Thursday, 4 October 2012

Thundercats (2011) - season 1 part 2

 As it turns out, that wasn’t it. It wasn’t well-reported – indeed, you can still find a lot of sites online that announce this second half of the first season as ‘season 2’ – but Thundercats did what quite a few US TV shows do, and split a single season into two halves of the year. So everything I said in my impressions of the first 13 episodes of season 1, including ‘was that it?’ ought to be taken with a proviso: it seemed at the time it was, but in fact, there was more to come – the same number of episodes and a cute little comedy short featuring Snarf and baby Lion-o.

On the other hand, that might now be it, sad to say. The show’s toys haven’t sold very well (I picked up my Wilykat figure cut to a pittance) and currently the show is in limbo as Cartoon Network have not renewed it. They’d rather air such wonders as Annoying Orange, which presumably has the advantage of costing next to nothing, while I doubt Studio 4˚C come cheap. There’s a thin line between ‘not renewed’ and ‘cancelled’, so that may well be curtains for new Thundercats.

I’ll support the show when the complete series is released on DVD over here. But I’m not sure there’re any plans for that.

It’s a real shame, because this second half of the season was a big improvement – big enough that I wish it had aired at the same time, or had some of its better episodes in that lull during the first season where the cats were sort of drifting about without an aim. It’s unfortunate that it came too late for many viewers – even I put off continuing watching until months after the airing dates – and that the show has been so poorly marketed. I would love it to continue.

The new episodes brought with them many elements reminiscent of a second season. Lion-O is given trials by the other cats in a nod back to the original series, their efforts are focused on a collection quest (power stones for the Sword of Omens and/or the Sword of Plundarr, as well as the latter weapon itself), characters go off on their own tangents (the kittens getting episodes of their own, for example) and one of the new Thundercats from the original is introduced – Pumyra.

Pumyra was in some ways given the shaft in the original series, never really developing much of a character or distinct skills, and not even appearing in the last handful of episodes. She is more interesting here, shown as highly resentful of the other Thundercats at first, feeling she was abandoned by them. It seems for a while she was brought in earlier than Bengali or Lynx-O purely for the expedience of having a new romantic interest for Lion-O in order to avoid the love triangle between him, Cheetara and Tygra dragging on, but in the end we see a side of her that’s definitely a departure from the original.

Everything here has improved, really. The stories are a little more complex and rooted in questions of leadership and social structures as well as fights. The art stays more consistent and less often looks slapdash. The pacing is much better, with the story leading to its climax (featuring the update’s Vultureman!) after a neat build-up, and even if the collection quest is generic, it still focuses our allies and makes it feel less like they’re aimlessly wandering. Mumm-ra actually becomes a threat, too, and the flashbacks featuring him, which at first felt very contrived, actually became interesting.

If I had a problem, it was with the new character designs getting more and more babyish. They in particular get in the way of the kittens’ side-story – the original’s aesthetic worked because the designs ranged from the Thundercats – essentially humans with cat-pupils and marks on their faces – to the mutants, some of whom were basically animal heads on exaggerated human bodies. The new series has cartoony animals like the frog and squirrel the kittens meet who with their huge eyes and basically animal anatomy look like they’re from Sonic the Hedgehog, and it just doesn’t work. Which is a shame, because the kittens – always my favourites – really come into their own here. Despite some very silly magical powers (‘kleptovoyance’) and artefacts, their side-story sees them grow; they have a sad flashback (albeit not so sad as Tygra’s), and they save the day at the end – something they never did in the original. The last lines of the show are even reserved for Wilykit. They’re absolutely adorable characters, but they’re also useful here – which is a relief.

I definitely want to see more Thundercats – and I’d be happy with more of this version. I want to know what happens next, and how Lion-O would rule now, post-revolution. I want more of Wilykit and Wilykat, who are much too cute. I want Mandora and Hammerhand and Cap’n Cracker. And I especially want the Lunataks – as they were when first introduced, formidable enough to individually be a challenge to any Thundercat. And I want a DVD release so I can support the show.

But when has Cartoon Network ever given me what I wanted? 

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