Meanwhile: “The Shredder Strikes Back” Part 1
20 March 2011 5 Comments
“He’s back…The Shredder…”–Leonardo
Written by: Erik Luke
Original Air Date: June 7, 2003
Introduces: Foot Elite
Teaser Narrator: Leonardo
Inside. It’s sunrise at the April O’Neil apartment, and all but one of the turtles are still asleep. The sound of a window opening wakes Splinter. It’s Leonardo, heading out for his morning training. Once he receives an assurance that he will not attempt to return to their presumably-still-under-surveillance lair, the ninja master lets his son go.
Outside. As Leo sprints across the Manhattan rooftops, various Foot Ninja begin chasing him, weapons drawn. Eventually, Leonardo stops running and confronts his enemies, who now surround the ninja turtle. Using some sort of cable, Leonardo swings his way to another rooftop and escapes. The Foot Ninja follow.
Inside. The remaining turtles wake up and begin their morning activities. Mikey prepares breakfast– eggs (fried, then scrambled) with toast. Raph reads a book, with Don looking over his shoulder. April wakes up. Thunder begins crashing down.
Outside. Leonardo climbs his way into a rooftop and takes a breath. He gets little chance to rest, as the Foot Ninja have caught up to him, and have corraled him against the roof’s edge. With no choice left in the matter, Leo fights, and defeats, the Foot Ninja.
It begins to rain. More Foot Ninja appear. The battle continues.
Inside. Raph and Mikey use their ninja skills to prepare the breakfast table, breaking some china in the process. April notes that living in her place must be getting to all of them, since they’re six people sharing a space designed for one. Splinter notes that they’ll leave as soon as its safe to do so.
Breakfast begins. Michelangelo remarks upon Leo’s unattended plate, concerned about his continued abscence. Donatello stresses that they shouldn’t worry—Leo’s the one turtle one never needs to worry about.
Outside. Leonardo defeats the latest throng of Foot Ninja when three cyber-suited Foot Tech Ninja join the fray. Activating their stealth camouflage, they gain an early advantage and manage to throw Leo into the streets below. Leonardo manages to hold on to a ledge, however, and climbs his way back into the rooftops. Covering his eyes and sensing his way around his environment, the turtle then manages to defeat his invisible foes.
Inside. Don and Raph are cleaning the dishes (Michelangelo has been forbidden to “help”). As thunder crashes around him, Don notes that Leonardo must be “nuts” to be outside training. Raph replies that doing stuff like that is par for the course for Leo.
Outside. Leo is fighting yet more Foot Tech Ninja when a new opponent enters the fray: Hun. However, even his tremendous strengh isn’t enough to take down the turtle; using his superior agility to his advantage, Leo causes the behemoth to crash against a chimney, which the topples down upon him.
Inside. Raph and Don are watching football and remarking on the lack of turtle-themed teams when they’re treated to a five-second belch by Michelangelo. They clap despite themselves—April is disgusted. Splinter comments that this is what he lives with all the time.
Raph, having enough, stands up announces that he’s leaving and returning to the lair. He is stopped by Splinter, who commands that no one is leaving until Leonardo returns. Raph complies and returns to his seat, pissed.
Outside. Leonardo is now running from Foot Ninja, their Foot Tech counterparts, and Hun. Once again backed into a corner, the TMNT leader fights with all his mind, managing to hold his own against his enemies, until Hun orders his forces to fall back. Sending further trouble, Leo looks around and spots…them.
Oh, yeah. I love these guys. Cool capes, cool hats, cool weapons…everything about them says “badass”. Leo leaps to meet them, when they disappear in a flash of smoke, reappearing next to the larger Foot’s forces. The arrange themselves into files and bow towards the distance…
…where the Shredder stands. Oh shit.
The Foot Elite teleport to once again face Leonardo. Surrounded and with little space to move, Leonardo tries mounting a defense, but proves to be no match for the Shredder’s best forces.
Inside. 9:33 p.m. Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, now all equally worried about their absent brother, an appeal to their sensei for permission. Splinter, pained, grants it. However, as they’re about to set out, a bruised and battered, and barely conscious Leonardo crashes through a window.
Raphael asks Leonardo who was responsible for his beatdown. Getting no answer, he determines to find the guilty parties and kick their asses. As he’s about to leave, however, Leonardo stops him, and tells him that HE’s returned.
Outside. The Foot Elite, bowing before their master, hand the Shredder the fallen Leonardo’s two katana. Saki, relishing his victory, holds the swords over his head in a sign of dominance and, with his bare hands, bends them until they break. The Shredder laughs.
To be continued…
- This episode is an adaptation of the one-shot Leonardo #1 comic book, titled “What Goes Around…Comes Around!” and first published in 1986.
- This is the first real-time appearance of the armored Shredder since he was believed dead in “The Shredder Strikes” Part Two, but his second chronological appearance.
