1996 was a different world. Much different from the one we see today, and far different from the rosy vision we have of the world in 1987 when the original Ninja Turtles figures stormed the nation with their greatness. I was a silly child, hardly 10-years-old, and all I knew was that I missed seeing the Ninja Turtles on top and in charge. Enter Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation to utterly ruin any hopes I had at the time.
The show was, to put it lightly, horsesh*t. Instead of another animated continuation, Next Mutation was a live action mish-mash of the animated cartoon and the movie trilogy, with the Shredder still being alive but the Turtles living in the abandoned subway station. The acting was bad, the action was terrible, and everything felt pitiful, though that may be due to the show's owners: Saban. Yup, the same company making Power Rangers was now making live action Ninja Turtles, and yes, there was one horrendous crossover that hurts my teeth to think about.
But enough of the sorrow! There's plenty of good that came from Next Mutation, and I'm not talking about the fifth Turtle. Yes, we'll get to her (her?!) in a moment, but when we're talking about the gang, it's best to start with the leader of the bunch and take a look at Leonardo.
The new toy line did something that hadn't previously been done before and made Leo larger than the other Turtles, actually making him bulky and more commanding. I loved this little touch and it made me feel that, despite missing the mark with the show, the action figures had a lot of promise. He came with a handful of odd weaponry, worst off being his duel katana which had been turned into one huge sword that could split into two. Strange, but who's arguing with a Leonardo suffering from Roid Rage?
Raph got back to his comic roots and became a rebel with a bad attitude once again, another step in the right direction. His huge misstep was again in his weapons, which were still sai but now they were stupidly large and could connect, making one giant unwieldy thing that looked too dumb to exist. I liked the sculpt though as Raph was hunched a bit, making him slightly shorter than the others, plus his right arm was wickedly bent making for a serious right hook when playing rough. Even as a kid I looked for signature moves like that, and Raph didn't disappoint.
Venus de Milo, the fifth Turtle that no one asked for, was turned into a figure that no one wanted. She even looks silly, with a generally weak sculpt and a face that seems much too playful to be taken seriously as a master of Shinobi. I had to buy her though, otherwise the collection would feel incomplete. Without going any further, you could probably guess which figure was always left on the rack.
In the show, Venus was just painful to watch since her entire function was to be "The Girl" next to the obvious boy's club that the Turtles usually were (April was nowhere to be seen by the way). This was one of those clear attempts to pull in female viewers, but it just watered down the whole show and made it creepy seeing Mike and Don lusting after her as the only female Turtle they've ever seen.
Speaking of the Turtle in orange, my favorite through and through, Michelangelo got one of the best updates next to Leo. Mike's sculpt is fantastic, giving him a wicked grin and hands in a position no other figures were typically in: palms facing straight up. It was like he was lifting weights or something, but I didn't mind. I was addicted to this Mike figure, and next to the Mutating Michelangelo from the original figure line, this figure is probably my second most played with toy ever.
The reason behind this has to do with my next great love, Dragon Ball Z. The anime had finally struck a cord with me after I witnessed Goku transform into a Super Saiyan, so as soon as I could I buy a Super Saiyan Goku figure, it was time to give the Turtles a new plot line that involved an upgrade to their own super form. Hence, the Next Mutation toys functioned most frequently as the Super Mutant transformations, with Mike and Goku fighting any and every figure that dared to challenge them.
One of the odd things about these toys was the material they were made out of. While the body was hard plastic, the arms and legs were a rubbery, bendy material that could pop off without any trouble. This meant that, effectively, you could mix-and-match limbs between Turtles, which I did on occasions.
This also meant that if need be, such as after getting hit by a stray Ultimate Energy Attack, they could have arms and legs totally blown off. Mike suffered at least one defeat like this, though it should be noted that I refrained from summoning the Eternal Dragon more than perhaps once in the entirety of my plotlines, despite having like 70 or 80 Dragon Balls.
Finally, Donatello gets a new mold, though the Don I own isn't from the standard figure line but rather a line where every Turtle has a skateboard that changes into a luge board (it was definitely the height of the 90's). The boards themselves were just fine, but it was odd that the figures in this line were made with hard plastic again, so Don couldn't have his arms or legs removed, though he was capable of twisting his wrist, something the other figures could not do. His new bo staff was, unfortunately, pathetic and never used in plotlines, though why would he need it when he could just fire energy blasts now?
The Dragon Lord, a new archenemy for the Turtles, got his very own derpy figure as seen here. He has a reversible cape that came with a cardboard wall of sorts, apparently meant to be like a camouflaged background or something moronic that no kid would ever have found interesting. More interesting though was his gun, an insane monstrosity that could only have come from the minds at Saban. He sadly suffers from Shoulder Pad Syndrome, a terrible condition where the mobility of a toy's arms are restricted due to some molded fixture of their sculpt, such as shoulder pads as seen here.
One birthday yielded me a version of Raphael on his signature bike from the show, fully-loaded with a missile launcher in the back and blades that you could pull out to attack nearby cars. I decided these were wings and would allow him to glide if it came to that. I also decided that since I didn't want to waste a perfectly good figure, this would not be Raph but rather a new, robot Turtle named Sam. He was a good guy, for the most part, but he was also pretty cool and ultra powerful. He rode around with one of the Biker Mice From Mars, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you which one.
Speaking of cool, the Turtle Humvee, the answer to the Party Wagon, was a sight to behold. While the Turtle Van had a flip-out seat on the door, it was somewhat lacking. The Turtle Hummer, however, has spring-loaded battering side clubs, a pizza-launching front mount, room for four Turtles, a command center, a rack for skateboards, a ramp, a roof-mounted ball cannon, and even a winch because why not. Simply, and this is blasphemy, the Turtle Humvee beats the Party Wagon hands down.
Here's a shot of Venus up on the roof, showing off the cannon up there. You can also see the skateboard, ramp, and battering clubs more clearly. This was one decked-out vehicle, one without a lot of nonsense. It had so many functions that I hardly knew how to go about my play sessions. Strange that a show so bad would get the main vehicle so very right in the toy line though.
If you're looking to score the Hummer, I don't know if you'll find one still in the box, let alone with a complete accessory pack. The Turtles themselves are at least half readily available online in the usual shopping markets, but don't expect to pay anything less than US$39.99 for one still in the box. Your best bet is absolutely garage sales and flea markets, though these toys didn't seem to sell very well or for very long, so my hypothesis is that anyone who did buy these (and I include myself there) doesn't want to give them up as they are downright awesome.
I'll leave you then with a hefty competition. The original Playmates line had much more variety, but when it comes to the basic figures in head-to-head competition, I actually prefer the Next Mutation figures a little bit. Tough decision!
But hey, if you have any of these figures, leave a comment and let me know. I'm really curious to see who else thought these were cool, or who else thought these were lame. Whatevs, both good. And with that, enjoy the video and party on!
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