Another year done. Hasbro continued to release Transformers Combiner Wars, Takara followed suit with Unite Warriors, Bandai‘s Tokustatsu love continued apace, and the smaller companies couldn’t help but get in on the act. In fact this year has been pretty good for smaller companies. The “independent transforming toy”, colloquially known as 3rd Party, companies really started working hard on taking cash from Transformers fans, and some of Japan’s smaller companies kept up the game they had started showing in 2014, if not surpassing it.
So let’s look at the special things from across the year with some action figure awards…
The “Best Equipped Yet Still Troubled Newtype” Award for Most Gundammy Gundam
Surprisingly few Gundam have come out this year largely because a huge number of them were crammed into the end of 2014. Contenders all came from Bandai, mostly the Robot Spirits/Damashii line, in the form of the G-Self from Reconguista in G, a couple of ZZ variants, a few new Crossbone Gundams, the lacklustre V-Dash, Shining and Master from G Gundam, Freedom and Justice from Gundam SEED Destiny, and even the titchy NXEDGE Style Astray Red. But nothing can compete with the winner on sheer level of madness and scale, so I proudly announce the winner, and most Gundammy Gundam, is the Robot Spirits Ka Signature RX-104FF Penelope:
A veritable giant who I could barely fit into shot, the Penelope has it all. It’s white and blue with dashes of red and yellow, it has the pointiest of crests and, more importantly it’s blatantly ridiculous. Inside the armour is the Odysseus Gundam, itself a prime example of Gundamness, but the armour really tops it off.
The “Sing A Song of Sixpence” Award for Most Crow Eaten By Me Over a Toy
There was only really one contender in this category. I even wrote a post complaining about it. Yes, it’s ThreeA‘s Judge Death. I still aim to do a video review on him at some point in the near future, but for the time being let’s just accept that ThreeA have done a good job and deserve a pat on the head. That’s not to say they’re completely off the hood for being iffy, but this is a celebration of toys so let’s not dwell on the bad:
The “Look At the Size Of It” Award for Gargantuant Official Transformers
There have been some sizable Transformers this year from Hasbro and Takara. The Leader class of Combiner Wars saw a couple of entrants in the form of the Jetfire-based Thundercracker as well as an excellent version of More Than Meets The Eye‘s Ultra Magnus, but then there was Masterpiece. MP-24 was Star Saber, from the Japanese Victory series, a veritable giant of a transforming toy, consisting of a Brainmaster that goes into the jet to form Saber and then connects with the V-Star to form Star Saber, it’s an immense toy, full of ratchets to keep it up… but it’s just missing something. A spark. And that comes in the form of a character who I’m just letting in to this awards because he saw release right at the end of 2014, and that’s MP-22 Ultra Magnus. There’s something truly special about this version of the City Commander. While his cab doesn’t transform into a little white Optimus Prime, it still echoes Prime‘s truck form and folds so incredibly neatly into the trailer to form Magnus. And it detaches! Seriously, there’s something crazy special about this giant of a Masterpiece:
The “They Grow Them Big” Award for Most Chunky Unofficial Transformer
There’s been an unhealthy twist in the output from independent transforming toy companies in the form of attempts to compete with Takara‘s Masterpiece line. I say unhealthy, that’s largely because it puts the cost of these already expensive toys up considerably as you tend to get an upswing in the amount of die-cast and how complicated they are. X-Transbots opened early with Apollyon, their version of Megatron, DX-9 tried to out-Rodimus Takara with Carry as well as putting out an Astrotrain (Chigurgh) and Galvatron (Tyrant) , and Fanstoys went absolutely crazy throwing out Dinobot-a-like Sever (Snarl) as well as a Perceptor (Tesla) and Insecticon Bombshell (Grenadier). But none of these took my fancy. Instead I went for MakeToys output, picking up their Hound (Gun Dog) and more applicably to this category their Chromdome in the form of Cupola. I’m a sucker for Headmasters and, buying numerous Deluxe-scale entrants like FansProject‘s Function-X line, so couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick up something bigger, and from a quality assured company like MakeToys. The Headmaster is like Warden‘s from PerfectEffect, nicely articulated and folding up neatly into his head mode. The vehicle mode looks amazingly like the G1 Chromedome, and sits huge alongside the official Masterpiece cars, but really it’s the robot mode that makes this guy impressive. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with MP-10 Prime, Cupola is a huge pile of plastic with excellent articulation and some die-cast chunk to hold it together. So good. So, so tall:
The “You Made Him Stilts?” Award for Bizarre Upgrades For Your Own Toys
