Still in good Shape

December 11, 2018

   It’s been a long time since I’ve been inspired to write a film review, but we have a very unique and interesting case here. It’s the eleventh film in a franchise that spans forty years, depicting several independent timelines and alternate realities, much like The Terminator, X-Men, or Back to the Future films… except here, the multiple continuities are not a result of time-travel, nor are any science-fiction elements present. This is merely four decades’ worth of writers, producers, directors and studios wantonly (and consistently) disregarding whatever came before, narrative logic be damned. This is Halloween.


   Any horror movie fan knows the cycle: every ten years, Michael Myers returns to haunt movie theatres, and neither fire, nor decapitation, nor the law of diminishing returns can stop him.

   The tenth-year anniversary of John Carpenter’s Halloween saw the release of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, a sequel that seemed unlikely even back in 1988; after all, Michael had clearly burned to death at the end of Halloween II (1981), and the third film was a completely unrelated story.


Jamie Lee Curtis (who had become a star thanks to the original film) refused to reprise her role again, so Laurie Strode was killed off in backstory, establishing her young daughter as Michael’s target for the subsequent sequels.

Jamie Lloyd

   However, ten years later, Curtis was keen to return to the role — Wes Craven’s Scream had made slasher films cool again — thus she and Michael were both resurrected for the awkwardly-titled Halloween H20 in 1998.

H20 Laurie

Largely ignoring the continuity — and the characters — established in the previous three movies, this seventh film (the second sequel to feature Laurie, and the fifth to feature Michael) was more revenge thriller than horror film. The final shot depicted Michael’s beheading — a most cathartic and definitive conclusion — that was immediately undone for the sequel, Halloween: Resurrection (which instead killed off Laurie in the opening act).

Resurrection Laurie

   After such a long string of narrative dead-ends, the only way to justify bringing back Michael Myers for the following decade was to ignore the previous films in their entirety, and start fresh with a remake.

Rob Zombie's Halloween

Rob Zombie’s Halloween was a very different kind of slasher film, with a greater emphasis on psychology, domestic abuse, and brutally-realistic violence. It was successful enough to justify a sequel of its own (the second film to bear the title Halloween II), but the less said about that film, the better…

Hobo Michael

   So now, in 2018, we find ourselves celebrating the fortieth anniversary with yet another film titled Halloween, and yet another attempt to ignore decades of previous continuity by resurrecting the unkillable Laurie Strode. The latest film to bear the name boldly ignores every Halloween sequel ever made, establishing a fifth unique timeline within the franchise to justify its dubious existence.

Laurie 2018

At 59, Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t get to do much acting these days; as a result, her dedication to the role is perhaps stronger than it’s ever been, and she brings a gravitas to Laurie as great as that as the late Donald Pleasence (appropriately, since Curtis is now the same age Pleasence was in 1978).

Laurie Loomis

   Despite having died back in 1996, however, there is a new Donald Pleasence cameo of sorts. We hear the voice of Dr. Loomis (actually supplied by actor Colin Mahan) on an audiocassette recording, and the effect is astonishingly convincing… especially considering how poorly the same effect had been attempted for the opening of H20 twenty years earlier.

curse loomis

   Dr. Loomis was the only original character holding the franchise together during the second decade (films 4-6), and Laurie has now taken on a significant number of his character traits. She alone understands the danger Michael represents, but nobody will listen to her; she refuses to acknowledge Michael as a human being; she runs around the neighborhood waving a revolver, announcing her intention to kill, but the local cops grudgingly accept her vigilante behavior. In an awkward line of dialogue, Laurie identifies psychiatrist Dr. Sartain as “the new Loomis,” but Sartain (Haul Bilginer) serves a very different role in the film; for all intents and purposes, Laurie is the new Loomis.


   In appearance and behavior, however, Laurie bears a much greater resemblance to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, right), another victim suffering from PTSD after her encounter with an indestructible killing machine. Like Sarah in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Laurie withdraws from society, trains herself in the use of firearms, maintains a secret underground arsenal, and is obsessed with training her child in self-defense… until she’s declared an unfit parent, and loses custody of her child. The child becomes convinced her mother’s crazy, until the monster finally reappears… and naturally, mother and child reconcile over their shared hardship before the climactic confrontation. The parallels are so obvious, it’s a wonder the producers aren’t facing a lawsuit.

   Next to Sarah’s knowledge of the coming apocalypse, however, Laurie seems irrationally paranoid about a killer who had murdered three teenagers and a mechanic 40 years earlier, and languished in a mental institution ever since; ignoring every event from every sequel to date makes Michael a great deal less threatening, as does the decision to cast 61 year-old James Jude Courtney as the man behind the mask.

Michael unmasked

It’s not hard to sympathize with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who has had to deal with Laurie’s mental illness all her life, and does her best to keep her family away from her mother’s rants. The family dynamic is believable, the drama is effective, and it’s a shame that so much of the film is wasted on Laurie’s teenage granddaughter and her friends, rather than focusing on the only unique and interesting human element in what is otherwise a run-of-the-mill slasher film.

Strode women

I actually had a hard time keeping track of all the disposable teenagers — none of whom have any bearing on Laurie’s story whatsoever — although they act and sound like human beings, at least. Most slasher films can’t even make that claim.

   Of course, this is not most slasher films, this is Halloween, and one advantage this series has always had over its trashy imitators is real talent behind the camera. Even the worst films of the series are beautifully lit and shot, and this is far from the worst — in fact, it’s one of the best in many respects — particularly in its camerawork.

tracking shot

In a loving homage to the Panaglide shot that opens the original film, there’s a three-minute tracking shot that follows Michael through a suburban neighborhood, in and out of two houses and back onto the street, featuring exquisitely-timed shadows, reflections on glass, and specific details that reference the original sequel, Halloween II (where Michael gets his knife, for example). It’s undoubtedly the most impressive display of filmmaking ever seen in a slasher film.

woman in curlers

   Deliberately establishing these parallels, however, draws attention to how much Michael’s behavior differs from that of the original films. In the ‘70s, Michael did a lot of stalking, and very little killing; he displayed forethought, patience, and creativity in how he displayed his victims for others to see. Over the years, these patterns of behavior have been largely forgotten — and to be fair, they make a significant return here — but there are also victims murdered immediately, and seemingly at random, which reduces him to the level of a backwoods simpleton like Jason Voorhees.

typical Jason Voorhees

Originally, Michael simply waited for the woman in curlers to turn her back before taking her knife; here, he bludgeons her to death with a hammer first. The change is impossible to ignore.

