Surrounded by a dark and ancient forest lies a clearing. This sprawling field appears as a lush green oasis in a stand of towering dark pines. There is a humble village here that has thrived for over a hundred years in peace. This is the home of a rebellious young mouse named Crycket. The carefree world that he knows has suddenly been turned upside down when it's discovered that a savage horde of rats are making plans to invade his village. Otak, the vengeful rat leader of this voracious horde, will stop at nothing to fulfill his desire to conquer all. His wickedness spreads like a destructive plague over all that he encounters. Impending doom at the hands of the rat army forces Crycket and his friends to embark on a perilous journey to try to defeat this evil, and save their home and all that they hold dear.
-- From www.lazybonzinc.com
When the first images of Realm of the Rodent surfaced some months ago, collectors didn't know what to make of what they were seeing. What were these furry, savage-looking anthropomorphic beasts? Were they action figures? Plush figurines? Bizarre taxidermy mounts? Did they have joints, wire armatures, or were they stuck in one position forever? And what the heck was this thing all about?
Well, we've finally got our answer. Realm of the Rodent is an original story and toyline from newcomer company Lazy Bonz, Inc. Under the subtitle "Encroaching Darkness," the line recently launched with its first pair of characters, the heroic Crycket the Mouse and the sinister Otak the Rat. Similar to the popular Redwall novels, the story centers on a battle between warrior woodland animals in a quasi-medieval setting, in a world seemingly without humans
Launching a new company with a line of collector figures based on an original story concept that hasn't been pre-established in books, comics, television or film is always a risky proposal. Sometimes it works (see BIONICLE), and sometimes it doesn't (see…pretty much everything else). Can Realm of the Rodent fly where so many others have fallen? Read on for our take on these unusual new figures!
Lazy Bonz has done a very good job with the packaging. Otak and Crycket come in colorful and eye-catching boxes in a style familiar to anyone who collects 12-inch (30.5 cm) figures. There are lots of good photographs of the figures, plus a story synopsis on the back. Although the forest backgrounds on the two boxes are similar, each character has his own color theme. Crycket's box is predominantly a vibrant spring green, while Otak's is orange and autumn-tinged. Inside the die-cut front flap is the character's story, set against a themed backdrop (an autumn leaf for Crycket and an animal skull for Otak). The logos, graphics and artwork on the packaging are all professionally done and do a great job of setting up the story's tribal atmosphere.
The figures are packaged in a similar fashion to other higher-end 12-inch action figures, nestled snugly in plastic trays inside colorful cardboard sleeves, with a few wires to keep them in place. The figures' accessories are displayed in the tray around them, and I had no difficulty removing anything. No fragility issues here, thankfully.
Both characters come with plastic and metal stands (Otak's is blister-sealed to his cardboard tray) in a style familiar to Sideshow collectors. The stands share an inscribed rat skull design on the base. In an especially welcome touch, they're actually different sizes, with a smaller and shorter stand for the smaller and shorter Crycket.
It's hard to know where to start describing these figures. They're built to the 12-inch scale, though being anthropomorphic rodents, they may be intended as 1:1 scale representations of the characters. Their bodies have been executed in a mixture of media (more on that later). They wear fabric clothing, and each comes with a hefty supply of accessories and ornamentation.
Crycket is Our Hero, the valiant young mouse with a destiny who represents the forces of good in the Realm. He has reddish-brown and white fur, and his mousey hands and feet are pink and flocked. With his round black eyes and a slight smile, Crycket would be a rather cute little critter if it weren't for the armor and weapons that he carries. Oh, what the heck; he is a cute little critter.
Crycket stands about 9 inches (22.9 cm) tall. He appears to have a totally original body designed to accentuate his mousey proportions, complete with slightly tubby abdomen and proportionately short legs. His neck seems a little long, but it's also quite poseable. It can crane fore and aft at the shoulders, and has a universal joint at the top that lets Crycket look up, down and around. Because the neck attaches near the back of the head instead of at the base, though, the head's side to side rotation is a little limited. Crycket also has a waist swivel, a mid-torso tilt, universal-jointed shoulders and hips, hinged elbows and knees, and universal-jointed wrists and ankles. The knees and elbows are more limited than I'd like (they only bend about 80 degrees), and the wrists are a bit restricted as well, but overall Crycket is pretty well articulated for his size. The only joint that I'd really want to add is a side-to-side tilt for the ankles to help flatten his wide mouse feet to the ground when his legs are moved apart.
Crycket's clothing is traditional fantasy-medieval peasant garb: a long-sleeved shirt and knee-length pants, with a sleeveless jerkin over the top and a yellow string rope belt. White strings are knotted around his ankles and forelimbs in what I assume is a rodent fashion statement of some kind. The clothes have been tailored well in a consciously simple style, with broad stitches appearing to hold the sleeves together and a patch on one knee. The edges are all cleanly hemmed. Everything is closed in the back with velcro-style fastenings, so in theory it should all be removable.
Crycket also wears a soft plastic armor vest. It's well sculpted and textured, with painted rings and ribbons and lots of battle damage (this will become a theme). The sides are held together with short lengths of real chain, but the loops at the ends are cut at sharp angles, so watch fingers when handling! The armor tends to ride a little high on the figure's body, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it helps to hide the long neck, but it also makes the shoulders look a little low. Crycket has silver plastic bands on his wrists and ankles for added protection.
