Saturday, December 28, 2013

Transformers G1 Headmasters: Black Zarak D-311

There comes a time in every collector's life when it's just time to let go. That time has come for one of my most elusive and coveted Japanese G1 Transformers...Black Zarak himself. This is post will be more like a love letter for myself to re-visit down the road than an actual review. However I will share as much of this figure as I can for everyone else's sake. Because of the fragility of this figure we'll only be looking at the robot mode. I've never transformed this figure and I wasn't going to push my luck transforming him just to take a few pictures. I hope everyone understands.

Before we look at the toy itself, let me tell a quick story of how this guy was added to my collection. It all started essentially with Botcon 2006. This was the 2nd year Fun Publications had been running the show, and my first year attending Botcon since 2004. The show that year was held in Lexington, Kentucky and I just happened to have family (sort-of) in nearby Lancaster, KY. The original plan was for my wife and I drive up to KY and stay with my mom's husband's family. However when my mom got wind of our plans they basically invited themselves and carpooled with us to KY. What fun! I just knew I was going to be "one of those guys" that had their mom in tow at the convention. After seeing the long registration / pick-up lines on Friday afternoon she decided (thankfully) not to hang around!

The silver lining to them tagging along was when I got to the convention center (Rupp Arena?) my mom bought me one of the Botcon exclusive sets - Darksyde Megatron and Darksyde Waspinator. Who would have ever guessed that a few short years later that set of two toys would be commanding such huge money on the secondary market? I wasn't looking to sell Megatron and Waspinator necessarily, but I was "shopping" them around online. This had to be maybe 2007 or 2008...I think. Anyhow I was approached by a fellow member with a potential trade/cash offer for just my Darksyde Megatron. He offered me a "naked" G1 Black Zarak and $400 cash for my Megs. Knowing the GPS history of Black Zarak, I asked that he send me multiple pictures so I could look over the toy carefully. He told me that he had to repair the right foot/toe and the pictures he sent me showed that the damage was very minimal (especially when compared to what I had seen online on other Black Zaraks). I felt pretty confident that the toy was in good shape and it was a pretty good deal...if not a little lop sided in my favor. I agreed to make the trade and about a week later I received a huge box on my door step.

Of course I was literally holding my breath as I hoped the box. I wasn't sure what condition he would be in after his long trip. Thankfully he was just as described! At the end of the day I was very happy w/ the completed trade, especially when I stopped and thought that I basically received this toy for FREE!

Black Zarak is a  retooled and recolored G1 Scorponok. While I think the Scorponok's green and purple works well let's face it, Black Zarak's black and gold just looks so much more intimidating. I also hated how Scorponok's Headmaster figure, Lord Zarak, was a creamy white cradled in the gray helmet. The over all look of the head was just blah in my opinion. Takara remedied this issue with the inclusion of a new red head/helmet that completely covers the attached Headmaster figure.

The rest of the figure is rather unchanged from Scorponok's release. He still retains all of the same accessories for use in both robot mode, base mode and scorpion mode. He does have one extra accessory, or shall I say weapon for use in robot mode. He features a giant red spear...but you don't see it in his hands due to it breaking a few months ago. Dang fragile plastic. It's actually my fault. For a long time he wielded the spear in his hand, however gravity played an evil trick on me. Both ends of the spear started to sag (thanks in part to their weight) and the spear ended up being bowed. Instead of using a hair dryer or boiling water to soften up the plastic first, I tried bending the spear straight. Stupid move. SNAP! If there was any consolation to this it was that the spear was actually a reproduction. Later I found out that even these hard to find repro parts were prone to breaking, especially the spear.

Most collectors know that this toy is riddled with GPS issues...or at least is prone to GPS issues. The gold tail section, the feet, the Headmaster figure, the gun guard, the shield/tower, radar pieces and his little partner, Black Roritchi are all susceptible to crumbling in your hands. The good part of making my own gold accessories and buying some high quality parts is that I don't have to worry about those pieces turning into gold dust. However I didn't want to take a chance with the gold pieces attached to the body, so I never transformed Black Zarak out of his robot form.

In addition to the new sculpted head, I love the gold chrome chest piece.

