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REVIEW: THUNDERCATS CLASSICS LION-O
By Thomas Wheeler

I think most followers of 80's pop culture, especially as it related to animation and action figures, would tend to agree that the "big three" concepts were G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe.

I also think it would be very fair to say that there are several concepts that are very, very close seconds to those "big three", and in my opinion, one of these would certainly be ThunderCats.

Fondly remembered by a lot of people who were kids in the 1980's, ThunderCats had a spectacular animated series that had a moderately higher bent towards anime than most of the 1980's animated series, and this was well before anime had really caught on to the degree that it has, and also enjoyed a very healthy, multi-season run and a considerable cast.

The original toys -- well -- okay, compared to G.I. Joe, Transformers, and such, one could understand why people fondly remember the cartoon, but sort of raise an eyebrow over the action figures. Produced by LJN, a company long since defunct, they were popular enough, but somewhat limited in detail, and certainly in articulation, especially given their size. They just simply weren't terribly impressive.

Unlike most of the other popular concepts of the 1980's, ThunderCats never really made a return -- until recently. There were considerable issues over the legal rights, until ThunderCats finally ended up, more or less, with Warner Brothers, which at least allowed DC Comics, through their WildStorm imprint, to turn out several capable mini-series, and even team up the ThunderCats with Superman and, on another occasion, Battle of the Planets, one of the more peculiar pop-culture team-ups on record. But apart from that and a DVD release of the entire series, there didn't seem to be much happening for the natives of Thundera.

But now, the ThunderCats have received an all-new animated series. And although it is a reboot of the concept, the sort of thing that I personally tend to despise, adhering to the motto of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", I do have to give credit to the series designers. They haven't taken the look of the core characters as far afield as I was afraid they might. They have preserved the essence of the characters, and much of the iconic imagery of the original series. The animation is a bit more anime than before, but not by a significant margin, and the show is, as one might expect, a good bit edgier than it used to be. Still, for the most part, they still look reasonably recognizable, at least if the toys are any indication.

That's right, there are new ThunderCats action figures, and this time, they're in the hands of Bandai, best known for such generally excellent action figure lines as Power Rangers, Ben 10, and -- a few years in the past now -- Gundam. Personally, I wouldn't've minded if the ThunderCats license had ended up with Mattel, since the notion of ThunderCats figures being created by the same people who turn out such masterpieces as DC Universe Classics and Masters of the Universe Classics certainly has its appeal, but in fairness, Bandai is a more than capable toy company that can certainly turn out impressive product.

I'll admit my interest in the figures based on the new ThunderCats hasn't been very high. However, I will say that from what I've seen, Bandai has done an excellent job with them. If you're enjoying the new animated series on Cartoon Network, then I certainly give my recommendation to the action figures based on the new ThunderCats. There's a very cool 4" line, and an equally cool 6" line. The figures appear to be nicely designed, detailed and very well articulated.

What I was most definitely interested in, though, was when Bandai announced that it planned to produce a series of 8", highly-detailed, highly-articulated action figures based on the CLASSIC ThunderCats. Okay, THAT got my attention. Given how limited the original action figures were in these aspects, this was something that was slightly over 25 years overdue.

Thus far, two figures have been made for the line -- Lion-O and Tygra. Tygra, whom I have already reviewed, is relatively easy to find. Lion-O -- well, if one needs any proof that the original ThunderCats still have a good measure of popularity, and that fans have been waiting for a really good line of action figures for them -- good luck finding him. I won't even tell you what it took for me to snag the noble leader of the ThunderCats.

Before I get into a history of the classic ThunderCats, and of Lion-O in particular, I'd like to make two observations about the package. First of all, it's pretty small relative to the figure. I suppose I'm used to DC Universe Classics, or Masters of the Universe Classics, which tend to come on pretty good-sized cards relative to the figure. Lion-O comes in a box that honestly isn't all that much bigger than he is. This isn't a complaint, just an observation. One would hope that the ThunderCats are not prone to claustrophobia. It's nevertheless a very nicely-designed package.

