Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What are your thoughts?

A good friend of mine and fellow collector asked some good questions to the Transformer collecting community today on his blog, Mostly Transformers Redux.  If you've got a second or two, I encourage you to read his blog and comment.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Transformers Age of Extinction: Bumblebee & Dinobot Strafe (Walmart Exclusive)

This is the ONLY time you'll see an Age of Extinction toy on this blog.  I hated the movie with a passion.  There was very little in the movie that I found I was OK with.  Needless to say the only movie toys I've bought up until now have been 3 of the deluxe Dinobots, and I only bought those to have something new to open and fiddle around with.

When the first images surfaced online of the 3 new Walmart exclusive two packs featuring a hodgepodge of molds I'm sure I wasn't the only one that was sitting there scratching my head.  Hasbro broke out the Beast Wars basic mold used for Terrorsaur (and other repaints) as Strafe?  Energon's Cruellock was being used as Grimlock?  Beast Wars Guiledart as Slug?  This seemed to come completely from left field.

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While I really wasn't looking for these per se, I did see on Facebook a sighting had been made somewhere in the country as a Walmart was doing a reset, I presume their fall reset.  Conveniently enough I found myself at Walmart late last night picking up some things for my wife.  One of the advantages of shopping your local Walmart late at night is the crowds are non-existent!  This is also when the pallets are dropped all across the store for the workers to re-stock the shelves.

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Just outside the toy department I found 3 pallets stacked full of new toys.  I walked around all 3 and was just about the leave when one box on the bottom of the stack caught me eye.  It read 'TRAS4 LEGION ASST'.  I carefully slid the box out from underneath the stack so I could take a peek inside.  Bam!  The new Walmart exclusive 2 packs were found.  By the way, I'm in the upstate of South Carolina, just south of Charlotte, NC.  The case assortment if anyone cares is as follows:

- Stinger & Slug x2
- Optimus Prime & Grimlock x3
- Bumblebee & Strafe x3

While technically G2 drew me back into collecting Transformers again in the 90's, Beast Wars really brought me back into the fold.  I decided to grab the pack w/ Terrorsaur I mean Strafe just for kicks.  If you're still reading along here with go w/ the pictures of the actual toys!

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As you can see here we have a slightly repainted Dark of the Moon Legion class Bumblebee and a repainted Beast Wars basic Terrorsaur.  As I already mentioned, the latter is my reason for purchase.

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I always was a fan of the flipformers from a few years back.  Nothing has changed here.  If you are familiar with any iteration of this mold, then you know what you are getting here.

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Strafe here does keep some of this movie markings from his deluxe toy.  Overall I have to say that it looks pretty nice.

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What caught me by surprise was the stamp underneath one of the wings.  You can see the original 1995 Hasbro/Takara markings, but above it now has a 2013 Hasbro Tomy stamp.  Hmm.

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To transform Strafe from dino to robot you simply pull up on his head and he basically unfolds into a robot.  Again, nothing has really changed here from the previous releases.  Overall it appears that the mold isn't showing any signs of degradation, but the ankle joints are loose.  If memory serves me correctly, ever other version of this toy that I've owned also had loose ankle joints.

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Articulation is pretty good for a mid 90's Transformer.  Ball joints are present in the shoulders, elbows, hips and needs.  Pivot joints are used for the feet/ankles.  I'm not the most creative when it comes to posing my toys, but here you go.  I will point out that some assistance may be needed when posing and standing the figure.  The dino kibble makes him back heavy and with the weaker ankle joints he does tend to want to fall over.  I'm sure this could be remedied rather easy with some clear nail polish.

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Strafe's packed in partner is Bumblebee.  Like there aren't enough versions of this toy, let alone the character already.  This is the Legion class toy first used in the Dark of the Moon movie line of Transformers.  At first I thought it was the same as before, only with some white paint being slopped on the face.  Then I transformed him...

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I don't recall the windows being painted like this.  Bumblebee now almost seems to have "cartoon" colored windows.  Whatever, I'm giving this toy to the little boy my wife has watched for the last 2 years.  My wife is starting a new job so after this week we won't have him or his sister at our house.  I'm sure he'll be thrilled to have this toy...and no I wasn't being sarcastic.

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Size comparison.  I really wish Hasbro would bring back the basic class of toys.

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These Walmart two packs retail for $15 each.  While I feel that price is a little high for this set (as opposed to Stinger & Slug which seems to be a better value), this set still has a lot to offer.  I know this isn't Terrorsaur, but I still dig this mold and the blue and black look terrific.  3 out of 5 Duocon thumbs up.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Say Hello to...