   There are other sequel problems that plague this one as well, particularly its inconsistent tone. Moments of levity are common in modern horror films, especially when it comes to self-aware sequels, but such humor has never worked in the Halloween series. At best, jokes come off as weird and inappropriate; at worst, they completely ruin the mood of a scene. Minor characters such as police officers are often used for comic relief, and the ineffective cops in this movie are no exception.

impossible display

   Worse still, the narrative makes it clear that Michael’s complex displays simply couldn’t be achieved as depicted in the film. This macabre presentation, for example, features a dead cop in the driver’s seat of a police cruiser, placed there after Michael must’ve driven the car through the gate and into Laurie’s front yard, parking the vehicle in front of her house in plain view of her security cameras. Her son-in-law Ray (Toby Huss) hears the car approach, sees it on the monitor, looks at it through the window, then walks out the front door to approach it directly. At what point would Michael have been able to exit the vehicle, put the body of the dead cop in his place, lay the illuminated head of the other cop in his lap, close the door, and then circle around so that he could surprise Ray from behind?

impossible kill

   What follows is even more improbable. After Laurie has blown off half of Michael’s hand, she goes hunting through her house with her shotgun, moving quietly from room to room, listening intently for him. During this time, Michael opens the front door, goes outside to retrieve Ray’s body, drags the corpse up to the front porch, brings it inside the house, and closes the door behind him. He carries the body up the central staircase and into a bedroom, opens a closet door, lifts the body up onto a shelf, and then closes both the closet door and the door to the bedroom. He manages all this without even being heard — much less seen — by Laurie.

Laurie hunts

If his footsteps hadn’t sounded so loud in the previous scene (as he walked across the hardwood floors in his heavy work boots) this might not have seemed quite so absurd…

Michael's boots

   So it’s a well-shot but ridiculous slasher film, with many of the same problems as all the other sequels.  Why, then, are so many reviewers and fans praising this particular Halloween as the best since the original?  And how did it manage to make over $250 million worldwide, far more money that any previous film in the franchise?

   Much of the film’s success is thanks to the reverence director David Gordon Green (with writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) have for Carpenter’s original, and how closely they follow his blueprint for their sequel. Great care has been taken to establish a visual continuity between films, particularly with regards to framing and shot scale:

walking home from school

Laurie looks out the window

Familiar props and motifs make a prominent return:

the gravestone

the sheet


Even specific locations are recreated.

in the classroom

looking out the classroom window

Most importantly, Michael looks a lot more like he used to, thanks to angles and lighting that cast him in shadow and generally conceal the actor’s eyes.

Michael at the top of the stairs

Dean Cundey, who shot the original back in ’78, always ensured that the mask was lit to obscure Michael’s eyes:


Later sequels disregarded this rule entirely, with disappointing results.


  For a collector of movie memorabilia like myself, Michael’s mask is the key to a successful Halloween sequel — if the mask isn’t scary, the movie isn’t — and for once, they got it right. This is not supposed to be a similar-looking mask that Michael finds by chance (like in The Return of Michael Myers), nor is it just inexplicably there from the get-go (like in H20). It doesn’t change significantly from shot-to-shot, either (like it does in the aforementioned sequels). No, this mask remains consistent in appearance because the filmmakers had a clear idea of how they wanted it to look — it’s supposed to be the forty-year old original, as contrived as that sounds — and shows all the damage to prove its age.  Note the hole visible in the neck, made when Laurie stabbed him with a knitting needle back in ’78:

needle hole

Appropriately, the distressed mask makes Michael look like a scary old man.

Michael looking old

   Best of all, John Carpenter himself has composed a whole new score for the film. The original film remains terrifying today primarily thanks to his music, and while each subsequent sequel retains the iconic title theme, they have otherwise gone in wildly different directions musically. This is the first Halloween since the original to expand on the scope of the original score while retaining the unique 5/4 time signature, and maintaining the minimalist approach to orchestration without simply repeating the same melodies. It’s a triumphant return to form for Carpenter (along with son Cody and Daniel Davies), and while the final film butchers some of the sound cues — most notably the opening title track — the complete score can be appreciated on the soundtrack album.

Halloween soundtrack

   It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but compared to its predecessors — slasher films in general, and Halloween sequels in particular — it’s well above expectations. Of the Halloweens, it boasts the best camerawork, the best music, the best portrayal of Laurie Strode, and the best representation of Michael Myers since 1978, both in appearance and behavior. That’s more than enough to declare it a cut above the rest.


Incidentally, this is how I rate the rest of the series:

  • Halloween (‘78) 🎃🎃🎃🎃
  • Halloween II (‘81) 🎃🎃
  • The Return of Michael Myers (‘88) 🎃🎃
  • The Revenge of Michael Myers (‘89) 🎃
  • The Curse of Michael Myers (‘95) 🎃
  • H20: Twenty Years Later (‘98) 🎃🎃
  • Resurrection (‘02) 🎃
  • Halloween (‘07) 🎃🎃🎃
  • Halloween II (‘09) 🎃

Bandai’s “Perfect Grade” Millennium Falcon

September 12, 2017

Bandai’s long-awaited 1:72 scale Millennium Falcon is out, and boy, does it come in a big box…!


The level of accuracy is incredible at this scale.


Look at the interior cockpit window detail…!  :o


Even the damaged sections are sculpted in!


And it comes with photo-etched parts…


…and all the necessary LEDs and wiring…


…a total of 285 water-slide decals…


…and a sixty-page instruction manual.



An objective comparison between the 1:72 FineMolds Falcon and the 1:72 Bandai Falcon isn’t really possible (seeing as they’re based oncompletely different filming miniatures), but comparing the included figures is perfectly fair… and the difference is startling:


FineMolds figures on the left, cast in grey; Bandai figures on the right, cast in off-white.


