Robotech Masterpiece Collection
Ben Dixon VF-1A
Despite no unassailable evidence that intelligent aliens exist in reality, they are everywhere in popular fiction. As far back as War of the Worlds from HG Wells they have been popular invaders to earth, using their war machines to try and dominate our world. Clearly, the earth must be high on everyone's destination list (maybe a big tourist spot) to get that attention. All these alien invasions might be somewhat cliché, but they are still used with effect in fiction, and the Robotech saga falls squarely in this category.
Robotech has tomato/tomatoe syndrome in that it is called different things in Japan and the US. In America the show is called Robotech (in Japan it started with Macross), and the overall saga was taken from three Japanese series and joined together to make a larger single story. The three original series were Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada (which are all loose translations for their adjective-heavy direct translations), and these were converted to the Macross Saga, the Robotech Masters and the New Generation. In the habit of having different words for all of ours, the Japanese had different names for all the characters and equipment. This Spotlight covers the US Versions of characters from Robotech, so keep this sometimes confusing fact in mind. While keeping facts in mind, remember kids - don't smoke.
The Macross Saga, the first part of the trilogy, begins in 1999, at the eve of the new millennium (which probably seemed to be a safe distance off as a setting for the ambitious science fiction series in the mid-1980's). During World War 3, Earth makes first contact with aliens. First contact comes not from a communication or actual aliens, but in the form of an uninhabited alien ship that crashes in the South Pacific. Much like the crew of the Minnow (and Tom Hanks in Cast Away), the ship crashes on a small island.
Naturally, the governments of the world decide to stop their own war and start to exploit the technology in the ship. It seems most governments assume that aliens must be hostile, probably due to the vast evidence in human history where every time a government went exploring they ended up conquering the people (millions of American Indians can't be wrong). Since they feel (and as it turns out rightly) that aliens (called Zentraedi) will soon be coming to invade the earth, they establish facilities on the island (and other spots on earth) to train defense forces and build new weapons to defend the planet.
One of the weapons they create are the variable-combat machines, which are fighters that can covert to several modes depending on whether they are engaged in air or ground combat. On the Japanese show, the fighters are nicknamed 'Valkyries' because these were the heralds of the underworld in Norse mythology and it sounds much cooler than 'super-donkey changing-flying-walking-attacking super fighters'. For the American version, the jet fighters are called Veritechs and can change into two other fighting modes - Guardian (a sort of half-plane, half battle suit mode) and Battloid (which is more a giant battle suit).
The VF-1A is a model of VF-1 variable combat fighter mostly known as cannon fodder, and it has the nickname 'brownie' due to the light brown color on it and from the crews who had to clean the cockpit after a new pilot tries it out. This bad boy is powered by fusion engines, and is capable of combat in space and the atmosphere. It's armed with missiles, a 55mm gunpod and a laser turret.
The pilot for this VF-1A is Ben Dixon, and while not the most talented pilot he was well liked. He was a civilian who joined the force and was eventually assigned to Rick Hunter's Vermillion Team. Eventually he moved on to Skull Squadron, and he eventually left Skull Squadron for halo duty. In other words, he didn't make the sequel. His cousin Ben Dover spent a lot of time in prison.
The Robotech saga premiered in the US in 1985 (the show had first aired in Japan in 1982) with Macross and was one of the earliest anime efforts to reach the US and expose Americans to the genre. The mix of aliens, cool technology and giant robotic figures proved to be popular, and Robotech has continued in a variety of forms, including are books, video games, two follow-on series, and plenty of toys.
The toys based on Robotech have an interesting legal note to them. There is currently some question as to the extent of import rights to making toys outside of Japan based on Macross. The Japanese rights (and there are plenty of Japanese toys from Yamato, Sunwards, and Bandai) are pretty clear, but the international rights outside of Japan are not. Harmony Gold seems to be the international rights holder for Macross and has further licensed this to Toynami. In truth there are many fans who are upset over the situation and the way Harmony Gold has been handling itself, but this isn't the focus of this article and is an issue for the courts to decide.
Under license from Harmony Gold, Toynami has been making a variety of Robotech toys. They have made a set of characters from the show in the I-Men format, and have Battlecry Poseables and super deformed versions of the fighters. The most ambitious Robotech product from Toynami is the series of Masterpiece Collections, which are larger, transformable versions of the Veritech fighters.
The series is scheduled for five volumes, with VF-1J and Rick Hunter as the first in the series. This Spotlight will cover the second installment - VF-1A and Ben Dixon. To follow are versions of VF-1S with Roy Fokker, and two more versions of VF-1J, one with Max Sterling and the last with Miriya. This volume is limited to a total of 15,000 pieces, so anyone who needs 15,001 is just out of luck.
