Judge Steve Power typically swats his cats with a rolled up newspaper.
Deadly bacteria! Doomsday devices! Robotic spiders! Sound like a big budget sci-fi thriller? Nope. Even better. It's the 5-disc, 26-episode Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron: The Complete Series.
The '80s animation boom wasn't good news for everybody; with the rise of syndicated shows based on toy lines and comic books, and the influx of Japanese Imports like Robotech, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and Voltron, the once mighty Hanna-Barbera found the empire built by Fred Flintstone and Scooby-Doo being rapidly eroded by He-Man and Optimus Prime. By the early '90s, Ted Turner and his multimedia empire had gobbled up what was, in the 1960s and '70s, America's biggest animation house.
Under new leadership, Hanna-Barbera began to churn out new product in the hopes of a reversal of fortune. Among these shows was the TBS staple, Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron. The story goes that two members of "The Enforcers," a sort of army/police hybrid that specializes in policing "Megakat City" (which is a city of humans with cat heads…creepy), are disgraced and demoted to the scrap yard. These two create an unstoppable jet fighter out of all the scrap, and adopt the vigilante personas of "T-Bone" and "Razor," the SWAT Kats. With a seemingly endless barrage of missiles and gadgets tailor made to counter whatever obstacles the scripts throw at them, the SWAT Kats butt heads with the likes of the time-traveling Pastmaster, the robot gangsters, the Mettalikats, and their arch villain, Dark Kat.
I was a little old by the time the anthropomorphic craze hit its stride, outside of the nigh inescapable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles boom, the biker mice, space rabbits, fish detectives and their ilk were a little under my radar. I am, however, a bit of an animation buff, and my initial response to Swat Kats upon cracking open this set was a positive one. The opening sequence, replete with rocking guitar solos and animation quality that outstrips most of the early '90s output by a pretty wide margin, makes a great first impression. What's even more surprising is that the quality of the animation remains consistent throughout the show itself. In an era which brought us an X-Men cartoon that looked more like a 10-year-old's coloring book, the stylized, relatively smooth flowing, and above all, consistent look of Swat Kats is to be commended.
Sadly, that first hurdle is about the only one the show really has any success in clearing. The plots from episode to episode are just too similar, lacking any real degree of urgency or continuity, with weaksauce villains whose motivations are nebulous at best. The eye-catching designs and solid animation quality are completely wasted on a concept that has very little depth or personality. Over the span of the series' 20-plus episodes, none of the characters ever really develops, and we ever get any additional narrative depth beyond, "Here comes bad guy X!" ALARM! "To the Turbokat!"
It's obvious that the show is aimed squarely at the same action adventure audience that made the Ninja Turtles such a success, but the show just doesn't have any of the strength of character that made the Turtles so endearing, even if it's a more technically consistent effort. Reportedly, Swat Kats was the highest rated animated show in syndicated television in the year it debuted, but the story also goes that Ted Turner himself torpedoed the show out of sheer disgust in the level of violence on display. Could things have improved had the show been given a chance to thrive? Perhaps, but if the episodes collected here are any indication, I have my doubts.
Released as a part of the Warner Archives, the transfers aren't horrible, they're free of any dirt or visible print damage, and the colors pop pretty well, but the linework of the animation often looks edgy, and the image is pretty soft. The sound is a muted stereo mix that had me cranking the volume a little. There's not much dynamic range in there, and everything sounds pretty "mid-range" without any sort of rumbling bass or panning effects. It passes, but barely just. There are no supplemental features at all.
There's not much here to recommend. If you're a fan of the show, or were back in the day, here's your chance to own a copy of the series in its entirety…that doesn't look like ass. Parents, Ted Turner had the right idea, though his stance on the show's violence is a bit much, there's not much here worthy of your children's time, go grab The Pirates of Dark Water instead. There's some later period Hanna-Barbera goodness for you to enjoy together as a family, and it sure beats the 879th viewing of Scooby-Doo!
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