Note FineMolds Ep.4 Leia was sculpted in a standing position:


Also note FineMolds included additional display options, such as Ep.5 versions of Han and Leia, a standing Luke figure, and a couple of Stormtroopers as well (none of which are offered in Bandai’s kit).


FineMolds was the state-of-the-art twelve years ago, but we seem to have come a long way since then!

Bandai was wise, I think, to focus their efforts on reproducing the studio-scale 1:24 Falcon built in 1976 for Star Wars, rather than the 1:48 Falcon built in 1979 for The Empire Strikes Back; most Millennium Falcon reproductions to date (including the larger Master Replicas and DeAgostini kits) are based on the ESB studio model, so focusing on the original Star Wars version makes their release somewhat unique and different, while keeping the FineMolds kit relevant.

Personally, I’m ecstatic to have such an accurate reproduction of the original Falcon — infinitely superior to every studio-scale miniature or CGI model built since — and plan on reproducing its proportions as closely as possible for my own studio-scale replica


Vintage anime model kit reviews: Imai’s Mospeada model series

August 17, 2017

I’ve decided to cross-post content I’ve written for other sites on this blog, if only to keep it readily accessible to me…

These reviews were previously posted in the Mospeada thread at

I thought my fellow Mospeada fans would be interested in seeing how Wave’s 1:72 Legioss model compares with the old Imai release.  While Imai produced kits of all three modes in this scale, Wave’s Legioss is “Armo-Soldier” only.

None of these kits are currently in production, and aftermarket prices are always in flux; the most readily available to me was Aoshima’s release of the Imai kit from a decade ago (specifically, Houquet’s “Zeta”).  Wave’s “Iota” was the cheapest of theirs I could find, so we’re comparing a vintage red kit with a modern green one.


While the Wave’s only slightly taller than the Imai, individual parts and proportions vary wildly from each other.  The Wave has larger shoulders, wider legs, a much larger nosecone on the back, and absurdly large hands, required to carry that massive gunpod of his:


The Imai has a wider chest, very small hands, and a ridiculously tiny gunpod that can’t be held properly unless it’s glued into the hand…

Other than a little black wash to bring out some of the sculpted detail, I haven’t applied any paint to these kits yet.  What you see is the color of the plastic the parts were cast in — green, white and blue for the Wave kit, and red for the Imai — and clearly, both will require substantial painting.  There are white parts of the Wave kit that need to be painted green, and green parts that need to be painted white, so it matters little what colors the parts were cast in; everything’s gonna need paint anyway.



As is typical of ’80s kits, the Imai is rife with unsightly seam lines and misaligned panel details, and will definitely require a lot of cleanup work before painting; the Wave does a better job of hiding most of the seams, making it easier to build and requiring less glue to assemble.


Also typical of modern Japanese kits, the Wave uses plenty of PVC poly-capped joints to aid in articulation.  The Imai is well-articulated for its time, but can’t compare with the poseability of  a modern robot kit.


However, fans will notice a lot more deviation from the animation line art when it comes to sculpted detail on the Wave — the shoulders, legs and feet in particular — and there are a lot of recessed panel lines that don’t exist in any other depiction of the Legioss.  If you want your model to be anime-accurate, you’ll probably want to sand off or fill in some of those egregious details with putty and paint over them.

I haven’t decided exactly how I want to proceed with my build from here, but I’ll probably do some mixing-and-matching of parts to come up with the most accurate Armo-Soldier I can.  The chest intakes and shoulder-mounted sensor array are more accurate on the Imai, but I prefer the overall proportions and the articulation of the Wave kit.  Neither kit comes with adequate hands, so I’ll likely use 1:144 scale Gunpla aftermarket hands instead.  The feet on the Imai kit are closer to the animation model, but I prefer the aesthetics of the boots on the Wave… but those “cleats” have got to go!

Anyway, the real reason I bought that vintage Imai 3-in-1 kit was for the 1:72 fighter:


Every other toy or model kit representation of the Legioss has favored the Armo-Soldier mode, which means fighter mode (if it’s even capable of transformation) is plagued by a short, round nosecone, large arms overwhelming the fuselage, and legs that dominate the back half of the jet (usually amounting to nearly 50% of the volume).  The tail fins are never canted at the right angle, the fuselage is never straight along the horizontal axis, and the feet always stick out much too far.  This vintage kit is the most (if not the only) accurate Armo-Fighter ever produced.


Here you can see the engines in proper proportion to the rest of the fighter, as depicted in the original designs and in animation.  The engine nacelles have realistic depth to them, and the tail fins sit at the proper angle.


The underside cleans up nicely, and the legs appear to be folded up in a way that no engineer has ever managed to achieve in a transformable toy.  Also, we see why the gunpod appeared so ridiculously small on the vintage Armo-Soldier kit; it was clearly scaled for fighter mode instead, and under the wing it looks pretty close to the size it was drawn in the animation model sheets.

You can see where guide holes have been placed to install landing gear, or panels to conceal it (if you want to pose it in flight), and I intend to keep both display options viable.


It’s not perfect, of course — the cockpit is severely lacking in detail, and the pilot seat is much further forward than it should be — but compared to the 1:72 Armo-Diver or Armo-Soldier kits (or the 1:48 transformable models), this one’s far more accurate, easier to construct and paint, and ultimately much more satisfying.  Of all the Mospeada kits I’ve bought and put together over the years, this one gets my highest recommendation.

Next up:


Imai’s 1:12 variable-type [sic] VR-041H “BLOWSPERIOR” comes in a surprisingly large box, adorned with the usual gorgeous paintings and bullshit English text —

What?  You didn’t realize “Blowsperior” was a mistake?  Seriously?

Well, it should come as no surprise that Shinji Aramaki is a vintage motorcycle enthusiast, and that he named Yellow’s specialized ride armor after a high-end line of British motorcycles designed by George Brough.  The “Brough Superior” was the first sports bike, and Brough Superior motorcycles are still prized by collectors to this day.

It galls me that, after three and-a-half decades of advancement in the field of information technology, fans around the world continue to refer to the VR-041H as a “blowsuperior,” years after we’ve learned “Stick” is actually Stig (a Scandinavian name) and “Fuke Eroze” is supposed to be Hoquet et Rose (a French name).  Tatsunoko marketing execs in 1983 were only concerned with the Japanese market, and had no Internet access; they simply didn’t know any better.  We have no such excuses, however, so let’s put an end to this here and now.  It’s Brough, not “blow.”

