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By Thomas Wheeler

I think it would be fair to say that the "big three" pop culture concepts of the 1980's, that were most manifested in toys, animated series, and perhaps comic books, were G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe. Interestingly enough, all three still exist. Mattel offers an updated Masters of the Universe figure each month online, and current incarnations of G.I. Joe and Transformers can still be found in most retailers.

I also think it would be fair to say that there are several concepts that are very, very close seconds to those "big three", and in my opinion, the top two would be MASK and ThunderCats. MASK was a popular toy line from Kenner, that combined aspects of both G.I. Joe and Transformers, and enjoyed a very popular animated series. A couple of years ago, Matt Trakker was inducted into the G.I. Joe team, and received his own figure.

And then there's ThunderCats. Fondly remembered by a lot of people who were kids in the 1980's, it had a spectacular animated series that had a moderately higher bent towards anime than most of the 1980's animated series, and this was well before anime had really caught on to the degree that it has, and also enjoyed a very healthy, multi-season run and a considerable cast.

The original toys -- were another matter. Produced by LJN, a company long since defunct, they were popular enough, but somewhat limited in detail, and certainly in articulation, especially given their size. They just simply weren't terribly impressive.

Unlike most of the other popular concepts of the 1980's, ThunderCats never really made a return. There were considerable issues over the rights, until ThunderCats finally ended up, more or less, with Warner Brothers, which at least allowed DC Comics, through their WildStorm imprint, to turn out several capable mini-series, and even team up the ThunderCats with Superman and, on another occasion, the case of Battle of the Planets. But apart from that and a DVD release of the entire series, there didn't seem to be much happening for the natives of Thundera.

Until 2011, when the ThunderCats received an all-new animated series. And although it is a reboot of the concept, the sort of thing that I personally tend to despise, being most definitely from the school of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", I do have to give credit to the series designers. They haven't taken the look of the core characters as far as I was afraid they might. I haven't actually seen the new series, although from what I've read, they have altered the individual histories of a number of the characters, to make them edgier or trendier or what ever, but for the most part, they still look reasonably recognizable, at least if the toys are any indication.

That's right, I said toys. There are new ThunderCats action figures, and this time, they're in the hands of Bandai, best known for such generally excellent action figure lines as Power Rangers, Ben 10, and -- a few years in the past now -- Gundam. Personally, I wouldn't've minded if the ThunderCats license had ended up with Mattel, since the notion of ThunderCats figures being created by the same people who turn out such masterpieces as DC Universe Classics and Masters of the Universe Classics certainly has its appeal, but in fairness, Bandai is a more than capable toy company that can certainly turn out impressive product. See my reference to Gundam.

I'll admit my interest in the figures based on the new ThunderCats wasn't very high. However, I will say that from what I've seen, Bandai has done an excellent job with them. If you're enjoying the new animated series on Cartoon Network, then I certainly give my recommendation to the action figures based on the new ThunderCats. There's a very cool 4" line, and an equally cool 6" line. Interesting way of going about it, since those are pretty much two major scales of action figures out there these days. The figures appear to be nicely detailed and very well articulated.

What I was most definitely interested in, though, was when Bandai announced that it planned to produce a series of 8", highly-detailed, highly-articulated action figures based on the CLASSIC ThunderCats. Okay, now they had my attention. Given how limited the original action figures were in these aspects, this was something that was slightly over 25 years overdue.

Recently, as of this writing, I found TYGRA. Lion-O, the leader of the ThunderCats, remains rather elusive, which is perhaps not all that surprising.

Before I get into a history of the classic ThunderCats, and of Tygra in particular, I'd like to make two observations about the package. First of all, it's pretty small relative to the figure. I supposed I'm used to DC Universe Classics, or Masters of the Universe Classics, which tend to come on pretty good-sized cards relative to the figure. Tygra comes in a box that honestly isn't all that much bigger than he is. This isn't a complaint, just an observation. One would hope that the ThunderCats are not prone to claustrophobia. It's nevertheless a very nicely-designed package.

The second observation is this. There was this little panel on the side of the box, a white square with the ThunderCats emblem and some little colored dots. I thought perhaps these were some sort of bonus points or some such, but instead, there were the words "Download Snap Tag", and a tiny graphic of a cell phone.

