A few years ago, Mattel launched a new subline of action figures based on their most famous IP: Masters of the Universe. The subline was titled Origins and it basically took the vintage toys of the 80s and updated them with more modern articulation while still preserving that vintage aesthetic. And ever since then, collectors have been barking up the tree of Playmates Toys, known throughout the world as the producers of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line of action figures, for something similar. And so far, Playmates has said “nah.” Instead, the company seems more interested in reissuing figures from its back catalog and reworking the Classics line from 2012. This is all well and good for folks looking to add or replace vintage figures, and I guess the 2012 reissues are good for those who want a Shredder or Ryu figure? All right, those reissues are pretty terrible, but I’m guessing they’re doing well enough that Playmates sees little value in sinking money into a new line. Then again, who knows with Playmates as they recently re-sculpted a new turtle body for the Stranger Things two-packs. They look okay, though scale with nothing, making the whole thing feel very perplexing.
Since Playmates seems to delight in surprising us, they had a new figure to show off earlier this year based on The Last Ronin. The Last Ronin has been a popular addition to the TMNT universe and it’s a not surprise to see toys follow, it’s just a surprise to see one from Playmates. Especially one that would appear to present a solid enough blueprint for a hypothetical TMNT Origins line. I was initially going to pass on the figure when it was first shown, but my curiosity recently got the best of me. Playmates released two versions of the figure: a standard, painted one, and a black and white version with some hatching, “comic,” paint effects. For some reason, that black and white version really appealed to me, which sucks for me since it’s considered a “chase” version and virtually every retailer that carries it will apply a surcharge to it. Oh well. It comes in a nice window box though with artwork from the series on it and surprisingly no product shots. Since there’s no cross-sell, I’m assuming this is a one and done release, but I suppose if it does well Playmates could revisit it in the future.
Even though this is considered the rare chase version, I am an opener so we’re going to talk about this figure. The figure stands around 4.75″ in height and is pretty close to the same size as a turtle from the vintage line. A direct comparison is a little difficult since those figures all had pre-posed legs, but the height is pretty close though the vintage figures are all chunkier. It’s especially noticeable when comparing the hands between the two releases. Even so, the face on this new figure definitely has a vintage look to it. He has visible teeth on both sides of his beak, but more of an effort has been made to round the features and add detail. He has way more teeth, for example, than a vintage figure and they don’t have a large gap of green (or white, in this case) between them. As far as sculpting goes, this guy is all unique as far as I know. He’s depicted in his overcoat complete with hood and it’s all done in plastic with no soft goods or removable pieces. The hood is a separate piece that doesn’t seem to peg into any part of the figure, but is nevertheless quite secure where it is. With heat, I’m guessing one could pry it off, but I’m not going to attempt any such thing. The bandana underneath is fully sculpted though from what I can tell. The goggles are part of the sculpt on the hood so you can’t do a goggles-on look, but I’m not particularly disappointed by that. The belt and bottom of the coat seems to be the only other overlay and it’s either glued or keyed in. It’s a slightly softer plastic, though the flex isn’t going to facilitate any extra poseability with the figure. The black linework on this guys is very clean save for the top of the bandana on mine and I love the added scuff marks and such all over him. I would have welcomed a little more in some places, especially the hands, feet, and weapon holsters, but it looks solid nonetheless. I also like how he has different knee pads since that asymmetrical look was so popular in the old line, though in this case it’s done to be accurate with the source material.
This guy is really charming to look at. It’s not the hyper-accurate to the source material the NECA version goes for, but it has a certain appeal for those who either grew up with or just collect the vintage line. He may lack the chunk of that old line, but I think he can fit into a vintage display without too much issue. The standard version might stand out a little more given it has far more paint apps, though a stark white figure doesn’t exactly have any comparables in the line either. This is a fun look though, it just might be a little too pricey for what it is. Most seem to list the regular version for around 30 dollars. If Playmates could do this level of quality at 20 or even 25 that would feel a lot more agreeable. Having this black and white version has made me more curious about the regular release and how many paint hits it has. Are all the ropes painted? Are there any wash effects? I don’t know if I’m 30 dollars curious, but maybe if this thing hits clearance I’ll add another.
