Saturday, 4 February 2017

Toy Review: Machine Robo Series 03 - Eagle Robo / Gobots Masterpiece Leader-1

The third figure in Action Toys' range of Machine Robo revamps was an odd choice in some ways and not in others. Eagle Robo was a non-descript toy and character in Japan - a standard mid-run Bandai release only really distinguished by being also chosen for the Big Machine Robo range. In the Revenge of Cronos anime the character made no more than a handful of background appearances. However, across the Pacific he was chosen somewhat inexplicably as the leader of the heroic Gobot Guardians and named as Leader-1, netting a lead role in Hanna-Barbera's cartoon and becoming one of the front-men for the franchise. The BMR release was issued as a Super Gobot (there's a chance Tonka might even have nudged Bandai in this direction considering the original figure's 1985 release). So if you're taking it face value as a Machine Robo toy it's a really weird choice but obviously Action Toys realise that in the global market putting out such a famous Gobot would bring in Western buyers. 

The original small Eagle Robo toy was not one of the line's finest moments and its' long been one of my (and possibly other fans) that such a weak design was given such exposure; the Super figure was better but naturally was hindered by so few decent figures being produced at that scale, let alone so few major characters. That the colour scheme was so bland and the character so uninspiring (in the cartoon he's a book of weak Saturday morning platitudes; his special skill is a forcefield he can cower behind, for God's sake) hardly helped either. I bit anyway, but largely because I know what I'm like - sooner or later I'd want them all and better to while the toy was abundant rather than in a year's time when the price has doubled (or halved, possibly, but I've never been a patient buyer).

The result is a very odd figure. Eagle Robo doesn't look much like the original figure or the occasionally glimpsed Ashi character model; this much was expected. What is unusual is that it doesn't look much like Leader-1 either - Hanna-Barbera in their wisdom having converted the original (which drew inspiration from a fighter pilot's visored helmet and oxygen mask, an occasional trend for the original Machine Robo figures - most famous for Tux/Limousine Robo being sculpted with a top hat to match his Rolls-Royce vehicle form). What we get here still has the fighter pilot influence a little but has more of a modern mech feel - together with some other more modern styling like the spitting shoulders the overall impression is of something more influence by Paramount's Transformers films that eighties cartoons. 

There are some other odd touches too like a contrived bit of work to simulate the panels either side of the head, a necessary design point of the original figures that didn't really need to be added; that they're in dark grey plastic, which just looks odd, and the upper arm/shoulder adds a couple of extra steps that feel more like something from an overengineered third party fanboy toy, in stark comparison to the chunky retro engineering than influences the look - if not necessarily the mechanics - of the others so far in the series. In addition to this the toy is very tall, about level with Battle Robo as the largest of the releases to date. He's got a good inch over Bike Robo which - added to having an almost Terminator-feel compared to the other figure's rounded toy-like feel - means they make an odd pair posed together, with Eagle Robo looking more like the evil aggressor. Which again would be fair enough if they were generic Machine Robo but it comes back around to the only reason Eagle Robo ending up so far up the running order surely being to cash in on Western fans who wanted to have a Leader-1/Cy-Kill match-up. Eagle Robo also has a weapon like most of the MRS toys thus far; his is a four-barrelled rifle made up of the aircraft's ordinance than doesn't really have any basis in previous appearances but isn't particularly bizarre - though speaking for myself I'm far too used to most Machine Robo/Gobots not carrying handguns to display it with him often.

All of which sounds very negative - and it's not meant to be because Eagle Robo's a very good toy. Aside from excellent articulation and balance it's work noting how much of a better fist of the basic configuration it makes than either vintage efforts - the addition of unobtrusive proper feet not only gives the toy more balance but a better look while the breaking up of the arms with darker grey sections and the neater folding of the wings makes him look a lot more interesting. The transformation is the most complex of the figures thus far; it also has the first bit I've found outright frustrating as lining the shoulders and back panels up behind the chest on the journey to robot mode basically requires trial and error to get everything to peg in right, some of the parts not having a specific place to be apart from to line up with some other tabs. The balance is provided by some superb work on the legs, however.

The F-15 mode is a good one, nice and sleek with a hefty compact feel that extends through to a fair stab at a smooth underside. Just about everything is packed way, the only slight fault being the jet exhausts just looking a bit too much like folded robot feet, especially as they're still ball-mounted. The colour is also nondescript with the largely plain grey of course, though the level of engraved detail helps and really it would be easy to find a model kit of a similar scale if you fancied spicing it up with realistic aircraft markings. There are two hardpoints under the wings for missiles while the two gun handle halves slot in under the wings to blend into the fuselage, though the latter can be fiddly to remove afterwards. And - joy of joys - he has an retractable tricycle undercarriage Rather than four awful rollers on posts.

Eagle Robo is a strange beast largely across the board. It's a great figure despite a couple of overdone parts, a smashing bit of engineering that does a good job of spicing up a dull design. But visually it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the retro-tinged range and it doesn't look like either of its' possible influences. As such appreciation will vary depending on whether you're after nostalgia, part of a themed collection or a stand-alone figure.


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