Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a quintessential cartoon of the late 80s and early 90s. It was a fun series that took full advantage of its goofy premise and it became famous worldwide with a lot of tie-in merchandise and other franchises attempting to rip it off. At the tail end of the series run in 1996, Ashi Productions went to work on an OVA to act as a tie-in for the toy line in Japan. And what better studio to work on the Turtles than the one behind… Magical Angel Sweet Mint. Wait, what else did Ashi Productions do? Well, regardless of their past productions, the turtles aren’t super complicated. Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines. Raphael is cool but crude and Michelangelo is a party dude. It’s not like they could do worse than 4kids. So, let’s look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Superman Legend and see how it compares to the awesome TV series.
Like the Mario OVA I looked at not too long ago, each episode of Superman Legend has its own story. The first episode opens with a recap of events that I assume are from the manga version since I couldn’t find any evidence of another OVA and I know they didn’t happen in the regular cartoon. Basically, our green heroes found magic stones that turned them into stronger forms, as did Bebop, Rocksteady and the Shredder. The turtles managed to win by uniting into a single Megazord called the “Saint Turtle.” After those events that we only see in brief recap form, Shredder and Krang are trying to release a faerie from a crystal so that she can help them destroy the world. I seem to recall them being interested in conquest and not destruction, but whatever. I’m sure this is intended to be a completely different continuity. So, Krang works on destroying stars, or possibly blocking their light since many of the stars we see have been gone for a long time and we only still see them on account of how long it takes for the light to reach us, because that will wake up the faerie somehow. While Shredder takes Bebop and Rocksteady to Earth to fight the turtles. They go through their super sentai style transformation sequences and they battle to save Earth.
The second episode involves the turtles flying to Japan with, apparently, no one on the plane noticing. I wouldn’t even bring it up since the turtles have always been a bit goofy but they could have at least put them in their iconic trench coat disguises. But no, no one takes any notice of them just openly running around in only their headbands, elbow and knee pads. Maybe the manga/OVA versions are just so well known that no one finds them interesting or strange looking anymore. Anyway, they travel to Japan to help guard a magic mirror held by a group of ninja. Meanwhile, Krang sends Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady to steal it. This results in the turtles and them transforming into shiny, new, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious armoured forms and fighting each other. Can you tell that the OVA was made to sell toy lines?
The biggest issue with the OVA is exactly that, honestly. Yeah, a lot of western cartoons in the 80s were made to sell toy lines, but this is a particularly egregious example. The plots are thin excuses to introduce the new versions of the turtles in the hopes that people will buy the toys and a sizable chunk of each episode is devoted to transformation sequences, to show off the toys. They might as well have the turtles stop to address the audience directly. “Hey, don’t I look radical? You can buy a copy of me for 1200 yen.”
Now, I will give the series some credit too. It does have some good, funny moments. And, while the premise is goofy, it’s not goofy in a way that clashes with the original TV series’ aesthetic. Remember, the original TV series had some weird episodes with inexplicable transformations too. I recall April becoming both a fish and a cat at different points. So, the tone really does match up pretty well. The OVA could almost be two episodes of the series if not for the few inconsistencies and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.
The characters are recognizable as themselves. They’re pretty simple in terms of personalities, but they are capably handled. At least the turtles, Splinter and April are. In terms of new characters, Hattori Kinzou gets some funny moments and is pretty enjoyable. Crys-Mu, on the other hand, is pretty boring. She isn’t a bad or annoying character but she’s not interesting either. She… exists.
The big issue is with the villains. Their switch from trying to conquer the world to just wanting to destroy it really hurts them. Yeah, trying to take over the world isn’t a great motivation, unless it’s really well executed, but at least you can understand it. What exactly do Krang and Shredder gain from destroying the world? Are they trying to get revenge for the time that Earth hugged them for removing lost technology from it? Do they want to teach puppies a lesson in complacency? Were they hired to construct a galactic bypass and need to remove Earth because its in the way? Would’ve been nice to hear that in their exposition dump instead of seeing transformation sequences.
I will give Ashi credit. They clearly try to replicate the art style of the cartoon series for most of the OVA. The turtles, Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, April, and Splinter all look basically like they do in the series and most of the backgrounds and background characters are carefully designed to fit into that universe. Shredder does look quite a bit different, for some reason. Honestly, I don’t care for his design in the OVA. It looks overdone and kind of ostentatious, kind of like the design for their armoured forms in the second episode. Their mutated forms in the first episode don’t even look like they fit. Rather, they look like they came from a different series entirely and were kind of pasted into this one. The action sequences aren’t very good either. The first episode has a pretty good one, before the turtles combine into Voltron, but overall they rely too much on stock footage style attacks. Because that way you don’t have to draw the characters actually interacting with or hitting each other.
Don’t expect the actors to sound like their English language counter-parts. But that isn’t a bad thing and there are some pretty decent performances in this. Yanada Kiyoyuki actually does really well as the Shredder. Then you have Umezu Hideyuki. He actually voices both Splinter and Krang. As Splinter, he isn’t bad, as Krang he sounds awful. On one hand, there is a plot point based on Krang sounding annoying, but it really is a grating performance. Sakurai Toshiharu is also pretty bad in this. The music is pretty bland. It probably isn’t going to make you mad or annoyed, but it isn’t going to make you shout “Heroes in a half shell, Turtle Power!” either. It’s just meh.
There isn’t any, which is a good thing given that most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. So, the ho-yay factor is a 1/10.
Superman Legend isn’t very good, or even just good. It’s almost like watching two weak episodes in the series. They aren’t bad episodes, but they don’t have much impact and there are more dumb aspects than there are interesting or funny moments. All in all, it comes across as exactly what it is. A cheap and shameless attempt to market toys. If you’re a huge fan of the original TMNT you might want to check it out because it is such a strange tie-in and it is kind of interesting to see this kind of take on the turtles. Just don’t expect much because it really isn’t well done, but there’s nothing particularly infuriating, offensive or even bad about it. So, it is vastly superior to what 4kids came up with. My final rating is a 4/10. Next week I’ll look at Tokyo Godfathers.