The winner of this award just scraped into 2015 and is quite obviously (if you’re a fan of Transformers third-party toys) PerfectEffect‘s Warden Upgrade set. Warden was one of my best toys of 2014 purely because it was so well put together. The entire figure seemed complete, but there were complaints that he wasn’t tall enough to be the More Than Meets The Eye Fort Max he was clearly designed to be, and PerfectEffect took those on board and made a kit to lift him up. I didn’t really have a problem with Warden’s size, but putting on the stilts really does make a difference, so now he stands tall as can be, complete with a new gun that they graciously included in the set:
The “Light Up Your Life” Award for Prodigious Use of LEDs In Toys
I’m sure there could be more contenders for this than the winner, but I don’t own any toys by them. So an easy win it was for Sentinel Toy. This isn’t surprising given that last year saw the first release of the RE:Edit Iron Man Armour, the Bleeding Edge, with its light up chest & helmet. It naturally followed that this line would continue to have these gimmicks and sure enough that’s what happened. Add to that Sentinel introduced the Tatsunoko Heroes Fighting Gear line with a light up chest gimmick, and even released some more of their 2014 light-up Microman figures (a really well articulated version of the original Microman) – coincidentally (maybe) their Tatsunoko line mimics Takara‘s early 2000s Microman line in featuring Hurricane Polymer, Casshern and Gatchaman Ken. In just the RE:Edit and Fighting Gear lines Sentinel released 7 figures, and boy do they like lighting up. In the pictures below we have Gatchaman Joe (Fighting Gear), War Machine (RE:Edit), Casshern (Fighting Gear), Iron Man Extremis (RE:Edit) and Gatchaman Ken (Fighting Gear). In addition to that Sentinel released Hurricane Polymer (Fighting Gear) and Iron Patriot (RE:Edit). So ridiculously fun, albeit rarely used so the battery doesn’t die out:
The “Aren’t You A Little Short To Be A Sith?” Award for Services To Adorable Sith Lords
Easy winner here, Good Smile‘s Nendoroid Darth Vader. I mean, c’mon, how cute is he? So tiny, so Sith. Look at his little hand using the force! D’awwww. He even comes with a (not pictured) miniature Death Star. It’s almost too much cute to bear:
The “What Is Best In Life?” Award for The Lamentations Of Toy Customisers
Every now and again a toy gets released that draws a deep breath from that toy’s fandom as up until that point it’s been the purview of the toy customising community. It happened a couple of years ago with the GI Joe Collector’s Club‘s Figure Subscription Service including Action Force’s Quarrel, this year Hasbro released Viper, a Cobra Rattler inspired repaint & remould of Combiner Wars Powerglide, as well as curbing the customisers by releasing repaints & remoulds of Combiner Wars Dead End & Firefly as Brake-Neck (aka Wildrider) & Quickslinger (aka Slingshot) respectively. But those were somewhat eclipsed by the winner which comes in the form of a whole toy line which, although it debuted in 2014, really found its feet in 2015. Over the years there’s been a customisation that’s been done quite often, the best of which is still Sillof’s group of figures, and that’s Samurai-inspired versions of Star Wars characters. Not that this was really a surprise seeing as George Lucas was inspired in part by Akira Kurosawa‘s films (notably Hidden Fortress), but what was a surprise was Bandai acquiring the Star Wars license and not only adding them to their SH Figuarts line, but creating a brand new line just for Star Wars figures. Enter the Meisho Movie Realization line, a series dedicated to Star Wars characters re-envisioned as if in the Edo period. The first release in the series was Samurai Daisho (General) Darth Vader in late 2014, but it’s really 2015 that has seen it running away with the release of the Ashigaru (Footsoldier) Stormtrooper, Ronin (Masterless Samurai) Boba Fett and finally a new version of Samurai Daisho Darth Vader, in “Death Star Armour”, changing the Uchidashi dou gusoku (embossed cuirass) to a Nio dou gusoku armour similar to the Stormtrooper, shaped to look like an emaciated Buddhist monk. The Ashigaru Stormtrooper garnered much criticism from Star Wars fans for it sporting nipples, but it’s an attention to detail to be applauded not derided, just as with the Stormtroopers blaster becoming a flintlock pistol. Ronin Boba Fett added an injection of colour with his vibrant green armour and yellow pauldrons, and replacing his wrist-rockets for a throwing knife, which is going to be followed up in 2016 with the brightest Imperial in Star Wars, the Red Guard (complete with robes & staff weapon). And the Stormtroopers will be getting new members to their ranks in the form of the Teppo (Gun) Ashigaru Sand Trooper and Taikoyaku (Battle drummer) Stormtrooper. I kid you not, there’s going to be a Stormtrooper sporting a drum… this is why this line is so stupidly amazing:
The “You Can Stick Your Cheap Toys” Award for Most Stepping On Other Companies’ Toes
