"That'll Do, Pig": Shout! Factory's Complete Jem DVD Set

.....Following the abject failures of G.I. Joe and The Transformers on DVD from Shout! Factory, the idea of a Jem box set sounded like an awful, awful idea. But then, a few surprising things happened. One, the Blu-ray for G.I. Joe: The Movie turned out far better than expected.Then, for reasons unknown, the Rhino version of the G.I. Joe episode "Cobra Stops the World" was retired by The Hub in favor of the original FHE home video master (albeit with different end credits). And, to top it off, when The Hub started actually airing Jem, they used the original broadcast masters!
.....So now, the set has come out, and your faithful webmaster has watched all 65 episodes and the special features. However, since many have complained rather loudly about the set online, I've decided to go full-on with the review treatment and (when I feel like it) the full breakdown treatment in the Videos section. So, without further ado:

Packaging: The first thing that one notices about this set is that the art design simply blows away anything Rhino ever did. While Rhino re-purposed old promotional art on one hand and (badly) redrew footage from the series on the other hand, everything here looks professional and, surprisingly, on-model. Furthermore, the size of the packaging is another bonus: while G.I. Joe and The Transformers received gimmicky, over-though, and over-sized packaging, Jem's entire series fits into a box that is the exact same size as one of Funimation's American Dragon Boxes. Each "season" is placed within one standard clear DVD case, with the discs arranged neatly on multi-disc trays. And, since the case is clear, the credits for the set and an episode listing are visible upon opening each case. However, this means there are no liner notes, and no episode synopses, a bit of a mistake for a nostalgia release.

Menus: After the FBI shakedown, logos and previews, the menu presents itself, and is again an improvement over the Rhino set. First up is a brief animated sequence featuring the series logo:

Then the main menu proper:

The instrumental version of the end credits plays while clips from the episodes on that particular disc play, as the window bounces around. It would not shock me if someone tries to make a screensaver based on this main menu. Oddly, the clips play backwards in order to fill the time allotted for the music.

Video: As hoped for, the set uses the original broadcast masters, so there are no re-take issues or what have you like with the Rhino sets. However, we're dealing with telecine transfers ranging from 23-26 years old, and rushed transfers, at that. So, there are some tape anomalies, and colors can vary a bit (in fact, one can tell from the opening credits of each episode the general quality of that particular episode, thanks to the heavy amounts of special effects animation). While care has been taken to ensure that the Season One portion of the set is free of the "Jem Girls" theme (as was not the case with the Rhino DVDs), the other two sets have a jumbled mix of the two openings.

There is a distinct down side to this, though: "The Beginning" and the first two episodes of Starbright are clearly not the final versions of those episodes, as evidenced most noticeably by the non-animated commercial bumpers (which also feature some variant music). The obvious implication is that the broadcast masters of these three episodes' final forms bear the "Jem Girls" theme, so versions with the original theme were chosen. However, this seems like an odd and downright lazy choice: why not simply substitue the correct theme song on the final versions? It seems like a combination of laziness and ignorance, an annoying trait of the dissatisfying Transformers and G.I. Joe relases from Shout!

Otherwise, the video is quite solid. Any tape faults are barely noticeable, though a trained eye can pick out certain types of footage: re-used footage often has faded colors, re-takes are soft and marked with heavy amounts of dust, and footage that has been tweaked in post production has jaggies. Unfortunately, there is one episode that bucks this general trend, and it is the anti-drug episode, "Alone Again".

The intro and end credits are visibly damaged, as any shots with special effects animation bleed into some awful sort of blue snow. Neither sequence should have appeared on the set, as their are multiple examples of the same intro ("Jem Girls") and end credits (1987 with the Claster logo and without Roger Slifer's Co-producer/Story Editor credit) in superior shape that could have been plugged in. However, the thing that will cause the most complaints occurs during the song from which the episode's title is derived:

Yup, a total picture dropout. Given that the 35mm footage exists, as well as the PAL master (which, like all of the Sunbow PAL masters, does not suffer from the speed-up that most film-to-PAL transfers have), this very brief dropout could have been replaced.

Audio: Audio for all episodes is a lightly stereoized version of the original mono audio, as was the case with the earlier Shout! Factory sets. This is great, but there are some anomalies. Some episodes in the first set which had instrumental themes and end credits have the vocals re-applied in a rather sloppy, echo-y fashion. (Click here for the intro, and here for the end credits.) Oddly, the first and third episodes of Starbright do not suffer from this, so you do get to hear the instrumental intro produced for overseas dubbing. Another oddity is that there is an issue with some episodes, including "Roxy Rumbles", where a ghost of the main audio track can be heard in the empty spots around the commercial bumpers (click here to listen to the effect in action).

Special Features: Again, an area where the Shout! Factory set outpaces its Rhino predecessor. While the select episode commentaries are gone, there is a pretty extensive making-of documentary that features a pretty wide range of staff members, and not just Christy Marx, Roger Slifer, Samantha Newark, and Britta Phillips (the only people who worked on the show that Rhino interviewed). There's also a cast documentary (in which Patricia Albrecht single-handedly creates a market for outtakes of her performances as Pizzazz) and an enthusiastic (if heavily tilted towards the female gender) fan profile. The true treasure trove begins, though, with a number of commercials in surprisingly good quality (and, even more shockingly, the faces of the girls who appeared in the ads unblurred), and a number of storyboards for the intros and some songs in animated form. Then, we have the DVD-ROM material. First, the show's bible, from June of 1986 (for context, Raya and Jetta are mentioned only in an addendum). Then, high-quality scans of the toy catalogs, a faux-magazine packaged with the toys, and the entire licensing kit! It's not everything, per se, but it is a great deal of stuff.

.....Is this the end-all, be-all, never-to-be-surpassed Jem DVD set? No. Such a set has all of the versions of the first eight episodes, which may be unfeasible at this point. However, I would have settled for the final versions of those first two miniseries. Also, the dropout in "Alone Again" could have been fixed, and easily. However, let's be honest. We'll be getting some form of that first disc as a standalone at some point. I would love to see that standalone release have the Truly Outrageous! movie (which was released on DVD in Europe some years ago, but is now out of print) and the final versions of "The Beginning" and the first two episodes of Starbright. Or, barring that, the other half-hour versions of the first seven episodes as a sort of mirror image of Disc One of this set. That would have me jumping for joy. As it is, it's a fine release, albeit a tad rushed, and well worth purchasing.

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