Showing posts from 2013

Four Fun Robot Toys from Mego’s Micronauts Line

In this last installment of my year-end series about cool robot toys from Japan, I've decided to look back at one of the classics: Takara’s Microman line, which was released in the U.S. in the late '70s by Mego under the name Micronauts. Micronauts was a contemporary of another line of imported Japanese robot toys, Mattel’s Shogun Warriors, and both lines even had comic book series published by Marvel. While Shogun Warriors featured Super Robots from several anime series that had pilots and combination configurations, that toy line didn’t have any pilot figures or robot figures with combination capabilities; in contrast, Micronauts provided the first examples of mech and combiner robot toys to kids in the U.S. Read on for a look at four of Micronauts’ groundbreaking toys.

Getting it Right with Getter Robo Toys

Because I live in the U.S. and not Japan, my first introduction to combiner robots came through Japanese toy lines that were imported into the U.S. during the '80s: Gobots, Transformers and Voltron. Since each of these toy lines had its own cartoon series, it was generally assumed that if you saw a group of vehicles or robots combining together to form a gigantic robot in the cartoon, there was also a toy available that could do the same thing. After all, who would taunt potential toy buyers with a cartoon that showed vehicles and robots doing something that their toy versions couldn't do, right?

What I didn't know at the time and only found out recently was that the concept of a combiner robot actually began in the '70 with a manga and anime series called Getter Robo. In Getter Robo, three combat jets would combine together to form a giant robot; depending on the sequence of the jets' combination, a different giant robot would be formed. Getter Robo was very popula…

The Mighty Miniature Robots of Machine Robo

Sometimes, I don't know what I would do without the Internet, particularly when I look up things that were well-known at one time but have since faded into obscurity. In the ancient times when print media ruled the information landscape, it could take up to days, weeks, and even months to track down publications that mention trends or products that are no longer considered popular by mainstream culture. With the Internet, the same kind of search can only take a few hours or even minutes, especially because amateur writers can publish whatever they want online without being solely driven or restricted by profit.

This intro brings me to the topic of this post, Bandai's Machine Robo toy line. Machine Robo started in 1982 and it was one of the earliest toy lines based on robots that can transform into vehicles. Bandai started exporting these toys to other countries in 1983, and Tonka distributed them in the United States under its Gobots line. As anyone who grew up in the '80s …

Great Moments in Toy Robot History: Shogun Warriors

The origins of popular and recurring trends in pop culture can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint, especially trends that have gone on for so long that they become an accepted fixture of everyday life. For this post, I'm talking about Japanese robot toys that are imported and sold in the U.S. I'm sure robot fans who are around my age will remember how Japanese robot toys dominated the shelves of toy stores during the 80s, but the trend of U.S. toy companies securing the rights to sell Japanese robot toys in North America actually began in the 70s with Mattel's Shogun Warriors. While the Shogun Warriors line didn't last long, its influence would impact the toy industry for decades to come. Read on for my retrospective of this trend-setting toy line.

Big 'Bots and Belligerent Behemoths Clash in Pacific Rim (2013)

Since I'm planning to wrap up 2013 with a look back at a few examples of Japanese robot toys--one of my favorite kind of toys--I thought I would kick off this year-end series of posts with a review of Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, one of the big-budget releases from last summer that I missed when it was playing in the theaters.

Summer blockbusters have never been held in high regard by the film critic community, and such critics have been particularly displeased with Hollywood's over-usage of CGI effects to produce increasingly bigger and louder blockbuster movies. To be sure, such criticism is not entirely inaccurate: CGI does permit the creation of larger-scale environments and set pieces in ways that miniatures, matte paintings and other practical effect techniques could never allow. As such, CGI has enabled the production of many, many summer blockbusters that are enormous in terms of spectacle but conspicuously short in terms of creative ideas and conceptual depth.…

The Fantastic Four(th): A Review of Lou & Yana's JawsFest 4 DVD

They said they wouldn't do it ... but the fans demanded otherwise. Thus, with great pleasure I had the privilege of recently receiving a screener copy of Lou & Yana's JawsFest 4: Revenge of the Finatics DVD. This DVD marks fourth and final installment in Lou and Dianna "Yana" Pisano's series of fan-made videos that are devoted to Jaws, the franchise that it spawned, and the locations at Martha's Vineyard and elsewhere that made the franchise possible.