There quite are a few contenders for this. Obviously the “Independent Transforming Toy” companies all have releases that fall into this bracket, but there was one shining star in the form of Bandai. And to whom do the toes belong? Well, let’s see. In 2013 Bandai picked up the Iron Man license and produced two SH Figuarts figures for Iron Man 2, then in 2014 followed that up with Iron Man 3 figures in the form of Iron Patriot and the Mk. 42 armour, but for 2015 they didn’t settle for just Iron Man and instead spread to Age of Ultron with 5 new releases: Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man Mk 45 and the Tamashii Web Exclusive War Machine Mk 2. As well as that they picked up the Star Wars license for 2015, releasing no fewer than 8 figures, 3 from the Original Trilogy, 3 from the Prequels, and 2 from the new Force Awakens, none of which were Tamashii Web Exclusives. That’s an amazing number of retail releases in this line, and makes up almost %20 of SH Figuarts figures released in 2015. And of them the only figure that undeniably suffered from a Figuarts incarnation was Darth Vader with his terribly-designed, near-rigid plastic cape. So we have Star Wars and characters from Marvel‘s biggest grossing superhero film in 2015, who else holds the rights to produce figures on these properties? Of course the answer is Hasbro. Now this isn’t about impact on sales, I can’t see low production run, Japan-only toys doing much harm to Hasbro‘s coffers, this is entirely about quality of product. The combination of multiple, swappable hands, crisp paint jobs, and the clean sculpts of the Figuarts line really do show up Hasbro‘s versions, especially with the additional articulation that finds its way into Figuarts like the forward & backward flex of the shoulders, armour that rotates independently around limbs and those infamous hips. Even where these aren’t entirely on show, such as with the Stormtrooper and Clonetrooper, whose armour limits their movement somewhat, there’s something natural, and comfortable, about the way you can pose the figures. Oh, and I have a new found love for the Battle Droid, they might be flimsy as hell, and have been stupid in the films & TV show, but this version of them is an awesome action figure:
The “Mad Circus Act Gang” Award for Services To The Miracles Of Magnets
Magnets keep finding their way into action figures, but this year has mostly seen magnets used to swap out parts. So there’s a magnet holding on the Herocross Hybrid Metal Figuration Scar Predator‘s masked and unmasked heads, and Hot Toys Robocop using magnets to change from the clean chest to the scarred chest. But there’s one company that decided that magnets were the most important thing, and that’s Evolution Toy. Now I hadn’t really heard much of Evolution Toy, but they decided to release Getter Dragon, my favourite classic super robot, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to try him out. Turns out every limb, and his head, are attached by magnets, something I haven’t seen done for a while, and mostly done by Takara with their Microman figures. And it’s done well. But that’s not all, they’ve also give you the opportunity to break up the body and, admittedly with additional parts, use the magnets to put together the three component Getter Machines, Dragon, Liger & Poseidon. It’s a fantastic way to get maximum use out of the magnet gimmick:
The “Street Hawk Memorial Award” for Most Fictional Motorbikes
Our contender stands alone in this category. Any company that produces that many Masked Rider figures will inevitably produce the most motorbikes. So Bandai it is again, with a fleet of cycles for the Masked Riders and the cast of Android Kikaider that are in their SH Figuarts line. From front to back we have Kikaider 01‘s Double Machine, Masked Rider Amazon‘s Jungler, Hakaider‘s White Crow, Masked Rider Kuuga‘s Trychaser 2000, Masked Rider V3‘s Hurricane and Masked Rider 2‘s improved Cyclone:
The “Macho Man Too Hot To Handle Too Cold To Hold” Award for Services to Posing Action Figures
Many action figures these days come with stands, each one a slight variation. Good Smile‘s Figma uses a 3-joint arm with a connector to plug into the back of their toys that plugs into a hexagonal stand. Medicom‘s MAFEX have their own hexagonal base with 3-joint arm which has an adjustable head to grip a character’s waist, and plugs in to a more square . Sentinel Toys use two different stands, a 3-joint arm with an adjustable head to grip a character that has a square base that the arm can be connected to at different points, and the Hall Of Armour stand that comes with the RE:Edit Iron Man figures that has a solid metal bar that a grip attaches to for holding your Iron Men in a flying pose (it also has padding to prevent it scratching their beautifully painted armour). Even Takara are getting in on the act by providing Masterpiece MP-25 Tracks with a stand for his flight mode. But none, absolutely none, of these come close to the winner. One company have a whole line dedicated to stands, dubbed Stages, and this year have released two completely new stands systems. One is an evolution of their primary stand system that is designed to let you combine multiple stand sections together in order to pose multiple figures together, called the ACT. Combination (seen in the Getter Machines photo above). But really this is about their other stand system, the ACT. Ring Corner.
