Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Wh-wh-what? A robot? But robots never go over well on Astro Toy! Trust me, we noticed, and that's why this is the first mecha toy on the column since November. I have to savor these times I allow myself, alright? Indulge me. (And of course, tell your mecha-loving friends about the column if you like this kind of thing like I do!)
I figured that the next time I looked at a robot, it'd be something from the Composite Ver.Ka line: these are figures of notable non-Gundam work (his work on Gundam has its own long-running line, Gundam Fix) by the legendary and fan-favorite anime mechanical designer Hajime Katoki. The Unicorn Gundam (and every other machine in that show)? That's Katoki. Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz? Katoki didn't just fix those robots, he saved them. We'd be here all day if I talked about every anime he's worked on, but the dude is pretty prolific. “Multiple toy lines based on his art” prolific.
I was first curious about the Composite Ver. Ka line because of the Gurren Lagann figure and its awesome Giga Drill Breaker accessory. Unfortunately, Katoki made Gurren look like an Ed Hardy T-shirt, so I gave that figure a pass. The Haruhi-bot is, to be blunt, mismatched and hideous. It's like Katoki fished it out of the trash from when he was working on-- Virtual On! Of course! And that's how this Anime News Network column went from machines from Gurren Lagann, Haruhi, and even Code Geass to an old Sega arcade game. As Jacky Bryant might say, “Yeah!”
The toy is cool enough that I think I can make up the difference. You guys know I like to bet on the oddball, right?
(I actually joked about buying this toy on a previous column, but here I am reviewing it anyway.)
I'm going to espouse an unpopular opinion among robot nerds and say that Katoki's work on Virtual On is my all-time favorite work of his. It's The Future, you know? I don't mean the depressing future we live in right now with the iPhones, I mean The Future. The one from the YMO videos. That brightly colored, shining, boxy technotopia. Sigh. I wish I lived there. This too may have had something to do with my selection.
I like this color scheme a lot, too: the metallic blue with laser-green “lights” around the body and the horizontal “eyes”, punctuated by spots of yellow. It's certainly gaudy, but I don't think it's completely overstated (and yes, Temjin eventually got to that point). Katoki's high-detail designs are famously hard to animate: only big-budget projects like Unicorn even try. But everything about this machine was designed to look good in a very basic 3D videogame: the strong, distinct colors, the simple geometry. (Naturally, all the markings weren't present in the original title.) As the protagonist robot, Temjin is vaguely Gundam-like, but it's really in a whole other universe.
As is common in Katoki's work, Temjin has markings and decals all over. The fine painting work in these places is very clean, and I suspect this detailing has something to do with the price tag.
Now check out the backpack! As seen in the games, this really is a little Sega Saturn (Japanese model) on the robot's back. You see, kids, a Sega Saturn was this big old box we used to use to play Vampire Savior.... oh, forget it. You'd never understand. Note that on this particular figure, there are some paint smudges on this bit, particularly around the “cartridge slot”. That was a thing that... oh, forget it. You'd never understand.
Of course, the disc door pops open and they've kindly included a disc for you to put inside. What does it do? That's not the point! Just make sure you don't try and shut the disc door while the plastic disc is in there: you'll break the backpack and you definitely won't get to play Vampire Savior.
As for armament, Temjin is packing his beam rifle, grenade, and beam sword. These are as colorful, finely detailed, and wonderfully boxy as the robot itself. This is no Gundam weapons set: there's no attempt at realism. There's a mythology behind them, but let's be honest: these aren't “real type” robots. Katoki just went with what looked cool.
Speaking of the unrealistic, there's a huge, transparent green “beam” that slips over the beam sword. Be careful with this: the sword has thin, forked edges and I suspect it'd be very easy to chip the paint or even break an edge by pushing it in too hard. It's the same thing we see in the game, but as you can see, it makes things a little heavy. Temjin is going to have a hard time holding the thing aloft no matter what you do with it. Making this a detachable bit was the smart move, but an additional stand, like what Figma has done for bulky accessories, would have been smarter. I think I'll go loot my Black Rock Shooter Figma...
The Gundam Fix line and the Composite offshoot have always come with stands (unlike some of Bandai's other lines that I've complained about), and nothing changes here. It's a nice, understated thing with the model number and name, in keeping with the line. The box features a ton of poses taken directly from the game, with the disclaimer “this is an image”. This is toy company code for “the figure can technically assume this pose, but don't expect the thing to stand up”. My expectations were low, but lo and behold, the stand does it. It's very simple, like many other Bandai robot stands: the stand has a peg and Temjin can be perched in several different ways, allowing all the dashing and jumping stuff from the game to happen. Minimalist, and not on the level of a Revoltech/Figma type stand (or Bandai's own Tamashii Stage, which I haven't used but have complained about here), but it does the job.
If you hadn't picked up on it by now, the mechanical design has won me over more and more as I've played with this toy. and this is a very nice representation of an unlikely subject. Worth $60-some? Well, like I say every week: the cost of importing Japanese toys is just out of hand. Is this toy worth it on the crazy-high scale of Japanese toys? Sure is. This one's going up on the shelf with Alt and HMO Miku.
This figure ran us about $64 at Big Bad Toy Store. Expect to pay the same for other figures in the same line. This is the only recent Virtual On action figure of which I'm aware, (Sega did some back in the day, boy were they ugly) but if you like this design, there's a small army of plastic kits from Wave, Kotobukiya and Hasegawa.
NEXT ENEMY: -UNKNOWN-
When he isn't killing time on fighting games and mahjong, David Cabrera gets hype about anime, manga and gaming at Subatomic Brainfreeze. You can follow him on Twitter @sasuraiger.