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October 31, 2003

Superdimensional Figures!

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 8:05 pm

I have seen the future of Japanese toys, and it is tiny.

Have you seen the new Kaiyodo/Movic Super-Dimensional Macross figures? They’re like gashapon, but actually worth buying! A fully (well, sorta fully) transforming, two-inch-high Valkyrie? And just 300 yen ($2.50)? Only in Japan.

Normally I stay away from boxed “collectors’ figures” and capsule toys like the plague. But I had the good fortune to be able to fondle a few of these babies at a pre-sale exhibition in Tokyo’s toy-wonderland of Akihabara. They weren’t half bad. (“Half bad” being defined as “half (or more) PVC.”) In fact, they appear to be entirely hard, smooth, injection-molded styrene. So I took the plunge. All three hundred yen of it.

Here’s the deal: tiny as these suckers are, they actually transform into all three famed modes of the Macross Valkyrie: “Battroid,” “Gerwalk,” and “Fighter.” But shoehorning ’em all into a toy of this size wasn’t easy: the box comes with a literal pile of feet, arms, and backpacks that need to be swapped out to effect the change. Still, it’s hard to complain for a toy that retails for less than three bucks.

And look at those groovy, ’80s proportions! I haven’t seen stylin’ like this since the Takatoku soft-vinyl versions of the characters. Look at that squashed head, those spindly legs. To be honest, this “impressionistic” look is the charm. If these were “ultra realistic” (whatever that means for a fictional design) they wouldn’t do half as much for me.

In addition to VF-1J Hikaru here, there’s four other pieces in the series so far: a VF-1J Max, a VF-1A Standard, a non-transforming VF-1J “Hikaru,” and surprisingly/refreshingly, an enemy Battle Pod. (Perhaps if we’re lucky, we’ll see “N. Ger” or “Q. Rau” powered armor designs as well.)

Anyway. Here’s my theory: for years, the Japanese were renowned for their ability to miniaturize the size — and cost — of electronic devices. Now, they’re putting their well-honed shrinky-dink skills to work on toys. In the last six months, we’ve seen the THE Chogokin cheap-ass mini-reissues of classic diecasts, the S.C.M. Gundam toys, and now these babies. For years, Japanese toys have been cool but expensive. Could this mean the future is cool but cheap? One can only hope.


October 30, 2003

Solid Disco Robo

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 5:26 pm

With a story by Gundam creator Tomino, and mecha designs by Kunio Ohkawara, Sento Meka Xabungle (or Blue Gale Xabungle) first aired in Japan in 1982. That would make it a contemporary with other Real Robot luminaries such as Macross and Dougram, but you’d never guess from looking at the Clover DX version of the hero robot! With its chunky proportions, dismal lack of articulation, radiation symbols on its shoulders, and of course, that groovy disco glitter circle on its chest, DX Xabungle looked like it had just stepped out of the 70’s instead of the far-flung future!

Honestly, as a kid I had come across the Xabungle toys many times in the old Yaohan and Isetan department stores. But it was always the Iron Gear that caught my eye, not the blue ‘bot that just so happens to be named for the show. To my young eyes the design was only so-so, and the toy itself was already old hat. Remember, it was the Golden age of Real Robots! Why would I want a clunky toy that split into boring old cars when I could choose from so many other cooler series? As the 80’s went by, I got quite a few gems for X’mas and birthdays, but I never once thought of wanting a DX Xabungle at all.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I was a working adult that I rediscovered the funk of Clover toys and started collecting them again. And even then, Xabungle was added only after Walker Garrier and Iron Gear joined the collection. Bought second/third/forth-hand from another local collector for a super low price, my DX Xabungle came without a box, manual, accessories, missiles or weapons. All it had were its fists and 2 add-on vehicle parts. No problem! I just needed him to complete the line-up. :-)

It has to be said: DX Xabungle is a hefty toy, with solid chunks of diecast in the chest and lower legs. The only articulation to speak of is in the shoulders and the geared-wings. The fists are spring loaded, and each leg has a missile launcher that pivots out. Basically, you can forget about any other poses except ramrod straight. With that, let’s explore its real gimmick – the transformation and gattai! (Caveat: Some minor parts ARE missing, but I’ll point them out.)

With Clover transforming robots, it seems you cannot avoid this first step: Remove The Fists. The robot separates by pressing the red release button on its groin (no jokes, please, ahem).

