Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — AstroBoy

by Bandai, released 2004

The Icon of Anime gets a Toy

This week’s toy is a rare gem in that it is not part of a larger series.  The AstroBoy toyline was produced by Bandai shortly before the release of the CG adaptation of the classic anime and manga series, no doubt in an effort to drum up interest in the newest generation of fans of robot superheroes.  Why I consider this a rare gem is because this toyline disappeared about as quickly as it appeared, and with little fanfare going or coming.  But what we were left with is a fantastic toy that will hopefully stand the test of time.
If you don’t know who AstroBoy is, you probably aren’t an anime fan.  AstroBoy is to anime what classic M&Ms are to candy, Lost in Space is to science fiction, and Pong is to video games.  The series, created by Osamu ‘the Grandfather of Anime’ Tezuka, is of the same ilk as Gigantor and Speed Racer and was released in the United States alongside series like those as well as Johnny Quest and Space Ghost (the original, not the talk show).

AstroBoy is a Pinocchio-esque story about a young boy who is a robot with phenomenal superhuman powers (such as the ability to fly, super strength, etc).  Much of the series focuses on his efforts to understand humanity as it is his combating the forces of evil.  As one of the first manga series (and subsequently one of the first anime series), it established a lot of the characteristics and traits that anime would follow to this day.  The series ended in Japan with AstroBoy’s death in an effort to save the world.  It goes without saying that in the United States, the final episode was not aired.
Appearance – 4 out of 5
This is a beautiful toy that really stands out.  The action figure looks just like the character from the show, from the colors to the expression on his face to the style of his hair.  The proportions are well preserved and the anime look (notorious for not transitioning too well to ‘real’ depictions) is done very well with this toy.  The lack of textures is a small issue because, like in the manga and the series, a stylized simplicity takes precedent.

Construction – 3 out of 5
The toy is well constructed and sturdy, but there is little to stand out about the figure.  The plastic is above-average in its durability, but is far from remarkable.  There is some heft to the figure but nothing that’s really worth mentioning.  The inclusion of obvious joints and seams is what keeps this score from being a bit higher.

Movement – 5 out of 5
At first glance, it would appear that this toy is extremely mobile.  With hips, shoulders, and elbow joints, this figure looks like it can take on the world.  Upon closer inspection, though, it’s revealed that each limb has a fairly limited range of motion.  The arms can only swing up and down, from the sides to over the head (180 degrees range of motion).  But because the arms are angled, it feels much more natural.  The hips likewise have a limited range of motion that is saved by the unique angling.  The knees, though, can not only bend but can also rotate, granting the legs the appearance of a far greater range of motion than it first seems.  These little tricks to feel more ambulatory than the figure actually is makes it all the more intriguing to handle and play with.  This kind of cleverness in the design is almost more interesting than true move-any-which-way-yet-unnatural variety.

Extras – 2 out of 5
There isn’t really much extra to this toy, but that’s in keeping with the concept of the character (AstroBoy doesn’t have many gimmicks like ray guns or the like).  There is a small set of cards that are meant to activate AstroBoy’s different powers, but the cards are simple cardboard and the powers work regardless, so their inclusion is moot.

What extras there are happen to be built into the toy.  AstroBoy’s shins open up to reveal chrome mechanizations.  His chest opens to reveal his heart (which lights up with sound effects).  His left hand shoots off.  He has rockets built into his feet (yes, they fire), and when you turn his otherwise immobile head to the left, his eyes light up.  As cool as these little powers are, however, it would be nice to have some additional pieces.

Packaging – 4 out of 5
This toy has some beautiful, if simple packaging.  It’s distinctive, colorful, and it gives you all the information you need: the history of AstroBoy the franchise, the history of AstroBoy the character, a layout of his various powers and features, everything.  While there’s nothing groundbreaking, the packaging in general is just a fine example of doing everything right.

Overall – 4 out of 5
This is a fantastic toy.  It’s a little basic, what with the lack of extra parts and the unremarkably good construction, but it’s a blast to play with, has a lot of little features, and is sturdy enough to survive years of play.  Plus, it’s just fun to handle and pose, which often times makes for the best toys of all.  This is a great toy that enjoyed a limited run, but will hopefully be remembered by fans and collectors alike.

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