From one experiment to the next, here’s a trial run of three ideas at once; battle royales, returning combatants, and sequel episodes!
From an analysis standpoint, the Ninja Turtle Battle Royale was an interesting change of pace. For the first time, we had characters who actually knew each other, and that knowledge would heavily affect the fight! Also, for a look into how difficult the biweekly schedule could be... I had never seen the 2003 TMNT show, so I had to binge the entire series in a single weekend.
“But Ben,” you say, “that show has a total of 169 episodes, all around 23 minutes long, and an hour long movie. That’s almost 4,000 minutes, which would take more than 66 hours to watch! How’d you do it in one weekend?”
I’m glad you asked, dear reader, and wonderful mathematics skills! Whenever I knew two back-to-back episodes weren’t two-parters, I’d watch and takes notes on them both at the same time. Multitasking, baby!
The original plan was to actually have the turtle winner go up against a Power Ranger in the next one, specifically Tommy Oliver, the White Ranger. I believe the idea was that Tommy was already considered the most powerful Mighty Morphin' Power Ranger, so we'd find the most powerful Ninja Turtle to pit against him. It seemed like a natural fit to me. I grew up during the time both series were juggernaut phenomenons. Most kids my age had preferred one over the other, Nintendo vs Sega style, so it would be an epic rivalry match-up!
Buuuut it seems it wasn't meant to be. A few other ScrewAttack staff members were lobbying for me to switch Tommy out for a Battletoad. (Remember, we were a video game website first and foremost then.) For the first time in Death Battle history, I left deciding an upcoming match-up entirely to a community vote.
The poll swung in favor of the Battletoads, so episode 7 became Zitz VS Leonardo.
Looking back, the battle royale episode itself is a testament to Death Battle’s age. There’s no mention of the 2012 Ninja Turtles show, as it hadn’t even been announced yet. There’s also an unfortunate use of the word “retard” to describe Michelangelo, which is pretty embarrassing by today’s standards. Back then, Wiz and Boomstick were portrayed as pretty rude and arrogant. We had quickly dropped the hardcore, bloodlusting personalities from the first two episodes, and the characters temporarily evolved into what’s apparent here; Wiz is bored and easily angered, while Boomstick is rambunctious and offensive. We were mainly inspired by the success of online shows like the Angry Video Game Nerd. Back then, angry people were all the rage!
However, I don’t think it was the best choice for Death Battle. Nearly everyone agrees with the Nerd when he says Superman 64 is “oose-infested dirty fucking sewer rat shit,” but Death Battle analysis always holds some broader element of subjectivity, and often results in tearing down a fan-favorite character. It’s natural and expected for some people to disagree with any Death Battle outcome, regardless of how well presented it is. Having the hosts act like cocky douchebags accomplished little more than rubbing salt on a fresh wound, and plenty of people would lamentably attribute these awful traits to Chad and myself, rather than our characters. Thankfully, this was eventually changed for the better.
To this day, the Ninja Turtle Battle Royale is the only Death Battle which remains blocked on YouTube in most countries due to a copyright claim. Due to its method of presentation, Death Battle’s use of copyrighted material can technically be defined as fair use. However, I honestly wasn’t too surprised this happened, because years ago I had already learned this was the episode that crossed the line.
It's likely it was blocked because of how graphic this episode got. It featured the four turtles brutally killing and dismembering each other in cruel and cold-blooded fashion! It ends with Leo's horrifying stare at the camera while the water around him turns red with his brother’s blood!
When this episode aired, the greater discussion among viewers was about how weirdly disturbing the fight was. Sure, the colorful pixel art means the gore isn’t too disgusting to look at (apart from how blurry some close-ups are) but just the concept of the turtles slicing each other up with absolutely no remorse seemed too much for these characters. Yes, the show is called DEATH Battle, but it isn’t South Park or Robot Chicken. It’s more historical than parody, and while this may seem like a stretch to some, the battle sequences are more like a recreation you’d see in a documentary than a humorous skit. That being said, violent and over-the-top deaths help keep Death Battle fun, but it’s generally important to also keep said deaths in line with the character performing the execution. Having Leo cut Mikey's head off wasn't the problem in and of itself, but how it happened rubbed people the wrong way. To be clear, it wasn't weird to some simply because the combatants were from a cartoon. It was weird because their actions were so far removed from their characteristics that they no longer felt like the turtles people love. I realized that by making this battle so unceremoniously brutal, I had deviated from properly representing these lighthearted characters.
Don't get me wrong, this doesn't ruin the episode. For what Death Battle was at the time, I think it turned out well overall! Still, this was a good lesson to learn so early on, and it would affect my approach for several future episodes. Including one with a certain flying pony. But that’s a blog for another day!
Also, while the episode may not be watchable on YouTube, here you go!So if you want to see your childhood ruthlessly stabbed repeatedly 24 times...
-Ben B. Singer
P.S. What characters would you like to see in a Battle Royale style episode?