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Teen Titans: Trouble In Tokyo

Warner Bros. (2006), Warner Home Video (February 6, 2007), single disc, 75 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98

Storyboard:

The Titans are attacked by a super-powered assailant who speaks Japanese, leading the team to Tokyo to solve the mystery of the criminal known as Brushogun.

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The Sweatbox Review:

In its five-season run, Teen Titans won over many of the skeptics who were initially put off by the show’s anime-inspired style and its targeting of a lower-aged demographic. Once the show grew on people (like myself), one could begin to appreciate the often surprisingly good animation and the fun stories. The show’s tone did not always seem to be consistent, though, as it would flip-flop between dramatic moments and silliness. It was all by design, of course, but for some of us it would just never be a series that was as good as it could have been. With its regular run now at an end, Warner decided to proceed with an original movie, as part of their strategy of developing essentially direct-to-video products. The movies that have resulted from this corporate dictate have thus far not been stellar, ranging from the mediocre-to-good Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman to the painful Superman: Brainiac Attacks. While Teen Titans: Trouble In Tokyo is certainly not as bad as the latter, it does fail to elevate the stature of these movies past the simply “okay.”

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In the Titans’ hometown, a supervillain chase results in Titans Tower being trashed and eventually the capture of the perpetrator. When Robin questions him, he is startled to find out that the villain speaks Japanese. As the interrogation continues, Robin gets a name: Brushogun. A decision is made to go to Tokyo in order to find Brushogun and discover why he wanted the Titans attacked. The team heads to Japan in a travel montage that includes the briefest of Aqualad cameos. While Robin is all business, Beast Boy treats the trip as a vacation and is more concerned with meeting Japanese girls and visiting his favorite comics publisher. The others also have more on their mind than Brushogun, as Cyborg is in search of Japanese food, and Starfire uses the exotic setting to make her romantic feelings known to Robin. Aside from Robin, Raven seems to be the only one fully interested in finding Brushogun.

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Despite Robin’s protestations of indifference to romance (because he is a “hero” and “heroes” only concern themselves with crime fighting), he does seem somewhat jealous when Starfire uses her ability to absorb language through kissing with a Japanese teen. Nevertheless, this does allow the team to find out more about what’s happening, just before they are attacked by a giant dragon that is somewhat reminiscent of Godzilla— the first of many homages in this movie. With that fight well underway, we see the intervention of the Tokyo Troopers, a fighting force that keeps law and order in Tokyo under the direction of its founding commander. Once the beast is subdued, the commander befriends the Titans but tells them that this Brushogun they are looking for is an urban legend. They take this to heart, despite the fact that they know for a fact that Brushogun was responsible for the attack on them back in the U.S. Furthermore, the polite commander also encourages them to enjoy their time in Japan and leave the “protecting the public” thing to his Troopers.

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Incredibly, the Titans do decide to simply enjoy their vacation, abandoning the search for Brushogun. They saunter around Tokyo, looking quite ridiculous in their costumes and making the show’s conceit that they never appear in civilian identities even sillier. (Although, we do later see Robin take on a disguise using shades to hide his eyes.) Robin and Starfire get flirtatious, until Robin’s sense of heroic duty forces him to push Starfire away. Don’t worry, though, he’s not totally stupid. He does come around by the end of the show. Before that can happen, however, Robin is framed for murder and captured by the Troopers, just as the other Titans are attacked by various threats, including one who looks not unlike Astro Boy.

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A few battles later, the Titans finally must unravel the mystery behind Brushogun. The answer has two parts: one totally predictable (even just from reading my brief synopsis of the story), and one way too far-fetched for the audience to really swallow. With the story losing points for surprise or plausibility, I found my ranking for the movie sinking the closer we got to the credits. In the end, I think it is best to see this as an adjunct to the series, showcasing both the strengths and weaknesses of the show. The animation and design of the movie are very appealing, there is the odd laugh to be had, and the action is often terrific; but the humor is frequently corny and the writing asks for too much suspension of disbelief. I did enjoy Robin’s evolving from being a no-nonsense hero to a romantic lead, but other than that this movie is rather unremarkable. Taking the team to Japan was a good idea, considering the anime influence on the series, but I think this would have worked nicer as a swan song for the team if we could have seen a more familiar villain or villain team opposing them. As it stands, this is just an extra-long episode that probably ranks a little below the middle in terms of my favorites, coming out ahead of stinkers such as when Cyborg entered a videogame or when Beast Boy was mistaken for an alien green dog.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

