Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo

Last year Cartoon Network cancelled the popular “Teen Titan” television series. Now, those animated teenage super-heroes are back in a new adventure… new to DVD anyway. Trouble in Tokyo actually made its debut last year both at San Diego Comic Con and later in the year on Cartoon Network. Somehow it’s taken months for the movie to come to DVD with a release that doesn’t quite justify the delay. If you don’t know the Teen Titans, well, probably this movie won’t be for you. Just in case you’re interested though, the Teen Titans are a younger super-hero team based on a comic by D.C. Comics. Led by Batman’s former sidekick, Robin, the team is made up of an alien princess, Starfire (who serves as a potential love interest for Robin), shapeshifter Beast Boy, the mystical Raven, and Cyborg… whose powers should pretty much be evident from his name. They make their home in a huge “T” shaped tower (not the most subtle of headquarters) where they fight crime and do all that good super-hero stuff while dealing with life as teenagers.

Trouble in Tokyo opens with the big “T” under attack and almost completely destroyed by a mysterious assailant. The Titans pry information from the attacker and discover that he was sent by the equally-mysterious Brushogun to destroy them. Obviously a team of heroes can’t take an attack like that lying down so the Titans head for Tokyo to track down Brushogun and teach him a lesson. That proves to be difficult, however, when the local authorities claim Brushogun is only a myth and doesn’t really exist. That doesn’t deter the Titans from looking and soon they find themselves on the wrong side of the law and being hunted by Brushogun’s minions. Ah, the life of a teenage super-hero.

In the past, when Warner Brothers Animation has made a movie out of one of their animated series (like Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker), they’ve made the presentation much more theatrical, upping the stakes from the normal television show. Not so with Trouble in Tokyo. Instead the movie plays like a 75-minute version of the series. My typical problem with the series, an annoyance at the anime-stylings of the animation, still holds true for the movie. However, in the setting of Tokyo, the style fits a lot better than on the show. Busy environments, video games, and even one of those annoying montages that ruins the advancement of the plot in favor of moving things along quickly feel less removed with the Titans in Tokyo. The style gets to pay tribute to a few things as well, such as a quick cameo by the cast of Akira in one scene, and a monster that resembles Godzilla (complete with audio similarities in the music).

While the animation style may be the same, the directors do a favor to the story by having the heroes find difficulty fighting in their new environment. Tokyo is a lot more heavily populated and chaotic than their typical stomping grounds, resulting in problems when one of the heroes tries to rip up part of the environment to use as a weapon or fling enemies into buildings. It’s a subtle difference, but one that is worth noticing.

The filmmakers also use the movie as an opportunity to advance certain character plots that were left frozen when the series was cancelled, in particular Robin and Starfire’s budding romance. Advancements don’t mean a departure from what made the characters so fun for the series though. For instance Beast Boy still provides a large amount of comic relief, such as his Karaoke performance of the Japanese hit theme song for “Teen Titans” (complete with his own version of the lyrics).

Unfortunately, the movie does suffer from the problems of being a picture designed for television. Not only is the animation quality not any different, but the plot advances like a television show. This means breaks in the story and cuts away from high tension where a commercial break would be. This just adds to the feeling of watching an extended episode with Act breaks instead of an actual “original movie.”

Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo is a decent follow up for the cancelled series that should make fans happy to see their favorite characters again, although a few of the characters seem to get the shaft on screen time. The movie is unlikely to build a new fanbase for the show, building strongly on the original series and not offering much of a difference in quality. For those who liked the series, however, it’s nice to see the Teen Titans, "Go!" one more time. You would expect a DVD version of a movie like this to follow quickly on the heels of the television debut of the film to capitalize on the film as much as possible. Not so with Trouble in Tokyo, which aired on television in September but is just now coming to DVD. With that kind of a delay I would expect some sort of bonus material but the DVD is mostly empty, with only an episode of the series and a set-top game to its name.

The set-top game is one of those annoying “press the arrow at exactly the right time” types. The player becomes Robin as he makes his escape on a motorcycle from the Tokyo authorities. Prompts appear on the screen to indicate which arrow on the remote to press. Press it at the right time and the game continues. Press it at the wrong time, press the wrong button, or press it at the right time but hold it for too long, and you “crash.” Three crashes and the game is over. I’ve never been a big fan of these games and this one doesn’t offer anything to make me change my mind.

“The Lost Episode” shows the Titans going up against Punk Rocket, a Billy Idol inspired villain who generates sonic blasts from his guitar. Somehow, the episode seems lacking. Perhaps it’s because I had just watched the film or perhaps it’s just a weak episode, but this is one “lost episode” that I wish had stayed that way. I can honestly say, having seen it once, that it won’t be replayed any time soon.

Sadly those two items are all that are on the disc. There’s not even a commentary track, which is a real shame. The Titans are so much fun, this could easily be one of those instances where an in-character commentary might have been a blast. Even a commentary from the director or creators might have been neat. The absence of anything like that indicates to me why the movie plays like a long episode of the show – nobody cared to make it more than that.

Despite not having anything other than the movie worth watching, this is still a fun release. Again, it’s mainly going to appeal to fans of the show, who have probably seen the movie already, but getting that DVD quality image and no commercial interruptions certainly makes this worth a look.