Got it?


Anyway, despite the wide variety of Mospeada toys produced over the last 35 years, this vintage kit remains the most accurate rendition of the Brough Superior released (since Beagle folded before they could put their version into production).  Let’s take a look inside the box, shall we?

There are numerous parts on multiple sprues (over 150 parts, all told), including real rubber tires, die-cast metal joints, screws and springs.  Since it’s designed to be transformable, there are a lot of complex moving parts to assemble.

Another mistake on the packaging is where it says “simplified construction for easy assembly,” ’cause it’s not.  The instructions are sometimes inadequate (especially if you can’t read Japanese!), making for a difficult build, even for someone with considerable modeling experience.  In some cases, you’ve just gotta muddle your way through and figure it out as best you can.

There are points in the instruction manual where Mospeada characters provide advice, but it’s not particularly helpful:

For example, Hoquet’s word balloon says “Be careful not to lose those tiny parts.”  Good advice, sure, but not very informative.  <_<

Once you get it together, though, it really looks the part.  :wub:

The figure and bike are both well-proportioned (look at the size of those tires!), but articulation is somewhat limiting.  There’s no elbow or thigh swivel — just a rather restrictive hinge — making it difficult to get a good riding pose, and no up-or-down movement for the head, either.  Before I complete any of the subassemblies properly, I’ll definitely be adding additional ball joints to bring the articulation up to modern standards.

It’s not easy, but you can get the ride armor to stand unassisted if you find the right pose.  It’s back-heavy, of course (like any Mospeada ride-armor), but not inordinately so.

Forgive the crude assembly; I’m just figuring out how everything fits together, and which parts will need painting first.

At 1:12 scale, it sits right between the 1:15 MegaHouse toys (right) and the 1:10 Beagle (left).  I was hoping for parts a little bigger — to kit-bash a custom Beagle “Brough Superior” — but I just don’t think the scales are compatible.

The boots would definitely be an improvement over those dainty Beagle legs, however!

It’s important to remember that this isn’t a toy, and you have to be really gentle with some of the joints.  It’s designed to be transformable, but given the fragility and the potential for paint rub, I’d advise against transforming it once it’s completed.  You should probably decide what mode you want to display it in before you build it, and keep it that way.

Of course, having said that, I’m gonna have a hard time deciding which mode I prefer…!  :mellow:

I managed to acquire this kit for about $30 USD shipped — twice its original retail value, sure, but still a steal for such a large and complex model.  If you’re an experienced modeler — and you can find it for a decent price — I highly recommend getting one.

It’s gonna look awesome once I’m done with it.  B))

Now, for something a little simpler:


Imai’s 1:15 VR-038L “Bartley” kit has some misleading artwork on the package, representing Houquet (NOT “Fuke”) wielding her distinctive cannon in a dynamic action pose the figure is totally incapable of achieving, with a smaller image of the bike mode the figure is also totally incapable of achieving.

Since 1:15 is the scale the MegaHouse figures employed, I figured she could fit right in with the boys…


…since MegaHouse neglected to include a Bartley figure in their “Variable Action” line.  :(

So what’s in the box?


About 75 parts total, which is less than half the parts count of Imai’s 1:12 scale kits.  Since this kit is considerably smaller and is fixed-form, it’s much easier to put together; the initial rough assembly you see here only took a couple of hours.


The figure is articulated about as well as could be expected for its age, but badly needs elbow, knee, and thigh rotation…


Nonetheless, even the stock figure is capable of some fairly feminine poses, thanks to its lightweight construction (and a great deal of patience!).  ;)

Unfortunately, the proportions are considerably less feminine.


One detail came as a real surprise, however:


The front and back tires have distinctly different tread patterns!  I’ve never seen that on any other Mospeada toy or model kit.

Anyway, how does she look with the MegaHouse boys?


Pretty damned awful, I’m sorry to say. :vava:

She’s too tall, too fat, and too masculine — almost as if it were Jim wearing Houquet’s ride armor — and it’s gonna take a lot of customization to make her look like the lithe teenager she’s supposed to be.

Oh, and while Imai saw fit to include her targeting scope, they clearly forgot something:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s no weapon included in the kit!  :angry:

Fail, Imai.  FAIL.


Galactic Resin Studio Scale Y-Wing model

July 17, 2016

Custom Transformers

May 21, 2013

I’m often unsatisfied with the inadequately-painted and inaccurate Transformers released by Hasbro, TakaraTomy, and third-party manufacturers, and frequently make modifications to my toys to more closely match their animation models, comic book designs, and live-action CGI appearances. Sometimes all it takes is a few well-placed stickers, but other times it requires extensive repainting, parts swapping, and kitbashing accessories to satisfy my aesthetic sensibilities. Here’s some of the work I’ve done over the past year or so.

Using the new “gallery” feature, you can now browse each of these images in a slideshow. Click on any of the thumbnails below to start!

A makeshift Decepticon

February 28, 2012

Last month at Toys ‘R’ Us, I managed to find one of the elusive Transformers from the final wave of Dark of the Moon figures. A deluxe scale Mercedes-Benz E-class (“deluxe” meaning “small enough to crush in one hand, but not small enough to slip between your fingers”), this navy blue luxury car transforms into Que, the mechanical engineer who appears in the third Transformers movie.

Originally intended to be Wheeljack, the mechanic and inventor from the original TV series (who appears as Wheeljack in comic books based on the movie), director Michael Bay reportedly decided to name him after the James Bond character Q instead, who outfits 007 with high-tech gadgets just as Que outfits his Autobot brethren in the film. Furthermore, Bay thought it would be funny to give him a ridiculous faux-British accent, and make him look like the alien equivalent of Albert Einstein; Mercedes-Benz is a German company, after all. The result is disgustingly ugly, especially for an Autobot character.

While not entirely accurate, the Takara designers based the look of the toy on the CGI character. The result is depressingly ugly, especially for an Autobot figure.

That head has gotta go!

