The Big Three-Oh, Part 1.

This week ROBOTECH, that love-it-or-hate-it gestalt adaptation of 1982’s beloved classic SUPER DIMENSION FORTRESS MACROSS and two largely less beloved yet stylistically similar shows of a likewise similar vintage (1983’s GENESIS CLIMBER MOSPEADA and, my personal favorite, 1984’s SUPER DIMENSION CAVALRY SOUTHERN CROSS), officially turned thirty years old. Thirty is, the way I see it, the first nice round anniversary that’s celebrated mostly as a marketing thing. Ten feels like an accomplishment. When a series turns ten and you’ve got people excited to celebrate that anniversary it means that series has some kind of genuine staying power. Twenty is another decade and a whole fifth of a century — if we’re still talking about this show, then that staying power really isn’t ginned up. Then you celebrate twenty-five because that’s a QUARTER of a century. that REALLY feels like something, even though it’s just five more years. But five more years later? We made a big deal about this five years ago AND ten years ago. Maybe we can just cool it ’til fifty, if any of us are still in a mood to celebrate then. But no, in this particular case Harmony Gold completely failed to make a big deal during the twenty-fifth back in 2010, either rattled by the death of series visionary Carl Macek that same year or displaying the severe lack of planning ability that has characterized the current regime’s running of the franchise since around the release of their second major console video game, ROBOTECH: INVASION, so they seem rather intent on turning this into a thirtieth to remember to wash away the stench of that missed opportunity five years ago.

For their part, Toynami, ROBOTECH’s toy licensee for the past decade and a half, are likewise making up for missed opportunities with a full range of product, some of which I talked about right after the New York Toy Fair. Today we’ll be looking at what I believe to be the first product they’ve released with the cleverly designed ROBOTECH 30th Anniversary branding, a new production run of their venerable 1/100 scale VF-1 Valkyrie mold, released for the first time at mass retail under the ROBOTECH name. (While there was a convention exclusive “Stealth” redeco of the VF-1S bearing the ROBOTECH logo, previous mass retail releases have borne the Japanese SUPER DIMENSION FORTRESS MACROSS logo.)

This first wave of 30th Anniversary figures presents the iconic craft of most of THE MACROSS SAGA’s major pilot characters: lead character Rick Hunter’s white Vermilion Team VF-1J, his “big brother” Roy Fokker’s iconic VF-1S Skull Leader, flying ace Max Sterling’s blue and white VF-1A, and Zentraedi defector Miriya’s red and white VF-1J. I find it interesting that Toynami gave us the VF-1A over doing both of the Sterlings’ his-and-hers VF-1Js, but I guess they didn’t want to do a case that was just three VF-1Js and a -1S, but they also still wanted to do fan favorite Miriya. Fine by me, as to this day I still associate Max more with that -1A than with his -1J; after all, his original VF-1A was the craft he used to rescue Lisa Hayes and the rest of the Vermilion Team from Breetai’s flagship and its identical replacement was the one he used to originally defeat Miriya in the streets of Macross City. That carries a lot more weight with me than just having a cute matched pair. Still, no worries for you Max-and-Miriya lovers — the Armored Veritech assortment coming later this year will offer Max’s VF-1J, albeit with (removable) missile-laden armor that was never used in the show.

 

 

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The packaging looks great but handles badly. In hand the box feels flimsy and cheap, and mine came looking rough around the edges. None of them sit perfectly flat. They all bulge just a bit, as though the plastic trays inside are a little too big for the boxes. My Miriya’s VF-1J was, in fact, packed badly; the tray with the weapons wasn’t fully shoved into the box (stopped by the bottom flap), and the top flap was bent around it awkwardly. Not a good look, Toynami.

