Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: proof that you can make millions of dollars by throwing darts at a dictionary, as long as you cross out all the unradical words and replace darts with ninja stars. In fact, almost any problem can be solved by replacing something with ninja stars.
It didn’t matter that the turtles could only be more opposed to true ninja teachings if they’d been samurai with a death-grudge. As true ninja their only effect would have been a spike in the NYPD “slashing death” statistics and a lot of confusion in the fingerprint department. The important thing is how they used ninja weaponry so awesomely it became their only definitive feature. The names, personalities, the color-coded headbands which revealed that their sensei Splinter thought they all looked the same but really couldn’t say that out loud…they were all secondary. Their weapons really were the most important things about them.
Most of the mutants in that show were humans who’d gained amazing animal powers thanks to the mutagenic ooze: rhino horns, bestial strength, an excuse to live in the sewers they were already splashing around in for some reason, whatever. But the turtles were turtles. They didn’t get any cool animal powers (shells are only an advantage in pre-tool-using society). They were animals who got cool human abilities. That’s why they spent all their free time at home ordering pizza. As an animal, discovering that you can just have someone else bring you food is maximum heaven. It’s a wonder anyone does anything else.
The other advantage was tool-using. They made up for their evolutionary disadvantages by using weapons, while their mutated enemies lost that ability, often attacking with their bare (if gigantic and bestial) hands. And there’s even more we can learn from their choice of weapons:
It’s important to note that Michaelangelo didn’t use nunchaku, the traditional Japanese training weapon. He absolutely used “nunchuks,” the awesome-looking whippy-whizzy self-flagellators defined entirely by how cool they looked instead of how well they worked. Because they didn’t. As weapons they’re worse than letting your opponent beat you up in the hope that they’ll get tired, because with nunchuks they get to watch and laugh while you do it yourself. The only reason nunchuks aren’t called “self-defeating sticks” is because we already invented dynamite.
Bruce Lee made nunchuks look awesome, but that’s because Bruce Lee could beat you up with a game of Mouse Trap and still make it look like flawless elegance. Bruce Lee using them wasn’t a display of the awesomeness of nunchuks, it was a display of the awesomeness of Bruce Lee. They were the closest he could come to tying one hand behind his back and using a nerf weapon without looking like a dick. Because the definitive aspect of people who are actually good at things is that they don’t need to be dicks.
The most tragic tale of nunchuks was how the UK censored them out of the cartoon. A cartoon which was already so heavily censored it became Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles in case “ninja” was the magical code-word which turned all children into violent psychopaths determined to turn everything in the world into an improvised weapon. (That code is actually “happy second birthday.”) But if you want to stop kids from being violent you shouldn’t hide the nunchuks, you should issue them as standard equipment. It’s a kinetic short-circuit which turns their urge to violent awesomeness on themselves. A week of beating themselves up every night and they’ll realize “Hey, getting hit really sucks.”
Leonardo: Twin Swords
If Michelangelo was erased by the censors, Leonardo was crippled. He was meant to be the leader, but the Turtles entire tactical plan was always “wait until something happens to April.” They weren’t so much a ninja squad as a damsel taxi service. This left him with nothing but swords that censorship wouldn’t allow him to use. His swords were only used to reflect lasers, meaning he’d have been better off carrying vanity mirrors, or blocking bad guys who were at least allowed to pretend to want to hurt people. Sure, he got to cut things up when they faced armies of robots, but once you’re allowed to slaughter inhuman hordes you should be arriving to the fight in a monster truck. (TV NETWORKS: we’ve just had the best idea for a series, call us.)
He might as well have been swinging aluminum baseball bats, but someone who lives in the sewer and beats people with bats is a psychopath. A fact the creators of the series realized, then introduced as a character anyway.
Leonardo might as well have been using a laser-tennis racket or an aluminum baseball bat. Wait, those actually sounds awesome. We take it back, Leonardo. And that’s not the reason we thought we’d ever apologize to someone wielding twin swords.
Leonardo managed to swiss-army knife his swords into tools other than “very large knives,” but Raphael was left holding the most impossible-to-adapt weapon in existence. A sai’s only function is “trap your enemy’s sword and stab him.” That’s not just a strategy, with sais that’s a single action. The only other possible uses of sais are extremely inefficient gardening and balloon defense.
The only possible nonlethal combat use is if Krang’s Technodrome has one of those little holes you need to poke to reset the doomsday mutabomb. Which sounds unlikely, until you realize that Krang is an enemy who doesn’t just have, but entirely is, a big pink weak point.
The only possible interpretation is that the violent Raphael has spent so long ruining the Foot clan off-screen that he’s now bored, and must cripple himself with a weapon he’s not allowed to use just to keep things interesting.
Donatello: Bo Staff
Donatello is “the smart one,” because in cartoons the ability to understand the entirety of computer technology, chemistry, biology and physics is exactly equivalent to “has attitude” or “likes pizza even more than the other pizza-likers.” But he proves his intelligence in his choice of weapons. In the real world, where people can stab or shoot each other, the bo staff is just a walking stick you can use to piss bandits off a bit before you bleed out.
But in a world where the most grievous attack possible is “bonk,” it’s the ultimate weapon. It’s a melee machine gun which can just keep cartoon-physicsing enemies into walls until they decide it’s time to stop getting back up. He’s taken the Hawkeye option: a lower-tech weapon he’s actually allowed to use rather than something which just looks good. Which is why the Turtle’s tech-expert uses the lowest-tech weapon imaginable.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.
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