Saturday, February 27, 2010

War in Your Pocket

MS in Pocket (MSiP) was the spiritual predecessor to Bandai's MS in Action line of Gundam figures. The difference is probably that you have heard of that last one.

Prior to 1993, Bandai had not experimented much with the action figure market with respect to the Gundam franchise. Most of their focus was in the field of plastic models. With one exception that comes to mind (1/100 RX-178 Gundam Mk. II), early Gundam action figures were really more like pre-built models than toys. Weapons and armor were often packaged separately from the figure or even still attached to plastic sprues.

Bandai unveiled MS in Pocket in 1993 in connection with the Victory Gundam animated series. They were arguably the only realistic Gundam action figures at the time. While weapons and accessories were still sprued, these were sold in affordable 1/144 scale (most prior figures were much larger and more expensive), pre-built and constructed from durable, glossy ABS plastic and diecast joints. Many U.S. hobby and comic stores also imported these, making them some of the first widely available Gundam toys at domestic retail. In Hawaii, Jelly's was our main source for import toys, including these MSiPs. I remember using my money to buy one or two each time that we flew to that island. They weren't exactly cheap over here- I think roughly $20 at retail (1,000 yen in Japan)- but if you wanted a Gundam figure and weren't good at building models, a God-send.

Sadly, they did not prove to be exceedingly popular. The line was prematurely terminated with several figures left unproduced. You can easily find specimens today in mint, unopened condition at the original price or even far below.

As you may have guessed by now, I have a certain affinity for these pocket-sized mobile suits. So much so that I have now purchased the line almost twice over... and disassembled and scanned one of the little catalogs that came packed with every figure. For historical preservation, of course.

So let's take a trip through one of the last great toy catalogs.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 1

The text at the bottom of the cover says "Operation Handbook." These were still targeted toward kids, it seems, unlike the obviously collector-oriented MS in Action toy line.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 2

A bit of background explaining the various factions involved in V Gundam.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 3

The toy of our titular MS, the V Gundam. I don't know if I've ever owned this one, since I bought the V-Dash set the first time. Must check my boxes.

The left page lists a few selling points of the MS in Pocket line: inner die-cast frame, ball-joints (a new innovation!), accurate coloration and 1/144 scale size. The most interesting point is that they were specifically sized to fit in one's (child-sized) hands.

On the right page, we see the equipment/accessories for the V Gundam: beam rifle, beam shield, V Gundam beam saber (top) and Federation MS beam saber (bottom). These were largely standard among the Federation/League Militaire MSiPs (despite the V-specific saber), with changes only in plastic color for the GunEz.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 4

Left: GunEz, the mass production MS of the League Militaire. I still wish they had made a toy of the space combat version of this MS, the Gunblaster.

Right: The Setter H926. A support vehicle always struck me as a weird choice. Eh. By the way, there is no way you could ever pose your toys like that.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 5

Left: Zoloatt, the mass-production space combat MS of BESPA (the "bad guys"). There were weapons built into the shoulder pads in the show, which could lift up from the bottom portion. It's too bad they couldn't incorporate this into the toy.

This one used a lot of stickers, which had a tendency to peel off.

Right: Zolo, both general purpose and Chronicle Asher color schemes. These were the earthbound MS of BESPA. Equipped with the incredibly cool beam rotor shields, the actual MS was supposed to be able to separate at the waist and transform into a helicopter (using the beam rotor) and drone unit (the toy does not transform). The Zolos come with a beam rifle and bazooka.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 6

Left: The one MSiP that I have never owned: the F91 Gundam. This one was not from V Gundam at all, but the immediately prior series. I suppose Bandai figured that kids might still want a toy of this MS. There are now much better figures of the F91 out there, so I continue to pass it over.

Right: Tomliatt- one of the best toys to come from MS in Pocket. The toy itself was actually on par with everything else, but you got a super cool folding beam bazooka with it. I cannot overstate the number of hours I spent transfixed with the beam bazooka. Best accessory ever. The beam axe also set it apart from the rest of the BESPA MS.

Tomliatt could also split into helicopter and drone units in the show. I used to remove its backpack and pretend that it was the helicopter.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 7

The Abigor was the largest figure in the MSiP lineup, but came with no accessories whatsoever.

On the right, Bandai hinted at future MS that would be included in the line:

Orange: Shy-Tarn. Never made.

