I was drawn to this animated series because the the characters are so well-done, whether it’s Starfire’s alien optimism, Raven’s quiet darkness, or Cyborg’s stubborn strength. Beast Boy’s the most teen to my eyes, with his goofy screwups serving as metaphor for gawky adolescence. In the first episode, Robin’s voice not quite right for me, but by episode two, it has either altered or I’ve adjusted to it.
The first episode, “Divide and Conquer”, is an interesting choice for an introduction, because it makes the team look like idiots, their powers getting in each other’s way in obvious “learn the lesson of teamwork” fashion. It does a good job introducing the characters based on their abilities, though, since it’s mostly fight scenes.
I tuned out during a lot of those. It’s the quieter scenes I enjoy, as when Robin and Starfire view fireworks from a Ferris wheel, just before her more accomplished sister shows up and takes all the attention in “Sisters”. Or when the group heads out for pizza, arguing all the way about topping choices.
I LOVED seeing the team as marionettes in “Switched”. That’s the kind of creative “only in drawn fiction” story that takes full advantage of animation. And then for Raven and Starfire to swap bodies… terrific entertainment! And with meaning, too, as they learn to accept each other’s differences. Cyborg and Raven also get spotlight episodes, carrying over some of the more mature elements of their comic backstories.
Some of the episodes quickly fall into formula — introduce the villain, who beats the team, who then regroups, seeks them out, and defeats them. My favorites are those that take a different approach and add more significance to the mix by incorporating realistic teenage attitudes and concerns, such as jealousy.
The introduction of the “Mad Mod” (memorably voiced by Malcolm McDowell), while in this mode, is terrific. It’s the standout of the disc. He’s a particular favorite character for many reasons: aside from the fact that I’m an Anglophile, I’m also impressed by how a really goofy 60s villain has been reinvented to be so enjoyable, fun without losing the menace. The design elements of his episodes are always good, too, playing with perspective and using elements from his era with a fresh take, especially the black-and-white go-go checks. That’s definitely a cartoon worth watching.
The extras include “Finding Their Voices”, a documentary showing the voice talent and discussing their views of the characters. That’s a treat, putting a human face to the cartoon voice and hearing about how the writing and the portrayals affect each other. Cyborg, Khary Payton, in particular, has a great personality. I was disappointed not to see who plays Starfire, though.
“Comic Creations” explores the comic book roots of the series. Some of the producers talk about how much they liked the comics, but most of it is Marv Wolfman, George Perez, and the cartoon creators discussing their visions for the characters. There’s also a subtitled Puffy Ami Yumi piece, the theme song video (the poor things couldn’t find clothes that fit!), and a preview of their cartoon. I love the theme song, but I don’t think it’s right for the mood of the series, which is surprising complex for a teen team cartoon. The song is too chirpy.
There’s a TV show site for the younger set, or more information at wikipedia. Overall, this is a great package for all ages, with something for any generation.