The second observation is this. There was this little panel on the side of the box, a white square with the ThunderCats emblem and some little colored dots. I thought perhaps these were some sort of bonus points or some such, but instead, there were the words "Download Snap Tag", and a tiny graphic of a cell phone.

I actually had to look up "Snap Tag". According to the information I discovered, SnapTag technology turns brand logos into interactive marketing tools. Consumers with either a standard or smart camera phone can snap and send a picture of the SnapTag to a designated short code or scan the SnapTag using a SnapTag Reader App to instantly access offers, content, promotions, and information.

A brandable, more accessible alternative to a QR Code, SnapTags enable advertisers to make their brand logo a portal to mobile interactivity from any placement on any marketing material.

Of course then I had to look up QR Code, and those stand for "Quick Response" Codes, and are those strange little squares that I've been seeing in everything from advertisements in comic books to roadside political signs.

Let's consider a bit of the history of the ThunderCats concept, and of Lion-O in particular.

ThunderCats was originally produced by Rankin/Bass Productions, and debuted in 1984, based on characters created by Ted Wolf. The animation was provided by Pacific Animation Corporation, and had an initial run of 65 episodes, with several subsequent additions of 20-episode groups, each starting with a five-part story. There are a total of 130 episodes, making for a decidedly impressive run for the ThunderCats.

The rights to the ThunderCats have tended to bounce around a fair bit over the years, which may explain why a revival was so difficult. The series was originally distributed by Rankin-Bass Productions' then parents company Telepictures, which would later merge with Lorimar Productions. In 1989, Lorimar was purchased and folded into Warner Brothers, who have since had the rights to the series, although Ted Wolf has maintained some interest in the concept as well.

The series follows the adventures of the team of heroes, cat-like humanoid aliens from the planet Thundera. The series pilot begins with the dying Thundera meeting its end, forcing the ThunderCats (a sort of Thunderan nobility) to flee their homeworld. The fleet is attacked by the Thunderans' enemies, the Mutants of Plun-Darr, who destroy most of the starships in the escaping fleet, but spare the flagship hoping to capture the legendary mystic Sword of Omens they believe is on board. The sword holds the Eye of Thundera, the source of the ThunderCats' power, which is embedded in the hilt. Though the Mutants damage the flagship, the power of the Eye drives them back. The damage to the ship means the journey to their original destination is not possible, instead having to journey to "Third Earth"; which will take much longer than they had anticipated. The eldest of the ThunderCats, Jaga, volunteers to pilot the ship while the others sleep in capsules; however, he dies of old age in the process, but not before ensuring they will reach their destination safely. The flagship contains the young Lord of the ThunderCats, Lion-O, as well as the ThunderCats Cheetara, Panthro, Tygra, WilyKit and WilyKat, and Snarf.

When the ThunderCats awake from their suspended animation on Third Earth, Lion-O discovers that his suspension capsule has slowed rather than stopped his aging, and he is now in the body of an adult. Together, the ThunderCats and the friendly natives of Third Earth construct the "Cat's Lair," their new home and headquarters, but before long, the Mutants have tracked them down to Third Earth. The intrusion of these two alien races upon the world does not go unnoticed, however - the demonic, mummified sorcerer, Mumm-Ra, recruits the Mutants to aid him in his campaign to acquire the Eye of Thundera and destroy the ThunderCats so that his evil might continue to hold sway over Third Earth.

According to the first chapter on Wildstorm's comic "Thundercats Origins: Heroes and Villains", the Third Earth is actually our Earth in an alternate future. Mumm-Ra originates from ancient Egypt, where he first enslaved himself to the Ancient Spirits of Evil in exchange for his tremendous powers and knowledge of the universe. He is – seemingly – the one responsible for destroying the human race, after he broke free from the onyx pyramid's burial chamber where a Pharaoh's son imprisoned him. However. this is never referenced in the original animated series.

