X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two DVD Review
By James Harvey
How long have X-Men fans waited for these DVD releases? Spread over two volume releases, fans are getting the first 33 episodes of the 1990s X-Men: The Animated Series with the possibility of more to come. One of the fan-favorite Fox Kids cartoons from the 1990s, X-Men: The Animated Series was very faithful to the comics from whence these characters came, sticking close to storylines and designs of the times. And while the animation may have been extremely rough at times, the series has an undeniable charm that is still there even to this day, and that's something we'll get into in more detail after the synopsis.
Experience the classic Marvel legacy as X-Men: The Animated Series finally explodes onto DVD for the first time. Featuring stories adapted directly from the original comic books, this collection is a piece of Marvel history and a must-have for every X-Men fan. Discover the origins of your favorite characters and uncover the secrets of Magneto and more of the world’s most diabolical villains. Relive the first 16 episodes of the series in X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One, beginning with the two-part “Night of The Sentinels.” Then, prepare for more electrifying action as the X-Men return in X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two! The amazing mutant heroes are back for two discs full of spine-tingling battles with Mr. Sinister, Omega Red and more of the most fiendish villains on earth! Experience 17 thrilling episodes in this second volume, including the 5-part amazing epic “Phoenix Saga,” in this must-have collection!
Before I continue, I want to clarify that this review covers both X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two. Given the two volumes are set for release on the same date and are nearly identical in content, I believe one review to cover both titles is adequate.
While I did not catch on to X-Men: The Animated Series right away, I was still a huge fan of it when it became part of my regular viewing habits. It wasn't until the final episode of the first season that the show really clicked for me and, stretched out over summer of 1993, I caught up on the first season. When the series was released onto VHS, I was there for every single release and, to this day, I still have my X-Men: The Animated Series VHSs buried somewhere with the rest of my old tapes and comics. Opening with the two-part "Night of the Sentinels," we're introduced to the X-Men's world quite quickly and, surprisingly, things are a little darker than I remember. In all honesty, that's just a long, tedious way of saying that once I gave the show a fair shot, I was hooked. For all the faults X-Men: The Animated Series has, it's still a great and fun animated series.
These two volumes releases, which collect the first two seasons in their entirety and a portion of the third, definitely give X-Men fans more bang for their buck. The first two seasons deal with the emergence of mutants in a world that utterly fears and despises them, and I mean really despises them. Not only is the violence against mutants here incredibly heightened and twisted at times, with a lot of implied death and brutal beatings, it's also still hits so close to home. And we see this a lot in the first season, and anti-mutant hysteria only gets worse in the second season with the introduction of the Friends of Humanity. I'm surprised with how dark X-Men: The Animated Series tended to be, especially as the anti-mutant hysteria really ratcheted up as the series progressed. The series really found its strength, especially in episodes such as the Henry McCoy-centric "Beauty and The Beast," when it embraced the core beliefs of the character. Thankfully the series also knew when to have fun and just roll with the mayhem that comes with battling evil.
The third season gets more cosmic with the introduction of the Phoenix and the Shi'ar. Most of the episodes are enjoyable and ambitious but lack the power that the earlier second and first season episodes had. Good episodes, definitely, and really worth checking out, but, for me, the first two seasons really emphasize the message behind the X-Men and what they stand for. As the series progressed, and the creators became more ambitious in their storytelling, they definitely took risks that paid off. Personally, I'm never a fan of "X-Men in Space" stories, but the third season episodes included make these tales enjoyable.
And who could forget the inspired casting for the series? We had the awesome Cedric Smith as Charles Xavier, Norm Spencer as Cyclops, David Hemblen as Magneto, and George Buza as Beast to name a few, but there was one that stood out. I think it goes without saying that Cal J. Dodd will always be Wolverine to me, and countless other fans. After all these years, he is still the voice I hear when I read an X-Men comic. He was, without a doubt, perfectly cast as everyone's favorite Canadian mutant. In fact, I think he was the best cast character in the series. Yes, other characters had memorable voice actors behind their roles, and did great work respectively, but none topped Dodd as Wolverine. I have no doubt Dodd's work in the series is why both the character and the series itself remains so memorable to me.
If there's any real strike against the series, and this should surprise no one, it's the absolutely horrible animation that is bestowed upon so many episodes in both volumes. The animation looks hurried and rushed, especially in the first season. The earlier episodes especially are absolutely riddled with animation errors left and right, making for some really awkward moments. Character designs and quality fluctuated constantly, but that comes as no surprise given how the series was reportedly animated as quickly as possible in order to meet tight deadlines. The cheesy accents and groan-worthy one-liners also tend to bog down the series, but aren't as detrimental as the seemingly constant animation problems. But honestly, the rough look of the animation does add to the overall charm of X-Men: The Animated Series. The series can also be very "1990s" at times to, but, well, we can't hold that against it, now can we?