- The turtles have been living with April since “Notes From The Underground”, Part Three, where the turtles and Splinter were corralled away from their lair.
Up to this point, TMNT had proven that it was a good series. It had a direction, solid writing, and good production values, but that was it. This two-parter, however, was the first time the series was genuinely great.
A lot of animated series shy away from episode-long fight scenes–given that one-shot episodes tend to be the rule, twenty-two minutes usually isn’t enough to both set up a plot and then have an extended action scene. Thanks to the series’ narrative-building so far, however, we get time for action and a slice-of-life B-plot. So we get some of the series’ best fighting so far, with escalating threats culminating in the sublime scene where the Foot Elite are introduced. Even as the episode becomes less impressive with time, that scene gets me–I think it’s handled just about perfectly. It also features some of the cleverest direction and storyboarding in the series, getting across the fact that–hey, the Foot are using bladed weapons and connecting–without running afoul network standards. And the best part? The next episode tops it.
As the season goes along, it becomes increasingly clear that while the four turtles theoretically share equal prominence within the ensemble, this isn’t really true in practice. With the Shredder now being positioned as Leonardo’s personal enemy, the turtle himself is being positioned as the series’ leading man, a position he retains pretty unquestionably until season 5 and the end of the series mytharc proper. Personally, I’m fine with that: Leo’s always been my favorite turtle, so I thought it was nice that he gets some focus beyond “leads”. Here, as we see him hold off the Foot for the better part of a day–I’m guessing something like ten to twelve hours, if the clock at the end is any indication–without rest, it becomes clear why he’s be leader and the best fighter among all of them. Dude is dedicated: thrust in an impossible situation–he can’t return to the apartment without leading The Foot to it–he just tries to hold on for as long as he can. Some real Musashi vs. House of Yoshioka stuff.
It also shows why this incarnation of the Shredder is one of my favorite big bads: I mean, here is a man who amasses a good part of his forces against one single enemy for an entire day, for the sole purpose of breaking him. For the Shredder, revenge is a dish best served hot, in the rain, by many, many waiters. And really, for a guy whose eventual plan for “destroying his enemies” involves (Turtles Forever spoiler: head here to decode) “qrfgeblvat ernyvgl”, this is downright reasonable–particularly when we consider that a season 6 retcon makes this into the Shredder’ third encounter with Leonardo (as the Shredder, I mean, which discounts their actual first encounter)–and one that came after a rather decisive defeat, at that. In any case, what makes this particularly cool is that he succeeds, completely breaking Leonardo both physically and mentally, with the not-at-all-symbolic breaking of his swords (considered to be the soul of a Samurai, under Bushido) for good measure.
Meanwhile, as all of this happens, the turtles are doing their best in out of their new conditions, in a series of nice snippets which don’t reveal much that we don’t already know, but does a lot to humanize the characters in a way that feels natural. They feel like brothers, which is super-important in a series like this. While I could have done without their casual disregard for other people’s property–which, annoyingly, was also a factor in my least favorite scene in the original cartoon, and which will turn up again in this one, which I guess makes it part of their character instead of just bad writing–I feel the scenes largely work.
So, this episode we get to see the Shredder take on Leonardo. Next episode we see the Shredder take on the rest of the family, in what is probably my favorite episode in the season, and one of my favorites in the series.
- One thing that took me the longest time to notice about this episode is that the entire extended Leonardo fight against the Foot has absolutely no dialogue in it–even when I’d learned that this was the case with the original story. It’s an interesting touch, even if it doesn’t work nearly as well here as it did in the original. With the comic book, you can omit the background noise of battle–heavy breathing, grunts and whatnot–without losing anything, which is something you can’t really do in a cartoon without it seeming artificial, or without having considerably better directors (I’m thinking specifically of Genndy Tartakovsky here) and sound design people than this series has. As it is, it’s not until the last few scenes that device really seems to work.
- On a related note, if I ever get a chance to interview Michael Sisterniklaas, I am totally asking him about this episode, and what it was like recording an episode where his dialogue consisted of almost nothing but grunts and yells.
- Another interesting thing that doesn’t quite work here is the decision to cover almost-dead Leonardo with bruises to show that well…he’s almost dead. While bruising is marginally better than the one we’ve seen in the human characters so far, it doesn’t really work here either. Perhaps it’s an impression borne out of ignorance–I have no idea if turtles can bruise or not, and get the impression that they can’t–but it just looks…silly. I really wish they’d showed him all scarred up instead, even if those scars had to be bloodless.
- A question that has never really been answered: does Leo return to April’s apartment on his own, or is he taken and thrown in by The Foot? Either is equally plausible.
- One comment that I forgot to include last time, but still works here; I really, really appreciate that the creators showed the turtles eating stuff other than pizza.
- On that note, I liked seeing Raph reading a book, even though I’d be hard-pressed to imagine what kind of book it’d be. What do y’all think?