Well, it is the last #TurtleTuesday of 2021, and we will be getting to our “Best of 2021” figure articles very soon. Ahead of that, I felt the need to recognize my favorite overall line of the year, and it is likely not at all surprising.
I make absolutely ZERO bones about being an unrepentant TMNT fan. I collected a lot of toys as a lad, so while I was into many different properties, TMNT, along with Masters of the Universe, was the biggest of the bigs for me. That love and nostalgia has carried over to these modern times, and even with the world currently spinning off of its axis, these times are pretty incredible for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans. I am getting the Ninja Turtles action figures of my dreams, and to throw a little Depeche Mode at you, I just can’t get enough, I just can’t get enough.
Super7 and NECA are feeding my need for these new collectibles, and it is really cool that they can work adjacently to give us representation from so many iterations, but not step on each other’s toes. I mean, we are getting vintage toy-inspired figures. Cartoon figures. Video game figures. Movie figures. Comic figures. It really is quite remarkable, and my wallet started smoking last January, and the inferno has only increased as the year has moved on. I love it, though and when I can sit back and consider the fact that I got two strikingly different, yet equally amazing Muckman figures inside of a single calendar year, I know I am beyond spoiled at this point.
While all of the individual figures from both companies have been great, the overall impact of the NECA Cartoon line has loomed largest this year for me. There are many reasons: quantity, character selection, availability, quality improvement, etc., so assessing a full body of work under a single banner really makes this particular line stand out. If I have my numbers right, this collection essentially doubled in size between January and December, and while that is impressive on it own merits, to do so in the midst of lingering pandemic is just wild. A year ago I honestly thought I would be good with THREE of the Street Scene dioramas devoted to my cartoon figures, but now, I am positive that will not be enough when all is said and done.
That said, while the sheer number of figures released in 2021 is impressive (and it most certainly is), I actually find the better availability, improved quality, and character selection to be much even stronger contributing factors making this line my favorite of the year. For the most part, this line is still exclusive to Target, at least for physical locations, but while it has historically been stroke-inducing in the past to find these figures, the distribution has gotten REMARKABLY better. Up until this year, I had only EVER seen one Splinter & Baxter set in an actual store. That is it. It was… frustrating to say the least. However, now sets are showing up in more stores in greater numbers, so most people do not have to be there when the rep is actually stocking shelves just for a chance at these. Plus, for people like me who try to avoid the hunt entirely, NECA now has most sets available for pre-order via their store, they don’t sell out in 3 seconds, and they ship pretty much exactly when new product hits Target. I cannot overstate what a MASSIVE improvement and relief this new state of being is. Good on you, NECA.
Past production quality, especially with the articulation is also something that had previously dogged this line a bit, but again, 2021 showed that NECA was dedicated to making noticeable improvements. Now, nothing is ever perfect for any line, but stronger joints, re-vamped schemes, and the move (mostly) away from painted pins have all moved the needle in terms of overall quality of these figures. I will admit, in the past, I treated figures like Bebop and Rocksteady like Faberge Eggs in terms of delicacy, but most of the offerings I have gotten this year have been so much more reliable. Sometimes a little heat is still required to get things moving, but after that it has been all good and with ZERO breakage. The updated hips for most of the figures have been a HUGE level-up as well, so improvements like that are very much appreciated.
All of that said, the most impressive part about 2021 for the TMNT cartoon line has been the character selection, and this is where dreams really do come true. Consider this: we have gotten everything from updated Turtles to ALL FOUR Punk Frogs, to the Pizza Monsters, to single-shot-blink-and-you-missed-him Ace Duck, to FLIPPIN’ Burne Thompson and Bunny Suit Bebop and Rocksteady under the banner this past year. That is mind-boggling if you just kind of let that wash over your brain for a few minutes. I mean, if not for delays, we would have I-cannot-believe-they-made-him SCRAG here by now as well. It really is amazing, and it is eye-popping to think about where they will go next. We just got to pre-order some Mousers, and my beloved NEUTRINOS were revealed in the updated checklist, along with the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang, Rock Soldiers, and oh yeah, friggin’ Usagi Yojimbo. Yowzers.
I am so very thankful for this line. Yes, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to TMNT right now, but the animated universe we are building is so impressive. Characters like Grunt, Dumbo, and Dopey, and Rex-1, and Tattoo don’t seem out of the realm of possibility right now. I thought having THREE Street Scene dioramas was going to be plenty for this collection. I was way off. Give me EVERYONE, please. How about that Turtle Van? Is a Sewer diorama play set so out there at this point? I kind of think it’s not. Frankly, I cannot wait for Toy Fair. I got to talk to Trevor Zammit of NECA this past week and the little breadcrumbs he was laying down has me so excited for this line, but also the movie and comic lines, too. What a time to be a TMNT fan.
The NECA TMNT Cartoon line is my best of the year – COWABUNGA!