I actually had to look up "Snap Tag". According to the information I discovered, SnapTag technology turns brand logos into interactive marketing tools. Consumers with either a standard or smart camera phone can snap and send a picture of the SnapTag to a designated short code or scan the SnapTag using a SnapTag Reader App to instantly access offers, content, promotions, and information.

A brandable, more accessible alternative to a QR Code, SnapTags enable advertisers to make their brand logo a portal to mobile interactivity from any placement on any marketing material.

Of course then I had to look up QR Code, and those stand for "Quick Response" Codes, and are those strange little squares that I've been seeing in everything from advertisements in comic books to roadside political signs.

Moving on... let's consider a bit of the history of the ThunderCats concept, and of Tygra in particular.

ThunderCats was originally produced by Rankin/Bass Productions, and debuted in 1984, based on characters created by Ted Wolf. The animation was provided by Pacific Animation Corporation, and had an initial run of 65 episodes, with several subsequent additions of 20-episode groups, each starting with a five-part story. There are a total of 130 episodes, making for a decidedly impressive run for the ThunderCats.

The rights to the ThunderCats have tended to bounce around a fair bit over the years, which may explain why a revival was so difficult. The series was originally distributed by Rankin-Bass Productions' then parents company Telepictures, which would later merge with Lorimar Productions. In 1989, Lorimar was purchased and folded into Warner Brothers, who have since had the rights to the series, although Ted Wolf has maintained some interest in the concept as well.

The series follows the adventures of the team of heroes, cat-like humanoid aliens from the planet Thundera. The series pilot begins with the dying Thundera meeting its end, forcing the ThunderCats (a sort of Thunderan nobility) to flee their homeworld. The fleet is attacked by the Thunderans' enemies, the Mutants of Plun-Darr, who destroy most of the starships in the escaping fleet, but spare the flagship hoping to capture the legendary mystic Sword of Omens they believe is on board. The sword holds the Eye of Thundera, the source of the ThunderCats' power, which is embedded in the hilt. Though the Mutants damage the flagship, the power of the Eye drives them back. The damage to the ship means the journey to their original destination is not possible, instead having to journey to "Third Earth"; which will take much longer than they had anticipated. The eldest of the ThunderCats, Jaga, volunteers to pilot the ship while the others sleep in capsules; however, he dies of old age in the process, but not before ensuring they will reach their destination safely. The flagship contains the young Lord of the ThunderCats, Lion-O, as well as the ThunderCats Cheetara, Panthro, Tygra, WilyKit and WilyKat, and Snarf.

When the ThunderCats awake from their suspended animation on Third Earth, Lion-O discovers that his suspension capsule has slowed rather than stopped his aging, and he is now in the body of an adult. Together, the ThunderCats and the friendly natives of Third Earth construct the "Cat's Lair," their new home and headquarters, but before long, the Mutants have tracked them down to Third Earth. The intrusion of these two alien races upon the world does not go unnoticed, however - the demonic, mummified sorcerer, Mumm-Ra, recruits the Mutants to aid him in his campaign to acquire the Eye of Thundera and destroy the ThunderCats so that his evil might continue to hold sway over Third Earth.

According to the first chapter on Wildstorm's comic "Thundercats Origins: Heroes and Villains", the Third Earth is actually our Earth in an alternate future. Mumm-Ra originates from ancient Egypt, where he first enslaved himself to the Ancient Spirits of Evil in exchange for his tremendous powers and knowledge of the universe. He is – seemingly – the one responsible for destroying the human race, after he broke free from the onyx pyramid's burial chamber where a Pharaoh's son imprisoned him. However. this is never referenced in the original animated series.

The remaining seasons of ThunderCats kicked off with the movie "ThunderCats: Ho!", which introduced three new Thunderians, later dubbed ThunderCats by Lion-O, who had survived the destruction of their homeworld. They were named Lynx-O, Pumyra, and Ben-Gali. New enemies would turn up over the successive seasons, and Mumm-Ra would continue to cause trouble.

