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REVIEW: ‘Teen Titans: Final Exam’ & ‘Sisters’

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The inaugural “Teen
Titans
” episodes debut on Saturday, July 19th at 9pm EST and CBR News
was provided with a preview of the first two episodes, courtesy of Comics2Film’s
Rob Worley. Joining CBR News for the review is retailer Arthur Lender, senior
staff member of the “Mind’s Eye Comics” in Minnesota and he’s been in
the business for over four years.

Please Note That This Review Contains Minor Spoilers

Arune: I’ve been looking forward to this cartoon for a little while, as
I’ve been a die-hard Titans fan since I read my first Wolfman/Perez “New
Teen Titans” comic when I was 5, but some of the previews had made this
show seem a bit too juvenile for me. Now I know the show is aimed at the ages
6-11 crowd, which makes sense from a marketing perspective I guess, but the
fanboy in me hoped that there’d be some resemblance to the classic Titans comic
or the great new series by Geoff Johns & Mike McKone.


Arthur: I have been a fan of the
DC animated series “Batman: TAS” since it began. Coming into “Teen Titans,”
I hoped to find that these characters were given the same all-ages
gateway-to-the-comics treatment. As Arune says, this show is aimed at a pre-teen
audience (ironic given the name of the series) and that focus certainly shows in
the definite Japanimation approach. Not only are young kids being targeted, but
their love of shows like “Dragonball Z” and “Yu-Gi Oh” has
certainly inspired the feel of “Teen Titans.” Children watching this
new series will not find anything similar to it on the DC shelf at the comic
book store, which is unfortunate.

EPISODE 1: “Final Exam” written by Rob Hoegee & directed by
Michael Chang.


Arune: With Glen Murakami, producer of “Justice League” and
“Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” as the main creative voice on the
show, I’d hoped this show might have the broad appeal that the talents behind
the show have aspired to create. The first few minutes of this show nicely
introduced the main villains, H.I.V.E, and a foe called Slade, who I’m sure many
comic readers will recognize. Then we have the theme song by Japanese band Puffy
YumiAmi, which made me smile and had me raring to go. I enjoyed the first five
minutes after that, with verbal sparring and humor between the Titans, who sadly
received no real introduction and appear as a formed team, but after that my
interest faded.


Arthur: I’m going to have to disagree with Arune. I
thought the introduction of H.I.V.E was fairly lame. This scene, the first in
the episode, begins what is probably the most uninspired animated series
soundtrack to date. Elevator music has nothing on this stuff. The members of
H.I.V.E. are as badly conceived as they are badly animated, but at least they
have an introduction. As Arune says, the Teen Titans banter aimlessly before
they meet their H.I.V.E. foes. There are a few characteristic traits that
surface (Raven is dark and broody, Changeling and Cyborg are the comic relief),
but that does not an introduction make. I will agree, however, that the theme
song is pure fun. It’s very catchy and I would not be surprised to hear kids hum
the theme as they come to my store.


Arune: My problem with the introduction of the Titans is that they’re
just goofballs- very likeable mind you, but totally incompetent as a fighting
team. Starfire steals this show completely with her strange vernacular and
Raven’s brooding is fun, but when danger arrives, the team can’t function
without Robin. In fact, at one point, they’re saved entirely by Cyborg’s arm,
which doesn’t follow the internal logic of the show, because Cyborg himself
(with two arms, mind you) couldn’t defeat one opponent. There’s also a fake
death scene of Robin that isn’t transitioned well. It’ll leave you wondering why
no one searched for Robin and how the team escaped from their foes. I agree with
Arthur on one thing: the fights in this episode seemed completely dry and devoid
of life, partly because of the musical score I’m sure, but also because so much
depended on scenes with speed lines instead of backgrounds. It was very
disappointing.

Arthur: It’s at this point when you question whether or not this
episode serves its function as the pilot for a series. With no attempt at making
the audience empathize with the members of the Titans, their leader disappears
in what is supposed to be a dramatic moment. It seemed to me that Robin didn’t
so much disappear, but took this moment to get himself back to Gotham City to
film more “Batman: TAS.” Alas, that was not the case and we are all
diminished for it. All in all, and keeping in mind that “Teen Titans”
is aimed at children, the pilot episode was an exercise in irritation. Today’s
youth is more intelligent than ever and will be bored, maybe even insulted, by
this episode. The question is: will they come back for more? I hope so given the
increased quality of the second episode.