Like Scorponok and the rest of the Headmasters, the tech spec gimmick was still functional behind chest plate. I guess I should have compared and contrasted his rankings w/ Scorponok to see if they were the same or different. Hmm...

Not long after I got the "naked" body I found a different member that had a vintage Zarak Headmaster figure for sale. The figure suffered greatly from GPS as his legs were missing as was one arm. I don't remember what I paid, but I wanted the figure anyway to "complete" the look. Looking straight on at the Headmaster I think it looks great. By the way, this was before that KO Headmaster set had been released.

As I mentioned earlier on the figure had two places on the right foot that suffered from GPS. Funny thing is however when I went to take pictures of the two affected areas I had a hard time finding them. They are so small and insignificant they aren't easily seen unless you are specifically looking for them. Here you can see a small hair line crack on the side of the foot. This is a static piece so that crack shouldn't get any worse.

The other affected area was underneath the foot on the right hinge. You can see a small piece of the gold plastic is missing, however it doesn't affect the foot, the figure's stability or the transformation. I've seen far worse cases of GPS on this figure so I count myself fortunate that this is all my figure suffers from.

Where as Scorponok has a little partner called Fasttrack, Black Zarak's partner is called Black Roritchi. The entire figure is cast in gold plastic and is extremely fragile. Mine is a high quality reproduction so at least I could transform him without having any regrets. His wheels and guns are a deep purple and looks good against the gold.

Long before I knew of member Darkov and his great TF repro parts, I scoured eBay and other sites online looking for more parts for Black Zarak. I ended up buying one of his gold chrome leg guards, both pieces of the silver elevator and both silver repair bay arms from a very respectable TF collector/dealer. I never could find the other parts I needed so I set out to make my own. Using Scorponok's gun, gun guard, shield and 4 shoulder cannons, I proceeded to paint them gold. While the gold isn't an exact one for one with the original gold parts, it's very close and looks my opinion at least. Later on I discovered the parts Darkov was selling and I bought Black Roritchi, the red visor piece, the red spear and all 4 of the gold radar things. In retrospect I wished I had bought the whole kit, but even these parts were understandably expensive.

So why am I selling him? That is the question I've been asked a lot lately. Well there are several reasons why and in no particular order here they are.

1) There is a KO Scorponok on the horizons and that means a KO Black Zarak may not be far behind. With rare/expensive toys (especially when they are fragile) a lot of collectors will settle with a KO. Just look at how many people buying all of these new Masterpiece KOs of Lambor, Tigertrack and now Grimlock coming up. I just figured now was the best time to try and move him before and if a KO is ever released.

2) I've heard there is a very good released that Scorponok is also slated to appear in Takara Tomy's Encore line of re-issues sometime in the near future. Of course that makes Black Zarak fair game for a proper re-issue as well. I usually would prefer to own an original over a re-issue any day of the week, but in this case I think it would be the opposite for me and many others. I'm basically afraid to touch Black Zarak. This makes it hard to enjoy the toy. If he was re-issued the GPS issues would most likely no longer be an issue and this alone would be a huge draw to buying the re-issue.

3) A change of my collecting scope. It's so easy to get caught up w/ trying to keep up with other collectors, especially in this day and age of database sites like Shmax and with social media. I no longer wish to "compete". I also would rather have a collection full of quality toys I can enjoy, rather than have a collection of toys that is more focused on quantity.

4) What collector out there hasn't had to sell some of their items (or even their whole collection) when real world issues arise? I'm not made of money and with my wife not working it puts a lot of stress on me to provide for my family. I've very fortunate and blessed to have what I have, but I'll never put a TF or anything else in front of my family's well being. That said I have a few bills I need to pay off and this is the easiest way for me to accomplish that task.

Truth be told I thought this would be a hard decision to make, but in all truthfulness it has been a rather easy choice to make. One of the best parts of having this blog is being able to re-visit at different points and look back on my own hobby life. I'm proud to have owned this spectacular piece for the time that I have, but like all good things in life the end is here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

S.L.U.G. Zombies: Christmas Series

Last year Jakks Pacific unleashed a small series of toys called S.L.U.G. Zombies.  Slug is actually an acronym that stands for Scary Little Ugly Guys.  To my generation these immediately envoked the old M.U.S.C.L.E. vibe for many.  Instead of pink Japanese wrestling dudes, we have green zombies!  Why didn't anyone think of this before?!

