Friday, January 13, 2017

Voltron: Legendary Defender

First off, let us ignore that whole, year-and-a-half hiatus.  It's time to form Voltron!




A lot has happened since my last post, and if current news events are any measure, it's best that we stick to to talking about robots.

Last year, Netflix launched an exclusive original series titled, Voltron: Legendary Defender.  This was the latest effort to reboot this character, and Netflix have found critical acclaim in doing so.  I'll leave out any commentary on the show, other than to say that you should most definitely check it out, even if your leanings aren't usually toward the giant robot fare (It's free!).


With the new show comes of course, a new toy line. The crowning jewel of which is the combining Ultimate Voltron Robot (by Playmates).  I said I wouldn't go all in and complete this set (see Transformers: Combiner Wars), but after I purchased the Blue Lion, I was hooked. For narration's sake, I'll take you in order of acquisition.


The Legendary Blue Lion  



What can be said that isn't apparent in the pictures.  This cat is beautiful.  I love the stylization with the jutted out lower jaw, and the topical blue paws. Although classic versions of this and the other lions usually featured chrome legs, the gray and silver mix gives a much more screen-accurate appearance. The Blue Lion was always my favorite. It had the most interesting back-story with regard to it's pilots, and I always found it the most quintessential. With this one in-hand, I had to go back for a second dip.


The Legendary Red Lion


This lion has a great mug.  In the show, the pilot is warned that the Red Lion is very temperamental.  The sculptor nailed this with the sort of glazed-over look that my dog used to get right before tearing around the yard. The Red and Green lions feature a very slick transformation to arm mode by opening up the chest and folding the front legs in, making for a very shapely arm.


The Legendary Black Lion


Having tried an arm and a leg, I had to go big for number three.  The Black Lion is great.  As with most Voltron sets, he is beefier than the rest, given his torso role in the combined form.  Yet, I feel as though this lion finds a middle ground between hulking lion and skinny torso better than Black Lions past have been able.  The figure is just as, if not more posable than the arms and legs, and features  wings; Big, glorious wings, that give him a deserving, regal nature.

Additionally, all of the lights and sounds are housed inside the black lion.  You get the voice of Shiro (the Black Lion pilot) saying phrases like "Now we go on the offensive!" of "Let's light this thing up!" As you attach each limb for combined mode, the other pilots voices check in: "Blue Lion, ready for action!" Such a fun toy.

At this point however, my Voltron only had a leg and an arm.  As it pleaded with me: "Hunk, we're missing the Yellow Lion!" and "Pidge.  Fire up the Green Lion. We're coming in hot!" There was in fact, no going back.

The Legendary Yellow Lion


Even though I was more excited about the Green Lion, I was getting tired of having to hold this mammoth up, so Yellow came next. I love how beefy the yellow cat is.  He has a great big noggin that you can easily imagine smashing into a Galra spaceship.

I find that the two leg lions are the most expressive of the bunch.  They can both pull off a sitting kitty pose, and have up/down and slight side-to-side head articulation. 




Sitting purr-etty!
Each limb includes a back mounted projectile weapon of some sort.  Not really my thing, but certainly an added play value. Each figure also has a miniature speeder that is presumably the craft the pilots take to their given lion. The Red and Green lions come packed with oddly separated pieces to form Voltron's sword. I'm not sure the point of splitting it up, other than giving you another reason to buy both (but really, why would you only have a one-armed Voltron?!)

At this point, I had all of my kids involved in the assembly, and they all wanted to know- When are you going to get the Green Lion?!

The Legendary Green Lion


The Green Lion is great.  He captures that tubular look of the classic green cat, with yet another great looking face sculpt. With him, realized just how much each one of these lions are their own character; Something clearly not lost on the show creators (Dreamworks) or Playmates.  The Green Lion also comes with Voltron's shield. There isn't much to it, but in the combined mode, it really shines.  Speaking of which..


Ultimate Voltron: Legendary Defender


Finishing with the Green Lion was a great way to cap off my Voltron.  I enjoyed turning on the lights and sounds and connecting each lion in turn.  Once they were all on, Voltron has many more phrases unlocked.

