Warner Bros. Television (2003), Warner Home Video (September 12, 2006), 2 discs, 286 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Stereo, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98
Robin and the rest of the Titans face a variety of adversaries and take on a new member with a dark side.
The Sweatbox Review:
When the Teen Titans cartoon came back for its second season in 2003, I wondered whether the show would continue down the darker path of the first season’s finale, or if it would return to the lighter stories that appealed to youngsters in much of its premiere year. The answer, of course, is that the show followed the path that had been set, offering a mix of fun and danger, drama and humor. While the first half of Season 2 proved to have more light than darkness, the second half follows into the direction of another heavy finale.
A survey of the thirteen episodes included in this DVD set gives a good idea of how the creators were pacing the series.
Episodes – Disc 1
How Long Is Forever: Without a doubt, I found this to be one of the strongest and most interesting episodes of the season. Season 2 started off with a bang with a big time travel episode, for which I’m always a sucker anyways. Starfire is anxious for everyone to celebrate the Tamaranean festival of friendship known as Blorthog, but is upset to see her friends in the Titans getting on each other’s nerves instead. Her worst fears of the team breaking apart seem to be realized when she and the other Titans encounter a time-traveling villain named Warp (loosely based, but really in name only, on a foe from the comics), and Starfire ends up 20 years in the future. What she finds there is a great disappointment to her, but thrilling in some ways for fans that were wondering just which Robin is on the team. (Fanboy moment: “Oh, that was so cool!”) This is a dramatic, exciting story that stands as one of the series’ stronger entries. After viewing this great story, I was ready for more of the same…
Every Dog Has His Day: ….and then I watched the episode about the green alien doggie. This initially seemed like a bit of a lame episode, with a fairly wonky, contrived premise. An alien looking for his green dog on Earth accidentally beams the green-skinned Beast Boy— who is in dog form at the time— onto his spaceship. Fortunately, this somewhat wacky story is punched up with a couple of entertaining twists, the least of which being the fact that the alien prefers Beast Boy to his own dog. One weakness of this story is that the set-up is so similar to that of the last one, except this time it is Beast Boy who feels alienated from his teammates. Once you get past that, though, it’s actually got a few delightful scenes, including an instrumental musical sequence where the Titans try to chase down the alien dog, thinking it is Beast Boy. The revelation of its true identity to the Titans alone makes the episode worthwhile watching.
Terra: This is the other “serious” episode in the first half of the season, and a harbinger of what is to come in the second half (I am referring here only to the plot; the zany anime-inspired takes and exaggerations are still present). Fans of the New Teen Titans comic book of the 1980s will love the introduction of Terra, a troubled teen with geo-telekinetic powers. Although different from the character in the comic, her role in the story is largely the same, as her loyalties are divided between the Titans— who want to be her friend, and Slade— who manipulates her into thinking that the Titans will never really like her. The incident that forces her to make her decision is heartbreaking. I also appreciated seeing Beat Boy’s “lovesick puppy” reaction to Terra, straight from the comics.
Only Human: Once again, a weak episode follows a good one, but this one is much more of a “dog” than the green doggie story. Cyborg laments his status as a human-machine hybrid, since his machine nature does not allow for improvement through training or practice. He can only ever give “a hundred percent”, and never push beyond, like how he could in his pre-Cyborg days as an athlete. He immerses himself in playing a videogame, where he faces a character named Atlas. Somehow, Atlas comes to life and defeats Cyborg, as well as taking the other Titans as trophies. Cyborg must find a way to push himself past “a hundred percent” in order to save his friends.
I did not like this episode at all. The plot is ridiculous, as the appearance of the villain from the videogame is given no explanation. I also have always hated the notion of “giving more than a hundred percent”, since that just is not possible. Putting it into terms of Cyborg’s mechanical body, which has already been explained to have finite limits, is absurd. There is a good concept in here somewhere, i.e. Cyborg needing his human side to overcome an enemy, but this script badly needed a re-write.
Fear Itself: The Teen Titans face Control Freak, a chubby redheaded geek that may have been inspired by Harry Knowles. Once they capture his life-giving remote control and settle in for a night of horror movie watching, the Titans are attacked by mysterious, malevolent entities. It seems like the creatures that were seen in the movie are coming to life— which is way too similar to what happened in the last episode! At least this time we get a decent explanation that offers insight into one of the Titans.
Date With Destiny: From the description of this episode, one might think it was pretty skippable. Robin has to take the daughter of a supervillain (Killer Moth, voiced by Thomas Hayden Church), named Kitten, to her junior prom— or else ferocious giant moths will overwhelm the city! Ooooookay. In fact, this is a pretty good episode. Sure, it’s plenty silly, but the revelation of Starfire’s jealousy and at least one plot twist make this a winner. Classic Robin fans, take note: When Starfire reacts to Robin’s decision to take the girl out to the prom, his hair is mussed to give him the double-spitcurl look he had for years in the comics. Batman Beyond fans get a bonus too, with Will Friedle playing Kitten’s ex-boyfriend.
Transformation: The elegant Tony Jay narrates this story as a type of sci-fi fairy tale. Starfire gets neck tusks, a monster zit, and more. She is afraid and ashamed of her new appearance, and hides it until being revealed during a battle with Plasmus. Star leaves the Earth and heads into space, but her friends won’t let her go so easily. Starfire gains her optic blasts in this episode, which allowed the artists an excuse to begin portraying her “pupil-free” look from the comics.