By the time I saw these toys at my local Target series 2 had already been released.  I grabbed a 3 pack that I've been meaning to share here on the blog for quite sometime, but I'm already so backlogged with great toys to review they just kept getting pushed back and back.  I've waited so long in fact that series 4 came and went along with an exclusive Christmas themed set!

Unlike the series 1-4 that were sold in both 3 pack and 12 pack form, these are sold in 4 different 3 packs.  There are a total of 12 figures in the Christmas series, but the pink Zombie Hunters are reused characters from the main line.  For that reason I'm skipping over them as they'll be shared (eventually) in each of their respective series they appeared in.

The 8 new holiday themed zombies include: Hungry Humbug, Ralph Reindead, Santa Claws, Nutty Nate, Frozen Fright, Johnny Hammer-Stix, Eli the Expired Elf and Surprise Demise.

Each zombie is cast in green plastic and surprisingly a lot of them have a great amount of detail molded in.  Trying to get good upclose pictures with my old camera wasn't the easiest, but I finally got some decent photos after turning off the flash.  I apologize up front for the quality not being the best, but hopefully you'll get an idea of just how awesome these little guys are.

Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12024.jpg  Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12025.jpg
Santa Claws
Previous Job: Father Christmas
Likes: Online shopping with free delivery
Dislikes: Small chimneys & picking up reindeer poop
Favorite Food: Cartilage cookies with sour milk

Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12010.jpg   Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12011.jpg
Ralph Reindead
Previous Job: North Pole petting zoo
Likes: Guiding Santa's sleigh, going down in history, playing reindeer games
Dislikes: Going to the vet
Favorite Food: Berries in brain broth

Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12022.jpg   Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12023.jpg
 Eli the Expired Elf
Previous Job: Production Manager at North Pole Industries
Likes: Buttons & shiny things
Dislikes: Height requirements
Favorite Food: Candy brain canes

Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12015.jpg   Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12016.jpg
Frozen Fright
Previous Job: A Cumulus cloud
Likes: Skiing & bird watching
Dislikes: Springtime
Favorite Food: Spleen sorbet

Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12008.jpg   Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12009.jpg
Surprise Demise
Previous Job: Host of Children's TV show
Likes: Practical jokes on his co-workers
Dislikes: A bad sense of humor
Favorite Food: Funny bones

Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12017.jpg   Zombie SLUGS photo 12-12-12018.jpg
Johnny Hammer-Stix
Previous Job: Drummer boy
Likes: Fresh cut grass
Dislikes: Rain on his parade & broken drimsticks
Favorite Food: Carcass casserole

* Blogger ate my picture!

Nutty Nate
Previous Job: De-sheller at Hudson's Nuts
Likes: The ballet
Dislikes: Squirrels
Favorite Food: Macadamia membrane

* Blogger ate my picture!

Hungry Humbug
Previous Job: Millionaire
Likes: None
Dislikes: The Ghost of Christmas future
Favorite Food: Shepherd's thigh

Thursday, December 19, 2013

VooV: Patrol Gattai Guardian Robo

This is the first review I've done of a toy that I had a hard time finding the right name! I preface this review with my lack of knowledge of Bandai's "new" series of toys from Japan. The packaging spells the name VooV. However when you go to Bandai's official site, my web browser (Google Chrome) translates the site's name to Boob Station! So call this line whatever you like! I should mention this new subline has it's own dedicated website separate from the main VooV website and can he found HERE.

I first came across a scan from a magazine on Facebook a few weeks back featuring a police themed robot. I saw the red Bandai logo and I immediately thought Machine Robo. Being a huge fan of the different iterations of Machine Robo, I was quick to look more into this combined robot I saw. Turns out the toy's name is Guardian Robo and hails from a "new" series of toys called VooV. I say "new" because it appears the line has been out in Japan now for a little while, however before this release the line just consisted of transforming vehicle to vehicle toys. However it appears Guardian Robo falls under a new subline and appears to be the first in a possible series of combiners.



