Thundercats: Season 2, Volume 1 Review
This review is brought to you by the word “Lackey”.
The second season of Thundercats proved to be a great challenge for its writers; up to this point the evolution of the series had remained fairly simple, whilst throwing in some lengthy stories which would provide some great storylines, and in turn create a solid enough mythology. Ambitions soon became higher; not only would season 2 continue in the tradition of providing several epic storylines, but so too would it introduce new characters, new vehicles and bring back one or two familiar faces.
In my review for the second part of season 1 I mentioned how there seemed to be a natural sense of progression, and true to those words season 2 carries on much in the same vein. Of the thirty-four episodes that make up the first part of season 2 fifteen of them provide the key changes in seeing how the series would develop. In “Thundercats Ho!”, the season opener, which was originally a movie-length feature (shown here in its syndicated form) Lion-O has recurring visions of the day he and his fellow Thunderians narrowly escaped death when their planet was destroyed. He learns that three others survived the blast, three fellow countrymen who he had no choice but to leave behind in order to save the lives of everyone else. And so he eventually discovers that all this time they have been staying with RoBear Berbils on a small island situated on Third Earth.
It isn’t long before we’re introduced to Lynx-O, Pumyra and Bengali, and of course each has a speciality for which to aid their fellow companions. Until they’re anointed as true Thundercats at the end of “Thundercats Ho!” they are simply known otherwise as Thunderians. Lynx-O is the eldest and therefore wisest of the cats; he lost his sight during the escape from Thundera, but since then his senses have developed beyond that of the other Thundercats. His hearing is far more acute and he has a sixth sense which is lesser developed than Cheetara’s. But he proves his value soon enough, and when given a special brail board he becomes vital to the Thundercats operations, proving to be a strong pilot and communicator. Bengali is the young and typically headstrong Thunderian; not unlike Lion-O in some ways, but he has a wild streak that often gets the better of him. By trade he’s a blacksmith, which proves to be invaluable when the Sword of Omens is destroyed later on. He wields a magical hammer which can shoot lasers and he wishes to be able to use it more often, seeking battle rather than staying at home to mind the fort. Finally we have Pumyra. Remember how you always fancied Cheetara as a kid? For some reason every young boy did; it’s just one of those unexplainable phenomenons. Although Pumyra is certainly the lesser known, particularly in the UK as I believe season 2 never aired over here, she gives the other female cat a run for her money. Not much is known about Pumyra at this stage though; she seems to share the same abilities as Cheetara: great speed and agility, and her weapon of choice is a sling. But if she does have a particular speciality then we don’t learn about it during the first part of this season.
As it stood the well established characters from the first season were more than enough to keep viewers interested, and with a cast as big as this the writers managed to give each of them enough screen time. Now, with three new Thundercats you can imagine how difficult it might be to keep things running smoothly. Well the staff do an adequate job in seeing that our favourite cats still get plenty of room to grow, while ensuring they milk the new ones so that kids will buy the toys, or it could simply be that the series didn’t have much life left beyond this point. There are several big cases early on that sees Lynx-O, Bengali and Pumyra steal the thunder (no pun intended) from the other cats; with storylines involving the new Tower of Omens overshadowing the Cat’s Lair and its inhabitants. Also notable is that the new cats remain separated from Lion-O and company for a large part of the series; they stay, presumably live, in the Tower of Omens while the others get on with things as usual back at the lair. Although the writers wish to firmly establish these new characters they don’t place them in particularly memorable situations, and we rarely see any great developments take place. Still, at least the original cats aren’t forgotten. Wilykit and Wilykat get a few more personal episodes, with number 23 “Runaways” showing them at their most frustrated. The rest don’t go beyond learning a few more lessons, with the exception of Cheetara, who in episode 34 “The Telepathy Beam” harnesses a telekinetic ability, born from her sixth sense. One final thing to mention here, on the side of good, is the return of Snarf’s nephew Snarfer. This time he stays permanently with the Thundercats, helping out with his mastery of all things technical and providing some obvious comic relief.
