This review can be found at Shadowlocked, here.
I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting when I popped Ape Escape into my DVD player. My frame of reference of the series was the original Ape Escape on PS1; the pioneer software for Sony's dual-stick Dualshock controller; a sweet soundtrack filled with poppy drum 'n' bass, and more ridiculous monkeys than you could count - trying their hardest to put their IQ-giving 'Pipo Helmets' to good use.
Plot-wise, the Ape Escape DVD provides the last of those three. A series of two-to-three minute episodes that largely focus on Specter - the villain of the Ape Escape series. He's an evil ape granted a genius intelligence though an experimental helmet. With his army of fellow apes (given helmets of their own), he intends to take over the world... but never manages to succeed.
At the very least, I expected an animation of the Ape Escape series to be an anime. Anyone would with such a 'typically Japanese' source material. But upon watching, these expectations were heavily subverted! Ape Escape is animated by Frederator, an American animation team, most notably responsible for The Fairly Odd Parents, but have more recently had a hand in the production of Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors.
A More American Monkey
There are two issues with this, one an outright problem and the other... more of a thinking point. The problem here is that Ape Escape was very much a side-project for Frederator. Written to fill Ad-break slots on the Nicktoons channel in 2009, the animation was produced in Flash, leading to a cheap and loose-looking finished product. That would be perfectly fine when watched on TV, but packed together like this, it stands out much more.
That's not to say Frederator didn't put in any effort into the production. The writers and directors of each episode shuffle around and are recognisable from the team's larger projects, and the voice cast (Greg Ellis as Spectre and Annie Mumolo as the kids out to stop him) are well-established in doing voices for cartoons and video games.
The show's writing is my second issue, but not necessarily a complaint. With an American studio handling the project, the writing is very typical of a Western show aimed at children, rather than a Japanese one. Since, as said before, the source material is full to the brim of Japanese-specific wacky humour, the absence of that is a surprise.
Here, you'll see slapstick reminiscent of Dennis the Menace; Sound effects just like a Hannah Barbera cartoon, and the visual gags of Dexter's Laboratory. All of it is aimed at someone at least a decade younger than me (I'm 22), but every so often a gag would be absurd and timely enough to get a chuckle from my cold, dead heart.
A Good Catch?
Still, the biggest question lingers: who should buy this? Animation fans aren't going to get much entertainment from a show that could be technically compared to Johnny Test. Fans of the Ape Escape games are likely to want the Japanese humour of the source material. Young kids would enjoy it, but Ape Escape is barely a recognisable name in the West these days, and as a kid your watching habits are very much franchise-driven.
For those who want to give Ape Escape a shot, the DVD will go on sale on February 18th for a reasonably cheap £7.99.