ThunderCats' final season actually brought the series to a reasonable conclusion, something highly unusual for an animated series at the time. In the opening mini-series, "Return to Thundera!", the ThunderCats returned to New Thundera to rebuild their society, but before departing, they destroyed Mumm-Ra's pyramid, enraging the Ancient Spirits of Evil to the point that they brought Mumm-Ra back, and installed him within a new pyramid on New Thundera. The season proved to be quite divorced from what had gone before, with adventures consigned almost entirely to New Thundera, and most villainous opposition coming from either Mumm-Ra or assorted new villains. In the series finale, several conclusions are reached: Mumm-Ra stands up to and successfully asserts himself over the Ancient Spirits of Evil, the mystery of the Book of Omens was at last solved, and the tumultuous and terrifying environment of Thundera was at last rendered peaceful and pristine.

As for Tygra in particular, he is a staunch, level-headed warrior and oldest of the ThunderCats after Jaga's apparent passing. Based on the tiger, Tygra is known as the ThunderCat architect and scientist.

He is the one Lion-O often turns to as second-in-command and for counsel. He is responsible for the design of all of the ThunderCat structures on Third Earth — the Cat's Lair and the Tower of Omens. He is also gifted with "mind-power" — the ability to create life-like illusions in other people's minds; he used this for Lion-O's Anointment Trial, but it puts a great strain on him. He uses a whip-like bolas in combat, with which he can render himself invisible to the naked eye.

In the episode "All That Glitters," Lion-O instructs Tygra, "If I do not return, you will be the new Lord of the ThunderCats." This verifies that indeed, Tygra is the second-in-command.

Tygra's weakness is that he is not able to swim when not invisible; also, Tygra has shown to be easily influenced by external stimuli more than any other ThunderCat ("The Garden of Delights", "Turgamar the Tuska" and "Crystal Canyon"); he also claimed to be shy when being a kid.

Patient, analytic and calm, Tygra is the most quiet ThunderCat, and usually considers every part of the problem before making a decision. Where creators Ted Wolf and Leonard Starr described Panthro's character as being based on "strength" and Cheetara's character as being based on "speed," Tygra's character was described as being based on "integrity."

So, how's the figure? Really outstanding! I'll admit I was a little concerned as to what the final product from Bandai would look like. Don't get me wrong, they're a fine toy company, but occasionally, some of their figures tend to have a more -- well, for lack of a better term, "constructed" look about them than some others. They're more inclined to use unpainted metal rivets and visible screws to hold their figures together. While this isn't always a liability, it would have been ill-suited to something like these ThunderCats Classics figures.

Fortunately, none of these construction techniques are used on Tygra. The basic construction design, honestly, is not too far removed from what Mattel does with DC Universe Classics or Masters of the Universe Classics, with a few differences here and there. The type of plastic that Bandai tends to use is different -- it is more rigid, but given the size of the figure, it's also more solid. The only time this sort of plastic can be problematic is on smaller figures or very fine parts. That's certainly not the case with Tygra.

Obviously at 8" in height, the ThunderCats Classics line is not to scale with anything being produced by Mattel, or really much of anyone else just now. But -- big deal. There are some collectors out there, I know, who won't buy anything that's outside of a certain scale regardless of how much they may enjoy the concept. As far as I'm concerned, if it's a cool figure, I'll get it. And certainly Tygra is a cool figure.

The overall sculpt is superb. The essence of the animated likeness of the character has certainly been captured here, in that Tygra has a superb amount of sculpted detail, without going overboard. He looks very much like he stepped right out of the cartoon. If he'd been more realistic, if he'd looked like a Tygra that one might expect to meet live and in person, he might not have looked quite right. Bandai found an excellent balance here.

As one might expect, the headsculpt is the most detailed aspect of the figure, and Tygra's upswept fur-hair has been sculpted with great detail. Being derived from a tiger, as one might expect, Tygra's fur and hair is mostly orange with black stripes. As he is the second oldest ThunderCat after Jaga, he has white fur around the sides of his head. However, this is not an unusual feature for actual tigers, either. I'm not trying to make it sound as though Tygra looks elderly. He certainly does not.

Much of Tygra's face is a pale yellow. The orange extends to his cheeks and his nose, but his eyes and mouth are framed in pale yellow. He has upswept black eyebrows and large orange eyes.

