Tag Archives: TMNT

NECA San Diego Comic Con Exclusive TMNT Animated Series Action Figure Set

IMG_1436Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the franchise that won’t go away for me. I’ve been involved with it since the 80s when the cartoon series debuted and the first line of action figures started popping up in retail. I dropped the series when The Next Mutation came around, but picked it right back up when the 4Kids version of the Turtles debuted on Fox in 2003. And always there was a line of toys to go along with them that I happily indulged in. The only toy line I’ve really passed on was the current line that ties in with the Nickelodeon show. Even though I like that show, I never felt the need to go buy the toys. I thought, perhaps, I was finally maturing, but nostalgia for the original 1987 cartoon series has pulled me back into the world of TMNT toys.

Last year, Bandai gave us its take on the fearsome foursome based on the 87 series through its SH Figuarts brand. I reviewed all four and they were very impressive, but also costly. Those toys exist because they’re technically imports, though some retailers carry them in the US. When it comes to the real domestic products, Playmates still has a stranglehold on all things TMNT when it comes to action figures. Because of this, toy companies have had to get creative or get discouraged from even trying. NECA has been the leader in US TMNT toys and they’re willing to jump through the loopholes to get their versions of the Turtles to the public. When they wanted to do a set last year, they had to base it on the original TMNT arcade game which meant a bright, faux-digitized paint app for the figures. When NECA wanted to do a line of figures based on the 1990 movie, it meant they had to release them in a massive quarter-scale (and they’re awesome). Not satisfied, NECA has wanted to get cartoon accurate Turtles to market and finally got the clearance to do so. The catch, of course, was that it had to be a convention exclusive. Also possibly apart of the stipulation, was that it had to be a box set, which is how we ended up with this brand new set.

NECA’s San Diego Comic Con exclusive set of the TMNT is proving hard to get. NECA was granted permission to sell them on their website as pre-orders to be delivered the week of the convention. In addition to that, the set is available to buy at the convention the old fashioned way. It’s an eight figure set with a price tag of $200 that comes housed in a box meant to resemble the old action figure carrying cases of the 80s and 90s. I was fortunate enough to score one of the pre-orders which went live last month over the course of 4 days (and each day they sold out in about a minute) and my set arrived at my door last night. NECA is referring to this as the definitive take on the 87 Turtles, so how did they do?

The set comes housed in an attractive case. It’s decorated with all new artwork by Archie Comics artist Ken Mitchroney and depicts the Turtles outside the San Diego Convention Center with Shredder and Krang on the reverse. The case is likely made out of cardboard with a vinyl outer coating. Two clasps on the side made of metal close it up, though the case isn’t too rigid making the clasps hard to engage. This is clearly a case designed for decoration and to add a “Wow!” factor to the presentation, it’s not something you would have wanted to ferry back and forth between home and grandma’s like the case you probably had when you were a kid. I do find it a bit odd they went with an Archie look as the Turtles on the cover do not resemble the television show, but at least it’s original and not a stock image.

The set itself contains four figures:  Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Shredder, Krang, and two Foot Soldiers. The figures are packaged in a black plastic trays with a transparent outer shell that fits over it like a clamshell design. The trays are stacked in two layers, with the Turtles on top and the Foot on the bottom. The packaging is designed to be resealable, though it’s probably not durable enough to withstand repeated use. The figures themselves were pretty easy to remove, though some of the accessories were a bit trying (and there’s a lot of them, more on that later) and I worried I’d crack the plastic shell casing, but it held up.

If you’ve purchased prior NECA TMNT sets, then this one should feel some-what familiar. The Turtles are essentially the same figures released last year, just with a cartoon-specific paint application. Shredder is a composite of the two Shredders released last year (the arcade one and the Mirage Comics one), but with an all new head sculpt and re-tooled abdomen. The Foot Soldiers also borrow parts from last year’s Mirage Foot, but obviously with new head sculpts and new arms to represent the very long-armed look of the cartoon. The only all new sculpt is Krang, and that’s because he’s a pretty unique character and not one NECA has released before.