The packaging for each toy is designed to look like a big book, and it opens in the front to reveal the figure within. The cover is magnetic, so it stays closed without the use of Velcro, and the toy is in an inner box that slides out of the top of the book. Inside is the toy, and there are no twist-ties or other materials holding it in, so the packaging is very collector-friendly in that it can be re-packaged and look exactly like it did when purchased. Inside the front cover is a small technical readout on the fighter and a certificate of authenticity. The certificate is signed by Alan Letz (Executive VP of Harmony Gold) and George Sohn (Toynami President) and numbered, and the certificate can be removed from the cover if desired. If you don't desire, it can rest right there until you do.
The one thing many collectors may find daunting is the application of some of the stickers included. There is a sticker sheet that has stickers for all the fighters in the series, so you'll have to pick out the ones that are appropriate and apply them. There are some extra stickers, so you can customize the toy if you like, and there's a handy guide to show where the stickers are supposed to go.
With any toy that can change from one form to another you'd expect an instruction book, and that's exactly what you get. The instructions are pretty well written and can be followed fairly easily for most adults, although children might need a little help. It takes about ten minutes to transform the first time, and after a few tries you can get it done in two or three. The book has instructions to change from Battloid to Guardian mode, then from Guardian to Fighter mode. There is also a little background on both the Robotech saga and the fighter and its pilot. At the back of the book is a section that shows the Battlecry Poseables, the Robotech I-Men and the next two Masterpiece Collection volumes.
Most of the toy is self-contained, but there are a few extra pieces that need to be added. There is a detachable antenna, a canopy protector (for when in Battloid mode) and a ladder to help the pilot get in. The pilot is also a separate piece, as are the four bundles of missiles that can be attached to the ship.
The Veritech is made with a mix of metal and plastic, though plastic is by far the primary material for the toy. The parts that aren't plastic are the landing gear and parts of the legs, which are metal. The wheels for the landing gear are rubber, but otherwise everything not mentioned is made of plastic. There is also an LED in the head of the Veritech (or laser pod when not in Battloid mode) that can be turned on by a switch in the fuselage. There is a battery included to run the LED, and our testing reveals that it lasts for about 24 hours of constant use if you leave it on for testing purposes. Coincidentally, that's also how long it lasts if left on accidentally.
The Fighter Mode is used by the pilot when engaged either in space or the atmosphere with alien forces. The ship looks like a modern fighter, though it is armed with missiles, a 55mm gunpod underneath and a single turret laser. The VF-1A isn't designed for launching from Earth's surface and going into space, and it lacks the thrust to reach escape velocity. It also has one of the best coffee makers possible in the cockpit, which taxpayers forked over a king's ransom to have designed by defense contractors.
The fighter mode has several features different from the other modes. For one, it looks like a typical late 20th Century fighter, with a cockpit that opens and landing gear that can be retracted. The laser turret under the cockpit lights up with an LED and the missiles come off the wing hardpoints in groups of three. The wings can be swept back to more of a delta configuration, but generally it's a fighter. You can also install the canopy cover as a heat shield for atmospheric re-entry, which hopefully will be a planned re-entry.
The Guardian Mode is halfway between the fighter mode and battloid mode, so it looks like a cross between a fighter and a giant robot. Or maybe what a giant robot would look like if a fighter hit it. Either way, it maintains some of the advantages of the fighter and some of the robot in this mode. It also has a nifty antenna in this mode that is used to pick up HBO for free. Please don't tell.
In Guardian mode the landing gear is retracted, but the cockpit can still be opened. This mode adds arms and legs, all of which are articulated. The hands can be twisted at the wrist and the thumb and trigger finger are individually articulated. The other three fingers move together, but have their own joint. The elbows bend, the arms have mid-bicep twists and the shoulders can both twist and bend (which mimics a ball-joint). The knees bend, there is a mid-thigh twist on both legs and the thighs can bend, and the knee and thigh joints click when you move them. The gunpod is now a larger gun that the hands can hold and point at the bad guys.
The Battloid Mode is that of a giant robot, or a man with powered armor. This type of machine has been ubiquitous in many Japanese (and Japanese influenced) anime, and toy lines. The Battloid mode allows the fighter to engage in ground combat and it also evens the score between Terrans and the aliens, since the Zentraedi are much bigger than humans. Now it would be fair for them to pick on us, since we'd be the same size.
The Battloid mode uses the same arms and legs as the Guardian mode, and the articulation is identical in this mode. The head is now added to the mix, and it can twist and has the LED inside controlled by the switch. The same gun is used for this mode, and it works the same way. There is a canopy cover that needs to be added for this mode, and when the toy is first opened it is in Battloid mode without the canopy cover.
Pictures of the Battloid
Pictures of the Guardian
Pictures of the Fighter
|Where to buy the Robotech Masterpiece Collection: The Robotech Masterpiece Collection volumes are limited editions of 15,000 each. They retail in the $74.99 to $99.99 USD price range, and are available in specialty stores and various online toy retailers.
Several such online stores are RTM sponsors AisleSniper.com, Big Bad Toy Store, The Outer Reaches, and SweatyFrog.com. (Be sure to check the other RTM sponsors, listed on the Shop Center.)