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X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume 5

Marvel Entertainment (September 7, 1996 – September 20, 1997), Buena Vista Home Entertainment (May 4, 2010), two discs, 308 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $23.99

Storyboard:

Volume 5 of X-Men: The Animated Series roughly translates to season five of the show, contemplating episodes that aired between September 1996 and September 1997.

The Sweatbox Review:

The end of X-Men: The Animated Series in September 1997 was kind of the end of an era for fans of the show. From its premiere in 1992, many fans had effectively grown up watching the show over the course of five years. It seemed like the end of X-Men. Of course it was not the end and the franchise would successfully continue in the form of both a live-action film and a new animated television show in 2000. For fans of the show, accustomed to animated shows rarely given the opportunity for a series finale, the promise of an adequate conclusion to the show was exciting. Beyond Good and Evil was originally meant to be the conclusion to the show in season four. With its four episode-long story arc, the storyline managed to include multiple characters, but ended very much like any other episode of the show. When Fox ordered more episode, effectively green lighting season five, it gave the writers an opportunity to create a more satisfying finale for fans of the show.

Season five of the show is made up of the many different types of storylines and themes commonly explored throughout the course of the show. Alien beings from another world were back in strong force, becoming central to five of the episodes on this set. Origin stories were also given a boost and we get expanded origin stories for Wolverine, Nightcrawler (who makes a much-welcome return), and Mister Sinister. Of course what made the show such fun to watch were the multiple strong character-driven episodes where a member of the X-Men team takes center stage. It seems that each episode was an effort to give one character a last hurrah on the show. One character, Jubilee, even takes center-stage in multiple episodes throughout the season.

The first three stories of the season deal with three of the X-Men’s most popular male heroes: Beast, Wolverine, and Cyclops. In The Phalanx Covenant, Parts 1 and 2 (original airdate September 7, 1996), Beast takes center-stage when a superior alien race of technological beings arrive on Earth bent on conquest. This storyline is based on the popular comic book storyline of the same name. In it, the Phalanx (a Borg-like collective alien race) come to Earth and absorbs everyone in their path, converting them into energy. It seems that the Phalanx have discovered mutants are slower to assimilate than other humans and have targeted them first. It is then up to Beast, teamed up with Forge and Mr. Sinister, to join forces with Warlock (a rebel member of the Phalanx) to defeat the alien invaders. In A Deal With the Devil (September 14, 1996), Omega Red is recruited by the American military to disable a nuclear submarine in the bottom of the ocean. It is up to Wolverine (with a little help from Storm) to go down with him as insurance he will not be harmed. Finally, in No Mutant is an Island (September 21, 1996), Cyclops returns to his childhood orphanage only to discover that a wealthy man is adopting mutant children for sinister purposes. This episode also explains the return of Jean-Grey after the Phoenix tragedy (it was originally meant to air in season three).

Female X-Men are at the heart of the next five stories on the set. In fact, Jubilee alone is at the heart of three of these stories, even if she is usually a victim in her stories. In Longshot (October 5, 1996), Mojo decides to visit Earth for one of his shows where he is going after Longshot. In the meantime, Longhot and Jubilee have developed a close relationship and Mojo eventually kidnaps Jubilee in order to get the X-Men to fight for her. In Bloodlines (October 26, 1996), more is revealed about Nightcrawler’s past as he explores he is actually related to Graydon Creed of the anti-mutant group the Friends of Humanity. This further explores the relationship between Nightcrawler, his mother, and a female member of the X-Men who finds she also has a family connection to Nightcrawler. In Storm Front Parts 1 and 2 (November 2 and 9, 1996), Storm is called upon by the alien leader Arkon to help save his planet from apocalyptic destruction. As she develops a closer relationship to Arkon, she decides to remain on the alien planet, much to the surprise and amazement of the other X-Men. Jubilee teams up with other X-Men members in the following two episodes. In Jubilee’s Fairytale Theater (November 16, 1996), she is in charge of a group of kids touring the mansion’s cave system when she gets caved-in. In order to keep the kids calm, she tells a fairytale story where she is the hero along with Gambit while they fight against Magneto. Finally, in The Fifth Horseman (February 8, 1997), Jubilee is once again the center of a plot by Fabian Cortez, to resurrect Apocalypse using Jubliee as a host. In this episode set in Latin America, Beast is paired up with Jubilee.