The big selling point of the Origins line is the addition of modern articulation, so it’s fair to wonder if this figure could be a model of things to come in a similar line from Playmates. And if that’s the case, well then there’s some good, and some not so good when it comes to this figure. The head appears to be on a ball peg, but the hood makes manipulating it rather difficult. I can get him to look left and right, and even up and down a little, but I’d call it more nuance posing than anything. The shoulders are ball-hinged and he can raise his arms up past a horizontal position, so that’s good, and there’s no real shell to prevent rotation all the way around too. The elbows are double jointed and bend past 90 degrees with ease and the wrists swivel and feature horizontal hinges which is a bummer since vertical would have been better. There is a waist twist and the legs attach via ball and socket joints. He can spread his legs basically as far as the skirt of the jacket will let him, which isn’t much, and the same is true for kicking forward and back. You get a tiny bit of thigh twist, or pivot, on that ball joint, but it’s not a lot. The knees are double-jointed and bend past 90 without issue while the ankles feature a hinge. The feet appear to peg into the hinge so you get a tiny bit of swivel there, but there’s no ankle rocker which is a bummer. That’s the biggest omission for me as being able to pivot down at the feet really opens up the stances available when posing a figure. Without it, there’s not a whole lot he can do below the waist. The other major omission is the lack of a biceps swivel. If they added those two points, which might not have cost them anything when they were tooling this guy, it would have made a world of difference. Instead, he moves just okay. It’s certainly below average for a modern figure, and this is a guy with a lot of weapons so it’s an extra bummer he can’t pose better. Yeah, he’ll pose better than your turtles from 1988, but that’s probably not the standard we should be holding Playmates to in 2022.
One of the hallmarks of The Last Ronin is the character is basically a one turtle army. He has all of the weapons of the core 4, and even more in the book, so this edition has to do the same. There are no extra hands or portraits so all of the accessories are weapons. In the box, you get: two sai, two nunchaku, one sword, one broken sword, one bo staff, two star-shaped shurikens, and two diamond shaped shurikens. It’s a good assortment and the only weapons missing are the tonfa the character wields in the book. There’s also a grappling hook that pegs onto the belt, though it’s just a lump of sculpted plastic and not something he can really do anything with. All of the weapons are sculpted in a light gray with a black wash added. The shurikens might be a darker gray, but they also have a much heavier wash on them making them appear more black than gray. The sculpt of the weapons is all solid. The ‘chuks are sculpted to have ropes instead of chains and they all feature wraps sculpted onto the handles. The sai are the only ones I don’t love since the bladed portions have been rounded off significantly and look a bit silly as a result, but I guess that’s because Playmates adheres to department store standards when it comes to safety. Like the book character, this figure has room for weapon storage, but he can’t store everything. There’s a slot for the bo on his back and a scabbard for one sword. There are two pieces for the sai, one on the rear and one on the front, and they even pivot so you can adjust them as needed. There’s no way to store the nunchaku though nor is there a place for the shurikens. He can at least hold everything and his hands are sculpted so the sai blade can go between his fingers if you wish. I just wish he had a true belt to slot some of this stuff into when he’s not holding it. I almost feel discouraged from displaying him holding any of the weapons he can otherwise store.
On its own, this Playmates version of The Last Ronin feels like a worthwhile release. The word I keep coming back to with this guy is “charming.” He’s a charming figure. It has enough of that vintage aesthetic going for it with the face, but it also brings its own flair to the shelf. As a one-off, it feels okay at this price point, but as a blueprint for a potential revival of the old line it does feature some room for improvement. I would like to see the articulation shortcomings addressed, and if they can’t get the price below 30 then it might not matter what they do. That feels way too close to the going rate for something from NECA, though an Origins-inspired line might not face competition from NECA, but Super7. Maybe a 30 dollar price tag is good enough if consumers are comparing that to the $55 remakes Super7 is doing? It’s hard to say. I’m not even sure I want such a line to exist as I feel pretty well covered at this point when it comes to TMNT toys. As a novelty, I could see myself kicking the tires on the four brothers at least, but as another line I’m all-in or nearly all-in on? I don’t know if the appetite is there, but I could be in the minority. Hopefully, if Playmates continues to do one-off styled releases, or even does more of those two-packs, they try to adhere to this style more than the 2012 Classics Collection mold which just doesn’t hold up very well. More of this, please, Playmates.