Reviews: Teen Titans
The Test of Time
As a child, my brother and I would run to the TV every Friday night and leap on the couch, bouncing up and down in anticipation for the new episode of Teen Titans, and we saw almost every episode during the original run as 8-12 year olds. My parents even watched it alongside us, (my mother still fondly recalls that Raven was her favorite character). I remember the first season finale, Apprentice (parts I and II) actually gave me nightmares, but I loved it! It was engaging, funny, action-packed, and it didn't talk down to its audience and wasn't afraid to go to some dark places, even though it was a childrens show. Recently my friends and I decided to rewatch the entire series beginning to end, for nostalgia and to see if it held up now that we are older. I was happily surprised to find that the show not only stood the test of time, but was actually even better than I remember it. (It helped that I noticed a few jokes I missed the first time around) The animation was still sharp and attractive, the jokes still made me crack a smile, and the drama was still real. The characters were always well-rounded, interesting and fun to watch, be it in a silly comedic situation (tofu aliens anyone?), overcoming personal demons, or banding together as the world around them falls apart. I even took the DV Ds to a kid I was babysitting after seeing him watching Teen Titans Go! and not "getting" it. Less than a week later his mom called me saying he was begging for her to leave the house so I could bring more Teen Titans. Every time I came over he would be ecstatic to see another handful of episodes, so obviously it even holds up to kids today (and made me the easiest $20 a night I will ever make) Running up and down the Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness, this show is a delight to watch and a fun ride beginning to end. If anyone missed it the first time around, it's definitely worth a look.
Teen Titans from a Feminist Perspective
This is one of the few children's cartoons that I can honestly say sets a good example for children as to how to deal with gender relations. Unlike the (amazing) Justice League which feels the need to draw attention to its gender politics by having Hawkgirl protest her treatment in a fifties era setting and Wonder Woman beat up a Femi-Nazi trying to kill all men, Teen Titans never has a feminist aesop, but rather sets an amazing example for boys as to how they should treat girls, and an excellent example to girls as to how they can be just as useful as their male counterparts. The Super-strong Starfire kicks as much but as anyone on this show, despite the fact that she is an unashamed girly-girl. This show showed girls they don't have to choose between being feminine and being successful/tough/taken seriously. Starfire paints her toenails and wears a mini-skirt, but when push comes to shove she can beat down giant stone monsters, diffuse space mines, and recite from memory the exact number of atoms in one mole of oxygen. The three male members of the Titans are what cement in my mind that this show is a positive example for children in regards to gender politics. The male Titans never patronize female members of their team or try to "protect the girls"/"save the girls". The male Titans treat the female Titans the same as their fellow males, acknowledging their skills and all they have to contribute to the team. They protect the female members from dangerous villains, but no more than they protect their fellow males, and the girls save the boys pretty often as well. In one episode a weakened Starfire and Raven must save the male Titans and they do so, without ever drawing attention to the fact that the girls have to fight without the boys. Pretty much every character has to be rescued at least once at some point (Robin twice from Slade, Cyborg from Fixit, Beast Boy from Soto, Raven from Trigon, Starfire from intergalactic bounty hunters) and instances where the girls are being rescued are not differentiated from instances where the boys are being rescued. This show is wonderfully entertaining, but also sets a great example for the children (and adults) who watch it, for that reason I would recommend it to anyone regardless of age or gender.
Titans: Standing Strong
I'll get this out of the bag: this was my first superheroes cartoon. Not only that, but it was the first major American cartoon I immediately hooked onto when I immigrated to the States in third grade. And I couldn't be more glad to have been at the right age and mindset for this. The show itself is remarkably well-handled and deals with its subject matter through wacky comedy and some truly somber but inspiring moments. The main cast is fleshed-out to a great degree; there's nary a character who doesn't have personal obstacles to hurtle and all are relatable on some level. Unlike its haters, I do love the anime-style art design, giving it a look of its own while still having some imaginative fight choreography and imagery. The stories all range from decent to jaw-droppingly awesome, and they're all still enjoyable just due to how lovable the cast is. Its sense of humor derives not from shallow pop-culture references, but true character humor. I know I just blew most of you down with a nostalgia-driven fan-spasm about the Titans, but to me, the cast is where the heart of every series should lie on. Fans of the edgier comic series might not like it, but this was meant to be a show for both fans of the DC comics and children, and I think it does a good job in balancing the two and as a stand-alone work. Fans can come in with knowledge of the characters' rich background histories, while the fans of this series can still have a great time from this hilarious and endearing addition to the DC franchise. It's not Batman:TAS, but it's not meant to be. For what it's worth, it's still wholly recommendable as one fun ride.
