I ended a previous article saying I’d rather take an Air Raiders cartoon over the Ring Raiders, and I feel the need to explain why. I didn’t find Ring Raiders, the toy or the cartoon, until a few years ago when I was looking for more cartoon villains for my old blog. I always love when I come across a new cartoon that I missed as a kid and the best are the ones that only lasted a few episodes. I find that those are the most off-the-wall bonkers shows and Ring Raiders hits that mark squarely as the cartoon only lasted five episodes.
Before we talk about the show, I want to discuss the toy that inspired it. Ring Raiders was in the same miniature vehicles like Micro Machines and Mega Force, sticking to mostly real-world airplanes with a few futuristic designs sprinkled in. Each of the tiny planes was set on a clear plastic stick that pegged into a ring that a child would wear. The plane could be positioned on the stick at different angles or be separated to play without the rings. Each Ring Raiders set came with a number of planes, usually three to six, and many of them were repaints, with just a handful of distinct models. The toyline and the cartoon were split into two factions, the Ring Raiders (the good guys, who came with gold rings) and the Skull Squadron (the baddies with their black rings). Also like the cartoon, the toyline was short-lived, only lasting about 6 months.
The cartoon uses the same two factions, each made up of a few core members and a rotating cast of extras. To justify the inclusion of futuristic jets alongside World War II fighters, the cartoon explains that both teams are time travelers – they pick the best pilots from history, pull them to the future, and go back in time to alter historical events. There’s no limit to their time-traveling abilities, as one of the Skull Squadron is tortured by her Ring Raider counterpart by dragging her through the air just outside of the reach of hungry dinosaurs.
That explains the presence of all the planes in the cartoon, but what does that have to do with the titular rings? Here’s where they kinda lost me. Each of the Ring Raiders is given a ring, which allows them to supercharge their planes, changing them into a sleeker, more powerful jet with a generic silver futuristic design. It gives them other powers as well, as in one episode the leader of the Ring Raiders uses it to power their flying command center, the Justice.
The biggest issue I have with this is there’s no way for the kids to replicate what the show does. Sure, the kids can wear the rings, but none of the toys resembled the fancy upgraded planes of the cartoon. It also makes the pilot and their correct era planes pointless if they’re only ever good when it’s upgraded to that generic silver jet. Lastly, and I might not be remembering this correctly, they only do this in two of the five episodes they produced.
Now, I’m not going to say everything is bad about this cartoon – of course it has its merits. The planes themselves, being based on real aircraft, all look good and remain faithful to their origins. The show has a great cast including Roger Bumpass, playing the main villain Scorch, Jack Angel, Townsend Coleman, and has Dan Gilvezan as Victor Vector (ugh), the leader of the Ring Raiders. I love Dan’s leader voice, it’s my favorite to hear spout heroic speeches – sorry Peter!
So how would I fix the Ring Raiders? The main thing for me is to make the rings function in a way that kids can play. Keep the story and the characters as they are but give us a few new ace pilots – Kids! Imagine an episode starting with the Skull Squadron trying to steal something, they go back in time, mess some stuff up, set off some alarms, and now the Justice crew needs to stop them. They call their best pilots, three kids playing on an aircraft carrier. Maybe the kids intercepted the rings that were supposed to go to their parents. Maybe they’re destined to be history’s greatest pilots. Whatever the reason, they’re the future’s only hope.
Victor Vector (still ugh) calls them for help, and the kids look at each other with big smiles as they reach into their pockets. They all pull out different miniature jets and affix them to their rings. They say the catchphrase “The command is in my hand!” and jump through time, suddenly piloting the planes they picked from their collection. They can still fight the Skull Squadron, but this gets rid of the crutch of the super-planes. This also removes some of the weirder non-flying fights that showed up once or twice and focuses the action strictly on the dogfights.
So, there’s my rant on Ring Raiders. I think I would have still preferred to watch Air Raiders when I was a kid, but if I had a cartoon about time-traveling pilots shooting missiles at each other, I’d be a lot more interested if I could pretend I was that kid in the cockpit and not that big-nosed guy they recruit in the first episode.