Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Season 1, Episode 1
Air Date: December 14th, 1987
You always hear about films or TV shows knowing what they are. When you watch a particular type of film that places heavy emphasis upon gunplay or snappy dialogue, you hear about how a film knows what it is. Usually what this means is the film or TV show is great, but the person reviewing it doesn’t want to admit to liking it as much as they do because they’re very, very pretentious. Well, this show knows what it is. The level of humor found in the ‘87 TMNT animated series knows exactly what it’s going for from frame one when a person is spray painted into a brick wall.
The humor is reinforced by by a crimewave that has recently struck New York City thanks to a nameless, faceless band of ninja thieves. And just in case you didn’t know they were ninjas, all of their gear has “Made in Japan” tags all over them.
Turtle Tracks hits the ground running as April O’Neil is hot on the case of the aforementioned ninja thieves. April is confident, smart and afraid of nothing when it comes to investigating her story and quickly runs into some of the lesser members of the band of criminals that are targeting various tech companies throughout the city.
April is quickly saved from the ne’er do wells of NYC by a shadowy band of ninja mutant turtle teens. From there we’re given a brief, if not charming origin story of the Turtles and their master/ father figure Splinter (Hamato Yoshi), as well as a (possibly unintentional) hilarious introduction to the series’ mainstay villain, The Shredder (Oroku Saki).
From there, the Turtles end up helping April find the source of the various robberies, muggings and random acts of vandalism throughout the city and also gain a friend.
One thing that I absolutely love about this series, from the very beginning, is the art style. Many of you have heard me go on and on about the individuality of the TMNT action figures from Playmates Toys. Considering that arguably everything that made that toy line great spun from this series is made readily apparent from the rockin’ intro, the character design and the overall tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek comedy. The character design especially really stands out with this first episode. While we may that many average citizens for a city of eight million, the people we do see are not placeholder character designs at all. Every single character has a unique design that is specific to them, and even though we may or may not see them in later episodes, you never feel like you’re seeing the same four characters over and over again.
Speaking of characters looking the same, the Turtles themselves are always maligned by fans of this series as often being…well, copy pasted, I think would be the term to use here. In many, many episodes later on you often see Leonardo using sais, or Michelangelo’s voice coming out of Raphael’s body, it’s a weird thing that stands out like crazy, but when you consider that this show, for a large part of its ten year run, was showing new episodes five days a week, you should forgive the animators making a couple of mistakes here and there.
This first episode ends with the Turtles making a resolution to find the Shredder and end his reign of terror over the people of NYC and hopefully reverse the mutation that has plagued Splinter for over a decade. This episode is bold, funny and charming as all get out and even though this show is known for jumping every shark in the known ocean, it never forgets what it is about. It’s about four brothers that are doing the right thing, simply because they can.