Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Heavy Arms Gundam

Heavy Arms Gundam
Gundam Wing Toyline, by Bandai, released 2001

Because Nothing Says ‘You’re Screwed’ Like A Giant Robot With Big @$$ Guns

In the early 2000s, anime was making its big push.  Asian Chic was coming into style and the Japanese elements of cartoons, once anathema as far as the entertainment industry was concerned, was now looking for anything and everything they could find that had any Asian elements to it.  It was during this time that Gundam Wing aired on Cartoon Network and, for a brief time, would become the king of that particular hill.  Bandai, the international toy manufacturer, model producer, and all-around makers of mirth, decided this would be the perfect time to unleash upon the world some of the best mecha toys ever produced.
Gundam Wing follows the story of five pilots who fly giant robots (called Gundams) in a war between the Earth and the colonies earth has established.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much the recurring plot of each Gundam series.  Gundam Wing takes place in an alternate timeline from the main Gundam series and, as a result, takes some cinematic liberties with the mecha.

Heavy Arms is, like the other Gundams in the series, colorful in both design and in use.  Its pilot, Trowa Barton, is reserved and dedicated, something that doesn’t quite match with a giant robot that has a huge gun for an arm and is bristling with missiles.  Still, Trowa was a fan-favorite and Heavy Arms has been a memorable stand-out from the series ever since.
Appearance – 5 out of 5
The term ‘attention to detail’ immediately comes to mind with this toy (and with all the toys in the line).  The amount of work that went into this figure is quite honestly unheard of.  There are textures and details that just seem beyond reasonable (such as under the arms and on the bottom of the feet).  The paintjob is beautiful with absolutely not flaws or blemishes.  The only figures that can compare with these would be actual models and even then, they couldn’t do much better.  About the only way to have a more detailed figure would be to build the actual Gundam!

Construction – 4 out of 5
Heavy Arms has some beautiful construction, but also some problems.  The plastic used is clearly a very heavy grade and high-quality.  Unfortunately, the joints aren’t really up to the task of supporting the limbs, leaving them feeling week by comparison.  Limbs tend to not stay in place if you pose the figure and its all too easy for an arm or a leg to pop-off during play.

Bandai, however, being the masters of their craft, have prepared for this by design the toy to snap apart.  If the arm comes off or the leg pops out, it’s really easy to just snap it right back into place.  This isn’t as preferable as the limbs not to break to begin with, but if fixing them is a snap, it becomes almost a minor complaint.

Movement – 3 out of 5
Unfortunately Heavy Arms illustrates some of the impracticality of mecha.  One is the lack of balance.  The toy has some tendency to fall over if the arms are both extended.  The other problem is the lack of mobility.  While the leg joints are perfectly mobile and capable of great range of motion, the hip armor prohibits such movements, making elaborate stances and even kicking not really possible.

Extras – 3 out of 5
The figure comes with detachable hands, a single-barrel gun, a double barrel gun that doubles as the shield and, of course, a light saber the infamous the beam saber.  There isn’t much else, but this arsenal is pretty substantial.  As is frequently my complaint, there’s nowhere to store the unused parts (if the single-barrel gun is on the arm, there’s nowhere to put the second gun or the beam saber or the detached hand).

Packaging – 1 out of 5
The packaging is pretty much the standard generic fare.  The back shows the figures available in the series with no explanation as to the plot or the characters or anything.  The front has no distinguishing traits above the name of the Gundam written on a paper nameplate inside with the figure.

Overall – 4 out of 5
This entire series is composed of some of the best mecha figures ever produced and that’s saying something.  While sometimes the maneuverability is a bit lacking and the functional nature of the toys can be a little off thanks to the weak joints and heavy plastic, these things are none the less an absolute joy to play with.  They are a tactile dream and beautifully evoke the series that inspired them.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Starcom

Starcom: The US Space Force
Produced by DiC Entertainment, released 1987, available on YouTube

GI Joe meets NASA

Starcom is a shining example of the difference between recalling something and remembering something.  People remember GI Joe; they recall Starcom.  They recall a show kind of like GI Joe, with somewhat similar toys, but details are usually pretty sparse and they usually end up just writing it off as misremembering an episode of GI Joe.

In fact, Starcom wasn’t a GI Joe knock-off but more of a Flash Gordon knock-off, meant to ignite kids’ interest in outer space.  The story was rooted (in theory) in a little bit more realism than the sci-fi fare of the time (remember when the Decepticons teleported Cybertron into earth’s orbit; if you had a week, you couldn’t list all the ways that would be a bad idea, even for the bad guys).  So while Starcom does have aliens and interplanetary space travel that takes hours instead of months, it also has an emphasis on biospheres, weather patterns, and some of the more mundane wonders of studying space.  All of it is set against the heroic efforts of the uniformly benign Starcom as they try to keep the peace against the enigmatic Shadow Force, led by Emperor Dark, who is trying to do bad because it’s a Saturday morning cartoon.

Story – 4 out of 5
Starcom’s story, while nothing truly exceptional, is better than most because of the slight nuances that play out.  It’s true that, as a kids’ show in the 1980s, nuance isn’t the best word, but the Shadow Force often have slightly more intelligent plans than their counterparts on other shows.  Moreover, they are often depicted with a greater level of understanding.  Rather than try to overwhelm Starcom, they try to use elements of a given planet to their advantage and the Starcom forces often have to use similar intellectual resourcefulness to overcome them.  Yeah, laser blasters come into play, but for a kids’ show, it’s above-average stuff.

Art – 4 out of 5
The art is stellar.  1980s cartoons made a leap forward in quality artwork, but this show really stands out.  Only theatrical releases had better artwork than this show and the detail is often on par with a lot of the anime that was being imported at this time.

Animation – 3 out of 5
While the art was stellar, the animation was nothing outstanding.  But nothing at all bad, either.

Characters – 3 out of 5
The characters of the show are a little bland and generic, but by having a tight cast of three principle heroes (Slim, Crowbar, and Dash) and three primary Shadow Force villains (Malvanna Wilde, General Von Dar, Major Romak), the characters get a little more personality than in other shows (like, say GI Joe which had over twenty protagonists in its first year alone).  Sort of like the Real Ghostbusters, the characters aren’t much, but what they are is done well.

Acting – 3 out of 5
The acting is unremarkable, even for the 1980s.  There are some cringe-worthy moments and some really stellar moments, but as a whole, nothing stands out.

Overall – 4 out of 5
Starcom remains largely an unsung hero of the 1980s cartoon behemoth.  It was a well-done show that just didn’t manage to catch on.  It’s well put together, had a fun gimmick (more on that next week), and was rooted in some good intentions.  Maybe it’ll get reimagined in the coming years.  But for now, Youtube videos will have to suffice.