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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mutant Turtles: Chojin Densetsu-hen: T-U-R-T-L-E Power in Ways You Never Imagined

As a person who grew up during the 90s it's no surprise that I am very familiar with the mega-hit, money-making franchise known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Though I have not read any of the original comic series, I was a big fan of the 1987-1996 animated series and the three live-action movies still hold a special place in my heart. The first is still an excellent movie, TMNT II is silly but fun, and I'll get to TMNT III later (I haven't seen the CG movie, but I heard good things). Still, it's not hard to find TMNT productions that are bad... Really bad. Many can argue TMNT III, but there's also the Coming Out of Our Shells music tour, the subway-promoting Operation Blue Line, and I personally couldn't watch anymore of the 4Kids reboot series after a certain revelation about Shredder's past, which is a shame as I really enjoyed it up to that point. TMNT wasn't just a North American hit, though, as it was big in Japan as well. In fact, after Japan finished airing the original TV series in 1996 a two-episode OVA series was released and it has remained exclusive to Japan. Since then it's been put down and considered a hilariously bad extension to the original TMNT series, but is that really the case?  I mean, it's hard to top things like Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap", Lord Norinaga, and Shredder talking about getting rid of music... Via song.


In episode 1, during an investigation of the ruins of the ancient Neutrino Kingdom, the Ninja Turtles come across the spirit of light, Chrysemue, who gives them mutastones, which allow the Turtles to mutate into powered-up forms called the Super Turtles. Unfortunately, Shredder, Bebop, & Rocksteady come across the Dark Mutastone, which houses the spirit of dark, Darkemue, and allows the three to transform in powered-up forms of their own. Krang wants to awaken Darkemue, who can destroy the Earth, by having the crystal she is in absorb stars in space. Thankfully, if the Super Turtles aren't strong enough, the four can combine together into a single being called Turtle Saint, and hopefully Turtle Saint will be strong enough to save the day. In episode 2 the Turtles, Splinter, and April O'Neal head to Japan after getting a request for help from Kinzo Hattori, a ninja from Splinter's past as Hamato Yoshi. A mysterious mirror Kinzo is guarding is being hunted after by Shredder and the gang for the mutastones it houses, and the Turtles have to protect them from being captured.

If there's any obvious reason why this OVA is made fun of by TMNT fans, it's the first episode. Just the idea of the Turtles powering-up into stronger forms is silly enough, but the idea of them fusing together into Turtle Saint is just even wackier. Granted, it's not a bad episode but the idea behind it is certainly up there with the three things I mentioned earlier. The second episode is something that I could see actually see having been done in the original TV series, since the most that happens in that is the Turtles donning power armor, much like in Saint Seiya. Naturally, this OVA is nothing more than a giant toy advertisement, with the first episode promoting to Supermutants toy line, which was apparently released around the world, and the second episode promoting the Metal Mutation toy line that was exclusive to Japan. With that revelation out of the way, the first episode make more sense... But it's still really silly. When a gigantic Shredder, powered-up by Darkemue, shoots a gigantic energy blast at Splinter, who then deflects it using his bare hands, then you know that this is just silliness at full-power.

Thankfully, this OVA does keep the feel and style of the original TV series. All major characters look just like they did in the original series, with the exception of two: Shredder and April. Shredder simply gets new armor and a mask, and it actually looks pretty good. April, on the other hand, gets a slightly more anime-esque face, though she still keeps the yellow jumpsuit. It's neat to see her with a new look, though it looks a little unsure of itself in episode 1, but in episode 2 her new look improves. Chrysemue and Darkemue look very much like anime fairies, complete with Darkemue getting a little bounce in the end of episode 1, and it's actually a little odd seeing anime-styled characters next to the original TV series' characters. Kinzo looks like a 100% generic ninja, but his extremely haphazard way of talking, complete with random emphasis on words and an ever-changing way to end his sentences, definitely makes him memorable. The armors in episode 2 look neat, but I must admit that the Super Turtles looks pretty generic and Turtle Saint isn't much better.

