Good, Evil, Secrets and Lies: “The Shredder Strikes” Part 1 (Cont.)

Previously on Monsters of New York: Ian posted an unreadably long synopsis of TMNT episode 1.10: “The Shredder Strikes” Part 1.  Now, my thoughts.

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Busy episode: the turtles meet the Shredder, the viewers meet Hamato Yoshi, and we get another Hun fight. Unfortunately, although there are a handful of good things, they’re sandwhiched by a bunch of not-really-good ones, mostly involving this episode’s whole “Leonardo learns not to place his whole faith in weapons” subplot, which feels like something best reserved for another, worse, cartoon. While it makes a certain amount of sense as a character arc, it feels mis-timed: surely this was something Leo would have learned beforehand. It also feels manufactured, since Leo hadn’t shown any particular reverence for his swords before–nor any of the other turtles for theirs. Still, it could have worked somewhat, if the turtles hadn’t called back to it while fighting the Foot. The point had been made; the sledgehammer was not required.

If this subplot does anything right, is that it nicely sets up a moment in the “The Shredder Strikes Back”. But that’s not for a while yet.

This is another one of those episodes that really makes plain how constrained the writers initially were by the standards and practices imposed at the time. Hamato Yoshi’s death is included, but only because it can’t not be–it’s vital to the story.   However, it’s been made as bloodless as possible, by hiding the actual torture behind a conveniently obfuscating curtain and by keeping the actual murder (which I’ve always felt involved decapitation, although there’s obviously no evidence to confirm or disprove that) offscreen.   Still, the scene works rather well by keeping the focus on Splinter and his emotions, although one wonders how it’d had been handled had the writers been allowed the creative freedome they enjoyed during seasons 3 to 5.

I also really like the scene because it works on different levels. Had we never obtained any more context for the Yoshi murder, this scene would have still worked logically–The Shredder wanted some information, and he mistakenly though Yoshi had it; he didn’t talk, and now he’s dead. It makes sense, and it effectively encapsulates how bloodthirsty The Shredder can be. What’s more, it gives a more tragic air to Splinter story: he not just lost his owner/father figure, he lost him for no reason other than tragic bad luck. Of course, we eventually learn that there is a reason why the Shredder attacked Yoshi–one that brings the several ongoing subplots weaves so far together in a neat package–and works on that level as well, as a small part of a larger (much larger, as we eventually learn) tapestry.

This episode introduces the biggest difference yet between the cartoon and its source material: here, Splinter only tells the turtles about Hamato Yoshi because circumstances made it necessary for his sons to know the whole story, while in the original, Splinter specifically tells his sons about the Shredder so they’d kill him as Bushido demanded–it’s what he’d trained them for.  This will eventually come into play in the comic book version of the “City at War” arc, where the turtles have to decide between continuing Splinter’s feud with the Foot or allying themselves with them to stop the gang war ravaging New York.  Given that his original motives can make Splinter seem like a heartless bastard, I’m not saddened that his motivations were altered here.

And finally…the Shredder.  After a bunch of episodes featuring him as the nameless and cruel leader of the Foot Clan, we finally get to see him outside his office.  And he’s awesome.

Of course, we don’t really see him in action here–that won’t occur until the next part.  What we do see here is Saki in his snake in the Garden of Eden moment, and while he isn’t as smooth as, say, David Xanatos, he does a pretty good job of convincing Leo that he can be their ally–despite the fact that the turtles have been fighting his forces since episode one. While the “villain tries to bring the hero to his side” is a standard in cartoons–Gargoyles does it twice, although in a more complex manner than usual–it’s a trope that’s not really busted out once a villain has already been established.  Still, it works here because in theory, the turtles (or at least Leo and maybe Raph) could very well join the Foot, were it not for the Yoshi murder and the Shredder.  Remove those factors, and the prospect of them joining becomes considerably more palatable.  Leo in particular would certainly appreciate the Japanese trappings, and I’m sure he’d think that the group’s resources could indeed be used to do much good.  As for the Foot’s crime empire…he’d convince himself that it’s a necessary evil, particularly if he could help “improve” it from within (wether he actually could is another question).  And there is precedent–after all, Hamato Yoshi was a member of the Foot Clan in the original comics, and it’s relationship with the turtles is not quite as clear-cut as it is here.

An additional factor here is that, at this point in the series, we’ve seen no evidence that the Shredder’s enemies are not what he claims they are.  So far all we’ve seen them do is stalk the other two groups and wax enigmatically–not exactly the stuff good guys are made of.  Until their allegiances are elaborated upon in future episodes, I’d half-thought that they were being set up as another group of villains.

Anyways, the Shredder.  It’s taken a while, but it pays of wonderfully next episode, as he proves to be a formidable opponent–the toughest version of the Shredder in the franchise’s history.

Random thoughts:

  • Splinter’s comment about how “Many things are said, but few are true” strikes me as funny, given a similar comment in the Gargoyles comics, “All things are true; few things are accurate.” Comparing and dissecting them both would take another feature and a better logician than I.
  • As he tries to persuade his brothers of Saki’s potentially good intentions, Leonardo notes that Mikey always wants to do good and serve a greater purpose. This detail will be further elaborated upon in the episode after the next one, “The Unconvincing Turtle Titan”.
  • Hun reaches his season 1 pinnacle here. In “The Way of Invisibility”, we learned that he was smart. In “Fallen Angel” we learned he was tough. Here we learn that he’s also scarily fast. Unfortunately, things go downhill for him here, at least for the near future.  Still, I remember going “whoa” when I first saw him leaping and kicking and dodging–huge guys aren’t supposed to do that!
  • By “telling them the whole story”, Splinter means “the whole story as the writers have conceived it so far”.  Eventually we’ll see that there’s a lot more behind Hamato Yoshi’s murder, and that Splinter knows a lot more than he’s telling.
  • Although Hamato Yoshi’s story is simplified considerably for this episode–it originally involved a love triangle, revenge, family ties, betrayal, exile, and two other characters–all in the space of five pages–it will eventually expand to resemble the original, and Yoshi himself, although dead, will become a much more prominent character than he was in any other incarnation where he is not turned into Splinter.
  • In all the seven years and hundred plus episodes of the series, there is little evidence that the Shredder ever learned the turtles’ names aside from Leonardo’s.  Leonardo himself is the only turtle he’ll ever refer to as an individual, at least if you don’t count the alternate universe Shredder in “Same as it Never Was”.
  • I was actually half-surprised when I initially found out that this was a two-parter.  Back then, two-parters were things usually reserved for season finales, so seeing multiple ones within a season was something that made the series stand out among stuff like X-Men: Evolution.
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