Let’s talk about the heroes first. The Turtles feature a dark, almost olive, paint-app for the majority of their body with a darker green used for shading on the backside of their limbs. Lots of black lines are used for definition and the look is certainly striking. The skin tone is quite close to that of the cartoon’s first season, especially for the scenes taking place in dimly lit areas like the sewers. The decision to add shading is a bit of a controversial one in the collector community; some like it, most don’t seem to care for it. I don’t think it works as natural light would have accomplished the same thing. A paint wash may have been a better approach, but it’s not something that kills the figures or anything. The colors of the pads and masks are vibrant, and each turtle sports a fighting expression. The articulation is pretty standard, and NECA hides the joints and cuts well within the sculpt. The only drawback is the hips feel a bit loose and some more ankle articulation would have been welcomed. The shells look great, and there’s no noticeable paint slop on any of mine. The only production error appears to be with Raph’s pupils, as one is centered in the eye and the other towards the top of the eye, making him look weird from head on.

The actual sculpt of the figures is also pretty solid. They’re about 5 1/2″ tall and fit nice in scale with Shredder and the Foot. The wrist bands and pads are all part of the sculpt and not separate pieces, and they look pretty good. NECA was able to get the kneepads to sort of hide the knee joints like an actual pad, though the elbow pads sit above the elbow joints. I’m always torn on what facial expression these 87 Turtles should possess since the show was so light-hearted and campy. In a perfect world, NECA would have included swappable heads, but those obviously add a lost of cost. Grim and serious works for Leo and Don, though I wish Raph’s sarcasm could have been reflected and Mikey’s more jovial nature. NECA also ran into the challenge of how to mold the head. These sculpts worked really well in nailing the lioness of the arcade TMNT, but they’re a little too frog-like for the cartoon. That’s partly because the Turtles in the cartoon look very different when they’re presented head-on or at an angle, versus a profile look (just watch the opening credits). The season one Turtles often had a vertical line on their beaks to give the impression of a sharper mouth that was mostly dropped after season one. NECA wisely didn’t try to incorporate that as I don’t think it would have turned out well had they. Overall, I do really like the look of these figures, though I think they come up just a tad short if they’re trying to be the definitive take on these characters.

The accessories for the Turtles are numerous and appropriate. Each character comes with his specific weapons which means Leo has two katana, Raph a pair of sai, Don a bo staff, and Mikey twin nunchucks. Don’s bo is especially well-detailed and probably the finest bo staff the character has ever come with. It also breaks apart in the middle which can make storing it in his belt a bit easier to manage as it’s really tight. Leo’s swords are quite broad and resemble a falchion more than a katana. This is consistent with the show, though the broadness might be exaggerated some (though his swords were kind of all over the place and not very consistent in the show). He has holsters too for his blades and they too are also really tight. I couldn’t really get them in and didn’t want to force it, though I’ve seen holstered pics online so it’s certainly possible. Ralph’s sai are probably the worst of the bunch as they’re really out of scale and resemble tuning forks. Ralph also carried his sai in his belt near his buckle on the show which isn’t possible with the figure as the belt is glued on. It would have been nice it NECA had found a way to make it possible without taking away from the look, but I see why they wouldn’t want to add a pouch or something where there really isn’t supposed to be one. Mikey’s nunchucks are twin pieces of plastic connected by actual metal linkage, a practice NECA basically started with its Mirage version of the figure 9 years ago that has been adopted by pretty much everyone since. One ‘chuck handle can detach and a “spinning” chuck attachment can go in its place, which is a pretty nice feature. Like Raph though, he can’t store his weapons in his belt, though I suppose you could wedge them under his arm if you wanted. In the show, Mikey stored them on his shell in little holsters that basically disappeared when he was holding his weapons (Don and Leo’s holsters often did this too, especially after season one) and NECA must have valued the look of his holster free belt over one that basically never existed in the cartoon.

Additional accessories include four turtlecoms; two are open and two are closed, that look awesome. There’s also an additional four pairs of hands that can be used on any turtle, since their wristbands are part of the arms. There’s a box of pizza from Weird Pizza with one slice missing. That slice is also present and even has a hole through the center for placement on Raph’s sai. The turtle-hook, which showed up in later seasons, is also here if you wish to change-up Mikey’s weapon. It’s slightly oversized but that’s likely because the hooks actually come out of it slightly. It’s not a great effect, but still appreciated.