Otherwise, however, the figure is pretty sweet. The vehicle mode is very accurate, and looks even better with a little touch-up paint work to bring out sculpted details (like the front grill):

I added a little flat black to bring out the panel lines, and silver highlights around the Mercedes-Benz logo. The license plate was made in Photoshop and printed onto adhesive paper.

His hand-held tools can be stored under the chassis in vehicle mode, a feature undocumented in any of the instructions (nor anywhere online, as far as I can tell):

The robot is very well-proportioned, with long limbs and broad shoulders, and features a great deal of articulation; I just couldn’t abide that face, though. I removed the head entirely, and replaced it with the head of a “Gundam Converge” Delta Plus mobile suit. Now he looks like a kick-ass Decepticon, not an ugly-ass Autobot! I particularly like the look of that translucent red visor.

Also, since there are prominent 5mm ports on his back, I decided to attach the large cannons Big Daddy wasn’t using.

All that was left was to decide on a name for this new character, who now fits in better with the aesthetics of the ongoing comic series and toy line. There was a navy-blue Autobot luxury car among the Mini-cons in the Universe line named “Makeshift,” which seemed an appropriate name for a character born of a half-assed headswap; Makeshift also happened to be the name of a short-lived Decepticon spy in Transformers: Prime, who infiltrated the Autobot base pretending to be Wheeljack. Thus, the navy-blue Autobot luxury car (pretending to be movieverse Wheeljack) becomes Makeshift, a navy-blue Decepticon spy (pretending to be an Autobot mechanic). Serendipity, if I do say so myself.

Makeshift may not be showing signs of stress in this laid-back pose, but his plastic joints tell a different story. One thing to be aware of, for those of you who managed to acquire one of these figures: there are already prominent stress marks forming in the hands and the insides of the front fenders, where they attach to the arms. Note the white lines that have formed in the plastic, and take care not to subject those areas to significant pressure; it looks like breakage could be a definite possibility, if you’re not gentle with him.

Oh, and since the Delta Plus head attached so easily to Que’s body, I figured Que’s head might as well go on the Delta Plus body:

Somehow, the childlike proportions suit this head better, don’t you think?

An unexpected journey

December 30, 2011

An article about me — or rather, my toy collection — was featured in last year’s Christmas issue of Town Joho magazine. My business partner Katsumi (who has appeared in a magazine herself) recommended me to the staff, who visited my home with a professional photographer. While the published photos aren’t particularly flattering, the staff was very pleasant and I enjoyed the attention. They asked me if I had some appropriate attire to wear that would reflect my interests, so (since I had yet to acquire my Boba Fett or Biker Scout armor) I put on an old Halloween costume for the photo shoot: an Earth Federation uniform from the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series.

Having been impressed by a photo of Shaun Wong on his Website, I decided to follow suit and wore sunglasses. It didn’t really work with the ensemble, but my wife was relieved; I’m harder to recognize this way, you see.

The toy room was photographed with a wide-angle lens, which actually makes the room look even smaller than it really is!

The staff spent some time debating where and what to photograph in my house — I have showcases and displays in almost every room — and also took separate pictures of larger items, like the three-foot long “Tumbler” Batmobile from Hot Toys’ 1:6 scale Batman Begins line.

These infamous photos of the toy in my driveway I shot (from a deceptively low angle) have fooled numerous people over the last couple of years!

I was asked what items were the most valuable, and which I liked best, and in both cases I pointed out event-exclusive Boba Fett figures from Medicom’s “Kubrick” Star Wars action figure series, my favorite of which accurately reproduces the original vintage Kenner figure and packaging:

I also gave a shout-out to Shoji Kawamori, the genius mecha designer responsible for the transformable fighter craft of Macross, as well as the recent Yamato Toys’ 1:60 versions.

Of course, if the interviewer asked me to pick three favorites now, I’d likely give three completely different answers.

With so many fantastic figures and vehicles, how could I possibly choose?

If you can read Japanese, click here to read the full text of the article.

Since the magazine publishes interviews with collectors on a semi-regular basis, I was hoping the staff might introduce me to a like-minded individual. I asked the interviewer if she knew anyone with a similar collection, and she appeared to give it some thought as her eyes moved from one showcase to another.

“No,” she answered, “nothing like this.”

She pointed to my Bearbrick shelf, telling me she’d met someone who collected those figures, and had also seen a similar collection of 1:6 scale dolls (although apparently not nearly as many as I have on display). My collection far exceeded everything else she’d seen in both amount and variety. According to her, Japanese collectors tend to restrict themselves to a single product line — or at least, a single media franchise — rather than the ever-expanding mass of interests my action figures represent.

However, subsequent to the article being printed, there was a collector who contacted her wanting to be introduced to me. Koji, a vintage Star Wars enthusiast, had seen the magazine in the convenience store where he works, and was eager to meet other dedicated fans. He’s a member of the 501st Legion, a worldwide organization of costumers with exacting standards for membership; only screen-accurate costumes are accepted, requiring the investment of a great deal of time and money to meet their rigorous standards. I helped him put together this Stormtrooper costume.

Affiliated with both Lucasfilm and charitable organizations like the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Salvation Army, and the Red Cross Hospital, he’s one of “the bad guys who do good.” He’s encouraged me to join the Japanese garrison of the 501st, which meant I needed to put together a costume of my own:

Now officially approved, I have the membership badge to prove it.

My debut appearance with the 501st will be in Tokyo on New Year’s Day, promoting a new Star Wars-themed clothing line from A Bathing Ape. Lucasfilm has requested numerous promotional appearances in movie theatres across the country over the next few months, and I’m joining a charity marathon in Nagoya to benefit sick children as well.

Toy collecting can lead your life in unexpected directions!

New from The Clone Wars: Five different vehicles, five different scales… -_-

December 7, 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, I’ve decided to review the new Clone Wars vehicles I’ve acquired over the past year.  Hasbro continues to produce an exciting array of action figures and accessories for this latest line of Star Wars products, and their figures remain as consistent in quality and scale as ever.  Unfortunately (given the compromises necessary to maintain such a large and varied toy line in an ever-changing market), their vehicle line is constantly hampered by gross inconsistencies in scale and proportion.  To my frustration, the five new vehicles presented here (while all intended for use with their line of 1:18 action figures) were each produced at a uniquely different scale.

