Over the years I’ve been able to shake my compulsion to collect action figures. I went nuts with it in my late teens and into my early twenties. Outside of a couple of purchases here and there (actually, mainly the TMNT Classics line a few years back) I’ve stayed out of it for almost ten years. For whatever reason, I have a weakness for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I think it’s because they were my first love. Prior to the Turtles I had Ghostbusters, but I never went nuts with Ghostbusters like I did TMNT. Had Bucky O’Hare managed to hang around, he may have joined them and the X-Men would replace them. I obsessed over the Turtles though in a way only a young kid can. And as much as I loved the toys, it did always bother me how inaccurate they were or how little they resembled the show.
In the year 2016, accuracy is almost spot-on when it comes to action figures. I’ll walk through a comic shop and look at the new stuff just to amuse myself and it blows my mind how amazing toys look today (and how expensive they are, more on that to follow). Have you seen the new Batman The Animated Series toys? They look just like the show. Admittedly, it’s not a hard art style to translate, but it’s still miles ahead of the toys they had for the same show in the 90s. When Playmates released their TMNT Classics line in 2012 I bought them because it was as close to the old show as any toy had come. And while I think they’re mostly good, there was no denying that the accuracy was less than perfect. And in a way, it was intentional as Playmates tried to pay homage to both the show and the original action figures. If my love for the Turtles was confined to the original black and white comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird then I’d already be satisfied as NECA’s figures based on those old comics are perfection.
Enter Bandai and its SH Figuarts line. Bandai has acquired the license to the classic Turtles, something NECA never had any luck obtaining, and has released the first two of their planned four turtles: Leonardo and Donatello. When I first saw the promotional images for this line I knew I had to have it no matter the expense. These, in my estimation, are as close to the old cartoon as we’re going to get. There’s always the chance another company could get closer (Revoltech did an amazing job with the new TMNT from Nickelodeon), but these ones look great enough that I feel comfortable in saying I won’t need another set of four turtles based on the classic cartoon.
Bandai doesn’t just want to make these figures look awesome, the company also made sure they’re fun. Both characters come with four sets of hands, two heads, two interchangeable belt pieces, an accessory, and their respective weapons. It should be noted, that the weapons count is also toon accurate so Donny comes with one lone bo staff instead of the usual two his figures often come with. Both figures are primarily plastic, but have die cast for their belt buckle and their lower legs. Why die cast below the knee? To give the figure a low center of gravity, and it works remarkably well. I don’t know how much this design adds to the retail cost, but the die cast portion is indistinguishable from the last and the paint isn’t flaky or anything. The included instructions indicate to handle these parts carefully as the paint could be rub off, so you have been warned.
The figures themselves are loaded with articulation, perhaps too much. The front chest part of the shell is a nice, soft plastic that doesn’t hinder movement. The joints are tight, and the various armbands and knee pads are separate pieces of floating plastic. They’d probably break if put in the hands of children, but for an adult collector they should hold up fine. I did find that my Leo’s right bicep is rather weak and detaches too easily when trying to pose his arm. This is the type of thing that tends to happen with these figures that are loaded with articulation. Coincidentally, my NECA Leo’s left hand seems to always fall off with light posing. It must be a curse of the character.
Each character comes with three sets of identical hands, but also one set unique to each figure. For both, there’s a closed fist, fist with a hole through the middle to hold a weapon, and an open hand. Leo’s fourth set is a partially closed fist that can also hold a weapon, while Don comes with hands that can handle his included slice of pizza. The pizza slice is appropriate for any turtle, though if it was only to come with one it’s surprising Bandai chose Don and not Mike. It looks like Mike’s unique accessory is going to be the Turtle Hook weapon he used past season 2, and yeah that’s probably the right choice. It seems like Raph could have handled the pizza (he comes with a ninja star and dagger), and Don should have come with a Turtle-com or something “science.” Leo’s accessory is a rather boring one: a manhole cover. I don’t think I ever need another toy manhole cover given how many have come with TMNT toys over the years (ditto for cans of mutagen, or ooze). As for the heads, both come with a serious facial expression and a unique one. Leo’s unique one is an angry expression that reminds me of his original action figure. Don’s is more of a smile as he’s getting ready to take down that slice. I find the serious head sculpt works for both, and while I like Leo’s angry expression, I do wish he had a smile as well since a lot of the show featured the Turtles in pretty light-hearted moments. Don’s smile is probably just a touch too “toony” for my taste. Maybe a mouth closed smile would have been more suitable.