Of course, the Pisanos' previous trilogy of JawsFest DVDs are extremely comprehensive about Jaws and its connections to Martha's Vineyard, so what could possibly be left to cover? PLENTY. Read on for my complete review of Lou & Yana's JawsFest 4, a DVD with plenty of interviews, location tours, sing-a-longs, and shark jumpings.

Crayola Encourages Budding Kaiju Fans Through Its Create 2 Destroy Toy Line

Imagine this holiday shopping scenario: You're a life-long fan of giant monster movies and want to foster an appreciation of such entertainment in the next generation of geeks--your kids, your nieces and nephews, or both. However, you think that they're too young to grasp the finer points of such giant monster mashes such as Godzilla, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and Pacific Rim, so you have no idea what to get them for Christmas. Well, never fear because Crayola has got your back this year with its Create 2 Destroy line of playsets.

The Create 2 Destroy playsets aren't strictly kaiju merchandise, but they might as well be because half of the playsets involve giant monsters trashing a city, a shopping mall, and a suburban community. These playsets make up the Dino Destruction sub-series, where kids use Morphix (Crayola's answer to Play-Doh) to mold cars, buildings and trees that the included dinosaurs can stomp with their feet and crush with their jaws. Some of the …

Painting Giant Robot Model Kits Anime Style

I love detailed miniature replicas of monsters, robots and spaceships from my favorite horror and sci-fi franchises, but the ability to competently assemble model kits of such replicas has always eluded me. I particularly admire those who can paint kits of robots, spaceships and other machines in a way that makes them look used (exposed to the elements, battle damage, etc.). In fact, I frequently regarded this kind of modeling skill as a remarkable achievement ... and then I saw this:

Yes, this really is a photo of a plastic model kit.

From what I read on Kotaku, a talented model builder in Japan has painted a Valkyrie kit from the Super Dimension Fortress Macross anime series (which is known to some as Robotech) in a cel shading style that makes the model appear as if it was pulled directly out of the Macross cartoon.

This makes sense, actually--since the Valkyrie design was originally intended for animation, why not paint a Valkyrie model kit like it was part of a cartoon? The picture …

Alien Franchise Update: Reboots, Sequels, and a Prequel Sequel

As a horror and sci-fi nerd, I do what I can to keep my franchise scorecard up to date. Right now, Star Wars and the superhero universes of DC and Marvel are currently developing a selection of movie and TV releases, while many other franchises are stuck in some form of reboot--either making another reboot sequel (Star Trek), preparing to release a reboot (RoboCop), or starting pre-production of a reboot (Terminator). I've also been keeping current with developments in the Alien franchise, which has a number of projects in development but only one movie in the works. Read on for more details about what 20th Century Fox has in store for the horror franchise where no one can hear you scream.

Shogun Warrior-Sized Bender Challenges You to Bite His Colossal Metal Ass

Good news, everyone! Futurama may be officially cancelled (for now), but its merchandising license lives on in a variety of collectibles. This month, Toynami is releasing a limited edition Shogun Warrior version of Bender that's 24-inches tall and includes spring-loaded arms for fist-firing action. I'm not sure if this version of Bender has any other features, so I don't know if this chest panel opens or how many points of articulation he has. Nevertheless, if you're willing to pay the $150 price for this collectible item, you can have Bender pick fights with other Shogun Warrior robots and terrorize 6-inch scale Futurama action figures.

Network Television was Better Off with Better Off Ted

I have to give Netflix credit: Because of its wide selection of television titles, it’s a great resource for me to find high-quality but short-lived series that somehow escaped my attention when they were originally aired. (This is a welcome change from most television syndication arrangements, where only popular shows are aired repeatedly on channels other than the one that originally aired them.) In fact, it was thanks to Netflix that I found Better Off Ted, a wickedly intelligent satire of corporate culture that aired for two 13 episode seasons on ABC from 2009 to 2010.

Better Off Ted is a half-hour sitcom that takes place in the offices of Veridian Dynamics, a monolithic mega-corporation that engages in all sorts of odd and amoral activities to increase worker productivity and maximize profits, often at the expense of everyone and everything else. The characters consist of the titular Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a single father who heads Veridian’s research and development departm…

After Nearly Three Decades, Blockbuster Goes Bust

I'm sure you heard the news by now that Blockbuster, the one-time reigning champ of the home video rental business, is finally closing for good. After winding down for years with increased competition from rivals such as Netflix and Redbox, all Blockbuster stores will be closed as of January 2014.

