What Ninja Turtles means to me

Since the first trailer of the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (and the abomination that it’s turning out to be) was released, I thought I would share my own thoughts and experiences with the franchise. After all, the story of four “Heroes in a half-shell” has come to mean more to me than just an early Saturday morning action adventure.

Despite being a child of the 90s, I never got into the original TMNT TV show. You know, the one that everyone knows. I think I was too young when it originally aired (it was canceled in 1996, when I would’ve been six years old), and it never really resonated with me. I was a Power Rangers kid and despite a somewhat rough live-action show in the latter 90s, the turtles passed me by.

And yes, I missed out on the live-action movies as a child as well.

It wasn’t until 2007, with the release of the CGI TMNT movie, that I gave the turtles a second look. Even now, I can’t say for sure what it was that drew me to the characters. Maybe it was the stylish animation. Maybe it was the longing for a simpler time, back when everything was about good and evil and the good guys always win.

Or maybe it was just because I needed something to get away from it all.

You see, it was around the time that the movie got released that my younger brother was diagnosed with Leukemia. Hospital visits were constant, a sense of worry hung over the family, and my little brother was paler than a ghost. He missed a lot of school, was sick more often than not, and he became the focus of everyone. Including myself.

With that said, I think I needed something to remind me of simpler times. Something new, something I wasn’t overly familiar with, but something that could make me feel like a kid again.

I think that something was TMNT.

A friend of mine loaned me the VHSes of the live-action films, and I watched them all. He insisted that I needed to see the others before seeing the newest one. The movies ranged from decent (the first one) to awful (the third one), but I found myself enjoying them all the same. Then, I went to see the TMNT movie in theaters.

Without my little brother.

I forget if he was too sick to go, or if I just wanted to get away from everything for a while, but I ended up seeing the movie with the same friend who loaned me the live action movies. The movie was all right. It had some parts I really liked (the conflict between Leonardo and Raphael, for instance) and some parts that I didn’t (all the monsters were conveniently located in New York City for thousands of years and no one noticed) but overall, it served its purpose. It got me away from everything for a time, and it put me back to my childhood.

When I got home, I realized my little brother had wanted to see the movie too.

He was unable to go to the movie theater, so instead I did the next best thing. I did some research, and found out that the most recent TMNT show was a darker, more mature show than the 80s version. It followed the plot of the original comics more closely than any other incarnation, and was said to have a strong focus on character development over action. Because it was a TV show too, it meant that my brother could watch it with me.

I made it my mission to find every episode of this show to make up for going to the movies without him. It may have been guilt that drove me to do so, but I’d be lying if I said that the movie hadn’t piqued my interest as well. This was also before the days of Netflix and instant streaming, so I had to get DVDs and reruns and whatnot.

But I did it.

My brother and I watched the TMNT 2003 show in its entirety together. Instead of focusing on selling toys based off the show (though that was there), the show focused on the characters themselves. Each of them not only had their simple personalities (Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, for example), but over the course of the show, they grew to be real people. Their relationship with each other felt real, their relationship with their sensei felt real, their relationship with the human April O’Neil and Casey Jones felt real. The focus of the show was on the characters, which kept me coming back for more.

I think it was the emotional core of the show, the relationship between brothers that really sucked me and my own brother in. The action was fun, the villains threatening, plot hokey but enjoyable, but it was that core that really stuck with me. After all, the turtles faced hardships every episode and had to come together to defeat it. My brother was diagnosed with Leukemia, a hardship, and we had to come together to get through it. The turtles were outcasts in New York because of who they were. As I said in a previous blog, I was something of an outcast because of my love of video games and eventually anime.

TMNT spoke to me and my brother, and holds a special place in my heart.

TMNT also started the long-standing tradition of my brother and I watching television shows together. We finished TMNT, and moved on to things like FullMetal Alchemist, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Dexter, Damages, and most recently, Breaking Bad on Netflix. That tradition is one that we uphold to this day, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Now, there is a new TMNT show airing on Nickelodeon. I’ll admit, I was wary of the idea of a CG show. Would the focus still be on the brothers? Would things be closer to the 80s version, full of lame villains and bad puns?

I’ve not been disappointed. The 2012 TMNT show rocks. My brother and I watch it together when he’s home from school. Go check it out, it’s awesome.

And now, another movie is being made, this time with Michael Bay in the producer’s chair. Short version: I don’t like what I see. Maybe the movie will be better than it looks, but so far, I’m not a fan. I’ll save final judgment when I see the actual movie, though.

The story of four brothers coming together as a family to face hardships is not an original one, but one that stuck with me. I came to know the turtles like family. Now, I read the comics, keep an eye on fanstuff (this comic is fantastic!) and watch the Nickelodeon show when I can. I don’t know what the future holds for TMNT, but I’ll be along for the ride.

I just hope the future has less Megan Fox.


Do you have any television shows, books, movies, or what-have-you that hold a special place in your heart?


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