To preface this article – some people may consider this overly dramatic. Well, it is. Don’t interpret the article as a complaint, as slam on Bandai America, or anything else, other than a nice story about my feelings about a much maligned toy line, one that I’ve collected, and one that has caused me to seriously get into the hobby of Japanese toys to begin with. It’s basically a collection of some personal experiences, and may or may not be interesting to you. So, without further ado…
Anyone who’s spoken to me certainly knows that I like toys – specifically, the cheapest ones I can get that still give me the most bang for my buck. When given the choice of spending $50 on a stack of blister-packed Gundams made of rubbery, slimy PVC or a wonderfully designed and executed Kado Senshi action figure, time after time I’ve selected the cheaper, but more numerous toys. I’m not the kind of person to be offended that someone dare dislike a line I collect – I collect them because I like them, and because I like the characters and designs they represent. As mentioned in Darren Pierce’s wonderful article “The Convenience of Home”, the thought of getting mass-produced toy versions of such obscure Gundam characters as the Zakrello and Nobel Gundam was a far-fetched dream – I mean, the Zakrello only got a teeny-tiny plastic kit when Mobile Suit Gundam was all the rage in Japan, and the Nobel Gundam only got garage kits – yet, they both received pre-made, (basically) to scale, and wonderfully detailed editions in the Mobile Suits in Action line, but not until after they were released in the US. I remember logging on to the internet a few years ago, tapping while the connection to America Online was established, typing in the URL for my favorite Gundam news site, and seeing a grainy, poor-quality image of the US Edition’s box. I visited that site many times in the next few days, eventually learning that my yellow, insect-like prize was an exclusive to the Sony Metreon Theater in California. I emailed them via one of the many addresses listed on their webpage, begging for the chance to purchase this product, and its partner in crime, the Bigro. I typed in a borrowed credit card into an email window, clicking send – knowing full well the stupidity of doing this, but, heck, I could contest false charges – it was the Zakrello that mattered.
Anyway, I’ve gotten quite off-track. So, let’s restart from the beginning. I had bought Gundams from the local Oriental Grocery and Comic Shop before, but I had only seen a few grainy tapes of the TV series, and played a video game featuring SD versions of the main robots. Then, Gundam Wing began to play on Cartoon Network in 1999. I didn’t know what it was, but I happened to catch the premiere episode – it was something unlike anything I had seen before. I had lived a pretty sheltered childhood, barely being able to watch the typical boy’s cartoons of Superheroes, and having to beg for months before being allowed to watch the Power Rangers – just in time to catch up with the huge fad in my school. I stared at the screen, transfixed – the robots looked sort of like the ones I had seen many times before, but they were a little different. The robots with the cables on their face, the pig noses, and pink eyes were instead undetailed generic robots with yellow squares for eyes, and, wait a second, did the main robot just transform? This couldn’t be the same show I had watched before, most certainly not. There was, however, a commercial after the show, advertising the exclusive release of the ‘Action Figure Model Kits’ on Toys R Us dot com. Now, this was surprising – I knew the show was new for America, but I had seen at least some of the robots and designs before. I begged my parents for an advance on my allowance, and to have to unheard of privilege of ordering an item off of the internet. I think I remember that it was around the time that a lot of the Y2K scares began to take place, so, begrudgingly, I was allowed to order my first four of the model kits – The Gundam Heavyarms, Epyon, Tallgeese, and Tallgeese II, effectively representing my favorite characters in the TV show. I eventually went on to ‘collect them all’, amassing an army of poorly snapped together model kits covered in gaudy, peeling stickers and rife with broken, and hastily repaired, parts. This went on for quite a while, until the Toy Fair. I flipped through my magazine of choice (This was seemingly before there were many worthwhile toy sites on the internet, but I may have just been limited in my knowledge) to find the small Bandai section, and a small picture of my beloved robots, with the caption of “Gundam Wing Action Figures.”