Titan Rising: Terra re-appears, with the intention of joining the Titans. Most of the team likes the idea, but Raven does not trust her. At all. Their antagonism almost leads to disaster when the team heads into battle.
Winner Take All: This loopy episode sees the three guys being kidnapped by an alien “Master Of Games” who offers them the opportunity to compete in a Contest Of Heroes. Naturally, this being is not as benevolent as he appears. Robin is oblivious to the danger, though, as his drive to win puts his friends in jeopardy. Comic fans will enjoy seeing Aqualad, Speedy, Wildebeest, Gizmo, and Hotspot all guest star.
Betrayal: The Terra storyline comes to a head a little too quickly as Slade strikes. It would have been nice to see this plot have more time to breathe, but then we would have missed out on the clichéd episode that preceded this one, or the silly episode that followed, right? Anyhow, Terra and Beast Boy go out on a date, while the other Titans are attacked. This cannot end well.
Fractured: It’s a silly episode, yes, but it is enjoyable. This was obviously plugged into Season Two at this point to lighten things up, though I was personally digging the darker storyline. Okay, whatever. The opening of the show is a big tip-off to expect a different type of story this time out, with an off-key, male rendition of the theme song. An imp from another dimension, modeled after comics’ Bat-Mite, shows up at Titans tower and proclaims himself to be Robin’s Number 1 Fan. Wackiness ensues in this surreal episode. The producers’ insistence that the Titans stay in costume at all times becomes especially ludicrous in this episode, as Robin wears a cast over his glove. On the plus side, there is further evidence of just what Robin’s civilian identity is, judging by the imp’s name.
Aftershock Part 1: Ah, back to business! Slade’s new apprentice now appears fully indoctrinated as she attacks the Titans. Overload, Plasmus, and Cinderblock also appear again, and the Titans appear to be doomed to defeat.
Aftershock Part 2: After the thrashing of last episode, the team fights back. The fate of Slade’s apprentice is dealt with in a way that is first horrifying and finally poignant. I have to admit that I found the emotional beats of this episode tough to swallow, as this whole storyline seemed overly rushed and a bit contrived due to the time it was given to develop. Nevertheless, this was a strong end to the show’s second season and an encouraging sign of things to come.
Personally, I would have liked the visual style of the show to change in this season, since I was never a big fan of the faux anime styling. No such luck; but I knew it would be too much to hope for. I might as well have hoped that the characters would age five years, wear street clothes, and start having serious relationships too, but I guess I’ll just have to enjoy my old comics instead. (I know what you’re going to say— let it go, let it go…)
The visual style of the show continues to grow on me, though. The non-literal graphic storytelling approach, even if I would have gone a different way with this show, does point towards the strengths of animation. And one cannot say this is a dull-looking show. It is well designed and appeals to the eye with exceptionally strong posing and design.
On the whole, I found several of these episodes great, a few were pretty good, a couple were mediocre, and one was lousy. I’m hoping that the consistency improves on this show, as I do want to like it. When it’s good, it’s great; but when it’s not so good, it can be dopey and fight-filled. In fact, the near endless fight scenes in Fear Itself and Only Human have the undesired effect of just making the viewer bored. Fortunately, the weakest episodes are the exceptions to the rule, but Teen Titans does seem to struggle to pump out more than the occasional great story. I have a feeling that I’ll always be wishing that the show had gone with a more mature approach— not just as a personal preference, but since that is when it seems to be at its best.
Is This Thing Loaded?
This release ditches the lame game and the so-so Titans Tower featurette that appeared on the previous Season Two, Volume One release (Fear Itself), and adds… basically nothing. All that appears here is a Superman Promo and the featurette Catching Up With The Teen Titans (4:58), which simply shows clips from the first two seasons of the show. Boy, some editor had way too much time on his hands. This is an utterly pointless “bonus”.
The two single-sided discs come in a standard keepcase with a tray. There is an insert that lists the contents of the discs. The back cover promises “Bombastic Bonuses”, which is clearly overstating things at best.
Ink And Paint:
This DVD looks just as great as the previous Titans discs. There is simply nothing to complain about in the video department. With such a kinetic show, one might think that there would be plenty of opportunity for compression errors to creep in, but the picture is just perfect. The prints are pristine, colors are solid, and there is no haloing or blocking.
The 2.0 sound isn’t quite as impressive, but it is pretty good. A full 5.1 soundtrack would certainly benefit the show, as each episode has plenty of action and fury, but for TV animation what we get is fine. There is a pleasant ambience present, with a few standout moments, such as the thunder rumbling in “Fear Itself”. French and Spanish tracks are also present, and there are subtitles in all three languages.
After watching the first episode on this disc, I thought that I was going to be extremely pleased with the direction the second season was heading. Then I saw the ones with the green dog and the video game villain come to life. Sigh. So much potential, and the creators insisted on making silly shows. However, the emphasis on Terra in the second half of the season allowed it to end strongly. A more even tone would be appreciated, but I remain a fan overall. Looking ahead to descriptions I have read about the next couple of seasons (already broadcast), it looks like there are still many fine stories to come.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?