So, this guy is huge. Roughly 18" tall. He is imposing, with an excellent face sculpt that harkens back to Voltrons past, while offering a newer, sleek aesthetic.


There has been a lot said about his posability, particular his ability to hold a pose.  I've watched several YouTubers struggle with keeping him upright, but really, the leg lions' front paws provide a great means of facilitating just about any pose you could ask.  Coupling delightfully firm and clicky ratchet joints with soft plastic claws, allows one to get quite a bit of traction that makes up for any amount of top-heaviness.



 If Voltron does have limitations, it's in his upper half.  The most egregious is a lack of head articulation.  Having Voltron's head in a single forward facing position is somewhat disappointing, and does make him less dynamic in the posability department.  Voltron also lacks a waist swivel as well, but this is somewhat excusable given that this is where the electronics are housed.  Voltron makes up for this by having good forward, backward and outward hip movement.  The arms have outward shoulder, elbow and wrist swivel motion. The wings can also be moved into a variety of interesting positions.


Overall, this figure is fantastic.  Combining him isn't just a process, but a moment, just like it was in every classic episode, and is now for a whole new generation.  

Also, he passes the seven-year-old Dab test:






Friday, August 14, 2015

Transformers: The Movie

In 1986, Hasbro released Transformers: The Movie.  This is obviously an entirely separate entity from the recent Michael Bay summer blockbusters, and I bristle a little bit any time I have to differentiate between the two.

Anyhow, I love this movie.  I remember how, before everything was available via Netflix, YouTube, or Amazon, the only way to relive this film was to rent it from the local video rental store (where I would later find employment).  I'm sure I had the record for the most rentals for that particular item.


The Plot

In the distant year of 2005 (I know, right?!), the Decepticons (bad guys, if you've not been paying attention) have taken over Cybertron, the Transformers' home world. The Autobots (Good guys. Pay attention!) are trying to get it back. A battle ensues, and Optimus Prime dies (more on that later), and Megatron gets roughed up pretty badly. Enter, Unicron, a Transformer god in the form of a giant planet, that eats other planets.  Unicron recruits the Decepticons to steal the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the only thing that can destroy him. The Decepticons chase after a new crew of Autobots, but eventually, the sworn enemies team up (sort of) to defeat Unicron. Hot Rod, a young Autobot opens the Matrix and becomes Rodimus Prime, and in the process destroys Unicron.  The end.

Here is why I love this movie:

The Sound Track

This movie had a hilariously appropriate sound track.  At the height of the hair band craze, this movie featured Lion, N.R.G., and Spectre General. Add to that Weird Al Yankovich in his heyday and the beloved Stan Bush, whose hit, "The Touch" is forever (as well as he himself) linked with the Transformers. Also, this genius cameo in Boogie Nights:

"Take Seven."

I saw it in an actual theater. 

This was the first of the 80s toy commercials/cartoons to have a theatrical release. I saw this movie at the Broadway Theatre in my hometown; It still stands to this day.  Although I went on dates there, held hands there, and did things that make me cringe to this day there, the memory that sticks out the most is sitting with my mom and seeing all of my heroes on the big screen.

Swear word. 

It was both thrilling and terrifying. Spike, the Autobots' human friend, upon realizing he and Bumblebee's fate, utters the dreaded S-word.

Did I mention I was sitting next to my mother?

Did you catch it? A cuss word. In a cartoon! Some interesting trivia regarding this. For a "kids" movie, this one boasts a lot of violence. This includes point-blank executions, mass casualties, and of course the death of several beloved characters. The producers were a little concerned about a G rating, so they inserted this, and one other swear word purposefully in order to obtain a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Whatever the reason however, hearing these normally wholesome characters swear, definitely made you feel as though this was a high stakes plot.

Unicron

What can be said about a Transformer the size of a planet? Add to that, the voice work of the legendary, Orson Welles (who was apparently not very impressed by this particular gig). Unicron added a whole galactic scale to the Transformers story.  He didn't just feed on Cybertron, but other metalic planets. Who knew there were such things? One scene close to the end shows him standing atop Cybertron, evoking a level of absurd proportions rivaling King Kong and the Empire State Building.

