Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo (2006)
As the delightfully ruthless and profane Al Swearengen - pimp and proprietor of the Gem Saloon - scrubbed the blood off his floor in the final episode of Deadwood’s third season, no one had any idea it would be nearly 13 years until we would meet the indelible characters of HBO’s remarkable Western series again. The show was cancelled abruptly (2003-2006) and although the Deadwood movie would bring some closure, David Milch’s genius allowed the final shot of the third and final season to act as both a series finale and a continuation, if possible. The very simple message to gauge from the last episode is this: Life is brutal, but it goes on. You just wash the blood away and move forward. Ironically, 2006 was also the year Teen Titans OS was cancelled after five seasons. In the penultimate episode, we get an epic, mind-blowing battle as a massive number of heroes square off against the Brotherhood of Evil. Although the series didn’t necessarily end abruptly, as some feel Deadwood did, it was felt that some closure would be appreciated since the news was still unexpected. We didn’t need to wait 13 years, fortunately.
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo (2006) jumps right into the action, which is pretty standard operating procedure for superhero films. An enigmatic red and blue villain called Saico-Tek (pronounced PsychoTek) is causing major destruction, but our heroes are quick to respond. A birdarang whizzes through the air and we’re re-introduced to our beloved Teen Titans. One of my major gripes, and I’m not alone here, regarding superhero movies is the constant inclusion of an origin story. No need for that in most animated superhero shows. Sure, the Titans have a fun origin episode, which is even referenced later, but often the shows hit the ground running with fully-formed characters. As always, the Teen Titans are, alphabetically: Greg Cipes (Beast Boy), Scott Menville (Robin), Khary Payton (Cyborg), Tara Strong (Raven), and Hynden Walch (Starfire).
Cyborg lets their enemy know that “locals don’t like it when you blow up their stuff.” We see the various ways the Titans fight Saico-Tek, who has an endless supply of explosives. One bit involves Beast Boy giving chase as a super fast cheetah and protecting himself by turning into a turtle. The anime-inspired style, slightly controversial early in the series, is perfection and it feels appropriate that their final adventure is set in Japan, though they'd have one more go in TTG! Vs. TT (2019).
My daughter had already seen this film many times and I forgive her ignorance to the concept of SPOILERS! When Cyborg is unable to damage Saico-Tek, she lets me know that he’s made of ink. Well, now I’m just confused, but we must press on. Titans Tower gets annihilated (Cyborg cries about his lost sofa), and although Saico-Tek is captured and interrogated by Robin, he activates the sprinkler system and disappears. Before he vanished, Saico-Tek revealed his origin city (Tokyo) and that someone known as Brushogun sent him. Robin is all business, but Beast Boy sees this as a perfect opportunity for a vacation.
We get an inventive credits sequence as each titan packs. Robin makes sure Silkie has a warm place to sleep, Beast Boy packs too much while Raven literally takes one toothbrush. Cyborg packs extra body parts and Starfire uses an alien handbag to carry her things. They fly off to Tokyo, where various antics take place, mainly involving Beast Boy needing a bathroom break after sucking down his Mondo Gulp and getting in big trouble by taking pictures of Raven while she sleeps. After a left turn at Hawaii, they arrive in Tokyo, a shimmering metropolis. Beast Boy desperately wants to visit the greatest comic book factory in the world, but Robin, serious as always, tells him they’re “heroes, not tourists.”
None of the heroes speak Japanese, but Starfire’s ability to absorb language through lip contact comes in handy as she lays a big smackeroo on some guy, much to the group’s shock. Even Raven raises a single eye brow, so it’s practically a conniption. This wasn’t the first time we saw Starfire use this power since she kissed Robin upon their first meeting during season five’s origin episode “Go!.” Robin and Starfire’s relationship always had a great “will they or won’t they” vibe, and that becomes a main focal point in Trouble in Tokyo.
I get my Godzilla fetish quota filled as a huge green monster attacks. I mean, we’re in Tokyo, where else would it attack? My daughter points out that it’s like Godzilla. I’m quick to point out that A) Godzilla doesn’t have laser eyes, B) he doesn’t have little baby wings, and C) That’s definitely a Gorgo-type monster. Ugh, philistine. This creature has the same healing powers as Saico-Tek and the titans prove to be no match for it. One question I have to ask: Where do Beast Boy’s clothes go when he transforms? It’s like Optimus Prime’s magically appearing trailer, which, as Robot Chicken put it, “irritated fans of the show but now it’s his greatest weapon!”
Suddenly, an army of soldiers, known as Tokyo Troopers, show up to capture the monster with an elaborate electrified enclosure. They’re fast, efficient, well-organized, and led by Commander Uehara Daizo (Deadwood’s own Wu, Keone Young, who also voices Saico-Tek. He doesn’t say ‘cocksucker’ in this film, which feels like a missed opportunity). Daizo is lauded by the mayor (Robert Ito of Quincy fame) and then gives the titans a grand tour of his highly advanced facility for keeping the peace in the city. Is it just me, or does all Japanese training involve slightly-bent knees and continuous punching? He assures the titans that he has everything under control. When Brushogun is mentioned, Daizo shrugs it off, saying Brushogun is an urban legend. Unfortunately, it becomes exceedingly obvious that Daizo is our villain. I would’ve preferred a bit more mystery and a later revelation. Robin is hesitant to give up the search, questioning whether they’re really on a wild goose chase. Starfire consoles him: “Do not blame Robin for the wild chasing of the goose.”
