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May 24, 2007

Handsomely Complicated Mess

Filed under: Toy Love — drifand @ 4:41 am

HCM L-Gaim & L-Gaim Mk-II

Well, this isn’t intended to be a full-fledged review but since Bandai (and its minions) has been testing the waters with new L-Gaim products, I thought it would be nice to revisit these two classic toys from the 90s. Back in the day, HCMs were a real toy oddity, mostly because the relatively refined packaging and prohibitive prices were targeted at a market segment that wouldn’t mature for another decade: The adult toy collector. I recall being highly irate when as a teenager I came across the HCMs in local shops… “Are they crazy? $50 (local money) for such a small toy?”

Eventually, close-out sales at the local Yaohan in ’97 brought prices down to reasonable levels and amongst the first I snapped up was the L-Gaim Mk-II. For less than 8 USD it seemed a good deal but then again, I got the large 1/100 Hi-Metal L-Gaim for just 15 USD at Isetan! It was only in 2000 that I finally tracked down a HCM L-Gaim for the princely sum of 125 USD. Such is the price of r@rity on Ebay!

01.jpg What more can I say about Mamoru Nagano’s designs? Fans have long noted the lineage of L-Gaim’s Heavy Metals with his later baroque and opulent mecha for Five Star Stories, but even with the relatively clean and elegant outlines of the two L-Gaims, hidden complexities are just waiting to frustrate the casual collector.

For example, both toys feature double-jointed knees, but the range of movement is woefully limited especially when compared with the DX Hi-Metal (or any modern MSiA for the matter)… So, no ‘kneeling’ poses. The feet do have some flexibility in the jointed heels, which helps greatly with balancing. However, most troubling to me is the retarded design of the elbows, and it has to be said out loud:


Both HCMs simply can’t be posed convincingly in a ‘hunkered down’ shielded pose, and similarly, the number of ways L-Gaim can position its single blue cannon is severely limited.

02.jpgOn the other hand, Mk-II’s buster launcher comes with several possible ‘handles’ that allows for pretty convincing 2-handed firing stances. The foldable bipod is a nice detail, although not being familiar with the manga or anime, I’m not too sure how a 100-feet tall robot would feel about imitating a human sniper lying on the floor.

03.jpgAs for WAIST JOINTS, you’ll be glad to know both HCMs come with this highly coveted feature. However, it’s still a mixed blessing at best: The L-Gaim has greater range of movement but underneath the rubber shroud, the joint is easily loosened and can hardly hold its pose. The Mk-II’s waist rotates securely but only in one axis… and more frustratingly, its head cannot turn left or right, only up or down. I suppose ‘up/down’ was given priority because of its flight mode, but it’s really galling when you’ve wrestled the launcher into a cool pose and the robot can’t even see where it’s aiming!

04.jpgOther than these design foibles, the HCM L-Gaims are really beautiful to look at, especially when you observe them up close. While the ‘Mk-I’ doesn’t have the opening leg hatches or winged-binder of the über-expensive Super HCM, it does sport a detachable helmet that lets you peek at its mechanized noggin. The Mk-II’s head is not removeable, but still features some wonderfully detailed ‘hair strands’ visible from the back.

By the way, I did say they are a ‘mess’? That’s all thanks to the super fiddly ‘power cables’ – the L-Gaim comes with a single black coated metal wire, while the Mk-II has 3 loose and snaking rubber tubes that are guaranteed to try your patience. So, while the HCMs still make handsome display pieces on any collector’s shelf, I am seriously looking forward to Bandai releasing something more substantial than a R3 kit or PVC ‘In Action’ figure (SOC? SPEC?). Hopefully, they’ll also remember to address the poseability issues when the day comes.

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