Blue: Javelin. One of the last MSiP toys produced and somewhat difficult to find.

Pink: Sandhoge. I think I would have literally killed to see this made. Probably deemed too difficult to engineer since it was so different from the rest.

Purple: Jamesgun. Who knows why they didn't just make this one since they already had the nearly-identical Javelin.

Yellow: Rig Contio. Also produced near the end of the line. I was surprised to find this one on a trip to Japan, along with the V2. Unfortunately, quality seemed to have gone down as the plastic was of a lighter weight and the joints were very loose on my specimen.

The only other toy not pictured in this catalog was the V2 Gundam. At least MS in Pocket went out with a bang in V2- it had a full assortment of beam weaponry, the 'Hikari no Tsubasa' effect parts, and a core fighter. The downside was that they used the same lower quality plastic as in the Rig Contio. In the V2, this plastic yellowed much more severely than any of the other toys. Finally, the V2 was sculpted a bit smaller than the other V Gundams- despite being slightly larger in the show. Oh well, it was the only toy we would ever see of the V2 for the next 15 years.

Bandai MS in Pocket - Catalog Page 8

Left: The deluxe set for the V-Dash Gundam. Although the V Gundam MSiP was re-used, this set included a mega beam rifle and core fighter that could combine with the 'overhang pack' accessory to become the V-Dash core fighter. The V-Dash set was one of the best releases in the MSiP line with ample accessories and features. But you still had to build most of them yourself.

Right: V Gundam Hexa was an upgrade of the V Gundam, notably eliminating the trademark head antennae. This was otherwise identical to the V Gundam toy. The Hexa could combine with the V-Dash pack, adding even more play value to that set.

Hopefully this walk-through whets your appetite for photographs and reviews of the individual toys, which I intend to produce over the coming months. Hey- someone's got to do it, right?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shaka Shaka Shark


Sharkman. That name really just says it all. Without knowing anything about this toy, I knew I had to have it immediately upon finding it in some dead store stock. I need to check that impulse more often.

The Legend of Sharkman was a toy line produced by Beyond-Action Figures in the late 90s and inspired by the surfwear of Maui & Sons. I was a little surprised at how recent these were- you would have thought the toy industry learned its lesson about churning out half-cocked superhero toys by that time. The eponymous main character is based on the Sharkman mascot made famous by Maui & Sons. Per the backing card, he was created by the Goddess Hina to guard the islands of Polynesia from pollution and Green Manta, aided by his friends Maui and Iniki. Residents of Hawaii, avert your eyes. An animated series was in the works as well. Unsurprisingly, these action figures (the ones that were actually produced) went directly to clearance bins; I am pretty sure that Beyond-Action did not stick around for much long after.

Legend of Sharkman

Sharkman is a cool toy simply because he is a three-dimensional realization of the M&S logo. If you grew up in Hawaii during the 80s, Maui & Sons was pretty much everywhere. Sculpting is rather nice, if a bit overwrought. The figure does freak me out a bit though, because he really does look like an anthropomorphic shark- take off his surfer-dude shades and he stares back with beady little dead eyes (I've heard these were supposed to light up along with his chest logo, but the electronics were gutted to save costs). But he does own a surfboard, skateboard and snowboard (for that Hawaiian snow), so I'd wager him to be a pretty laid-back dude. You might have a problem when he gets the munchies after smoking out. There is also a variation with a yellow shirt (purple is his traditional color).

So how about those other characters?

Sharkman co-sells

Sharkman's right-hand man and best 'bra' is da kine local guy, Maui. Maui is the stereotypical fat local guy portrayed in nearly every series about Hawaii- but he gets a war helmet and club as accessories. Good thing none of the bad guys own guns. Maybe Maui is really the alter-ego of Sharkman (since the name of the company is, after all, Maui & Sons) but we'll never know. I can't tell if he's trying to fly the shaka or hitch a ride.

Sharkman co-sells

Iniki is the leading lady of this Faux-waiian freakshow. Perhaps the designers were not aware that she shares the name of the hurricane that devastated the island of Kauai just 5 years earlier. Although smitten with Sharkman, she cannot overcome her fear of him accidentally biting her head off during a moment of passion. We can only hope that she will have better luck with the cast of Baywatch.

Sharkman co-sells

Green Manta is the main villain. Why is he trying to pollute the islands of Polynesia? Undersea oil? Unobtanium? (Don't say spite. Don't say spite.) Spite?

