-Leonardo is always the leader, in each continuity. Generally, this makes him the most serious member, the least emotional, and the least likely to joke around. Only in the 1987 Toon and Rise of the TMNT toon is he sillier and more of a jokester, but even then he is the leader. Leo thus adopts most of the “Generic Leader Tropes” that were becoming super-entrenched by the 1980s- they are the Boring Ones, the Stodgy Ones, the Serious Ones, and bear the burden of leadership heavily. They often have to deal with outrageous personalities beneath them, such as Team Jokesters and “That Guy” (aka Raphael). To some, this makes them the most likeable characters, but the “general public” seems to go towards the edgier rebels (like Wolverine) that guys like Leonardo, Cyclops, and more. Only Captain America tends to avert this, being one of the most-liked Avengers.
In every continuity, Leonardo uses twin katanas- most Japanese fighting styles involved a katana with a smaller wakizashi, but Eastman & Laird either didn’t know that (I mean, it was 1984), or were going deliberately esoteric. This becomes a troublesome situation when you realize that 95% of Turtle-themed media is aimed at young children and the toy-buying public: Twin KATANAS are known for being rather lethal, and cannot be used to merely “wound” or harmlessly disable a foe in a way that bludgeoning weapons can do (note: in real life KOing someone with blunt objects is also dangerous, but we’ve been trained to think otherwise for decades of watching fiction). So Leo is often the poster boy for “Never Uses His Weapons”, as he never once tags a human in any of the TMNT movies (save for a single graze on Shredder) or the ’80s cartoon… though he DOES manage to slice open a Foot Clan soldier… only to discover that it’s a ROBOT, and “Oh, we don’t have to hold back!”. Were that a normal man, Leo would just have committed manslaughter at the least.
Wearing a blue bandana ever since the 1980s cartoon (since any non-black & white work would be stupid to keep them all in red, given how identical they all look), Leo is perhaps the most visually striking of the four Turtles.
-Cartoon Leo is the least-serious and grim of the various Ninja Turtles versions- as it’s a fairly light-hearted series, he isn’t always “AGH THE BURDEN OF LEADERSHIP ONLY FALLS ON MY SHOULDERS” and his relationship with Raphael is nowhere near as adversarial as it was in the other continuities- all four Turtles more or less get along, aside from using constant sarcastic jibes. They’ve managed a few where he acted more serious- in one, a series of nightmares leads to him taking a temporary leave from the team, and the other three take turns as leader, proving ineffectual at it. Also, he had a bit of a thing with Lotus Blossom, a Kunoichi (female ninja) for hire who’d replaced Shredder- the two were admiring adversaries, and the sexual tension was prominent enough that seven-year-old me noticed it.
-Leo was voiced by Cam Clarke, who was also notably the voice for Kaneda in Akira‘s original English dub. This makes viewing of that legendary, grim, violent anime HILARIOUS, because you keep hearing friggin’ LEONARDO’s unaltered voice coming out of this intense teenager’s voice as he’s dealing with potential armageddon.
-The Cartoon Turtles aren’t as violent as other versions, to the point where, legendarily, they almost NEVER USE THEIR WEAPONS. As Leo is packing a pair of lethally-dangerous katana (note: they are not a paired weapon. Most samurai either just used one, or paired one with a smaller Wakizashi- Katana are much too large to effectively use paired), this means that he often looks the most ineffectual member of the team. However, he could accurately be described as the best fighter at times, and was certainly no slouch in solo combat.
-In the 2003 series, Leo had probably his most serious, stern version out of any of the ‘toons. He is the most spiritual, reserved and honorable as well, with the closest bond to Splinter- pretty typical for the guy. Overcome by feelings of failure later on, he became a more intense, angry fighter, but gained some training from the “Ancient One” and fixed himself. He is the most skilled of the four brothers in this version, having taken his training the most seriously.
-In the CGI series, Leo is pretty much same-old, same-old. Less argumentative and treated almost a bit younger than normal, he is still the most mature brother. He was voiced by American Pie‘s Jason Biggs at first, but he soon left the series (fired for making off-color remarks about the crash of a Malaysian Airlines plane in 2014) and the character was badly injured by Shredder, recovering in a scene right out of the original movie (lying in a tub in April’s farmhouse), with his “voice changed”- now he’s Robot Chicken‘s Seth Green! Much of his characterization is devoted to his interest in Karai- he helps her before finding out she’s evil, tries to help her reform, and constantly dotes on her and follows her around like a lovesick puppy, even when she turns into a monster-snake.
-Mirage’s Leo is of course the original, dressed in red, where he is calmer, more focused, and more honorable than the others- a strict follower of bushido. This can lead to struggles even against Donatello, whose mind is more modern and keyed to technology, while Leo’s is rooted in past traditionalism. Archie’s Leo is more or less like the cartoon version, and doesn’t stray far. IDW’s version is another pretty basic one.
RISE OF THE TMNT LEO:
-In the newest cartoon, Leo is a Red-Eared Slider Turtle, and has been transformed into much more of a sarcastic, quick wise guy- he now makes inappropriate jokes, gets overly-competitive, and annoys his brothers with flippant remarks and the assumption that he’s got everything figured out. However, he is still the team leader, accepting the job some time in the first season. He first uses twin katanas, but switches to a magical Odachi blade that can open portals. He also has the “Ninpo” magical ability to create weapons out of thin air.
