In a clever combination of kid's animated programming and martial-arts movie lore, the WB's Xiaolin Showdown debuted in November, 2003. The first episode, "The Journey of a Thousand Miles" laid out the premise and introduced the characters Omi (voiced by Tara Strong) is a young would-be monk at the Xiaolin Temple, training under head monk Master Fung (Rene Auberjonois). Full of ego and certain of his superiority, Omi's world view is drastically shaken by the arrival at the temple of three new novices volatile Japanese valley girl Kimiko Tohomiko (Grey DeLisle), burly cowboy Clay Bailey (Jeff Bennett) and Brazilian surf dude Raimundo Pedrosa (Tom Kenny). Oh, and there's a sarcastic, shape-shifting temple dragon named Dojo (Wayne Knight). Despite their relative inexperience, the four have been chosen by Master Fung to serve as Xiaolin Dragons, seeking out and protecting ancient magical artifacts called Shen Gong Wu, which are coveted by the forces of evil, called the Heylin. These forces of evil primarily present themselves in the form of an ancient witch named Wuya (Susan Silo) who acts through her comically egocentric protege, a boy genius with a penchant for the dark side named Jack Spicer (Danny Cooksey). Each episode follows the same basic construct the Dragons and the Heylin search for Shen Gong Wu, the possession of which gives the owner a supernatural martial arts ability. When someone from the Good Side and another from the Bad Side grab a Shen Gong Wu at the same time (which happens near the end of each episode), a "xiaolin showdown" is declared, with each side wagering one of their own Shen Gong Wu. And then they have at each other with their magical martial arts.
Xiaolin Showdown is one of the better kid-oriented animated shows from the early 2000s, marked by excellent art design, top-notch animation and consistently clever writing. Throughout the first season, interesting new characters were introduced to keep the stories fresh in one episode, Jack and Wuya meet a girl cat burglar named Katnappe, who wins the Golden Tiger Claws (which allow the user to "tear" a hole in time and space so they can travel anywhere at will) and goes on a crime spree; in another, the gang meet a fat-but-nimble ninja named Tubbimura; and in "Time After Time," Jack creates a powerful demonic warrior named Mala Mala Jong, who seems unstoppable until Omi uses the Golden Tiger Claws to remove the Shen Gong Wu that serves as its heart. The style of the animation is deliberately reminiscent of anime, but with a fresh, very American twist. Frankly, as good as the show is, the strict reliance on the same formula for each episode wore thin by the end of the second season, but these 13 episodes of Season One were still creative, funny and deftly made.
Warner's two-disc Season One package is a nice release, though it's awfully skimpy for real fans of the show. The 13 episodes, presented in their original full-screen (1.33:1) ratio are gorgeous bright and clean with rich, sharp color. The DD 2.0 stereo sound (English, Spanish or French, with optional subtitles in English, Spanish or French) is equally good. There are, however, no extras. Two-disc keep case.