After a disappointing installment in Slug Power, Slugterra returns to form with its newest DVD from Shout! Factory, Slugterra: Heroes of the Underground. By now, I suppose it’s pointless to complain that Slugterra is a show that would be much better served by season sets, or at least a few more episodes per disc than the 5 we get here, but it seems that ship sailed a long time ago. By this point in the show, this disc (and this review) assume you already know the basics of Slugterra, so it makes a very bad introduction to the show despite its quality.
Heroes of the Underground opens with “Snowdance,” which is not only the weakest episode of the five, but one of the weakest episodes the show has produced to date. It features a wafer-thin plot that feels unduly padded, only managing to fill out its running time by requiring everyone in the episode to act like a complete idiot. How else to explain setting up a Slugterran movie theater in a cavern inhabited by hibernating Ice Trolls, and then having characters get involved in a massive slug-slinging fight? The episode antagonists are the Hooligang, last seen way back on disc 1, and even though the gang’s leader is a dim bulb by design, his actions require his idiocy to overwhelm even the slightest sense of self-preservation and ample, demonstrable evidence right before his eyes. Considering the lukewarm reception I gave the last disc, getting this episode first was definitely not a confidence booster.
Fortunately, this sub-standard episode is followed by two of the best episodes that Slugterra has done yet. “Inheritance” starts with a suspenseful break-in to the Shane Gang’s headquarters, with the intruder soon revealed as Dana Por, a young woman with a past linked to Eli’s father Will. A number of running plot threads get developed further in this episode, focusing on Eli’s father’s past and his connection to the Shadow Clan, the most mysterious and lethal inhabitants of Slugterra. While it ends up raising more questions than it answers, the execution is taut throughout and makes for extremely exciting viewing, as well as some incredibly well-rendered new settings. Black Lagoon‘s Maryke Hendrikse also turns in an excellent performance as Dana Por, with her natural rasp lending Dana a sense of being worn and experienced even though she’s roughly the same age as Eli.
Next in “A Distant Shore,” the mad adventurer Gar Revelle raving about his next expedition to find “The Burning World,” which Eli (and we) easily recognize as the surface. This is the first episode of the show since the season 1 premiere that addresses the enforced divide between the surface and Slugterra, and also reveals a bit more knowledge about the Shane family past. There’s also a genuinely surprising ending, as Eli comes up with a direct but unexpected solution to the episode’s central problem. The episode is also remarkably efficient at setting up a plausible conflict between Eli and the rest of the Shane Gang, which makes the episode’s coda that much more satisfying. While “Inheritance” is probably a better episode overall, “A Distant Shore” ends up being more emotionally satisfying. On a technical note, I’m impressed at how busy this episode can be. The posse organized by Revelle is sizable, and a barroom brawl in the center of the episode is enjoyably tempestuous and involves a much larger crowd than most CGI animated shows can manage well.
“The Journey Home” further addresses questions I’ve had about the mechanics of slug dueling and how the slugs manage to find their way home to their dueler. This fact was revealed in an earlier “Slugisode,” but never really addressed in the show until now. The episode ends up split between Eli’s misadventure in a duel with almost no slugs in his bandolier, while his go-to slugs (including his top slug Burpy) must navigate a surprising number of dangers trying to get home or back to Eli. It’s a fine episode, though the split story makes it feel a bit too unfocused in the end. Finally, “Roboslugs” introduces the mad scientist Quentin, who has developed a robotic version of slugs and goes on a miniature rampage against those who he feels have wronged him. The episode is an interesting game of one-upmanship, as Quentin and the Shane Gang face off three separate times and each has to deal with multiple reversals of fortune. It’s fun to see Shane and Quentin coming up with updated plans to counter the other in what boils down to a tribute to the power of creative thinking.
As a home video release, Slugterra: Heroes of the Underground is the same as the other Slugterra DVDs: anamorphic widescreen presentation and a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Bonus features include a “Creating Your Own Slugs” featurette, where series art director Andy Poon runs viewers through drawing a slug, and 2 more “Slugisodes” that reveal mechanics of the world.