To say this project has been a long time coming is an understatement.  Let me take you back to 2006 where this all began...or at least the idea.  I had purchased a junk lot of Transformers from a Yahoo! Japan auction for cheap.  I don't remember what all was in that particular lot, but one in particular caught my eye.

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Here is an old collection photo.  Can you see the TF that I'm eluding to that was in that junk lot?  Do you see one in particular that is missing it's stickers and incomplete?  To the left.  The one that looks like the Protectobot's Hot Spot.  You got it.  That's none other than Fire Chief from the sought after, very elusive Operation Combination TF-04 Guard City.

At the time I was psyched about having a piece of such a rare toy in my collection.  The Protectobots are my favorite combiner team from G1 so ever since I learned of Guard City's existence I've wanted that toy.  However there was one small problem.  If I could find the TF-04 set I most likely wouldn't be able to afford it.  So what does a father of two that barely can afford to keep up with collecting modern day Transformers do?  I get all crafty.  (This is where I suppose you cue Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" song)

I had always wanted to make my own Guard City after I acquired Fire Chief, but two of the four other figures were different enough that I wasn't sure how to tackle the project.  I eventually gave up the idea until a few weeks ago.  I'm not a customizer.  I do enjoy tinkering around w/ painting and such, but I'm not very skilled nor do I own the necessary equipment to knock out fantastic looking toys.  My only previous experience painting toys came many years ago when I "Cobra-ized" a G.I.Joe A.P.C. vehicle.  I thought the project turned out really well, especially since it was my first attempt.  I knew painting a toy with moving parts would be a tougher task, but now I was equipped with friends that had the experience and knowledge that I could sponge off of.  I reached out to my good buddy Arkvander and told him of my idea of the project.  I asked him if I was crazy to attempt this and if he thought it would be doable.  He gave me two thumbs up and his support.  I immediately asked if he would use his air brush skills he learned while painting Charticon's Aftershock last year to help convert Blades into Fly Up.  Thankfully he agreed to help.

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This is the fruit of my labor.  The team.  I'm super excited about how well these came out.  I love the original Protectobot colors, but there is just something about the red on Fire Chief and the blue on Fly Up that make this set so dang attractive.

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A lot of the stickers used for Guard City are different from the ones used for Defensor, however I did order a set of Reprolabels to freshen up the five toys.  I'd love to complete the look with other stickers, but that will have to wait for now.  But how long will I have to wait?  Hmmm.

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Did you know the round black hose on the side were removable?  Neither did I!

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Let me reiterate, this is a vintage Fire Chief toy.  This is one of the few from the set that I really didn't have to alter.  I did take a pair of black hoses from a junker Hot Spot body since Fire Chief's were missing and I freshened up his fireball stickers and his one lone Autobot sticker.

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So what's your favorite version of the mold?

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The only thing I may change on Fire Chief is the ladder.  Once I did the comparison shots I noticed that his ladder is a little yellowed.  I have a junker Hot Spot that I think I can easily swap out the part, but for now I'm happy with what I have.

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Fire Chief is really bland looking without his stickers, but have I mentioned how I love the red?  Now the neon orange chest plate is a different look, but in hand it's not as garish as my pictures may make it look.

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I will mention that Fire Chief doesn't have near as many stickers as Hot Spot does and I'm glad.  Less is more in this case.  The two figures are the same height by the way, I just forgot to fully extend Hot Spot's legs.

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Fly Up was the biggest challenge, but thankfully Arkvander came through for me.  I disassembled Blades as much as I could.  I purchased a shade of blue Testors brand paint I thought that would work and dropped it off in Arkvander's capable hands.  Turns out the color I bought was too dark and too thick, so he had to strip the toy and start over with a different shade of blue.

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Thankfully the second time was the charm.  I can't believe how great this came out.  A little paint came off with the painter's tape I had used to cover the front windows, but I could care less.  I added new stickers to the sides and a new Autobot symbol to the helicopter's nose to finish things off.

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I usually go with red over blue, but again the simple color swap goes a long way here and makes this mold look really good.  I'm just glad the wheels and rotor blades stayed the same!

