Thundercats Review

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by Chris McEneany Jun 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    After singing the praises of Season 1 of the classic 80's show Thundercats, I was pretty much champing at the bit to get hold of the next instalment. Having not seen this cartoon when it originally aired, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. For a deeper background on the show, please refer to the review for Volume 1 of Season 1.

    “Make mine Monkian!”

    This second season, which I believe never actually aired on UK television, marks a swing-shift in the show's format. After 65 grand-slamming adventures, Lion-O has passed the crucial Tests to become Lord Of The Thundercats and arch-nemesis Mumm-Ra has been ultimately defeated by the spandex-wearing felines, his bumbling bunch of mutant henchmen have retired back into the misery of their decrepit cliff-cave reside of Castle Plun-Darr and a time of veritable peace has descended over Third Earth. This newfound tranquillity doesn't sit right even with the battle-tired Cats, life, as the sexy Cheetara puts it, will be nothing more than “fire drills and routine maintenance.” But, barely a moment into the season's 5-part opener (which, incidentally, was originally a feature-length movie called “Thundercats Ho!” and has been broken back down into its syndicated episodes for this release), flame-maned Lion-O begins to have recurring dreams about other Thundercats that he, and the regular pride, were forced to leave behind when their home-world of Thundera turned itself inside-out. It very soon transpires that these new cats on the block also managed to escape the big bang and, with the aid of a passing Berbil ship (yep, it's those robo-teddies again), set up home in a little village just across the sea from Cats' Lair. Doesn't say much for our hyper-sensed Cheetara, who really should have detected the presence of rival-babe Pumyra, no matter how far away she was. Alongside the cute Cherokee-styled Pumyra, we have blue and white striped Bengali and the muscle-bound mystic Lynx-O, the eldest of the three. Blinded during their escape from Thundera, Lynx-O has developed psychic powers and, with the aid of a super-designed electronic Braille-board, he can navigate and pilot vehicles and tune-in to disturbances threatening the Thundercats. After establishing themselves in this lengthy introduction, amid a multitude of adventures, the new three construct their own base of operations called the Tower Of Omens, which is separate from Cat's Lair. Even Snarf's nephew, Snarfer (really imaginative naming, eh?) returns to Third Earth, taking up caretaker duties at the new Tower.

    “Where were you rushing to, you furry fool?”

    “None of your bird-nosed business!”

    But, of course you can't keep a good demon down, can you? And, after clawing his way out of the rocky debris of Fire Rock Mountain, that the Thundercats had prematurely convinced themselves would be his tomb, crafty old Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living (there's a mighty clue in his full title, folks) is soon up to his old tricks. This time aided by the incredibly weird, but faithful, Ma-Mutt, a Satanic-looking bulldog with numerous special powers, including the spectral mimicry of his master, Mumm-Ra now seeks to bolster his ranks with the almost mythical, and monstrously notorious Lunataks - a vicious team of hideous mercenaries encased in rock in the treacherous land known as Dark Side. Using his ragtag bunch of clumsy mutants to free them, the stage is set for confrontations on a much larger scale than before and with increased numbers of combatants on both sides.

    “Almost took my head off ... whatever it was.”

    The Lunataks are a much more formidable fighting force than the likes of Vultureman, Stythe, Monkian and Jackalman, folks, featuring the likes of mellifluous-voiced Alluro, with the power of mind-manipulation and auto-suggestion, the ice-blooded Chiller, a frosty-minx with super-frigid breath and a deathly cold heart, Red-Eye, a sort of lumpy Neanderthal version of X-Men's Cyclops and their ostensible leader Luna, a diminutive banshee who rides atop a grey-skinned muscle-beast called Amok, who has a head like an albino Hellboy. But the best of the new brood is a malevolent, squat-bodied savage with a Mohawk haircut and metallic spring-loaded stumps that can hurl him high into the air, or across large distances. Going by the name of Tug-Mug, this bazooka-wielding madman is just a barrel of hate, who introduces himself to Lion-O by literally hauling the Thundercat from the skies in a show of extreme violence that marks him out as a truly hit-first and then keep-on-hitting kind of guy. He even snaps the Sword Of Omens in two before Lion-O's aghast, fire-chipped eyes in a wonderful moment of cartoon shock-tactics. Although there is definitely a sense of greater brutality with this wrecking-crew, once again, it takes the taloned hand of Mumm-Ra to guide them through the many schemes intended to trap the Thundercats. But, in spite of the demonic powers possessed by their employer, the Lunataks still have designs on gaining complete domination of Third Earth for themselves. Thus, when things get slightly stale and, dare I say it, boring back at Cat's Lair, the in-fighting and nefarious plotting amongst the bad-guy factions make this particular season appear to be one that has been specifically written more in their favour.

    “Yes, Luna ... another one of your foolish schemes up in smoke.”

