Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Mutagen Mayhem (2012 animated series vol. 4)

4 out of 5

Developed by: Joshua Sternin, J. R. Ventimilia

Season 2 kicks off with some notable upgrades: after the desaturation of color in the latter half of season 1 and the overall lack of background detail across those episodes, we’re seeing pink and purple skies, and a lot more sense of “life” in the Turtles lair and various settings and animations.  Combined with the continued top-tier writing – which juggles intelligent banter with kid-friendly but satisfying plotting, and although the Donnie / April / Casey shipping was fan-contentious, I found it offered up some great character opportunities – the assuming increase in animation abilities (more familiarity with assets, maybe a larger budget) means that even when we’re in the midst of kung-ku kicking, the show looks and feels pretty dynamic.

However, we’re sort of in “sequel” mode right now.  While I felt like the Kraang invasion that concluded the first season was less engaging than the Shredder buildup and introductions to the world of TMNT that preceded it, season 2 is left to gather up the pieces after a big ol’ resolution of those two halves, and so this opening set feels a bit wandering.  Season 1 also had its share of standalone monster episodes, but because it was tied to our discovery of how the Turtles were being updated for 2012 (or, for new viewers, just the discovery of the property, period), there was some drive to it.  In Mutagen Mayhem, the plot delivery device – mutagen canisters get scattered across the city – feels a little lazy, and a bit too obvious of a way of having bottle episodes.

However, moving past that, there’s a lot of brilliance here.  Invasion of the Squirrelanoids is an absolute highlight of horror /sci-fi nods (something that would become an appreciated constant throughout the series) and inventively random humor, and Mutagen Man Unleashed brings a hefty amount of pathos to what started as, at first, a throwaway character, then turned into a nostalgia character, and now becomes completely 2012’s own thing.  And the way Target: April O’ Neil winds around and through the whole Donnie / April / Casey love triangle is, to me, rather maturely handled for what it is, though again, I get why fans hated this.

Most importantly, the start of season 2 shows that there’s plenty of life in the property; even with two big old school story chunks – Shredder and Kraang – broached, the creatives are going to find their way to new story opportunities.