Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos seems like the kind of thing that could have been made jokingly about five years ago, during the heyday of Norris’s pop culture resurgence. Alas, it’s the product of a bygone era, when for one heady week in September 1986, the syndicated series aired its only five episodes. This irony-free chunk of ’80s animated trash could scarcely be worse if someone decided to make an intentionally terrible cartoon to mock the era and Norris’s persona. And that’s exactly the fun in cruising through these babies, now available on a burn-on-demand DVD from Warner Archive.
Norris stars as a version of himself — one who looks like he’s been juicing — who leads a team of crack government operatives. There’s a samurai warrior, a sumo wrestler, a tech expert, a burgeoning apprentice and a kid — graced with the abysmal name/catchphrase Too Much. Naturally, Norris must save the kid from enemy clutches regularly.
Despite the title, there’s not too much karate going on as Chuck and the team battle the evil Claw, who — guess what? — has a claw for an arm, and his purple-masked henchman Super-Ninja. The series sees them defending an underwater lab, transporting a robot laser safely across enemy lines and stealing back a space shuttle, among other nonsensical exploits.
The series, which was created by Norris himself, is absolutely heinous from almost any perspective. The animation is dull and leaden, the one-liners are embarrassing (especially those given to sumo wrestler Tabe, who just can’t seem to control his appetite) and the voice work sounds like the product of only first takes. Norris somehow manages to be even more wooden in his delivery than in his live action performances.
And oh, the live-action performances. Taking this series to the next level are the non-animated intros and outros Norris does for each episode. Standing in a gym, and getting off a few punches on the bag for good measure, Norris tries to relate the episode’s theme to a handy moral useful for impressionable youngsters. My favorite is probably his lesson that violence is almost never the answer — following an episode where the enemies’ asses get all kinds of kicked.
Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos seems ripe for a sardonic overdub a la Sealab 2021 or Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Here’s betting any viewing at your place will quickly turn into an impromptu version of that.
The burn-on-demand disc features pretty awful image quality, which seems rather appropriate. The shot-on-video live sections are VHS-quality, with even a few instances of image-rolling (where’s the tracking button when you need it?). The animated sequences fare a little better, but damage is everywhere and the image is often soft and littered with digital artifacts. But there will be much more egregious offenses to notice as the episodes roll on, so don’t worry. The disc features a menu that allows you to play all or select an episode. There are no extras.