Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination – Xenon

Ultraman’s Robotic Friend
Playmates, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, 1994

At first glance, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad looked like a high-concept knockoff of Power Rangers or Ultraman (for the few in the US that watched Ultraman: Towards the Future).  You have a high school teenager who uses his magical (or so-super-futuristic-as-it-might-as-well-be-magical) device to turn into a superhero.  But what do his teammates do.  Well, depending on the episode, they try to guide him with high-tech input.  Or, they Samuraize (hey, it was a kids’ show in the 90s; don’t judge) and become superheroes too.

The Xenon Program (this takes place inside a computer, remember?) is made up of the vehicles Borr, Tracto, and Vitor.  Each is piloted by a different teen in the show.  However, much like the lions in Voltron, they don’t amount to much individually, especially when compared to their combined form of Xenon.

In the show, Xenon appears to be a slower-but-stronger version of Servo.  He appears to lack the agility of his mainstay counterpart, but is shown as far more durable (usually because he takes the abuse).  Xenon has little bit any personality, and the individual vehicles get very little face time.  The one exception to this, however, is in a single episode where Xenon and Servo end up having to fight one another.


Appearance – 3 out of 5
The toy’s representation of Xenon is simply okay.  Adequate.  While the individual vehicles look, more or less, appropriate, the figure of Xenon looks far blockier and unwieldy compared to his counterpart in the show.  The toy’s proportions are so different from what we see in the show, it almost demands a double-take to make sure it’s the same character.  The figure looks almost like a building while the character in the show looks more like an action hero.

Construction – 3 out 5
Playmates is more known for their children’s toys, so it may not be a surprise that this toy is fairly sturdy.  The plastic isn’t the heaviest, but it’s well put together.  The joints are all solid and when a joint is turned, it stays turned.  There are some issues with the transformation-related movements, where it can be a little hard to tell if Peg A is aligned with Hole B, but it’s nothing too bad.

Movement – 2 out of 5
The figure has nine joints – the rotation of the neck, the rotation of the shoulders, the adduction of the arms, the adduction of the hips, and the rotation of the leg joints.  There is movement of the hands, but as this is more connected to the transformation process than an actual articulation point, and seeing as the hands can’t hold anything (which is a shame), they aren’t included.
In fact, all the joints (save for the rotation of the neck) are as much a function of the transformation process as they are mobility to the figure.  That the toy was designed to benefit from these movements twice is impressive, but it does leave the figure wanting in terms of posing.

Extras – 1 out of 5
Nothing.  Xenon comes with no extra attachments (except for himself; more on that next week), no additional weapons for he or Servo to use.

Packaging – 4 out of 5
The one area where the toy does excel is in its packaging.  Just as with Servo, the packaging is brightly colored and distinctive, as well as being unique to the toy.  It brilliantly shows with just a glance who Xenon is, what he looks like, and gives a vague idea of just who he is.


Overall – 2 out of 5
This feels a little harsh.  Xenon’s not a bad toy per say and the ability to break down into three vehicles is kind of neat.  But the lack of point to the vehicles, plus the lack of much mobility or accessories to the combined figure, just makes this toy too much of a letdown.  The toy ultimately proves to be just what the character on the show is: a vague Megazord to Servo’s Ultraman.
But as we’ll see next week, there was one saving grace to the Xenon figure, and it was the inherent strength of the entire Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad toy line.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination – Servo

Ultraman for the new Millennium
Playmates, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, 1994

The 1990s were an interesting time in entertainment.  The march of computer technology had reached a point where TV shows were able to offer special effects that could rival the effects of blockbuster movies from even just a decade ago.  While computers were becoming more common place, they were still largely misunderstood.  As a result, throwing the term ‘digital’ in front of just about anything made it sound edgy and near-futuristic.

So it’s little surprise that a TV show would come along setting super heroic antics in some vague ‘digital world’.  Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad was one such show, marrying the Godzilla-meets-Power-Rangers of Ultraman to the New Age of Computers.


Appearing just a decade after the first Godzilla film, Ultraman was a space hero of gigantic proportions who used his martial power and energy attacks to combat the forces of evil (read giant monsters sent on a weekly basis).  While Denkou Choujin Gridman (the basis for Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad) isn’t technically part of the Ultraman franchise, it has all the hallmarks of Ultraman and is generally considered to be a related cousin.

Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad follows a group of teenagers (because this is the 1990s we’re talking about and the Power Rangers ruled kids’ entertainment for most of the decade) who enter the digital realm in order to combat the monsters created by the bad guys, Kilokahn and Malcolm Frink.

The show itself is worth discussion (and maybe we will in a later episode), but right now, we’re talking about the central toy to the franchise, our hero, Servo.


Appearance – 3 out of 5
Servo the toy looks a great deal like Servo the character from the show.  A lot of the little details are captured in the armor, especially around the head.  The figure is more than a little blocky, though, the result of having no abdominal joints of any kind as well as having abnormally broad shoulders.


Construction – 3 out of 5
The Servo figure is okay.  It’s not great but it’s not spectacular.  The figure is hollow, which makes it feel a little flimsy.  The plastic shell is very sturdy and tough, but it’s still a shell.


Movement – 2 out of 5
The figure has 19 joints, almost all of which are on the arms.  The neck rotates, as do the lower legs.  The knees bend and the feet tilt.  The hip joints, while there, have a very limited range of movement, just barely even justifying their inclusion at all.  The arms, are capable of an almost ludicrous amount of movement and positioning angles.

Curiously, both arms have two little notches on the upper arm, just below the armpit.  They fit into tiny holes in the body itself for no really identifiable reason.


Extras – 3 out of 5
Servo comes with a wrist band (which is narratively important), two swords, an axe, and a shield.  In theory, the different weapons are combinations of the basic sword and shield (in the show, the shield folds and slips onto the sword; high up for the axe and nearer to the handle for the super-sword).  It would be neat if they included these combining features, but as it is, this means there are at least two loose pieces at all times.  That the toys are all the same gray plastic with no color doesn’t help either.


Packaging – 4 out of 5
The packaging of the toys is extremely colorful, with each package being distinctive and vivid.  A light blue with yellow-and-orange overlayed made them stand out on the toy story shelf.  Since each package was distinctive, the artwork was always unique and what was displayed (as far as other toys available) was likewise varied.


Overall – 3 out of 5
This is a pleasantly middle-of-the-road toy.  It comes with some neat weapons and its arms are mobile, but it’s lack of stability and mobility in other joints is a little frustrating.  It has no real weaknesses but also no real strengths.  Not in this toy, anyway.  As we’ll see next week, the strength wasn’t in the single toy but in the whole toyline.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Dragon Dagger

Green Ranger Dragon Dagger

 Green With Awesome

Bandai, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, 1994



Our culture has some fascination with the odd man out, the ‘Plus One’ in any situation.  You have a regular team, and then you have the specialty figure that complements and adds onto that team.  You have some people claiming to be the Fifth Beatle.  In basketball, you have a six-man starting team.  And in Nerdom, we call it the ‘Green Ranger Syndrome’.

Back in the early 90s, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were unstoppable.  If you weren’t around for it, words can barely express the awesomeness.  One-part Godzilla, one-part cheap kung fu flick, and one-part… well, let’s face it, Voltron, all mixed together in an extremely colorful and rather campy sci-fi show.  It was beautiful and it would (believe it or not) turn into one of the longest-running sci-fi/fantasy franchises in television history.



The Green Ranger started out as a bad guy, an evil power ranger directed to destroy the good guys.  He was powerful, diabolical, and (thanks to martial-artist-turned-actor-turned-MMA-fighter Jason David Frank) had a hysterically over-the-top evil guy laugh.  Seriously, that laugh couldn’t have been made more evil than if he’d had a top hat and a monocle.

The Green Ranger came with a mech (a zord, in MMPR vernacular) known as the Dragonzord, which was basically a super-colorful version of Mechagodzilla, complete with the telltale roar.  And this zord was summoned from the depths of the ocean by the Green Ranger’s weapon of choice, the Dragon Dagger.  A combination flute/bowie knife, the Dragon Dagger could pipe several tunes as well as shoot laser beams.  So it was only a matter of time before Bandai turned out a role-play version of the weapon.


