Protocultural Artifacts: Sterling Family Reunion

Clockwise from top: Matchbox Dana Sterling action figure (1986), Playmates Exo-Squad Robotech Veritech Hover Tank (1995), Yamato GNU-Dou VF-1A Max Type TV Ver. (2009), Toynami Robotech Masterpiece Collection Maia Sterling's Shadow Fighter (2010).


Three facts about this photograph:

1) Thanks to SHADOW CHRONICLES, you’ve got three members of one family piloting mecha originally designed for three separate 1980s mecha shows. It almost makes me wish you could tack a fourth 1980s mecha show on beyond MOSPEADA/New Generation so you could call one of its female protagonists the third Sterling daughter and keep the chain going. I will say, putting Max and Miriya’s daughter from “Catastrophe” in the new animation was one of the few inspired moves the SHADOW CHRONICLES team made, and almost makes the Robotech.com-era official flip from Early Return to Late Return worth it. (Almost. Exiling Spangler & Eldred’s INVID WAR comics to “secondary continuity” hell is a blow that still stings over a decade later.)

2) The scale in this image is hilariously backwards. Based on the animation and model sheets, the Veritech Hovertank is a little less than half the height of the Valkyrie, while the Alpha’s supposed to be two thirds the height of its Variable Fighter predecessor. Of course, what we’re looking at here is an overpriced highly poseable action figure of the largest of the three and a transforming vehicle for a 3 3/4″ action figure of the smallest, with the GI Joe-style pilot chilling out on top; in a perfect world, I’d have scale collector’s figures of the two extremes to flank the Shadow Alpha, but one’s outside of my price range at the moment and the other is never going to be made in any of our lifetimes, ever, despite endless pestering of toy companies and internet petitions.

3) The chunky, clunky Matchbox-engineered and Playmates-produced Hovertank naturally gave me the least problems in posing for the camera, though it’s also the least posable overall, with jointing designed primarily for the transformation and lots of widely-spaced ratcheting joints that prevent subtle poses. I’m fairly certain I’ve documented the problems with Maia’s Shadow Fighter before. The head doesn’t settle into the neck groove well at all, making it a bit of a bobblehead. The Shadow Fighter gun is made for the original Shadow Fighter’s claw hand and doesn’t attach to its standard Alpha-style hand well at all. The elbow joint on the right arm doesn’t hold the extra weight of the gun very well either. Also, the legs simply don’t pose very well due to the way they’re constructed for transformation. Meanwhile, the GN-U Dou Valkyrie explodes at the slightest provocation; the body isn’t glued together at all and relies solely on friction to remain in one piece. I understand why it’s built that way; there’s jointing everywhere, and adding glue to the mix on the assembly line could very easily fuse one joint or another. However, it makes the toy frustrating to pose, since one tug too far causes Max’s blue VF-1A to crumble like one of the generic brown & whites. The two halves of the body just don’t hold together very well. This is why I hate toys-as-adult-collectables; they’re like anti-toys, designed to look like toys but not made to actually be handled and played with.

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10 thoughts on “Protocultural Artifacts: Sterling Family Reunion

  1. If I ever have the room to properly display these types of things, I’d like to get one of them Matchbox hovertanks.

    On a barely related note, I bought a Yamato Skull One (or whatever exactly the name is in Macross) and I didn’t like it at all. It had to be taken apart in order to transform and it just felt easily breakable. I resold it immediately on eBay and made most of my money back.

    • Yeah, I used to have a couple of Yamato 1/60 Valkyries. I didn’t much care for them either. I understood why the legs had to be detached, but it didn’t mean I liked it. I have been hearing good things about their 3rd generation Valkyrie toys, though (they went from the 1/60 line to a more expensive and larger 1/48 scale for a few years before doubling back and doing the whole 1/60 thing all over again), but I haven’t made the plunge due to the fact that money’s been tight, even with all the selling off of stuff I’ve been doing. If I could actually get ahead for a few months, I’d love to jump in with both feet and pick up the team that Yamato was the first to ever complete: the three Valkyries of the Vermilion Team. (Yes, Yamato’s last line of VF-1’s was the first to include Rick’s VF-1J and both the blue and brown VF-1A’s.) Having Rick, Ben, and Max’s fighters from the first half of The Macross Saga posed and displayed together — god, I don’t think I’d really ever need another Macross toy after that.

