Judge Mac McEntire, DVD Verdict-- This is the first half of the second season of Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, which was preceded by four seasons of the original Ben 10 and three seasons spread out across nine DVDs of Ben 10 Alien Force.
What's interesting about this batch of episodes is how they're all stand-alone, with no ongoing arc continuing from episode one to the next. This makes sense. Last season, the entire universe was in danger. Our heroes traveled beyond the boundaries of time and space to commune with CelestialSapiens, and then they had to battle one another, their best friends, as bitter enemies. After all that high drama, this season means it's time to have a little fun again. The easy way out for the writers would be to keep trying to top themselves with ever-increasing stakes. Instead, they've gone the opposite route, with a series of character-based and more grounded (relatively speaking) episodes.
Instead of the fate of the world being in jeopardy, the crisis faced by our heroes this season comes from matters of the heart. Ben and his girlfriend Julie are on the outs, and while this causes strife between them, it also opens up the possibilities for new romance, first with Eunice, then with Elena. Interacting with new and/or returning characters gives us a chance to see Ben in a new light. Even better, though, is how much character development is given to Gwen in these episodes. Throughout the entire series, Gwen has always been the serious one in the ensemble, but this time around we get an exploration as to why she's the serious one, and why she's so compelled to always do what's right.
"It's Not Easy Being Gwen" is not just the standout episode on this set, but one of the best episodes the series has ever done. Like fan-favorites "The Zeppo" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and "Data's Day" from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the episode breaks from established formula, showing a typical Ben 10 tale from the outside looking in. The episode culminates in one of the finest pieces of animation the show has ever created. The fight against Dr. Animo is cut together with footage of Gwen's friend's piano concert, with the piano music providing the only sound for the battle, and the resulting duality will your breath away.
That's one of many great moments throughout, though others are more subtle. There's a scene in which Elena argues that the alien swarm can be used to do good, and not just be a weapon. Kevin listens to this with a smile on his face, agreeing with her, and then frowns, before reminding her how dangerous the swarm is. It's a marvelous piece of animation acting, told more through the character's facial expression than the dialogue. Subtlety is good, but do not forget the bread and butter of this series--aliens kicking each others' butts. There's plenty of that here as well, and the action scenes continue to be exciting and cleverly staged.
You might think that stand-alone episodes are a good chance for those who've never seen the show to join the fun. Numerous callbacks to previous entries in the franchise, though, will likely confuse the newbies. The packaging proudly proclaims that this is, "The Return of Heatblast." I have a couple of problems with that. First, all of Ben's original aliens were unlocked at the end of the Highbreed arc in Ben 10 Alien Force, so Heatblast has been back for a while now. Second, Heatblast is only onscreen for about a minute, at most. Third, Heatblast appears in the episode in which Dr. Viktor returns, and his comeback is a much bigger deal. On a more positive note, aliens and supporting characters from the two live action Ben 10 movies make their animated debuts without missing a beat, and this was a lot of fun to see.
Picture and audio continue to be solid, with bright, vivid colors, and broad, booming sound. The "Alien Database" feature of past DVDs is replaced with a similar "Blast From the Past" bonus feature, on screen text that can help you get caught up on some of the returning characters.
-Full review at dvdverdict.com