The remaining seasons of ThunderCats kicked off with the movie "ThunderCats: Ho!", which introduced three new Thunderians, later dubbed ThunderCats by Lion-O, who had survived the destruction of their homeworld. They were named Lynx-O, Pumyra, and Ben-Gali. New enemies would turn up over the successive seasons, and Mumm-Ra would continue to cause trouble.

ThunderCats' final season actually brought the series to a reasonable conclusion, something highly unusual for an animated series at the time. In the opening mini-series, "Return to Thundera!", the ThunderCats returned to New Thundera to rebuild their society, but before departing, they destroyed Mumm-Ra's pyramid, enraging the Ancient Spirits of Evil to the point that they brought Mumm-Ra back, and installed him within a new pyramid on New Thundera. The season proved to be quite divorced from what had gone before, with adventures consigned almost entirely to New Thundera, and most villainous opposition coming from either Mumm-Ra or assorted new villains. In the series finale, several conclusions are reached: Mumm-Ra stands up to and successfully asserts himself over the Ancient Spirits of Evil, the mystery of the Book of Omens was at last solved, and the tumultuous and terrifying environment of Thundera was at last rendered peaceful and pristine.

So, let's consider the character of Lion-O. The series did something with Lion-O, referenced somewhat above, that was certainly highly unusual. When the ThunderCats entered stasis upon leaving their planet, Lion-O appeared to be about twelve years old -- and that's being generous. When they arrived on Third Earth, he was an adult, at least physically.

To be perfectly honest, I've never been entirely sure why they did this. It was a step that bordered on the bizarre. Perhaps it was seen as a justification to present Lion-O as a noble, but highly inexperienced, leader. However, he had the position, and was pretty much all the ThunderCats had to work with on this new world. He learned quickly, and thankfully, any potentially childish behavior on the adult Lion-O's part was highly limited. He grew soon enough into the role of leading the ThunderCats, and proved to be a noble and effective leader and hero over the course of the series.

So, how's the figure? Really outstanding! I'll admit I was a little concerned as to what the final product from Bandai would look like. Don't get me wrong. Bandai is a great toy company, but occasionally, some of their figures tend to have a more -- well, for lack of a better term, "constructed" look about them than some others. They're more inclined to use unpainted metal rivets and visible screws to hold their figures together. While this isn't always a liability, it would have been ill-suited to something like these ThunderCats Classics figures.

Fortunately, none of these appear in the ThunderCats Classics line. The basic construction design, honestly, is not too far removed from what Mattel does with DC Universe Classics or Masters of the Universe Classics, with a few differences here and there. The type of plastic that Bandai tends to use is different -- it is more rigid, but given the size of the figure, it's also more solid. The only time this sort of plastic can be problematic is on smaller figures or very fine parts. That's certainly not the case with Lion-O.

Obviously at 8" in height, the ThunderCats Classics line is not to scale with anything being produced by Mattel, or really much of anyone else just now. But -- big deal. There are some collectors out there, I know, who won't buy anything that's outside of a certain scale regardless of how much they may enjoy the concept. As far as I'm concerned, if it's a cool figure, I'll get it. And certainly Lion-O is a cool figure.

The overall sculpt is superb. The essence of the animated likeness of the character has certainly been captured here, in that Lion-O has a superb amount of sculpted detail, without going overboard. He looks very much like he stepped right out of the cartoon.

Lion-O's headsculpt is excellent. As his name implies. Lion-O is based on a lion. His skin is mostly a golden orange, and he has a thick mane of long red hair, which on the figure, is somewhat posed to look like it's waving to one side. This is not at all inappropriate for the character. He has some pale yellow details, including his hands, and areas around his eyes and mouth on his face. His eyes are large and have red irises, with slitted, cat-like pupils, and he has relatively narrow black eyebrows.