Bandai usually does a nice job in the packaging department and Guardian Robo does not fail to impress. The box itself is decently sized, about 16 inches or so wide, however it's pretty light. Yup, that means no die-cast metal. More of the actual toys in a bit. On the front of the box you get the idea of what these toys are and what is contained inside the box.

I see the re-occurring rescue theme across several different toy lines in Japan and this trend obviously continues here. At this point I'm unsure if there is a story behind the series or if one will be made.

There are two additional vehicles that are sold separately that almost act like Targetmasters. I have these two on order and will be in my possession soon. I'll do an post on those eventually.

top & bottom

Top and bottom of the packaging. Here you get larger images of each vehicle and it's alternate form.


One side of the packaging gives what appears to be specs of some sort.  It also let's you know that the set is compatible with additional VooV vehicles that are sold separately.  The other side shows off the alternate modes using the combiner torso if you will.  Penta Cloud is a jet while the parts can also form Penta Station.  Simple modes, but I find it great that the designers found something to do with these parts while not in combined mode.

Once the box is opened a nicely packed cardboard tray slides out.  There is a piece of cardboard that covers the tray by the way.  Each vehicle, including the torso, has it's own little compartment.  The removable parts are sealed in their own bag.

The instruction sheet is quite large and Bandai did a good job with the layout, making it very easy to understand how to get the toys into their different forms.  Bandai even uploaded a scan of the instructions on their website!  And yes there is a sticker sheet.  Most of the stickers are applied to the secondary vehicle form with just a few being added to the torso section of the combiner.  Stickers are well cut and made of a nice thick feeling paper.  They applied very easily, although I noticed many of the stickers cover up some detail that is molded into the plastic.  I went ahead and applied them all, but some of them could be left off and it not effect the overall look.

The set is comprised of 6 individual vehicles.  I don't know if they have their own names or not since I can read Japanese, so we'll just call them by the vehicle make or model.

Each of the vehicles are made of a light plastic. The rear portion of the vehicle is a translucent black plastic and serves as the main transformation point. You basically lift up the top half of the vehicle and rotate 180 degrees. All the while you flip up and in the nose of the vehicle and the sides and snap it all back down on the base. All 4 wheels are free rolling, however since the vehicles are so light don't expect them to go flying across your table like a Hot Wheels car would.  

We'll start off with the police car. It appears the police car is modeled after a Acura, but the jury is still out on my assumption. His stickers include the black/white police door areas and the blue section with the police badge on the secondary form.

The red vehicle is a licensed Mazda. I say licensed since it has the official Mazda logo on the front of the vehicle. Overall the car looks pretty good, but of course the blue on the opposite sides of the panels glaringly sticks out like a sore thumb. The alternate Police form still retains the same Mazda body style, but appears to be beefed up. Look at the exposed engine on the hood. The only stickers on this vehicle are the small police badges on each side of the alternate form.

The yellow vehicle of the group is a taxi cab. It may be modeled after a real life automobile as well, but it would be one I'm not familiar with. The taxi is also the bulkiest of the 3 cars in the group. The red pin stripe across the top of the taxi is comprised of two stickers. The entire side panels are also stickers. In police car form the only stickers are again the small police badges.

The larger box truck vehicles are my favorite in the set. They too have hinges like the cars, but they are located at the top of the vehicle so it doesn't take away from the streamline feel. Granted I like the trucks, this one has one of the worse color schemes I've ever seen. Lime green cab with an orange and blue box? Thankfully most of those horrible colors are hidden well when transformed into the secondary police form. This alternate form has 4 stickers. Each side of the truck (includes the red stripe) is one large blue sticker. On the toy is a gray vent like sticker and a red accent sticker. These stickers are more prominently seen in combined mode.

The delivery truck is by far the nicest looking of the bunch. All the colors mesh well - in either mode - and the box portion of the truck has some much needed detail. The BLP Logipal logo on the side appears to have been a delivery service of some type. The trademark oddly enough is registered as Bandai Logipal America, however the patent or trademark has now expired. Interesting. I should point out the BLP logo is only tampographed on one side of the truck. Stickers are applied in the exact same locations as on the other other box truck.