"You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. Some terrible robot toys from Japan that changed from one thing to another. The Japanese have funded a full-length animated cartoon about the doings of these toys, which is all bad outer-space stuff. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen." - Orson Welles1

Death

For many movie goers, this may have been their first experience with death. And with none other than Optimus Prime, the gentle, peace-loving leader of the Autobots. Prime wasn't the only one. The death toll include most of the 1984 cast.  Really, the whole movie had the cynical task of clearing out an old line of toys to make room for the new one. There must have been some other way to do this, though, right?  Nevertheless, it was all of the death and loss that gave this movie a lot of gravity, and added significantly to the mythos in ways that other franchises have seldom reached. This was a story with real significance.



If I go for a couple of years without watching this scene, it still gives me chills. The music, the emotion in the onlookers' faces, the way Prime turns black.  My son still makes me fast-forward past it.  I'm okay with that. Interestingly enough, nearly every Transformers story since, has had some moment where Optimus Prime dies. Isn't there a song lyric about killing your inspiration? Singing about your grief?

The Matrix

The Autobot Matrix of Leadership; a magical orb inside a metal casing. Over the years it has been said to create new life, to hold the accumulated wisdom of the ages, to be the essence of the Transformers' creator, Primus, and of course, the one thing that could light the Autobot's darkest hour. It is a symbol of leadership that is passed down to each new Prime, making them the official figurehead of the Autobots. Of course, nobody had heard about this all-important artifact until the movie. It apparently had been residing inside of Prime's chest all the way through seasons 1 and 2, but apparently no one cared. Also, apparently every Autobot is walking around with a giant hole in their torso, just in case. Really, it was a MacGuffin-style device that helped to move the plot along. As a result of the movie though, the Matrix has become the most important artifact in the Transformers Mythos.

Failure and redemption

The protagonist of the movie is Hot Rod.  Voiced by Breakfast Club star Judd Nelson (I know), he makes an early attempt to help Optimus, but is coopted as a living shield by Megatron who deals the final blow to Prime.  Fortunately, Hot Rod proves his worth by resting a stolen Matrix back from Galvatron, and destroying the monster, Unicron. Hot Rod was vilified by a lot of fans for his role in Prime's death. And really, did Hasbro expect us to embrace a new leader who was arguably responsible for their favorite character's demise?

Behold: The flame-chested one. 
The idea of Hot Rod/Rodimus has always spoken to me though.  For one, the death, the matrix, the ascension of a new prime, it all added to the mythos in a way that nothing else had, and Hot Rod was there at the center of it.  All of these events still carry weight in nearly every story since. Also, he transformed into a giant Winnebago.




It exists!
So again, all of this was calculated to sell toys. But, the writers, producers, animators and voice actors, hit so many right notes in this movie, that it stands the test of time. I would still put it on before almost anything else.

Did someone order a Lion? Purrrr.



1Orson Welles: A Biography, p 522. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Commercial Break


Let's take a commercial break. First, I apologize for the lag between posts here. I know the two or three of you that keep up with this blog were having a rough time:)

Please take a moment to leave a comment. Whether you find something interesting, or want another venue through which to mock me.

Other ideas: Add this blog as a widget on your phone, so you know when updates happen. Add this blog to your RSS feed reader.  Tell your friends (or frenemies)!

While we are on the subject of commercials, let me say that, in general, I hate commercials.  However, I LOVE classic Transformers commercials. I loved the great animation.  I was so jealous of the kids who got to play on the amazing sets, and whose faces turned into robots.

Enjoy:

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Great Haul


The Haul: It could be a successful fishing trip or a clearance sale at the shoe store. The kind of haul that I'm talking about happens at yard sales, thrift stores, Christmas mornings, and birthdays. They are those seminal moments in one's collecting history that you relive like Jeff Lebowski listening to a bowling match.


They are memories that are so clear in your head that you can still smell the plastic off-gassing as your treasure comes out of the blister package. You remember those contradictory emotions of, "I can't believe I found this!" and "This is mine; It has always been mine!"

There was my hall from BotCon 2006, where I accumulated enough treasures to fill a small suitcase (modest by most standards). I remember on the final day, looking longingly at the vendor hall when my wife (then 8 months pregnant), put her arm around me and said "Let's go have a baby!" It was the only thing that could have pulled me out of there.

