The X-Men Animated Series is justifiably beloved by an entire generation of kids, whether they were fans of the comics or not. Sure, the animation was ropey and the voice acting wasn’t great, but the stories were excellent and the variety of characters and plots was huge. The X-Men were at the height of their popularity, and the success of the cartoon reflected that.
Of course, very few people will have ever seen the final episodes of the series, a hastily commissioned fifth season which ran in the US in 1997, and presumably some time soon after in the UK, though airdates are hard to find. It’s pretty telling that even I, who bought nothing but X-Men comics almost the entire 90s, never managed to catch the vast majority of the fifth season on TV.
It’s here, then, that the cartoon’s DVD release comes into its own. For most people, this means the chance to essentially watch new episodes of the X-Men cartoon! How can that fail to be anything except excellent?
Well, perhaps if, hampered by time constraints, they hired a completely different (and much worse) animation studio, replaced some voice actors and sort of ran out of story ideas. That would certainly do it. Frankly – and it pains me to say this – it would be better if the final season of X-Men: The Animated Series didn’t exist at all, because then the series would go out on the excellent 4-part Time Travel epic, Beyond Good And Evil. Instead, we get this, the second volume of Season 5, which features the last five episodes ever of X-Men: The Animated Series:
Jubilee’s Fairytale Theatre – in which the most irritating member of the cartoon’s cast (I quite like her in the comics, though!) entertains some kids while trapped underground by re-telling fairytales featuring the X-Men instead of their regular characters. Excruciating.
Old Soldiers – one of the better episodes, detailing Wolverine’s adventures with Captain America during World War 2. Quite fun, but there’s a definite sense that it would have been fantastic if it had come around Season 2 or so, and the lack of other X-characters makes it feel like an episode of Captain America guest-starring Wolverine, rather than the other way around.
Hidden Agendas – Rogue goes to investigate the reports of a new mutant in the Guthrie family. It’s surprising it took this long for them to mine the New Mutants for material, but the generic story and painful accents mean it’s not an episode you’ll come back to again and again. Or ever.
Descent – The only real reason to buy the disc is this episode, which is a bit stupid because it doesn’t feature any X-Men. It’s set in Victorian London and shows the origin of Mr. Sinister as he and Professor Xavier’s ancestor investigate the emergence of mutants. Fun stuff.
Graduation Day – It’s possible you’ll want to see this episode too, I suppose, since it essentially caps off the series, though in a rather open-ended way. At least it does go back to the original premise of the series and asks the question of how the X-Men will continue once Xavier is gone, and whether their dream has any chance of success.
As with previous releases, there are no extras to speak of beyond the standard menus and chapter selects, but this far into the series, they were hardly going to uncover a treasure trove of supplemental material. The relatively new age of the prints mean that Season 5’s episodes have the best quality picture of the lot, but when the animation is so much poorer, it’s hard to enjoy.
Although completists might feel compelled to buy the last disc, to be completely honest, you won’t find any hidden gems here. On the one hand, I do feel that it’s important that this material got a proper release to make it available to future generations of Marvel fans the same way I got to see the Hulk, Captain America and Spider-Man cartoons of years gone by, but if it’s nostalgia you’re after, save your money.
X-Men Season 5 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.