Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation covered the Netflix series, Titans, based on the various DC Teen Titans titles. Titans aims at an older audience, one that wants gritty. However, Titans wasn’t the first adaptation of the team. The Titans first appeared on TV with segments on The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. The team’s first starring role came with 2003’s animated series, Teen Titans.
Produced by Glen Murakami, Teen Titans was loosely based on the Marv Wolfman-George Perez series, The New Teen Titans. The show centred around Robin (voiced by Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). Over five seasons, the Titans fought evil-doers of all types, from Mad Mod to Trigon. The series hit the first two arcs in The New Teen Titans, including Trigon and Deathstroke the Terminator, though the show used his actual name, Slade.
Before continuing, let’s put the series into the context of its release date. In 1995, a wave of anime hit American shores and made an impact. Three series debuted in 1995 – Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and /Technoman/, the latter based on the anime Tekkaman Blade. Two became massive hits; Technoman didn’t catch on, but Sailor Moon and Dragonball had staying power. North American stations and cable channels saw the popularity and started importing more series to sate the demand. Manga began hitting the shelves at bookstores and gained an audience that wasn’t interested in traditional comics.
During this, Murakami decided to use a mix of animation styles for Teen Titans, a blend of classic Warner animation, like Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, and anime. Other animation styles crept into other episodes, like Terry Gilliam’s as seen on Monty Python’s Flying Circus as seen in “Mad Mod“. The mix of animation styles gave Teen Titans its own look. The series’ spin-off, Teen Titans Go! went a step further and added a super-deformed look to the characters.
Speaking of the characters, they are recognizable. There is no mistaking them for other DC characters. The biggest change in design may have been with Starfire; her figure less voluptuous and more teen-aged. The characters also went by their hero IDs, leading to the question of which Robin was in the show. Starfire and Beast Boy did get their names revealed, but it wasn’t made into a big deal. The series played with the audience on which one he was, never really confirming whether it was the original Dick Greyson or one of his successors.
Each season had its own arc, with some standalone episodes mixed in. The first season focused on Slade (voiced by Ron Perlman), who was trying to recruit Robin to be his protege. Slade returned in the second season, based on the Terra arc from the comics, with Terra (Ashley Johnson) being used to infiltrate and destroy the Titans from inside. Season three’s focus was on Cyborg as he dealt with his machine half and the attempts by Brother Blood (John DiMaggio) to misuse his electronics. The fourth season brough the Trigon (Keith Michael Richardson; Keith Szarabajka in the episode, “Nevermore”) arc in, putting the focus on Raven, though with foreshadowing of the arc in the first season episode, “Nevermore”. The final season put the focus on Beast Boy, introducing his old team, the Doom Patrol, and sees him taking on the Brotherhood of Evil.
Each season’s arc was treated seriously. The major villains were credible threats, ones that the Titans had to work hard to defeat. Not every episode was serious, though. Mad Mod (Malcolm McDowell), introduced in the comics in 1967 with a Mod-style approach to villainy. The character received an update without changing his schtick; in his first appearance, Mad Mod tried to revive England of the Sixties. At the end, it was revealed that he was a much older man trying to bring back his glory days. The Amazing Mumbo (Tom Kenny), whose approach to crime is to use a magic hat and wand, had a The Muppet Show-style episode in “Bunny Raven . . . Or How to Make a Titanimal Disappear.” Mumbo traps the team inside his hat, where he has full control. Several of the Mumbos appeared as Muppets, including Scooter, Statler, and Waldorf.
The series didn’t limit itself to Western references. Shout outs to various anime appeared during the show’s run, and not necessarily mainstream titles like Sailor Moon, series like Lupin III, homaged in a car chase during “Car Trouble”. Thunder and Lightning, from “Forces of Nature”, while based off a Kivalliq legend, appear in traditional Asian garb. Even the theme song was performed by a J-pop band, Puffy, aka Puffy AmiYumi. The theme was a way to tell when an episode was going to be different; when it was performed in Japanese, the episode was going to be far from serious.
Teen Titans built off the comics to become its own thing. The characters, heroes and villains alike, are still recognizable. The storylines, particularly the ones involving Slade and Trigon, were taken from the original work. The result is a series that blends several different styles of animation to become a unique TV series.