-ahhhh RAPH. The emblematic dark horse and “That Guy” of the TMNT. He is the only Turtle to keep their original coloring of bright red, thus making him look more and more like the woman who inspired him- Elektra from the Daredevil comic. In the initial continuity, he was just a guy with a bad attitude and a violent personality (to the point of flying into Wolverine-style Berzerker Rages in battle), but got along well with Casey Jones as a rival vigilante. The fact that this could rub Leo the wrong way pretty instantly gave the Mirage Comics the internal team strife that drives all proper “Team Books”, and has since been replicated across every single continuity. Raphael is thus more or less argumentative, brash, and assholish depending on the universe.
In the ’80s Toon, Raph was “cool, but rude”- more authentically sarcastic and smart-assed to the bad guys and not a rival to his brothers- this is his most benign version. In the ’90s Movies, he is infamously a Brooklyn-accented, high-strung jerk- he argues less with Leo and instead is brusque with SPLINTER, creating a fascinating bit of character interaction, as it’s clear Raph feels as much for Splinter as the other boys do (he cries when Splinter tries to convince him to let go of his internal anger; he is completely enraged when Splinter is kidnapped), but is just SO ANGRY and Splinter can barely restrain his outbursts. His bout with Casey is extremely violent and they’re adversarial as hell until Casey helps them out, too. But he’s more normalized in the second movie (though he’s again the only one with a “Solo Arc” as he runs off with Keno in an ill-advised secret mission that gets him captured).
The ’03 Toon keeps the accent and makes him more of a lout and someone who argues with Leo, while a CGI film makes them extreme adversaries and caps off the rivalry with Raph defeating an imperious and heavy-handed Leo (“and Raph… I’m BETTER than you!”) while acting as a solo vigilante. He’s also the tough guy in the CGI Nick Toon, getting a solo arc with his pet turtle Slash once HE gets mutated- he’s adversarial with his brothers and even a nasty bully to Donnie and Mikey, but usually has their backs. This kind of sets up the “Traditional Raph Arc”, found in nearly every TMNT work but the ’80s Toon- Raph is “That Guy”, acts like an asshole, argues with Leo/Splinter, and runs off on his own, where he gets into trouble and ultimately proves his love for his bros and adoptive father. This gives him the biggest “Character Arc” of the quartet and makes him the most dynamic, possibly “deep” character, so he’s often the most popular to older viewers, unless you find “That Guy” types increasingly-annoying as they’re all pretty much like this, occupying the same character arcs day in and day out for years.
Raphael uses the sai like Elektra does, wielding them as paired weapons, and like her, uses them as piercing weapons instead of the bludgeoning, disarming weapons they really were. That and his red bandana makes it much more clear what inspired the franchise as a whole. This often makes him the worst Turtle to use in video games, as his range is TRASH, but some compensate by making him the strongest and most durable (despite having such tiny weapons). In the original toys, Raphael is the lightest-green.
-Cartoon Raphael is probably the most-changed from his initial incarnation, and that in other media- he’s not a sullen, lethal, rebellious, Leo-hating asshole. In this case, he’s merely too sarcastic for his own good- he’s the Turtle most-frequently seen snarking to the audience about something somebody else has done or said. Really, he’s just a wiseass who likes to annoy people. In this, he’s pretty much the most realistic character of the entire cast.
-Raphael is more or less like his brothers, but his Sais have the unique attribute of being able to pin people to stuff. This is a pretty common thing you see in fiction (it’s basically impossible to do in real life… and really, how do you pin someone by a PIECE OF THEIR CLOTHING, to a wall?), but Raph does it nearly-CONSTANTLY, largely thanks to his weapons actually being pretty hard to use in the context of the show. Leonardo can at least slash up the scenery and robots- Sais are just short-range stabbing implements, and nowhere near as impressive. And so Raph is constantly pinning people against things, often at range.
-2003 Raphael was tough-talking, grumpy and spoke with a Brooklyn accent, and was sort of halfway between his Mirage & ’80s Toon versions. He argued with Leo, but it was a less-violent one, with the two doing some Sailor Moon/Sailor Mars-style “No, they’ve actually got the deepest relationship” stuff. It was actually he and Mikey who were the most adversarial, with Raph smacking his brother around, and Mikey earning it through constant teasing and pranks.
-Mirage Raph was the most violent Turtle by far, to the point of having an anger disorder, but he calmed greatly over the years. This was the version that most often came to blows with Leonardo, as you might expect. Archie Raph was mostly like the ’80s Toon version, but for a long chunk of time he actually had a BITCHING costume change- once, the Turtles went into space and became intergalactic pro wrestlers. Their outlandish costumes were soon dropped… but someone noticed that Raph looked FRICKIN’ WICKED in his all-black bodysuit, and so he retained it for months and months. This wasn’t so long after Spider-Man’s black costume, so it was “in” at the time to have redesigns like that. This version had a crush on the fox-lady Ninjara.
IDW Raph is mostly like his Mirage version- angry and argumentative. He was raised separately from the others, having been raised by a homeless man who was later murdered- he befriended Casey and then found the others after this point. At various points he has tried to murder Casey’s abusive father and the Shredder, but is drawn back from anger at points.
RISE OF THE TMNT RAPH:
-This version of Raphael was reimagined as a jumbo-sized Alligator Snapping Turtle. He started out as the team leader and wielded a pair of tonfas, but soon everything was restored to normal and he used sais and Leo was the leader. He can use “ninpo” to create weapons, and his tonfas could create a “Force Field” version of himself, which also doubled as a Summon that could gain extra limbs.