They separate, unaware that shadowy figures are tracking them. Starfire plays an insane Japanese video game while an excited crowd and Robin look on. Cyborg enrages an all-you-can-eat restaurant owner and is even challenged to pull an Oldboy by eating a live octopus. At one point, he eats “an old shoe full of wasabi.” Raven, ever the bibliophile, finds the only thing she can read, despite her multi-lingual talents: a single pack of “Super Twinkle Donkey Gum.” Beast Boy can’t go into the comic factory, but he follows a flirtatious young lady into a karaoke bar, where he launches into the Teen Titans theme song. Only this time, it’s not the rousing and familiar lyrics of evil being on the attack or heroes on patrol.
During the series, the theme song was translated into a Japanese version and often played over the opening credits of the American version. If you’ve ever read the often bizarre and hilarious re-translations of English-to-Japanese then back to English subtitles on many YouTube videos, you’ll know a literal translation has a poetic insanity that is brilliant and terrifying at the same time. I will go ahead and reprint the entire version at the end of this piece. For now, Beast Boy proclaiming that he “will obey the traffic rules” endears him to the many ladies of the bar. They chase him down while Cyborg runs from the restaurant owners.
Starfire and Robin share a tender moment and very nearly kiss, but Robin has an epiphany and goes right back to thinking about the mission. Starfire is upset, saying “I believed us to be having the fun.” Robin tells her that a “hero is all that I am, and if you don’t like it…” Starfire tearfully replies, “I like it more than you’ll ever know,” before flying off. The idea of heroism and putting personal feelings over responsibility is explored very well here. Robin is attacked by another Saico-Tek and, losing his temper, kills him in a gory scene while being watched by hundreds of people. Daizo arrives and arrests him.
Raven enters a shop and obtains a book about Brushogun. Starfire discovers Robin has been arrested, so they try to rendezvous but they’re attacked by a variety of villains, including a pink cat lady and a monstrous robot with knife-wielding tentacles. A dark figure, whom we assume is Brushogun, commands the villains to “erase” the titans. While the other titans fight, Robin is being transported, but a Saico-Tek explosive helps him escape. He dresses in a cool white jacket and does some snooping at a dangerous bar, where he gets a bit of info from a bartender.
He’s reunited with the other titans and nearly kisses Starfire again, but they’re interrupted…again. We learn that the liquid on Robin’s hands from the Saico-Tek fight wasn’t blood; it was ink. Raven reads the book and explains that Brushogun was Tokyo’s first super villain. In a nifty black-and-white flashback, we find that he was an artist who used dark magic to bring his pictures to life, but it came at a terrible cost. He was transformed into a hideous creature. Before they can learn more, half of Tokyo arrives to capture them and we’re treated to a highly stylized comic book version of a chase. Speaking of, they should’ve listened to Beast Boy because it turns out Brushogun is at the comic book factory.
Brushogun is withered and weak, with tubes running out of him. They realize he’s a slave and attached to a cursed printing press that uses his powers to create the monsters and villains they’ve been fighting. Robin realizes he’s not a murderer since Saico-Tek wasn’t real. Voicing Brushogun is the great Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, probably best known as Shang Tsung in the live-action Mortal Kombat (1995), but I always think of him as the psychotic Funekei Yoshida in Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991). Of course, he’s not really the villain - Daizo is - and he steps out of the darkness. The troopers, who are also not real, attack. It’s pretty sweet because the titans realize they don’t have to hold back now and they annihilate these manufactured henchmen. Daizo is cornered but jumps into the printing press, becoming a huge ink monster. Robin is absorbed into the monster and pulls Brushogun out, causing Daizo to collapse. Brushogun pulls a Yoda and disappears. It begins to rain, washing away the inky remains of Daizo’s creations and we finally get our Starfire/Robin kiss. In the rain, no less. Cyborg says, “It’s about time.”
There’s a huge celebration and everyone gets their little moment. Cyborg is given a mountain of food, Beast Boy says hello to the ladies, and Raven, who rarely interacts with anyone, still ends up becoming the mascot for “Super Twinkle Donkey Gum.” Robin and Starfire hold hands and they all receive cheap-looking medals from the mayor. They expect Robin to command them to return to Jump City, but instead, he suggests they have a little vacation. We’re then treated to arguably the best moment of the film, which I realize will sound a little insulting, but having the entire cast sing the re-translated version of the theme song over the end credits is hysterical.
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo is a fan-service movie through and through. It’s obvious the show runners wanted to continue the series but things happen. The characters are fun to watch as always and the fish-out-of-water element lends a freshness to the material. The show always walked a fine line between serious and humorous, unlike Teen Titans Go!, which went for a purely silly approach. Is it a perfect conclusion to their saga? No, but it’s perfectly fine too, and their re-appearances in the TTG! movies show they haven’t been forgotten. And now, for your pleasure, the literal translation of the theme song:
I will obey the traffic rules. TEEN TITANS!
I will eat everything without likes or dislikes. TEEN TITANS!
Earthquakes, lightning, fire, Dad, Grammar, Math, Science, Social Studies. There is nothing I am afraid of…TEEN TITANS GO!
Holler, holler, holler, holler, holler, holler, holler, my name! TEEN TITANS!
Papa’s schedule control, Mama’s weight control, Wishes are endless, TEEN TITANS GO!
1, 2, 3, 4, 5!!!! TEEN TITANS!