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The other roadblock to speak of with Fly Up was the robot's chest piece.  Trying to match the neon orange used on Fire Chief wasn't easy, but I think I came close with this shade of Model Masters I found at Hobby Lobby.  Of course having the original stickers would go a long way here, especially since the stickers cover up the two screws on the chest.  Once I got him reassembled I noticed it looks as if he is wearing a life jacket.  I wonder if that was done on purpose or just a coincidence?

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In my opinion there is no contest here as to which version looks better in robot mode.  Which do you prefer?

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Up next is my favorite mold in the set, Safety.  As you can tell this is an altered version of First Aid.  In vehicle mode there really aren't many noticeable differences as Safety and First Aid share the exact same stickers.  I had to clean up the toy a bit to restore some of the white's brightness and I added new Reprolabels.

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Other than the small bit of orange that you can see from underneath, these two are nearly identical.  Of note however is the lack of the rub symbol.  None of Guard City's members have rub symbols.

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As with Fly Up, Safety's chest piece is the same shade of orange.  This was an easy fix as I could knock out painting both chest pieces at the same time.  He too looks a little naked without his stickers, but again I hope to address that sometime soon.

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I always loved the First Aid character.  I wonder if Safety shared First Aid's pacifist nature?

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Sparkride is probably the dullest of the group.  Sparkride and his U.S. counterpart, Groove, are basically the same.  Minus the rub symbol on the windshield and the stickers on the side of the gas tank, Sparkride and Groove are the same.

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I remember getting Groove as a birthday gift from my parents when I was growing up and how excited I was.  Then I opened up the toy.  This mold still fails to excite me, even with a few different looking stickers.

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Not much to be said here.  Sparkride's only differences in robot mode are the stickers...which obviously I lack.

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During this particular shot I noticed just how bad my Groove's chrome is.  That is completely unacceptable and will have to be upgraded in the near future!

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While Fly Up traded Blades' red for blue, Streetstar is a stark white as opposed to Streetwise's off white.  This is the other toy that made me initially walk away from attempting this project.  Thanks to a fellow collector I met on Facebook, I was sent a loose Streetwise to test my painting skills.  Before the thought even crossed my mind to check out Hobby Lobby, I bought a simple can of Valspar white spray paint from Lowe's.  I paid a little extra and bought the paint that was meant for plastic and I'm glad I did as the final outcome looked good.  Masking off his windows, light bar, spoiler and wheels was a task, but necessary if I wanted this to look good.

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Like many of Streetstar's teammates, he too has different stickers.  If you have a keen eye then you may have noticed that Streetstar normally has a different sticker where the rub symbol resides on Streetwise.  I had to put a regular Autobot sticker there just to give the vehicle mode a little more color.  After I had reassembled the toy, I started to look at the color of the light bar against photos of Streetstar.  I wasn't happy with the leaving the light bar as is, so I used some red paint to touch up the bar to match the original.

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The only thing I'd still like to do with Streetstar is paint the eyes blue.  A little too much over spray got onto the face and slightly covered his blue eyes.  I knew my free hand painting skills left a lot to be desired so I left it as is...for now.

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The white really is a drastic change over Streetwise's off white.  I much prefer the white, even though it gives me more problems trying to photograph.  It was around this point that I also noticed the red robot bits were a darker shade of red, just like the light bar.  So I unassembled the toy again as I had to have this as close to the original as possible.

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It's a small change granted, but I felt I was being too lazy had I not painted these plastic bits.  As you can see, it's not a drastic change, but one that was needed.  Streetstar is one the left in case you couldn't tell.

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And finally we have the money shot...Guard City!  This is what I was striving for all this time.  It's crazy to look back and think it took me nearly 8 years to accomplish my goal, but man does it feel good.  I'd still like to get a hold of Guard City's stickers to finish off the overall look, but I really can't express how satisfied I am.

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You be the judge.  Which version do you prefer?  Personally I can't decide as I think both look incredibly awesome.  Guard City's red, orange and blue works well once integrated, but so does Hot Spot's powder blue and red for Defensor.

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I have to give a huge thanks to Arkvander for his help with Fly Up and his overall confidence in me to get the job done.  Thanks also goes to Maz as his Guard City article on TF-1, especially his photographs were of great help.

I know some collector's may look down on me making my own toy, but I don't care.  I didn't make this guy to sell.  Not everyone has the ability to purchase every TF you want and frankly even if I could afford this guy, I'm not sure I could justify spending what the toy commands these days on the open market.  Collecting should be fun, not stressful.  While this project was a lot of work, it reminded me 1) how badly I need to upgrade the stickers on my Protectobots and 2) the joy that Transformers brings me.