The other part of the set is the torso section as I call it. Instead of having to just put this piece to the side while you play w/ the vehicles, the designers tossed in two additional modes to play around with.  Now that's what I call more bang for your buck.

With a few twists here and there you have the Penta Station.  I know it doesn't look like much on it's own, but add in the vehicles and it looks more like a make shift battle station.

If the Penta Station isn't your style, you can also transform the torso section into a fighter jet.  Simply pop off the black sections on the ends of the "legs" and re-attach them in a flat manner to the "legs" that have been folded in side by side.  Fold down the blue pieces on the thighs.  Flip the wings back and pop on the little jet to the center and you've got the Penta Cloud.

I love the overall look of the Penta Cloud, but the wings are a bit short and need to be just a tad longer for my tastes.  This by far is the superior form of the two.

I hope you are still with me.  Now that we've looked at the individual vehicles and the combiner pieces, let's look at the combined form and how all the parts come together.

The police car forms the face of Guardian Robo. The face simply lifts up and turns around from the roof of the car. This feature reminded me of the old Brainmaster gimmick from Transformers. The rest of Guardian Robo's head will be formed by the little jet/cockpit piece.

The red Mazda and the yellow taxi each form the arms. From vehicle to arm, simply open the vehicle and flip out the non-articulated fingers. Snap down the side panels. You can also switch them around if you'd like.

The box trucks are a little more involved in getting into the legs and feet of Guardian Robo. Again you want to open up the vehicle, this time flipping the truck's cab forward. This means the other truck cab forms the back of the leg. Attach the black gun pieces to form the heel. This also gives the combined form some stability which is always nice to have with larger figures.

I forgot to take a picture of the torso piece ready for the limbs to be attached, but from Penta Cloud mode all you really do is remove the black guns from the front, flip the wing tips forward and pull up on the gold V section to reveal a cavity for the police car to sit in. The wing sections each feature a black claw like connector that simply grabs and holds the rear black section of the cars. The box trucks attach to the lower section of the torso in the very same way.

The police car fits snugly into the newly opened cavity of the top.  See how it's all coming together now?  One step left, and that is to form the rest of Guardian Robo's head.

The small jet looking piece that forms the cockpit area on the Penta Cloud also doubles as the combiner's head.  Flip down a peg underneath and fold the nose of the jet forward. Using the now exposed peg, simply peg it into the hole located behind the exposed face on the police car.

Clever way of forming the combiner head if you ask me and lit looks great. No light piping for the eyes, but it has the big eye visor and non-descript face plate. I still can't help but thinking of Machine Robo though when I look at the face.

Behold!  Guardian Robo is all his combined glory.  I apologize I didn't have another robot near by to toss into the pictures for size comparison.  Going off my memory I'd say he is about the size of Transformers G1 combiner like Defensor.  When I do my update post w/ the two additional vehicles, I'll make sure to include a few additional figures for that much needed comparison shot.

I was surprised at the level of articulation that Guardian Robo featured.  I don't think of robots that are comprised of smaller components to have much articulation, but Bandai found a way to work some in.

The arms will rotate a full 360 degrees and the connector joint does provide some swivel of the arms forwards and backwards. The hips are on ratcheting joints and freely move up and down. The connector pieces also provide some range of motion at the knees. You can almost achieve a 90 degree bend before the legs want to pop off. I'm not complaining though as he is more flexible than I ever imagined.

Guardian Robo is a fun toy and one that I've very glad to have bought. Several import retailers online have been selling him for around $35 (shipping extra). BigBadToyStore also has him available if you don't like to import, but he'll set you back $65 before shipping.

If you are a fan of Hot Wheels sized vehicles or just a fan of combining toys then you may want to give this release a look. I like it because of the Machine Robo feel I get from it and the fact that it's just something different. You won't be mistaking it for a Transformer, but if you're like me and you are just a fan of toys in general then this robot could be for you. I anxiously await to see if other combiners are released alongside Guardian Robo here.  AmiAmi has a pre-order listing for Fire Gyro set with a release date of 2014 first quarter so we shall see. A fire themed helicopter set? I can't wait to see pictures!