Not that THUNDERCATS required a reboot, but here it is anyway, and it turns out to be the good sauce. This new version reimagines the characters some but, with the exception of Tygra, the relationship dynamics are pretty familiar. On Third Earth, the Kingdom of Thundera is regarded as the most powerful and the most fecund, this realm lorded over by the mighty Thundercats, to the envy of the other sentient beasts who must resort to fighting over scraps. "Ruling with a just heart and razor claw..." Such is the hubris of the cats that they're caught ill-prepared when the Lizard army invades, bringing to bear its salvaged hi-tech weaponry and a deep-seated coveting for what the cats have. In this battle, the Thunderan King, Claudus, falls and his unprepared heir, Lion-O, must take up the crown. Even though everyone believes that Lion-O's older, stronger, more clever brother, Tygra, is more suited to rule. The only hope now lies in unearthing the long lost mystical Book of Omens. Can the unproven new lord lead the few remaining Thundercats on a quest across perilous uncharted lands, with the frightful Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living, conjurer of foul ancient sorcery, and his bestial minions only whiskers away in pursuit?
And that is the set-up for this revamping.
First off, as someone who'd always found the original Snarf so vexing, I'm ecstatic that this new Snarf is rendered without speech. And I love the visual design on the new Wilykit and Wilykat and happy to see that they remain the same mercurial young tricksters. The early episodes take great pains to reintroduce each of the cast and how he or she fits into the new dynamics. Several of the core characters meet each other for the first time. Wilykat and Wilykit are street savvy urchins out to merrily grift their way thru life, that is, until the Thunderan Empire falls. They quickly latch onto Lion-O and his entourage. Cheetara, super-speed and staff in hand, pulls Lion-O's fat out of the fire and you can't blame Lion-O for harboring an instant crush. Panthro we don't meet until the closing moments of the fourth episode, and he's an older and more hard-bitten warrior than what we're used to. Lion-O's old wise adviser Jaga starts out with a more active role. And Tygra, we already know. Tygra is also this smug jerk at times. Episodes frequently touch on his and Lion-O's ongoing sibling rivalry and how Tygra seems to be juuuust that smidge superior to Lion-O.
THUNDERCATS SEASON ONE, BOOK ONE is obviously not the entire season of this reboot, but it does contain the first eight episodes, and I won't dis that. Narrative continuity is well served here as half the episodes included deal directly with constructing the Thundercats mythos. The two-part debut, "Omens," establishes Thundera and its eventual demise as a kingdom and Lion-O's ascension to the throne. "Old Friends," as seen mostly thru Panthro's eyes, recounts his rise in rank from grunt to trusted officer in King Claudus's army. "Journey to the Tower of Omens" finds Lion-O and his party finally locating the Book of Omens except that they must successfully navigate a series of death traps to get to it. In "Legacy" the Book of Omens entraps Lion-O into experiencing Thundera's very early days.
But those don't fall into my two most favorite episodes in this collection. Instead it's the surprisingly emotional "Song of the Petalars," in which our travelers befriend tiny plant pixies on their pilgrimage home and whose ephemeral lives span the breadth of one day. And "The Duelist and the Drifter," in which Lion-O while seeking supplies wanders into a bladesman's town where everyone engages in sword duels. The titular characters in this episode are pretty awesome, especially the (literally) Drifter. Meanwhile, "Ramlak Rising" offers the irony of fish-men crewing a ship navigating thru a sea of sand, fish-men with a craving for tasty Thundercat flesh.
I would never say that the 1980s series wasn't imaginative. It was very imaginative; it presented a compelling overarching story. Except that those individual episodes sometimes came off as very shallow stuff, written perfunctorily. This new series applies a richer, more latticed form of storytelling. It injects more depth and more character work. It feels more nuanced. The animation is tight with a clear anime influence, and they've stepped up the action sequences. The only thing I'm missing, really, is the ridiculously catchy original theme song. And, sorry, I still prefer how the original Cheetara looked. If I were to do a Top Five of sexiest animated female characters, Cheetara would easily make it. And if you're jonesing for Lion-O's awesome battle cry as he channels the Sword of Omens - "Thunder... Thunder... Thundercats! Ho!" - rest assured, bro, that's still there, even if the delivery's a bit different.
This two-disc DVD set coughs up a hairball with its absolute lack of bonus features. That's not exactly demonstrating sight beyond sight.