.”

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