Around his neck is a leaf-shaped pendant on a long string, which I almost missed entirely, since it was tucked inside his shirt and beneath his fur. A pair of removable plastic pouches hangs from his belt. His scabbard is likewise designed to attach to the belt, but it's a little hard to get it over the chains, so I've hooked it into one of the larger metal loops instead. Crycket's short sword (or is it a long knife?) fits into the scabbard easily, with no sticking or scraping. His circular shield is sculpted and painted to look like wooden planks bolted together, with a handle shaped like a giant bent nail (so maybe there are humans in this world, after all) sticking out of the back. In keeping with the rest of the hero mouse's equipment, the shield is covered with scrapes and battle scars, and like his pendant and scabbard, it bears the symbol of a three-lobed leaf. A pair of heraldic flags stows behind the armor, and what appears to be a bird's sternum bone can tuck into the back for extra protection (unfortunately, the armor isn't really designed to accommodate the bone's shape, which forces it to bow outward).
Finally, Crycket has a bird-skull helmet topped with real feathers. It's not an entirely realistic skull, so possibly it's meant to be a helmet fashioned in the shape of one. Judging from the package photos, it was designed to sit on top of Crycket's head on its own, but a pair of small loops has been added to hold a chinstrap. Oddly, the strap itself is just a strip of stretchy clear plastic, similar to the bands used to make action figures hold their accessories in-package. Though it's an unusual choice of material, it does keep the helmet firmly on Crycket's head.
Speaking of unusual materials, we at last come to the most unique aspect of the Realm of the Rodents figures: they're furry! Crycket's hands and feet are flocked to make them fuzzy and pink, adding quite a bit to his cuteness factor. His painted claws and textured palms and foot-soles are left bare and painted a darker pink. Flocking is always a tricky thing to handle, since it tends to rub off, so you'll want to be careful when inserting and removing accessories. Crycket seems to be a lefty, since his right hand sculpt won't really accommodate the sword hilt; but there's also no really good position for the shield handle in his right hand, so he tends to hold it at a slightly funny angle.
The rest of Crycket's exposed body – apart from his bare pink tail, which is made from a soft and flexible plastic – is covered in soft rabbit fur, with a few sculpted details like his eyes, nose and mouth poking through. The fur doesn't go too far past the ends of his sleeves and pant legs, leaving Crycket mostly bare and flesh-toned beneath his clothes. It's a little longer and wilder than it appears on the package photos, making our hero look slightly electrostatically charged, but it's such a novel effect for an action figure that I really can't complain. Oh, and his ears are flocked, too. Cute li'l guy.
On to Otak! Otak is a vile and villainous rat (why are the rats always bad guys in these stories?) who towers over Crycket with his hulking 12-inch body. If you were expecting a traditional 1/6-scale body under all that fur, you'd be mistaken. Like Crycket, Otak has a totally unique body mold, with a multi-jointed and rounded torso to make him look properly ratty. He has all of Crycket's articulation and then some, adding bicep and mid-thigh swivels and double-jointed elbows and knees in addition to extra torso movement that lets him hunch over to menace helpless villager mice (he could still use a little more ankle and neck mobility, though). The scaly rat tail is also totally poseable thanks to the bendy wire inside. The drawback to all of that articulation is that Otak is a little floppy, especially in those mid-body joints. With all of his equipment attached, it's tough to get him to stand up completely straight. Fortunately, the hunch suits him.
Otak has less articles of clothing than Crycket, but his outfit too is very well designed and fitted. There's no hemming this time; instead, his blood-red shirt and black pants have frayed zig-zag edges to give them that torn and battered look. Splashes of paint make the evil rat's clothing appear stained and dirty. Like Crycket, Otak has white string tied around his arms and legs, and he wears a thick black string belt with a pair of plastic pouches hanging from it.
The rat is apparently big on collecting bones. He wears a necklace of teeth on a string, and a large jawbone and some femurs hang from a removable chain around his waist. The handle of his knife is also a bone, with what appears to be a set of sharp rodent teeth at the end. His jagged knife blade and huge spear have the requisite crimson stains, and each is accented with a tuft of fur. His last accessory is a dark green and battle-scarred turtle shell, fitted with a pair of elastic straps on the inside. The shell serves double duty, working equally well as a shield mounted on Otak's arm and an armor plate on his back.
There's no cute 'n fuzzy flocking for this guy's extremities. Otak's hands and feet are highly detailed plastic, with subtle paint shading used to bring out the gnarled lines and wrinkles of the sculpt. His mouth is locked in a permanent snarl, with prominent incisors and tongue. His snout and forehead are flocked grey, which looks a little cleaner and less shaggy than the prototype photos on the box, but creates a good 3-D effect with the thin bare-plastic scars on his muzzle. Otak's plastic ears are torn and bloodied, and the left one has been pierced with a pair of real metal hoops for earrings. The fur on his arms, legs and head is a mottled mix of greys, perfect for a motley wood-rat villain. The line where flocking meets fur on his forehead is a little more noticeable than it could be, but these are tricky materials to work with and the designers did a solid job overall.
I could keep going on about these figures for days. They do have some minor weak points (ankle and neck mobility, Otak's loose body joints), but overall this is a terrific first-time showing from Lazy Bonz. The paint is nearly perfect, the sculpting is excellent, the accessories are numerous and high-quality, the articulation is good, and the use of different materials for fuzz and fur is inventive and well executed. If you're into 12-inch-scale figures, I recommend these ones highly. Can't wait to see what's next from the Realm of the Rodent!
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