Remember that old X-Men cartoon from the 90s? Well, if not, you can now get a refresher course because the first two and a half seasons are now on DVD. From what I remember, it wasn't bad, but also wasn't anything special. I know I started watching it when if first aired, and probably stopped somewhere in the second season. I remember that it felt a lot like the old 80s cartoon such as G.I. Joe, which I had loved, but was outgrowing by the time X-Men came out, thanks in part to the total awesomeness of Japanese animation!
Alright, so now that I've watched it again, I still kinda feel about the same. There are some good things about the series, and some kinda lame things. Let's start off with the good, shall we? Most of the stories are told in arcs which span several episodes. This is critical to being able tell much deeper stories than only 23 minutes can allow, and thus also allows the characters to be given more depth, though they really could have taken that much further than they did. I'd have to say the stories and characters are nowhere near as inspired as some recent cartoons, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender or even the new Transformers: Animated series.
My wife actually watched this cartoon more than I did when it was originally aired, and she had some fond memories of it... but as she watched it again, it became clear that for her the show didn't hold up to those warm and fuzzy childhood feelings. We both found it very easy to rip on silly stuff that went on in the show. But she held out hope that enjoyment of show would increase once we reached the five episode saga called The Phoenix Saga from season two. Unfortunately, it didn't. Not that it was bad, it just didn't live up to the expectation. One of the reasons is because this is only The Phoenix Saga, not The Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics, where Jean Gray she became a total badass and killed millions, even though that's who they show on the cover.
The Phoenix Saga starts with Professor Xavier having some dream visions that doesn't know how to interpret, but knows that the X-Men have to get into space, and there is a scheduled space shuttle launch coming up, so he has some of the X-Men sneak on board the shuttle and take it over... because I guess all mutants know how to operate a space shuttle? Or because just hiding on board while the astronauts did their job would... uh... I don't know, interfere with their mission? The mission itself isn't really important, just that as they are returning to earth, Jean Grey must take control over the shuttle while the others hide inside a container to protect themselves from radiation. Jean survives the crash, rising from the water declaring herself "Phoenix", and then collapsing.
Jean spends a lot of time recovering, AKA sleeping, while the X-Men go off and do some stuff. Eventually she has enough strength to get up and start using her awesomely amazing powers... but 90% of the time she only uses the power of teleportation. She had one minor little confrontation on the top of a building where she easily defeated this bad guy, and then after that I don't remember her using anything other than teleportation until the very end of the saga. If you're gonna have all that power, do something cool with it! I can certainly understand the writers' predicament, though. If she can do anything, then all the other X-Men become pretty much useless.
Anyway, moving on... another good thing is the sheer amount of characters they fit in to the show. They're not all in every episode, of course, but throughout the series a whole lot of them show up, good guys, bad guys, and even those in between. It's a nice touch, rather than just sticking to a core group of good guys and bad guys who duke it out each week. For me, it makes their universe seem more whole, more complete, if that makes any sense. It makes it feel more like a real world.
Now, I wasn't really hardcore into the comics, so I can't say for sure if the character origins were accurate, but what was told in this cartoon matched what little I knew of the back stories that were revealed in this show, so to me it feels like they're getting it right. And it was cool to learn more about these characters, get a little more insight to increase my geek factor. Still, I have to believe that the comics would be way better. In a children's cartoon, all you can do is kill robots or knock out people, which can get old kinda quick.
On the negative side, the art and animation were not that great. It reminds me a lot of the G.I. Joe animation, or any other Saturday morning cartoon. Sometimes shots will just be off, with a strange angle or something proportioned awkwardly, like maybe a character will look like they had been in a fight and got their face beat in for one shot. There also isn't a whole lot of emotional depth shown in the characters... faces, and sometimes they just don't seem to move realistically. And I know almost every cartoon falls into this trap but I've just gotta mention it anyway... the characters always wear the same street clothes, every day of every week. I could understand uniforms, but the same everyday street clothes?
Next on the negative list is the inconsistency of the fighting and the strength of the characters abilities. For instance, in the first episode when a giant robot was attempting to capture a specific mutant, some off-duty X-Men step in to help her out, and get their butts handed to them, until Cyclops comes in and shoots a single eye beam, taking off the robot's head with that one shot. Now flash forward a tad where we find the X-Men again tangling with these same robots... except now there are more than one. But still, the X-Men are having an impossible time fighting them. It's like they learned nothing! C'mon Cyclops, we know you can kick their butt with one shot... but no! He shoots his beam at the robot's leg! WTF?! Shoot his neck you dimwit! Well, all but two of the team make it back to the jet and escape, because apparently, when the script calls for it, these guys can't fight for squat!