Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Black Cat: Toralei Stripe Character Spotlight & Review

You know, there are about a million songs with cat in the title or cats as the theme. It was tough choosing one for today's spotlight. And even though she isn't a black cat, in a lot of ways today's spotlight character parallels the bad boy described in Janet Jackson's smash hit.

Image: Mattel

Yep, today I'm looking at Toralei Stripe -- werecat, villainess, involuntary math expert. I'll tell you right up front that I love Toralei, and for several reasons. But before I go into why, let's take a look at the mythology of the monster she's based on.

Thanks for the pic, Wikipedia!

Toralei is a werecat, a creature that can most easily be described as a feline counterpart to the canine werewolf. Werecats have long existed in European, Asian, African, and Mesoamerican folklore. A werecat is a shapeshifter, and can be a lion, tiger, lynx, panther, or even a domestic housecat. Although she looks very much like a tiger, based on the webseries Toralei seems to be of the housecat variety.

Werecats have never really taken off in popular culture the way werewolves or vampires have. They seem to pop up a lot -- they've been featured in the Harry Potter series and True Blood among many other things. But they haven't grabbed people's attention the way other monsters have. When they are featured in film and literature they're rarely the main focus. Two major exceptions are the classic 1942 film Cat People and it's 1944 sequel, Curse of the Cat People. Although both films are excellent, the 1944 sequel is one of my personal favorites. It's really less a sequel than a tangentially connected epilogue. With it's emphasis on atmosphere and tone, rather than straightforward storytelling, it comes across like an unassuming fairy tale. I recommend it. Okay, back on topic-

Images: RKO

Toralei is a major character in the webseries. Although she doesn't get a lot of episodes focused solely on her, as one of two primary villains she does get a lot of screen time. Toralei generally has a bad attitude, and loves causing problems for the other girls. So why do I get such a kick out of her? Well, first of all it's hard not to like someone who so thoroughly enjoys what they're doing. Causing trouble clearly makes Toralei happy, and it's fun to watch. But what I like even more about Toralei is that, despite being an antagonist, she's not one-dimensional. Although she's a troublemaker she doesn't like to out and out cheat to achieve her nefarious goals. And as she points out in her diary, what's the fun in kicking someone when they're already down? This is a far cry from the villainous characters from my childhood -- Catra comes to mind -- who were purely evil for evil's sake. Those are great characters for camp value; not so much if you're looking for a more sophisticated approach to character presentation.

That said, it can't be forgotten that Toralei is very much a nemesis to the MH girls. Backed by twins Meowlady and Purrsephone, fellow werecats, Toralei has helped take over the Fearleading squad, tried to break up Draculaura and Clawd, and generally been a big pain in the butt. She's a con artist through and through. She can imitate anyone's voice to a T and is a master of subtle manipulation. She's not dumb (yet another reason why I like her), and she can think on her feet. Fitting for such a catty, well, cat.

Toralei's partners in crime.

Me-ow! Images: Mattel

To date Toralei has only had one doll released, her basic doll, but it's a doozy. If I were to do some sort of top 5 all-time MH dolls list, she'd be there. She has orange skin, with brown stripes on her right arm and left leg. The left side of her face is a bit darker than the right, like a large spot. She has two brown stripes on each cheek. With her striking green cat eyes, arched brows, and full lips Toralei looks fierce. 

Her eyeshadow breaks a bit from the usual MH faceup. Rather than two fairly large layers over each eye, she has a surrounding layer in dark silver. Through the layer above her eyes are two strips of eyeliner, one dark pink and the other a pure green. Her lips are a deep mauve color. It's a great faceup. Her hair is short and straight, with a sidepart on her left. The color is a reddish orange, with a lighter orange streak on the right. The streak has several black stripes through it. Although her hair comes to just above chin length, the streak is longer, landing below her chin. Being a cat, her ears poke up through her hair. Both ears have a silver stud, while the left one also has a silver hoop. There's also a nick out of her left ear, suggesting she's been in a fight or two before.

Her general look has a retro 50s vibe while still looking completely modern. The theme seems to be a feminized greaser look, very fitting for the archetypal high school villain. She wears a long tank top with a diagonal pattern in red, black, and white. The stripes look like claw marks. Over this she wears a black jacket with a snakeskin-looking embellished pattern. It has long sleeves and an extremely cool hard collar that automatically pops up when she wears it. The collar has silver studs along the middle and a molded spiderweb piece on the back. The sleeves, collar, and breast pieces are lined in shiny red ribbon. Her pants are black tights that go well past the knee. There's an orange layer of netting peeking out through claw rips down both sides -- she must've been in a hurry when she got dressed that day! She has matching shoes in red and black. They're open toe wedges with silver studs lining the top and red straps functioning as the laces. The soles are red as well.

Molded onto her hands are red gloves. The left glove has a window over the top of the hand and several silver studs. The other glove is studless and the finger detailing is a little different. I love that each hand is unique. Her belt is molded with holes along the strap (perfect for poking her fingers into for pics!). It's gold with a square, silver buckle baring a skullette. She has a molded red purse with a long strap and feathers hanging off the side (wonder where she got those feathers? Hmm...). The front is black with red claw marks while the back is solid red and has a molded pocket. Silver studs line the top. Perhaps my favorite of all the accessories is her scarf. It's orange fabric and tied around her neck -- pure 50s. This is a fantastic outfit and easily one of my favorites for any of the characters. It conveys that she's not to be trifled with, without coming across as trashy or cheap. It looks polished and glam and tough and I love it.

Toralei has a tail and it's poseable. This adds immeasurably to the doll, and really makes me wish the later released werecat twin dolls had poseable tails, too. I usually have Toralei in her stand holding her tail in some way or another -- it looks really cool and adds to her bad girl mystique.

She comes with a diary and a pet. I don't usually go into the diaries in these reviews, but I wanted to touch on Toralei's because I feel it goes a long way in humanizing her and giving her character some dimension beyond being a troublemaker. Although it doesn't present her as an angel, the diary shows that she is capable of compassion and willing to help others. It's details like these that make her a more interesting character than some in the core group, in my opinion. There are shades of grey to Toralei, and that's always more interesting than purely good or purely evil characters.

Toralei's pet is a sabre tooth tiger cub named Sweet Fangs. She's orange with brown stripes and green eyes -- maybe she and Toralei are related? She has a black fabric scarf cinched around her neck.

As I mentioned, so far there's only been one Toralei doll released. There's a third doll in the forthcoming Power Ghoul line named Cat Tastrophe. It's assumed this is Toralei, which would make sense. What good is a superhero without a great villain to fight? In any case, I doubt we've seen the last of Toralei. She's always around somewhere, causing trouble and generally winning my heart.


So Thursday morning I'll be leaving for a long weekend in Chicago. It's one of my favorite cities and I'm definitely ready for a small vacation. While I'm there a friend and I will be seeing Madonna in concert and doing a massive record store run. We might head up to Six Flags one day, too. I love Chicago's Six Flags! It's so much better than the one in STL. In the meantime I probably won't be able to post anything, or at least anything substantial, so I doubled today's post into a spotlight + review to cover the time away. I've also added a new block to subscribe to the blog by email. Just scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page and you'll see it. It's super easy and from now on when I post something it goes automatically to your email. Til next time!

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