But like I said, the boxes don’t look bad. Each has unique artwork of the enclosed Veritech Fighter in both Battloid and Fighter modes. Roy Fokker’s VF-1S gets the long-standing piece by, I think, Tommy Yune that was used for the ROBOTECH: BATTLECRY video game as well of loads of other stuff, while the other three Veritechs get pieces I don’t recognize that honestly look more like the toys you’re getting. The 30th Anniversary logo is, I must admit, sort of cleverly designed, though I’d have tinkered with the “Anniversary” part a bit more before signing off on it. The toy photography does a good job showing what you’re getting, loading the two winged modes with the two different missile loadouts. The sides of the box repeat the art of the Battloid mode and also show, in a small inset, the old Masterpiece Collection character art of the mecha’s pilot by Tommy Yune. On both front and bottom there is a call-out that this is “NOT A TOY” and “FOR THE ADULT COLLECTOR” which I assume is present for some kind of legal reason relating to the very, very small parts enclosed within.

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Each figure is, as you can see, packaged in Battloid mode. Two of mine didn’t have the front and back of the Battloid’s torso properly tabbed together in the box, so some minor fiddling was necessary before I could start putting ’em through their paces. Articulation is pretty decent; due to the transformation they don’t have waist joints, but rare is the VF-1 figure that provides that. I would have liked to have a deeper elbow bend to allow them to replicate the classic key art pose you used to see on t-shirts and that’s usually the first image of the VF-1 you see in art books, but that’s my only real quibble with the joints. All are nice and tight; in fact, the VF-1A’s neck ball joint was a little too tight right out of the box. Makes me wonder if it’s painted blue and that futzed with the joint tolerances, though it has loosened after being moved around a bit.

The plastic the figures are made out of somehow manages to feel cheap and sturdy at the same time. It’s firm, and nothing feels like it’s going to break when you manipulate it, but it’s got a weird, light matte quality that brings to mind a high quality knockoff. (Insert joke about ROBOTECH’s relationship with MACROSS here.) It almost feels a little grimy. Still, between the tight fit and finish and the fact that the thin bits never felt like they were going to bend too far or break, I’d say they’re good sturdy pieces. Aesthetically I would have preferred the rounded hands of the TV series to the MACROSS movie-style mechanical hands, but I doubt they recast anything from the earlier MACROSS releases. Likewise the stripes on the Battloid biceps only appear in the 1984 film. Minor details, but what are these nits there for but to be picked? My last quibble is with the toys’ long, narrow necks. I think they’re a concession to the small scale and the ball-jointed construction of the neck joint, but it does make the Battloids look a little odd from any angle that doesn’t mask it with the chest plate or the head itself.

The figures come packaged with closed fists attached. They come with three additional hands: a gun-gripping right hand, a slightly curled left hand for posing the figure carrying the GU-11 gun pod with two hands, and fingers-wide left hand that almost seems to be doing a “STOP!” gesture. Weapons include the aforementioned gun pod, four racks of three missiles each, and four micro-missile container pods. While each figure has hatches for Fighter mode landing gears, the three landing gears are separate pieces. Likewise, the Veritech cockpit canopy is a swappable piece; the cockpit/chest plates heat shields are attached out of the box, but only look good in Battloid due to the way the torso housings convert. There’s also a separate piece in each tray to attach the GU-11 in Fighter mode, which is par for the course. The rest of the pieces in each tray are for the display stand — adapters for mounting the figures in each of the three modes. Naturally, instructions are included, which aren’t totally necessary for most of the steps of transformation if you’ve handled any other VF-1 toy in the last twenty years, but are helpful for figuring out exactly what to do with all this other stuff. There are also sticker sheets included to add details like the numbers on the nosecones and wings, the RDF kites, and UN Spacy logos.

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Conversion to Guardian mode is relatively straightforward. The swing-bars that the legs are attached to go 180 degrees back, the legs bend down and backwards at the knee (depending on pose), the wings swing out, the arms go down, the heat shield is swapped out for the clear canopy, and the chest and back flatten out to form the aircraft fuselage. The one tricky bit is getting the head through the hatch that folds down on the Battloid’s back. As you can see from the image of the VF-1A, that laser just doesn’t want to go through. This is where the plastic proves just how sturdy it is; the trick there is turning the head around, making sure the head is tilted all the way to one side, and the laser is folded all the way down. It just barely clears. The VF-1J and VF-1S heads are also a little tricky, but the trick there just involves making sure you slowly and carefully feed the lasers through the cavity. The VF-1A seems impossible from any other configuration, and unlikely even from the right one.

