Saturday, March 24, 2007

[Review] Gama-Got!

Boy it's been a while since I've posted anything up here. Rest assured, I have not abandoned this blog, nor my ceaseless pursuit of obscure toys. I was off-island last weekend, and work's been kicking my ass- curse this high-tech remote access to office e-mail!

Anyway, this week we have for your consideration, Tim Biskup's rather sizeable Gamagon!

I'm not certain of the origins of Gamagon, but he is an original Biskup creation, and has been released in a number of colorways:

Red w/ blue/black spray
Orange w/ blue/black spray
Glow w/ green/blue/orange spray (S7 exclusive)
Yellow w/ green/orange spray (SDCC 2005 exclusive)
Black w/ silver/blue/red spray (Gama-Go x Gargamel collaboration)
Glow w/ orange/black spray (Ningyoushi exclusive)
(Am I missing any?)

This particular version was originally intended to be an SDCC exclusive in 2005, but issues with the factory delayed its release until mid-2006. Nonetheless, it was definitely worth waiting for with the lowest production run of any of the Gamagons (100 pcs.) and great fruity colors! I somehow managed to pick up one about a year after-the-fact on Toy Tokyo, which mysteriously (and quietly) put out a number of out-of-print Biskup pieces in late February of this year.

Although these figures are rather expensive, large hunks of vinyl, I couldn't resist grabbing it when it came up on the website. I've always wanted a Gamagon- ever since discovering the little airplane included in the bag- and this sweet colorway rarely comes out for a straight-up sale.

The figure comes packaged in classic kaiju style: plastic baggie w/ header. The bag is printed with Gama-gon's 'logo,' which adds a little something extra, visually. Biskup, being an accomplished artist in 2-D mediums, lost no opportunity in giving Gamagon some beautiful header art, depicting it fighting one of Biskup's other skull-headed creations (it has a name, but I can't recall it at the moment). Only some Gamagons are baggied; I believe the orange and red at least were sold in a large box.

As the relevant issue of S7 will explain, Biskup's inspirations include the artwork of the 1940s and 50s, and this probably contributes to his character designs, which are at once simple and surprisingly intricate. My favorite part of this piece is, as I mentioned, the little airplane that fits snugly into Gamagon's hand (although note that some Gamagons come with 2, and some come with none). With Gamagon's childlike appearance, though, it looks more like a toy in his hand, than a vehicle filled with edible human snacks.

Gamagon is made from a lighter-weight, matte yellow vinyl, which doesn't feel quite as good as the squishy or glossy vinyl found in Gargamel and Secret Base releases, but this probably kept the cost of the piece down considerably. The color combination on this piece is probably my favorite of all the Gamagons released (with the possible exception of the S7 GID). The warm yellows and oranges combined with a shocking green on his face really remind me of a ripe Hayden mango. Mmmmm.

Couple of complaints, though. The paintwork is not perfectly clean, as would normally be the case for many Japanese vinyl releases. In particular, one of the eyes has a blemish, which appears to have been a piece of debris that was on the figure during painting. Also, there is a rattling noise when moving the figure around, which is probably a vinyl shard left inside the body. I hate to sound like such a bitch about relatively minor imperfections, but at this kind of price point, I don't think it's unwarranted.

At the end of the day, there are worse purchase decisions that you could make than the SDCC Gamagon. On one hand, I love the sculpt and the color choices. But the paint blemishes, errant pieces in the body, and overall cheap feeling of the materials definitely lower my assessment of this figure. These are defects that should not be present on such a limited-run, high-end toy. Despite the low production numbers and exclusive availability of this Gamagon, it should not cost you much more than $100, even nearly a year after its release.

Monday, March 12, 2007

[Review] Microx My Socks

I was a smart kid. Let me tell you a story.

A long, long time ago, when toy collecting was a simple business that could be enjoyed by a child of moderate intelligence and means, Hasbro graced diligent collector-lings with a way to buy Transformers that were sold IN NO STORES ON THE PLANET. Yes, each sizeable Transformer purchase came equipped with a small catalog to tempt the senses with pretty pictures of these wondrous things. BUT!.... But, there was a catch. The only way to obtain said toys was to buy, yes, MORE TOYS. Each Transformer sold came with "Robot Points": little Autobot or Decepticon symbol with a written point value, the value of which would differ depending on the size and price of the included toy. Only by cutting out said points, filling out a small form, and mailing both with a nominal amount of cash, could the children of yesteryear have a shiny, new toy mailed to them in 4 to 6 weeks. Ah, the glorious low-tech 1980s. No monstrous server-crashing debacles when a certain nameless company decides to sell a convention exclusive toy on its website. However, few children had the patience and understanding of the U.S. Postal System to negotiate its confusing, and often, arcane requirements. And damned if our parents were going to spend any more time and effort on those robot toys. As a result, few children would possess the mail-away exclusive figures, and fewer would survive to the present day.

