Nerd Rant: Robotech Toys, Then and Now
I was surfing around eBay the other day looking for affordable deals on horror and sci-fi collectibles, when I noticed this picture for one of the listings:
The listing was for a lot of five Ride Armor action figures from the short-lived anime series, Genesis Climber Mospeada, and that these action figures were made back in 2008 by a Japanese toy company called CM's Corporation. Mospeada was later redubbed in 1985 to become the third act of the Robotech saga known as either "The New Genenration" or "The Invid War", and the Ride Armors were renamed in the Robotech dub as "Cyclones". (For the sake of this post, I'll be using Robotech terminology and character names.) These are not the first Cyclone toys to be made, but these are the first--and so far only--Cyclone toys that have been made for 3 and 3/4 inch action figures and that actually transform from motorcycles to battle armor that can be worn by the figures.
From what I've heard, the CM's Cyclone toys have their own problems and they certainly aren't cheap. Yet the impressive details and features of toys of such a small size can't help but to evoke some comparisons between them and the Robotech toy line came before them in mid-80s courtesy of Matchbox. Read on for a more detailed comparison, along with some pictures for detail and scale.
I was around when Matchbox launched its small and short-lived Robotech line back in the mid-80s. It did two things right: It imported and repackaged a few transformable, die-cast metal toys from Japan, and it released toy versions of different alien mecha--Battlepods, Bioroids and Invid Troopers--that were previously unavailable anywhere else. Unfortunately, everything else that Matchbox did with the Robotech line was a disappointment. The action figures were poorly sculpted and of the vehicles that were produced for them, only one of them transformed--and even that transformation was partial and fell short of recreating its animated counterpart. How Matchbox though it was a good idea to release non-transformable vehicles under the toy license for a cartoon that's known for human-piloted combat vehicles that transformed into robots remains a mystery to me.
Fast forward to today, when many toys have become instant collector's items due to their new levels of detail and articulation. Looking at the gap between 80s era Robotech toys and the Robotech toys of today is absolutely astonishing, and CM's Cyclone toys are a perfect example. It's also worth noting that while Matchbox only produced a small number of action figures for the New Generation characters, CM's selection includes four major New Generation characters in battle armor and transforming Cyclones, as well as two more non-major-but-still-armored characters that also have transforming Cyclones. The CM's line includes armored figures of Scott Bernard, Rand, Rook Bartley, Lancer, Sue Graham, and a Robotech Expeditionary Force (REF) soldier.
In contrast, Matchbox only produced five figures for the New Generation chapter of Robotech; of those five, only the Scott Bernard figure wore battle armor, and that armor sculpt was both inaccurate and of poor quality. It also didn't help that the Matchbox Cyclone toy for the action figures didn't transform.
To be sure, CM's Cyclone toys are far from perfect and are much better suited for static display than anything remotely resembling play. According to several reviews, the action figures don't fit on the Cyclone cycles, and transforming the cycle to wearable armor is excruciating to accomplish and parts tend to fall off in the process. This level of quality doesn't match the toys' price tags. The cheapest stand-alone CM's Cyclone toy that I've found is $40, while the eBay listing I mentioned above currently comes in at $600, essentially over $100 per one 3 and 3/4 inch action figure.
Matchbox made a lot of missteps with its Robotech line, but one can only imagine how it would have done better if it had the level of detail and amount of features that the CM's Cyclone toys had. Even if Matchbox had to sacrifice a few details to make the toys more durable, action figures that can fit into the vehicles and have transformable battle armor is much more impressive than what they provided during Robotech's run on TV. Below are some pictures of a CM's Cyclone with two similarly scaled Matchbox-produced toys, an Invid Shock Trooper and a (modified) Hover Tank.
Click here to read Mospeada/Robotech toy reviews at the CollectionDX site. Click here to read the review of CM's Cyclone toys at the Scorched Earth Toys site, and click here to read Scorched Earth Toys' review of CM's Mospeada character figures.