Teen Titans and the Troublesome Movie

In addition to being a huge fan of Disney, I am also a huge fan of the TV series Teen Titans. In fact, it is my favourite show of all time. It has great, well-developed, lovable characters, exciting action, interesting stories, dynamic animation and is overall very well written and fun. It was also a huge hit during its prime in the early 2000s, with 2 million viewers and a devoted fanbase. So of course, a movie would be inevitable.

After five seasons of waiting, fans of the hit show Teen Titans were finally granted their own feature length film, Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo. The reactions were…mixed, at best. As for how I personally felt, while I wouldn’t go as far as to call this film total crap, there are a lot of flaws in the movie that range from mildly annoying to seriously problematic.

First, some context: despite being released after the series finished, the film apparently takes place between seasons four and five, according to IMDb at least. That does explain why all the new Titans introduced in season five don’t appear or are even mentioned, and probably explains why the Robin/Starfire relationship is muted in the fifth season, indicating that they became a stable couple and therefore exempt from more ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ moments. That makes sense.

What does NOT make sense is how a lot of characterizations seem to either regress or become botched. While Starfire’s character development, at least to me, seems to be relatively untouched (the only real change is that she makes it clear she wants to take her relationship with Robin to the next level, and Robin’s reluctance to do so is messing with her; though then again, she doesn’t really PROGRESS much as a character, either), the rest of the cast, not so much.

For Robin, his character arc throughout the entire series is supposed to show how he gradually has to become more comfortable not being a perfect hero and trusting/getting close to others. Near the end of the series, while he’s still devoted to his job, he’s a lot less hardened and more open, balancing life between wanting to crack down on criminals and being easygoing. For some reason, the movie decides to go back to square one with his character and have him all “I can’t relax and I can’t be anything other than a superhero for reasons” again. Isn’t that a little redundant? I know there needs to be a conflict, but it’s still a little odd. What’s even odder is that the episode “Stranded” (from season four) makes it pretty clear he is comfortable escalating his relationship with Starfire, why the sudden change of heart? That said his characterization is pretty cohesive compared to what happened to Beast Boy, Raven, and Cyborg.

First off, why are any of these characters in this movie? When you really get down to it, they’re only there to show that the team is still a team, witness Robin and Starfire kiss, and provide funny filler scenes (the scene with Beast Boy doing karaoke is gold), only doing very mildly important things to the plot. Save for a few important plot points that you could easily substitute with just Robin and Starfire, you could remove them from the story and it would be almost virtually unchanged . The movie could’ve easily been about Robin and Starfire going to Tokyo (either on a date or for a special mission) with the rest of the team taking on a somewhat related mission elsewhere. I think I would’ve preferred that because what the movie does to these characters is baffling.

In my humble opinion, the show did a wonderful job exploring the Beast Boy/Raven relationship, showing how, despite all odds, they can, and do, deeply care for each other. While they still have some scuffles, in the end they settle their differences, leaving room for their relationship to grow and develop into something better as they continue their lives. There were a lot of positive BBRae (the relationship name for those two) moments, if you will. Yet the movie feels like one massive anti-BBRae moment, with the two characters constantly being aggressive (verbally and physically) towards one another, and with no scenes of them being tender. I wonder if this was the creator’s way of saying “fuck you” to the shippers, since, when interviewed, they went on record saying they never initially intended for the two characters to become a couple. I can understand how they’d want them to remain friends, but this is just…wrong. While Beast Boy and Raven did have their scuffles with one other, it was never as bad as shown in the movie. The worst offensive, though, is what they did to Cyborg. All he does in this movie is eat like a pig!

With the way the team is characterized, it feels so jarring that this is supposed to take place near or after the end of the series. What would make more sense, in my opinion, is to have set this movie between seasons one and two (or even seasons two and three), rather than seasons four and five. That way, some of the characterizations would still make sense. Plus, it would serve as better continuity, too: Robin is still reeling from his encounters with Slade, but manages to find solace in Starfire, and then the rest of the series would be about them trying to maintain a stable relationship despite all the shit they have to go through (with only a few minor changes, such as having them get into a fight in “Stranded” that does NOT involve Robin shouting “she’s not my girlfriend!”). Yet, here we are.