For some reason in those carefree days of 1980-something, I wanted nothing more than a Powerdasher from the magic catalog. Yep, those cheap little holdovers from the Diaclone era with awesome pull-back action. My parents, in the infinite ignorance that is only displayed by well-intentioned adults, bought me a Reflector with my carefully saved Robot Points and probably their fifteen bucks. Well, SCREW THAT. Reflector- wasn't he that bunch of guys in the cartoon that all looked the same and had that really lame light power? He's even a camera- what the hell, Mom and Dad?? What am I supposed to do with this? Photograph the Autobots and steal their souls? I wanted the F-1 POWERDASHER, who is a COOL FUTURISTIC RACE CAR. Camera. Pff. He don't even look like the cartoon guy. What to do with these...


They can be the generic Transformers that are always getting blown apart in the background of the comics (Marvel comics, thank you). Oh, oh, and I'll make them AUTOBOTS with these extra decals that belonged to some other toy! Megatron attacks! BOOM, take that... blue visor guy! Close that door, folks. Thar's genius at work!

You probably can tell where this is going by now. Yes, my poor Reflector, the set of used-and-abused-and-mislabeled Decepticons, has emerged as one of the single most valuable domestically released Transformers. Loose, complete sets can easily go from $50 to over $100, depending on the condition; boxed sets, fuhgeddabouddit- you will never, ever see these. My set will probably go for a bit less.

Okay, fun's over. Time for the history lesson and personal nerd-wank for the night. Reflector, as it was known stateside, began life in the spawning pool of Takara's Microman Micro-change toyline as Microx, the Camera-Robo! Microx looked virtually the same as Reflector, owing to the fact that very little was changed upon its importation or its re-release as a Transformer in Japan. This was undoubtedly the source of much confusion among children, when they would try to figure out who was the real Reflector, and would he please stand up? Blue, red, WHY THEY SO MANY COLORZZ?!?! And that's pretty much the story here. Oh, and there's a buttload of knock-offs, so watch out.

In his camera mode, Reflector is a nifty little fellow and looks as much like a camera as Perceptor does a microscope. That is to say, you need to squint a bit for the illusion to work. Nonetheless, you can look through the viewfinder and click the button on top of Spectro's head. The flashbulb actually fires pointy silver missiles (well, it would have prior to its emasculation by American child safety laws). Hmm, maybe that's why my eyes always hurt after the flash.

The transformation is self-evident; the three pieces of the camera split apart and become robots with a few quick turns and pulls. This never occurred to me before, but Spectro's transformation is the mirror image of Spyglass'.

Although all three 'bots were known as 'Reflector' in their U.S. TV debut as clone-trons, the toys were each given different names to match their varying appearances. Spectro is the red robot with the clicky-button on his head. He also has that self-satisfied smirk on his little plastic face, and I therefore conclude that he is the asshole of the group, red being the universal asshole color. Spyglass is painted in sparkly metallic blue, obviously making him the cool 'bot- this is also supported by his awesome 80s visor. Spyglass can also wear the flashbulb in his "Doom Hammer" mode. Finally, Viewfinder is definitely the odd man of the group, partly because of his unique transformation, but mostly because he has the expressionless visor + mask combo that always suggests 'shady weirdo.' I imagine that he is a quiet loner who laughs at his own jokes, breathes through his mouth, and seems perpetually greasy no matter how many times he washes. The other two secretly hate him, moreso because they realize that they are useless without him. Yes, when you have Transformers with TV personas as nonexistent as these, you need to dig deep for these reviews, much as Dreamwave did in their MTMTE comic series. Well, characterization aside, it is interesting to look back at these toys when you recognize that they are the evolution of Takara's Microman line; there are numerous design elements that are shared with other non-Transformer Microman figures of that era (such as the individual components of Microrobot 7).

There is one last thing to note about Reflector: the copyright stamps. If you look at all three robots, they are stamped on their back with "Hasbro '83" and "TAKARA [ ] / Japan '83," below. This is strange for a number of reasons. First, 1983 is a significant date, because this is its Japanese date of release in the Microchange line. However, it also predates the earliest Transformers by about a year. Second, why is there a blank stamp after the TAKARA mark? This is usually reserved for cases where the factory had to change the country/date of manufacture for a particular run. This is seen quite frequently in the known Mexican Transformers.

Well, that's about all I have here. I will leave you with two tips. First, if you ever see a Reflector sold in a white outer box that is only marked "Transformers," get excited, because this is the U.S. release. Second, if you see a Reflector in the Microchange box with English text, this is a knock-off. Avoid it at all costs.

In other news, I'm sick of hunting for Transformers. People pay too damn much for them, because they're all crazy over the new movie. I'm only buying Machine Robo now. Seriously. Screw Transformers.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


There's no kaiju like gently-used kaiju. Unless it's a Deathquid.

Dengu still has that weird Japan-smell- not a smoky smell, but the smell that old manga develops in second-hand stores.

Aaaand, crazy super glow!