But even with this new-at-times look, these episodes still feel like the original series. Krang and Shredder's constant bickering has been 100% maintained, Shredder, Bebop, & Rocksteady are just are incompetent as they are in the TV series, and the heroes act just like they always have. Oddly enough, though, the Foot Clan is absent for this OVA, outside of a scene in episode 1 where Krang mentions giving them a vacation followed by a short clip of the Foot having a barbecue on Miami Beach... Which is weird since the 1987 series had the Foot be robots. Also, Shredder's real name here is Oroku Sawaki instead of Oroku Saki, but that might just be something the Japanese always changed. On the other hand, it's actually pretty cool to hear Shredder and Splinter speak full-on Japanese, since they are actually Japanese. I was honestly expecting something that wasn't very accurate to the original series when I decided to finally watch this OVA and I was pleasantly surprised to see something that kept the style intact for the most part.

Shunji Oga, who also directed the Amon Saga OVA as well as Golgo 13 TV, directed this OVA. Again, he must have made being accurate to the style and look of the original show a focus; if so he did a great job. The music done by Takeshi Ike of Dancougar fame isn't anything truly memorable, but it sounded like stuff you could easily hear playing in the original series. The opening them isn't the usual TMNT theme of the time but rather an original song: "Power-Up Turtles" by Hironobu Kageyama. While it's not one of Kageyama's best songs, it's a rather up-beat and silly song that works somewhat well, though compared to the original theme there's no contest. The ending theme is "Chikyuu wa Ogenki" by MOKKUN and it's a similarly silly song that works well enough. The cast is the same as the Japanse dub cast of the TV series, and it's actually a pretty good one at that. The Turtles are voiced by Daiki Nakamura (Leonardo, Haohmaru from Samurai Shodown), Hidenari Ugaki (Donatello, Argo Gulskii from G Gundam), Hiroyuki Shibamoto (Raphael, Torres from Z Gundam), and Toshiharu Sakurai (Michaelangelo, Hanson from Nadia), and all four are obviously familiar with their respective roles at this point, which means that all of them give good performances. Shredder is voiced by Kiyoyuki Yanada (Zabine Chareuz from Gundam F91, Palparepa from GaoGaiGar FINAL), and though nostalgia will always put Shredder's English voice on top for me, Yanada definitely pulls out a great performance and makes an excellent Japanese counterpart. Emi Shinohara (Sailor Jupiter from Sailor Moon, Youko Mizuno from Maria Watches Over Us) voices April O'Neal, and she puts out a good performance as well. Hideyuki Umezu (Elekt from Break Blade, David Rutherford from Blue Comet SPT Layzner) works double-time, voicing both Splinter and Krang, and you would never think that they were the same voice. Overall, the production itself has no problems.

Yeah, this is the cover to the OST, but the artwork featured is from the two VHS covers,

Mutant Turtles: Chojin Densetsu-hen/Superman Legend Chapter is certainly an odd part of TMNT history, but I wouldn't call it "bad" per se. Instead, it's very much like what I feel about TMNT III: It's utterly silly and ridiculous but still fun in its own wacky way. Some might call that "so bad it's good", but I certainly don't. The official Ninja Turtles website did have a page about this OVA, and here's the final word on the chances of it coming over one day:

"Due to licensing agreements with our animation partners in North America, it's unlikely that the TMNT Anime will ever be made commercially available on our shores."

That's a slight shame, too, as the original TV series is finally getting those last seasons out on DVD. Season 8 came out about a month ago, which leaves two more seasons left to fully release and this OVA would have made for a neat extra to go with Season 10. As it is, you can watch it with fansubs, but I'll say that this is mainly for hardcore TMNT fans in the end. It's certainly no "Ninja Rap", which is a good thing, but it's also no "T-U-R-T-L-E Power".

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