With all the lovely articulation, especially the rotation at around the knee, these figures make very nice Guardians. I was a little disappointed that the weight of the figure makes it sag a bit on the display stand, but to be fair that’s actually how it’s pictured on the box, so you can’t fault Toynami for false advertising. I think the Guardian looks better on the ground anyway, either posed as a weird limbed bird-of-prey aircraft or standing nosecone down, ready for a vertical take-off.

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Converting to Fighter should be a snap from there. Get the legs out of the way, remove the hands, swing the arms in and tab them together, fold out the jet pack and tailfins, swing the legs back all the way, close the feet, and then — since this doesn’t have nice ratcheting joints to hold the legs in place like larger VF-1 toys do – tab the legs into the arms.

If you’re looking at the picture above that I’ve helpfully circled in a few places, though, you might see the problem this presents. For some dumb reason, the tab and slot don’t line up perfectly. At first I thought I was doing something wrong, or missing some step, but I consulted the instructions and there didn’t seem to be any additional steps or tricks involved. What I discovered was that you CAN get the two to lock together, and when you do the connection is very nice and tight and holds the Fighter together beautifully, BUT this seems to put some stress on the swing-bars that attach the legs to the fuselage. Again, this actually showcases the resilience of the plastic. It flexes just a bit without creating any nasty white stress marks or feeling like it’s going to break. If I had a little more faith in Toynami, I might think that maybe the material in those bars was chosen because it does that and everything will be fine. However, I still wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving these figures in Fighter mode in the long run. It’s a shame, because the Veritech Fighters look terrific attached to the flight stand, and will probably look even snazzier when equipped with the upcoming Super Veritech equipment packs.

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That discomfort I have with the last step to Fighter mode would be the first of my two substantial gripes with these figures. The second would be the part-swapping and all the little bits they come with. Sadly, that’s par for the course with smaller VF-1 toys; I seem to recall even Bandai’s smaller scale Valkyries from a few years back had some parts popping on and off. Your mileage may vary, but as far as I’m concerned that’s a lot of little bits to potentially lose or misplace, unless you’re keeping them stored in the original boxes. Still, I’m not put out enough by either of these problems to call these figures bad. There’s a lot I like about them — the size, the articulation in Battloid, and certainly the selection of designs. Any time I have an opportunity to grab Max’s original Veritech I’m a happy ROBOTECH fan. (Above I have Max’s VF-1A squaring off with Bandai’s Robot Spirits Queadluun Rare from MACROSS FRONTIER, for lack of a similar-scale figure of the original TV series or movie model of the iconic Meltrandi battlesuit. Despite the scale being a bit off, I think they look pretty good together.)

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Even with the issues I had, I’m happy with this set for the price I paid. I got a very early preorder in at Big Bad Toy Store and wound up paying $100 for the lot before shipping. I’d even say at $120, the current going rate at BBTS and Entertainment Earth, they’re a good value for the money. These four look sharp as a unit and have a pretty good suite of display options even if that last step in switching to Fighter is a bit nerve-wracking. And considering I’ve seen other reviews of these figures that don’t even bring that up, it might just be mine, or maybe I am doing something wrong, I don’t know. What I do know is that if you’re only looking for one or two of them, you really shouldn’t pay more than $40 each, preferably including shipping. I’ve already seen folks trying to sell Skull Leader alone for as much as fifty bucks, which is a bit high for what these are. If you need a Skull Leader alone that badly, I’d say either see if they do another run of these down the road or wait for the Armored Veritech version with its yellow version of the missile-laden “Miss Macross”-episode armor that’s supposed to hit later in the year. Me, I’m afraid I’ll wind up with all three of those in addition to these four. This ROBOTECH thing, it’s a curse, I tell you …

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