Naturally, these editions of the TMNT invite comparisons with the Figuarts ones from last year. I think, overall, the Figuarts ones are superior, but they should be since they retail for around $65 a piece. Their articulation is better, the swappable heads help make the likeness better, and I really love that Bandai came up with those swappable belt pieces so all of the Turtles can holster their weapons. NECA’s chosen skin tone is definitely closer to that of the main show, while Bandai’s resembles the opening credits and later seasons. The Bandai Turtles also each had four pairs of hands, while the NECA ones share a community of hands. If I had to pick one I’d take the Bandai ones, but I wouldn’t feel disappointed if I only had these NECA ones. Both look great and they complement each other pretty well as now we have turtlecoms and a closed turtle-hook.

Of course, the NECA Turtles have one big advantage over the SH Figuarts ones:  they come with a Shredder! Shredder, for some reason, has really received some bad treatment from toy manufactures. Even from NECA, who delayed the release of their Mirage Comics Shredder by eight years (with part of that being attributable to Playmates, but mostly to a marketing decision). Toy manufacturers are scared that Shredder and other villains won’t sell. Playmates cancelled their own toon Shredder after showing prototypes, and Bandai has yet to bring theirs to market even though he was unveiled over a year ago. And the old Shredder toys from the original line? They were terrible, with Shredder having blue spikes and no shirt, plus that really weird semi-crouching pose. Naturally, this Shredder is the crowned jewel of the set as he’s a near perfect likeness to the cartoon. He comes in at nearly 7″ tall making him much larger than the Turtles. The head sculpt is perfect and conveys a lot of personality despite the restrictive nature of the character’s helmet. The spikes are a nice, soft, pliable plastic and the fabric cape adds a nice touch. I had to watch old episodes of the cartoon to spot any differences, and the only inaccuracy I could find was with the shoulder pads that featured fewer spikes on television, but I’m not going to complain about some additional spikes! My only other criticism would be the two-tone paint job is again a bit overdone, especially on the helmet, though overall it works better on Shredder than it does on his adversaries. His open hands also have some excess plastic from the mold that’s a bit ugly, though if it really bothers me I could probably trim it off with a razor blade.

Shredder comes with a few accessories of his own to go along with his excellent sculpt. He has a katana of his own, which is unique to him, for sword-fighting with Leo. He also has a gun that resembles the retro-mutagen ray from the cartoon and looks good in his hands. He has three sets if hands: fists, gripping hands, and open hands. He also has a com-link with a little picture of Krang on it as well as a blue canister of mutagen. I do not remember this blue canister from the show, but I’m sure it existed. I only remember the standard glass one with glowing, pink, mutagen contained inside.

The two Foot Soldiers are identical to each other. They are slightly stooped over and feature those long limbs they were known for. They two comes with three sets of hands each:  fists, gripping fists, and open hands in a karate chop like pose. There’s also a rifle and a large gun with a bowl-shaped end which was featured in the cartoon and also with the Playmates version of the character as well. The two-toned paint works well on the Foot, probably due to their clothing have a lot of moldered creases and folds, and it’s hard to find any fault with these figures.

Lastly, we have Krang, who too looks fantastic. He’s a light pink and features his trademark scowl lots of lumps and veins. Liberal use of black lining gives his face added definition, though they may have gone just slightly overboard with it. His tentacles are on ball joints and are also easily removable. This is so Krang can hop into his bubble walker and the tentacles clip onto outside joints to resemble the cartoon look. When not in his bubble walker, he also has his little tripod from the first season that he scooted around on before Shredder completed his body. This is a great touch by NECA as I don’t think this has ever been done before. It snaps into a recessed area on his underside so it stays in pretty well.

The villains really help round out this set as NECA hit a homer on each figure. It’s nice to have a new set of the Turtles without having to worry if they’ll ever have some villains to tangle with. Naturally, there are people who probably wish they could get more Foot Soldiers for display purposes, but that has more to do with licensing than NECA’s wishes. I have no idea what the future is for this property as it concerns NECA. The popularity of this set leads me to believe that NECA would like to do more, but it may have to wait until next year. Fans undoubtedly would love a Bebop and Rocksteady and Krang is just over here begging for a body. Other characters like Splinter, April, Baxter Stockman, and others would probably be welcomed too. I personally have no desire to go in too deep, but I definitely am hoping for more. If the property dies here though, it’s still a very satisfying collection of figures that will display well for years to come. I hope to be done with buying anymore action figures of the Turtles from this show, and I may even pass on the Bandai Shredder should he ever see release as I’m more than happy with this one. If you have the opportunity to get this set at a reasonable price, I fully recommend it.


Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.


NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.


NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Donatello

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“Ohhh pizza! I need it!”

2016 did something I never expected (well, it did many things I never expected); it brought me back to the action figure. And in particular, it brought me back to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. First, it was Bandai with its line based on the animated series from the 1980s, then NECA finally released its own take on The Shredder from the original comic (I never reviewed it here because I decided to keep it in box). Now, NECA has done it again with its 1/4th scale Donatello based on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

And my reaction to this figure could be summed up in two words:  Holy shit!

I’ve been collection action figures off and on since I was a kid, going on probably 25 years. It started with toys I would play with that most kids my age had, and then became more for a hobby with toys that would just sit on a shelf, desk, or other surface. In that time, I’ve acquired some pretty awesome toys. I’ve got a Hot Toys Batman based on The Dark Knight film that is incredible to behold, and was also incredibly expensive. In its short existence, Irwin Toys made some premium scale Dragon Ball Z figures that look excellent, and Toy Biz did the same with the Marvel properties in its Legends and Icons line. Nothing I’ve acquired though has nailed a likeness as well as Neca has with its movie-inspired Donatello.

For starters, this is a quarter-scale figure so he’s big, and the size means he should be highly detailed. I don’t typically dig figures of this size, especially now with my house becoming cluttered with the toys of small children, but I made an exception for this figure. The source material, as mentioned previously, is the original 1990 film which is by far the best film based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It might actually be the best thing based on the franchise excluding the original comic. This is actually pretty unique as no action figures before have really strived to capture the look of that first film. That’s partly due to the sequel, The Secret of the Ooze, being fast-tracked to theaters to strike before the fad died out. The sequel was probably more popular due to its lighter tone and more playful nature, making it more reminiscent of the cartoon. It’s possible Playmates, the toy company basically created for TMNT, just didn’t have time to get a line out for both films so they just went with the sequel for its movie line of figures (which were pretty awesome for the time). Even the newer lines done by Playmates based on the films are clearly more influenced by the sequel than the original, so right off the bat, Neca has done something no other toy company has done before.

For a first figure (naturally, the other turtles are on the way) in the line, Donatello is a great choice because he, more than the others, had a distinct look in the first film not captured by the second. His face is a little scrunched, his beak kind of pointy, and the ends of his mouth curl in a way the other turtles don’t. He’d sport a more rounded look in the sequel, and was noticeably taller too. This version of Donatello was always my favorite though. And a really unsung aspect of that original film is how all four turtles had a unique look. If viewed in black and white, it was still easy to point out which turtle was which because they each had their own face and proportions, like people.

This Donatello though, is so spot-on it continues to amaze me every time I look at him. The head sculpt is dead-on and his eyes are expressive and life-like. The shape of his bandana is perfect, and the ends of which are fabric and have enough weight that they hang just as they do in the film. The skin texture is also perfect and captures the look of the film so wonderfully. For me as a kid, that was the biggest difference in going from cartoon to live action as the cartoon never caused me to wonder how the turtles would really look in the real world. The faux leather of the belt and various pads looks superb, and the wash on his shell and chest captures the griminess of the film. This is, after all, a character who resides in a sewer. I had some minor concerns about the look of the figure when looking at the promotional images, but in person it looks great. Part of the disconnect, I think, is due to the characters almost always being in darkness in the film and rarely in a warmly lit location. When I walk into the room I keep this figure in at dusk and I see him it’s like he’s just jumping right out of one of those scenes.

Even though Donatello is huge (roughly 16″), he still sports basically the same articulation as Neca’s smaller figures. There’s still the issue of a bulky shell to work around, so there’s going to be some limitations inherent in a TMNT figure, but you still get double-elbows, ball joints everywhere, and ankle swivels. There is an ab crunch hidden behind that shell which allows for some upper body movement, and the bulky elbow pads do hinder articulation some, but for the most part the figure is pretty solid in that regard. Neca used ratchet joints in places to help the figure support its own weight. This does mean he’s a little hard to pose right out of the box, requiring some play, but it also means he can stand on one foot if you so desire.