Designed for the SH Figuarts Kinnikuman wrestling figures, this Tamashii Stage by Bandai recreates the corner post of a wrestling ring, complete with rope and includes a few new components that elevate this stand system beyond being just for wrestling figures, letting your Figuarts pose at almost any angle and pull off almost any wrestling move if the figure’s articulation can cope with it. And what’s more all of these components are completely compatible with Bandai‘s other Tamashii Stages. But that’s not all, these ACT. Ring Corner stands are designed to allow you to connect them together, and if you get 4 together you can build a complete wrestling ring. It’s absurd, but so much fun. With all of their Tamashii Stage variants currently on offer Bandai have created a huge system that means you no longer have to leave your figures in a flat-footed pose on their shelf, but can have them Rider Kicking, flying, or fighting at all kinds of angles. Bandai, I salute you for your supreme efforts:
The “Like New, But Not New” Award for Repaint I Didn’t Realise I Wanted Until I Wanted It
There have been some killer repaints this year. The winner for Most Gundammy Gundam is actually a subtle repaint released a month after its original release, bringing out the awesomeness even more out of the insane figure. There was the straight repaint of the SH Figuarts Stormtrooper into a Black Hole Trooper, and who isn’t a sucker for black repaints? But these pale into comparison with the antics of Takara. Not content with tweaking the colour schemes of numerous Combiner Wars figures into Unite Warriors, or releasing an actually blue Bluestreak in the Masterpiece line, Takara went utterly mad for repaints in their Transformers Adventure line. This line included not just the new toys found in Hasbro‘s Transformers Robots in Disguise, often repainted, but figures from something like the past 10 years of Transformers. 2014’s Generations Scoop turned from orange to the most Constructicon of greens to become Roadblock (we saw what you did there, Takara). 2011’s Generations Sky Shadow got darker to become Black Shadow. And then there were the true outliers, 2008’s Transformers Animated Snarl and Swoop who became a Slug and, uh, Swoop. Snarl turned purple to become Slug but Swoop… oh Swoop… Swoop stole Sky Shadow‘s colours (which might explain Black Shadow‘s new scheme), and flew screaming into the night in them. This Swoop is truly gorgeous, the gold of his face is stunning, and the bold reds pop crazily over the black. Transformers Animated Swoop is a good toy in itself, but his colours really do pale into comparison with what Takara achieved on this almost random release (I say ‘almost’ because Grimlock is in RiD, and the Animated Dinobots are pretty much the closest look you’ll get to RiD‘s). You have to take your hat off to Takara for delving back 7 years for toys to use, and for using up Sky Shadow‘s colours to make it. Genius:
The Bestest Award for the Bestest Of The Bestest
Overall it’s been a pretty darn good year for action figures. Looking through the above that’s some good ol’ stuff, and that’s without including some of the ridiculous things that happened later in the year with the release of the Rideron, Masked Rider Black RX‘s car, or the accessory Good Smile released for their Figma of Girls Und Panzer, a scale Panzer IV Ausf D. Yes, a tank, at 1/12 scale. That’s a bloody big tank, especially when it has a battery operated driving gimmick. Yes, this year has been good, and quite, quite crazy. Next year seems to promise more of the same with Bandai kicking off the year with a combo of Ranma Saotome from Ranma 1/2 and Bruce Lee in their Figuarts line. It’s not long until Takara unleash Masterpiece Ironhide on the world. Sentinel are starting with their final RE:Edit so far, the Hulkbuster. ThreeA have Judge Dredd, his Lawmaster and Judge Fear dropping at some point during the year (see, I told you that crow-eating wouldn’t last). And the “independent transforming toy” companies are showing no signs of quitting. In fact MakeToys have RE:Master Iron Will aka Hardhead and Hellfire (Inferno) due in the early part of the year to add to GunDog and Cupola. It’s a great time to be an action figure fan. Or a bad time if you’re working to a budget. Damn budgets.
For me the winner this year has been Bandai, which is kind of clear from the above. On top of those that have won my cheesy awards there’s the HI-METAL R Valkyrie and Masked Rider Hibiki that I reviewed and their output has been incredible. There are still more Star Wars figures coming from them, starting with Phantom Menace‘s Obi-Wan (I’m really hoping for a Qui-Gon Jinn), and continuing with Captain Phasma and Mace Windu with Tamashii Web Exclusives in the form of a Scout Trooper and his Speeder Bike from Return of the Jedi and popular First Order trooper, the riot control trooper. They also have the license for Captain America: Civil War so we’ll be seeing a new Cap and Iron Man at the very least (hopefully Falcon, a new War Machine and most of all Black Panther). And we’re also getting some Zentradi gear in the HI-METAL R line. Ooh, and I’d better not forget the new sub-line for Robot Spirits, A.N.I.M.E. which features fresh versions of the RX-78-2 Gundam, MS-06 Zaku II and MS-09 Dom from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Exciting times.
So well done to Bandai, Takara, MakeToys, Good Smile, Sentinel and even ThreeA for making some of the best toys I’ve seen this year, and here’s to a toy-packed 2016.