For the first vehicle, the Bungle Skipper, even without a manual one can guess that the chest compartment opens and the head folds down inside, right? What you don’t count on is Clover making things a little more difficult than it should be. Check it out – on its way down, the right antenna on the head smacks into the chestplate. You have to carefully nudge the antenna over the side or risk ripping it apart if you force the matter.

Next, the wheels on the sides rotate down, and the arms fold up. But it isn’t complete until you add a special frontispiece. Where did it come from? Three words: Ohkawara Henkei Magic. Look, they’ve even included holes in front so that you can fire the missiles from the arm launchers. After that, the wings fold to the front and the car is ready to go. Or… you can fold the wings out and back for some flying action*. It seats four. Wanna go for a ride? ;-)

Back to the lower half, we get the Bungle Rover. As expected, the legs have to slide up. You can also see the metal roller wheels under each foot, though you’ve got to be crazy to even think of freewheeling the robot across the floor without it toppling over. The large flaps on the sides of each leg fold over to form covers

All it needs now is a little more O.H.M. in the form of a 2-seater cockpit (with its own set of wheels underneath), and there you have it. Like the first car, you can also take this ride to the sky. Simply fold out the leg covers and they become wings. It’s certainly more aerodynamic than, say… Srungle? :-)

Lastly, if you so desire to go on a long, long trip, both cars can gattai into a… family caravan. Presenting the Xabungle Car! Don’t ask me about the mileage, but there’s definitely no flight mode here. It’s… um, nice! Very aggressive styling. Not.

Ultimately, Xabungle isn’t for everyone. It sure as heck almost wasn’t for ME, the Real Robot nut. But in the larger scheme of things, the trio of DX toys make for an awesome toy line-up. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad! :-)

For more info, make sure you check out the Clover Datafile!

* For Bungle Skipper’s proper flight mode, 4 L-shaped connectors are used to simulate the wheel housings in a folded down position. As these pieces weren’t part of my super cheap deal, I can only point you to a Japanese site which shows it more clearly.Be sure to check out the rest of the toys on that site. Amazing!


October 29, 2003

Walk Tall

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 9:09 pm

Back in Feb ‘02, I submitted my first ever Rumble out of love for a Really Great Toy – the Clover DX Henkei Gattai WALKER GARRIER. In many ways, the DX is the acme of Walker Machine toydom, but that doesn’t mean that the little HCM doesn’t have a couple of aces up its sleeve… or that it couldn’t be… IMPROVED.

The DX of course has the size and mass to afford a greater number of gimmicks such as proper locks for attachments and opening cockpits. And in the articulation department, the DX’s ability to achieve a split stance means it can look more dynamic in almost any action pose, compared to the HCM’s single axis of movement at the hips. Where the little guy really shines though, is in the arms and hands.

First of all, the HCM has a modern outlook with regards to bicep development. Check out those arm curls! The HCM manages a very decent 90-degree bend at the elbow compared to the DX’s rather weak showing. I also don’t particularly care for spring loaded fists on a Real Robot, so I have to hand it to the HCM for having more realistically proportioned fists, complete with separate movement in the trigger finger. Neat!

But does having better arms on the HCM compensate for the better legs on the DX? Not exactly. The big guy still has the trump card of a head that can rotate. There’s just a very human act of being able to look in the same direction you’re pointing your gun at. The HCM, alas, can only stare straight ahead. What if I could make it look around as well?

No need to cringe, Vintage Toy Lovers! What I’ve come up with is a non-destructive mod for the HCM Walker Galliar. I began by separating the Flyer section from the main body and unplugging the arms as well. The halves of the gray bar are held together by a single metal screw that attaches to a post from the bottom of the head/cockpit – and is quite easily removed. This is where it gets interesting: The bottom of the head has a square-shaped protrusion that locks securely into a matching indentation on the top of the gray bar. This is the reason the head can’t turn.

To solve this problem, I fashioned a thin (1mm) washer out of spare Gunpla parts. The hole was drilled out with a Tamiya dremel and widened carefully with a needle-nose file. Inserting this custom washer into the square indent raises the head and prevents a lock-up. I’m glad to say the screw has plenty of bite to hold the parts together very securely.

So now my HCM Walker Galliar has grown a little bit taller and gained a whole new perspective on looking cool. And with its superior arms handling, it can definitely walk tall even in the shadow of its illustrous big brother. :-)


October 26, 2003

Itsy Bitsy Spider

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 12:41 pm

For as long as I’ve been a fan of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga, I’ve been wanting a nicely detailed and articulated toy of the Fuchikoma assault tank. The mega-deluxe SOLID BOX manga & premium set from 2001 was like a dream come true with the inclusion of a large articulated, transparent Fuchikoma. But strangely enough, it was the miniscule, 2-inch long mini-Fuchikoma ‘surprise gift’ that eventually won my heart… and this is its story.

