Invader Zim Volume 3: Horrible Holiday Cheer

This final two-disc set completes the arrival of Invader Zim on DVD, and in some ways it's the most interesting, since it reveals the half-dozen or so episodes that were completed for a second season of the animated series that was cancelled before they ever made it to air. In addition, it contains that last handful of episodes from season one, and the Christmas special "The Most Horrible Christmas Ever." In the shell of a flying walnut, Invader Zim was an incredibly ambitious Nickelodeon show that lasted one season in 2001, featuring the incompetent alien Zim from the planet Irken, who comes to earth with his robot sidekick GIR to take over the planet. Zim is haunted by his classmate Dib, who's out to reveal Zim's alien nature, though no one else seems to care. Looking at the end of season one and beginning of season two, it's hard not to appreciate the artful zaniness of Zim's creators — there's more packed into two 11-minute episodes than most animated shows ever attempt. The dramatic readings, the over-the-top silliness and the incredibly detailed and dense animation make it a joy to watch. However, as Zim moved on from its straightforward alien invasion plots, it also got less coherent, story-wise, and certainly harder to follow for casual fans. Whereas earlier episodes took the basic premise — Zim trying to take over the world — and spun its weirdness off from it, increasingly at the end of the show's run no pretence to being grounded in any narrative foundation remained. At its best, that's great — an episode in which Dib's sister Gaz can taste nothing but pork is hilariously delightful — but at times the show spins right off its incredibly beautiful axis. For hardcore fans of the show — and after all, if you've made it to the third two-disc volume of these DVDs, that's hardcore — these kinds of distractions are irrelevant, but it's easy to see why Nickelodeon pulled the plug on an award-winning show that cost approximately $13 million per show but retained only a cult audience. In terms of serving that cult audience, several episodes are presented with pre-art "animatics" and some distracted, in-joke filled commentary, but on the only "featurette," featuring various animators, creator Jhonen Vasquez is nowhere to be found. Too bad — I think he's the one that could shed some light on all this craziness. Plus: Irken subtitles. (Anime Works/Viacom/SMA)