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The early 1990s marked a huge turning point for television animation. I blame this improvement for my continued love of what should by all rights be considered simplistic children’s entertainment. With a few exceptions ( The Flintstones, Johnny Quest, The Real Ghostbusters, Visionaries) pre-90s TV toons are uniformly oversimplified, cheaply made, and (during the 1980s specifically) were often used to sell toys. Bad storytelling and lame animation used to ensure children outgrew cartoons, and moved on to more sophisticated entertainment. But just as the inept adventures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were coming to an end Fox picked up a series of after school and Saturday morning cartoons that defied most expectations, including Animaniacs, The Tick, and Batman: The Animated Series.

X-Men The Animated Series: Volume 1 and 2
X-Men: The Animated Series is frozen in time between the best of the era, and the worst of the bygone years. The storytelling is quite a bit more sophisticated than the usual episode of Transformers or Thundercats (which frankly speaking are almost unwatchable through my modern eyes), and the animation is reasonably ambitious. Unfortunately, the dialogue and acting is still quite broad, and the character design is perfectly representational of one of the worst periods in comic book history. In the shows defence these problems were a problem with the source medium at the time. Batman: The Animated Series was an anomaly by its second season. It was better written than the vast majority of new superhero comics at the time, so it’s fair to give X-Men a bit of a pass on this level.

X-Men The Animated Series: Volume 1 and 2
Visually the series takes its cues from the hyper popular Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld illustrations that accentuated ridiculous muscle mass, unnecessary details, and gaudy spandex colours. It looked silly on the page, and it looks positively ridiculous on screen. The story treatment is somewhat realistic, painting the mutants as minorities, and the people around them as surprisingly human, which is admirable. The costume designs, which have been largely avoided by recent iterations in print, in theatres and on screen over the last decade, mark all the mutants in a manner which is quite hard for an adult to ignore. The obsession with Lee’s over-defined muscles and Lefield’s obsession with pouches and decorative metal bits also hurts the animation’s movement. Without an unlimited budget it’s almost impossible to redraw such details with any accuracy, and as a result the characters move in a lumpy manner, something even children can recognize.

X-Men The Animated Series: Volume 1 and 2
But the storytelling is intriguing, and takes its cues from many of the characters’ most celebrated storylines. Chris Claremont’s works are the most regularly adapted, which fed the needs of fans at the time, while still changing things up enough to incorporate the modern iterations of the characters. The serialized nature of the series was another plus. By writing the adventures as a few large stories rather than a large collection of small stories the series’ creators come as close to reading select issues of a comic as possible for an animated series. The time travel episodes draw a little too heavily upon James Cameron’s Terminator films ( T2 had just been released at the time), and the rules of children’s entertainment censorship keep the threat from reaching the truly wrenching levels an adult comes to expect from adult entertainment, but there is an addictive soap operatic quality to the series that kept me watching through all four discs.

X-Men The Animated Series: Volume 1 and 2

Video


People owning the old, random episode discs aren’t going to be too happy about these transfers. From what I can tell (in my limited memory of those old discs) these are the exact same transfers, with all the same problems. Realistically speaking the animation is crude enough that most of us probably won’t care about some blocking and noise in the brighter warm colours, but the interlacing effects are a definite bother. The transfer is so obviously interlaced it was difficult to gather non-interlaced images for the review. Save these issues the transfer is relatively bright, doesn’t bloom, and the contrast levels are pretty even without a lot of edge enhancement.

X-Men The Animated Series: Volume 1 and 2

Audio


X-Men may not have featured the best animation, but the sound design was indelible. I can’t read even the newer, more adult comic iterations without hearing specific effects in my mind, such as Wolverine’s snikting claws, Gambit’s whirring charge effect, and the Sentinels’ strange robotic steps. And how about that music? I suppose that the scores never quite match Shirley Walker and company’s Batman the Animated Series full orchestra compositions, but X-Men’s music is still intriguing, and the opening title still rocks. This stereo presentation is clean, but is only as impressive as the original tracks allow. I caught no obvious errors or distortions in the mix, and am pleasantly surprised by a few minor stereo effects. The lip-sync is a little off sometimes, but I’m ninety-percent sure this is the fault of the original animation and not the DVD mix, as the sound effects usually line up around the faulty dialogue.

Extras


Some Disney trailers. That's it.

X-Men The Animated Series: Volume 1 and 2

Overall


X-Men the Animated Series is much better than I thought it would be, but is still pretty dated, and doesn’t compare too much of the best modern television animation in writing or animation quality. The storylines are pretty sophisticated, and deal with many adult subtexts such as racism, unrequited love, moral fortitude, even the AIDS virus, but the limits of children’s entertainment and silly costume designs often rob the series of genuine power. According to episode lists these new releases only take us one third of the way through season three of five, so there are likely two more two disc collections on the way. Fans should rejoice at having all the episodes in one place, even if the interlaced video leaves a little to be desired.


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