The most amazing haul that I ever experienced though, the one that catapulted my collection from a slightly embarrassing fancy to a diagnosable disorder, was THE GREAT CRAIGSLIST HAUL OF 2007. The ad read: "One container of transformers. $40. What you see is what you get. Arlington, VA." I loaded up the car with my wife, my visiting sister-in-law, our 6-month-old baby and I think even the dog was there for some reason. 

What was he thinking? Not much, I promise you.


Resisting the urge to run every red light, I drove them all few miles up to a McMansion where I met a man with two large tubs filled with his son's toys. Were I of any scruples in these matters, I would have refused to pay $40, for in these two tubs was the mother of all Transformers loads, with an actual value likely exceeded $1,000. I remember bringing all of it home, and piecing together all of these amazing figures I never would have had the cash to find on eBay. What a thrill!

These are just a few. Whatever this man did to piss off his father,
I thank him dearly.
In the great 2000 film, High Fidelity, starring John Cusack, his character, Rob Gordon, makes an art of  organizing or reorganizing his record collection on a regular basis. Alphabetically (by artist or by album), chronologically, etc. His greatest achievement though, is when he decides to sort his records autobiographically.



I love this idea of one piece of a collection moving you from one moment in your life to another. For instance, to think of how I completed my Generation 1 Galvatron, I have to remember that I bought the body at the now defunct "Earth Toy Mall" in Cincinnati, but that I didn't have his translucent, speckled cannon until it was given to me by my friend Rich in Virginia, some ten years later. 

Or, I can look at my Armada Smokescreen and easily forget that I originally owned him in 2002, sold him in 2009, then bought him again at a vintage toy store in Chicago for my son's birthday.

Boom.

The great hauls of my collecting past are fun moments that still give me a giddy feeling when I remember them. Moreover, they link together the complete collection by acting as markers- chapters in a book.

Now get going; Find your next haul!

The Big Lebowski, Copyright, 1998 Polygram, All rights reserved. 
High Fidelitym Copyright Touchstone Pictures 2000, all rights reserved. 




Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Arcee

I figured it was time to get back to the bread and butter of what I set out to do with this blog, namely, embarrassingly in-depth reviews of action figures. So, what better way to do that than with the action figure I've been waiting for my entire life:

Really, if they had just made this 30 years
ago, I would be normal. 

This is the Autobot, Arcee. She is pink. She is curvy. She is every Transformers fan's ideal female, err, fembot.

Arcee made her appearance in the 1986 animated feature film Transformers: The Movie (more on that earth-shattering event in a future post). In the movie, she was touted as a "forceful female warrior," but, save a couple of moments of bad-assery, was mostly relegated to being torn between the affections of Springer and Hot Rod (more on that in a future post as well, the name implications alone could fuel a dissertation). Arcee seemed to fill in the token girl element of the movie story.  Cartoon designer Floro Dery is quoted as saying she was in fact "the naked mechanical equivalent of Princess Leia of Star Wars" complete with bilateral hair buns.

Damn. 

While this wasn't the first time we had a seen a Transformer in a female configuration, she would become the most fleshed out of that variety. The very presence of a female race in the Transformers universe is compelling, as the canon states that Transformers are normally built or forged, not conceived.  I'll spare going into this any further, as I've listened to Transformers fans debate robots and procreation before, and well, it's not a pretty thing to listen to. That being said, a few writers have taken a crack at this.  My personal favorite was Simon Furman's recent take on Arcee.  In this retelling, her gender was a cruel joke by the Decepticon mad scientist Jiaxhus, who disassembled a (gender neutral) robot and reconfigured her in a female form, making her the only one of her kind. I thought this added a great deal of weight to her story, as well as a better explanation for genders among robots.  But alas, fanboys revolted, and that history has since been jettisoned.

This one's for all the ladies out there!

Arcee has made other appearences, some in name only, but nearly always keeping her characteristic pink and white deco.  She landed an action figure in Beast Wars, a bit part in Transformers: Energon, a central player in the storyline of Transformers: Animated, and finally a principle role in the recent Transformers: Prime series, where she traded in her Barbie coup for a blue street bike. She has proven herself an indespensible character in the mythos, I dare say to the likes of Prime and Megatron.

