Sunday, 7 September 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- 1988 Raphael

Company: Playmates
Year: 2013

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were just about the biggest kid’s phenomenon on the planet. They had a wildly successful TV show, which had spawned an obscene amount of merchandise in its wake. To provide a more contemporary reference, for those who weren’t born back then, just reflect on how big Gangnam Style was about two years ago – then triple it.

At the forefront of this Reagan-era excess was the action figure line, which generated more in sales than the economies of some small nations. Just about every kid had a plethora of TMNT stuff in and about their house. You’ll note that I said “just about every kid”, and the reason is not insignificant. As a child, I was not allowed much of anything to do with the Turtles, largely because of the violent content of the show. This will probably seem pretty silly to some, but the level of violence was actually quite controversial in its day. Some of you reading probably experienced this with your own parents.
Before I go on, I should add that my parents are great parents. They have bought me an absolute plethora of TMNT-related products in the years that have followed. And no I will no doubt have idiosyncratic rules for my kids one day too. So don’t make the mistake of thinking I was terribly deprived or treated poorly by my folks; nothing could be further from the truth.

However, I was obsessed with the Turtles and eyed the action figures of others with not inconsiderable envy. Some people, including myself, may even speculate that this lack of Turtles during my childhood has led to me spending an inordinate amount of money on various toys as an adult. I think there’s probably something to that – there definitely was when the ’03 TMNT series came out – but I think nowadays I also just appreciate a good action figure.
So today’s article is not just the simple purchase of a toy – this is the fulfilment of a childhood dream. Be warned, this is going to be much more of a gush than an objective review.

I don’t often mention packaging these days. I am an opener, not an MOCer, and packaging often goes straight in the bin before I even bother to take a photograph of it.

Also, a lot of it just isn’t that interesting. I think that I can say without too much rose tinting on my glasses that toy packaging was often much better in the 1980s and 1990s. There were a lot of original illustrations and paintings, and seemingly more emphasis on grabbing a kid’s attention. Plenty of it was gaudy and horrible – just check out G.I. Joe’s Ninja Force subset for a great but dreadful example – but it has stuck with me over the years nonetheless. 

The TMNT boxes of the 1980s and 1990s are a prime example of great toy art. A lot of the illustrations on the box look positively amateurish, but they still have a very distinctive and awesome style nonetheless – particularly the comic on the back that relays their origins. .
This one appears to be an amalgamation of several different boxes. If you go and look at the original boxes, they are turtle-specific, with each character’s packaging directly related to them. However, this one features all four turtles. There are also a number of additional features to distinguish it from the original 1980s or 2009 re-release boxes, which is good. No doubt unscrupulous types would be trying to flog them off as the real deal if they could.

If you owned one of these guys as a kid, you more or less know what you’re in for. These have apparently been made using the original moulds from the 1980s – and it is quite impressive that those moulds have lasted this long, I might add – so there’s no real surprises.
As for the design of the figure itself, the toy strikes a good balance between the comic and cartoon version of the character, but doesn’t look quite like either. I have read – though I’m not sure how true it is – that the turtle action figures were first prototyped before the cartoon had debuted. Getting the TV series signed off was part of getting the figures released and greater exposure for the initial comics. Of course, the show became a much bigger phenomenon than anyone could have predicted, and the 1980s cartoon and related merchandise are what most people tend to think of when they think of the Turtles.

Raph is slightly more articulated than I remember. He has the five points you’d expect from a toy of this era – neck, shoulders and hips – but his forearms are also cut joints. This allows him a little more motion than He-Man and co had, but not quite as much as G.I. Joe offered. Of course, these 7 points are not a great deal by today’s standards, but back in 1988 we didn’t have the same expectations.  
He seems to be cast out of two different plastics. His torso and shell are both quite hard, but are two hollow pieces. The head and limbs are much softer – almost rubbery, but not quite. Raph has also been stamped with a “2013” copyright on the back of his shell.

Like any toy, Raphael is not quite perfect, of course. His green is a little bit different to how it’s depicted on the packaging, and I’m not sure he’s been assembled with the greatest of care – moving his left shoulder seems to move the shoulder seam apart a little. Nonetheless, this is the Raphael I always wanted but never had.

Raphael comes with a bunch of accessories, all of them weapons. Be warned that I’m not 100% on what all of them are; please feel free to give their correct names in the comments below.

*2 sais – his signature weapon
*2 shuriken
*a bladed knuckleduster
*an even bigger bladed knuckleduster

*something that looks like a bo staff, with a hook attached

All of them are cast in a caramel brown plastic, just like the old days. They’re attached to a sprue, which is somewhat styled to look like a weapons rack. I’d suggest using nail scissors to cut them out, rather than trying to twist them off. The weapons are cast in reasonably solid plastic, but you’re likely to leave white stress marks all over them if you go for the twisting option.


I got this Raph via eBay, so I wasn’t able to examine him in person. Most of his paint is fine, but the tampoing on one side of his teeth is quite misaligned, riding up onto the underside of his snout. It’s more than a little annoying, so I may actually fix this with some paint in the future.

Also, as a side note: when the Ninja Turtles first debuted in 1984, they all wore red bandannas. However, when the comic was turned into a TV show, the turtles adopted their distinctive colours to better distinguish them for viewers. However, in the (now-sporadically published) modern Mirage comics, they seem to have retained the red bandannas to this day.
I've had numerous opportunities to buy vintage Raphael (and other TMNT) figures over the years, but I've always been a bit funny about it -- they were someone else's toys, not my own. Likewise, I didn't have the inclination or the money when these guys got a re-release in 2009 to coincide with the 25 anniversary of the comic.
I’ve had some regrets about that decision, so when I found out about these figures, I was thrilled. It’s taken some time, but I finally have an “original” Raphael of my very own. Taken as an action figure in comparison to more modern counterparts, he’s not so great. He’s a product of his time, quite primitive – if stylish – by the standards of today. But owning him is literally a childhood dream come true, and that’s not something many of us have happen very often. So in spite of his flaws, I consider this purchase a tremendous success – it’s extremely satisfying on an emotional level.
Will I go on to buy the other turtles? I don’t know. Purchasing all four would be a not-inconsiderable amount of money to sink into something like that at the moment. But a Shredder might be cool…   

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