If I were to peg a shelfwarmer from this line (beyond, you know, all of them) it would be Doc Toxic. No kid wants a toy with a robe. I feel pretty confident in saying that throughout action figure history, the robed characters are consistently the worst sellers. Hagar the Witch from Panosh's Voltron. The Robotech Master from Matchbox. You know the one. Eclipsed only by the unpopularity of the series itself.

"Hey guys, I don't know what to name this last guy. He's like a big lobster thing with a spiky paddle. I just can... OMG JUMBO PRAWNS AT RED LOBSTER! THE PRAWN. WE'LL CALL HIM THE PRAWN. Ok, let's go get beers."

And there were vehicles planned for this line. These all seem to have been canceled. Not unexpected, as the big ticket items would be first to go if the initial figures could not sell.

Sharkman co-sells

There are two spaceship toys, which I find kind of strange. The Sharkinator is probably the best designed- at least the only vehicle of the lineup that does not have an overwhelming generic toy feel. Oddly, it does not seem large enough to house any of the figures. The other ship is the Quazar Shark "The Quark." This looks like it could comfortably house one or two of the toys, so it has to be enormous. It also vibrates.

And the last vehicle is Iniki's Baywatch Barbie Beach Cruiser truck with the rather nondescript name of Free-wheeling Beach Patrol Vehicle. Ignore the irony of using a gas-guzzling monster truck to save the environment.

Sharkman was both a product and casualty of its time. Maybe a few years earlier it might have flown, however briefly. But kids were too much into their Tama-gatchas and Pokimans at that time to bat an eye at freaky action figures.

And I think you can safely say that Maui & Sons really... jumped the shark.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

[M1Go / M1号] Baltan Seijin 2 [2代目バルタン星人]

M1Go - Baltan Seijin 2 (WF 2005 ltd prize)

Baltan Seijin 2 [2代目バルタン星人] is, by far, my favorite toy by M1Go [M1号]. This is an original sculpt from M1 that depicts the second form of Baltan Seijin.

Everything just feels right when you hold this guy in your hand. The vintage Marusan standard mold of Baltan 1 always seemed a bit off to me because of the weird, rounded head and gangly arms. M1Go's Baltan 2 captures the angular cicada-like head and torso of the character, while maintaining that bit of vintage chunk in the sculpt. I think it is the chunkier legs and arms that really draw me to this toy. They convey a sense of fun and durability. It is a toy that seems to say, "Pick me up!" Or maybe that's a telepathic command- it is Baltan after all.

celga-5 1-1-08

Although probably the most common version of M1's Baltan 2, this is also the best one. It was sold as a mail-away figure for Hyper Hobby magazine a few years ago, packaged with an orange mini Baltan 2 (sadly, my figure was missing the mini). The surprisingly tropical colors are patterned after a vintage Bullmark Baltan sparker vinyl. Funnily enough, although the vintage toy was presumably intended to be Baltan 1, it ended up looking more like M1's Baltan 2 sculpt because of the modifications required to accommodate the sparking mechanic. It is an eye-catching color scheme tied into a fitting vintage toy homage.

M1Go - Baltan Seijin 2 (WF 2005 ltd prize)

This lottery prize from a 2005 Wonderfestival is another standout piece. It is essentially a painted version of the more common unpainted blue Baltan 2. M1 used metallic paints that give the toy a liquid, glossy look in some areas- very appropriate given the mechanical/insectile nature of the character. As you might guess, this one is tough to find- I have only seen one for sale in the past 2 years.

If you like Baltan 2, you will be happy to know that there is a low entry threshold for casual collecting; completing the lineup, however, will take massive amounts of patience. I recommend that you seek out the Hyper Hobby green sparker version (above) first. If it doesn't grab you immediately- consider yourself saved some time, money and mental anguish.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tobe! Beetle!

Sometimes I fear that my blog conveys the impression that I collect only stupid expensive vinyl toys. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. The problem is that most of my plastic and die-cast toy collection is still in the box or heat-sealed to a cardback (vinyls are a lot easier to de-frock) I either haven't decided whether I want to crack it open, or haven't gotten around to doing so. I know, I know.

So I have a bunch of unopened toys that probably don't make for very exciting reviews. But I'm going to write about them anyway.