His lower arms are exposed, and these are orange with black stripes, eventually leading into pale yellow hands. Similarly, the fronts of his feet are exposed, revealing claw-like toenails, and the feet are also the pale yellow color.

Tygra's costume is several shades of blue. His shirt is mostly a medium royal blue, with a lighter blue over the left shoulder, tapering down into light blue trunks. He has a slightly flared shoulder pad over his left shoulder, which ends with a touch of gold trim. Bandai has designed and assembled this very nicely so that it doesn't impede arm articulation.

Tygra's boots are the same medium royal blue color as his shirt, and they are topped with metallic silver trim. His arms and legs are a pale turquoise in color, and the sleeves of his shirt end in ridged silver cuffs.

Really, the design of Tygra's outfit lends itself extremely well to an action figure design, since most of the parts have a color separation right where the figure would be assembled anyway, especially at the sleeves and trunks. As a result, paint detailing is surprisingly minimal on what is otherwise a very colorful figure. There is some orange and black striping at the top of the chest, The dark blue of the shirt is painted, the stripes on the arms, and the detailing on the arms and feet. Not a whole lot else, really.

Of course, Tygra has the ThunderCats emblem, the black cat-head silhouette in a red circle, proudly displayed on his uniform, on his chest at the top of the shirt.

Articulation of the figure is superb. Tygra is poseable at the head, neck, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and feet. Some of the articulation is a little unusual. The head is a ball-and-socket design, so it has plenty of mobility of its own. One almost wonders why Bandai bothered with the additional neck articulation. The wrists move back and forth and also rotate. Curiously, although the waist allows Tygra to bend forward and backward somewhat, he cannot turn sideways. I found this very surprising. The knees are double-jointed, something that I consider unnecessary on almost any action figure, but appearance-wise, Tygra gets away with it a little better than most. The ankles move back and forth and also have a rotation.

Tygra comes with several accessories. He comes with a retracted bola whip, and an extended one. He also comes with a replacement right hand so that he can actually hold the bola whip.

Any complaints? Just one. Unfortunately, it's a fairly pronounced one. Every Tygra figure I have seen has a misaligned left eye. As far as I can tell, what's happened here is that some of Tygra's facial features, including the eyes, were not painted on, but rather imprinted, using a technique that I suspect is similar to how logos and emblems are imprinted on various action figures, such as a Cobra emblem on a G.I. Joe figure. Generally speaking, if one of those is slightly off, it's not all that big of a deal. But if an eye is off -- then it's a much more obvious problem.

Tygra's left eye does not line up with the sculpted area on the head designed to accommodate it -- period. I have not seen a Tygra yet -- and I've seen about half a dozen of them to date -- that does not have this problem. Ultimately, I purchased the Tygra that had the closest eye placement I could find, and even that one is not perfect. I saw some where the eye barely touched the sculpted area at all.

I am torn between wondering if I can repaint it myself, and leaving well enough alone, or wondering if there might be a running change at some point. In any case, I have to say that for an otherwise really, truly impressive figure, that clearly Bandai put a lot of effort into making just as cool as they possibly could, this is a pretty glaring incident of sloppiness that should've been caught at the outset, and I hope it doesn't happen on anyone else.

So, what's my final word? Eye problem aside, this is really a magnificent figure. Tygra represents the ThunderCats figures as they always should have been. This ThunderCats Classics line from Bandai finally updates these classic characters in a modern action figure form that is entirely respectful to the originals, just as Mattel has done with their Masters of the Universe Classics line. Any longtime ThunderCats fan will be delighted with Tygra.

As of this writing, the line also includes Lion-O, who as the leader of the ThunderCats, has proven a lot more elusive. Maybe Tygra can turn invisible with the use of his bolo whip, but apparently all Lion-O needs to become invisible in the toy stores is good sales. It is my sincere hope that this excellent line of ThunderCats Classics figures continues, as I would certainly love to be able to add Panthro, Cheetara, WilyKit, and WilyKat to my collection.

In the meantime, TYGRA from the THUNDERCATS CLASSICS collection most definitely has my highest recommendation!