In “Mumm-Ra Lives” we’re introduced to a new set of villains: The Lunataks – yea it’s kinda Lame-O. Tug-Mug, Red Eye, Alluro, Amok and Luna make up the five fearsome villains who once hailed from the Moons of Plun-darr and were sentenced to spend eternity trapped in The Forbidden Territories. After some exposition they’re freed by the Mutants and join up with Mumm-Ra after he convinces them that destroying the Thundercats would be unbelievably ace. While the addition of new villains is a fresh approach the Lunataks never really live up to their reportedly nasty image. Before they’re unleashed they’re bigged up as being ruthless, terrifying creatures who are far stronger and cunning than the Thundercats, and aren’t anywhere near the pushovers that the Mutants are. However when we finally see them the realisation is that they’re very standard, unimaginatively designed creatures whose personalities are no match for the bumbling Mutants who fans had already warmed to. Their names alone signify what their abilities are, while the likes of Alluro gets by with a voice that sounds like someone doing a bad James Mason impression, though I suspect that this is wholly intentional; in fact the actor is Doug Preis, better known here for voicing Lynx-O. The Lunataks, with the help of the Mutants construct the Sky-Tomb: a mobile castle which makes it tougher for the Thundercats to track them.
Coincidentally enough the problems that arise with these new characters are the same as those which inflict the good guys – too much screen time and not enough interesting usage. Understandably they dominate “Mumm-Ra Lives”, after which they soon take over main bad guy duties. This is a shame because Slythe, Monkian and Jackleman are practically tossed away, providing nothing more than cameo appearances for most of this run. The only Mutant who bears any significance to the proceedings is Vultureman, and this stems from something that I touched upon before. He’s the most gifted of Mumm-Ra’s minions and several times in the past we’ve seen how frustrated he can get, to the point that he wishes to break away and rule his own roost (boy I’m churning them out today). Here he does so, joining the Lunataks and providing them with the weaponry they need to destroy the Thundercats. Of course he has an agenda like anyone else, hoping to one day overthrow Mumm-Ra, which is just a pipe dream really. With a few Mutants left to the wayside the writers bring in a new pet for Mumm-Ra: Maa-Mutt. I don’t know where it came from, but he proves to be a mummy’s best friend (yes, Mumm-Ra says that) on several occasions.
The final story of real worth is the five-part tale “Thundercubs”. Mysteriously, the planet of Thundera begins to reconstruct itself, upon which Mumm-Ra learns that it was in fact the Sword of Plun-darr that was responsible for its destruction. In his newly built time machine he travels to New Thundera and builds a pyramid there, in the hopes of searching for the Sword of Plun-darr and the Treasure of Thundera, which if destroyed will see the Thundercats turn on each other. This storyline serves as a test for the cats as they face many perils and are seemingly unable to avoid what fate has in store for them, exploring their darkest sides which are touched upon several times in the season, and as explained by Jaga, no one, no matter how good can fully eradicate their most inner dark side – they can only try to control it.
It’s no surprise that Thundercats had supported a large toy line up in the past, even though early on it wasn’t designed to be a marketing ploy. With season 2 it becomes all too apparent that a major shift had taken place, with brand new vehicles such as the Thunderclaw, Hovercat, Fist Pounder and Thunderstrike being introduced and used on multiple occasions. In addition to this newly created characters enter the fray and prove to be blatant marketing excuses, with the likes of Berserker Ram Bam, who has a wheel coming out of his chest and can ride across any plain (imagine a pull-back toy variant) and Top Spinner, who as you can guess spins from the waist. Several friendly faces from the past return, such as Hachiman, Snowman and Mandora, which are either toys who didn’t sell very well or characters who the writers needed to draft in to create other storylines that weren’t quite so interesting as the five-parters. The concerns here is that whatever the reason the bad guys who are more predominant than the goodies aren’t that fun to watch, especially the Berserkers, led by Hammer Hand, despite being pirates which should automatically make them cool as hell. But, despite any misgivings Thundercats continues to entertain and can’t be faulted for having the balls to try and move in a new direction.
I’m going to continue here from the end of season 1 by listing the actual episode number, rather than start from 1 again, as well as list the disc numbers as a continuation, although they are labelled 1-6 in the collection.
