X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Five DVD Review
By James Harvey
And, with this volume, the final episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series are now collected on to DVD. It’s hard to believe it took just over a year to collect the entire series across five separate two-disc releases. Then again, given how they managed to be huge movers, with each release selling at least 100,000 copies, sometimes in the first week alone, it’s no surprise Disney wants to get these titles out there while the demand remains. Coming out of the ground-breaking "Fox Kids" era of the 1990s, X-Men: The Animated Series was very faithful to the comics from whence these characters came, sticking close to storylines and character designs of the times. And while the show may have had some terrible animation at times, there was something so addictive, so watchable about it. Faithful to fans and the source material, it's easy to see why X-Men: The Animated Series is considered one of the best comic book-based cartoons ever.
The original tales of Marvel comic books come to life in Volume 5 of the X-Men: The Animated Series collection. Relive the action of the popular animated series in this collectible compilation of the X-Men adventures. The X-Men must turn to their arch-nemesis, Magneto, in an effort to save the life of Professor Xavier! Watch the action unfold in the final episode, “Graduation Day,” and don’t miss a moment of X-Men excitement in this 2-disc set, complete with 14 riveting episodes. Complete your X-Men collection with this must-own final installment of this great animated series.
I think it goes without saying that there are two episodes in this release that will be a major draw for fans of this old 1990s X-Men cartoon. If any of them are like me, they’ll be skipping right to “Old Soldiers” and “Graduation Day” before watching the rest of the collection. Sure, “Old Soldiers” isn’t the best episode, but it has an unmistakable charm about it, and seeing World War 2-era Captain America side-by-side with Wolverine is a dream come true for many Marvel Comics fans. And what else needs to be said about “Graduation Day” that hasn’t already? A nearly flawless final episode for the series, and surprisingly touching at times, it manages to wrap up so much while leaving the door open for more. These two are standout episodes that, after waiting years and years, we finally have on home video.
And what of the rest? Well, we get the same quality we’ve come to expect from previous releases. While the stories may be written quite well, most of them, especially for a series based on the baffling continuity of the 1990s comics, the animation can sometimes falter dramatically and this collection is no different. That being said, there’s a great charm to these episodes that keeps us going back for more and more. If the high sales of this home video series are any indicator, fans are gobbling these collections up as fast as possible (and rightfully so).
With only a handful of weak episodes in the entire collection, those being “Jubilee’s Fairy Tale Theatre” and “Longshot,” you get plenty of quality for your buck here. I was never a fan of Longshot, and I deplore the Mojo character, and the “Longshot” episode does nothing to change that. And while “Jubilee’s Fairy Tale Theatre” is a nice little change of pace from the usual X-Men animated adventure, the execution winds up being incredibly boring and tedious. Oddly enough, this was the first new episode with the revamped look and the more colorful designs actually do help with this episode’s fantasy elements. But still, the story is pretty snooze-inducing. “Storm Front,” a fine two-part episode, also manages to drag itself out longer than it should.
While we do get a couple outer space adventure-type episodes in this collection, the majority here are pleasantly more down-to-earth. Personally, I’m not a big fan of “X-Men In Space!!” adventures, and it was nice to see the X-Men engage in some more grounded adventures here. Highlights include the fun two-part “Phalanx Covenant” episode, “A Deal With the Devil,” “Bloodlines,” “Old Soldiers”, “Graduation Day” and the very different “Descent.” In all honesty, pretty much every episode in this collection, save for the two I mentioned above, are great entertainment, but the ones I just listed here have definite replay value and tend to show off the strengths of the series more than other episodes. Plus, we get the kinda gutsy-for-its-time “Descent,” which takes pace almost entirely in Victorian Era London, England where we uncover the order of Mr. Sinister.
With every episode, even some of the weaker ones found here, the outstanding voice casting continues to impress. We have 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. Like I said before, 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 remain so memorable to me. Steven Blum, who currently provides Wolverine’s voice in animation and other forms of media, is a worthy successor to the great work done here by Dodd.
As before, the only real strike against the series is the usually subpar animation that is bestowed upon it. While the animation here isn't as bad as the earlier seasons, we do seem to be getting some kind of consistency with the series up until the little revamp for the final six episodes. Character designs, styles, all of that is changed and simplified in the final six episodes, which actually does result in some nicer looking episodes. In fact, it looks like the crew behind the two-part “Out of the Past” episodes, from earlier in the series run - roughly season three - handled the revamped cartoony look. Still, fans of the show will know what to expect when watching this fifth and final collection of X-Men: The Animated Series episodes. The cheesy accents and groan-worthy one-liners also tend to bog down the series, but aren't as detrimental as the animation snafus that jump up. While the revamped look is quite divisive among fans of the cartoon, I found these final episodes included less animation mistakes than those under the previous style.
To note, the episodes featured in X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume Five include “The Phalanx Covenant (Part 1),” “The Phalanx Covenant (Part 2),” “A Deal With The Devil,” “No Mutant Is An Island,” “Longshot,” “Bloodlines,” “Storm Front (Part 1),” “Storm Front (Part 2),” “Jubilee's Fairy Tale Theatre,” “The Fifth Horseman,” “Old Soldiers,” “Descent,” “Hidden Agendas” and “Graduation Day.”
With all the ups and downs we're given with this series, X-Men: The Animated Series is still a great yarn. The animation may not be the best, and the writing occasionally dips, but this cartoon is just as fun as I remember. The episodes here in the X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume Five collection finishes off the series in grand style. This show features, to many, the definitive X-Men line-up, along with designs coming straight out of the comics, at least until the character redesigns in the final six episodes. Toss in some great villains, and even Captain America, and you have a pretty great send-off. Sure, not every episode is a winner, but there’s so much more here to enjoy than not. This could be the nostalgia talking, but X-Men: The Animated Series is just as enjoyable as I remember it, and the final episode just as amazing. A complete no-brainer, X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume Five comes 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 in this final batch of episodes!
Like the previous releases, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has packaged X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Five in a simple Amaray case, equipped with hinge flaps to support both discs inside, and a nice foil-enhanced cardboard slipcover. A standard but reliable package for a two-disc release.
Looking at the audio and video quality first, this release provides the same level of quality we’ve seen in the previous X-Men animated releases - good, but not great. While the transfer is pretty solid, compression and interlacing are very noticeable at times. Naturally, since these episodes don't appear to have been remastered, the image can appear murky or soft at times, with dust, dirt, and scratches popping up almost regularly. Still, I find them to be above broadcast quality. Others may disagree, but they definitely look better here on DVD than they have anywhere else. While it would have been nice to see the episodes get remastered, what we see here is completely watchable and not as bad as some may believe. In addition, the audio is standard for this release with everything sounding crystal clear and focused at the center. There's the odd hollow-sounding moment here and there, but I'm pleased with the quality overall.
While we get a nice heaping of episodes, X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Five is absent of any extras save for a collection of trailers for other products. We are again deprived of any bonus content, even after fans asked the studio to at least include the cult-favorite “Pryde of the X-Men” animated pilot. However, like with the previous releases, the episodes themselves are complete, as far as I can tell. 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 DVD releases.
Overall fans looking to continue their X-Men: The Animated Series DVD collection should be pleased with this fifth and final volume, bringing the last 14 episodes to home video. And, while it probably 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 while opinions may differ, I know I'm not disappointed with what we get here. The lack of extras remains a disappointment, but at least now we have the entire X-Men: The Animated Series on DVD. Who would have thought we’d get the whole series so fast? Besides, there's literally hours worth of content to watch here. X-Men: The Animated Series – Volume Five is one DVD release that definitely comes Recommended.