Budget Review: Bandai HI-METAL R VF-1J Armored Valkyrie

You’ve seen Macross, right? Or Robotech? You saw the cool sequence where Hikaru Ichijyo/Rick Hunter (delete as applicable) goes on patrol an up-armoured Valkyrie/Veritech (also delete as applicable) for whatever reason, meets Zentradi/Zentraedi (more applicable deletion to be done) scout and ends up unleashing a torrent of missiles at it? If you didn’t, go watch it now, but if you did (or once you have) then boy is this the toy for you!

(Incidentally, for the rest of this review I’m going to use Macross naming conventions because doing otherwise saps my will to live)
This isn’t the first up-armoured Valkyrie action figure to be released, in fact Arcadia1 re-released their own version of this in their familiar 1/60 scale a mere 3 months beforehand, but this seems to be the only action figure version in 1/100 scale, which is a kind-of titchy scale for what this figure claims to do.  Seriously, I have held this on the palm of my hand without problems, it’s a ridiculously adorable size for a Valkyrie. Bandai have used this scale before, in fact they’ve made the exact same base Valkyrie before in their VF HI-METAL line, but they’ve switched it up a bit on the die-cast front and added the chunky armour for this first release in the HI-METAL R line2.

I’ve owned a few Yamato3 Valkyrie in the past, and have been used to their die-cast chunk, but despite the HI-METAL R name this figure is fairly lacking on the die-cast front however most of the die-cast parts it has are at pretty key joints for the transformation.  Ah, yes, the transformation.  Now this isn’t what we’ve come to refer to as a ‘perfect’ transformation, but it gets as close as you can, there is literally once part that needs swapping out to go from Gerwalk to Battroid mode, canopy of the cockpit for a blast shield, meaning that going from Fighter to Gerwalk requires zero swappable parts.  To be honest that is a tiny sacrifice to make dealing with a toy this size, having a sliding blast-shield mechanism built into this would be both fiddly and costly and having seen these sliding shields in effect it just doesn’t pay off in the way that this swappable part does.

That blast shield isn’t the only swappable part from the base figure, as its focus is on producing a solid toy Bandai have ignored the numerous gimmicks you find in other Valkyrie.  There’s no working landing gear, you instead have to switch out three panels on the underside with wheeled versions.  Frankly it looks good, and reduces the number of places where things can get loose.  Admittedly my 30 year old Autobot Jetfire, based on Bandai’s earliest Valkyrie toy4, still has really solid landing gear, but it’s also not fooling anyone that it’s a ‘real’ jet’s landing gear, where here Bandai have produced such an incredibly clean toy that at first glance it looks like a model of a fighter jet especially when you set it down on its landing gear.  It looks like a model of a real jet, not a transformer.  There are also some extra swappable parts in the form of wings with connector points for missile pods.  It’s needed because the way this Valkyrie transforms requires flat wings, and it’s easy to swap them in and out, with the C-clip connector being a decent size that should prevent breakage, though I’m not overly keen on swapping them too often.  One thing you don’t need to swap anything in or out for is the main weapon for the Valkyrie, the GU-11 Gunpod, which tabs in tightly between the stowed away arms.  Fully armed this fighter jet looks fantastic.  Bandai also helpfully provide an adapter so the Fighter can be put onto a Tamashii Stage, I really love the way this is done, with it sliding over the barrel of the cannon and hooking in at a couple of points on the arms.  It’s solid when it’s installed and it looks amazing posed on a flight stand.

Where this toy really shines is when you start transforming it.  Now there’s only really one way a Valkyrie is going to transform because the look of them is so specific if they transformed another way it would be weird.  So this little Valkyrie naturally folds over at the point just behind the canopy, the legs swing back, and the arms swing out, but all of this is achieved in a smarter fashion than Arcadia’s 1/60 Valkyrie with the best bit being the sliding rails on which the shoulders move back and forth and the way they clip in when you swing them out for Gerwalk/Battroid mode.  It’s something that trumps Arcadia’s VF-1J whose shoulders just kind of sit there and move around when you move the arm.  It’s still, as with Arcadia’s VF-1J, a point of note in terms of the fragility of the figure and I can’t help but think it would have served better being built from die-cast instead of plastic.  Not that this toy is fragile, the plastic is certainly sturdy enough and it generally never feels like you’re flexing anything you shouldn’t be.

Gerwalk mode looks excellent, you can get the familiar forward lean with ease, it’s all so nice and straight-forward, so no need to rotate any parts to get it to look right.  There’s also a little Tamashii Stage connector that really makes the most of this mode.  If you don’t have Gerwalk mode on a stand you’re really not doing it right.  It’s also when you get to start playing around with hands.  There are hands already fitted to the Valkyrie, that tuck neatly into the forearms when in Fighter mode but they are a bit ridiculous looking and dinky, luckily Bandai provide a few spares in the forms of fists, splayed hands and a hand designed to wield the cannon previously tucked under the Fighter mode.  A simple sliding mechanism extends the cannon into the rifle mode and reveals a slot into which the grip can be placed.  Again, very neat and removes the need for extra parts to facilitate a fully transforming cannon (something the Arcadia version rather impressively does).