She can also be emotional. 

That is why it is remarkable that it took nearly thirty years for her to finally receive an action figure version of her original 1986 incarnation. It hasn't been for lack of wanting. Nearly every Hasbro press panel has featured a cry from fans to include their favorite fembot in the next year's toy lineup.  And really, for all of the talk of pink aisle/blue aisle in recent years, you would think that a toy company would have jumped at the chance to diversify their lineup, and their potential customers. But "boys don't play with girl action figures" was always the conventional wisdom. Hooey, I say. Do they not know the pain of having a complete cast from your favorite movie on a shelf for decades, but absent one of the central characters?! Cue nerd tears.

So it should come as no surprise really, that with this latest release, Arcee is sold out nearly everywhere. Like, nowhere to be found. She is, to be plain, action figure gold. And it's not just the pent up demand. This is an absolutely perfect figure.


Perfectly captured in package. 
Whatever. 

Arcee features a pitch-perfect representation of her sporty convertible coup.  The lines are all correct, right down to the trunk mounted antenna.  The pink color is right on, with delightful blue highlights on the grill and headlights. The details are all there, right down to the two white seats.

Eat your heart out, Ken.

Her robot mode is, in a word, beautiful.  The designers made a robot that captured all of the best in this character. Even better, they did so in a way that was honest to real female proportions, and in no way gratuitous (said, the man).

Like this.  I hate this kind of shit. 

Arcee features two blasters that harken back to the 86 movie, each able to clip on to her legs (Hell. Yes.).  The colors are spot-on, and the face sculpt presents a neutral, yet pleasant smile with lightpiping that makes her eyes come alive.



She also comes with two energon swords that are more befitting her current comic appearance of a slightly homicidal, and ultimately vicious warrior. She is highly posable (stop it), with no balance issues.


I find this figure looks great next to either newer figures or the classic Generation 1 crew from which she has been missing for 28 years.  This is a great move for Hasbro.  The last year has seen an amazing degree of love on the part of the designers to revisit these core characters, and bring them to life with faithfulness to their original designs, with enough upgrades to highlight their timelessness. I've said it before, but there is something special about what started as a toy commercial.  Even in what may have been a cynical bid to insert a generic female character, the amount of attention Arcee has gotten over the decades speaks to something special about (her).

We can all breathe now. Welcome home, friend.

*I found all but the action figure pictures on the internet, and claim no rights to them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Origin Story

Many millions of years ago on the planet Cybertron, life existed.  But not life as we know it.  Intelligent machines who could think and feel...

These words can be recited by Transformers fans the world over, for they belong to the opening scene of one of the greatest origin stories in science fiction. 

Okay, I'm overstating that a little.  

You....complete....me. 

But come on! It didn't get much better than the original "More Than Meets the Eye, Part I."  First off, was the whole, 7-year-old boy brain melter that was robots changing into cars and jets. But beyond that was this millions-of-years-long conflict, that zoomed through an asteroid belt and smashed into Jurassic era Earth, only to start again in 1980's America. We met heroic Autobots, and evil Decepticons.  And this brilliant twist of toy and storyline would resound over the mountaintops with the ringing of a million cash registers, and likely the greatest holiday party the Hasbro corporate offices have ever known.

The scene was set on a metal world with giant pieces blown out of it. The first episode showed us alien cars native to the planet Cybertron, flying tetra jets with suspiciously terrestrial robot forms (hey, you have to pay for those character models).  We met human characters, in fact the only fan-acceptable human characters to date (Transformers fans have a problem with too much of the human element). On earth, these amazing new characters showed off new and marvelous powers and abilities, that would inspire real life playtimes all over the world.

Okay, who tried to activate the planetary propulsion thrusters?
I'm looking at you, Megatron.

This story would be tweaked, revisited, and retconned multiple times. In Season 2, we saw a telling of the Optimus Prime/Megatron origin.  Season 3 would bring us the revelation that it was the Quintessons who built Cybertron. Beast Wars/Beast Machines would turn everything on its head and reveal that Cybertron had once been an organic planet.  Factor in the rich history of the comic books, and you have a lot of love that has been put into fleshing out this half-hour commercial for action figures.

