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Ninjas in Training

by yo go re

In 2004, Playmates toys released a four-pack of "Toddler Turtles," showing the TMNT before they were T. Uh, the first T, not the second T. They were always the second T, even before they were M or N. It was a cute idea, one that had never been done before in any of the various toylines, and now Playmates is covering the same ground for their new line.

Mutated by Mutagen Ooze as baby Turtles, these brothers transform and are no longer your average turtles. With great training every day from their sensei Splinter, these young ninjas in training build their skills in ninjutsu and become a lean, green fighting team that will soon be known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

The rising cost of plastic means that this time around, the brothers couldn't be sold as a single four-pack; instead, they're broken off into pairs: Leonardo & Donatello, and Raphael & Michelangelo. Right now, only the first pair is out - we either assume that, or we assume that Mikey and Raph are so shortpacked that no one anywhere has reported finding them yet.

Leonardo is the leader in blue, does anything it takes to get his ninjas through. The figure stands just under 2¼" tall, thanks to his adorable little squat. He's not wearing anything other than the bandana that identifies him for us: no belt, no pads, no wraps, nothin'. Just like what Poe wears around the office when he's writing reviews (and you wondered why we stick to text, not videos).

Tiny Leo has a large, round head, and a tiny little frown for a mouth - he's not angry, it's just a look of serious concentration. They say that a baby's personality can start to become apparent as early as 3-4 months, so it's no surprise that this little guy is already displaying the traits that will one day make him the team's leader.

While the last line's "Toddler Turtles" had weapons that were clearly put together for safe training, the art on the back of the package makes it look like these ones are going for real steel right away. Leonardo has his katanas, and while they're not painted (thus leaving them the bare beige plastic that might suggest they're just wooden bokken), they would, in theory, have silver blades.

Even in his teenage years, Donatello is more of a thinker than a fighter, so this youngster having a rather tentative, defensive pose makes a lot of sense. His body is a lighter green than Leo's, and his plastron is more brown than orange (that's the front half of a turtle's shell, in case you couldn't figure that out). Donny's the tallest of the brothers, and it's apparently been that way for a while - even with his legs bent, he's slightly taller than Leo, standing 2⅜".

His head isn't as spherical, either. It's round, but narrow enough to be a distinctly different shape. There's a lot of personality in this face, too: his mouth is open slightly, showing the gap in his teeth, and he has a tiny eyebrow poking up over his purple mask. It looks like a stray bit of plastic, but it's an intentional part of the sculpt.

A "practice" bo staff would pretty much be indistinguishable from the real thing, so this could be either. It's the same beige color as Leo's swords, and has a very nice sculpt - this isn't just a stick, it's a specifically shaped piece of wood, wider at the ends than in the center, slightly curved and with a thick wrapping in the middle providing a break from the sculpted wood grain.

So, as predicted, a few weeks after that set was released the casepacks shifted, and the second two-pack began showing up. So let's look at the rest of the bros!

Raphael is the most aggressive of the brothers, and his stance reflects that: he's the only one leaning forward to attack, with his center of gravity balanced above his left foot. By the time of the cartoon, he has a small chip missing from the front of his shell, evidence of a wound taken in battle (see, because he's more about attack than defense, so he got cut at some point). Obviously it happened really early on in his life, because it's already present on this toy.

Leo may have had a little frown of determination, but Raph's frown is much bigger and springs from a place of anger. So much anger. He has little eyebrows angling down over his black dot eyes. His skin is the darkest green of any of the four Turtles, making a nice contrast with his red mask. The way he's standing, he's just over 2¼" tall.

Like all four "Ninjas in Training" figures, Raphael has swivel joints at the neck and waist, and swivel/hinge joints in the shoulders. That's not much, but it's enough to give you some posing options. His wooden training sais are broad and flat, and both of them share the same sculpt.

Michelangelo is the shortest turtle on the show, and that's carried over to these toys - he's the same 2¼" as the rest of them, but while they're all squatingto various degrees, he's pretty much standing straight up. His coloration is nearly the same as Donatello's, just a little closer to the yellow end of the spectrum than to blue. Actually, that applies to his shell, as well: his back is the same color as Leo's, but his chest is the brightest of the four.

Mikey's a young, happy-go-lucky joker, and the design of his head reflects that. To begin with, there's the giant, open-mouthed smile, the only one on any of these four figures. He's sculpted with two tiny eyebrows, both arching up to make him look excited and energetic. Finally, he has bigger cheeks than the rest, for a touch of baby fat.

Naturally, his weapons are a matched pair of nunchucks. They both have the same sculpt, but one of the sticks in each pair is shorter than the other. It gives them an appropriately rustic, hand-made vibe, like they were cobbled together from whatever was at hand (which, to be fair, is probably exactly what happened).

Even if you don't want a collection of Infant Mutant Training Turtles, these little guys are still cute. And tiny/stylized enough to blend in with Hasbro's Heroes-scale toys, which is a nice bonus! It also tempts me to finally get a Splinter, so the Ninjas in Training have someone to train them.

-- 09/21/13

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