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by Poe Ghostal

The new ThunderCats cartoon is possibly the best revamp of a 1980s property yet - better than the 2003 Masters of the Universe, better than any of the recent Transformers series, even better than G.I. Joe: Resolute. It takes the elements of the original series and remixes them into a show that is both warmly familiar, yet has its own identity. Those of us steeped in decades of geek culture (and let's face it, that's most of us) might notice borrowed sights and plot devices from The Lord of the Rings movies, James Cameron's Avatar, Avatar: The Last Airbender and many other shows and movies, but the strong vocal cast and artistic style overcome any weakness of storytelling. What's more, the show isn't afraid to offer shades of gray, making it clear that the ThunderCats, as the dominant society, may be guilty of racism and repression.

Tygra is a perfectionist and expert marksman who is able to make himself invisible with the help of his whip.

One character who was rather significantly altered in the new show is Tygra. In the 1980s 'toon, Tygra was Lion-O's second-in-command. He was also, well, kind of boring. In the 2011 ThunderCats, Tygra (voiced by videogame and anime veteran Matthew Mercer) is Lion-O's adopted older brother and rival for their father's affection. Though more responsible and less hot-headed than Lion-O, Tygra is also more close-minded and tends to doubt Lion-O's ability to lead (with admittedly good reason - Lion-O makes a childish misstep in the pilot episode that, handled responsibly, could have averted a terrible fate).

Bandai is offering the new ThunderCats in two styles: a 4" line and a 6" line (in addition to an 8" collectors' line based on the 1980s show). The packaging design is similar to Marvel Universe, with the image of the character on the upper left side. It uses the art style that's been seen across all the marketing for the new ThunderCats (which sticks with the tried-and-true orange-and-blue) but it may not be eye-catching enough on today's toy shelves. Like GI Joe's dark packages, you might look right past them when walking through Toys Я Us. The back of the package features a brief bio and some cross-sell images. It also includes instructions for how to use the character's "magnet powered Thunder Lynx" feature, which allows the toy to interact with the line's playsets and vehicles.

As the things I review make clear, I don't really collect 3¾" figures. Though I had a lot of Star Wars figures as a kid, He-Man, Ninja Turtles and early ToyBiz Marvel figures were closer to 5". 6" became my scale of choice in the late 1990s and I've never gone back to 4" since, even as some companies' 4" figures have become increasingly awesome.

Unlike many of Hasbro's Star Wars, G.I. Joe and Marvel Universe offerings, Bandai's 4" ThunderCats line is intended more for kids than collectors. There's not quite as much emphasis on sculpting and less attention to circumventing the scale issues that pop up with figures of this size. It's particularly noticeable on the head - instead of looking like he has wild hair, Tygra appears to have a Leader-like enlarged cranium. Otherwise, he seems fairly accurate to the cartoon design. The paint applications take a hit from the unevenness of Tygra's stripes - some of them are pretty off.

All of Bandai's American toy lines, such as Power Rangers and Ben 10, have been made from a kind of hard, glossy plastic that makes the figures look and feel very much like toys. While many adult collectors dislike this (a lot), the overt toyishness has a certain instinctive, perhaps fetishistic appeal - both to kids and some of us collectors. It reminds me of Nicholson Baker's discussion of cars in The Mezzanine (one of my favorite books), where he points out how Japanese car makers understand the visceral pleasure of a creaky, cartilaginous gearstick. I wonder if the glossy plastic of many of Bandai's toys is entirely intentional.

Most of the time when a 4" figure disappoints me, it's because of the articulation. Something's lacking that makes the figure hard to pose in a fun way. However, this is one place where Tygra shines. He has a balljointed head; balljoints at the shoulders and hips; swivels at the hips, wrists and knees; and hinges at the elbows, knees, and ankles. He does lack an elbow swivel, which is a minor disappointment, but in general the articulation made playing around with Tygra much more fun than it usually does with this scale.

Tygra comes with a whip, a belt, and a gun. The belt and gun look too big, but this is undoubtedly because he was designed for kids, not collectors. The gun can fit in the belt, while the whip is made from a nicely pliable material.

Despite a few flaws, I quite like this figure. I know, it surprised me too. I think the simple toyishness of it, combined with the smooth articulation, won me over. Of course, the big appeal of this scale is the vehicles and playsets, all of which can make use of the "Thunder Lynx" feature (which we can't review, not having any of them). It was demo'ed at Toy Fair in February and was pretty neat. Different characters initiate different sound and light effects in different environments.

-- 09/03/11

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