Neca also saw fit to include some accessories with our dear friend Donnie. Mostly, these take the form of extra hands, seven total. He’s got hands for holding his bo staff, an open hand for Cowabunga, and twin thumbs-up. He’s got another slightly open hand for holding his other accessories: a slice of pizza and a canister of ooze. The pizza looks good enough to eat, and even resembles the pizza Mikey orders early in the movie. The ooze canister has a small crack, as opposed to being broken in two, making it very specific to the first film (in the second, it’s in two pieces and reads TGRI instead of TCRI, as it does here). Of course, Donatello comes with his signature bo staff which he can hold pretty effortlessly and also has holsters for on his belt. Really, the only thing missing is an extra head with his open smile from the cover of the VHS box. With that, he’d be able to properly do his “Excellent!” pose from the beginning. It’s understandable that Neca only did one head for each turtle given it would probably add considerable cost, but it would have been awesome if they found a way.

In short, if it isn’t already apparent, I love this toy. It might be my new favorite (until the Leonardo one comes out anyways) as it’s just so perfect. I do wish Neca could have achieved the same in a smaller scale, but apparently that’s impossible due to how their license is constructed. Maybe that won’t be true always, but I’d be really hesitant about holding out for a smaller scale and risk missing out on these figures. The price is steep ($100 MSRP) compared to other Neca products, though far less than Hot Toys and other premium action figures despite being of basically the same quality. I am definitely all-in on this series and can’t wait to complete the quartet.


Bandai SH Figuarts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Raphael

img_0717A couple of months ago I posted about the Bandai SH Figuarts release of Leonardo and Donatello from their new line based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon from the late 80’s/early 90’s. Well, now I’m back to tell you about the next mutant to be released:  Raphael.

Everyone’s favorite wise-crackin’ turtle was the one to see the biggest change in personality between the comics and cartoon. Where Raph was a hot-tempered and moody character in print, he was more jokey and sarcastic in the cartoon. And really, this version of Raph only exists in the old cartoon which makes him rather unique among the four turtles, who mostly are depicted the same across all mediums. His personality may have been different, but his other traits were kept intact. He’s the only turtle to sport a red bandana no matter where he’s found and he is armed with his customary sai.

Raphael’s action figure in the Figuarts line is pretty much in line with what we saw out of Leonardo and Donatello. He comes with four sets of hands: closed fists, closed fists with holes for his weapons, partially closed fists with space between the index finger and thumb, and open hands. He has two heads, the grim, serious expression both Leo and Dona featured, and a unique head where his mouth is open. He comes with two additional accessories unique to Raph:  a kunai and shuriken. Raph’s construction is the same as well, featuring a plastic body with die cast shins and feet. His chest is soft plastic so it has some given when posing, and his belt buckle also happens to be die cast. He also has the same swappable belt piece feature on the back of his shell so his holsters for his sai appear as needed, just as they did on television.

img_0715Since this sure is essentially the same as the Leo and Don ones, just with different accessories, it should come as no surprise to read here that he’s of excellent quality. There’s virtually no paint slop to be found anywhere or chipping of any kind. Everything is clean and tidy. He has lots of pose-ability, though the shell will always limit any TMNT figure when compared with something like Batman or Spider-Man. For my particular figure, his belt piece fits quite snug and there’s no fear of it falling (unlike my Donatello). The sai sit in the holsters loosely, probably to prevent stripping of the paint when inserting and removing them. The bandana knot that’s swappable between head pieces is especially tight on my Raph and I did worry I was going to damage it when inserting it into the yelling head. The sai and kunai fit in both the closed fist and the partially closed fit hands, though the shuriken can only be held in the partially closed hand.

