The Japanese ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Anime Even More Insane Than Expected
Last week, ComicsAlliance editor Laura Hudson posted about a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anime produced in Japan in 1994, in which the Turtles transformed into sentai-style super-heroes and battled Shredder, who had himself turned into a robot dragon. The two half-hour Original Animated Videos and the toys they were promoting were never released in America, but from the moment we posted it, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I was going to end up watching it. That’s just how things work around here.
And now that I’ve watched it, I have to say: It’s even more bizarre than I thought it was going to be.
Admittedly, the producers of the TMNT anime weren’t exactly working with something normal to begin with. I mean, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pretty much lays it all out right there in the name, and by the time you throw in radioactive ooze, the obsession with pizza and the fact that they inexplicably owned an actual zeppelin that they kept in a sewer, and let’s be honest here: It’s as weird as anything Japan’s produced.
Especially when you consider the fact that it was created as a joke goofing on the popularity of Daredevil and The X-Men that then went on to become the most popular thing in the entire world, reigning until it was ultimately eclipsed by the story of a kid who drops out of elementary school to wander around making his pet shoot lightning out of its face at other pets for money. So really, the anime is just weird in an entirely different way, with the extra bizarreness stacked up on top of the rest in one gigantic Dagwood sandwich of craziness.
The new deal with the anime is that in addition to being turtles that were mutated into Turtle-People who were then further trained as Turtle-People Ninjas, the TMNT have also been granted further transformative powers thanks to the Muta-Stone, a magic crystal that allows them to basically transform into Wolverine:
This is actually the most shocking thing about the TMNT anime: It’s about ninja turtles that turned into four Wolverines, and yet it was never released in America, where parents would just be shoveling money directly into Eastman and Laird’s Scrooge McDuck vaults. This premise is put in place by the title sequence with absolutely no other setup, to the point where I was convinced all the way through watching it that there had to be an earlier episode floating around, but apparently that’s not the case.
Anyway, the Turtles have already used these powers to beat up a similarly mutated Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady, which is also revealed in the pre-credit sequence that apparently recaps an episode that does not exist. But it’s a pretty simple concept to grasp — if you’re willing to accept radioactive ooze that creates turtle people who train in the ancient arts of assassination, everything else is a pretty short leap — and besides, any other questions should be easily answered by the show’s theme song:
A mighty enigma is swirling about
In the midst of darkness
Volumes surround us and we
Don’t let it bother us.
We know the bounds of courage and
The worn out legends of old fights
Have overflowed our shells.
Go Go Turtles!
Power Up Transformation!
Go Go Turtles!
Blow away the Evil Legions!
We are Turtles
We’re not normal slowpoke turtles!
Punch One and Two!
Kicks go Boom Boom!
Mutans who were born to defend the Earth’s peace
Go Go Turtles!
With an overwhelming, surprising transformation!
Go Go Turtles!
We turn around bad situations
We are Turtles!
Our hearts combine and the miracle fusion body is
Once that’s all been cleared up, the episode proper starts with the news that stars are going out all across the galaxy. This is, of course, a plot by Krang, but it’s never really revealed how he’s doing something as huge as destroying stars. You’d think that if he could do that, four turtle-people with clogged arteries wouldn’t really present much of a problem for him.
But regardless, he’s doing it, and he’s harnessing the power of exploding stars in order to focus into a crystal so that he can awaken Dark Mu.
Once that’s done, Krang figures that Dark Mu will pop out and destroy the Earth, and again, if you have the ability to destroy stars from light-years away, that seems like a pretty roundabout way to go about destroying a single planet.
That’s not the only problem with the plan, though, as Shredder points out in a surprising moment of self-awareness that most super-villains never get to:
Shredder also insists on referring to Krang as an octopus, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s just a nickname, or if the Japanese producers just didn’t get to the part where Krang was a brain and had to try to figure out what he was themselves.
I mean, if you think about it, it makes way more sense for him to be a mutated octopus than a brain with a face who lives in a robot’s stomach, and while I’ve never really thought of it before, he does bear a striking resemblance to the Squidbillies.
The turtles catch April O’Neil reporting on the stars going out, and up to this point, it’s still a pretty standard episode of TMNT.
And then the magic fairy who lives on top of their TV shows up.
This is Crys Mu, and true to form, she seems to be the good version of Dark Mu who used to live in the crystal that allows them to transform into Wolverines. She informs them that Dark Mu is up to some shennanigans, and that they should probably get out of the sewer because there’s about to be a fight scene.
And she’s right! As Splinter goes off to deal with the real problem by kicking a brain in the face, the Turtles head up to the street to deal with Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady, who have now themselves mutated further with the power of Dark Mu’s crystal. Bebop and Rocksteady just basically become more buff, Capcom-Fighting-Game versions of themselves…
…but Shredder becomes a satan dragon called Devil Shredder, which actually sounds like someone who shreds devils.
As a quick aside, this is normally where the Foot Clan would show up and fight the Turtles, but as the episode reveals, they’re off on vacation in Miami beach:
It’s actually bad news for them, though, because when Dark Mu’s power starts causing disasters all over the world — including toppling both the Eiffel Tower and the Tokyo Tower, which uses the same frames with different backgrounds — they end up getting swept up in a tornado:
Since this thing came out three years before Pokemon started, I’m pretty sure that caption’s just a joke on the part of the person doing the subtitles. Either way: Well-played.
