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?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you ever had the Ms in Pocket Contio?