The episodes featured on X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One include "Night of the Sentinels (Part 1)," "Night of the Sentinels (Part 2)," "Enter Magneto," "Deadly Reunions," "Captive Hearts," "Cold Vengeance," "Slave Island," "The Unstoppable Juggernaut," "The Cure," "Come The Apocalypse," "Days Of Future Past (Part 1)," "Days Of Future Past (Part 2)," "The Final Decision," "Till Death Do Us Part (Part 1)," "Till Death Do Us Part (Part 2)," and "Whatever It Takes." X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two includes the episodes "Red Dawn," "Repo Man," "X-Ternally Yours," "Time Fugitives (Part 1)," "Time Fugitives (Part 2)," "A Rogue's Tale," "Beauty & The Beast," "Mojo Vision," "Reunion (Part 1)," "Reunion (Part 2)," "Out of the Past (Part 1)," "Out of the Past (Part 2)," "The Phoenix Saga (Part 1): Sacrifice," "The Phoenix Saga (Part 2): The Dark Shroud," "The Phoenix Saga (Part 3): Cry of the Banshee," "The Phoenix Saga (Part 4): The Starjammers," and "The Phoenix Saga (Part 5): Child of Light."
So, has this review made any sense? Trying to encapsulate 33 episodes into one review can be kind of tricky, especially for a series like X-Men: The Animated Series, so I hope I've done this series - and these releases - justice. The animation may not be the best, and the writing occasionally dips a bit deep in the cheese, but this cartoon is just as fun as I remember. It has a soap opera quality that makes the show so addictive. The main cast is probably the best X-Men line-up a fan could want, with designs coming straight out of the comics, and the list of villains is incredibly impressive, with the series not shying away from bringing out the big guns early on. With X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two, fans are going to get 33 really fun episodes. Sure, not all of them are winners, but there is literally only a couple - if that - of weak episodes, and the rest are all knock-outs. This could be the nostalgia talking, but X-Men: The Animated Series is just as enjoyable as I remember it, with both volume releases coming Highly Recommended. The series may not be perfect, and has a couple distracting setbacks as described above, but even those can't overcome the sheer enjoyment that comes from this classic animated series. Fans will not be disappointed!
Buena Vista Home Entertainment has packaged X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two in simple Amaray cases, both of which are equipped with hinge flaps to support both discs for each volume release. A standard but reliable package for a two-disc release.
Digging into both DVD releases, sadly, there's not much more on the inside, either. While we get 33 episodes, both releases are absent of any extras save for a collection of trailers for other products. It's not unexpected, to be honest, but not as disappointing as one may think. Sure, it would be nice to have extras for this release but I can't say I'm upset that none are to be found. I'm sure there are piles of people willing to talk about the production of this series, and hopefully we'll hear from them in future releases. Thankfully, with the massive amount of episodes, the extras aren't really missed, to be honest.
The audio and video transfer for both of these releases are good, but not great. To be honest, I wasn't expecting any massive remastering of the series and what we get here isn't as bad as other reviews have made it out to be. While the transfer for both releases are pretty solid with just a hint of compression and interlacing popping up every once and a bit, it's the episodes themselves that don't look particularly solid. Some do look murky from time to time, with dust, dirt, and scratches popping up almost regularly, but the quality is no different, and maybe a shade or two higher, than what you'd see when the show itself reruns on television. While it would have been nice to see the episodes get remastered, what we see here is completely watchable and not as bad as others have stated. In addition, the audio is standard for this release, a serviceable stereo transfer, though earlier episodes do sound metallic. Still, it sounds crystal clear and is completely serviceable.
As for whether or not these episodes are edited, I honestly cannot say. I never caught the edited editions of this series when it re-aired on the late UPN, or more recently on Disney XD. As far as I can tell, the episodes themselves are complete. I may be wrong, however, but I am sure there are fans out there who will be able to easily discover whether or not these are 100% complete. The only noticeable difference I can see is that the Saban title card in the end credits is no longer present, likely for legal reasons. The screen just goes black instead of the Saban end credits title card appearing. Still, such a minor change, one that hopefully fans won't overreact to, is not worth missing out on these solid DVD releases.
Overall, X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two are two releases that fans should definitely not overlook. While they may be lacking in extras, the content on both releases is quite impressive, totaling 33 episodes in total. And, while they could be better, the audio and video is just fine for this release, especially considering the age of the series. Buena Vista Home Entertainment has done a good job getting this series onto DVD, and I`m sure fans won't be disappointed. While true the lack of extras can be disappointing for most, the amount of content here, in the form of 33 episodes, is pretty staggering and should keep fans well engaged for quite sometime. X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two are two DVD releases that definitely come Recommended.