Tools of the Imagination – Drago

Drago
Dragonzord by any other name…
Playmates, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, 1994

In 1984, Transformers addressed the age-old of question of ‘what’s cooler than alien robots that turn into cars’ with the answer ‘alien robots that turn into dinosaurs’.  The next logical step, of course, was to embrace not the prehistoric but the fantastic.  Dragons, the icon of fantasy, would come to the forefront of robotic animal-like warriors in more shows than not.  Probably the most iconic in the children’s entertainment arena would be the Green Ranger’s Mechagodzilla-like Dragonzord in the first two seasons of Might Morphin Power Rangers.  Other shows would follow in its iconic footsteps and the Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad would be no different.

Background
Xenon was not the only aid that Servo had in the battles against Kilokahn.  Fighter jet Torb and flying bazooka Jamb could combine to become Servo’s dragon friend cleverly named ‘Drago’.  While Xenon was Servo’s stronger, more mighty companion, Drago was meant to be more ferocious and animalistic.

 

Appearance – 5 out of 5
Much like Synchro, Drago looks pretty much spot-on to his character in the show.  While the Drago in the show is a little stouter and a little, well, filthier, the toy still matches his overall colors and proportions very well.  The feel of little details is especially captured as you run your fingers over the toy, feeling like how you might expect the character in the show to feel.

Construction – 4 out of 5
Very solid and very sturdy, this figure is probably the single best figure in the entire line.  Both pieces (Jamb and Torb) feel very solid and sturdy and can stand up to a beating.  All the connection points are rugged and give when they should give, and stay when they should stay.  There are a few joints here and there that can feel a little loose, but they are far in away nitpicking issues and not major problems.

Movement – 3 out of 5
This is a little hard to score because the toy itself isn’t terribly mobile, but then neither was the character in the show.  The hips, knees, and ankles move linearly and the arms have multiple joints, but they also only move linearly.  The head can rotate up and down a bit, but not much.  While some lateral or rotational movement might have been nice, there’s not much that the Drago in the show does that this figure can’t replicate.

Extras – 1 out of 5
Like Xenon, Drago cannot hold any of Servo’s weapons nor is there any place for him to store any of them either.  He comes with no additional parts for Servo (not exactly; see next week) or anything for Xenon either.

Packaging – 3 out of 5
As with Xenon and Servo, the packaging was vividly colored with bright, vibrant colors against a blue background.  The Drago packaging was especially outstanding because of how the warm-colors jumped out on the toy shelf.  It may help to explain Drago’s generally higher popularity versus Xenon’s.

 

Overall – 3 out of 5
Drago is kind of the opposite of Xenon.  While Xenon’s individual pieces of Borr, Tractor, Vitor weren’t much to write home about, Jamb and Torb are almost more fun than Drago.  Drago looks cool, but can’t really move all that much.  Torb is an intimidating-looking fighter jet that can play air support to good guys and bad guys alike, depending on the disposition of the kid playing with them.  And Jamb just looks badass.  Without Servo, don’t be surprised if Drago remains in his individual pieces more than combining them.  But with Servo… well… 🙂

Patterns and Habits

Pattern recognition is one of the greatest aspects of the human mind.

While it is far and away not infallible, pattern recognition allows us to see trends in our environment – and ourselves – and to predict future events.  It is through pattern recognition that that all science was formed.  Science, all skills, and even simple communication, depends on our understanding of patterns.

Patterns in nature are called cycles, but patterns in our own behavior are often called habits.  Habits are interesting phenomena, both physiological and psychological.  They are a product of both our bodies and our minds, often without us even being aware of it.

Through the application and use of pattern recognition, we are able to see habits, identify them, and understand them.  And more, we are able to change them.

Habits are self-perpetuating behaviors, that we do because we have done them and we’ve always done them because we’re used to doing them.  They are easy, and humans will by nature follow the path of least resistance.  Changing a habit, then, is an act of will, of dedication, of sheer determination.  It is by changing our own habits that we take command of our own lives.

No habit can be unconquered.  Even critical habits such as eating and sleeping can be mastered (see intermittent fasting and polyphasic sleep for extreme-but-healthy examples; tragic and unhealthy examples exist as well).  More mundane habits such as diet and fitness, with nothing to say of skills and knowledge, can likewise be conquered in days and weeks.

In the exercise world, we have two major benchmarks to shoot for: six weeks and six months.  If a fitness program or a diet can be maintained for six weeks, it’s considered to be a habit.  Maintaining the diet or exercise program now takes less effort than before.  The person will ‘default’ to that diet and program.  At six months, the behavior is now a lifestyle.  It now becomes harder to NOT do it than to do it.

One of the easiest ways to affect change in your life is to apply simple pattern recognition in the form of a journal.  Monitoring one’s diet in a journal has had documented and profound effects, even without the person going on a diet.  Just being aware of what a person is eating day in and day out, for each meal, causes changes for the healthier.

Journals also provide us with other key information.  Dream journals can often provide insight into what our mind does when unleashed during the small hours of the night.  Thought journals and spending journals can astound the keeper at what their resources go towards.

Keep a journal.  Review what you write down from time to time to see what patterns jump out at you.  Decide if those patterns – those habits – are really things you want to maintain.  And then, if you so desire, seek to correct them.

Tools of the Imagination – Synchro

Synchro
By your powers combined…
Playmates, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, 1994

Even from the early days of toys, toymakers have known that if pieces are interchangeable (if two dolls can wear the same clothes, if two action figures can hold the same accessories, etc), then that will drive sales.  In the 1980s, however, toymakers discovered that they could leverage still more sales by having toys that combine.  Toys like Voltron, the combiners of the Transformers, and a litany of others from that era would become so popular as to almost demand that future toylines incorporate this feature.

Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad did not disappoint.

Background
Servo was the main hero of the show, and Xenon his mighty-if-bulky companion.  However, by initiating the proper program, the two figures could combine into Synchro – Tracto became the legs, Borr became the arms and shoulders, while Vitor would become the torso and head.

 

Appearance – 5 out of 5
The Servo toy didn’t look quite as agile as the character in the show.  The same was true for Xenon’s toy compared to his show counterpart.  This was not the case with Synchro.  The character looks IDENTICAL to the figure in the show.
Moreover, the figure is visually very balanced.  The repetition of colors is nicely done.  Most combiners have really garish color schemes (much love, Voltron, but I’m looking at you), but Synchro is really heroic yet understated.

Construction – 3 out of 5
The combined parts of Xenon and Servo don’t really detract or add to the stability of Synchro.  Servo’s mobility really isn’t that impinged by adding Xenon’s components onto him like power armor.  Likewise, Xenon was only adequately sturdy, which carries over to Synchro.

Movement – 3 out of 5
Much like the construction, the combined parts don’t really hinder or improve the whole.  Synchro can’t really move anymore than Servo, but his broader feet and thicker legs (thanks to the addition of Tracto) means the character is less likely to tip over (even with the added weight on the shoulders).  The figure loses some mobility in the legs and in the head, but shoulder and arm movements aren’t really impeded.  This isn’t that big of a deal with Synchro as it is with Servo because the purpose of the character is that hand-to-hand fighting is largely over and it’s overkill time.

Extras – 2 out of 5
Because this is a combined form of two other toys, there are no additional pieces that aren’t included in the previous sets of Servo and Xenon.  Servo’s wrist communicator/watch comes off for the transformation and has no place on the Synchro toy.  However, while Xenon’s fists couldn’t hold Servo’s weapons, Synchro can hold swords, axe, and shield alike.

Packaging – 3 out of 5
Because Synchro was never sold as a set, his packaging is largely isolated to what was promoted on Xenon and Servo’s packaging.  A plackard in yellow with black writing appears on the Xenon toy, talking about how Xenon and Servo can ‘samuraize’ (it was the 90s; don’t hate) to become Synchro.  A nice, vivid flourish to otherwise very solid packaging.

 

Overall – 4 out of 5
Just as Xenon’s 2 felt a little stingy, this feels a little generous, but I just can’t deny how incredibly satisfying this toy is, both to play with and to dismantle and reassemble.  It’s a shame the toy didn’t combine with its counterpart Drago (more on him next week) into a super-superhuman samurai, but Synchro is a solid toy all on its own, an impressive capstone to collecting the series.

X-Strike Studios, in memorium

After eleven years, X-Strike Studios is closing its doors.

You may have heard of them recently, or you may be a longtime fan.  Or you may never have heard of them.  That’s one of the struggles with being an independent artist.  Sometimes some of the best work goes unnoticed.

I don’t hesitate to apply the term ‘best’ to X-Strike Studios’ catalog.  While their films are definitely low-budget, that hasn’t held back their excellence.  If anything, it’s helped to underscore the talent and skill at play.  These are movies for a niche audience, by that same audience.  There’s no irony, there’s no multi-audience pandering, there’s no attempt to be anything that they’re not.  These are movies for gaming fans and nerds.  And the result is that they are some of the best video game movies ever made, hands down, bar none, damn straight.

But it isn’t some goofy love of games that makes their movies good.  River City Rumble, called ‘the Citizen Kane of video game movies’, is a solid (if low-budget) action movie that straddles the line between being serious enough to be internally consistent but not taking itself too seriously so as to deprive the fans of fun antics.  Silent Horror, and its sequel Resident Horror, are genuinely creepy at points while still providing a tremendous good time in every vein, something that their big budget imitators like the Resident Evil series fail to deliver.  Project Snake is an ambitious action story that some consider more entertaining than the games that inspired it.  Their Off-Campus series, while full of inside jokes, remains some of the funniest segments on the internet to this day.  And their most off-the-wall film P. Rappa’s Nth Mile is…a thing that exists.

X-Strike Studios came along at a time when video game films of pretty much any type were novelties.  The best video game movies available were studio-made behemoths like Street Fighter and the Super Mario Brothers movie, attempts made to appeal to general audiences with the after-thought of tapping into the video game fan market.  With the exception of a handful of Star Wars or Star Trek videos here and there, fan films hadn’t yet taken hold either.  There was no Street Fighter Legacy.  There was no Mortal Kombat Legacy.  No Megaman live-action.  And the idea of a video game-inspired fan film that was feature-length?  The very idea was unfeasible, a pipe dream fanboys talked about but knew wouldn’t happen.

And then X-Strike did it.  And then did it again.

Much like Troma Films, much like Robert Rodriguez’s early work, X-Strike Studios would establish a baseline from which other studios would be able to build their success.  An early pioneer of committed and dedicated fan films, X-Strike Studios would be a harbinger of what we know as the fan film industry today, an industry that continues to inspire and influence mainstream cinema.

It isn’t a surprise that X-Strike is closing its doors.  The assorted members had stated on numerous occasions they hadn’t planned for the company to endure indefinitely.  After all, it’s hard to maintain a consistent artistic vision from your early twenties into your mid-thirties, as most of the leadership has seen.  It’s a bittersweet announcement all the same because they’ve given the fan community so much entertainment.

Thank you, X-Strike Studios.