Maybe this is where I should mention one big complaint. No chapter stops! That’s right; not just the lack of chapter menu, but no chapters at all! I can’t believe they put a 75-minute movie on disc and left no chapter stops. C’mon, guys!

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The Preview at the beginning of the disc is appropriately enough for the upcoming third season sets of Teen Titans and The Batman. More Trailers can be found in the Extras menu, including those for What’s New, Scooby-Doo?: Season One, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends: Season One (though it looks like they didn’t know what they were going to put here, as it is referenced only as “Cartoon Network DVD” in the menu!), the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and the live action film How To Eat Fried Worms.

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The only real decent extra on the disc is a Lost Episode (12:04), though of course no one ever really lost it. It’s not like producer Glen Murakami lost the footage during a move or something. Actually, this is a shorter episode that was only produced originally for the Post cereal website postopia.com. The episode, offered with 2.0 sound, has similar production values as a regular episode, and concerns the efforts of a nutter named Punk Rocket to replace classical music with “the sound of chaos.” Just like Trouble In Tokyo, it’s not the worst that’s been done with the Titans, but it’s far from the best either. And I have to say that the use of ear wax as a plot device… is something I never need to see again. The best thing about having this episode on the disc, aside from giving it a permanent venue to be seen, is that this is the only place you will hear the Titans’ theme song sung by Puffy Ami Yumi. During the movie, the Titans do a karaoke version over the end credits (and Beast Boy goes solo during the movie), but Puffy Amu Yumi only shows up in this “lost” episode.

Robin’s Underworld Race Challenge is yet another useless “game” that a digital artist was forced to waste his time creating, rather than more artistic pursuits.

Case Study:

Standard keepcase, no insert.

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Ink And Paint:

Trouble In Tokyo is presented in the 4:3 ratio, and given that I have seen no evidence to the contrary, I shall have to assume that this is the original ratio it was created in. I saw no framing problems, so this “full frame” presentation seems fine. The source here is clean, naturally, but the compression work is a little shaky. Pans, whether they be vertical or horizontal, tend to show a lot of distracting shimmer. Other than that, though, the picture is crisp and bright.

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Scratch Tracks:

Warner sprung for a full 5.1 mix, and it does basically live up to its potential. Fight scenes bring in some decent use of the rears, and there is a bit of concussion being expressed by the sub. Naturally, you cannot expect a theatrical quality mix, and the sound is not as forceful as it would be for a theatrical feature, but it is essentially a pretty good soundtrack. The front part of the sound field is especially nice, making this a really good Surround mix with the addition to a few good rear effects.

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There are also English, French, and Spanish subtitles. What would have been cool, though, would have been a subtitle track for pointing out all the anime and manga references in this movie. I caught a few, but know there were lots more that I would not fully recognize.

Final Cut:

If I were to rank this among the direct-to-DVD movies starring DC heroes, I would have to place this one squarely between The Mystery Of The Batwoman and Brainiac Attacks. While not as insipid as the latter, it also fails to reach the admittedly just-above-mediocre heights of the former. Trouble In Tokyo contains many of the strengths of the regular series, but fails to elevate its game in the same way that the season finales did. This just feels like an extra-long episode, and not a great one at that. Still, if you like the show you should find this to be a reasonable watch. Keep your expectations in check, and you may find the movie pretty decent, even, so long as you don’t mind the final explanations that are at the same time way too predictable and also implausible. I’m hoping that the new “DC Universe” line of Direct-To-DVD titles will come out of the gates a little stronger than this.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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1/102/103/104/105/106/107/108/109/1010/10   7.43/10

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