Appearance – 4 out of 5

The thing is spot-on.  It looks flawlessly like the prop from the show.  Yeah, sure, plastic has replaced metal, but it’s a toy so it’s quite forgivable.  The golden Green Ranger emblem in the crossbar is an especially nice touch.


Construction – 4 out of 5

Bandai does some good work, no doubt about it.  In something of a precursor to the melee toys of the modern era, such as the NERF swords that I am determined to review, this weapon has a soft plastic edge, rendering all but the most serious of hits as little more than an annoyance.  It’s not a perfect defense against injury, but it’s a sizeable one.  The plastic is relatively sturdy and the buttons have little give so as to ensure no problems from play.


Movement – 3 out of 5

I’m not sure how to score a toy that’s meant to be wielded like a knife.  It’s not supposed to have much in the way of moving parts.  But because of its sturdiness and sheer fun to handle, I feel comfortable giving it a middle-grade just because.


Extras – 1 out of 5

This toy comes with no extras whatsoever.  Not even some little cardboard cut-out men for you to knock over.


Packaging – 3 out of 5

The Power Ranger line was quite distinctive in the coloring of the packaging, so there’s that.  I’ve always enjoyed the consistency with the look of the characters and it continued through this toy and into the next several generations.  Nice, but there wasn’t much to write home about.



Overall – 3 out of 5

I really wanted to give this toy a ‘4’ but it just didn’t quite make it.  It’s lacking any appreciable bells and whistles, but otherwise, it’s an excellent toy that’s really reliable and well-built and it’s a fantastic example of a solidly done product.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Grimlock (Generations)


Him No Bozo, Him King

Hasbro, Transformers Generations Toyline, 2006

20100901 - Grimlock


Nope, you’re still not reading that wrong.  And yep, we’re reviewing Grimlock again.  This time, our leader of the Dinobots comes to us in the form of the Generations toyline which was a reimagining of the original line and characters, 25 years later.

I think this evaluation is important because it says a lot about toys have evolved in the last quarter-decade.  If we look at the Transformers as they first arrived and what we have now, it speaks volumes about the fandom and the world said fandom inhabits.




For 25 years, Hasbro has been producing Transformers toys.  Believe it or not, there’s never been a point when Transformer toys haven’t been in production and available.  Through the dark days of the Gen-two era, through the beacon that was Beast Wars and then to the nightmare that was Beast Machines, and into Robots in Disguise and the Unicon Trilogy, and finally to the arrival of the live-action movie, Transformers have remained a part of the fabric of entertainment.

As was en vogue at the time, it was a return to the 80s, with 80s shows, movies, and concepts rising to the forefront of entertainment.  It was an era rife with relaunches and reimaginings.  And Transformers was no different.  And so we got the Generations toyline.



Appearance – 4 out of 5

It’s not going to surprise anyone if I describe this toy is beautiful.  It elegantly captures the original design and appearance of Grimlock – in both robot and dinosaur mode – and then him to the next level.


Construction – 2 out of 5

While there is nothing poor about this toy, it is a little lacking in the materials.  The plastic feels a little light and there are some movements that require a bit of elbow grease which, with the light construction, can give one pause about doing possible damage.  Also, some joints don’t really lock into place so it’s too easy for them to swing open with even the slightest movement.


Movement – 4 out of 5

Speaking of movement, this thing is a charm.  Beautifully done, this figure is (already referenced above) incredibly poseable and comes with an array of joints that correspond with the anatomy.  Both robot and dinosaur modes can move fluidly and naturally.


Extras – 3 out of 5

The toy comes with two extras: a tail/sword weapon of some bizarre design and a gun with a blade (which is absent from the photo above, sorry).  Both of these fit into the character’s hands in robot mode and fit onto the figure in dinosaur mode.


Packaging – 4 out of 5

I know; I have a love affair with Hasbro and its Transformers packaging.  And you know what, the Generation’s line didn’t let us down.  Beautifully illustrated, this accentuated the newness of the toys’ designs while still harkening back to the original line.



Overall – 4 out of 5

This is a fun toy to play with that’s well-built and pretty sturdy.  Combine with that its familiarity to the fans that have loved the franchise since the start and you’ve got a great toy.  If there was any mistake to level against this toy, it should be obvious: it should be bigger.  It’s Grimlock, afterall!