Raphael is a fine figure, but there’s also room for improvement. I’m a little disappointed with the unique head sculpt. His mouth opening almost looks like a smile, but his eyes are in a scowl indicating to me this is supposed to be an aggressive position. Sure, Raph and all of the other turtles sported a look like this at one point or another, but something that captured his more easy-going nature would have felt better. I’m also disappointed in the accessories. I understand the shuriken, but I can’t recall ever seeing any of the turtles use a kunai in the cartoon. Maybe one appeared in the background, and Splinter or Shredder may have produced one on a rare occasion, but I don’t think Raph ever did. Donatello came with a pizza slice, and Leonardo a manhole cover, so Bandai hasn’t exactly impressed in this department, unfortunately. I suppose in that sense, Raph’s accessories are better than Leo’s, but that’s not something to boast about.

Raphael obviously makes three, so we’re one turtle away from a full set. Michelangelo was expected to release in November, so I would guess he’s not too far from release at this point. Criticisms aside, this is the best set of turtles based on the original cartoon we’ve ever seen and it will take quite an effort to top them. I look forward to completing my set.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 4

1336705It’s been hard for me to find the time to sit down at the computer and contribute to this blog since becoming a dad in the spring of 2015. It has become especially hard as my offspring has learned to crawl, and then walk. Even so, that event occurred well after I posted my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3 in January 2013. Hopefully, no one has been sitting around waiting for this post since then, but at long last, I’m finally getting around to reviewing volume 4 of The Ultimate Collection.

For the uninitiated, The Ultimate Collection is a five volume set of hardcover, oversized comic book compilations chronicling the early years for the TMNT and collecting only the works of their original creators:  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The comics are presented in their original black and white with new cover art and liner notes by both creators. As someone who primarily experienced the Turtles as a kid via the cartoon and the films, I wanted to get this collection to experience firsthand the genesis of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

If you go back and read my review of Volume 3, you will notice I apparently took a long time in getting to that one as well. That was due to my lack of enthusiasm towards the product. For Volume 4, much is the same, unfortunately. Though I should point out right off the bat that Volume 4 is a better read than 3 as it compiles the last major arc of the original run:  City at War. Volume 3 concluded with the re-death of The Shredder and Volume 4 picks up right where that one left off with the two-part Shades of Gray plot commencing in Issue 48. This volume runs in perfect continuity as it contains issues 48-55 as it represents a point in time where Eastman and Laird both had a renewed interest in the comic and a desire to put a finishing touch, of sorts, on everything before going their separate ways.

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This encounter ends up making a large impact on Casey Jones.

Shades of Gray focuses on the Return to New York fallout and takes stock of where all of the main characters are presently at, in terms of their frame of mine. The Turtles return back to North Hampton but intend to return to New York after consulting with Splinter. Splinter is not coming with them, and Donatello wrestles with where his place is. Meanwhile, Casey is returning to his vigilante routes and accidentally takes a life in self defense, which gets the attention of Nobody, another vigilante introduced in the Tales of TMNT stories. Casey is spared, with some help from the Turtles, but is a wreck in the aftermath. April is also shown as lost and decides she needs to leave, especially with Casey being so distant. There’s some nice attention paid to Donatello as the story succeeds in giving his character a little more color than usual and he and Casey have a poignant encounter in the woods nearby.

Shades of Gray is basically a setup for City at War as it sets all of the characters out in new directions. April, searching for a fresh start, heads west to LA where her older sister Robyn resides. The Turtles head to New York, and Casey resolves to go after April after he clears his head. City at War also welcomes back Eastman and Laird to the artist’s chair for issue 1. Aside from that though, all of the pencils are handled by Jim Lawson in this collection. Eastman and Laird’s crowded, cross-hatching heavy art lends itself well to the congested city setting and their take on the Turtles is a welcomed return. Their still pretty amateurish when it comes to illustrating the human characters, in particular April, but overall I enjoy their artwork the most in this collection. It’s a shame it’s only for one issue.

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City at War Part 1 marks the return of Eastman and Laird as artists.

The City at War arc is primarily focused on the Turtles and their place in the New York community. They take on a Batman like role upon their initial return which frustrates Raph. The other brothers confide in one another that they’re unsure of what their place is and Leo has the hardest time with it and struggles with his role as leader for much of the collection. Meanwhile, the Foot Clan is in disarray and has splintered off into multiple factions. We see a rag-tag group of the ninjas mostly making trouble, but also a more sophisticated faction that targets the others financially via cyber warfare. And then there’s the Japan faction which is teased throughout the entire collection. They’re lead by Karai, who finally reaches New York by issue 55, but her presence isn’t felt until Volume 5. The Foot Elite are also around making trouble, and their allegiance is unclear. One encounter seems to place their allegiance still firmly with their deceased master making them a chaotic force simply out for revenge. It’s also unclear how large their numbers are, but considering they’re the elite force, probably few.

