Debuting on USA in 1996 at the height of Kombat Mania, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm was an animated take on the MK universe that tied into both Mortal Kombat 3 and the first MK movie.
Episode Title: Kombat Begins Again
Original Airdate: September 21, 1996
Did I Know Anything Going In?: I think I had seen the intro in one of those compilation videos on youtube, but never actually watched an episode or really knew much about it at all.
So as mentioned up top, Defenders of the Realm is a weird hybrid of the movie and game universe. It kind of retcons Annihilation out of existence but also acknowledges events from the games and it’s specifically tied into Mortal Kombat 3, which is the only reason Stryker would be a main character. Johnny Cage is still dead and Shao Khan’s forces are attacking Earthrealm with increasing frequency thanks to portals that are opening up around the globe. Liu Kang, Sonya, Jax, Kitana, Stryker, Nightwolf and Raiden are basically Earth’s main line of defense and fight off the invaders and then close the portals and have somehow been able to keep everything under wraps. In the universe of the cartoon, Nightwolf is actually a tech genius and he’s setup a high tech volcano lair for the team and they also have a trio of high speed “Dragon Jets” that can fly and also travel underwater. The show is also probably most famouse for introducing Quan Chi, who would become a major villain in the games following the show. The main thing the show takes from the movie universe is the thumping techno score, that is pretty much going non-stop in the background of the show. It does actually feature a direct reference to the movie though, as there’s a flashback to Liu Kang fighting Sub-Zero’s brother but it’s been PGified so that Sub-Zero is just frozen and not impaled.
Starting off at full speed, the team fights off an army of robot ninjas led by Cyrax, which helpfully sidesteps the whole Fatalities problem and lets them destroy swarms of bad guys with special moves with 0 repercussions. What is kind of strange though is that the robot ninjas let out a pretty horrifying, blood curdling scream whenever they are destroyed while Sonya yells things like “It’s Kombat Time!”. Sub-Zero II arrives just in time to fight off the last of the robo-ninjas but the group doesn’t trust him because he’s a traitor to his ninja clan. They agree to bring him back to their base though when his info about an impending invasion by Scorpion is proven true by Raiden. The base is attacked by nomads aka Barakas and the group blames Sub-Zero but he proves himself yet again and they found that he was unknowingly carrying a tracking device and they fully accept him on the team to help fight off Scorpion in the next episode.
One surprising thing about Defenders of the Realm is that there’s actual some top tier talent on the voice cast. Clancy Brown voices Raiden and carries over Christopher Lambert’s sassiness in his more gruff voice while Ron Perlman voices Stryker and Scorpion. Craziest of all is Luke Perry voicing Sub Zero, who had just left Beverly Hills 90210 after it’s sixth season and was in a weird voice over phase where he was in this, Biker Mice from Mars and The Incredible Hulk. Perry is really trying to give Sub-Zero that gravelly, wounded hero voice but it doesn’t quite work. Other people on the voice cast are Brian Tochi, who played Leonardo in the live action TMNT movies, Olivia d’Abo, who 90’s kids probably best remember from The Big Green and Dorian Harewood, who was in a ton of 90’s cartoons like Sonic the Hedgehog, Prostars and Spider-Man.
Defenders of the Realm is not the worst MK related thing but it’s also not that great either. The one thing it has going for it is that it moves at such an insanely rapid pace that you don’t really have time to register some of it’s flaws. The animation style looks pretty cheap but they did try to incorporate some trademark MK moves and characters and it deserves a lot of praise for trying to wipe out Annihilation from existence. Ultimately though, PG Mortal Kombat is just something that just doesn’t really work.