After the rousing success of The Fairy OddParents, it was a no-brainer for Nickelodeon to ask creator Butch Hartman if he had another miracle in his bag of tricks. Instead of following under FOP’s shoes, Hartman took his love of superheroes and applied it to his next big thing. And thus Danny Phantom was born. Instead of fifteen-minute segments, this one housed a full half-hour of adventure. The comedic slapstick and consistent character archetypes dwindled to make room for growing continuity and emphasis on story and development. While the show never reached the popularity of his previous series, it endured and remains a cult favorite to this day.
Danny Phantom stars the eponymous fourteen-year-old Danny Fenton, an all-around average teen who has virtually nothing going for him until the day he became a half-ghost hero. Along with his equally unpopular friends—Techno Geek Tucker Foley and Goth Girl Sam Manson—Danny repeatedly defends his town from renegade ghosts while trying to function as a normal boy. Its premise is archetypical of the standard Teen Superhero genre, following every cliché in the book. Its biggest message happens to be the quintessential obvious, dangling its “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility” lesson that’s become a common calling card to many puberty-inducing heroes. From balancing schoolwork, bullies and young love to battling arch rivals and gaining new powers, they spare no expense taking a cue out of its very familiar pages. Everything is blatantly laid out—Danny even gains his powers by accident! Instead of innovating, they take what was already given to them and utilizes it to its fullest, often to the point of lampshade. Humor plays a significant role; a product largely retained from Hartman’s previous series. Irritably, Danny Phantom is often clumsy with its gags, inappropriately slapping them in regardless of how poignant the current scene is. Nothing stinks more than witnessing a genuine emotion or a dramatic moment only for a quip to pop up because the writers couldn’t wait a minute or two later to put it in. Fortunately, the rest of the jokes work, producing a show capable of shaking up the status quo, but one that never takes itself too seriously. There’s nothing original about Danny Phantom, but it’s possible the writers knew that. Hartman took the genre he loves and molds a humble tale around it. The characters interact well, the story moves at a solid pace, and the animation, though blocky, is striking with surreal color and tone. It won’t win any awards, but it takes advantage of what it has and crafts a fine little story.
The first season effectively set up the characters and premise. Season two digs deeper and elaborates upon the world they built. The stakes are higher and the cast richer. The DVD collects ten of the twenty episodes and there’s a treasure trove of good stuff here. When they have a hit, they strike hard. “Reign Storm” ups the ante by introducing a powerful ghost king that forces everyone—heroes, villains, anti-heroes, and civilians alike—to team up and prevent their homes from falling apart. “Pirate Radio” is a terrific character study as Danny defeats the Ghost of the Day not with his powers, but through clever resourcefulness and leadership qualities. “The Fenton Menace” forces Danny’s sister, Jazz to mull over a hefty decision to expose his secret identity for his own benefit. “Identity Crisis” is a sheer laugh riot as Danny splits himself in two, both with conflicting personalities and none of the cooperation. “Masters of All Time” creates an alternate universe where primary villain Vlad Masters marries Danny’s mother. From a certain perspective, it’s a surprisingly tragic account of how desperate he can be that he’ll pull off something rotten even in an alternate timeline. None of them are particularly deep, but fulfilling nonetheless.
Unfortunately when it misses, it leaves a disappointing mark. “Doctor’s Disorders” is an uninteresting offering that plants a plot device on Tucker to give him something to do. “The Fright Before Christmas” is artificial, generic fluff that stacks itself amongst other forgettable holiday specials. “Beauty Marked” is a great Sam episode, but crumbles under its unsubtle message and derailment of Danny’s character. “Micro Management” provides tension when a compressed Danny slowly loses his powers in front of his school bully, but hampers it with a moral lesson better suited to an earlier season. They’re not terrible; just lacking.
Newcomers may not have notice after reading this far, but keen fans of the franchise have no doubt figured it out by now; the episodes are not in its proper format. The DVD claims to host the first ten episodes of Season Two and the box art list them in the correct order, but it’s sadly a mislead. Every episode is out of order and a select few chronologically belongs in the second half of Season Two. Fortunately, a good half are primarily fillers, so people new to the series won’t get too lost amongst the plot-driven ones. However, this will come to bite them in the butt if and when the second set arrives. The other ten not included contains the bulk of the continuity-heavy episodes, requiring knowledge of past incidents to understand. The misdirect will no doubt cause confusion.
It’s the one major downfall to an otherwise worthy purchase. Season Two contains the meat of the entire show and it’s most rewarding when viewed the way it was originally meant to be. If you’re a fan or an interested newbie, you would do well to wait and nab the hopefully upcoming second half of the set; it’s totally worth it. Until then, this will satisfy and keep you anticipated.