April’s adventures in LA are shown and they’re dull by comparison. Her scenarios often retread familiar ground as she still feels lost and without a home even with her sister and her sister’s young son. Robyn is the foil who tries to get April to loosen up, have fun, meet a guy, and so on. She humors her sister, to a point, and shows some genuine enthusiasm in the upcoming Christmas celebration she’ll be able to share with her sister, but not a lot happens.

Casey, on the other hand, gets sidetracked out in New Mexico when his truck gets stolen. He falls in with a waitress named Gabby, and the two quickly become an item. When Gabby confesses to Casey that she’s four months pregnant, he seems to find some new purpose for himself. The scenes between the two are hard to get a read on as Casey becomes consumed by this new role for himself. Does he genuinely have feelings for Gabby or is he too just looking for some new purpose for himself? Someone to take care of and protect?

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AC Fairly handles the covers and he prefers a “chunky” kind of turtle that I’m not particularly fond of.

It hurts that Eastman and Laird aren’t the most gifted storytellers or script writers. There’s a lot of groan-inducing dialogue, some intentional as Casey is basically a lunkhead, throughout the two more grounded arcs. The parts with the Turtles have minimal dialogue at times. It is frustrating to see, that after such a strong character-driven opening with Shades of Gray, that the Turtles mostly return to their personality-less roles for City at War. Only Leo and Raph are given room to show-off their personalities, which has become a reoccurring problem for the books as a whole. Mikey is the most criminally overlooked as his comic book counterpart has almost no defining characteristics beyond his weapons. Perhaps it was an unintentional reaction to his oversized personality everywhere else that Eastman and Laird chose to keep the spotlight away from him.

Not to be forgotten, is the Splinter arc which is mostly small, but contains a nice reveal at its end in this collection. Another Tales of TMNT character makes their main-line debut and one that is familiar to longtime TMNT fans. The setup is done well and I really enjoyed the brief depiction of this character. Hopefully it pays off in Volume 5.

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Lawson’s version of the Turtles is not one of my favorites.

As I mentioned before, Jim Lawson handles almost all of the pencils in this collection and it was the reason I grew so disinterested in the volume to begin with. I do not enjoy his take on the Turtles. They’re blocky and his art is sometimes sloppy. I’m mostly okay with his April, even if she seems to not have any of the physical traits of the Eastman and Laird version, and his Casey is fine. His backgrounds are a lot less crowded which works for some of the action scenes but sometimes there’s an emptiness to them. Perhaps the over-sized format draws more attention to all of the white space. He does have some awkward transitions where he tries to convey too much motion on one page, but at least he’s not beholden to the traditional panel approach. There’s also an overuse of splash pages in issues 54 and 55 that feel like filler. Even Laird admits in the liner notes he’s not sure why they went with so many. Lawson’s art does shine some in issue 54 when he gets to depict a cloaked Mikey in the snow. For some reason, the snow is abandoned in the following issue. I guess they had a heat wave.

The cover art and some of the interior art is new and handled by Eastman. It’s in line with the other collections, though not my favorite. I think the back cover would have been better off as the front as it depicts the Turtles surrounded by Foot Ninjas which is a nice representation of what’s contained inside. Otherwise though, it’s fine. The liner notes feel more substantial here as well, especially from Laid. Eastman is still too in love with everything they did while Laird is a little more critical. The quality of the set is once again very high and there’s little to complain about there. The pages are nice and thick and the whole set has a nice weight to it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to be a mostly action-oriented affair. The attempts at actual story-telling work better here than they did in some of the other issues, but a lot of it is also cliche and amateurish. No one picks up a TMNT comic expecting Shakespeare though, and there are some genuinely good bits of character development contained in these issues. I just wish they had a better artist.


Bandai SH Figuarts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo and Donatello

img_0505Over 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.

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Donatello, waiting to be freed.

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.

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Die cast lower legs means Leo can achieve poses like this one.

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.