Welcome, one and all, to another crazy little blog entry. Today, I’m going to be talking about the importance of ‘Tale of Tiger Claw’, the twenty-fourth episode of the fourth season of Nickelodeon’s incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I make no secret of the fact that I absolutely adore the current IDW comic run of TMNT. The darker themes, the more adult-themed presentation, the awesome art and over-arching storyline … it has it all! What I haven’t mentioned as much is that, in my opinion, the Nickelodeon showing is probably the best overall animated version of the franchise. The story remains much the same, but the animation is of a higher quality, the characters are better rounded, and the show manages to create a good balance between being child friendly and still entertaining for adults. From the good-natured humour to the references to Star Trek, Aliens and Predator, it’s only a little behind the comics for me in terms of enjoyment.
However, Season Four has been a bit hit and miss for me. The death of Splinter at the destruction of Earth at the end of season three set up an interesting plot going forward whereby the Turtles were travelling across time and space with the Fugitoid in order to reverse the disaster. The episodes were mostly fun, and seeing Ron Perlman as the mutant Shark Armaggon was great. Raphael, of course, got shipped with Mona Lisa (which is a throw-back to the original animated series). I still remember him getting shipped with Ninjara in the Archie comics and love his slow burning thing with Alopex in the IDW comics, so that was a nice touch.
However, reneging on the brave move to kill off the turtle awesome foursome’s aging sensei seemed a shame in some ways. Not only that, but when the gang returned to Earth half way through the season, April managed to cement herself as my least favourite incarnation of the character by using her over powered psychic abilities to the point of being a Mary Sue. To further add to the woe, though Shredder continued to be a major threat to our heroes (albeit one hampered by his obsession with Karai), his henchmen very quickly became comic relief. Now, that wasn’t necessarily new. In fact, up until now, all but Tiger Claw had pretty much become nothing more than easy difficulty goons from any and every scrolling beat ‘em up. The problem was, Tiger Claw soon joined them. Sure, he was a bit more threatening than Bebop and Rocksteady, but he wasn’t exactly on par with Shredder in either his pre or post mutated form.
‘Tale of Tiger Claw’ does a lot to heal this though. The episode primarily deals with Tiger Claw’s past and his conflict with a new arrival to the animated universe: Alopex. That’s right, she of the white coat and adorable crush on Raph has made it to the animated show, albeit with some changes. For one, her colouring is now brown. While it’s true that arctic foxes can change from white to brown in the summer months, I do worry that the creators just didn’t do their research, and I may continue to worry about that until we see a winter episode with a snow coloured fox ninja. Oh, and she seems to have found some super speed from somewhere, and switched personality from efficient-ninja-but-with-a-softer-side to outright psychotically violent and revenge driven.
To make myself clear, I don’t want to complain too much here. I expected changes when the character was announced, because the general world set up is different, and the high-speed movements fit in with the more superhero orientated feel of the animated show. The personality switch is important too, which I’ll get to in a minute. No, I’m actually thrilled about her inclusion, because it means that all of my favourites from the TMNT multi-verse (Slash, Armaggon and Alopex for the record) are now in the show.
But how does she fit in with Tiger Claw? Be warned, because if you haven’t seen episodes twenty-four to twenty-six, everything that follows is in spoiler territory. Right, so, up until now, we haven’t had any confirmation as to how Tiger Claw was mutated. Here, we get a flashback, presented as always in a cool comic book panel style, showing that both a young boy named Takeshi stumbled upon a Kraang portal and wandered in. Therein, the Kraang mutated the child and experimented on him. This was, of course, Tiger Claw. But, he wasn’t alone. His nameless sister was him and she too suffered at the hands of the alien race, resulting in her own mutation into the hitherto unknown Alopex. The pair escaped and joined the circus, then moved on to the next logical career progression from there, assassins for the criminal underworld. As time went on though, Alopex grew to hate her brother, and blamed him not only for her foxy appearance, but for what happened to their parents (what this refers to is not confirmed). This then led to a further explanation of something that had also not been explained up until now: why Tiger Claw has no tail. Remember how I said Alopex is psychotically violent? She cut his tail off and now wears it as a belt.
You read that correctly. The kid friendly sort-of-protagonist cut off someone’s tail and wears it as a piece of clothing. And she wasn’t done. When Alopex appears, she sets her sights on stealing a pair of cursed blades with the sole intent of slaying her brother. And so, Tiger Claw suddenly has a natural nemesis that isn’t related to his master’s blood feud. When the two clash at the end of the episode too, a number of important things happen.
First, Tiger Claw regains his bad ass status. Yes, he is defeated (as are Bebop and Rocksteady), but it takes Alopex, all four Turtles, April and Casey Jones to end the battle. Not only that, but he is able to keep up with Alopex’s speed, right up until he loses the fight. Second, Alopex tells Tiger Claw that unless he turns away from his life of crime, she will not show mercy next time. Tiger Claw ignores this and tries to shoot her, resulting in Alopex zipping around cutting his arm off. Yup, I can see a theme developing there. Now, both of these things combine to form the third point, which itself is related to the final two episodes of the series.
Near the start of this episode, Splinter (after engaging in some Drunken Kung Fu) reveals that the Turtles have reached a high enough Dan that they can now only learn knowledge rather than technique. With the ninjas at a high enough level, the timing was right for a disaster. And so, in episode twenty-five, the mutated Shredder kills Splinter. In the spirit of keeping things brief, this does also lead to the logical outcome in episode twenty-six, whereby the Turtles get their revenge and Shredder is also slayed. What that means is that, with the Kraang barely around, a new big bad will be needed for season five. While this is set to be the Mark Hamill voiced demon Kavaxas, I do believe that this whole cycle has been setting up an interesting arc for Tiger Claw.
Think about it. He’s now on form again in terms of fighting. That coupled with Alopex’s warning about his criminal lifestyle means that there’s now scope for a redemption storyline. This is just guesswork on my part, but after Tiger summons Kavaxas, I can see one of two things happening: Either he will initially serve at Kavaxas’ side, only to realise his error late on and help defeat the demon, or Kavaxas will immediately distance himself from all mutants, leading to Tiger Claw starting his redemption journey sooner. Either way, I foresee a proper reunion between the siblings by the end of season five, likely with the two of them heading off into the sunset together to live out their lives in peace.
So, there you have it. My over long thoughts on the possible subtle build of a children’s show. Thanks for reading everybody, I hope you enjoyed it all. I’ll catch ya later!