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Cat Warriors

Seventh Kingdom
by Artemis

Past FANtastic Exclusive releases have already populated The Seventh Kingdom with rhinos, mutant triceratops things, cows, warthogs, and even a hippopotamus for heaven's sake, so clearly it's one of those worlds where every species is wandering around on its hind legs acting mostly human. Given that, it'd be a creator of rare cruelty and spite who wouldn't take the opportunity to throw some catgirls into the mix.

According to the backstory, Queen Alluxandra's "united guard"
represents pretty much the only effort at inter-kingdom cooperation going, with representatives of "the five active kingdoms" on the roster - judging by the lineup of figures, those kingdoms are humans, felines, sea monsters, silverware, and freaky alien reptile things. The cats seem to be the most enthusiastic about the whole idea though, since in place of the single representative everyone else sent along, they've turned up with a whole itteh bitteh kitteh committeh of warriors.

The cats are 2009's repaint characters, with a mighty six of them showing up to tempt the fancies and deplete the wallets of Seventh Kingdom and sexy cat lady fans alike. Their basic body is largely identical to those of their non-kitty sisters, a bit over 6" tall and highly detailed, but with the addition of paw feet, tails, and, of course, feline heads.

Like Queen Allie, their basic design is along the lines of your classic fantasy, Conan and the like, but the intricate metalwork of their breastplates shows, if not actual technology in the modern sense, at least a very sophisticated grasp of decorative metalwork - they may be fantasy warriors, but they're cultured ones. The kitties' limbs are bare, rather than using the metal sleeves worn by the Queen (and one of the other non-cat guardswomen), and all of the guards swap the Queen's belt, and its collection of trinkets, for a set of metal plates surrounding their hips, below the high waistline of the loincloth.

(One other point that comes up when you first start moving the figures, though, is that on many of them - all the ones with contrasting base and covering fur colours, in fact - it's obvious that they were painted after assembly, since turning the arm at the lower shoulder swivel reveals unpainted basecoat beneath the upper edges of the bicep. Since they were evidently painted with the arms turned sideways, that becomes visible a lot if you're going for natural arm positions, and is rather an annoyance given that in other respects of presentation they're quite superior work.)

The cat head is a nice mix of "big cat" elements without being too specific to any one species - a necessity when it has to be repainted in so many different flavours. Unlike the smooth bodies, the heads actually have a shallow fur texture sculpted into them, but the use of tall, thick metal collars (which also help mitigate the "giraffe neck" effect left by the feline chin being much higher than the human equivalent) means that there's very little flat "fur" directly adjacent to the head's sculpt, so the difference doesn't stand out very much, with the paint helping to unify the two sculpt styles. There's obviously no disguising the fact that the kitties are six of the same figure, but the paint - not just the fur and armour colours, but a variety of eye and nose colours - at least gives each of them a little individuality.

These are well articulated figures, but limited in one unfortunate area. Their balljoint necks don't have a great range of tilting available to them, but that's understandable given how little there is to obscure the join between head and neck, and there's still plenty of range for subtle "body language" in the exact tilt of the head. The arms sport swivel/pin/swivel shoulders, double pin elbows, and swivel wrists - lacking the ability to tilt their hands hampers them a little in deciding the angles they'll hold their weapons at, but that restriction is really only noticeable because in every other way the arms are so mobile. They have pin sternums and swivel waists, then swivel/pin/swivel hips, double pin knees, and pin/tilt ankles.

It's the hips that sabotage things, though - the low armoured belt is very restrictive, both sideways and forward-backward, so it's a bit of a chore to get the cats into anything resembling an action stance. Furthermore, any forward motion in the legs will require bending the loincloth, and the plastic is rather firm - not rigid, but certainly not the kind of material I'm happy shoving out of the way while I'm posing a figure. Granted the belt hides the joints, so top marks for aesthetics, but it's still a frustration to have such a highly articulated figure and not be able to take full advantage of it. Sadly there are also a number of loose joints on display among the group - none catastrophically so, and spread over different joints on different figures, so it's not just one blatant manufacturing flaw, but it still makes them less rewarding to pose than they should be.