Episode 2: “Sisters” written by Amy Wolfram & directed by
Alex Soto


Arune: Ah, the opening. If you watch this show for only one reason,
see the opening credits at least once. There’ll be comparisons to anime with
this show- even the producers are doing it- and I do believe the first episode
employed too many exaggerated aspects of anime like huge eyes, the over done
damage and wacky hairstyles (and I say this as a proud otaku), but getting Puffy
YumiAmi was the best thing the “Teen Titans” crew did. With this
second episode, things begin with a quieter and more reflective moment between
Starfire and Robin that’s tender in that way only cartoons can do.

And then we see teamwork. Honest to goodness, well animated and well scored
teamwork between the Titans. It’s enjoyable and capped off with a hilarious line
by Starfire. “No more chasing now, please” indeed. Ladies and
gentleman, the Teen Titans have arrived.

Arthur: They have indeed arrived, but they aren’t always easy to stomach. The
anime styling seems more of an ill-natured financial decision than a creative
one. “Batman Beyond” was largely animated by a Japanese studio and
thus there was a fusion of the two styles of animation. That was unique;
“Teen Titans” is derivative.

The story, on the other hand, shows potential even from the beginning of
“Sisters.” The plot of this episode has Starfire’s sister, Blackfire
arrive on Earth for a visit. She quickly befriends every member of the Titans.
The character moments are handled well and for the first time the viewer
actually begins to care about the fate of this strange super-team. Robin is
portrayed as a born leader, Starfire as a naïve and innocent foreigner. Their
connection is quite heart-warming until the pink phallic tentacle monsters
arrive on scene reminding the viewer that bright colors and anime goofiness is
the bread-and-butter of “Teen Titans.”

Arune: Y’know, I don’t mind. It’s a kid show. It’s targeted to younger
viewers and I don’t mind if this isn’t as in-depth as the “Teen
Titans” comic coming from DC. There’s a sense of fun, a sense
of internal logic, a great lead couple in Starfire and Robin, both of whom are
fun characters and there’s a brisk pacing to this episode that allows every
character to be somewhat explored. From the video game playing to off comments
about hobbies, it’s a great way to define these characters and it’s ensured that
I’ll be tuning in again. If this episode is an indicator of things to come, I’m
in! I can turn my brain off and enjoy a youth oriented approach to some of my
favorite fictional characters. This isn’t supposed to be Shakespeare: but at the
same time it shouldn’t leave the viewer bored (like the first episode did). I
felt this episode did a good job of appealing to the core children’s audience
and adults who might be watching it as well. I just fear that those watching the
first episode might never get to this fun romp.

Final Word

Arune: I won’t claim to be the target audience for this show and so I
can’t imagine I’m going to be the best judge of this show’s potential success.
That said, I’m a comic fan and a part of some of this program’s audience and
really wish the first episode had been more in the vein of the enjoyable, light
hearted time that was the second episode. The comic book fans might be surprised
at how different this is, but I think the second episode warrants giving this show a few more episodes to develop.

Arthur: At the end of the day, I think we are dealing with gimmick
television here. Whatever good comes of the “Teen Titans” series, it won’t be
because it was expertly conceived but because some talent surfaces despite DC’s
attempt to break into the anime market. I just can’t see a clear creative reason
for the “Teen Titans” animated series to exist and I highly doubt
comic fans will warm up to it without a major revamping of the concept. Children
go through popular cartoon series as fast as they are put out, so without an
appeal to all audiences the “Teen Titans” could have a rather bleak
future. “Justice League” sticks to the all-ages formula and has no
problem keeping the interest of adults as well as kids. Parents will not want to
watch “Teen Titans” with their children and the connection to the
comic book source material has been severed conceptually. “Pre-Teen Titans
together!!!”


Regardless of how these two reviewers perceived “Final Exam,” don’t miss this newest DC animated series on Saturday, July 19th at 9pm EST and “Sisters” on Saturday, July 26th, only on Cartoon Network (thought it will be rebroadcast on Kids WB! at some point).

Special Thanks to C2F’s Rob Worley.