66) Thundercats Ho! Part 1
67) Thundercats Ho! Part 2
68) Thundercats Ho! Part 3
69) Thundercats Ho! Part 4
70) Thundercats Ho! Part 5
71) Mumm-Ra Lives Part 1
72) Mumm-Ra Lives Part 2
73) Mumm-Ra Lives Part 3
74) Mumm-Ra Lives Part 4
75) Mumm-Ra Lives Part 5
77) Psych Out
78) The Mask of Gorgon
79) The Mad Bubbler
80) Together We Stand
81) Ravage Island
82) Time Switch
83) The Sound Stones
84) Day of the Eclipse
85) Side Swipe
86) Mumm-Rana’s Belt
87) Hachiman’s Honour
89) Hair of the Dog
90) Vultureman’s Revenge
91) Thundercubs Part 1
92) Thundercubs Part 2
93) Thundercubs Part 3
94) Thundercubs Part 4
95) Thundercubs Part 5
96) The Totem of Dera
97) The Chain of Loyalty
98) Crystal Canyon
99) The Telepathy Beam
Warner brings us season 2, part 1 in the same fashion as the previous releases, with six dual sided discs, two in each amaray. These are housed in a card slip case, featuring a new lenticular design. The artwork on the cases show various Thundercats with very nasty looks on their faces. As mentioned earlier the episodes here are syndicated versions and “Thundercats Ho!” has the distinction of using its movie title during the opening credits of each chapter. The five-part episodes also come with recaps for each beginning, and a preview for the next chapter. The other episodes feature post-advertisement recaps, for example: “Rargh, I’ll get you Thundercats!” *fade out/fade in* “Rargh, I’ll get you Thundercats!”.
For those who are wondering if a new animated sequence was created for season 2, like myself originally, I’m afraid to say it’s the same as before – still awesome, but sans new cats and villains.
Nothing here has changed. The episodes look generally fine, considering that they haven’t been restored, but coming from syndicated tape masters they pose inherent problems that bothered the previous releases, such as tape lines and the occasional fuzziness, not to mention some episodes looking worse than others in terms of clarity. But once again it’s the disc authoring that lets down the series so much, with aliasing, colour bleeding and Edge Enhancement being the major source of trouble. Aside from this the episodes look decent, with bold design work and good detail for the most part. If you’ve already purchased the previous sets then clearly this won’t be a detrimental factor.
The audio is a functional English mono 1.0 track which tends to go up and down depending on the episode, and is immediately noticeable during the main title theme. The dialogue and action pieces still remain at a decent level and don’t spoil things by any great margin. A French mono track also makes its way onto the release.
Optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French are also available.
The Rembrandts – Music Video (2.57)
Warner Bros employed the services of the group known best for the Friends theme for this re-imaging of the Thundercats classic song. Exclusive to the DVD release The Rembrandts put their guitary spin on things in this kinda fun performance, despite an awful video which superimposes various Thundercats and special effects.
The Music of Thundera (8.31)
Bernie Hoffer (co-composer) and Lee Dannacher (Supervising producer) discuss the classic music used throughout the series. Dannacher informs us that rather than use already existing archive material they chose to go for an all out orchestral score. I’d have to agree with her that in terms of US animation Bernie’s music has yet to be surpassed. The composer talks briefly about being drafted in, and plays a few bits and pieces for fans. Then The Rembrandts talk about covering the theme, putting their spin on it and keeping it catchy and rock based. They discuss a little about using harmonies and working with green screen for their video.
Bernie Hoffer – Live! (1.13)
Not the live concert type thingy I was expecting. Bernie Hoffer and his electric keyboard are brought in to play us the theme once more in this specially recorded piece for the DVD. A few little factoids pop up during Bernie’s performance, which isn’t particularly strong but clearly he enjoys playing it.
The second season of Thundercats starts off reasonably well. There are plenty of new additions for fans to sink their teeth into, although there aren’t enough moments to make this as enjoyable as season 1 in its entirety. It’s the most ambitious outing for the writers, that’s for sure, and there’s no doubting that children will enjoy seeing more Thundercats and villains on screen, but it is clear that the series was now facing a rapid decline.