I have fond memories of the first animated TMNT series (at least as long as I’m not forced to re-watch it, doing that has resulted in less desirable results and my realization that the original TMNT series is one better left to memories) and less fond ones of the second (mostly because I was expecting something more mature than continuous teenage angst and comparable bad writing, sure, it’s not cheesy and silly as the original series, but just as bad). I wasn’t really sure what to expect of the third animated incarnation, though I do admit wondering if anybody had called for just another TMNT series.
Thankfully, it turned out great. While clearly aimed at a younger audience than even the second series, the writing and the art-style makes it superior to that one on both accounts. Structure-wise it takes at lot of inspiration from series for more mature audiences, with seasonal and even uber-seasonal arcs broken down into individual episodes that work both as self-contained units as well as fitting into the bigger story. There’s hardly anything I would call filler, and even those who could be categorized like that, are fun to watch.
The overall plot isn’t exactly new, nor are any of the characters, the series is freely taking from all of the TMNT incarnations, but mixing it together in sometimes fresh and new ways. Or at least the series manages to make it look exiting and fresh. The biggest deviation is probably April O’Neil, who is a teenager here and who gets saved from the Krangs by the turtles in the first episode, which gets everything rolling. Plot-wise, the first season is all about introducing the major characters and how they fit together compared to the other series or franchise incarnations: the turtles and Splinter (who again is a transformed human like in the first TMNT series, not like in the second or the comics), the Shredder, the Krangs and so on.
So, why is it so good? Hard to pin down actually. Due to the nature of the show – wise master and his four boys growing up – a lot of the episodes are moral lessons. Yet this never felt too in-your-face or too simplistic. There’s a very fun parody of the original Star Trek series that the turtles are watching, which is done in the animated style of that era (actually very close to the animated fourth season), which takes both a piss on TOS by highlighting its absurdities as well as working as clear reminder that the writers are aware of how stupid TV lessons can be and how they try not to make them too obvious or simplistic or plan abstruse.
There’s lots of clever, snappy dialogue that just makes it fun to follow and which also manages to easily distinguish the four turtles (thankfully helped along by slightly different body designs). Overall it’s great fun to re-discover something you enjoyed in your youth in a form that still feels exiting and new and most of all, well written even for an adult.