The only one accurately to scale with their action figures is the “Republic Swamp Speeder,” or ISP (that’s Infantry Support Platform), not to be confused with Kenner’s ridiculous ISP-6 (nor your Internet Service Provider, for that matter).  Among the various automobiles in Star Wars — or speeders, to use the in-universe nomenclature — this one’s one of my favorites, even though it can only barely be glimpsed in Revenge of the Sith, and doesn’t appear in The Clone Wars TV series at all.  The best reference image I could find comes from Star Wars: Complete Cross-Sections (one of the only images in the book that isn’t, in fact, a cross-section):

Illustrated by either Hans Jenssen or Richard Chasemore (or John Mullaney, or Jon Hall); DK Publishing is not clear on this point.

It appears more frequently in movie tie-in video games, and its single Clone Wars appearance comes from a comic book.

The toy is lovingly detailed, with appropriately weathered paint applications, and includes a design feature entirely unique to Star Wars vehicles: seat belts! 

However, despite being made of soft, flexible rubber, actually fitting them over a figure in Clone Trooper armor requires the patience and dexterity of a Jedi.

I somehow managed to get the starboard driver belted in without incident, but the port seat belt wouldn’t stay in its housing and eventually needed to be glued down.

The figure’s hands kept popping out of his forearms, too, since the control sticks on the seats are just a little too far forward for the figure to comfortably reach. Again, Krazy glue provided a permanent (if problematic) solution, and my Clone Troopers look right at home at the controls.

There are pegs molded into the platform on either side of the craft, so other figures can be mounted standing on the vehicle.  Of course, unless there’s some kind of “anti-gravity plating” or “acceleration compensators” built into the floor, there’s no way anyone could remain standing while the craft is in motion… and if they could, then seat belts for the drivers hardly seem necessary, do they?

Those pegs are perfectly adequate for keeping figures firmly attached, even when the vehicle is in motion.  Wheels concealed on the underside of the toy allow it to roll smooth and easily across the floor.

The package even comes with this gorgeous cardboard backdrop depicting Felucia… although for some reason, mine didn’t.

The other speeder I picked up this year also came with an impressive cardboard display diorama, this one beautifully depicting a vast industrial sector of Coruscant:

The painting accurately recreates a setting featured in the Clone Wars episode “Lethal Trackdown.”

In the episode, Plo Koon and Ahsoka take a Praxis Mk. I down into the seedy underworld of Coruscant.

It’s a huge speeder (larger than even most of the fighter craft seen in Star Wars), and its sleek, manta ray profile suggests great speed.  The open-air cockpit looks awfully dangerous — no seat belts here! — and the windshield’s not quite high enough to cover the top of Plo Koon’s head. 

Maybe that’s how he lost his hair.

The toy version, as you can see, is considerably under-scaled; about 1:24, I estimate.  Two figures can sit in the cockpit (provided they’re of frail Clone Wars proportions), but the windscreen’s reduced to little more than a dashboard cover.

Behind the cockpit there’s an astrodroid socket, and putting an R2 unit back there makes the scale discrepancy even more apparent… but without a droid there’s just a gaping hole in the fuselage, which is equally unattractive.

Still, the dashboard’s nicely detailed, including instrument panel stickers, and even the floor of the craft has sculpted detail!

Unfortunately, there are unsightly holes in the engine pods for loading and firing spring-loaded missiles.

More missile launchers are concealed in the front of the speeder (retractable sections pull out from either side), and the rear section opens to reveal further guns facing fore and aft, with pegs to attach gunners.  Jedi don’t carry guns, of course — as Yoda famously tells Luke, “a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack” — so naturally, Hasbro’s “Jedi Turbo Speeder” is armed to the teeth.

Another toyetic compromise to appeal to gun-loving American boys, perhaps?  Or is this part of a larger Hasbro agenda to fuel the military-industrial complex?  (Hey, what blog is complete without wild conspiracy theories?)

Despite its abundant play features, however, this one does not have wheels concealed in the undercarriage; it may look fast, but it won’t move an inch.

The graceful backswept wings are made of soft PVC plastic, and don’t hold their shape well; they also have hinges attached at their base, for no apparent reason. In order to keep the engine pods properly aligned, I needed to pull the ends of the wings out of their housings in the fuselage.  They have to sit at an angle facing forward in order to hold the engine pods parallel to the plane of the speeder.  A minor design flaw, but it does further detract from the sleek lines of the vehicle (even with all the weaponry concealed).

The engine pods, the wings, the clean lines and symmetry of the design, and the total lack of weathering all give a distinctly Star Trek feel to the craft, and I’m sure it would look at home in J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie series.

Next up is the HMP (Heavy Missile Platform), a flying battle droid seen over the skies of Kashyyyk in Revenge of the Sith:

At about 1:32 scale, the HMP toy (known simply as “Droid Gunship”) is considerably smaller than it ought to be… although its actual size is difficult to determine onscreen, since they only appear briefly in a few aerial shots.  The scale of the toy is largely irrelevant.

This craft also has a Star Trek flavor to it, reminiscent of Klingon or Romulan starship design.  It’s appropriately bristling with weaponry, most of which can be rotated, aimed, and fired.  Unfortunately, these play features require large, round buttons for launching missiles and dropping bombs, protruding from the surface of the craft both on the sides and on top.

They might’ve been less obtrusive, if the sculpted detail on the hull had been painted to stand out a little more, but the two-tone blue color scheme is so bland that the HMP almost looks like an unpainted model kit.

As with the Octuptarra Droid and the Corporate Alliance Tank Droid toys, Hasbro has seen fit to include a cockpit to accommodate a Battle Droid pilot.  Why a droid needs a droid to pilot it remains a mystery to me, but I imagine Hasbro sells more action figures this way…

Again, the intricately sculpted detail cries out for a decent paint job.

Props to the Hasbro design team for the practical addition of a retractable landing leg.  Without it, the only viable display option would be to hang it from the ceiling (which is what I’m going to do anyway)…

This next vehicle, the AV-7 Mobile Cannon, actually makes a couple of significant appearances in The Clone Wars, first in the dismal pilot film and again in the second-season episode “Weapons Factory.”

