2003 was a great year. It was my final year of high school. I turned 18. And importantly, 2003 was the year that a new animated series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted on TV screens all around the world. Yeeees!!!
The series aimed to stick closer to the original Eastman and Laird comics that had spawned the franchise all the way back in 1984, going for a slightly grittier and darker approach than the 1987 series had taken. It was an admirable goal, but it would prove to be a little bit controversial with much of the older, existing fanbase. A lot of people of my age group had very specific ideas about what the Turtles were all about, based on their own childhood experiences, and it was difficult for a lot of people to see past those preconceptions to embrace a new vision of what the Turtles could be. No Bebop? No Rocksteady? Perhaps most controversially, (*SPOILER FOR AN 11-YEAR OLD CARTOON AHEAD*) the Shredder was revealed to be a Krang-like alien named Ch’rell, rather than the human ninjustu master he has been depicted as in most other media.
Nonetheless, this incarnation of the Turtles was still a hit, spawning more merchandise than any person could sensibly own. I owned a buttload of the associated action figures, going to obsessive lengths to track many of them down, driving friends and family crazy in the process. And despite the love I lavished on them at the time of purchase, they were all given to charity in 2010 when I moved cities and my parents needed me to get my junk out of the garage. I would be lying if I didn’t say there wasn’t some regret attached to this decision, though it made sense at the time…cleaning up
always does though, doesn’t it?
So today, we’re here to talk about the one piece of ’03 Turtles merch that escaped The Great Cull of 2010 — my titular friend Raph.
Raph was bought in a Toys “R” Us store in 2004, right when I was in the depths of my TMNT purchasing frenzy. I was far too “grown up” for plush toys at the time, but the virtue of his being a Ninja Turtle quickly overcame any reservations I might have had. After eyeing him off for what seemed like ages (probably a couple of weeks) I found myself in the store, handing over the requisite dollars to make him mine.
All four turtles were available, of course, but Raphael has far and away always been my favourite of the brothers. Besides, I already owned all four in action figure form at this stage – why would I need to own any of the others in plush form? That was just silly talk.
As a plush toy, he’s not actually particularly soft, and was always more of a display piece than a“toy”. His skin is made of shiny, somewhat coarse, polyester, and his shell is quite rough. But the stitching is good, and his face is pretty much a replica of the action figure that was out at the time.
Coolest of all, he has a comic strip tucked away in his shell. Collect all four Turtles and get the full story!
After purchase, Raph mostly sat around in my bedroom. I was always proud to see him there, somewhat bizarrely pleased to be entering my adult years with an armful of Turtles in tow. But around a year after I bought him, Raph was consigned to a box in my parent’s garage, when I moved out an ventured into a (share)house of my own. For many years, I forgot that I’d ever bought him.
It wasn’t until late 2013 that he was rediscovered, when I needed to clear yet more stuff out of my folks’ place. He was saved from the throw-out pile, and immediately traveled home with me.
Ever since he returned to my possession, Raph has taken pride of place on my desk at work. After having him stuffed away in a box for so many years, it seems that the least I can do to make sure he gets some of my attention every day. I’ll always be glad that my friend Raph turned up again, and came to stay with me.
Tom has been blogging about toys and pop culture since 2012, with a particular focus on Lego. You can read more of his work at the Lupine Book Club