This is, without a doubt, one of the finest animated series of the millenial decade. Unlike many other superhero cartoons on TV, this one doesn't take itself too seriously, nor does it expect you to be an expert on the source material (the Teen Titans comics from the 1980s by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez) going in. Even though it's a family-rated show, it never shies away from doing some very serious and profound episodes, using the tropes and clichés of the superhero genre and sci-fi in general to talk about themes that would be very difficult to convey with live action. It also has a big element of comedy, which helped this troper, who never really cared about superheroes, to accept this show and become a big fan. The writing is clever and sophisticated, the characters are all well-developed and likeable, and even though some jokes fall a bit short of the mark, that doesn't diminish the series' sense of fun. If you're willing to accept the classic tropes of superheroes, this is a great series for any demographic. As of this writing, it runs on Boomerang, but the complete series is available on DVD. If you're into this kind of thing, or if you're looking for a good series to get your start on, I highly recommend Teen Titans.
Some episodes of this show really does feel like a silly kid's cartoon, especially in the "filler" episodes. The jokes are unfunny, the dialogue is corny, the fight scenes sometimes suffer from Could Have Been Messy, Martial Arts Do Not Work That Way and Fridge Logic (Why does Robin punch as hard as Starfire? Why doesn't Raven just grab the villain and keep them from moving like she did with Slade in "Prophecy"? Can't she technically emulate Terra's powers, which were made out to be pretty gamebreaking when used properly in Aftershock?), some of the villains are just boring, irritating, or unlikeable (and not in a "love to hate" way either, just not fun to watch at all. Looking at you, HIVE). However. When the show is good, it's really good. Some of the serious/story arc episodes are my favorite episodes from western animation ever. Slade makes up for all the annoying minor villains, he has the right amount of creepy and badass at once. "Haunted" in particular makes me wonder how the hell they were allowed to show that episode, it had one of the most brutal beatdowns I've ever seen in on a kid's channel, but I'm glad it did air. Madame Rouge is another effective villain; she manages to be even more menacing than Slade due to her Implacable Man nature. If you can ignore the Bloodless Carnage/Could Have Been Messy and Fridge Logic the fight scenes can be very shiny, they get better from the end of season one onwards. Season 5 did feel a bit like an anticlimax. To be fair it'd be hard for any villain to follow up Season 4's demon god, but why a brain in a jar with a pet monkey? That's not particularly menacing, original, or interesting. I did like the introduction of new heroes, but most of them weren't developed enough for me to become very invested in any of them, it would have been nice to focus on a few of them, it worked for Kid Flash. To sum up, I feel like the show did some things very well, and I wish I could have seen more of that and less silly filler.
I may as well share my opinion of this very controversial episode with you Tropers. I think it's not just a very well-written episode, but a beautiful one at that. All of its elements (its position in the series' run, its subject matter, its tone, etc.) work very well together to create an emotionally strong experience for all of its fans. You may or may not like the character of Terra (I am personally quite fond of her), but that's a non-issue; it was good of the writers to revisit such an important plot device instead of taking the easy route and leaving it open-ended, for one thing, and for another, it was brave of them to tackle it the way they did. 'Things Change' is not clear-cut. It doesn't settle comfortably into either of the molds that fans had come to expect. Instead, it challenges the Titans, all of them, with something they had never really needed to cope with before: things lost to the passage of time. It's one hell of a curveball, the kind aimed straight for the gut that you never see coming. As children, didn't we all get a little teary-eyed when our favorite store, a stand-by of our world, first put up that FOR LEASE banner? Today, isn't it hurtful to reunite with an old friend, only to realize that the love that once fueled their smile is gone, left behind and lost forever? How about the person who just disappeared after high school, your friendship not deemed important enough to hold on to? Teen Titans is a silly cartoon, no doubt, but as fans, we saw something more in it, something special, sincere, and uniquely human. 'Things Change' showed us it wasn't all in our heads. There really was something special there, something really, really cool. But now it's gone; the series is over, the curtain has dropped, and our friends are waving good-bye. That's what this episode is: Good-bye, dear friend, I can't play with you anymore. Our first emotional sucker-punch that pushes us a little closer to adulthood. Something we can all relate to. But of course, the Titans aren't real, and neither is Terra. They are our cherished friends, but just in our imagination. Be that as it may, I really, truly mean it when I say I miss them, and wish them well.