Astro Toy with Rob Bricken: Yatterman Microman Action Series - Gan-chan and Ai-Chanby Rob Bricken, Sep 14th 2008
Before we begin today's Astro Toy lesson, we have to do a little research first. Please watch the accompanying video. Feel free to take notes.
The series is Yatterman, an old anime series that ran from 1977-1979 in Japan. To try and sum up the plot, two kids—Gan-chan and Ai-chan—and their giant robotic dog the Yatter-bark—try and stop a trio of idiotic thieves from finding the Dokuro Stone, which is supposed to lead to the largest deposit of gold in the world. Every Yatterman episode is the same: the stupid villains have a stupid plot to find the stone, Gan (the boy) and Ai (the girl) show up, the villains have a mecha which kicks the Yatter-bark's ass until Gan gives it its bone-shaped power pack, and then the Yatter-bark wins and the villains are vanquished. Every time.
Every time you think all anime is better than every American cartoon, I want you to think about Yatterman. It's like a Hanna-Barbara cartoon, if Hanna and Barbera were Japanese, or at least irreparably destroyed most of their cognitive skills with illegal drugs. Amazingly, despite its incredibly repetitive nature and Scooby-Doo-esque, wafer-thing premise, Yatterman is still very popular in Japan. Not only is there a new anime series which began this year—slated to run for an insane 70 episodes—but someone's making a live-action movie as well.
This drives me crazy, not the least of which because I purchased these two damn Yatterman figures. I didn't realize it when I ordered them, but they are indeed part of Takara Tomy's long-running Microman series, which besides a jillion original concepts, has done Evangelion characters (of course), Street Fighter, and many more. The Microman line is small—about 4-inches tall—and super-articulated, with more than 20 joints packed into each tiny frame. But the figures are best-known for their interchangeable parts, a feature that's effectively lost with these licensed characters, because they don't get any extra parts.
So that's the first strike. You're stuck with Gan-chan and Ai-chan as is, unless you want to give Gan Chun Li's legs or something. While the articulation is certainly impressive, the Microman figures are pretty much the inverse of most other Japanese toys, where they minimize joints (and make a hell of a lot of PVC and vinyl statues) to make sure the figure looks as accurate, and as nice, as possible. Since these tiny figures are about 40% joints, they're incredibly noticeable. Admittedly, it's not like the Yatterman duo has the most robust character designs or anything, but form has certainly been sacrificed for function.
But they are, indeed, super-poseable. Both figures have two torso joints and a neck joint with a decent range of movement, so you can put them in virtually any action position, and the joints are, impressively, all firm enough that they won't move on their own. If you want to disturbingly put Gan-chan's legs behind his head, you can. If you want Ai-chan to look like she's doing a backwards somersault, no problem. If you want both figures in the fetal position, looking like they're sobbing hysterically because their anime makes no damn sense, you can do that too.
But here's where the problems begin, because although the joints aren't loose, their groins are. Seriously. The way the Microman body is designed, the hip joints are connected directly to the lower torso, and the groin piece is merely slid on over top, not connected to anything. It looks fine when the figure is right side up, but if you turn it upside down, the groin falls an 1/8th of an inch—doesn't sound like much, but when the figure is only 4-inches tall, it sure looks weird.
So maybe that's not a deal breaker, but the problems don't end with their crotches (if I only had a nickel for every time I'd said that). Frankly, their paint jobs are bad. They're certainly not up to the usual Japanese standard of toy excellence; now, I'm unfamiliar with the rest of the Microman line, so perhaps I got a bad batch, or perhaps it's just the Yatterman series. There's not a lot of paint needed on these guys—just their hats, shirts and a few other details, but it's very sloppy. And for some reason, Gan-chan's chest/neck is a separate piece from his shirt…and it doesn't fit right. His chest extends out farther than his shirt. It's really disturbing.
And most importantly, the immense poseability that is the figures’ best strength turns into a major weakness when you try to stand the damn things up. There are very few poses that make sense where the two will stay up right—you've probably seen most of them in the pictures above. If any figure line deserved to come with stands, it's the Microman line. But they don't. So you're screwed. Less problematic but still irritating is the fact that when posing the figures, the limbs and hands and almost everything fly off at an alarming rate. Now, they all easily pop back in, thanks to the Microman series’ design. But that's small comfort when you're trying to pose Ai-chan in a battle pose and her thigh keeps launching itself across the room.
As for accessories, Gan-chan comes with his kendama (which does nothing), and Ai-chan comes with her extendable baton, which doesn't extend—she just comes with a plan handle, and then a handle with the baton extended. Both figures have a pouch-shaped slot on their belts to put their weapons, which is shockingly badly pained for being just black and white. Gan also has four extra sets of hands, and Ai has three.
Besides Gan-chan and Ai-chan, the first wave included the evil leader of the villains Doronjo, and apparently, her two henchmen—Boyakki and Tonzura, whose stylized character designs don't work with the regular Microman body type at all—will be out in Japan later this month. If you're a huge Yatterman fan—and God help you if you are—then I still can't recommend these figures. At their original Japanese price of about 800 yen, they might be a value, but once they get marked up for import, they just aren't worth it. It's okay to let the Japanese keep some anime series.
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