Unless you're the impulsive type and ordered the entire Queen's Council just because you saw me mention it on the OAFE Twitter, gathering the Kitteh Committeh will require virtual trips to various online stores (who, you'll note, get covert shout-outs in the kitties' names):

Biggara and Baddathiir - Big Bad Toy Store (400 pieces each)
"Big and Bad" are a contrasting pair, with Biggara resembling a white tiger clad in bronze armour and jade green jewellery, and Baddathiir a jet black panther in midnight blue armour and copper trinkets.
Akkuli - Action Figure Xpress (250 pieces)
Akkuli is an eye-catching figure of a feline, with vivid blue fur, faded lighter along her belly and dotted with leopard spots, offset by purple armour and strongly contrasting gold medallions.
Raavia - Raving Toy Maniac (400 pieces)
Raavia is an almost incandescently bright orange, with only the vaguest hint of lighter fur along her stomach, and striking black tiger stripes, with fittingly warm-looking bronze armour and a gold collar.
Oktobria - October Toys (400 pieces)
Oktobria swaps stripes for spots, but is otherwise quite similar in colouration to Biggara. Her armour is a much mellower cream colour, with silver highlights and a pale loincloth.
D'Zwirra - Wizard World conventions (400 pieces)
D'Zwirra is your classic Bengal tiger, and for my money the most appealing paint job of the lot. Her fur shows real talent at colour shading, as it moves from rich orange through cream to white on her underbelly and cheeks, and her stripes are quite convincing as well. Sadly, due to the contrast between the white base and orange covering paint, she's one that the unpainted shoulders show up the worst on. Her metallic blue armour is a striking contrast.

Each of the catgirls comes with identical accessories, a short sword and a spear - the back plug-in port (used for Queen Allie's cloak and Isadorra's look-I'm-evil spikes) is used to attach a slim addition to the breastplate's back, with two clasps that can hold the sword by its blade, or - if you push a little harder - by its handle, or (barely) the spear by its shaft. Each cat gets her own particular colour scheme on her weapons, helping set them apart - though there are several close enough in appearance that there's no hindrance to mixing and matching weapons between figures, most obviously for twin-sworded action.

Be very careful, though - the accessories, particularly the spear, are fragile. They seem to be intended to have plug-in tips, to allow the shaft to be slid into the grip of the hands and the wider tip then reattached, but given how thin the shaft it in total, that's just a recipe for breakage; the actual plug holding the top of the spear on is barely a millimetre across, and if you put any pressure on any part of the spear above the shaft, it will break - it won't even snap, since there's not enough material for anything so dramatic, it'll just part company with the shaft and wait around for the superglue. Luckily it's simple to work the weapons into the figures' hands sideways, rather than sliding them in from the end - you have to push the thumbs and fingertips a bit, but not enough to risk damage. Given that, it would've been better had the weapons been solid to begin with - as it is, they're too clever for their own good, made frustratingly fragile by a feature they don't need anyway.

Both feet have peg holes, sized for most of the bases you get with 6-7" figures, but the cats come with no bases of their own - given the amount of leg articulation, the small footprint of the paws, and the possibility for slight looseness in either of the two ankle joints, that's a regrettable oversight. They didn't need anything fancy, but just a plain black peg base would've been of great help - given how delicate the sculpting and painting on the figures is, and how fragile the weapons are, it'd be a crying shame for one of them to go toppling off her shelf and smack into the floor, but without a base they're just asking for exactly that. Since I bought the entire 11-figure Council set, I had to scrounge up every last unused base I've acquired over the years, from my 600+ figures.

I'm a bit in two minds over these girls. The positive side is that they're very distinctive, they look great as a group, and from the waist up they're quite mobile - I certainly don't regret buying them. But I do regret their shortcomings - the needlessly fragile weapons are an annoyance I could have done without (though I've repaired both of the spears I broke by accidentally holding them by the blades), but it's the limited hips that really grate. With free hips, these figures could've struck some really striking action poses, and - crucially for repaints - looked dramatically different from one another. As is, they look good, but quite similar no matter what you do, and it's just a shame that that one design flaw is holding back what are otherwise excellent figures.

-- 10/01/09

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