It's worth noting that I believe that Bandai is imprinting, rather than painting, the eyes on these figures. Fortunately, Lion-O's are very well aligned. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Tygra, who has one eye slightly askew of the sculpted mold on every version I've seen. One would hope this is not a problem that will persist.

Lion-O has a powerful, muscular built. He is wearing a blue top with a bare abdomen. The way Bandai has designed the figure, the upper torso of his outfit is a separate piece, and almost looks armored. Is is wearing blue trunks, has bare arms and legs, and dark blue boots. There us some dark blue trim on the uniform, mostly border lines, and the outfit is completed by a wide belt in silver and metallic blue, with a large circular buckle that bears the emblem of the ThunderCats.

Paintwork is actually relatively minimal on the figure, but where it appears it is very neatly done.

Articulation is truly excellent. Lion-O is fully poseable at the head, neck, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. It's worth mentioning, I believe, that Lion-O's waist is more movable than Tygra's. Tygra's waist allows him to bend forward and backward. Lion-O's does this, but also turns from side to side. Tygra's does not, unless I've got a Tygra that is just plain stuck, which seems unlikely.

Lion-O and Tygra share a few common parts, which isn't terribly surprising, since they have similar builds. Both figures have the same upper arms and upper legs, as well as necks, knees, lower legs to the boots, and hands.

I certainly don't object to this, as it gives the figures a certain amount of consistency. My only real concern is that I would very much like to see this line continue, and nobody else in the main ThunderCats cast can really share body parts. Cheetara is female, Panthro is distinctly larger than either Lion-O or Tygra, and WilyKit and WilyKat are kids.

Technically, I suspect these molds could be shared with a couple of the additional ThunderCats, such as Ben-Gali and Lynx-O, and I would imagine that Cheetara could share some parts with Pumyra, but I suspect it is doubtful that we would see these characters before we see the initial cast.

It may well be that Bandai chose these two characters to commence this line not only because of their prominence, but because of their similar size and ability to share parts as such. So be it. It is my sincere hope that the line will fare well enough as a whole, including the new ThunderCats, for these Classics to continue for a good long time.

Lion-O comes with several accessories and a couple of auxiliary hands. One of these hands is actually one of the accessories. It's the Claw Shield, a large, metallic gold, cat-like claw that Lion-O customarily wore over his left hand when going into battle. In this case, the claw IS the left hand, and it snaps onto the wrist joint very much like a glove, even though it extends well up the lower arm. Lion-O also has a standard left hand.

Lion-O also has two versions of his Sword of Omens, a short version and an extended version. He comes with a second right hand that is more designed to grasp this accessory. This hand is also identical to Tygra's second right hand, which he uses to grasp his weapon. All of these accessories are superbly well made and nicely detailed, although I do wonder if the extended Sword of Omens might have been made from a slightly too-flexible plastic. I'm well aware of safety regulations, but the Sword borders on the floppy. Still, it looks good, no complaints there.

One additional note: There was a San Diego Comic-Con version of this Lion-O, which presented the figure in a metallic blue uniform, and also took the additional step of dry-brushing brown paint over the musculature on the arms and legs in an attempt to enhance the detail or something. The metallic uniform was cool enough, but the brown paint detailing looked absolutely awful, as do most such attempts to enhance the detail or weather the look of a figure. I am extremely thankful that the "standard" Lion-O did not do this.

So, what's my final word? Lion-O is really a truly magnificent figure. He represents the ThunderCats figures as they always should have been. This ThunderCats Classics line from Bandai finally updates these classic characters in a modern action figure form that is entirely respectful to the originals, just as Mattel has done with their Masters of the Universe Classics line. Any longtime ThunderCats fan will be delighted with Lion-O. I will say that at this time, he is EXTREMELY difficult to find. Hopefully by the time you read this, Bandai will be shipping him a bit more, and more retailers will be carrying the Classics as part of their ThunderCats inventory.

LION-O from the THUNDERCATS CLASSICS collection most definitely has my highest recommendation!