Back in New York, the Turtles transform and beat up the bad guys, but the destructive power of Krang’s energy causes a tidal wave to hit the city — which is portrayed more as an annoyance than a disaster — and finally provides Dark Mu with the energy she needs to escape from her crystal.
It’s revealed that she and Crys Mu are “the Cute Devils,” who have a “superfluous power” that is “too stupid for me to deal with” — actual quotes, all three. So of course, Dark Mu uses her power to turn Shredder into a Godzilla.
You know, as one does in these situations.
Shredzilla flies off to space for no discernable reason, so the Turtles decide to fight him by transforming again, unifying themselves into a giant turtlezord called Turtle Saint.
At this point, we’re not even really watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anymore, but whatever, just go with it.
The Turtle Saint flies out to space and blows up Shredder, but then Crys Mu and Dark Mu — who are now giant-size, I think? — start fighting, and after Crys Mu gets her counterpart in a surprisingly jiggly Full Nelson, she demands that the Turtle Saint destroy them both in order to save the world. The Turtles are a bit reluctant to blow up a friend, of course, but since they only have a limited time in Saint Form — did I mention that Splinter is keeping a 100-second countdown because apparently everyone knows there’s a time limit on this stuff? — they do it anyway, and this saves the world.
The second episode is a lot less crazy, but after that, that’s not saying much.
While you might expect the Turtles to spend at least a second or two mourning the loss of the friend they just had to murder in space, they apparently deal with their grief offscreen. When things pick back up, those dudes are happy as all hell, going on a vacation to Japan to help out an old ninja friend of Splinter’s.
There’s one part about this that I want to make abundantly clear: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fly to Japan on a commercial airline.
I realize that I’m looking back at this with the jaded eyes of adulthood, but man, really? They let those dudes on a plane? I mean, even aside from being six-foot talking turtles wearing only belts and masks — masks! — one of them is carrying two swords! Yeesh.
Anyway, as usually happens, Shredder and his goons show up while the Turtles are riding the bullet train, only to find that they’re a little outmatched when Splinter’s pals show up:
This is, no joke, the best part of the whole thing. I love the idea that years of battling against the Ninja Turtles have left Shredder completely unprepared for a fight against people who were actually trying to kill them.
Once they’ve arrived at their destination, the Turtles find out that they were summoned because their ninja pal, Hattori Kinzo, needs help with a set of Magatama he has that are embedded into a magic mirror:
As anyone familiar with Japanese folklore already knows, Magatama are magic amulets useful for spirit-chaneling, focusing psychic powers, and helping Phoenix Wright win court cases. In this case, they have additional powers related to the fact that they’re called the Mi-Yuu-Tai-Shi, which sounds like Myuta-Ishi, or Muta-Stones.
You can probably see where this is going.
Before anything gets around to being Mi-Yuu-Tai-ted, however, Kinzo gives each of the Turtles a new set of armor.
Or as we would call it here in America, “pants.”
Then, true to form, once poses have been struck so that kids know exactly what to look for in toy stores, Shredder and pals show up and steal the mirror, which causes what appears to be an atomic explosion:
This in turn creates a magic castle, because like I said, just go with it. There’s also a ghost involved who looks a lot like the Jedi spirit of Mick Foley, but he seriously does not do anything. He just stands around, pointing and laughing.
I think he might be a comcs blogger.
Everyone realizes that they have to climb the castle and lay claim to the Magatama before the other side does, and despite a valiant effort by Kinzo’s ninja crew, Shredder gets to it first. This, of course, turns him into a giant robot tiger.
Fortunately for the Turtles, there are seven magatama, so even with Bebop and Rocksteady transforming along with Shredder, there’s still enough left that they can transform into into magic metal robot animals themselves.
This is done through a process called “Muta-Docking,” which is surprisngly not a horrifying sex act.
The turtles all get their own animals, even though they’re already animals, and then everyone fights in the traditional way of shouting out the name of attacks like “Thundra Tonic Buster!” and “Beef Bee Tonic!” No joke.
There’s also one attack called “Metallical Snaker,” which is awesome for many reasons, chief among them being that I’m pretty sure the word “Metallical” means “in the style of Metallica.”
The sides are pretty evenly matched, but as Kinzo reveals, you can only stay in your metal the Metal Form for six minutes (what is the deal with the time limits on this show?!) and since Shredder & Co. transformed well before the Turtles made it up to the roof, this puts them at a pretty significant disadvantage.
Thus, Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady transform back into their normal forms, and the heroes save the day by setting their enemies on fire.
As it should be.
I have to say, as crazy as these things are, they’re also a lot better than I was expecting from something that’s clearly and blatantly done purely as a toy commercial. Sure, they don’t make any sense at all, but there are actually some pretty clever jokes involved, like the running gag about Mission Control at NASA being a total dick to the astronaut who’s trying to report on cosmic destruction that’s about to destroy the world.
I haven’t watched the American TMNT cartoon in a while — though I did wear out a Family Home Video VHS tape that I think I got at a Pizza Hut in the late ’80s back when I was a kid — but I honestly can’t imagine that it holds up any better than this did.
So as the closing theme says,
The town’s a mess,
Turtles dancing with swords!
Anyways, a love song
The Earth is still doing fine.
Truer words, my friends, have never been sung.