Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thundercats: Trials of Lion-O Part 1

In the first few lines, this episode of Thundercats does things that The Clone Wars never quite manages to do. The plot is summed up in one succinct line that makes sense in conversation (“Fire up the book”); Lion-O references earlier group drama that was bothering him (“I’ve misinterpreted signals before”); and Tigra gets a laugh (“Why does up always have to be so high?” We can clearly see that Lion-O is still having problems with his headstrong ways and his sense of entitled kingship, but we also understand his point of view. He’s got to be entirely focused on the quest now that his other quest, for Cheetara, has proven impossible. It’s a consistency of character that could work well applied to Anakin Skywalker.

 It’s not only Tigra that disapproves of Lion-O’s plan to climb a high cliff, though. There’s a great moment where the rest of the group all talks at the same time. The audience can overhear snatches of each of them having their own reasons for not wanting to launch a dangerous mission. But Lion-O feels the plot calling.

 Some Seussian trees later, everybody’s conspiring to make Lion-0 more kingly and less focused on lunch. It looks like the group dynamic might be in trouble until more trouble shows up in the form of Slithe and his lieutenants. Wily-Kit is the hostage of the day.

A very pretty underwater scene shows us why cats don’t like water. Then it’s a return to the Spirit World. Anak-O does not have time to stop for death but it will kindly stop by and pose him some trials.

Random internet searching happened to lead me to the fact that Lion-O died in the original series as well. I never watched the series chronologically: in the days before DVDs and my own internet fluency I was at the whim of Cartoon Network in terms of which episodes I saw. But Lion-O did die, and was revived by Jaga. This generation’s Lion-O is suitably shocked by his own death. Jaga explains that a series of trials will allow him to escape the underworld.

I’m not sure about the logistics of this: were all of the heroes who owned the spirit stones subject to the same second chance? Presumably the stones were designed to do this, and the technology that could have enabled resurrection for everyone were lost. Let’s not think about that too hard.

The spirits of the underworld don’t seem too determined to stop Lion-O from his goal. In the guise of his friends they adopt the cats’ personalities too, and are saddened at Lion-O’s defeats and delays and happy for his successes.

 I’ve compared Thundercats 2011 to a lot of things, from its own 1980s incarnation to Star Wars and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Even in this episode, the mention of 
“Trials” reminds me of Jedi. Maybe I make these comparisons because at the beginning Thundercats seemed to be relying a lot on nostalgia and the elements of the original. However, this episode, like the last Lion-O centric episode, “Legacy”, fights to prove that it has its own aesthetic. There’s a cool creature in this one, a three-eyed bird, and the sight of an anthropomorphic tiger firing a laser gun never fails to be a pretty unique experience.  Lion-O’s challenges, though, are borrowed, from the city slums we saw in the pilot episodes to the labyrinth of vines that reminded me of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

 If Lion-O is TCW Anakin then Tigra is TCW Obi-Wan, getting beaten up to provide a distraction so his friends can take out the enemy. The emotions of the rest of the cat crew aren’t forgotten either, although the kids’ voice actors are starting to bug me. Cheetara, in true otherworldly cleric fashion, says that there will be time for mourning later, but the kids are still sniffling. Tigra’s been granted the right of succession he’s always wanted.

Cheetara’s characterization is still as confusing to some fans as it is for Lion-O. I’ve been pleased with the way her serenity has been emphasized, but without much mention of the mystic order she works for it could seem more like lack of traits than a trait itself. Even her spirit world form flirts and lounges around Lion-O while still telling him he misread her signals. The love triangle plot is beginning to wear thin.

This episode didn’t bring us anything as aesthetically interesting as the Petalars or the elephant-men, and we can be pretty sure that Lion-O will return from the undead unscathed. I feel equally lukewarm about the love triangle. If Cheetara made it so clear that she’s interested in Tigra, we should have an episode of them bonding and Lion-O should at least attempt to move on. We’ve getting it all from his perspective, though, and maybe her constant flirting is more in his head than anything else. The stakes don’t seem as high here as when the cats are fighting Mumm-Ra, or even rescuing the Petalars.

Regardless, the dialogue is still pretty great. Next week’s episodes will finish off Lion-O’s trials.

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