The final four episodes of the series delve further into the past of different characters, as well as the special relationship between different characters. In Old Soldiers (February 22, 1997) Wolverine remembers the time he fought alongside Captain America in WWII to defeat the Red Skull. Red Skull has kidnapped a scientist and the two superheroes join forces to recapture him. In Descent (September 6, 1997), we finally get an origin story for Mister Sinister which takes place in Victorian England. In the story, Sinister is still Dr. Nathaniel Essex, a scientist obsessed with the theory of evolution, and he is being confronted by a Dr. James Xavier, a distant ancestor of Charles Xavier. In Hidden Agenda (September 13, 1997), a young mutant named Sam Gunthrie is contacted by the X-Men when Rogue decides to visit him in his hometown. However, the X-Men are not the only ones interested in the young mutant, as there is a shadow military agency also following the boy. Finally, in Graduation Day (September 20, 1997), Xavier is seriously hurt in an attack against his life triggering a spur of anti-human resentment among mutants around the world. Magneto begins to assemble an army of mutants on the island of Genosha when the X-Men come to him to help them save Xavier’s life. In this final episode, Magneto comes to terms with his relationship with Xavier and the Professor manages to say his final goodbyes to his beloved team.

The episodes included in this set are separated as follows:

Disc One
63. The Phalanx Covenant (Part 1)
64. The Phalanx Covenant (Part 2)
65. A Deal With The Devil
66. No Mutant Is An Island
67. Longshot
68. Bloodlines

Disc Two
69. Storm Front (Part 1)
70. Storm Front (Part 2)
71. Jubilee’s Fairy Tale Theatre
72. The Fifth Horseman
73. Old Soldiers
74. Descent
75. Hidden Agendas
76. Graduation Day

Is This Thing Loaded?

Other than a few previews, there are no special features included on this set. The disc opens up with trailers for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, When in Rome, and a commercial for Blu-Ray discs. Inside the Sneak Peeks section, there are additional trailers for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition.

This being the final volume in the set, I have to say I am a little disappointed fans were never treated to special features. I suppose the cost of producing special features for these sets was prohibitive given the size of the release. Still, it would have been nice to get some bonus episodes including the X-Men/Spider-Man crossover episodes, and at least one retrospective look into the making of the series.

Case Study:

This release comes in a standard black keepcase with an additional disc flap containing the second disc on the set. A glossy cardboard slipcase covers the set. The cover features Wolverine and Captain American prominently, along with Professor X, Mojo, Longshot, Red Skull, and Omega Red. The back cover features a shot from Old Soldiers featuring Wolverine and Captain America. An insert is included advertising Disney Blu-ray discs.

Ink And Paint:

All the episodes featured here are included here in their original 1.33:1 television aspect ratio.

Fans of the show will instantly notice that halfway through the fifth season, here beginning with the episode Jubilee’s Fairy Tale Theatre, new character designs are introduced for the show. This was because Saban had to hire a new animation company to take over when the original one was booked on a different project. This was related to the fact that initially the show was supposed to end after the fourth season and they had to create new episodes for the final season. The new character designs made the characters look more adult-like in their designs, and less cartoony with some characters. There was only a slight departure from the original designs, but it is notable. Fans will probably also notice the difference in the opening which includes different fighting scenes than those found in the original intro.

Scratch Tracks:

Halfway through season five, along with the new animation style, there is also a slight change in the opening music for the show. While the music is the same, the sound changes slightly, most noticeably in the electric guitar theme. English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are included, along with corresponding subtitles.

Final Cut:

After five years, X-Men had become an established part of Saturday Morning superhero programming. The show had brought the X-Men into the mainstream and probably had contributed to the development of the X-Men live-action film only 3 years later. This final season of the show was not the best, but still had interesting episodes and storylines. The best episodes on this set are Bloodlines, The Fifth Horseman, and Graduation Day. Nightcrawler was always in some of the most interesting episodes of the show (probably the reason why he was added to the X-Men team in the next version of the show) and Bloodlines is no exception. It is great to see more about his past and his connection to other characters of the show (which I keep silent in case readers are not aware of his origin). The Fifth Horseman was visually a great episode with some excellent set designs and background animation. Finally, Graduation Day was a fitting end to the series. Xavier’s heartfelt goodbye to each member of his team (including Morph) is a particular highpoint in the show. This was a great show which became a model for other superhero shows to come. It is great to see Disney actually complete a series on DVD, and this is one that definitely deserved the full series treatment.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?



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