Kaijudo: Creatures Unleashed DVD Review: Rise of the Enjoyable Merchandising Tie-In

Not in the top tier of today's best animated series, but a worthwhile and enjoyable monster-fighting show with decent plots and artistry.
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What do you get when you cross giant monsters and sweet martial arts fighting? Kaijudo! I didn’t initially figure out the genesis of the title, even though it is fairly obvious, so I appreciate the bonus feature on this new DVD that explains how the creators married kaiju (the Japanese term for giant monsters) and judo martial arts to come up with their concept.

KaijudoWe’ve seen plenty of monster-fighting cartoons in the past such as Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon, and just like those series this one is a tie-in for kids merchandise, in this case a collectible card fighting game. Like virtually everything else currently airing in kid-friendly hours on toy titan Hasbro’s HUB TV channel, the series could be viewed as just a weekly commercial for the merchandise. That’s certainly the case to some extent, but at least in this early batch of episodes the writers integrate some decent plotting that makes the show worth watching based on its own merits.

The series follows the adventures of a half-Japanese boy named Ray who discovers that he possesses the rare ability to summon and control terrifying monsters from a parallel dimension. He’s new to his town of San Campion, somewhere in California, but is quickly befriended by two social outcasts named Allie and Gabe who join him in his quest to turn back evil forces intent on enslaving the monsters. They also get initiated into the secret society of Duel Masters, monster fighting veterans who school them in the art of monster training.

So fairly straightforward stuff so far, but turns out the monsters belong to five different civilizations with unique characteristics: Fire, Nature, Light, Water, Darkness. That instantly brought to my mind the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender and sequel The Legend of Korra with their four distinct elemental tribes, but here it’s most likely included for card battle purposes rather than overarching mythology.

Ray’s monster carries the weighty name Tatsurion the Unchained, a truly ferocious-looking mountain of a monster who usually isn’t too thrilled to be whisked into our world from his realm whenever Ray feels like it. Actually, I didn’t quite understand why any of the monsters would subject themselves to being on call 24/7 for puny humans, but just go with it and enjoy the action. And action there is, with fights every episode as the forces of good and evil go toe-to-toe and claw-to-claw.

The five episodes presented here are fairly tame and unobjectionable for the younger set, with the exception of two appearances of a monster who can only be described as a scary clown marionette, with deadly blades for hands, maniacal clown-painted eyes, no voice, and nobody controlling his strings as he floats through the air to menace his next opponent. He nearly gave me nightmares, so I can’t even imagine being the target-audience age and stumbling across that gem.

The series looks pretty good, certainly not in the top echelon of today’s best animated series but with sufficient artistry and attention to detail that you won’t feel like you’re watching a cut-rate product. The vocal cast does decent work as well, led by Scott Wolf as Ray and also including animation vets such as John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, and Dee Bradley Baker.

The DVD bonus features are surprisingly robust for what is just a collection of a handful of episodes, with in-depth looks at the creation of the series and interviews with the creators and cast members.

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