    • Oh, it is. The point I was trying to make (and clearly failed at) is that until Yamato’s most recent line of Valkyries nobody delivered a MATCHED SET of all three Vermilion Team fighters. Pretty much every line of transformable VF-1’s has included Rick’s white-with-red-trim VF-1J. Thanks to its appearance at the end of the Macross and Robotech opening themes, it’s positively iconic. Takatoku, Bandai, Toynami, and Yamato have all produced versions of it in a wide array of different scales and price points. Toynami’s Robotech Masterpiece Collection line was the first to give us Ben Dixon’s VF-1A. If a prior line did a TV series-style VF-1A, it was the brown cannon fodder version, not Ben’s white with brown/tan trim version. Still, because of most fans’ desire to have Max & Miriya be a matched pair, Toynami produced Max’s blue VF-1J instead of his -1A, leaving Vermilion incomplete. Finally, in ’09, Yamato delivered Max’s blue VF-1A, alongside matching versions of the other two craft. If you want a matched set of toys of those three mecha, representing those characters during that period of the show, Yamato’s second 1/60 scale line is the only game in town. Mind you, that’s because for that line they’ve produced every single Valkyrie variant that was in the show, down to the blue two-seater Max and Miriya used in “Wedding Bells.”

  2. Did I read that right? Is the Hover Tank transformable? That is pretty cool. I got the “Exo-squad” Veritech Skull-1 and it, unfortunately, does not transform. I guess I should of gone with the Hover Tank.

    • Of the Matchbox mecha (and by proxy, the Exosquad mecha), I think the hovertank and the Alpha fighter are the only ones that could transform. I remember Captain JLS did a video some time ago in which he said that (if I recall correctly) Matchbox couldn’t get a license for a transforming Veritech because the Transformers toy company already had that license for Jetfire. If you examine the Matchbox version closely, you can see points where they might’ve built in the transformable parts.

      • Specifically, they couldn’t license the original Takatoku/Bandai Valkyrie toy because Hasbro already snagged it for Jetfire, yes. The thing is, as I pointed out in that video, there are “pointless” hinges built into the Matchbox/HG/Playmates Veritech Fighter (specifically, for the arms to swing out, when the “arms” are a single fused part) that would have assisted in transforming it into Guardian mode. The toy was ORIGINALLY engineered to do that. Go scrounge up the sixth Legacy Collection/Protoculture box extras disc and watch the prototype toy demonstration. There you’ll see it and weep, or at least sigh, for what could have been. Yes, it’s only two modes, but so is the Hovertank — it doesn’t turn into the hovercraft mode. Which is fine, since the walking artillery mode and the robot mode are the interesting ones anyway, but it is a bit of a downer that the Hovertank never got a proper three-form transforming toy.

        The question is, why was that engineering taken out of the Veritech Fighter? Would it have made the toy too expensive? Would it have made it unsafe? Was Matchbox afraid of a lawsuit from Hasbro because of the Jetfire thing? That, I don’t know, and you’d have to find someone who was there at Matchbox at the time to maybe, possibly find out. All I know, for sure, thanks to that presentation on the extras disc, is that at one point that toy could transform into Guardian.

        As for the Alphas — those were the original Gakken toys repackaged by Matchbox. They fall under the same umbrella as the super deformed Valkyries that Matchbox also repackaged as Robotech toys. The Hovertank is the only Matchbox-original transformable Robotech mecha that was released in the line. Which is a shame, because for what it is and what it does, it’s a well made toy.

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