During the heyday of home video rentals, I didn't have access to a Blockbuster store. The nearest one was almost an hour away, so my VHS rental choices were limited to the local video stores in the town where I lived. What this meant for me--and as I'm sure it meant for others who lived in remote rural locations--is that Blockbuster represented the best of VHS rental selections. The video stores nearest to me were able to keep up with the high-profile theatrical releases of the 80s and 90s and they introduced me to low-budget curiosities such as Equinox and The Flesh Eaters, but their overall selections of films from the 1930s up to the 70s were extremely poor. Thus, if I wanted t…

Kenner's Imperial Troop Transporter Gets Lego-ized

As I mentioned in a previous post, the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels animated series will incorporate some of Kenner's classic Star Wars toy designs as part of the series' selection of vehicles and weaponry, such as Kenner's Imperial Troop Transporter toy. Thus, it makes sense for avid Lego hobbyist BaronSat (a.k.a. Eric Druon) to make a Lego version of the Troop Transporter that's in scale with official Lego Star Wars minifigs. Check it out:

BaronSat's Lego Imperial Troop Transporter (above) and Kenner's original toy (below).

Click below to see more pictures of BaronSat's Lego version of the Imperial Troop Transporter, along with a new Lego Hoth playset that he recently produced that draw inspiration from Kenner's short-lived Star Wars Micro Collection line.

Mental Health Care Runs Amuck in Psycho-Pass Anime Series

One of the best things about Japanese anime is that as a means of storytelling, it is not limited to specific areas of subject matter. Whereas most American animation is usually limited to kid-friendly material, anime can be applied to just about any genre (drama, romance, horror, etc.). Thus, when I heard about the anime Psycho-Pass, a hard-boiled cyberpunk crime thriller series that spans 22 half-hour episodes, I just had to see it for myself. I'm glad I did--it's one of the smartest sci-fi shows I've ever seen.

The overall plot of Psycho-Pass will sound familiar to anyone who frequents the crime thriller genre: a group of law enforcement officers searching for an elusive suspect who is connected to a series of brutal, gruesome crimes. Yet where Psycho-Pass differs greatly from other crime thrillers is in its setting, a futuristic Japan that is constantly monitored by an omnipresent computer network called the Sybil System. Such a setting puts a unique spin on standard c…

The Dark Knight Disappears from Cartoon Network

It's official: Beware the Batman, the animated series that makes up half of Cartoon Network's DC Nation programming block, has been pulled from the network's schedule. For the immediate future, the DC Nation hour will consist of two episodes of Teen Titans Go! There has been some speculation that Beware the Batman will return in January, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.

If anything, I think that this development speaks volumes about Time Warner's inept handling of the DC universe. Some of the scuttlebutt that I've heard is that the executives at Cartoon Network weren't happy with having DC superhero cartoons "forced" on them by their parent company of Time Warner, so they were happy to get rid of the under-performing Beware the Batman cartoon as soon as they could. If that is true, then that would indicate that Time Warner's current plan to promote DC superheroes in media formats outside of comic books is poorly organized and will mostly l…

Zombie Babies Infect Spirit Halloween Product Lines

Being a horror fan, I naturally consider myself to be an aficionado of the Halloween holiday season. Nevertheless, my recent visit to a Spirit Halloween store revealed to me how far I am behind the times in recognizing Halloween awesomeness, an awesomeness that's so awesomely awesome that it's criminal for it to be limited to just one season. The awesomeness that I'm talking about is Spirit Halloween's line of "Zombie Baby" props and costumes.

Watch your back, Anne Geddes--they're coming to get you!

Sure, the fusion of horrific imagery and themes with children and things aimed at children has long been a staple of horror art, merchandising and storytelling. What Spirit Halloween has done is take this to a new level by providing a wide selection of props and costumes (some motorized, some not) that make little bundles of joy look like newborn nightmares. When I say "wide selection", I mean just that--it felt like all that was missing from Spirit Ha…

Dawn of the Dead Cupcakes

The Mrs. and I were visiting family over the weekend when one of the young geeks-in-training surprised us with a terrific Halloween treat: zombie cupcakes.

