“Too female” might not be a weakness any more, but there was a time when a female ninja turtle caused a crisis in the sewers.
In 1998, the live-action television series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was quickly killed after a 26-episode run, causing the first TMNT hiatus since its inception. We looked into why the series that tried to move the franchise forward instead nearly ended it.
The series followed in the style of the original movie trilogy and made several notable changes to the TMNT universe. It advanced the turtles’ age to 18, introduced new villains, and the familiar human characters were absent. However, the most obvious was the addition of a fifth, female turtle, separated at mutation and raised in China and training in the mystic art of Shinobi. Originally her name is Mei Pieh Chi but she is quickly nicknamed Venus de Milo because I guess no one could think of a female renaissance painter (or else Sofonisba Anguissola was too much of a mouthful).
Venus’ mentor Chung I sends her to New York to help his old friend Splinter, who has accidentally unleashed the evil Dragonlord and his army. She is also responsible for the introduction of another villain, the vampire Vam Mi.
You’re forgiven if you don’t remember Venus. Not only was the show short-lived, but it turns out she was so hated by creator Peter Laird that he scrubbed all subsequent mentions of her from existence. Kevin Monroe, director of the 2007 remake, said one of ‘Peter’s rules’was “There’s absolutely no mention of Venus de Milo, the female Turtle. You cant even joke about that with Peter.”
Was Venus really such a terrible character? In short, no. Her addition could have breathed new life into the franchise and refreshed the group dynamic. There’s no clear evidence that The Next Mutation failed because it was too female, although one might speculate that is the cause of Laird’s disapproval.
The biggest fan complaint about the character was that the supposed Chinese art Shinobi is actually just another word for ninja. But considering the franchise has never been that deeply invested in cultural/historic accuracy, this complaint starts to sound a bit like ‘fake turtle girl’ misogyny.
Unfortunately, the show stumbled under the weight of trying to make too many changes. It tried to do too much, badly. It attempted to move forward with both the timeline change and the new characters. Fans reacted most vehemently the fact that the turtles were no longer siblings, also Venus’ fault. Presumably this was meant to enable a romance down the road, although it never plays out beyond a lot of doofy flirting—“We’re just turtle boy and turtle girl”.) Perhaps the shifts would have gone over better if the overall quality was higher.
The live-action concept simply did not work on the shoestring budget of a 90s network tv show. The Next Mutation was a part of a spate of live-action cartoon remakes in that time period, and appeared in some crossover episodes with the Power Rangers.
The series was meant for the same audience as the cartoon version, so the live action ends up placing unnecessary restrictions on the show. Although the turtles are visually similar to the original films, compare the costume quality on Shredder as well as the set design and lighting.
Ultimately the show failed to strike the same gritty-kiddie balance that made the 1990 film great. Venus was not herself a terrible character, but she would have been better off as a long-lost sister in one of the cartoon series. She could have fit nicely into the turtles’ dynamic but Laird’s disdain for the character means we won’t be seeing even a #slighlyfemale TMNT any time soon.