The Hasbro toy is well-proportioned (with the possible exception of the legs), and appears to closely match the CGI model.

The gunner seat fits Clone Trooper figures, and looks appropriately scaled…

…until you attach it to the cannon.

See the scale discrepancy?

It looks even more pathetically small when posed with troopers on the ground.

In the aforementioned episode, Clone Troopers can be seen walking under these cannons — that’s how big they’re supposed to be — and if the legs of the toy were better articulated, the base of the cannon could at least be raised a little higher off the ground; alas, the legs only hinge upwards, the ankle joint is severely limited, and the knee joint is fake.

To add insult to injury, Hasbro has seen fit to include half-assed play features, such as a flimsy flip-down platform to mount additional figures on the left side.  There are pegs for three figures, but it can barely handle the weight of one, much less three; see the precarious angle these two are leaning at?

Fold up the back legs, and spring-loaded tank treads swing down from the undercarriage.  There’s no mechanism to lock them in place, however, and they collapse back into their housing with even the slightest downward pressure.  What’s more, the treads are as fake as the knees, merely a single plastic piece painted black on the outside edge.  The whole thing is even more awkward and unstable than it appears.

If only they’d spent those tooling costs on properly-articulated legs instead, this vehicle might not be a total write-off… but being so pathetically small to begin with (not even 1:35 scale, I reckon), it wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference.

I really wish I hadn’t wasted my money on this one.  It’s a big disappointment.

Even more ridiculously under-scaled, however, is the improbably-named Republic Attack Shuttle, seen early in the first season of The Clone Wars.  Being a big fan of the Imperial Shuttle from the original trilogy, I fell in love with this ship as soon as it appeared in “Rookies”:

Hasbro’s toy version is reasonably well-proportioned (all things considered), and looks almost as cool.

This elegant design is both aggressive and graceful at the same time.

The cobalt-blue engines and gunmetal grey housings have a distinctly Gundam vibe, and from the rear it looks more like a Bandai toy than a Hasbro one.

The triangular folding wings, the shape of the fuselage, and the overall dimensions of the ship are clearly derived from the Return of the Jedi shuttle design, another nice touch of visual continuity bridging the gap between the original trilogy and The Clone Wars.  As the wings fold up and the shuttle lands, the pilots are visible through the cockpit canopy:

That’s Captain Rex and Commander Cody in the two-man cockpit.

The toy cockpit actually seats two figures — well, perhaps “seats” isn’t the right word, since they’re in more of a standing position — but only one is visible through the cockpit cover.

The included Clone Pilot figure features an entirely new helmet sculpt, and isn’t merely a repack of 2008’s “Odd Ball” figure.  It’s an extremely well-articulated figure, by necessity: you’ve got to get him into a pretty funky pose for him to fit in that cockpit, after all!

In the show, troops are seen exiting the ship from the front ramp.  Cody and Rex walk down the ramp side-by-side.

The shape and inclination of the ramp is more apparent in this image from “Lair of Grievous”:

The engineers at Hasbro even managed to get the height of the landing gear correct (something they failed to do with either the Imperial Shuttle or any of their various iterations of the Millennium Falcon).

There’s just one problem:


Obviously, a shuttle properly scaled to the action figures would be ridiculously large and prohibitively expensive — making it impossible to market as a toy — so why make this half-hearted attempt to accommodate 1:18 figures in a 1:48 scale vehicle?  The inclusion of a couple 1:48 figures would’ve made a lot more sense, and the ship wouldn’t look so absurdly small by comparison; the interiors could’ve been reproduced as accurately as the exterior, providing much more authentic play value.

Instead, we get intricately detailed interiors that look terrific empty…

…but are much too small to suit the action figures they’re designed for.

How are these guys supposed to get out?

A child-like “Kubrick” figure, at least, would likely fit through that door…

…but even Kubricks are too tall to get though here.

I did, however, manage to find one appropriate Hasbro figure suited to the interior proportions.

Regardless of the scale issues, this vehicle is packed with electronics and play features.  Flip up the wings, pull up the top of the fuselage, and pop out the side panels, and suddenly the ship is transformed into an “attack base” with “recon fighter.”  It’s completely apocryphal, of course (having no basis in Star Wars fiction whatsoever), but it’s the perfect playset for kids who care more for cannons than canon.

Figures can be pegged in all over the place, manning consoles, pillboxes, and rotating gunner stations; it could easily be marketed as Hasbro’s first Star Wars/G.I. Joe crossover.

Figures can even be mounted on the lookout tower, although it doesn’t look like a particularly safe place to stand…

This guy appears to be in the firing path of his own guns!

Even the recon fighter has a slot on top to accommodate a gunner for the built-in cannon.

The weapon racks molded into the panels on both wings are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.  The white rifle is included with the vehicle, and appears to be the same ABS plastic as the hull; the black guns are PVC plastic accessories sold with individual figures.

Criticizing the accuracy of Hasbro’s Star Wars toy line is becoming increasingly time-consuming, and preparing this latest post has clarified the reasons why this blog was neglected for such a long time: it takes too much damn time!  I’d much rather be painting model kits and customizing Transformers than writing weblogs, after all.  While the continued attention and feedback this blog receives is encouraging, I lack the motivation to keep this up on a regular basis.

Thanks to anybody who’s actually read this far, and Season’s Greetings for 2012!  I’ve got some awesome new Transformers acquisitions to share, but I doubt I’ll get around to it before Christmas…  -_-

When 1:1 equals 1:18

November 25, 2011

Ever since I acquired a Rubies “Supreme” Boba Fett costume back in September, I’ve been researching and exploring the world of Star Wars props and costumes.  In my attempt to accurize that costume, my attention has shifted away from the 1:18 scale Star Wars miniatures, and more towards 1:1 scale reproductions of weapons and armor.  This has led me to a whole new group of friends and Star Wars aficionados, and toy collecting has taken a back seat of late.

However, the more I learn about what bits and pieces were used to construct the various costumes, the more I find this new hobby overlapping with a previous obsession of mine, the studio-scale filming miniatures.  The same model kits that were cannibalized to detail the spaceships in Star Wars — a time-saving process known as “kitbashing” — were also used for detailing the props and costumes worn by the actors (Carrie Fisher’s Boushh outfit, for instance), and having spent as many years as I have obsessing over the original Millennium Falcon miniature, rediscovering these parts in other areas of the Star Wars universe is as exciting as an archaeological find that links birds to dinosaurs.