    Some of the more annoying traits from the first season are still very much in evidence - particularly the extremely aggravating slow-formed speech patterns from many of the characters. First time around, this was largely relegated to poor Cheetara, but now even Panthro suffers from painfully drawled vocals. Even the lazy-tongued intergalactic policewoman Mandora gets to drone a few words out with her unwelcome return. The appearances of the regal Jaga in his wise old spirit form are still accompanied by that overtly-noble, and purely dreadful, musical signature and, whilst Snarf was actually quite an enjoyable little fuzzball throughout the first season, he begins to get on the nerves here - possibly because we have virtually a doubled-dose of him with the presence of Snarfer. This collection also gets off to a fairly lousy start with the Thundercats Ho! episodes which, I'm afraid, come across as daft and farcical, and lacking in the sure-fire originality that made the show stand out for me when I first encountered it - which was only a few months ago, in fact. The return of the ridiculous Berserkers led by the zany HammerHand is a serious setback right at the very start, as is the Dracula-voiced buffoon Captain Shiner ... and don't get me started on Snowman and the utter garbage that is his steed, Snow-meow! There is also a wacky expositional voiceover heralding many of these early episodes that just lowers the tone with rather bland recaps and time-wasting forthcoming snippets. The merchandising spin-offs were also clearly held in mind with plentiful new vehicles rampaging across Third Earth, as well as the numerous additional characters. Now we have the Fist-Pounder on the mutant's side, the Thunderclaw and Thunderstrike for the Cats. Sadly, watching the blind Lynx-O piloting one of these stretches even this juvenile format to the limits. And, whenever he receives a psychic bulletin, the blind bushido just lapses into a plot-speeding-up device, too ... but, hey, have a giggle at how his pointy ears wiggle when he gets the vibe!

    “Hmmm, a bit transparent, but you'll have to do.”

    If all this seems like I've turned against the show, please be assured - this volume still finds its feet once we get beyond the opening disc, with some terrifically imaginative stories and surprisingly dark ideas cavorting about behind the lurid landscapes. The return of the awesome samurai Hatchiman has a great pay-off when the Lunataks trap him and, using his legendary sword the Thunder-cutter, create their own invincible robot warrior. A cool episode sees Lion-O regress in age when exposed to the gases from one of the original time capsules that transported the Cats from Thundera. “Why don't you go and play outside with Snarf?” the big-haired tyke is scolded when the little Lord's antics prove too much for the big cats. There's even a nifty little role-playing charade when Mumm-Ra assumes the form of Jaga to whisper treachery into Lion-O's ear, turning the Thundercats against each other. Thundera even begins to re-form itself in another five-parter entitled Thundercubs, which sees our heroes undergoing many trials and tribulations when Mumm-Ra undertakes to find and destroy the Sword Of Plun-Darr.

    “Once I've used the Lunataks to beat the Thundercats, I will cast them aside.”

    The animation is as cool and as fluid as its predecessor, with a really organic feel to it. Explosions are a big, molten joy, landscapes are vast and varied and always gleefully immersive. The action has that early borderline anime style that smashes beyond other contemporary shows, like He-Man, with consummate ease and the bold and striking design work is a giddy delight from start to finish. Check out the incredibly imaginative vision of the Sky-Tomb, the flying fortress of the Lunataks, which looks like something from the mind of Spirited Away's Miyazaki - a huge uprooted tree meshed with steel and fuelled by slave-fed furnaces. And there are some great surreal touches at play here - the mummy's bandages that come to life and pursue Lion-O, the freakish sight of the ungainly Ma-Mutt taking flight and lolloping across the sky, a terrifically cool sequence set in a nest of ancient ruins where living chains sprout from the ground to attack travellers. There's even some new action jingles to go alongside one or two different visual asides, such as slow-motion sword-twirling shots or some final freeze-frames that lend arty heightened drama to key clinchers. The visual canon of Thundercats certainly reveals no evidence of slacking with this first half of the second season, even if the writing is occasionally clunky and feels dumbed-down.

    The box set, again, comes in a very eye-catching package. The holographic cover this time depicts a raging Lion-O lashing out with the Sword Of Omens, which then switches to the ultra-cool Thundercats symbol when viewed from another angle. The three double-disc amaray cases within each portray surprisingly aggressive Cat illustrations. Cool.

    Disc 1 has Thundercats Ho! Parts 1 to 5.

    Disc 2 has the impressive Mumm-Ra Lives Parts 1 to 5.

    Disc 3 has Catfight, Psych Out, The Mask Of The Gorgon - lousy, The Mad Bubbler, Together We Stand and Ravage Island.

    Disc 4 has Time Switch, The Sound Stones - a nice episode for fans of Vultureman, Day Of The Eclipse, Side Swipe, Mumm-Rana's Belt and the snazzy Hatchiman's Honour.

    Disc 5 has Runaways, Hair Of The Dog, Vultureman's Revenge and ThunderCubs Parts 1 to 3.

    Disc 6 has ThunderCubs Parts 4 and 5, The Totem Of Dera, The Chain Of Loyalty, Crystal Canyon and The Telepathy Beam. Oh, and the special features.

    I had been informed that Season Two wasn't as good as Season One and, initially, that had been my opinion, as well. But the show quickly regained its footing and became almost as enjoyable as the classic first series. The gamble of adding more and more characters to a tried and trusted formula was a dodgy one but, ultimately, with the nasty chic of the Lunataks and Mumm-Ra's ever-frightening fanged visage, lurid red robes and blood-filled eyes, ThunderCats Season 2 Volume 1 hits the mark with gusto.

    The Rundown

    OUT OF
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