Sunday, 5 February 2017

Toy Review: Machine Robo Series 04 - Battle Robo / Gobots Masterpiece Tank

Battle Robo was a relatively low profile character in Japan, with his animated appearances in the Revenge of Cronos anime; the problem with the show was that only a few characters had much to really do and with Rod Drill already out and Blue Jet being held back (either to boost a later wave or because the Fewture Gokin version is still relatively recent) the rest are much of a muchness in terms of exposure. It's more likely that simply being the second toy in the original series saw him bumped near the toy of the queue.  It certainly didn't hurt his profile in the West, where he got released early doors in Machine Men, Robo Machine and Gobots - the latter seeing him the subject of one of Tonka's less inspired brainstorming sessions and get named Tank, a name even more generic than his Japanese title. He was featured in Challenge of the Gobots in the standard Renegade pattern of moderate exposure in his debut episode followed by occasional outings as muscle, though he did get to be voiced by Peter Cullen.

One of the notable things about the original figure was that it was a head taller than most in the line, something carried across to his various media appearances. Thus we get off to a good start with this being retained, freakish Eagle Robo aside. And the sculpting is good too, keeping the memorable trapezoid head, the tracks on the legs and the raised chest, all rendered well by Jizai Toys - there's a real blocky, retro feel to the design. However, the ball is dropped badly on the colour scheme; while I was prepared for a lighter colour than the rich dark blue of the original figure more in line with the anime appearances but the toy is lighter again and the result is a little wishy-washy. There are also inexplicably white paint applications on the wrists and knees while again don't really co-ordinate with anything previously and further lighten the robot's palette. Which wouldn't be a problem if it didn't look plain unimpressive; a darker, more solid colour would have made Battle Robo much more imposing.

It's a shame because there's a lot else to recommend. The robot is dynamic if not having the same extraordinary level of balance some of the others in the range have due to the diecast tracks on the back of the legs and the relatively small feet, while the head nestles inside a cowling to enable it to turn. In simple poses it's an imposing figure and the lack of agility actually fits in nicely with the lumbering characterisation bestowed on him, especially in the West. 

Battle Robo's weapons also get a nice workout; the rifle is separated from the rest of the turret so it's less obvious in robot mode. The remainder is fixed to the back with can be arranged to form two shoulder-mounted cannons if desired; it's a vast improvement on the original which carried around a straight-up turret and/or a weird twin-barrel thing that didn't feel very organic or practical. There is an annoying little design flub, however - due to the nature of the transformation the right fist doesn't tab into the rest of the arm securely like the left, meaning if the rifle is placed in the right hand it can't actually support the weight of the gun in some poses.

The 1982 version of Battle Robo had the simplest transformation of a series that - in the early days especially - wasn't renowned for complex sequences, involving literally bending the figure double. Here it's technically the same but with a vast number of additional steps, though after a small amount of practice you're rewarded with the best transformation of the line so far, a fantastically flowing piece of genius as the upper torso and legs fold back from the chest and tuck together.

The vehicle mode strays a little from the original but the original was a folded up robot, with no attempt to even hide the arms. The rough gist of the design is carried over here but infinitely refined into a tiny, compact and much neater design with some neat touches. The turret is still a triple-barrelled unit but a more imposing one that actually looks like it belongs on a combat vehicle, with the guns able to rise in addition to the turret's rotation. The front weapon is replaced by a small pair of built-in guns that do the same job in a much less clumsy fashion. The tracks don't move or even have slave wheels (which is fine, they're quite unnecessary on premium figures) but are neatly mounted on individual ball-joints in a nice touch.

Mechanically Battle Robo is a great figure; the only real fault with the engineering is the limited range of poses and even that's only poor by comparison to most of the other figures in the series, with the actual display options still being decent. Both modes are radically improved and the transformation is a genuine marvel; I'd recommend any fan of transforming robots at least tries to handle one of these. Personally though I just can't get past the colour scheme - not that it's different but that it's simply too light and weak, though naturally someone less fixated on something like that will get a lot more joy.


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