I said that when the new TMNT series would be debut, I would give it a chance. Despite my apprehension going into this new series, I decided I would watch this show with an open mind. As of this writing, it has not 'officially' debuted on television, but the first episode is available for all on Nickelodeon's YouTube channel. And after having watched the episode for this review, I can safely say, without a shadow of a doubt, without hyperbole, I will not be watching this new series.
Now granted, we're only one episode in, and that's not enough to judge the entirety of an animated series that has not even aired yet, but if Mystic Mayhem is an indicator of how this series will evolve, then there is not much for someone who's been on the Ninja Turtle train pretty much as long as I've been alive to keep watching. Who knows, I could be proven wrong. When I first watched Steven Universe, I thought it was the stupidest thing ever. Nowadays, I scour the television guides days in advance in order to fill up my PVR to record the newest episodes as soon as possible. A year from now, we could all be saying that Rise of the TMNT is the greatest incarnation ever.
Sufficed to say, I have my doubts.
The episode starts off with two joggers with poodles strapped to them chasing after what looks like a cross between a cat and a shisa, a creature from Okinawan mythology. We quickly switch over to the Turtles watching over a rooftop party involving totally not suspicous businessmen and use a zipline to slide down...past the totally not suspicious businessmen and jump into a pool off of the next rooftop. And April's there too. As they leave the pool, Raphael sees the cat-shisa thing in the construction zone. Shortly, the joggers with poodles arrive to confront the Turtles and April and transform into rejected Ben 10 designs, proceeding to destroy the Turtles' weapons sans Donnie's bo and - these Turtles are not ninjas. They are, at best, ninja-enthusiasts. Terrible ninja enthusiasts. Seriously, did Splinter just give them weapons to get them out of the lair? Given this version of Splinter's introduction, it wouldn't surprise me one bit but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Ben 10 rejects manage to capture the cat-shisa-thing and escape through a portal in a wall, but April tries to save it by jumping through the portal before it closes. Michelangelo recognizes the symbol the rejects used to escape through the wall as the same as an artifact on Splinter's shelf. I was initially excited to hear that Eric Bauza would return to voice Splinter, I think we can all agree that Eric Bauza voiced one of the breakout characters of the 2012 series, Tiger Claw. Then, we saw the new design for the 2018 Splinter and ug...ug...ug!!! Why does he look like the unholy fusion of Kung Fu Panda's Shifu and Fizzgig from the Dark Crystal? Anyways, we're finally introduced to this incarnation of Splinter and OH GOD WHY?!?!?
The 2012 Splinter was flawed and had questionable judgment, but this was a man who had lost everything in his life to Oroku Saki and gave his life to his new family, more than once. This new Splinter is a lazy glutton who can't even be bothered to learn his sons' names. He's covered in cake pieces, calls Donatello "Purple" and is more interested in watching TV than talking to the Turtles. I hope like hell this new Splinter doesn't end up being revealed as Hamato Yoshi. Afterall, if there's no Shredder, then why do we need a Splinter? (More on that later.)
Well, the Turtles use the artifact from Splinter's shelf and find themselves in an entire city of rejected Ben 10 designs...and find April very convienently quick. And naturally, April's already explored the villain's lair, and even found his weapons cache. How convienent.
Let's talk about the new main villain, shall we? His name is Baron Draxum, he's presumably an ancient mutant and an alchemist who apparently created mutagen and delivers them to his victims through giant mosquitos as all things. It's pretty heavily hinted that Draxum was responsible for these Turtles being mutated. He practically gushes over them, constantly telling them he can train them, which, judging by the Turtles' inability to use their new, glowy, magical weapons taken from Draxum's own stash. (Why do the Turtles need magic weapons to begin with? Yes, the '03 Turtles had access to a form of magic for a time, but for the most part, every incarnation of the Turtles have had to use their skills, experience and teamwork to face off against whatever ninja, mutant, robot, alien or demon stood against them. These four Turtles can barely agree on witty banter!!
The entirety of the time Draxum was on screen, all I could think of was John Cena sitting in a voice acting booth wearing one of those Darth Vader masks from Wal-Mart that make your voice sound like the Sith Lord himself. Yes, I cannot say Cena is a bad actor, but he's just so oversaturated in the public eye, especially for a long-term wrestling fan like myself, he's distracting!
It's like watching an independent film where Tom Cruise shows up. Or, to use a wrestling analogy, it's like if NXT had a battle royale and the Undertaker was the twentieth entry.
That being said, and I know I've already used this joke twice before, but Baron Draxum looks like a Ben 10 reject. Almost as if Vilgax had a one night stand with a walrus and nine months later, boom, Draxum. This villain will also be in charge of the Foot Clan this time around...no Shredder, no Krang, not even Lord Dregg...I did not expect this new series to immediately bring the older characters, but considering that the most original villains designs we've seen for this series is a Five Nights at Freddy's ripoff, sufficed to say, I am not very pleased with the villains we've seen this time around. The 2012 Shredder was psychotic, disturbed, and to a degree, sympathetic, while Baron Draxum is about as generic as a mayonnaisse on white bread sandwich with a side of milk.
Anyways, the Turtles break the lab, the cat-shisa-thing teleports the heroes out of danger, they get out of dodge, but not before the entirety of Draxum's mosquitos let loose on New York. So, this is basically a poor man's "Mutation Siuation"?
Rise of TMNT is nicely animated and brightly coloured, but that's about it. There are little seeds left here and there that could be expanded upon, but they spend more time having the characters have quirky banter. I feel like ever since Gravity Falls, every cartoon has to witty, quirky banter. But that doesn't work if you don't give some indication who your characters are, what connection they have. Gravity Falls showed those connections. Rise of TMNT? Not as much.
The new personalities of the Turtles don't work for me. Raph is the new leader, by virtue of being biggest I guess. He's mostly depicted as just a meathead with slight confidence problems. Nowheres near the complexity of the 2012 Raph. That Raph was heart as big as his temper. Leonardo is now the jokester of the series, which is just stupid. Michelangelo went from having almost too much personality to almost having none whatsoever. Funny enough, Mikey is still the one that figures things out, how to open the portal, how to use the glowy weapons, etc.
Donatello is the only Turtle to remain anywhere close to his original personality. And, the fact the Turtles have had personality changes isn't the problem. Raphael was the jokester in the original animated series and in no other canon, and no one has ever complained about that. No, the problem is that these new personalities are just so unappealing. Case in point, Splinter.
And April? Yes, they changed her ethnicity, but her personality is pretty much just 'sassy'. Comparing the first episodes of the 2012 series to the first episode of the 2018 series is not really fair, because the 2012 series had a two parter, regardless, the 2012 did so much to build the personalities of the characters, the world they live in and the stakes they faced against the Kraang and later, Snakeweed. I didn't feel any of that watching the 2018 pilot. I didn't feel like I could connect to these new incarnations, despite my connection to the Ninja Turtles franchise.
No matter what you personally feel about the 2012 series, no one could ever say that that series wasn't made by people who adored Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From everything I know about Rise, it almost feels like it was made in a boardroom, by people who thought about what's never been done in the Ninja Turtles franchise before, but not what made Ninja Turtles so special to so many people in the first place.
This series has no soul. I don't doubt children will love this new show to death, but for someone who's been with the Turtles since the '80s, there's no reason to come back. At least, not for the time being.
(Also what is it with modern action cartoons and the openings have animation move so quick you can't tell what's going on?)