It's rare that a food item combines two things that I really love--zombies and pastry--but these cupcakes had it all. With pretzel sticks for arms, Tic Tacs for fingers, marshmallows for heads, and thick icing for skin, eyes, mouths and hair, these desserts of the damned can cause an epic sugar high that any horror fan would love. All that was missing were a few hapless gingerbread men (with sweet gumdrop brains) for these carnivorous confectionaries to terrorize.

Click below to see more pictures of this horde of undead delights.

Imperial Items I'd Like to See in the Star Wars: Rebels Animated Series

This year's New York Comic Con (NYCC) came and went last weekend, and it had the usual geeky fanfare: panel discussions, celebrity appearances, cosplay, and previews of upcoming films, TV shows, and merchandise. From this particular NYCC event, the one event that really stood out from the others was the preview presentation of the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels, a CGI animated series that will debut in the fall of 2014 on Disney XD. The presentation was given by Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo, and it gave many tantalizing glimpses into the series that will show fans what the Star Wars universe was like during the rapid growth of the Empire after the Clone Wars and the early days of the Rebel Alliance.

Of the many details that were revealed during the presentation, one in particular caught my attention: the inclusion of vintage Star Wars toys as part of the series' vehicles and weapons. In particular, the Imperial Troop Transport, a vehicle toy that was released by Kenner as part of thei…

DC and Marvel Superhero Cartoon Report Card, Fall 2013 Edition

Last fall, I did a report card post about the DC and Marvel superhero cartoons on Cartoon Network and Disney XD. Since almost all of the cartoons from last year have been replaced with new cartoons (Ultimate Spider-Man is the only one that's still on the air), I think that now would be a good time to take a look at where things stand for animated DC and Marvel titles and how they reflect larger expansion plans to push both classic and obscure superhero characters from the comics onto multiple media platforms. Read on ...

Nintendo Goes Retro in Wii Party U

Oh, Nintendo ... I just can't quit you. Even though I don't have the Wii U console and probably won't for a long time to come, I still like to keep an eye on what Nintendo is doing to see the new ideas it brings to the world of video games. With the upcoming minigame collection title Wii Party U, not only will players get the unique experience of asymmetrical game play but they will also get a high-tech flashback to a concept that was popular during the early years of portable video games: "head-to-head" tabletop gaming.

From what I have seen in the ads and articles about Wii Party U, 15 of the two-player minigames will be limited to the Wii U GamePad's display screen and require players to share the GamePad controls to play competitively or cooperatively. The picture below provides an example of what this kind of game play would look like, and the minigames that fall into this format include foosball, baseball, and slot car racing.

When I saw video footage of …

A Self-Made Superhero Gets an Upgrade in Iron Man 3

Due to financial problems beyond my control last summer, I have begun to catch up on all the box office fun I missed just a few months ago. First up: Iron Man 3, the concluding chapter in the trilogy about Marvel's resident techno-genius Tony Stark and his super-powered alter ego.

Iron Man 3 opens with Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) still reeling from the events in The Avengers movie. Overwhelmed by the many possible threats that could doom humanity, he has become obsessed with upgrading Iron Man--and himself--to counter any and all future menaces. Further complicating the picture are the appearances of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist mastermind who has been orchestrating a series of surprise attacks around the world, and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a corporate rival who threatens to topple Stark Industries through his own "think tank" called Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). When a surprise attack by the Mandarin forces him away from home and friends, Stark …

Great Moments in Video Game Licensing History: Alligator People and Planet of the Apes for the Atari 2600

Since early days of their history, video games have been used like any other form of merchandising--as the recipients of licenses for popular characters, movies and TV shows for the sake of making money based on name recognition. It didn't matter how limited the graphics and game play options were in early video games; as long as gamers were willing to associate vague shapes, garbled noises and repetitive tasks with famous characters such as Buck Rogers, Dracula, Popeye and Superman, entertainment companies were willing to add video games to their vast inventories of licensed merchandise.

Yet as with most things in the entertainment industry, some oddities were bound to surface in what would appear to be a straightforward system. Case in point: unreleased games based on The Alligator People (1959) and Planet of the Apes (1968) for the Atari 2600. I can understand why Atari, Intellivision and Coleco were looking for new game content to promote their respective consoles in the early …

Get Your RC Geek on with Wow! Stuff's Six-Legged Attacknid

I've ranted before about how the Terminator franchise really needs a much better selection of scale-accurate replicas of Skynet's vast army of kill 'bots, and I think that's especially true in the area of remote control (RC) toys. So far, there has only been one officially licensed RC toy replica of a Terminator vehicle, the aerial HK unit from Terminator Salvation; otherwise, the only other RC Terminator replicas that I know of are ones made by extremely tech-savvy fans.