The mini-fig had been packed into the underside of the SOLID BOX lid, included as a gift and a sort of (very) unofficial apology for the super-looooong wait the fans had to endure while Shirow tweaked, re-wrote, re-drew & re-colored Man-Machine Interface, his sequel to Ghost in the Shell, TEN YEARS after the original series was published. I suspect many fans were none too pleased about the mini-fig because for quite a while, it was already available as an included accessory for several variants of the Motoko Kusanagi ‘Hard Disk’ action figure made by ALPHA.

The mini-fig is molded in color (usually red) and has painted details. But placed next to the larger full-action sibling, the mini-fig is absolutely dwarfed. I mean, the big guy even has an opening hatch for the cockpit. The mini-fig by comparison… is just a lump of PVC. And I really hate PVC. So why would I like it better?

I think the answer is ‘Character‘. For whatever it may lack in size and features, the mini-fig somehow manages to better capture the cuteness and inquisitive personality of the A.I.-controlled tanks – as depicted in the manga. The larger figure may be spec’d to the heavens, but because it’s colorless, and the joints just-a-tad too weak to support interesting poses, it seems totally lifeless! If only the mini-fig could move its limbs… Hmmm.

So, one sleepless night, I finally decided to customise one of the mini Fuchikomas, rationalizing that if anything went wrong, I could get a cheap replacement from a stock-clearance sale of Motoko figures in town. I started out with a sharp hobby blade, carefully cutting off all 6 limbs along the molded joints. Next, my trusty TAMIYA dremel was used to drill shafts on both the limbs and body. Six judiciously cut pieces of 3mm-diameter plastic beams were then inserted into the shafts and the limbs re-attached. TADA! Instant articulated mini Fuchikoma!

I was so pleased with the results, I immediately did the same op on a second one (I had three). However, I left my last Fuchikoma untouched so that I would have one original for comparison. With their newfound agility, I could now put the trio into all sorts of funny poses… like a Conga line maybe? Or perhaps a campfire gathering to share tales of the day’s adventures with the brave members of Public Security Section 9.

When you can have this much fun, size REALLY doesn’t matter. :-)


October 21, 2003

Special? Creative? GUNDAM!?

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 10:32 pm

Toy of the year?

No. Well, maybe “surprise of the year.” Certainly “cheap thrill of the year.”

Even for those wholly burned out on the Gundam phenomenon, Banpresto’s nifty new Special Creative Model toys are an interesting development in the world of “prize toys.” You know, those l’il trinkets you can win for as low as 200 yen if you’re handy with a UFO Catcher crane-game. (The less dextrous of us have to settle for paying 800 yen a pop at gashapon/prize toy specialists like Mandarake).

The surprise is how well done these little scuzzmonkeys are. Rather than the usual sleazy P.V.C. vinyl used for toys like this, the Special Creative Models are actually injection-molded (although the plastic is ultra-cheap.) They’re also fairly close to the size of the hallowed Kado Senshi Gundam toys (although, of course, they don’t feature a whit of diecast save for the screws holding ’em together.) What they lose in heft, however, they make up for in poesability and the fact that they (well, the RX-78s, anyway) actually feature a mini, fully transforming Core Fighter. Gattai, baby!

Okay, so they aren’t as poseable or detailed as the Kado Senshi. And But whaddya want for two hundred yen? All in all, “G3” Gundam here is pretty fly for a white guy.

So far there are three out in the Special Creative Model series: original colors Gundam, “G3” Gundam here, and RX-79 Gundam, which sacrifices the Core Fighter gimmick for a backpack full’a heavy artillery.


Mack To The Max!

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 8:01 am

Regularly browsing Yahoo! Japan auctions can be good for your collection. And bad for your wallet! But never mind that. Thanks to Yahoo! Japan auctions, Celga’s services and my truty PayPal account, I managed to score this rare (at least to me) find.

It is the only toy rendition of Texas Mack (original Getter Robo TV series) that I have come across. And technically, it is not a toy, but a pre-painted vinyl kit. And a mighty fine one at that. I have not been able to find any information regarding this kit, other than the fact that it is made by Max Factory.

