It’s not easy being the leader of a team of superheroes. It’s even worse when you are told that you haven’t proven your worth to be the leader, especially after having led the team for weeks. Oh, and Happy Birthday, Unproven Leader. This is what faces Lion-O in the first 2 episodes of the 5-episode arc “Lion-O’s Anointment”, from the 1980’s cartoon, ThunderCats. Recaps and reviews to follow.
Thundercats: Season 1, Episode 34
Title: “Lion-O’s Anointment, First Day: The Trial of Strength”
Writer: Leonard Starr
One of my favorite cartoons aired during my elementary school days (late 1980s): “ThunderCats”. ThunderCats told the story of a group of cat-like beings from the planet Thundera, led by their hereditary leader, Lion-O. They are refugees from a BLOWED-UP Thundera, who crash landed on a world called Third Earth. After weeks of adjusting to Third Earth, including multiple run-ins with The Mutants and Ever-Living, Ever-Spooky Mumm-Ra, we come to these episodes
Lion-O starts “First Day” by oversleeping, lamenting that he did it on “The Grand Day”. That ‘Grand Day’ is his 20th birthday. I guess ThunderCats/Thunderans celebrate their 20th birthdays differently? Nevertheless, Lion-O finally gets out of bed… but doesn’t see anyone else around. Enter a more-apprehensive-than-normal Snarf, with a giant array of different breakfast foods. Snarf tells Lion-O that, bigger than his 20th birthday, is the Anointment Trials which, by the way, start today. Lion-O has to prove that he is worthy of being the Lord of the ThunderCats by beating each of the other ThunderCats in different trials. Naturally, Lion-O is equal parts confused and worried, since no one bothered to tell him this before now.
Outside, the rest of the ThunderCats are discussing the upcoming Trial: Lion-O has to defeat Panthro in hand-to-hand combat. Tygra and Panthro are cautiously optimistic; Cheetara is skeptical of Lion-O’s chances; Wily Kit is confused about why these Trials have to happen; and Wily Kat just doesn’t care.
Back inside, Lion-O goes to the Vault…. to find the Sword of Omen and the Gauntlet of Omens missing. Snarf reiterates that he is to be unarmed during the Trial and says his goodbyes to Lion-O.
“L” faces 5 different obstacles on his way to Panthro (“P”). Obstacle #1 is a field of thorns:
L didn’t see an initial way around the field, couldn’t get over the field (nearby trees were covered with sap), so he went through it. Like a REAL ThunderCat lord.
Obstacle #2 is a lake… of acid. Flying birds, nesting in nearby tress, gave L an idea: climb a non-sapped tree, grab a conveniently-placed vine, tie it on the foot of a bird, and fly over the lake. Nice improvisation… even if it was a ridiculous plan.
Obstacle #3 was a gust of wind that turned into some kind of… Wind Ghost? L finally escaped this obstacle, only to encounter a similar Obstacle #4: a Vortex. A nearly cave was sucking everything nearby into it, including pieces of ships that were in the area. Lion-O let the planks cover enough of the mouth cave so that he could slip around a pillar and run away. Just remember, this is supposed to be a Lion-O vs. Panthro fight.
The final obstacle, Obstacle #5, wasn’t listed on Lion-O’s map. L passed out, after his previous encounters, in some sand. A few moments later, Crab Men emerge from the sand and attack!
Lion-O defeated the Crab Men via some trickery.
Lion-O finally caught up to Panthro, up on a hillside. L and P have a friendly but intense chat: L doesn’t want to fight his trainer/mentor, P is reluctant but tells L “you have to go through me to continue”. Before L can respond, P goes into a strange-looking stance and aims a kick a L’s head! Fight!!
Well, I guess you can call it a “fight”. Panthro aimed 3 or 4 more kicks, with L dodging them. P then grapples L, leading to this “Test of Strength”:
The fight actually resembled this:
An earthquake happened, mid-struggle, dislodging boulders. Panthro stopped the biggest but wouldn’t accept help from Lion-O: “it’s against the rules”. After a large hit P’s shoulder, L stepped in to stop the boulder, then guide it away from them and a village at the base of the hill, stopping it from crushing the village.
Panthro, via Lion-O’s actions, declares him “winner of the Trial of Strength” and gives L his ThunderCat insignia. P heads home to get his shoulder patched up. Meanwhile, Cheetara is standing in a tree, watching the sun set and waiting on Lion-O. Snarf is worrying about L, until the now-seen Sword of Omens flares up, alerting Snarf that Lion-O passed the 1st Trial.
Thundercats: Season 2, Episode 35
Title: “Lion-O’s Anointment, Second Day: The Trial of Speed”
Writer: Leonard Starr
Lion-O (“L”) passed his first Trial, but he still has 4 other Trials to master before proving his worth to rule the ThunderCats. If “whining” and “self doubt” also prove his worth, then Lion-O will pass this episode with flying colors.
This episode starts inside the base of the ThunderCats’ enemies, the Mutants. 3 of them are discussing ThunderCat matters; one of them, via “a viable source”, learned that the ThunderCats “are fighting amongst themselves” and Lion-O is fighting unarmed. I really want to know who is close enough to the ThunderCats to give out that information….
We then go back to the forest, where we find a sleeping Cheetara, in the tree she ended the previous episode. She wakes up at first light, ready for the Race, then spots the Mutants flying overhead; she rushes out of the tree…
… and grabs an unsuspecting, wandering Lion-O from the shadows. He wants to fight the Mutants but Cheetara (“C”) warns him “No outside interference!” It’s the Trials, y’all.