While the hands look great on the Gerwalk mode they come alive when you fully transform the Valkyrie into Battroid mode.  This frees up the arms a bit more along with the ball-jointed hips.  Now the range on these hips isn’t great because of the way a Valkyrie is built, but there’s a joint in the upper thigh which you can use for running poses that takes a lot of the burden off the hips.  The knees have an amazing range, with the knee-armour sliding independently to let you get it in just the right place.  Oh, and the arms have a couple of joints on them, alongside being on a swivel joint at the shoulder for backwards and forwards motion, as well as being on a ball-joint, which just happens to be made of metal so is completely solid.  The feet, themselves die-cast, handle posing pretty well, and though the ankle tilt is a bit limited merely because of the design of the Battroid it doesn’t feel like it loses out to the articulation of the hips and legs.  Of course you also get a Tamashii Stage connector, but this one’s a bit weird as it’s not a socket for the stand but a plug so you can’t, for example, connect it straight to the ratcheted arm on the Mechanics stage, you need one of the pipe sections to connect it up.  Very strange.

Once you start playing with the Battroid you lose yourself in this toy, trying to recreate the various memorable poses from the TV show, but then you realise you’ve yet to connect the armour…

So, the armour.  It plugs in amazingly well.  You only technically have to remove one thing to fit it, the nosecone so his armoured nappy fits snugly.  The forearms armour is connected over the arms with the fists folded up as if going into Fighter mode, and come with its own selection of chunkier fists including a larger grip for the cannon.  The shoulder and chest armour neatly clip over the existing shoulders and chest, and the lower-leg armour firmly encloses around the Battroid’s legs, and the legs are finished off by the feet having a couple of chunkier panels clip over the metal toes.  The final parts are the boosters from the fast pack, these plug in to the sides of the folded backpack which can cause it to sag back a bit if you haven’t folded the backpack over properly.  The backpack doesn’t lock in place like Arcadia’s, frankly an impossibility, but once you have both joints connecting the backpack to the torso at 90 degrees it’s mostly secure.  Mostly.

Fully armoured this thing is a beast.  Seeing it I’m immediately reminded of Hikaru lazily clomping through the launch tunnel of the SDF-1 with the strap of the cannon hanging loosely.  Such vivid memories.  Well, more of Rick Hunter but it still applies to Hikaru.  Unfortunately there’s no strap for the cannon, but you can give it that same gait, especially with the armour-specific Tamashii Stage connector attached which handily, unlike the Battroid, is a port this time, and that also lets you get numerous in-flight poses for this mode which is handy given its main (if only?) appearance is in space.

Of course no fully armoured Battroid would be complete without missile spam, and this version is no different.  Hatches open in the shoulders, chest and the legs revealing red-tipped missiles waiting to be flung at Zentradi scouts.  While individually they’re not removable you can swap out the missiles for spent versions, which is a teensy bit fiddly but also a lovely touch.  I mean, Bandai didn’t have to include it yet they did.

And that’s it, really, Bandai have gone above and beyond putting this together.  There are all of these neat little touches, and any of the part swapping is purely to make every mode clean, which they all are.  The base Battroid is something special, and it’ll be nice to see the future releases like the VF-1S in the Roy Fokker and Hikaru Ichijyo paint schemes or the trainer Hikaru first pilots, and the Zentradi vehicles that are coming too like the Regult and Glaug.  As the first release in the HI-METAL R line it’s pretty impressive, even being an upgrade of an existing figure, and the price of ¥10,584 (approx. £60/$90) isn’t too horrendous when you’re getting 3 beautiful modes and that chunky armour.

  • VF-1J Fighter mode

The Pros:The tl;dr

  • Fighter, Gerwalk and Battroid modes look fantastic
  • The transformation is intuitive and doesn’t require hefty part swapping
  • The armour looks amazing
  • Impressive for something so tiny

The Cons:

  • The big gap behind the head, there’s no Arcadia-like fill-ins
  • Parts like the sliders for the arms might succumb to wear in a snapping kind of way
  • There’s some part swapping, so keep your accessories to hand

The Result:

VIII

What does this score mean?

References
  1. Formerly Yamato.
  2. I’m guessing the “R” means Renewal, something Bandai seem to be all about at the moment. And they probably dropped the VF of their previous line as they’ll be including some non-Variable Fighter figures like the Zentradi battle pods.
  3. Now Arcadia. Yamato have been producing transforming Valkyries for the best part of 15 years.
  4. Bandai bought out Takatoku Toys in the mists of time, producers of the Valkyrie mould used for Hasbro’s Jetfire, and have since produced numerous Macross Valkyries, mostly from later series like Frontier and in the more familiar 1/60 scale.