Now, this wasn’t really something I took very kindly to, at least initially. I liked building my robots, so why on earth would anyone want to remove all of the fun of making a robot with your own two hands by making pre-painted and pre-assembled ACTION FIGURES? I didn’t get any of the first waves of Gundam Wing action figures, except for the two Leo, which never received model kit versions. By this point, I had found many more Gundam fan sites on the internet, and many toy sites, and was busy educating myself about the robots I had a passing knowledge of. I learned all about the Universal Century, and the history and time period that my hodgepodge collection of model kits that weren’t from Gundam Wing came from. Gundam continued to remain a mini-fad of sorts among my circle of friends, and we quickly began to compete as to who could get the most imported editions – remember, at this time, online ordering wasn’t quite as common as it’s become today. After Wing had run for quite a while, the time for the next show’s debut came – it was going to be original Mobile Suit Gundam, the TV series from 1979 that was, in effect, the reason for Wing’s existence. It was at this point that I began to change a little.
See, I had scoffed at action figures before, but when I took a trip through the toy section in K-Mart and saw the new figures – Char’s Zaku II, Guncannon, and Rick-Dom, I couldn’t resist. The High Grade Universal Century model line was still in it’s beginnings, so many of even the most popular Gundam characters had not yet received small, affordable, and modern representation. I tore them out of their packages on the car ride home, and realized how utterly different they were. The proportions were quite awkward, but I could drop them, flick the little antennae, and play with them without fear of clumsily breaking them. I placed them on the shelf with my kits, and eagerly purchased wave after wave after wave – occasionally buying kits of characters I especially liked, but the bulk of my collection was, and still is, made up of figures from the MS in Action line. The affordability, cheap prices, and ability to find the toys made them appealing – And, also, the fact that they made just about every single character from the shows currently on TV. The waves hit rapid-fire, one following another, the older figures never sticking on the shelf for long thanks to carefully chosen case assortments.
Anyway, this basically brings us to the present. The US port of the MSiA line has been in its death throes for the majority of the year, the year offering us precious few original figures, surviving mostly on reissues of older figures with little to no change. The release of Gundam SEED, the most recent of the Gundam TV Anime released in Japan, has come without much fanfare or advertisement, being relegated to the late-night programming block – certainly not a very respectable timeslot for a TV series that’s main purpose has, and will always be, to sell toys and action figures. Retailers have covered the territory formerly owned by both of the Gundam lines with other toys, and life has gone on. Well, sort of.
It has been quite a while since I’ve bought a new toy in the store, at least two or three months, by my record. I’ve instead busied myself with buying items totally unrelated to toys – for some reason; toys just don’t feel the same anymore. There’s really a sense of loss – I understood how good I had it when I was able to step into a mass-market retailer and pick up all of the newest characters, and, well, I won’t get to do that any more. Sure, the line may be revived in the US in the future, therefore making all of these words worthless and obsolete, but this is definitely affecting me. As anyone could tell you, anyone is bound to have an attachment to a hobby or interest – people groan when a band they like breaks up, for instance – sure, there will always be the older recordings, and there’s most definitely an unlimited amount of compilations and albums of recycled and unfinished materials to put out, and chances are that some members of the band will resurface as solo artists or join different groups – but, really, that’s not the same as it was, to use a cliché, ‘In the good ol’ days.’ Sure, I can order all of my little rubber Gundams, but it won’t be the same as peeking around the corners and darting into the toy aisle, readying a mind full of excuses as to why I was looking at the action figures.
We are definitely creatures of habit. Anything out of ‘the norm’ requires retraining yourself, and rewiring your brain to work again, forgetting about what you had previously learned or done. That’s what I’m doing now – forgetting about the past, and moving into the future. Perhaps the MSiA line will appear again; perhaps it will get a new lease on life in comic and specialty stores. Who knows, maybe I’ll be importing the toys for the rest of the time I’m a collector. But, sometimes you have to suffer for your art, even if your art involves tearing little PVC action figures out of their packages. And, they do say that no reward comes from something that takes no effort to achieve…