While the Mutants strike out on finding the ThunderCats, Cheetara and Lion-O talk about L’s victory over Panthro. Lion-O whines – not for the first or last time – about the Trials, prompting a visit from his former mentor/leader, Jaga: “[paraphrasing} Stop whining and at least make an effort to try and complete the Trials!” Thank you, Jaga! Chhetara then turns their attention back to the Trial: Lion-O has to beat Cheetara in a foot race; the distance is never mentioned. L decides that, rather than try to race Cheetara straight-up – and lose badly – he would head west, a shorter path but a more dangerous path. C yells “GO!” and off they go!
Tygra and Panthro, monitoring the race, decide to play defense and break out the Thundertank to run off the Mutants.
Most of the attention of this race is on L’s path. He runs into “issues” almost immediately: first, a storm hit Lion-O’s path. Following, a kind of carnivorous plants attacks and tries to eat L. Warrior Maidens (who I do not remember in the series) see the battle and offer to help but L turns them down but not explaining why. Confused, the Warrior Maidens sit back as Lion-O finally gets the advantage by suplexing the plant out of the ground! L then rushes off towards a river, cuts down a giant pea pod (“No help!”), and jumps into the river, not heeding or hearing the Warrior Maidens’ warning about the river hazards, such as unfriendly river tribes:
We get a brief glace of Cheetara: she is spotted by the Mutants and attacked. Almost as quickly as she’s discovered, she is saved by the Thundertank. Tygra and Panthra don’t directly aid Cheetara; instead, they just drive the Mutants back towards the river…. the one that Lion-O is currently trying to survive.
Speaking of Lion-O, he survives attacks by a tribe of humanoids, a school of Pyrids, the Mutants (who see the pea pod, upside-down, but don’t see L), ad a Hydra/Dinosaur-looking creature called a “Gorrok-rok”. He gets out of the river and continues running, “about a mile and two-thirds” behind Cheetara, according to Panthro.
Lion-O travels over a boneyard, survives some fumes (sulfur?), and reaches a plain, where Cheetara is standing, waiting for him. She suggests a sprint to the finish line – a 5-mile run. L whines about not being able to beat her in a sprint; she ignores his concerns and counts down to a start: “3… 2… 1… GO!”
Tygra and Panthro provide play-by-play on the race. L continues to doubt his abilities, as Cheetara pulls away. With less than 2 miles away, L taps into an inner strength: “I’m not going to give up!” L speeds up as C’s incredible speed starts to falter. With 100 meters left, L catches and passes C, winning the race by a couple of strides!
Lion-O and Cheetara, both sweating, are catching their breaths when he proclaims that Cheetara threw the race for him. She was not amused; she was pretty offended.
She explains that her super-speed last for only about 2 miles, before she tires out and basically is only “very fast”, instead of “ridiculously fast”. Her tone softens, hands Lion-O her insignia, and says that he “truly earned my insignia”.
We take a final look in at the disgruntled group of Mutants, fresh off of their defeat at the hands of the Thundertank. As they argue, a bigger source of evil – you could say an “ever-living” source of evil – shows his face: Mumm-Ra!
L makes one last whine about the Trials, when Tygra and the grown members of the ThunderCats remind him that the Wily Kittens are out there, waiting for him. The episode ends with a group cheer.
Many things caught my eyes and ears, during these 2 episodes. The most glaring thing is the voice acting. As a 6-9 year old, I didn’t notice it that much; the only voice that really stuck out was the non-mummy Mumm-Ra. As a 39 year old, I noticed the voices. Most of them are bad. The Warrior Maidens were loud, sloooow talking, and grating. They sounded like someone trying to overact/overread a Shakespeare play, while having their ears partially clogged. Snarf, surprisingly, wasn’t too terrible, while Lion-O was good, if Lion-O was a 35-year-old, instead of a 20-year-old.
Part 2 was Lion-O. I understand why he complained through the better part of 2 episodes. You can’t lead a group, after crashing on an alien planet, for weeks and weeks, fighting mutants, aliens, and everything in between, only to be told that you are not quite worthy enough to be leader. It would annoy me, too. Couldn’t someone have mentioned those Trials after the crash landing? However: as the potential leader, whining repeatedly about the Trials would – should – make your team members begin to resent you, get annoyed with you, and/or try to find a better candidate. Suck it up and win the Trials!
The voice acting was cringe-worthy but the mood music is pretty awesome! Every time Lion-O fought something, escaped something, or planned his next move, the music did a great job of setting up the mood and echoing the tension.
The first episode focused a lot on what Lion-O went through on his way to Panthro. It felt like the thorns, the acid lake, and the Crab Men were the actual Trial of Strength. Panthro and Lion-O’s fight was little more than defense training for Lion-O, with an extended test of strength at the end. Disappointing, to be honest.
The second episode still focused on Lion-O but you saw a lot more of Cheetara and the outside influences that tried to happen (Mutants, obstacles, etc.). You got to see Cheetara encounter the Mutants and their skirmish with the Thundertank. You also got to see a more interesting Trial, including footage of the actual race. I enjoyed it more than the first.
Lion-O’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th Trials may be the subject(s) of a Future “Saturday Morning Cartoons” post, or a post on my own blog. Since I remember very little about them, I want to see how they hold up, 30 years later. The first two episodes had interesting plots but the voice acting and Lion-O’s whining put just a little bit of a dark cloud over my childhood memories. Or that might be Mumm-Ra’s doing, I don’t know.