Spider-Force - Beetle

The Beetle, formerly known as Abner Jenkins, is an old villain from the Marvel universe that tangled frequently with such heroes as Spider-Man and the Avengers. Initially a petty criminal with a sort-of-cool suit, Jenkins has since become a hero in the Thunderbolts with his MACH armors, changed his race and dated a female wrestler supervillain. Times are good for the former airplane mechanic turned crook. (Yes, I just got that all off Wikipedia.)

Beetle was one of the first characters that I was exposed to when poring through the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe as a kid. So it's gratifying to see a few toys made from his armors- although I can understand why the toy companies weren't in a rush to make toys of a two-bit villain.

Spider-Force Beetle was a product of Toybiz in the late 90s. Marvel Legends had not been created yet, so they were still in the process of designing toys with increasingly over-the-top gimmicks. And thus we had Spider-Man Spider Force whereby Spiderman and select other insectile superbeings were given giant insects that transform into suits of armor. This was frankly not Toybiz' worst idea of the time. The toys themselves are even remarkably good- if you close your eyes to the fact that none of it makes any sense.

This toy represents the Mark II armor for Beetle. I still find this costume rather cool- sort of a mix between 80s-era Marvel and Kamen Rider- as dated as it has become. The toy reflects the character well, as Beetle is given the lean, muscled physique befitting a guy with no real super powers.

Spider-Force - Beetle

Beetle is packaged with his Spider Force companion, who seems to be a giant cockroach. (Don't worry, the missing wing is at the bottom of the card bubble.) The roach can be disassembled to create armor for the 'Dangerous Beetle.' It is pretty good for a random gimmick- this is true for all toys in the line, really- and you can tell the designers put in real effort to make an appealing armor design that also transforms into a believable insect.

I also took some photos of the "Exicting" co-sells on the cardback, since you don't see too many images of them out there.

Spider-Man Spider-Force

Tarantula was another kind of crappy character who had his day with Spider-Force. His armor is one of the best in the line.

Swarm is a character with which I was not previously familiar. He is a Nazi scientist who was transformed into a swarm of hyper-intelligent bees. And his armor turns him into a bigger bee. Yeah.

Spider-Man Spider-Force

Believe it or not, this is Wasp of the Avengers. I had to actually look this up because I thought it might be a different character. The orange skin and antennae are uh, a bit outside of canon, but really, WHAT is going on with her HAIR? At least it draws attention away from her enormous, muscular thighs. Erm, yes.

And here is the token Spider-Man figure. He turns into a cybernetic Spider-Man. I totally did not see that one coming.

Not the finest hour for superhero toys, but they are well-designed and still sell for around $10 a pop.

Spider-Man Classics - Buzzing Beetle

Toybiz produced several other toy lines during the Marvel Legends era that roughly matched Legends figures in scale, typically referred to as the "Classic" lines. Buzzing Beetle was included in Spider-Man Classics in 2005.

This Beetle reflects the Mark III armor design from Thunderbolts. It is an enormous toy and seems to be an excellent approximation of the armor design. Detailing is achieved through a black wash, as was done with many of the Legends figures, but it is not heavy-handed and the look is not bad overall. If I remember, the eyes light up and the wings attachments (hidden in back) flutter through an internal mechanism.

With the new Iron Man movies, there is an abundance of armored heroes in the toy aisles, but not so many armored villains (apologies to the 50 Iron Monger toys in the clearance section). Beetle is certainly a nice addition to their ranks.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

[Yamazakura / 山桜] Grotesque Flower


One of the most unique entrants to Japanese soft vinyl this year was an enigmatic company by the name "Yamazakura." A flowery name belies, however, their dark and complex toy designs, which are heavily influenced by religious and historical themes.

Yamazakura - Orochi-Oni (SF51 ltd prize 1-10)

The one thing we do know about Yamazakura is that their toys are produced by Mori Katsura of RealxHead. His design influences are present to an extent in their toys, particularly as they have the same 'fight figure' proportions as RxH toys. I like to think of Yamazakura's designs as primitive RxH characters. Sort of like how historic paints and sculptures depict stylized renditions of humans.

