Apr 7, 2008

The Raph/Leo Effect

This is one of those spiels that gets bottled in my head and I have to either let it out somewhere or explode. And since I'm no good expressing myself verbally, I'll have to sully my blog with unprofessionalism. I'll just try to keep it concise. And yes Jake, this is totally your fault. :P

An interesting pattern I've found when I talk Ninja Turtles with people happens with those who've chosen Raphael as their favorite - almost invariably, they can't stand Leonardo. And usually for the same reasons their red-masked hero butts heads with him: they say he's bossy, pretentious, boring, self-righteous, teacher's pet... there's a list.

But for all the hostility, from fans and their Turtle alike, it's hilariously ironic that Leo and Raph are easily the most alike out of the brothers. In fact, their primary objective is even the same - protection. Cue my Leo defense.

Leonardo's number one priority is to protect his family - it's why he fell into the "leader" position to begin with. He has a natural air of command and a quick mind in battle as well as good judgment, and why would the position stuck unless Leo had earned his brothers' respect? Leo feels that the team's failures are his own, which leads him to try and run the team as well as he can without assuming he has more authority than Splinter. This puts a lot of pressure on him, and Leo has to act more mature than the average teenager to keep out the hordes of Foot ninja and maintain his family's safety. Splinter is proud of his student because Leonardo is the only Turtle that has embraced all aspects of his teachings (Donatello is distracted, Michelangelo is a bit of a slacker, and Raphael is primarily interested in the physical fitness/body-as-a-deadly-weapon side of things - screw the spiritual crap). However, Splinter is careful to keep Leo humble. This doesn't mean he's always successful - Leo isn't perfect and can tend to get a little proud, though Splinter, Raph, or a horde of ninjas will usually deflate that before long. He is also a perfectionist and Always Right, as well as at times being too focused on Staying On Guard to let loose, all of which are character flaws for sure... but I'd think he'd only be insufferable if he actually were perfect.

Raphael is all about protection as well, but his is a more emotionally-charged brand. While Leo is able to keep his brain functioning in "big picture" mode under stress, Raph goes to tunnel vision easily and impulsively throws himself into the fray. The quickest way to set him off is to threaten one of the other Turtles or even an innocent civilian - he's instantly on his way to beat the offender down, sai in hand. When he's working alone there's nothing wrong with this, otherwise Leo has to figuratively keep a tight hold on his leash so he doesn't jeopardize the battle plan just to defeat some peripherally important enemy. This annoys the heck out of Raph, first because he doesn't like being restricted, and second because he doesn't like being proved wrong, especially by his straight-laced brother. He is, however, a great beta to Leo's alpha - when not blinded by rage or some other strong emotion, Raph is a smart fighter and works well within the team in battle. In his 2003 cartoon incarnation, in fact, Raphael is always coming to his brothers' aid just as someone is about to nail them in the back, besides landing some good hits of his own. And whenever Leo is taken out of the picture through injury or capture, Raph is usually able to rise to leadership without too much trouble in an almost "scared straight" kind of way. But his most effective role is as Leo's right hand man, and he knows it. The only time this arrangement ever causes problems is when he gets prideful and refuses to put the family's welfare before his own.

So each has his strengths and flaws. Some people identify better with one than the other, and there's nothing wrong with that. But with the sheer pressure on Leonardo to be both a good brother and a good leader, I think it isn't fair to label him the way many do. He often gets stuck in business mode and has a hard time relaxing with the troops. It doesn't mean he thinks he's better than his brothers (I believe the remark he made to this effect in the 2007 movie was a product of frustration at Raphael's inability/unwillingness to understand where he was coming from, and it was an attempt to get some kind of reaction out of him in lieu of that desired understanding). It also doesn't mean Leo wants to make himself look better for Splinter. He respects Splinter as a sensei and father, and is very aware that he has much more to learn.

Anyways, the part that amuses me the most about friends of mine who hate Leonardo is... well, you could say I am Leonardo. Oldest child, perfectionist, expects a lot of self and beats self up for failure, bit of a goody two-shoes, maintains close friendship with parent, nitpicky and strongwilled... that's all me. Of course, perhaps the reason I'm palatable to these buddies of mine is there's also a healthy dash of Michelangelo in me, and we know from the comics at least that Raph and Mike get along pretty well.

But for those of you Leonardo haters who were first exposed to the turtles through the original cartoon or the 1990 movie, I can completely understand... those Leonardos are definitely boring, annoying, whiny and/or suckups, and his comebacks in the movie suck. The definitive Leo is better cobbled together from the 2003 'toon, 2007 movie, and the comics.

Anyways. If you ever had an irrational urge to talk Turtles with me, I could seriously go on for hours, especially if character analysis had anything to do with it. I already had so much crap I decided to edit out of this particular rant for all y'all's sanity, and look how long it got. 8|

More serious and valuable arty posts are indeed forthcoming - I went to general conference in person for the first time on Sunday, and drew some (possibly) post-worthy things along the way.

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