Astro Toy Classic with Rob Bricken: Bit Char-G Fiat 500by Rob Bricken,
After last week's tragedy of the Sky Girls “toy,” I stormed into ANN HQ and angrily demanded a good toy (i.e., begged and sobbed hysterically). Thus, I'd like to introduce a new feature here at Astro Toy: Astro Toy Classic, where instead of reviewing something new and potentially very crappy, I review an older, classic toy that I know is good because I bought it for myself years ago. It's probably more for my sanity than you guys, but I hope you won't mind hearing about some of the awesomest anime toys of the last decade. If you do, let me know in the comments.
So I'm happy to start with one of my favorites, an absolute gem in that it is small and just about perfect — the Lupin the 3rd Castle of Cagliostro Bit Char-G mini-R/C car. If you've already seen Castle of Cagliostro — the Lupin film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and easily one of the greatest anime flicks ever made — you know that Lupin's Fiat 500 is part of one of the movie's outstanding car chase. The Bit Char-G replicates the Fiat, complete with Lupin driving and Jigen hanging out the top, in two and a quarter inches.
Both figures have better sculpting than I've seen in many an Astro Toy subject (that's more an indictment of previous Astro Toy subjects than praise for the Bit Char-G figures, which are well-sculpted but not mind-blowingly so). The car matches the cel animation line for line, complete with Lupin's secret turbo boost thing hidden in the trunk:
It also comes with a regular trunk piece if you don't want the turbo boost, but man, you have the world's greatest thief driving and the world's best gunman hanging out the sunroof — why wouldn't you want the turbo boost?
The R/C's small size is impressive, but what's more impressive is how well it moves. First check out the controller:
You'll notice the sigil of Cagilostro on there — not stunning, necessarily, but a very nice touch given its role in the movie. The two large buttons are very simply one for forward and backward, and one for right and left. That means — as opposed to most small and/or cheap R/C cars made in America — that the two-inch Bit Char-G has a full range of movement, and none of that forward and back-and-to-the-right crap. The antenna easily extends from the base, but also has a dial in the back for easy retraction, so it stays very compact. Charging the car itself is as easy as this:
And it doesn't take long. After not playing with this R/C for at least four years — oh, and apparently leaving the on switch on, necessitating new batteries — the car charged in less than a minute. I got 15+ minutes of driving time; really, I had to stop because I had to get back to writing Astro Toy) and at least 30 feet in range with no problems, which is the entirety of my office.
I'd forgotten how well the R/C actually handles, too. Man, this thing can make some seriously sharp turns — I'm talking a full 360 in the area of a softball. It actually probably turns too sharply, at least for those who first pick up the controller; it takes a minute to get used to how responsive the steering is. Occasionally, you'll actually turn it so fast the car will tip over, but given how fast the R/C car actually gets — I have no way to measure it, but it's pretty damn quick for such a tiny little car — it's not often at all. And once you get used to the speed and turning, you won't have any problems whatsoever.
And it comes with an inch-and-a-half little figure of Fujiko in her camo from the movie. I'm not sure why, exactly — she's not in the car scene in any way and the figure likewise really doesn't add anything to the play value — but it's a nice extra, I guess.
I cannot tell you how much this thing impresses me, even five years later. The car chase scene from Castle of Cagliostro is so grand I would have bought virtually any merchandise that reminds me of it (and I actually have, which might show up in a future Astro Toy Classic). To get an R/C version of Lupin's Fiat 500 is one thing; to have it include Lupin in the driver's seat and a gun-toting Jigen hanging out the sun roof is another thing, and it's totally awesome. Now, add the fact that it's not just an R/C car, but an adorably miniature one — and one that works so incredibly well… it all ends up as one of my favorite anime toy purchases of all time, and one of the gems in my collection.
The Lupin Bit Char-G was offered in 2001, so if you want one… I don't know what to tell you. There aren't any currently on ebay that I can find, but if one shows up, I'd expect to pay at least $50 for it, and probably more. Now, if you're more interested in the R/C aspect than the Lupin, TakaraTomy did make Bit Char-G versions of the cars from both Initial D and Speed Racer at least, and likely more. If you don't care about the anime aspect, there are plenty of Bit Char-G cars on ebay, although I think the Bit Char-G line is actually over in Japan. So you have some options, unless you want what I got. Which you should. Because it's awesome.
Even if my cat doesn't seem to think so. Remember, if you liked Astro Toy Classic — or loathed it to the core of your being and it fills you with the same kind of rage that I had for that Sky Girls piece of crap from last week — please let me know if the comments. Even if you guys like it, I probably won't run it more than once every 3 months or so. But even if you hate it, I very much appreciate the chance to heal from last week.
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