Anyway, let’s move on to the other major thing: the villains. Now, I actually do think Uehara Daizo is an interesting foil to Robin (not a supervillain, but a corrupt ‘hero’ who is in it for the glory and fame rather than to deliver justice), and Brushogun is a pretty tragic character. While I don’t mind them individually, they’re a little underwhelming compared to the villains in the show (mainly Slade and Blackfire). Since this was the last piece of Teen Titans animated media for the longest time, it’s a little jarring we end it by watching the Titans defeat complete strangers rather than have a final resolution with established villains. What might have been interesting is if some of the major baddies that didn’t appear in the end of season five (Slade, Blackfire, maybe even Brother Blood) would make an appearance in the movie, either working alongside Uehara or to work alongside the Titans to bring him down. This would both satisfy audiences and make Uehara a more compelling villain. Instead, we get these minions made of ink. Part of me doesn’t want to be too harsh on them since they’re meant to be tributes to classic Japanese characters/tropes. On the other hand, I find it a little iffy how Brushogun, “Japan’s first supervillain”, is able to create characters inspired by technology that won’t exist or even be imaged for decades. Is the idea that Brushogun has existed for centuries, or was he merely a peasant in more modern times? We have no idea. So to see him create an Astro-boy inspired minion with no knowledge of whether or not he should’ve been able to think it up is a bit of a continuity error at best. (PS: Did Uehara die? Or do we just assume he went to jail and Tokyo took the whole lie of the Tokyo Troopers well? And what the hell happened to that train full of people that got derailed by the Godzilla knockoff?? I’m asking too many questions.)

Now this might all sound like me nitpicking. I guess I could be, so I’m going to delve into the topic that REALLY pisses me off about this movie.

Towards the third act of the movie, we get a very intense scene where Robin, in a fit of rage and frustration, beats the shit out of Saiko-Tek, one of Uehara’s minions. This then leads to a grim, potentially disturbing/triggering finale where Robin essentially beats the character to DEATH, becomes drenched in what appears to be blood, and a crowd looks upon him in horror. Robin is shocked and ashamed of this action, and the proceeding scenes have him in denial before dealing with the fact that he has become what he has always feared—a criminal. It is all handled very maturely. So what happens?

Psych! The character Robin pummelled to ‘death’ wasn’t real at all! That wasn’t blood on his hands, just pink ink! All is fine! All is forgiven! No need to worry about what might’ve happened if that WAS an actual human/sentient humanoid being Robin was ready to brutally murder, let’s just go on our merry way like nothing’s wrong!

The movie takes what appears to be a very serious scene that takes a harsh look at Robin’s character (especially consider how, early in the show, Robin and the Teen Titans were concerned that he was very close to becoming just like Slade; if the person he ‘killed’ was real, then Robin would’ve fully crossed the line), and then quickly tosses it aside. I understand that the movie needs to be kid-friendly and can’t have Robin ACTUALLY kill someone, but my problem is that, for the rest of the movie, they never address it not once. At no point does Robin say something along the lines of “I may have been lucky that time, but I NEED to be careful. I can’t let myself do anything like that again” or imply that, in addition to expanding his relationship with Starfire, he’s going to radically change his heroics and lifestyle so that he’ll be less harsh and violent. At no point does Robin show any real sign of remorse or guilt (after being caught, he keeps denying that he committed a crime and is so sure it was all a set-up, and when he’s shown that it IS a set-up and that he didn’t kill anybody, we’re supposed to feel vindicated and relieved). At no point does the team discuss the personal and public ramifications of how their powers can—and will—cause serious harm if left unchecked. Nope, it’s brought up and tossed out in no time at all, and everyone’s reassured that they didn’t hurt anyone and can’t possibly hurt/kill anyone. It’s really insulting. To make it even worse, during the climax of the film, when the Titans are confronted by Daizo’s ink minions, Cyborg mentions that, since they’re not real, they don’t have to hold back. Umm…what’s that supposed to mean?!

Maybe I’m overanalyzing this, but that’s just beyond fucked up. The movie makes it clear that these characters CAN be killers, and then does nothing about it. Seriously, fan-videos (where the pink ink on Robin is edited to look red like actual blood) handle this topic better than the movie!

So with all this shit, why do I keep going back to this film? Because of all the good scenes of Robin and Starfire being together (and we finally get to see them kiss!). The other scenes that are genuinely fun and funny (if you watch the whole movie on a no-brainer level, it is quite entertaining and enjoyable). Those scenes are worth a watch.

Overall, a huge mess. Relatively good on its own, but a rather disappointing note to end the show on, with some unfortunate implications. While I can respect how diehard fans can have feelings for it that range from absolute love to absolute hate, I wouldn’t recommend this film to casual viewers. And I know a lot of fans are calling for a sixth season, but I think a second movie is probably more appropriate (and more likely to actually happen). A movie that ties up all lose ends in the show and makes up for this particular movie’s flaws. But that could just be me.

Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a college student with Asperger's currently enrolled at the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.

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