The figure is bigger than the SOC Getter 1. The factory paint job is crisp and nice. Texas Mack comes loaded with extra accessories. Texas Mack comes complete with his removable hat ship, shield, sword, two hand guns, Texas Rifle, and his Spiked mace. The kit also includes extra hands, and an extra set of forearms.

Poseability is limited, but Texas Mack’s arms can be moved at the shoulder, elbows, and wrists. The legs can be rotated at the hips, knees, and the feet can rotate on the ankles. The head can be moved side to side.

All in all, this was a great addition to my Getter Robo collection. And after seeing what a good job Max Factory did with this rendition of Texas Mack, I wonder what Bandai or Miracle House could do with it as a SOC or Gokin…


Lost in Transition

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 5:42 am

The recent thread about “best vintage transforming toys” got me waxing nostalgic about some of my favorite robot toys. It also got me thinking about the oddball that is the Clover Srungle DX. Clover is of course the toy company that sponsored the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, and then was highly unfortunate not to be smart enough to capitalize on the new wave of popularity for realistically proportioned and detailed robot toys. For more on the history of Clover, a trip to the Datafile by Matt Alt and Robert Duban is a must.

Perhaps Matt’s comment that “The less said about Srungle, the better.” generally sums up the series’ lack of fan popularity and respect. I remember seeing the toy when I was in my teens. Even then I was already wary of the actual contents because the toy photos looked nothing at all like the cool illustration on the box! If ever there’s an award for Most Misleading Vintage Toy Package Illustration, the Srungle DX would be right up there along with other Clover alumni like the Aura Battler Billbine and maybe Takatoku’s Sasuraiger… With my current meager knowledge of Japanese, I can make out that the side panel of the box listing the features of the toy:

• Head rotates a full 360-degrees
• Shoulder wings rotate 360-degrees
• Back-mounted wings can be removed (Call THAT a gimmick?)
• Pilot figures can be inserted into the front and rear cockpits
• Missiles on rear cockpit are removeable (Uhuh…)
• Bazooka can be held
• Missiles launchers on arms can be fired
• Arm sections are retractable
• Waist rotates 360-degrees (A waist joint!)
• Moving front and rear caterpillars

Overall, not too shabby at all, although some of those features are definitely overheated sales-speak. For example, the retracting arms are required for the transformation, and the the caterpillar tracks are actually fixed – only the wheels underneath roll. I can picture it quite clearly in my mind… the poor marketing department at Clover back in ’82 or ’83, scratching their heads trying to list the coolest features to sell this… Thing. :-)

Anyway, on to the contents proper. The robot itself looks expectedly angular and actually quite promising in terms of realism. On closer examination, anachronisms start revealing themselves. First up are the typical old-school bulbous humanoid fists, with just a hole to plug the gun into. Then we have the really uninspired block of plastic for a ‘bazooka‘, whose only futuristic touch is perhaps the scope-thingy on a raked-back fin. Stranger still are Clover’s attempts to include some model-level details on the toy. Strange because the panel lines aren’t etched onto the surface, but are raised protrusions instead!

Lastly we have the accessories. You get 4 missiles for the arm launcher, 2 pilot figures (with a distinctive “zigzag” on their chests), and sheet of very shiny foil stickers… with no instructions on where to apply them. This is one case where I simply didn’t have the heart to uglify the toy any further with “wrongly” applied stickers. :-P

More signs of Clover’s mis-reading of the appeal of Real Robots are evident when you begin transforming the toy. You begin by removing the fists. Ack! How utterly inappropriate is that? Anyway here’s how it goes for the first mode:

1. Remove fists and rotate upper body around 180-degrees.
2. Flip down rear caterpillars and slide out the front tracks. (This actually quite cool!)
3. Fold upper body forward 90-degrees… (gasp!)
4. Flip out the upper cockpit and insert pilot.
5. Flip out the lower cockpit and insert pilot.
6. Rotate arms forward, retract upper arms, extend forearm nozzles.

Ladies and gentlemen… Presenting Srungle’s TANK MODE! The sheer utilitarianism of its form… Wow! I could swear it was trying to imitate a Gerwalk or something! Definitely “something”. I should also point out that the pilots won’t fit in their seats when the cockpits are closed.

Ready for more wackiness from Clover’s designers? How about a FLIGHT MODE? Here’s how it goes:

1. Sit Srungle down and flip its feet down.
2. Slide the levers on the thighs forward to cover up the hole. (Neat!)
3. Fold upper body forward… (not again?)… and rotate wings/fins into position.