And thus it occurs to me that, while spending all that time researching and constructing my own replica of the “studio-scale” Millennium Falcon model, I’ve really been reproducing a 1:1 scale prop, rather than a 1:18 scale playset for my action figures.  It was that glorious coincidence of scale that prompted me to begin my reproduction to begin with: having discovered that the filming miniature built by ILM for A New Hope in 1976 was almost exactly 1/18th the size of the Falcon set constructed at Elstree Studios in London, I realized that the original model was the perfect scale for 1:18 (otherwise known as 3 3/4″) Star Wars figures.

What followed was years of online research, various attempts to reconcile discrepancies between interior and exterior sets, prototype mockups in foamcore and styrene, and combing through hundreds and hundreds of Tamiya, Bandai, and Airfix model kits trying to find the exact parts used to detail the original model.

While the pioneering work of Robert Brown and David West Reynolds has been instrumental to my project, the actual work of fitting 1:18 scale reproductions of the Falcon interiors into a replica of the studio-scale model required months and months of planning.  I used Photoshop to produce blueprints of the model, utilizing multiple overlapping layers to determine exactly what would fit where, and deciding where and what to compromise to actually make it work.  The documents themselves are extremely detailed high-resolution images, but this simplified multi-layered rendering should give you the basic idea of what I’m attempting:

I started with a foamcore mockup of the outer hull, to determine the exact shape and dimensions required for an accurate reproduction.  The base was this large piece of dense foam I bought at a hardware store, and cut to the proper shape:

I cut foamcore ribs and hot-glued them to the base to provide an endoskeletal structure to build on.

Next, curvilinear parts were measured, cut, and folded into the proper shapes to form the hull.

The unique and distinctive shape of the cockpit required particular attention…

…as did the port and starboard docking rings, below which our heroes are often seen entering and exiting the ship.

Having attached the lower hull and the cockpit, the Falcon was beginning to take shape.

Next came the upper hull, and the boarding ramp.

The hydraulic struts on either side of the boarding ramp are a combination of wood, styrene, PVC plastic and metal rods:

The engine grill is comprised of 68 separate styrene fins, each cut to exactly the same shape and glued one centimeter apart from each other.

The rectenna dish, carved from a wooden tea saucer with PVC detailing, is the only part to have been primed for painting:

I then began to attach the model kit parts I had identified from the studio model, starting with the Tamiya 1:35 Panther engine covers (seen behind the lower three exhaust vents on the engine block).

Given many of these vintage model kits are quite rare and expensive to acquire, I did my best to scratchbuild whatever parts I would require multiples of:

After building a styrene skin to attach all the kitbashed parts to, the engine deck began to take shape.

The exhaust grills are cut from exactly the same material ILM used in the ’70s (which is also the texture used to mimic the solar panels on the TIE Fighter wings):

Having discovered that the seats used in the Falcon cockpit set were taken from a Porsche 911, I found a 1:18 scale diecast Porsche (with accurately-colored upholstery) to steal the chairs out of:

Han’s chair was mounted much higher than Chewie’s, to account for their considerable height discrepancy.

Luke’s chair (behind Han’s) is just a temporary LEGO mockup.

The front mandibles were then covered with a styrene skin, so that kitbashing could begin in earnest.  The panels on the front are Tamiya 1/12 Ferrari 312B engine blocks, identical to those on the original model.

The inner mandible walls are lined with the undercarriage of an AMT/Ertl 1:25 ’57 Chevy Bel-Air.  Quite an exciting find!

For the sake of scale comparison, I photographed my Falcon mockup next to the old Hasbro toy:

…and the new Hasbro “BMF” version, once it came out.

My accurately-scaled version will have a great deal more interior space, as Han inspects first-hand:

Chewie appreciates the headroom, while Han considers possible smuggling compartments.

Here’s a shot of my workspace, on the living room floor.  The HD video projector is an invaluable asset.

I’ve just begun cutting the hundreds of panels that will be required for detailing the upper and lower hull.

Now the real fun begins…  -_-

(Some of) the Star Wars toys

November 20, 2011

Now that I’ve made the acquaintance of several hard-core Star Wars fans through the 501st Japanese Garrison and the Jedi Order, I thought I should upload some photos of my Star Wars toy collection as a whole… which is just about impossible, actually, since it won’t fit in one room (much less the confines of a single photograph)!  Here’s the best I’ve been able to do, without the benefit of a wide-angle lens:

That’s the bulk of my Star Wars displays… at least, the 1:18 scale Hasbro merchandise.

Since you may be wondering, I’ll answer a few questions pre-emptively:

I don’t how many figures I have, nor how much I’ve spent acquiring them.  I would estimate over 2000 Star Wars figures are in my collection, but (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) there’s a lot of other stuff on display as well, even in the toy room… and among my regular purchases, Star Wars merchandise is the least expensive.  I spend far more on 1:6 scale figures, die-cast cars, and transformable Japanese toys.

Almost everything on display was purchased at Toys ‘R’ Us in Okayama (when they still distributed Star Wars toys to Japan), or through online distributors.  Some of it is acquired by friends in North America, to help me save on shipping and avoid paying Japanese import prices; some of it is purchased through online auction sites, like Yahoo! Japan auctions or eBay.  The only stuff that I brought with me from Canada are my vintage Kenner figures, a complete collection of loose figures I’ve had since the ’80s.

I’m not a vintage Kenner enthusiast, mind you; I much prefer the modern Hasbro toy line, and love to watch the product evolve from year to year.  I lose interest in older figures and vehicles as soon as more accurate versions are released.

I don’t feel compelled to purchase every Star Wars toy produced, even within a single scale or sub-line; I’m actually rather picky about what I buy, and don’t obsess about what I have or haven’t managed to acquire.  I’m even pickier about cost, and sometimes put off buying a particular figure or set until I can get it sufficiently cheap, often waiting years until it falls into my price range.  Much of my Star Wars collection was purchased at considerably less than its retail value — I probably don’t spend as much as you think I do.  ^_^