So now the situation begs the question...should I attempt to make Guard City's nemesis, Battle Gaia?!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The BIG Transformers Reveal Is Coming...

If you have liked my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter, then you should know I've been working on something big.  Of course it's Transformers related.  It's been a long time coming, that's all I can say for now.  I had wanted to reveal this the last two weeks, but life simply had other plans for me.  But as you read this I'm in the process of editing the photos for the post.  Bare with me just a bit longer and you'll soon understand why I'm so eager for this unveiling!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A farewell post to Dinoking

Earlier this month I said farewell to a group of Transformers that easily was the feather in my cap.  Dinoking.  I've told the story of how I acquired them when I did a review of each Dinoforce member last year, so I won't bother to repeat myself.  I had always viewed these guys as "off limits" and I never entertain the idea of selling them.  Funny how things change as we grow older.

When I started collecting I was younger, not married and the prices of vintage TFs were by far cheaper than what they are today.  I was on a quest to obtain all of the Pretenders, both US and Japanese releases.  At the time I started I knew little of this group, but as I researched them my interest in owning them continued to grow.

A few months back I started my own big collection purge, devoting more shelf space and attention to G1.  During this re-organization phase I decided to also reset my one lone Detolf cabinet where most of my Japanese G1 exclusives reside.  It was during this time that I was yet reminded of just how "unstable" these Pretender shells seem to be.  I was first reminded of this almost a year ago when I carefully transported my set of Dinoforce Pretenders to put on display at Charticon 2013 in Charlotte, NC.  As I was packing them up for transport, I noticed the rubbery dinosaur Pretender shells had left oily foot prints on the glass shelf inside the case.  It also appeared that some of the gold paint on parts of the shells and the backpacks were starting to fade.  This got me thinking about the longevity of these toys.  The US Monster Pretender versions of these toys seem to share this same fate, however some of those shells are starting to get purple dots setting into the rubbery shells.

Even though I had marked these guys in my mind as being off limits, their secondary market value had risen since I acquired the six and there were times I just couldn't shake the thought of what I could do with the money had I sold them.  When life is going well it's easy to push things like the value of your collection to the side, but when life ain't so pretty...well sometimes things like this slowly creep back into your mind.  

I've made it clear to my wife that while I don't prefer selling things from my collection for just any reason, I'm not the kind of guy that will let my family suffer (financially).  My dad didn't raise that kind of person.  In just the last 5 years since my wife lost her job around the same time we started a family, I have been the primary bread winner so to speak.  Trying to make ends meet and support 3 other people all while trying to maintain a hobby hasn't been easy, but we've made it work.  I've sold a great deal of toys over the years to make ends meet when things fell a bit short, but it was something that I was glad to do.  So now you're probably thinking Dinoking fell casualty to me being short and needing cash to pay some bills, right?  Nope.

Dinoking is the first major sale I've made where my decision to do so wasn't because of a need, but of a want.  Yes, you read that right.  I wanted to sell Dinoking.  I still love Transformers and I still love collecting, but sometimes there is just a time to say goodbye and this was the time...assuming I could find a buyer.  Once the decision was made, I told my wife what I had planned to do and she asked if I was feeling alright!  She knew how I felt about these toys and asked why I was selling them.  I told her that I wanted to spend the money on her, well us.  This upcoming January will mark my wife and I's 10th wedding anniversary and I wanted to do something special.  With finances already being tight as is, planning something big just doesn't happen very often for me and my family.  I knew if I sold Dinoking that I'd have more than enough money to do what I wanted to do for my wife.

So the first step was taken, I made the decision to let Dinoking go.  The next step was finding a good home for him.  Do I break him up and sell all six Dinoking members individually?  Or do I try to find a buyer for the whole lot?  I did a little research to find a fair asking price for them each and for the lot.  That is when I immediately thought of a fellow collector that didn't have these figures and had been wanting them.  I also knew that they would be well cared for and a valued part of his collection.  I then reached out to this individual and we worked out a deal.  Just last week I carefully packaged up the lot and shipped them off to their new owner.  It does feel a little odd referring to these guys in the past tense now, but I don't have any regrets.  I have bought myself plenty of Transformers over the years so it feels nice to spend this money on someone other than myself.  While I do have an obvious empty space on my Destron Victory shelf in my display case, I'm currently working on something that will fill this void created by my recent sale.  Stay tuned for just what this 'bot could be!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Henshin Robo: Tomcat

One of the things I like best about blogging is discovering new things and then sharing my findings.  As you may know by now I really enjoy other transforming robot toys.  While Transformers will always be my first love, I find some of the smaller lines from the 80's to be intriguing.  Trying to find out the history of some of these smaller toy lines has been challenging and I still feel there is a lot I don't know, but part of the fun is searching for the information.

