Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Invader Zim, Vol. 1: Doom Doom Doom (non-Japanese animation, TV series)

The Irken armada is preparing to take over the universe (Operation Impending Doom II), but first the Almighty Tallest have to do something about Invader Zim, the guy who ruined the first Operation Impending Doom. They convince him that he's being sent on an important mission, put him in a spaceship, and send him in a random direction with a defective robot (the adorable GIR). That random direction brings Zim to our own planet, which he is promptly determined to take over. After cleverly disguising himself as a small green child with a small green dog (GIR in a dog suit), Zim tries to learn Earth's weaknesses. The only person who immediately sees through his disguise is UFO-obsessed Dib, one of Zim's classmates.

I love this show.

There's no progressing storyline - Zim wants to take over the Earth, and Dib wants to stop him (and use him to prove that aliens exist), but that's pretty much it. One episode ends with the Earth floating aimlessly through space - in the next episode, everything's fine again. In another episode, Zim's brain has been replaced with a pig - in the next episode he's fine. Is this a problem? No, not really, because the important thing is the humor - if you're worrying about continuity, you're taking this show too seriously.

It's been ages since I watched anything on Nickelodeon, but I remember when I was a kid and it featured slime and toilet humor. Invader Zim has both (plus other liquids and drippy stuff I don't want to think about too much). It also has random weird humor, fun dialogue, and lots of great one-liners (many of which I'm sure made it onto t-shirts and other merchandise). This show practically cries out for fan sites listing favorite quotes - and a search for "Invader Zim quotes" turns up plenty.

In addition to the humor, I liked the characters. Zim gets a little too evil for my tastes at times, but I love him when he's barely competent but hugely confident. It wouldn't surprise me if Gaz, Dib's sister, inspired Mandy from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, yet another show I like. Dib is like a young, picked-upon Fox Mulder (The X-Files). Then there's GIR - as the various people in the DVD commentaries say, "America loves GIR" (also, "America hates Dib"). Anytime the show needs a boost in its insanity levels, GIR is there to help. Plus, he's the cutest thing ever.

Several times during the commentary, people mention how surprised they were that Nickelodeon let them get away with as much as they did. The humor does occasionally get pretty dark (to the point of being horror, actually). In one episode, Zim rips out the eyeballs of one of his classmates and replaces them with new ones - this is only shown in silhouette, but still. I think this happens in the second episode. In another episode, Zim steals the internal organs of his classmates and stuffs himself to bursting with them. In yet another episode, Zim uses rubber pigs and a time machine to gradually cripple and eventually kill Dib (he only stays dead for a few seconds, but it's still brutal). The cast and crew members in the commentary conclude that Nickelodeon wasn't watching them too carefully (yet), and I'd have to agree.

As I've already said, I love this show. I'd recommend it (to people with a high tolerance for sometimes dark and often gross humor), except that owning it now takes a slightly greater monetary commitment than it did only a year or two ago. A couple years ago, I remember seeing the complete Invader Zim series on for only $30. Now, you'll see it selling for $50+ used.

I don't usually spend much time looking at and listening to DVD extras, but the extras for this aren't too bad. The commentary is fun, although it doesn't always stay focused on the show and the cast and crew have a tendency to just keep talking as though the episodes will never end (I think one commentary cuts off in the middle of some comments). For me, the only other good extra is the interview with several of the voice actors. After hearing some of them in the commentary, it was nice getting to see them. I didn't really watch the animatics, the pig commentary was pretty worthless, and I can only guess that the Irken subtitles were a nod to some really obsessed fans (I couldn't help but wonder if the subtitles were actually translatable - it didn't seem like they could be). The back of the DVD box mentions "fanboy commentary" - if you want some of that, you'll have to provide it yourself, since I don't think it actually exists. I suppose fangirls need not apply. ::sigh::

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (non-Japanese animation, TV series) - This show features the adventures of the Grim Reaper and the two children who have forced him to be their best friend. Billy is a cheerful idiot, while Mandy is cynical and devious - between the two of them, they make Grim's existence very difficult. Those who'd like another cartoon with gross, weird, and occasionally dark humor might want to try this.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac (comic) by Jhonen Vasquez - The same brain that came up with Invader Zim produced Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, a dark and disturbingly funny comic about Johnny (Nny). Nny tortures and kills people, usually as vengeance (because they belittled him or otherwise gave him a hard time), but sometimes just because he likes torturing and killing people. However dark Invader Zim may get, this is darker - it's definitely not for everyone. What little I know about Johnny makes me think of Dib, if he suddenly snapped after years of being ridiculed.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (stop motion movie) - Jack Skellington of Halloween Town is bored of frightening people. When he discovers Christmas Town, he becomes obsessed with Christmas and eventually tries to take over Santa's role. Most of Halloween Town gets involved, but they all have a twisted idea of what Christmas is like. It's a recipe for disaster, and only Sally, a rag doll woman who is secretly in love with Jack, seems to realize this. Can she free Santa and stop Jack before Christmas is ruined? Those who'd like something else weird, funny, and a bit creepy might want to try this.
  • Excel Saga (manga) by Koushi Rikudou; Excel Saga (anime TV series) - Lord IlPallazzo and his team of ACROSS agents (two of them - hyper Excel Excel and Hyatt, who is sickly and coughs up blood) plan to one day take over the world - and they're starting with just one city. Their various crazy attempts always fail. Those who'd like another weird and energetic "let's take over the world" story might want to try this. With all the satire and references, it helps to have some knowledge of manga and anime before you see this, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. I'm more familiar with the manga than I am the anime, although I've heard that there's so much going on in the anime that it can be tough to keep up with the subtitles.
  • Pinky and the Brain (non-Japanese animation, TV series) - Two lab mice - "one is a genius, the other insane" - try to take over the world, coming up with various outlandish schemes that never quite work out. Those who'd like another cartoon featuring a pair of characters who attempt to take over the world might want to try this.

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