Trees on cybertron? Cue fan-boy head explosion.

Origin stories are great.  They usually feature the best a show's animators can come up with, along with all of the freshness that comes with a new property. There is new music, new or sometimes better yet, familiar voice actors. It's a memory that sticks with even the most casual fan.  Most children of the 80s can certainly remember with fondness their first looks at Thundercats, Silverhawks, M.A.S.K., Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Centurions, or Tigersharks to name a few.

I've said it before, I will take any opportunity to show
a screencap from Silverhawks.
It got me thinking about what an origin story is...what it means. Specifically, can you ever recapture the magic that was there at the beginning? Should you? Or is what comes after more important. Sure, you can go back and flick on an old episode, and there is always a nice wave of familiarity that comes over you.  But, I think it's made sweeter by thinking of everything that came after; all of the cues that artists and writers would spin off from, all of the memorable quotes; That's when you know you're looking at something special.  

There is the origin story of this blog for instance.  It came out of a box from my parents' basement, that became a fun (and yes, obsessive) hobby, and ended up overtaking the basement, then the attic.  Several times I thought about giving it all up and cashing in on eBay (that remains an option). But every few years, some new take on my favorite story would spring up, and the Rubbermaid tub was that much harder to close. I was almost ready to give it up, when my 5-year-old's fervor for Transformers reached its peak.  I could have made them disappear overnight, but I had this feeling that maybe there was an opportunity there.  Something to be said, words to be written about how a childhood pleasure carries on into adulthood, or fatherhood. My once pristine shelves are now typically in a state of disaster because, well, he is messy.  But do you pack all of that away?  Or do you leave it out, and see what becomes of the mess?



You can look at any origin story, a personal one, even, and love it for it's nostalgia, but maybe what's more important is everything that came after. I look back on meeting my eventual wife in middle school (yes, I have touched a woman), and I remember with nostalgia watching her jump off of a boat into a lake. I remember the sun twinkling off the water in the way it does best when you close your eyes to remember. It will always be a special place I go to. But even more special, is thinking about every wonderful, hard, beautiful, challenging thing that came after that. A move across the country, three babies, and career changes.

How about your life, dear reader? How does your origin story reflect what came after? Furthermore, do you know it? Are you still writing it? Living it? Trying to forget it?

So that got too heavy for a robot blog.  But, I'd like to think I am mining a new genre here. Robot Blog, with Heart





*I found all but the last two pictures on the internet, and claim no rights to them.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The State of My Shelves.

There was a time when every item in my collection was displayed in all it's glory. When I would spend a little time each day tweaking each pose, making sure that it was the most befitting of the character, and of course, canonically accurate.

I was so young then, and missing so many members
of the cast of the 1986 full-length motion picture.

Those days, are over.

Initially, the problem became the scale of everything.  So, I built custom shelves for all of my bots, but they eventually outgrew them.  I would occasionally colonize a book shelf, or an impromptu spot in my closet. but the important thing was for them to all be together.  When this became impossible, the challenge then became which ones to pack away. But really, to not have 24 incarnations of Optimus Prime displayed at the same time felt just plain wrong.

Impressed?

I was also limited a little in terms of space, because well, I liked being married, so I relegated myself to the space under the stairs in our basement (I know...).  It made for a cramped, but semi-private escape, and also allowed me to pick and choose who I let in on my dirty secret. Until that is, my children evolved the ability to open doors...

Now, this is the norm...
I won't tell you the dollar value of any of this (it's only crushing my soul a little). 

Or this...

Oh man, some of these aren't even from the same continuity.

My 5-year-old shares my need for the bots to all be together and he plays with them with such zeal, that "please only take out three at a time" has become, "okay, you need to at least come back here and help me put away 10 of these!"  It's been a good exercise in Zen. My blood pressure used to go up at least 20 mmHg when he would even hold one of my sought-after trinkets. Now, I can actually react calmly with a "that's okay, those were only custom decals, they can be re-ordered."

So now, most of my plastic friends live in our new home's family room.  It's a common area, and certainly invites questions from house guests, but it turns out only a few people have run screaming.

Or mocked me openly.

But hey, screw them! I get to go to bed with this at night.

Put the sword away, big boy.