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October 21, 2003

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. :-)

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