Huh. If this contraption can fly then the Spruce Goose could set new flight records for speed and altitude. I mean seriously! Aerodynamics sure weren’t very much on the designers’ minds when the Srungle DX was drafted.

And yet… despite all these oddities and mind-boggling un-useless battle modes, I still can’t bring myself to hate the Srungle DX. That’s because it has at least one saving grace – it can STILL pull off a pretty mean pose or two in the normal robot mode! I guess the double waist joint on this fella had some real use besides allowing it to flip over and pretend to be a tank or plane. Clover sure tried very hard, even if they didn’t rally “get it” at all. :-)


October 19, 2003

Sensational BULLMARK discovery

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 11:04 am

I am proud to present this picture of a big vinyl of Bull Caesar from Bullmark.

I am still astonished at this sightseeing. Does this mean the fabled BOSS PALDER DX is out there too? And what about a Sandaio big vinyl?


October 17, 2003

Soul of Bandai!

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 11:20 pm

Desperate for the newest info on upcoming Bandai releases? Dying for news about the newest THE Chogokin releases or hoping for pics of the new “Kahen Senshi” Double Zeta Gundam? Sick of wading through all the girly-girl toys and corporate jargon on Bandai’s main website? Wade no further! Bandai’s just unveiled Tamashii Web! It’s your one-stop shop for info about Bandai’s newest robot-releases, whether they be Mobile Sluts in Action or highfalutin’ Soul of Chogokin toys.

It’s also all in Japanese, but dang, ain’t those purty pictures?

Tamashii means soul in Japanese — in fact, it’s the “soul” in “Soul of Chogokin.” An appropriate name for a website specializing in the goodies that keep mecha- and monster-maniacs crawling back to Bandai again and again and again. Enjoy… And get those wallets ready!


Back to the Academy

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 1:08 am

B. Preecha’s photographs (shown here) inspired me to finally Rumble on the “General Marshall Gundam” produced by the Korean company, Academy, in the early 1990s. The box is HUGE. It shows a color drawing of the toy inside, perhaps as the deranged boolegger/designers saw it. Other inset photos show actual pictures of the toy in its various poses.

Opening up the box yields a mech not quite jumbo size, but much heavier. There is an inner tray of vacuformed plastic, of the quality you’d find in a modern action figure package. (Note: if you buy one of these puppies, make sure you check under the hood. My box was full of mold underneath the inner tray.)

Pulling the giant Gundam free of its inner tray, one is surprised how heavy it is. This is no jumbo; nor is it a cheap bootleg. With a few exceptions, the plastic seems of quality equal to the MKII Mushacloth Gundam from which the Academy was obviously derived. Even after sitting on a (damp) shelf for almost ten years, the joints are tight but smooth. One has to respect Bandai’s original designers–and the admiration Academy clearly had for them. Not every toy can be doubled in size (and multiplied by eight in volume) and survive the transition.

The MKII mode of the Academy is impressive based on its size and the elegance of the design. But where it really shines in a gonzo-bizarre way is when you put on the samurai armor. With the exception of the helmet, the General Marshall Gundam’s armor is an exact duplicate of that of the smaller Mushacloth MKII. Unlike the Mushacloth, the armor in no way diminishes the Academy. (I always felt
that the Musha armor looked a size too large for the poor MKII wearing it.) The bulked-up Academy looks, well, bad-ass.

But that helmet … what can I say? I have no idea what Academy was thinking. Rather than the traditional samurai helmet of the Mushacloth, the General Marshall’s helmet looks like a WWII Gi Joe’s helmet as designed by Neptune, god of the sea. It has a strange, gold-chrome trident square in the forehead and a matching gold faceplate that looks more Jacques Cousteau than Lone Wolf and Cub. Better, I think, to take it off and let the MKII head see the light of day.

Articulation is decent, especially for a near-jumbo. You can strike some menacing poses even with the extra mass of the armor. Accessories are what you’d expect from the Mushacloth: two swords, a spear, and a Musha-ized gun. I rather like the chromed letter-opener look of the twin swords, very Franklin Mint. But the weight of Musha gun is simply too much for the arm joints. I’m not sure what Academy was thinking with this goofy attachment, which includes some electronics I haven’t been able to get working.

In an era where jumbos have returned to Toys R Us and even the venerable RX-78 and Zaku designs have received the giant treatment, it’s easy to forget the decade when big not only wasn’t better, it wasn’t even available. As a bright spot from this dark time, the General Marshall Gundam is highly recommended. I applaud Academy’s audacity of for churning it out, evidently without a license. I wonder if they ever got sued?

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