A bit of a weird one, here, although it shouldn’t be. The first season of Thundercats ran for 65 episodes, meaning thirteen weeks from Monday to Friday between the last few months of 1985. So, if there was a five-part story, you’d expect it to run across one week, wouldn’t you? Well, in this case, it didn’t.
I’m looking at episodes (take a breath) 37, 42, 46, 50 and 61. To me, if it’s going to be that close to the end of the season, make it episodes 61 to 65, and finish the season proper with Lion-O’s coronation as a celebratory moment (oops, spoilers!). But, that wasn’t what they did, and it’s been 25 years, so no fixing it now, but I thought I’d have a look at each episode as Lion-O earns his stripes, even in combat with his friends.
Lion-O’s Anointment First Day: The Trial of Strength
Lion-O is a bit of a dick to start this episode, thinking he should just coast into his role of Lord of the Thundercats, but Snarf tells him differently as the other Thundercats are off site, talking about preparing him for a series of trials to prove his skills and ability. Tygra even talks about how “at the end of this week” Lion-O should have earned his position, which again points to the idea of this being a week-long event. First up, matching might with Panthro.
Steady introduction to the concept of the episodes, followed by a pretty slow subplot with Lion-O trying to get across an acid lake via some vultures. Then an encounter with the Great Void, a ghost-like entity, a trek through a deserted beach, and almost being sucked into the vortex. All suitably atmospheric, but the real action kicks in when he has to battle the bizarre crabmen, who are as you’d imagine, men with claws and crab heads, with eyes on stalks. The solution to beating them seems corny, though, getting them on their backs so they can’t get up.
Finally, with these subtle tests of physical ability, Lion-O meets up with Panthro, who has to try to stop him from passing on his journey. When Lion-O won’t bite, Panthro puts him to test. It’s a cool non-lethal fight set to Panthro’s leitmotif. Then there’s an event that means they have to work together, utilising their shared strength. Test passed, off to match speed with Cheetara the next day, with Snarf monitoring the Sword of Omens back at Cats’ Lair, which lights to show Lion-O has passed the first trial successfully.
It’s an interesting, but surprisingly sedate first part of the series. Does the next part have a bit more of a pace? Let’s find out.
Lion-O’s Anointment Second Day: The Trial of Speed
With enemies absent in the last episode, the Mutants have heard about Lion-O travelling alone without the Sword of Omens or the Claw Shield, so head out to attack him. Monkian cites a female source passing on the information, who he met “up a tree” in a funny revelation of what he does in his free time. Cheetara, who’s animated really beautifully as she wakes up from a slumber (also up a tree, funnily enough!), meets with Lion-O much earlier than planned to keep him out of the sights of the Mutants. The other Thundercats help keep them away too. Even more fantastic animation too as Lion-O runs against one of the trademark purple skies set to a storm.
We get a guest appearance from warrior women Willa and Nayda when he gets trapped in a plant, then some evil pygmies alongside a river, a massive sea creature with two snake-like heads, with the Mutants fended off in the mean time, before Lion-O and Cheetara race before sundown. The catch they implant is that Cheetara is the fastest Thundercat, but only for short bursts, so as long as Lion-O just keeps running he’ll beat her eventually. Kinda devalues her a bit at the expense of legitimising him, although they make it a close-run thing. The point being, never give up… is Big Match John free to play Lion-O in a film?
More action-packed thanks to the Mutants coming on board, and Mumm-Ra appears at the end of the episode to announce his entry into the trials to dispatch Lion-O. Then a fate far worse… matching cunning with Wily-Kit and Kat!
Lion-O’s Anointment Third Day: The Trial of Cunning
The Maze of Infinity is the environment for the Thunderkittens to test Lion-O, but the Mutants are back again causing trouble. Even though the pace increases, it doesn’t feel like as much is happening as it should be. Lion-O takes Monkian for a swim with his Skycutter and almost drowns him, then becomes the unwilling guest of some creepy Morlock-like creatures with big eyes and electric fingers who want him to stay with them to read to them until his eyes no longer work, plus the ‘kittens get attacked by a giant snake that they fend off with a balloon monster.
Weird one to chalk up, this one. Nothing actively wrong with it, but seems like it’s packed with too much stuff, which could’ve been utilised for other episodes on their own (the book fans, for instance). I’ll give it a pass, but it could’ve done with some reworking. It’s also the episode that gave us the blooper where Larry Kenney laughs to himself “It’s when Wily Kit and Kat are trying to be their most helpful that THEY’RE BANGING THEIR PENS ON THE TABLE WHEN I’M TALKING!”. I’ll keep my ears open for “that mega-thing” and the “What the fuck is a” samoflange!
Lion-O’s Anointment Fourth Day: The Trial of Mind Power
I guess it would’ve been a stretch for Lion-O to become invisible or an occasional drug user, so Tygra is retrofitted with never-mentioned mental powers, so he can create illusions and stuff like that now. He also tells Lion-O that he will face his biggest fear. There’s an appropriate weirdness as they match wits on Hook Mountain. The Mutants continue to hassle them as well, with regular Skycutter pilots Monkian and Jackalman switching to Nosedivers, and vice versa for S-S-S-Slithe. Luckily, the giant snow cat Snowmeow, steed of Thundercat ally the Snowman, makes a cameo appearance to brush them off and helps Lion-O escape a tight spot at one point.
Once off Hook Mountain, Lion-O journeys through the Desert of Sinking Sands while Tygra casts more illusions that he has to move past. It gets weirder still as Lion-O goes into “space”, with trippy music accompanying it, eventually seeing Thundera again as he escaped it with Jaga and friends before it exploded. THIS is his greatest fear, which he actually overcomes a little too easily for my liking. Having gained his final insignia from Tygra, now he takes on his biggest challenge – his deadliest enemy – Mumm-Ra!
Lion-O’s Anointment Final Day: The Trial of Evil
So, the ultimate challenge, not Hogan against Warrior, but Lion-O venturing to the Black Pyramid to take on and defeat Mumm-Ra once and for all (until the next episode. Immediately noticeable is that the animation in the first scene has taken a big dip, with Panthro looking like he’s been pumped up and off-model, plus weird faces for Kit and Kat. A shame, given it’s the payoff episode. Lion-O meets the bizarre Maftet, a fallen lynx god who has lost his power because nobody worships him any more, then passes him and is almost overcome by a Charon-like boatman who dissolves in the River of Doom. Mumm-Ra, who the Mutants have turned down helping at this point, watches Lion-O in his pool while threatening him with further challenges.
Another bizarre enemy to face is an incubi, who emerges from a larva pod and falls into the water, lashing around with mouth gaping. The Inflamer is recycled as a fire demon, and even his cooled form is reused to show him decaying. Eventually Lion-O gets into Mumm-Ra’s chambers and destroys his sarcophagus, plunging it into his pool, while the eyes of the statues of the Ancient Spirits of Evil flicker like they’ve got dead batteries and Mumm-Ra wails away before turning to dust in a suitably dramatic scene. Lion-O then gets his cool coronation scene, with cape and crown like Owen Hart and lots of extras from the series so far gathered to see it. Could be the final scene of the season if they’d arranged it properly, even with an epilogue where Mumm-Ra comes back at his cackling best, because “Wherever evil exists, Mumm-Ra lives!”.
Conclusion: It’s not a mini-series I watch a lot, although I have seen it several times before, and it builds to a big crescendo at the end, but it’s for shame that it’s not the finale of season one before the new Thundercats join in season two. Definitely give it a watch, but you’ll be switching between different DVDs to watch it in a run.