REVIEW: 'Teen Titans: Final Exam' & 'Sisters'

The inaugural "TeenTitans" episodes debut on Saturday, July 19th at 9pm EST and CBR Newswas provided with a preview of the first two episodes, courtesy of Comics2Film'sRob Worley. Joining CBR News for the review is retailer Arthur Lender, seniorstaff member of the "Mind's Eye Comics" in Minnesota and he's been inthe 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, asI've been a die-hard Titans fan since I read my first Wolfman/Perez "NewTeen Titans" comic when I was 5, but some of the previews had made thisshow seem a bit too juvenile for me. Now I know the show is aimed at the ages6-11 crowd, which makes sense from a marketing perspective I guess, but thefanboy in me hoped that there'd be some resemblance to the classic Titans comicor the great new series by Geoff Johns & Mike McKone.

Arthur: I have been a fan of theDC animated series "Batman: TAS" since it began. Coming into "Teen Titans,"I hoped to find that these characters were given the same all-agesgateway-to-the-comics treatment. As Arune says, this show is aimed at a pre-teenaudience (ironic given the name of the series) and that focus certainly shows inthe definite Japanimation approach. Not only are young kids being targeted, buttheir love of shows like "Dragonball Z" and "Yu-Gi Oh" hascertainly inspired the feel of "Teen Titans." Children watching thisnew series will not find anything similar to it on the DC shelf at the comicbook store, which is unfortunate.

EPISODE 1: "Final Exam" written by Rob Hoegee & directed byMichael Chang.

Arune: With Glen Murakami, producer of "Justice League" and"Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" as the main creative voice on theshow, I'd hoped this show might have the broad appeal that the talents behindthe show have aspired to create. The first few minutes of this show nicelyintroduced the main villains, H.I.V.E, and a foe called Slade, who I'm sure manycomic readers will recognize. Then we have the theme song by Japanese band PuffyYumiAmi, which made me smile and had me raring to go. I enjoyed the first fiveminutes after that, with verbal sparring and humor between the Titans, who sadlyreceived no real introduction and appear as a formed team, but after that myinterest faded.

Arthur: I'm going to have to disagree with Arune. Ithought the introduction of H.I.V.E was fairly lame. This scene, the first inthe episode, begins what is probably the most uninspired animated seriessoundtrack to date. Elevator music has nothing on this stuff. The members ofH.I.V.E. are as badly conceived as they are badly animated, but at least theyhave an introduction. As Arune says, the Teen Titans banter aimlessly beforethey meet their H.I.V.E. foes. There are a few characteristic traits thatsurface (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 themesong is pure fun. It's very catchy and I would not be surprised to hear kids humthe theme as they come to my store.

Arune: My problem with the introduction of the Titans is that they'rejust goofballs- very likeable mind you, but totally incompetent as a fightingteam. Starfire steals this show completely with her strange vernacular andRaven's brooding is fun, but when danger arrives, the team can't functionwithout 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 fakedeath scene of Robin that isn't transitioned well. It'll leave you wondering whyno one searched for Robin and how the team escaped from their foes. I agree withArthur on one thing: the fights in this episode seemed completely dry and devoidof life, partly because of the musical score I'm sure, but also because so muchdepended on scenes with speed lines instead of backgrounds. It was verydisappointing.

Arthur: It's at this point when you question whether or not thisepisode serves its function as the pilot for a series. With no attempt at makingthe audience empathize with the members of the Titans, their leader disappearsin what is supposed to be a dramatic moment. It seemed to me that Robin didn'tso much disappear, but took this moment to get himself back to Gotham City tofilm more "Batman: TAS." Alas, that was not the case and we are alldiminished 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'syouth is more intelligent than ever and will be bored, maybe even insulted, bythis episode. The question is: will they come back for more? I hope so given theincreased quality of the second episode.

Episode 2: "Sisters" written by Amy Wolfram & directed byAlex 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 withthis show- even the producers are doing it- and I do believe the first episodeemployed too many exaggerated aspects of anime like huge eyes, the over donedamage and wacky hairstyles (and I say this as a proud otaku), but getting PuffyYumiAmi was the best thing the "Teen Titans" crew did. With thissecond episode, things begin with a quieter and more reflective moment betweenStarfire and Robin that's tender in that way only cartoons can do.

And then we see teamwork. Honest to goodness, well animated and well scoredteamwork between the Titans. It's enjoyable and capped off with a hilarious lineby Starfire. "No more chasing now, please" indeed. Ladies andgentleman, the Teen Titans have arrived.

Arthur: They have indeed arrived, but they aren't always easy to stomach. Theanime styling seems more of an ill-natured financial decision than a creativeone. "Batman Beyond" was largely animated by a Japanese studio andthus 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, Blackfirearrive 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 vieweractually begins to care about the fate of this strange super-team. Robin isportrayed as a born leader, Starfire as a naïve and innocent foreigner. Theirconnection is quite heart-warming until the pink phallic tentacle monstersarrive on scene reminding the viewer that bright colors and anime goofiness isthe bread-and-butter of "Teen Titans."

Arune: Y'know, I don't mind. It's a kid show. It's targeted to youngerviewers and I don't mind if this isn't as in-depth as the "TeenTitans" comic coming from DC. There's a sense of fun, a senseof internal logic, a great lead couple in Starfire and Robin, both of whom arefun characters and there's a brisk pacing to this episode that allows everycharacter to be somewhat explored. From the video game playing to off commentsabout hobbies, it's a great way to define these characters and it's ensured thatI'll be tuning in again. If this episode is an indicator of things to come, I'min! I can turn my brain off and enjoy a youth oriented approach to some of myfavorite fictional characters. This isn't supposed to be Shakespeare: but at thesame time it shouldn't leave the viewer bored (like the first episode did). Ifelt this episode did a good job of appealing to the core children's audienceand adults who might be watching it as well. I just fear that those watching thefirst 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 Ican'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 andreally wish the first episode had been more in the vein of the enjoyable, lighthearted time that was the second episode. The comic book fans might be surprisedat 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 gimmicktelevision here. Whatever good comes of the "Teen Titans" series, it won't bebecause it was expertly conceived but because some talent surfaces despite DC'sattempt to break into the anime market. I just can't see a clear creative reasonfor the "Teen Titans" animated series to exist and I highly doubtcomic fans will warm up to it without a major revamping of the concept. Childrengo through popular cartoon series as fast as they are put out, so without anappeal to all audiences the "Teen Titans" could have a rather bleakfuture. "Justice League" sticks to the all-ages formula and has noproblem keeping the interest of adults as well as kids. Parents will not want towatch "Teen Titans" with their children and the connection to thecomic book source material has been severed conceptually. "Pre-Teen Titanstogether!!!"

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.

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