So there's a bunch of killer new stuff coming out pretty soon. Gargamel has its 2-pack of the mini-Dragamel and Killer in clear bubble-gum pink being released at Thrash-out in Nippon this month. Clear pink! My weakness. Bwana and Biskup both have additional collaborative items to be trotted out at the store. Mori of the R to the H has also announced something neat-o to be released soon, in a delicious colorway that I desire. Yes. Man, I just got done with finding those freakin' Pumkin Headz from Wonderfest...

And finally, has anyone seen that stupid commercial with that weight-lifter guy listening to Fall Out Boy on his V-cast someshitorother mobile phone? They play it like 200 times daily on the stations I watch, and I can't stand it. "IT ... GETS ...ME ..PUMPED!" Ugh. Hey buddy, see that wrench? Yeah, that's what you are.

I think I need to have a beer. It's not good to have commercials upset you.

More to come later today after I edit down some photos.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

[Review] It's Not Crap

I can hear you all now. Double you tee eff Gobots?? Why would you put up a picture of rare Transformers cassettes and post an article about freakin' Gobots???

Because I CAN.

But seriously, this is not just any Gobot, this is a Machine Robo. See? Add a Japanese twist to a crappy American toy, and suddenly it's desirable. Like rolling a dog turd in sugar.

To be fair, Gobots were really the result of a mismanaged product line, I think. It's hard to otherwise explain why a line that went on for several animated series and innumerable toy lines in Japan (currently in its incarnation as Machine Robo Mugenbine) faltered and died in the 'States after a few years. Part of the problem was that Gobots became the weaker, uglier version of Transformers when they were imported- they were the toys that your parents bought to shut you up, when you were whining for a Transformer. The TV show and nomenclature of the series did nothing to help its fade into disfavor either, with characters that were, at best, weak photocopies of their more iconic Transformer brethren. I mean, shit, the leader of the good guys is named "Leader-1."

Although I'm not familiar with the Japanese animated series for the original Machine Robo toys (if there was one), they really took the right direction in their packaging of said toys at least. These came packaged not on cheap cardbacking, but in little cardboard boxes with good ol' styrofoam packing. For kids of the time, this probably reminded them of the great little Micro-change cars from Takara (which you probably know better as the toys that would become Bumblebee and company). And really, the two were contemporaries and equals- Machine Robo had extremely accurate vehicle modes and questionable robot forms, while Micro-change had great robot modes, and cutely-deformed vehicle modes. Anyway, before I lose your attention, Gobots are really unfairly maligned, and as a result of their relative unpopularity, they can be a fascinating genre to collect.

Case in point is tonight's review: MR-26, Garbage Truck Robo.

(I had originally believed it to be named, "Dump Robo", which would have made for a much more amusing review. Alas, it was given the rather ungraceful name of Garbage Truck Robo. There IS a toy called Dump Robo, however, much as there is a Dumper and Pumper in the Gobots line.)

In America, MR-26 was known as the Renegade robo, Fly-Trap, and given an orange body. Japan was home to a much rarer white-bodied version of the MR-26 toy with Japanese text on its side. I somehow managed to acquire a specimen of this individual, probably from the Ala Moana Shirokiya, waaaaay back in the day. MR-26 has been kicking around my closet for years now, unceremoniously dumped (har har) in a box full of assorted parts and melting rubber figures. Surprisingly, he is in fairly good condition.

For such a small toy, MR-26 has a very nice vehicle mode. Even the little lifter arms on the back are articulated! As I noted before, Machine Robo has always excelled in its vehicle design, and- if you can ignore the floppy joints- MR-26 could almost be mistaken for an old Matchbox or Hot Wheels toy in its vehicle mode.

As for the robot mode, it's well, actually not bad. Much better than the horrid tricycle Gobot, anyway. It has sort of a cool ASIMO blockiness to it. Given that it's such a small toy, there's not much I can say, but its aesthetic has really grown on me. I was always a fan of the small, uncomplicated toys when I was a kid- accessories had no place in intergalactic wars. And as such, I can definitely get into this guy; he can be transformed in a second and has a nice, clean, minimal look in robot mode.

With respect to coloration, I think I prefer MR-26 to Fly-Trap. As with most older toys, time has matured his original white to a vintage cream. Again, very nice and clean colors. I could totally see this guy rolling along on a country road in Japan.

Given the relative obscurity of Gobots and Machine Robo when compared to Transformers, it's the unknown rare pieces like this that make them really worthwhile toys to collect. That is not to say that there are not hardcore Gobot/MR collectors out there- there are. I recently saw an MISB Spy-Eye (one of the rarest Super Gobots) go for over $300 on eBay. I have no idea what this particular toy is worth, nor do I really care. All I know is that it is a pretty rare piece, and that I found it floudering in a pile of childhood junk in my closet.

I think that makes it the best kind of treasure.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Please Rewind

Some of the survivors get their day in the sun. Or incandescent bulbs, actually.