(EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this review was originally posted at thundercatslair.org)
Ask any fan of the original ThunderCats series which guest stars they remember most, or which were their favourites, and there’s a very strong chance that they’ll mention the Ro-Bear-Berbils. These iconic bears became an encapsulation of the whole ThunderCats concept, a unique mix of agricultural, rustic beings who appear to be completely robotic. So, when it was revealed that there was to be a new ThunderCats animated series, it was inevitable that someone would ask if the Berbils would be returning. The answer to that question was a resounding “yes” - however, few could have predicted what a faithful tribute would be paid to the original series courtesy of these characters.
There are many instances where “Berbils” pays direct homage to the classic series episode of the same name - not only do they share a title, but they also feature a similar storyline, and even feature some of the same guest characters, in the form of the Trollogs and Giantors.
From the way the Berbils talk and celebrate, to certain lines of dialogue, to some of the ThunderCats’ moves during the action sequences, to Panthro’s fixation with the Thundertank (which, as per the original series, he refers to as his “baby”), to the cameo by Snowmeow (instantly recognisable as the Snowman of Hook Mountain’s cat), everything about this episode reads as a love letter to the classic series. Whilst the new ThunderCats may, at times, have veered off in a dramatically new direction, episodes like this prove that the people working on the show have done their research, carefully crafting aspects that old-school fans will instantly recognise and relate to.
That’s not to say that this episode is a direct lift of the classic, for there are many fresh aspects as well. Primary amongst these is the introduction of the Conquerdor, a self-serving bounty hunter-type character who serves to showcase the upping of the ante when it comes to action sequences in this series - whilst the Giantors and Trollogs still make formidable foes, the Conquerdor makes for a perfect foil for the awesome power of the modern-day ThunderCats.
This episode also features some very strong character development for Panthro. From his first appearance, this battle-hardened ThunderCat has been portrayed as a dour, somewhat introverted character; thanks to the introduction of the Berbils, and particularly Ro-Ber-Bill who Panthro seems to strike up a grudging kinship with, this gruff, tough exterior is gradually peeled away to reveal a softer side to Panthro. Whether this softer side will remain in evidence is something to be seen as the series unfolds.
All of this effusive praise is not to say that there aren’t criticisms to be leveled at this episode. There is an argument that this is the second episode in a row that fails to further the main story arc of the series, namely the ThunderCats’ quest defeat Mumm-Ra and to unite the people of Third Earth against him. In that respect, one could argue that this episode is weaker even than “Ramlak Rising”, which provided strong and necessary character development for Lion-O, necessary for him to deal with his grief and become king. And yet, the counter argument is that no episode that introduces the ThunderCats to new friends and new races on Third Earth is truly wasted, for the value of those friends is yet to be seen.
But even setting this debate to one side, “Berbils” is a representation of what many ThunderCats fans hoped the new series would be - a strong retelling of the classic, with new twists and ideas but still instantly recognisable as the original. Like its predecessor of a quarter of a century ago, “Berbils” is a truly memorable and entertaining chapter in the adventures of the ThunderCats.