However, even though we'll never see an official Lego Mindstorms version of a T-600 or a T-1 tank, there are other RC toys that toy collecting Terminator fans can use as substitutes to terrorize their action figure collections. A WooWee Robosapien toy could be used as a substitute for a Harvester, a quadcopter could be used as a substitute for an aerial HK, and a Kid Galaxy Cybercycle could be used as a substitute for a Moto-Terminator. Even the rarely seen HK Centurion and T-7T Tetrapod now have …

Goodbye, Bay Harbor Butcher: A Look Back at Dexter (2006 - 2013)

I remember reading a quote from Alfred Hitchcock a while back, although I can't find the exact source from where it originated. It was during an interview, and Hitchcock was asked about how to evoke an audience's sympathy for an anti-hero such as a criminal. He said that to have a sympathetic anti-hero, he can't just be what's normally thought of as a "bad guy"; he has to be the best at whatever vice he practices (e.g., bank robbery, art theft, high-profile assassinations, etc.) and, as long as he is portrayed by a handsome and charming actor, audiences will cheer the anti-hero along as long as he strives to maintain his reputation as the best. Hitchcock recognized that it's human nature to support hard work and success and his approach to anti-heroes proved that under the right circumstances, this support can be twisted around to cheer on theft, violence, excessive bloodshed, and death. Thus, while petty thieves, impoverished drug dealers and second-rate…

Alien Abductees Get Even in Altered (2006)

As movie monsters go, filmmakers have gotten plenty of mileage from the concept of extraterrestrial threats. There have been countless movies about high-tech alien invaders (War of the Worlds, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), parasitic alien biology (Alien, The Thing), and too-close-for-comfort contact with an alien intelligence (Fire in the Sky, The Fourth Kind). In the midst of this crowded field of alien terrors is Altered, a 2006 creature feature that was directed and co-written by Eduardo Sánchez, co-writer and co-director of The Blair Witch Project.

Altered is about four men who were abducted and tortured by alien visitors when they were teenagers. After years of unsuccessfully coping with the trauma they endured, three of the men decide to hunt down and capture one of the visitors as an act of retribution; yet once they capture an alien, they're not completely sure of what they should do next. To make matters worse, their alien captive isn't quite as helpless as he looks a…

Toy Collecting Reaches a New Level of Excess with Gentle Giant's Six Foot Kenner Stormtrooper Action Figure

Last year, I posted two rants (click here and here) about Gentle Giant's release of "Jumbo" 12 inch replicas of 3 and 3/4 inch figures from Kenner's Star Wars toy line that was released during the late 70s. I couldn't--and still can't--comprehend the appeal of buying a larger scale replica of an action figure at a price point that's ridiculously higher than the original.

Of course, leave it up to me to underestimate the power of the toy collectors market. Since my 2012 rants, the 12 inch Jumbo line has expanded to include replicas of many Kenner figures from Empire Strikes Back (including the Wampa) and it looks like it will go on to include many Kenner Return of the Jedi figure replicas as well. With the Jumbo series proving to be a hit, Gentle Giant has decided to get even giant-er by releasing a limited edition six foot tall replica of Kenner's Stormtrooper action figure (complete with removable blaster), which will be released in 2014 for $2,300. T…

Two Great Tron Games That Aren't Really Tron Games: escapeVektor and Light Trax

After all these years, I'm still baffled over Disney's mishandling of the Tron franchise: Given the original film's premise and the popularity of its first arcade game, Disney could have used Tron to break into the video game market through a series of games set inside of a computer world. Instead, Disney's licensing of Tron games has been uneven and largely underwhelming. After the original arcade game in 1982, there was another arcade game in 1983, Discs of Tron, and a handful of Tron titles for the Atari and Intellivision home consoles. That batch of games was followed by ... 20 years of nothing.

The impressive Tron 2.0 came out in 2003 but between lackluster sales and poor support from Disney, that game quickly faded into cult classic status while other game franchises thrived. Since Tron 2.0, Tron characters have appeared from time to time in the Kingdom Hearts video game series, and a selection of tie-in games of varying quality were released under the collective…