Yamazakura - Niouhone

Yamazakura's first toy premiered at the Shinto After-School Club event in 2009. Its name is either Niouhone or Nioubone [仁王骨]- I'm still not quite sure how the characters read in that combination. I see a lot of people calling it Nioubone, but I think that started because of the skeleton design reference. The "Niou" portion of the name refers to the guardians of Buddha, who are often represented as a pair of great statues that stand at either side of entrance gates for certain temples. Incorporated into the Niou reference is the dual nature of the sculpt; one half is humanoid and the other half skeletal. "Hone," of course, refers to bone. I think a reasonable translation of the name is "Bone Guardian."

Yamazakura - Nioubone (SDCC 2009 ltd 7-09)

Yamazakura has gained notoriety for his unexpectedly bold color combinations. That's unfortunate in a way, because it ignores the strength of his sculpt. Every part has an understated elegance that suggests layers of musculature or skeletal structure beneath the visible surface, enhanced by the pooling of light and shadow on its surface. Masterfully done. This is a refreshing change from the 'crude kaiju' trend that seems to overshadow new vinyl toys.

Yamazakura - Nioubone (SDCC 2009 ltd 7-09)

The unpainted black Nioubone was sold originally at the San Diego Comic Convention in 2009. He seemed to have quite a few of these as they were sold at later shows in Japan as well.


A clear unpainted Nioubone with GID vinyl shards in the body was sold at Design Festa 30 in October 2009. This was sold via a blind-pull method; the other possible items were unpainted GID, unpainted clear filled with multi-colored tubing, and empty unpainted clear

Orochi-Oni, Yamazakura's second toy, reuses the body of Nioubone with a new head sculpt. "Orochi" typically refers to an eight-headed serpent from Japanese mythology; however, the characters can also be read simply as 'giant serpent.' "Oni" means 'demon.' The likely meaning of the name is "Great Serpent Demon" or something similar. Orochi-Oni seems to be more favored among U.S. collectors than Nioubone. I attribute this to the popularization of the Hannya mask imagery.

Yamazakura - Orochi-Oni (SF51 ltd prize 1-10)

I'm not sure how the half-skeleton body relates to Orochi-Oni, but Yamazakura continues the split sculpt into the new head as well. This one is interesting because the skeletal and fleshed portions of the head are split by a straight cut, almost as if it were slashed open with a sword. A matching body would have been nice, but at least the angular head sculpt does not clash too noticeably with the smoother body.

Yamazakura - Orochi-Oni (SF51 ltd prize 1-10)

This Orochi-Oni was a lottery prize from Yamazakura's booth at Superfestival 51, which was held in January 2010. It is unique in that it has a chrome-painted eye. I wonder how he did that.

Yamazakura - Orochi-Oni (SF51 ltd prize 1-10)

Much as we all want to see what Yamazakura will do next, the real question is... who is he??

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ooh, a Cupcake

I must be dumb. Despite a rather poor outcome when I splurged on sofubi lucky bags in 2008 (see this post for an explanation on the LB practice), I again took the bait with Shikaruna Koubou [シカルナ工房] this year. Each LB contained 1 large size figure and 2-3 mini figures.

Fortunately, Shikaruna did not disappoint!

Shikaruna Koubou - Khappa (2010 LB)

Shikaruna Koubou - Khappa (2010 LB)

Shikaruna Koubou - Khappa (2010 LB)

Shikaruna Koubou - Khappa (2010 LB)

First pull out of the bag was this gorgeous clear vinyl Khappa [渇覇]. Khappa is an original design from Shikaruna's Genjuu [幻獣] (meaning 'illusion beast') line- of course, it is based heavily on the kappa water spirit from Japanese folklore. An interesting note is that the characters for "Khappa"- individually meaning "thirst" and "supremacy"- are different from those of the normal kappa [河童].  People seem to like this version quite a bit.

Shikaruna Koubou - Chiwos mini (2010 LB)

Introduced in this year's LB was a mini version of their giant Chiwos [チヲス] toy. Unlike the normal version (seen below, in a similar paint scheme), which is nearly 14 inches tall, this one fits into my case quite easily.


Lastly, there were two mini figures of "Sekai no Kaiju" characters: a Bagun 1 [バグン1号] and Mighty [マイティー]. The Bagun is a special paint one-off; typically, each Shikaruna LB has a chance to contain one SP toy.

Shikaruna Koubou - SP Bagun 1 mini (2010 LB)

Shikaruna Koubou - Mighty mini (2010 LB)

A great pull of figures overall and definitely worth the price of the bag.