I'm not really sure how I came across this toy, but when I did I knew immediately that I wanted to know more.  What is it's history?  Who made it?  Are there more in the series called 'Henshin Robo'?

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I'm hoping someone will come along and can shed some light on these toys for me as I sadly don't have much background information.  Henshin Robo.  Never heard that name before.  I've seen the red Excite logo that is partially hidden behind the Osco price tag.  The bottom right corner has the Excite logo along w/ Gakken.  Hmm.  As you can see the character's name is Tomcat and the alt mode appears to be a Tomcat F-14.  The artwork of the jet is nicely presented and reminds me a bit of the G.I. Joe Skystriker or even the Go-Bots' Leader-1.

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The back of the packaging isn't much to look at honestly, just the transformation instructions printed on the back of some very thin cardboard.  Still no clues about the toy or it's history really.

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Made in Japan...well at least it's not China or Taiwan.  That should give me some clues, right?  Copyright Excite, 1984 - Dallas, TX.  There is still a company called Excite that operates in Texas and according to their website I found, it says they are an importer of toys.  OK, that makes a little sense.  They have offices located in Dallas, TX as well as in Hong Kong.  Alright so the pieces are coming together slowly.  Now all that is left to figure out is what company in Japan made this toy.  My early thoughts were on Mark, the company behind many of the toys under the Convertors label, but the toy has absolutely no markings on it anywhere.  Do you know?

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I carefully open the 30 year old toy and the plastic bubble all but falls off the card.  The figure comes out easily and immediately I can feel the die-cast metal and I know this isn't some cheaply made toy.  It would be easy  to disregard this toy as being a knock off or of dollar story quality, but this is nicely built.

The chest is painted die-cast metal, while the rest of the jet is made of plastic.  I was surprised to see that most of the joints were still tight and the quality of the plastic is very good.  The plastic feels a little light, but not thin or cheap.  I never once felt like I was going to break the toy during the easy transformation sequence.  Even the stickers appear to be of good quality.  All of the stickers are still firmly attached to the toy.

Articulation wise is limited, but that is expected of a 30 year old toy.  The arms can rotate a full 360 degrees, but the legs are static.  The fists can be moved at a 90 degree angle, but that is more due to the transformation.  The missiles that you see on the forearms and legs are permanently attached.  Size wise, the toy is in scale with Go-Bots.  I apologize for not supplying any comparison pictures as my Machine Robo / Go-Bot collection is currently packed up in storage.

While Tomcat may not have the most original robot form here, it works.  It's very simple a la Machine Robo or Go-Bots.  Going from robot to jet is easy.  Simply push the legs up and into the body.  Flip in the fists and fold the arms into the body, starting at the top with the shoulders.  Flip up the nose of the jet from behind and your done.  The head does drop into the chest cavity a bit, but this seems optional.  In fact if you leave it extended up a bit you'll get a fuller look in jet mode.

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Here you can see the robot bits are basically pushed in together to form the jet.  Snazzy, eh?  You can also see that one of the missiles is slightly crooked.  I tried to correct it, but they are firmly in place.

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Jet mode is where this toy shines.  I think it's a relatively realistic looking F-14.  There aren't any paint apps on the jet, but at least the NAVY wing stickers help complete the authentic look.

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Remember the name Gakken that was on the bottom of the packaging's front.  Turns out they are a publishing company based in Japan (1947).  While most of their efforts were in books and magazines, they did manufacture a few toys.  Most of us here in the US will recognize the name Robotech, where many of Gakken's toys would end up being used - primarily under the Robotech the Next Generation banner.

I find it odd that such a giant publishing company would manufacture toys such as this, but apparently they made many toys and action figures.  I'm told that Gakken used the Henshin Robo banner to release many of their toys to foreign markets.  That's were Excite comes in as they were the company responsible for working with Gakken and importing these toys.

In my research I've only come across one other packaged Henshin Robo toy.  That is of a yellow dump truck that was manufactured by Mark.  Look for more of that toy coming soon!  I really don't know how many of these toys Excite may have imported under this Henshin Robo name, but I'm eager to continue my search.