So lately I've been on a total 1996-2001 kick in terms of Thomas the Tank Engine...mostly it's because of the merchandise that was released corresponding with seasons 4 and 5, plus Thomas and the Magic Railroad, that I still have in my attic.
Taking into account Thomas Wooden Railway and Ertl in particular, there were many characters that were being made that were either seen only in the Railway Series or only Thomas and the Magic Railroad, and would never be seen again...unbeknownst to us naive little children.
Looking back, these years were something to really marvel at, at least for obscurities. Personally, the less known about a certain character is, the more you want to find out more about their inceptions. The fact that season 4 and especially season 5 gave us a lot of one-off characters definitely contributed to that, at least to me. I still have my Wooden Railway Bertrum and Derek, and I am still kind of wondering what could've been with them today as much as I did years ago. Bertrum in particular, considering his original Wooden model had him in his original tank engine concept that never made it into fruition.
In terms of Railway Series characters only being in toy lines, that is something that definitely doesn't happen today as much as it did back then. Not counting the introduction of the Arlesdale Railway engines being introduced in the TV series recently in season 20, we got quite a few engines from the Railway Series made, some who only appeared once! Case in point would be Neil, Ivo Hugh and the Sodor Railway Repair. As a child who didn't know about the Railway Series until age 9, I always wondered if characters like Culdee and D199 were ones from episodes that I had somehow missed out on, and always peaked my curiosity. I think I still have the Ertl 16 somewhere, and I didn't even know where he had come from until my teens!
But something else that always made me wonder was with the Arlesdale Railway Engines who did get made. Mike DID get made in Wooden Railway (and eventually Take Along even), but NOT Rex or Bert. WHY? If you make one, you kind of have to do the others. Wooden Railway even made Frank later on, but still no Bert or Rex to complete the family! Ertl even made Frank AND
Jock of all characters, but none of the original 3 smallies.
Now, let's talk about DUN DUN DUN
...Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Despite the movie stalling at the box office and becoming a critical flop, not to mention being perhaps the most controversial thing in Thomas' long history, you can't deny that it was an exciting time to be a Thomas fan. When I was a kid, and learned that there would be a Thomas theatrical movie, I went completely bananas. That was made even more concrete when I saw the Ertl announcements for the new characters introduced - Lady, Diesel 10, Splatter and Dodge. (For the record, Ertl was, I think, the first to announce the new characters, and used concept images from the movie to announce them)
Diesel 10 has gone on to be a fan favorite (not surprisingly), so much he's still used in the CGI era today from time to time, but the others not so much. Lady
has just as many fans as haters today - the love coming from she was the first female steam locomotive in the Thomas franchise, and the hate for her actual role in the movie. While I was pretty interested in her in 2000, my interest has waned significantly since more female steamers have appeared like Emily, Marion and Millie, who are much more fleshed out and better characterized. Now I'm not saying that Lady has no place, but I feel they could've found a way to make her feel in place in the series long ago. An engine that has a private owner does sound like an interesting concept, but I think that's kind of being done now with Sir Robert Norramby and Millie. Nonetheless, Lady still tends to peak my curiosity when I find merchandise of her I never knew existed - I even acquired the rare Japanese Bandai TECS model
of Lady years ago because it was such an obscurity!
But the ones who really get my head gears spinning are Splatter and Dodge. Again, many Thomas fans hate them because of the stereotypical evil villain sidekick roles they filled and their bizarre voices. Personally, when I first saw them, especially in merchandising, they definitely stood out - at the time, diesels with dark lavender and mustard yellow paint was very unusual. Unlike Lady and Diesel 10, however, they were never seen again after Thomas and the Magic Railroad, making them some of the most forgotten characters in the franchise. Do kids in this generation know who they are? Doubtful. I still have my original Thomas Wooden Railway models and Ertl models of these two. The thing that always made me most curious was their faces. I don't know about you, but the faces Splatter and Dodge had are the most bizarre model faces in the Thomas history in my opinion. I mean seriously, look at their 'surprised' faces:
What the hell is that?! Are they ecstatic, constipated, having a stroke, or what?! I even had, at one point, the scarce Wooden variation of these two with the faces mixed up, but soon got the ones with the correct faces. For characters who appeared only once and yet had quite a few versions of merchandising from the Tomy battery operated to the Bandai TECS series models, that's pretty damn impressive.
So, what is the point of all this information? ...I don't really know. I guess, it's a look back at how...I guess you could say, bizarre the Thomas franchise was during those years (especially in its characters), both in the actual series handled by Britt Allcroft for her last few years, and the corresponding products being made. Personally, I don't think that we'll be in an era as unusual as that one again, or at least anytime soon. Needless to say, whether it was good or bad, it was a pretty interesting time to be a Thomas fan.
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Marion and Hanji
Black Lagoon Doujin
The Tabitha Table
Black Matrix Lagoon
Starlight and Trixie