X-Men (Animated Television Series): Series 1, Volume 1 Review
I grumbled. Grumbled about Bryan Singer seeing fit to drop both Gambit and Jubilee from the X-Men. Grumbled about the film's lapsing out of action and into 'issues'. But most of all, grumbled about Cyclops being, well, a bit of a dick. He spent two films hanging around Jean Grey like the boyfriend none of her other friends like, while the audience hoped that some stray adamantium might find itself severing his jugular. The third film was even worse, seeing Cyclops as the X-Academy's resident teen, no matter that it seemed to have dormitories full of them already. He might well have lost his girlfriend but when the X-boys and X-girls needed him, he was sleeping in 'til noon, grumbling about how no one understands him and listening to Nirvana. And what was with the need to switch his visor on? Never mind X-Powers, simply cuff him and watch as all the blinding red beam he can muster up in his eyeballs does him no good whatsoever.
Not having read the original comic books doesn't stop this viewer having an opinion on what the X-Men should be like and it's largely the fault of this cartoon, a Saturday morning show that (probably) slotted in somewhere on Going Live! and which featured a barnstorming X-Men flying, calling up storms, battling Magneto and his brotherhood of mutants and, yes, zapping giant mutant-hunting Sentinels with blasts of energy from the eyes of Cyclops and the hands of Jubilee and Gambit. Even Wolverine gets to slice and dice without any of the moral concerns present in the films, getting within a hair's breadth of murdering Sabre Tooth before Professor X intervenes.
Complete with the traditional X-Men costumes, even if Storm's butterfly-winged outfit looks somewhat unwieldy, this is a well-loved show, which companies have generally resisted releasing until now. Such fondness, though, has very little to do with the quality of the animation. Even without looking at the show particularly carefully, mistakes are made frequently in the animation of the characters. Wolverine's sleeves appear then disappear again, not only between scenes, which does happen, but between frames of animation. Characters begin talking long before their lips catch up. When it's Professor X, one does wonder if we're actually hearing his thoughts but when his lips begin moving mid-sentence, it's no longer clear what was intended. Worse, though, than these examples is the sense that, outside of stick figures drawn in the corners of school books, this is animation done as cheap as it is possible to be.
However, such complaints do pale against the excitement that comes from watching the show. These are X-adventures that would not have been possible in live action. Sentinels stomp through shopping malls in pursuit of mutants while, later in this two-part story (Night of the Sentinels), the X-Men lead a raid on the secret government facility where the giant robots are constructed. Showing an ambition that was beyond Singer's writing of him, this series' Magneto sets about launching a nuclear attack in Enter Magneto while, later in the series, he doesn't so much trash a giant chemical plant (Deadly Reunions) as tear it to shreds and leave the bodies of chemists and several X-Men, his friend Charles Xavier amongst them, scattered amongst the rubble, twisted metal and glowing green chemicals. In Captive Hearts, a group of mutants capture Jean Grey and Cyclops in the hope of procreating and producing an heir - not many children's cartoons would dare to dwell on such a matter - while the final two episodes deal with Wolverine's fight with Sabre Tooth while in exile in Alaska (Cold Vengeance) and the X-Men's investigation of the welcome that can await mutants on the island of Genosha (Slave Island)
This last episode shows the ambition of this series, the writing of which often rises above the quality of the animation. Unsurprisingly, the mutants are not made to feel welcome on Genosha and with Master Mold producing Sentinels by the dozen, Gambit, Jubilee and Storm are held captive and, alongside others, forced to work on a dam to power this factory. Red herrings and double-crosses run riot as Gambit betrays his friends, the X-Men and then his captors, before meeting Cable in the jungle and leading a rebellion on Genosha. The seeds of further stories and sown in this episode with politics, conspiracies and the history of the X-Men written into the story, making this a cut above the average episode in a cartoon series.
The pity of it is that this set comes to an end just as it starts to get interesting. In that, this comes back to the problem with this release, which, like the recent release of The Incredible Hulk, does not include the entire series. Only seven episodes are included here, which, though better than the six in The Incredible Hulk, still falls short of offering the viewer the complete series. Keep up with volumes two, three and so on and this is probably a rewarding experience for fans of the X-Men. It's just hard to say so on these seven episodes.
This section has been copied over from the release of The Incredible Hulk as the same problems occur on both. There is a short feature on the restoration of this show for DVD but it's not entirely convincing. The colour has been boosted for DVD and made brighter but pause the DVD and step through it a frame at a time will reveal a few faults in the picture, including white spots and other little bits of dirt. These don't stay in the picture for long, maybe a single frame or two, but they're definitely there if you go looking for them. The bigger problem is that the DVD presentation is interlaced rather than progressive and this lends the picture a clunky, juddery look. On a small television, this is less of a problem but it was very much more noticeable on a 43" screen.
The soundtrack has been remixed into a DD5.1 but Liberation have also included the original stereo track. The former isn't a very good mix. The background music has been drawn out of the mix in the direction of the rear speakers and often swamps the dialogue such that characters become inaudible. The stereo track is much better. With it messed about with less, everything, being dialogue, sound effects and music, is in its proper place and it is definitely the pick of the two. Finally, there are subtitles on all seven episodes.
There are no extras on this DVD release other than a short feature, which lasts a few minutes, on the restoration of the picture.