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Grimlock (Animated)


Him No Bozo, Him King

Hasbro, Transformers Animated Toyline, 2007



In the wake of the live-action Transformers movie, Hasbro had a real problem.  On the one hand, they had a very popular and very successful movie on their hands.  On the other hand, they had a lot of jilted fans that were a little annoyed at the liberties taken with their favorite franchise.  Never ones to look back, Hasbro launched their Transformers Animated line in conjunction with their new animated series that drew from every source prior as well as becoming its own entity.  However, as has been stated before, Hasbro knows where its bread is buttered and they went to great lengths to make sure the fans didn’t feel left out on this one.




            Transformers Animated was a colorful and somewhat more kid-friendly version of the original Transformers series.  The characters are a little bit more outlandish and extreme than their Gen-1 counterparts, but they also benefited from superior character development, event progression, and all the overall progress that cartoons and animation have enjoyed in the intervening decades.  And while the plots of most of the individual episodes tended to be a little on the simple side, the overarching season and series plots were more ambitious and powerful, partly due to the anime invasion in the late 1990s and 2000s.  As a result, Grimlock in Animated is like a caricature of his Gen-1 self; louder in almost every sense of the word.  However, like all good art, through this exaggeration we see even more clearly elements of the character we know and love.



Appearance – 4 out of 5

The Grimlock figure is very well made and beautifully represents the character from the show.  Like the character from the show, it clearly harkens back to the original character from Gen-One, all the way down to the nigh-identical transformation sequence.  The character is nicely colored and manages to capture the somewhat whimsical look of the character from the series.  The only real complaint I have is that seams and screws are way too obvious.  There’s pretty much no way for the character to stand that you don’t see at least a few reminders of how the toy was put together.


Construction – 3 out of 5

The figure is relatively solid in its construction and the plastic is a bit on the weighty side, though I wouldn’t be too quick to apply the adjective ‘rugged’.  All the joints are sturdy, but there’s still a certain sense of fragility to the figure that isn’t as common to Transformers as one would first suspect.  It feels a little light in the hands and the limbs feel a little too disproportionate for their weight distribution.  There’s no clear issue with the construction, but it’s just not quite there to make it solid and well done.


Movement – 5 out of 5

This figure is beautifully mobile.  It’s got every joint you need and none of the ones you don’t.  There isn’t a pose this figure can’t take.  The head turns, the jaw of the T-Rex head opens and closes, the shoulders are ball-joints, there’s a waist, and more.  The only thing it’s lacking are ankles and you really won’t miss them.  Seriously, both forms are extremely mobile and natural to move.  The toy even has opposable thumbs for crying out loud!


Extras – 2 out of 5

Grimlock comes with only one extra, but it’s a doozy.  He comes with a flaming sword that (in theory) doubles as a gust of flames from his mouth.  The sword is appropriately large for a thug like Grimlock and it even has little sprouting flames that pop out by putting it in his hand.  In dinosaur form, the sword is supposed to stick into his mouth to simulate his fiery breath.  The reality is not so cool as the sword barely fits in his mouth and when it does, it still looks like a sword stuck in his mouth.  A for effort, but a D- for execution.


Packaging – 3 out of 5

The Transformers Animated packaging was quiet nice and bordered on excellent, but it just didn’t quite make it.  Each package came with a picture of the figure on the front, a plastic window to see the figure inside, and an explanation of the character’s powers and personality on the back.  Unfortunately, the explanation was a little sparse and there was no real explanation of the story itself.  Other characters were presented, but they seemed haphazardly chosen and represented only a fraction of the available line.  Overall, it was good packaging and well-done, but not anything to write home about.



Overall – 4 out of 5

This is a fine example of a very decent toy.  While it’s definitely lacking in some notable areas, overall it’s still a well-made toy that’s a lot of fun to play with.  The transformation movements are smooth and make sense, the figure is very easy to pose and will hold poses without much effort.  I don’t think this is the most sterling example of a Four, but it’s simply too well made and too much fun to play with to reside with the mediocrity of a Three.