REVIEW: THUNDERCATS CLASSICS 6" LION-O FIGURE
I believe most fans of 80's pop culture, especially toy-and-cartoon-based pop culture, would tend to agree that the "big three" concepts of the time 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. In all honesty, I tend to think that about the only reason that ThunderCats didn't manage to climb to quite the same level as the aforementioned "big three" was that their original toy line, produced by LJN at the time, however extensive it might have been, just wasn't on the same quality level as the others.
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 -- like I said -- might have been the one thing that kept ThunderCats off that top rung on the ladder.
Unlike most of the other popular concepts of the 1980's, ThunderCats never really made a return -- until fairly 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 fierce felinoids.
But now, the ThunderCats have received a 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, 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.
The first release of these 8" figures featured the two most prominent ThunderCats, Lion-O and Tygra, whom I have previously reviewed.
Following their release, however, something unusual happened. Bandai announced that they were scaling back and essentially restarting the ThunderCats Classics line -- as a 6" line, the first two releases of which would be Lion-O and his arch-enemy Mumm-Ra.
Why? Honestly, I don't know for certain. I can think of several reasons, however. One would be economics. A 6" figure is logically going to cost less to produce than an 8" figure. And nobody has to be an expert economist these days to know what shape the economy is just about anywhere in the world. I'd like to think that someday these words I'm writing will no longer apply, but just right now, it's very troubling out there. And it's certainly affecting the toy world. Prices are rising, articulation is being cut to make action figures in any number of lines more affordable to make, and just so it doesn't sound like I'm being flippant, what's happening in the toy world is the least of most people's concerns. So that's certainly a possible factor.
Another is a certain amount of compatibility. There's a 6" line based on the modern ThunderCats. Maybe Bandai wanted the two lines to be more agreeable with each other. Additionally, there's not a lot of 8" lines around these days. There are several 6" lines, if you consider Mattel's DC Universe and Masters of the Universe lines, and Hasbro's Marvel Legends, although in fairness, none of these lines, including the new ThunderCats Classics, are entirely compatible with one another. But they're a good bit closer than trying to squeeze an 8" line into the mix.
A third possible reason might be marketability. I never saw the 8" ThunderCats in many stores. I saw them at Toys "R" Us and K-mart. That's not to say they didn't turn up elsewhere, but I never saw so much as shelf space for them at Target or Walmart, and those are a couple of retailers that you really don't want to NOT be carrying your product. I've seen the 6" Classic ThunderCats at both of these stores.
Whatever the case, I am sincerely grateful that I have the 8" versions of both Lion-O and Tygra. They're magnificent figures. It is now my hope that the 6" ThunderCats Classics line will have a long and healthy run -- even if there's some concerns for that which I will address at the close of this review. Now, let's consider a bit of the history of the ThunderCats concept, and of Lion-O in particular, and then have a closer look at his new 6" Classics incarnation.
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.
Now, admittedly, this is one of the major differences between the 8" Lion-O and his 6" version. The new 6" version does have a series of visible screws in his back. However, I don't find this exceptionally disagreeable. I won't say it looks great, but maybe it's just something I'm used to from a Bandai product.
This aside, the basic construction design itself 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. 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.
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. As one might expect, he's very nearly identical to his larger counterpart, with one distinctly noticeable difference in the headsculpt.
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.
Here's the main difference between the 8" and 6" Lion-O's. The 8" Lion-O has a closed mouth. The 6" Lion-O has an open mouth, and a fiercer overall facial expression as a result. I'm honestly not sure why Bandai did this, and I'm not at all sure that I regard it as an improvement. Now, I will say that the overall sculpting and paintwork is excellent with this "open-mouthed" Lion-O. But the end result is nevertheless a character that looks angrier, and probably more difficult to reason with. That's not entirely in keeping with the character as he was portrayed in the series.
It's worth noting that I believe that Bandai is imprinting, rather than painting, the eyes on these figures. They had a little trouble with this on the 8" Tygra, but it seems to have worked well here.
Lion-O has a powerful, muscular build. 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. He 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.
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.
Bandai tends to specialize in very precise paint jobs, and that's certainly the case here. The only thing that could even remotely be considered a "glitch" is the fact that his ankle joints are orange, in the midst of his dark blue boots. However, I would expect that most of his smaller joints came out of the same mold, and had to be molded in the same color. This is a little unfortunate here, but I don't regard it as worth complaining about. For those more troubled by this than I, I can recommend several good brands of acrylic paint.
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. All of these accessories are superbly well made and nicely detailed.
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. And I have no complaints about the size reduction, and I look forward to getting, and reviewing, Mumm-Ra in the near future. And this Lion-O has certainly been easier to find than his 8" counterpart, which was darn near impossible.
Now let me address one other concern. It has been reported that Bandai showed NO new ThunderCats products at the 2012 International Toy Fair in New York City. This amidst no shortage of new Ben 10 and Power Rangers materials. When asked about new ThunderCats product, they had no comment.
This is deeply troubling to me, and I would expect it to be so to any ThunderCats fan. It's my understanding that, as with many programs on Cartoon Network, the new animated series has been the victim of rather sporadic scheduling, so who knows what its fate may be?
I am deeply concerned that we may be looking at an abrupt end to this ThunderCats revival, and that would include these new ThunderCats Classics. And unlike both Mattel and Hasbro, Bandai does not maintain any sort of online "shop", let along something like Mattel's "MattyCollector.Com", where further ThunderCats Classics could be produced and sold. If ThunderCats bites the dust at retail, that will be the end of it.
And that would be incredibly unfortunate. As I said at the top of this review, I believe the only thing that kept ThunderCats from being ranked right alongside G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe at the top of the 1980's pop-culture toy-and-cartoon ladder was a less than impressive toy line. Well, they've got that now, and it deserves to continue. I want to see Tygra in this line. I want to see Panthro, Cheetara, WilyKit and WilyKat. Heck, I want to see Pumyra, Lynx-O, and Ben-Gali. But right about now, I'm not terribly optimistic.
In the meantime, I sincerely believe that any ThunderCats fan will be delighted with these 6" Classics figures, even if you've already bought the 8" versions. The 6" line is where it's at now, and Bandai has once again done a magnificent job, sure to please any longtime fan of ThunderCats.
The 6" LION-O from the THUNDERCATS CLASSICS collection most definitely has my highest recommendation!