My fear with figures like these ones are almost entirely centered on the durability. While I love having tons of accessories like interchangeable hands and so forth, I’m always afraid of snapping a peg or joint when switching them. The little time I’ve spent doing so with these have been mostly okay. The head comes off and goes on nice and easy, but the hands are tricky. Getting them off is no problem, but putting others on is a bit stressful as the peg wants to move all over the place. I’m terrified of breaking my toys so I probably won’t switch them up too often, but they do seem fairly sturdy. The bandana knot comes off the head and needs to be moved to whichever head is currently on the figure. It goes on and off very easily, but also sits snug enough that it’s not going to fall. Again, if these were in the hands of children then the knot would probably fall off a lot. The rear part of the belt has a removable piece as well. Often in the show, if the Turtles were holding their weapons then their belt looked like any old belt (just with a big buckle on the front for their first initial), but if their weapons were holstered then magically the belt grew little sheaths for them to go in. Bandai decided to mimic that by having a flat belt piece for the rear shell, and a separate one with holsters. It’s a pretty cool idea and shows a nice attention to detail. Getting the flat piece off though is a little tricky. It sits very snug, but there is a small opening on the bottom just wide enough for a fingernail. It will come off, but I’m afraid repeated removals could eventually chip the paint. The piece with the holsters come off almost too easily, by contrast. Donatello’s in particular required minimal effort to remove, and I even knocked it off by mistake when trying to slide his bo staff into it.
I must say, these toys are pretty bad ass. While not 100% accurate, I’d say they’re around 95% and the look seems to capture the season two look from the show. There’s drawbacks to everything though. For these two, stylistically there’s not too much to complain about. I think the accessories could have been better, but the weapons look great. Donatello’s staff isn’t painted though, which seems like a really odd oversight. Leo’s katana look great, which is a tough thing to pull off as his weapons were easily the most inconsistent in the show often changing shape and length from episode to episode. The shoulders and neck area of the figures do seem a little off from certain angles. Bandai made little effort to hide the shoulder ball-joints and I think the head could have sat maybe a millimeter higher. It’s a fine line. The biggest, and most obvious, negative with these figures is the cost. At over $60 a piece, these are pricey additions to one’s collection. There are more expensive toys out there for sure, but it’s a far cry from the four bucks I paid for my Leo and Don back in 88 (it just so happens my very first TMNT action figures were also Leo and Don, plus Krang) and it will cost more than $250 for a set of four turtles. I’m all in though, so hopefully Mikey and Raph turn out well too.
Bandai has said the company is committed to this line of classic TMNT and intends for it to continue for at least a little while. In other words, they plan on making a Shredder though they also added in the caveat that the line needs to make them money, which is a given. After ten years, NECA is finally releasing its Shredder this fall in a box set exclusive to Comic Con, apparently the only way around the licensing issues with Playmates that has prevented them from putting him out this long. Playmates, for its part, never released its Shredder for the TMNT Classics line. I just want the essential characters, so Bandai, please, do right by fans and finish this line properly. I’d honestly settle for the four turtles and Shredder, but I would also love a Bebop and Rocksteady too. And if done well, a Master Splinter and Krang in his android body. At $60 a pop, I can probably do without a generic foot soldier and I honestly don’t care if I get an April, Casey, Irma, etc. No company has ever put out a solid Shredder from the cartoon, and that really needs to change.