Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997 television series)

Posted: November 11, 2014 in Mirage, TMNT

The recent theatrical adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got a fair amount of criticism from fans. Some justified, some not. Sure, it wasn’t what most intelligent people would consider “good” but after reading some initial drafts, I can honestly say that it could have been much worse. Speaking of worse:

BEHOLD!

In 1996 the classic TMNT cartoon finally came to an end after 10 seasons on the air. Even when facing declining toy sales and a film series that was experiencing diminishing returns, no network is willing to let a good brand go to waste. So, in 1997 Fox Kids partnered with Saban Entertainment (makers of Power Rangers in the US)  and commissioned a new series to milk a few bucks out of America’s favorite mutated reptiles. Ostensibly following the three live-action films, the tone is significantly lighter and the turtles have gone through a noticeable redesign. However, it seems clear that this is supposed to take place in the same universe (they still live in the train station, Splinter has the cut on his ear, etc.). Next Mutation eschews traditional TMNT plots and foes to focus much more on mysticism and supernatural threats (they fight a trio of vampires in the last half of the season). Shredder and the Foot Clan are written out during the premiere story arch and are replaced by Dragon Lord and his army of Rank (basically Foot Soldiers with green faces). To call the new villains uninspired is an insult to truly uninspired works of fiction. These characters are buffoonish, gratingly written and completely toothless. Even in the animated series, which was totally bloodless and sanitized, there was still an element of peril for our heroes. Shredder felt like a legitimate threat even though he wasn’t.

With the new foes come some new allies. Casey Jones and April O’Neil are nowhere to be found in this series. Instead, there are some less than memorable supporting friends (seriously, I don’t even remember their names) and Venus De Milo. Venus is a Shinobi who meets up with the Turtles early on and ends up joining their team. She is able to create poorly-CGI’d energy balls and annoyingly speaks in pseudo-eastern philosophical riddles. Oh, and she’s also a long-lost “sister” to the 4 main Turtles. She was apparently in the bowl with them when they were mutated but was left behind by Splinter. She somehow came under the tutelage of a Shinobi master and learned how to channel her Chi into those crappy-looking special effects mentioned above. Venus serves as a new recruit who’s being inducted into the team and learns how to socialize with others of her ilk. That could be an interesting spin for her character (an outsider amongst outsiders) but it’s pretty much only played for laughs, like when she calls a bowling strike a goal. That’s about as deep as her characterization runs.

“I’m despised!”

That brings me to the issue with Venus. Fans hate Venus. Everyone hates Venus. In the years since this show aired there has been a “no female turtles” rule in the comics, films and other media associated with the NT’s. But this kind of misses the point. Venus doesn’t suck because she’s a female. She sucks because she’s a poorly conceived and poorly written character. Her origin is gimmicky and completely ignores the legacy of the characters. Her “powers” are distracting and don’t fit in with the established tone of the other team members. Her only redeeming quality is her personality and that is underwritten with her strengths being underutilized. She’s clearly a leader who would be at home at the head of the team, unfortunately her “newcomer” demeanor means she’s always relegated to a running joke.

It’s irritating too, because there are plenty of ways to make a new Turtle work. And it all goes back to the origin. It’s clear that the creators of this series felt that, for some reason, Venus’s backstory had to be tied to the other turtles origin. Because of that, they force a square peg into a round hole, analogically speaking. If they had taken the time to create an organic and character-driven backstory, this could have been a completely different write-up. And it’s especially frustrating because that kind of thing is shockingly easy to come up with. Hell, here’s one just off the top of my head: Baxter Stockman mutates and brainwashes a turtle to do his bidding and infiltrate the TMNT. However, once said “evil turtle” joins the team she’s able to overcome her programming and joins them in fighting the bad guys. There. Origin completed.


I, personally, don’t understand all of the hate that Venus receives. That’s not to say that she’s a great character or anything. It’s just that everything in this show is ridiculous. The villains are brightly-colored annoyances who pose no real threat, the sets are garish and unconvincing at best (they conjure images of high school plays at worst) and the tone is obnoxiously wacky. These issues permeate everything, not just a single female turtle. I don’t want to believe that there’s any sexism behind the abuse she receives, but when you look at other original characters in this show like Bonesteel, Quease or Silver it becomes difficult to comprehend why she alone is the lightning rod for such vitriol. Maybe it’s because she’s an actual member of the familial unit that Splinter created and any change to that is verboten to fanboys? I dunno, I’m reaching.

Wow…what awesome villains.

The show was a ratings success, and I can’t tell if that’s surprising or not. It had ludicrous plotting, terrible special effects (even for the 90’s) and a hideous set design, but I’m sure kids loved it. I think the average child would think that it was “more grown up” than the animated series because of the tenuous link to the film series. In reality this show is even more ridiculous than the most ridiculous episodes of the classic ‘toon. I think the major flaw in the show is a lack of any sort of grounding. The Turtles’ family unit is only tertiarily addressed. In fact, their brotherhood is hand-waved away in an attempt to likely set up a romantic relationship between one of the four and Venus. Their personalities are essentially the same as their comic and cartoon counterparts, but they never really get a chance to show much true personality due to the mundane scripts and situations.

The Ninja Turtles are a beloved brand that can weather almost anything. After the cancellation of this show, they’ve gone on to star in two successful and multi-season animated series’, a profitable animated movie in 2007 and the aforementioned live-action/CGI film from this year. Now don’t get me wrong, the new film wasn’t very good, but it’s always important to have some perspective. For all the narrative mistakes that the new film makes, at the very least it portrays the team’s personalities accurately and mostly stays true to their origin. I realize that’s a pretty low bar, but that’s something that this show couldn’t clear. It’s fairly difficult to think of a piece of media associated with the Ninja Turtles that’s worse. In fact, I am hereby declaring Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation as the worst adaptation of the TMNT.

I stand corrected.
Oh…I forgot about Coming Out of Their Shells. Well…they both suck.
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