REVIEW: G.I. JOE CYCLE ARMOR with ASHIKO
The action figure world can be a rather mercurial place at times. Toys that are showcased at the International Toy Fair or various fan conventions fail to materialize for one reason or another -- usually retailer disinterest. Sometimes a toy is manufactured and the order for it is canceled, which sometimes relegates that toy to a clearance store such as Ross. But hey, at least it becomes available eventually. And then you have the strange case of a couple of recent G.I. Joe vehicles, that ended up having to find retailer homes outside of the United States. To which I would have to say -- thank goodness for cyberspace, and message boards that don't know national boundaries, and a few favors traded here and there. Otherwise, I suspect this review wouldn't be happening, and that would be a real shame.
The vehicle in question is formally known as the G.I. JOE CYCLE ARMOR, admittedly a somewhat unusual name, but then, it's a decidedly unusual vehicle, and not just because it, along with the Cobra Scout H.I.S.S., are the latest relative rarities in the G.I. Joe world.
Certainly there has been no shortage of motorcycles within the realm of G.I. Joe. In the very first year of the line, the Joe Team picked up the RAM, a small but impressive motorcycle molded in military olive green. A few years later, the Dreadnoks got their own recolored version of the RAM, as part of a Sears Dreadnok Ground Assault Set. The Joe Team would counter with the Silver Mirage, and the Dreadnoks came back with the Dreadnok Cycle, a rather preposterous-looking three-wheeled contrivance that as much as anything looked like a nasty version of a Big Wheel. They later traded up to the Doom Cycle. The RAM itself returned in a new mold as part of the 25th Anniversary line, and was recolored into the Desert RAM, another relatively scarce entry that ultimately made its way to certain clearance stores.
But -- a motorcycle that you can wear as armor!? That's an interesting innovation. Now, admittedly, it would be fair to say that more than most pop-culture entertainment concepts, G.I. Joe has to walk a fine line between reality and fantasy. Transformers features sophisticated robots from another planet. Their technological capabilities can be well in advance of our own and they can get away with it. Masters of the Universe doesn't even take place on Earth. Whatever their various attributes, they can be considered just a normal part of life on Eternia. The technology of super-hero universes such as those presented in DC and Marvel have been well in advance of our own for decades. It can be reasonable to assume that, factoring in the presence of super-powers themselves, certain laws of physics just work a bit differently. In their worlds, it's not so hard to believe a man can fly.
But G.I. Joe is a little more grounded in reality. They can step afield a little bit, and certainly have over the years, but they have to be a little more careful. The origins of G.I. Joe are still connected to one degree or another with the real world military. Certainly the original 12" G.I. Joe didn't go too far, until the latter years when characters such as Mike Power and Bulletman were introduced. Some of the vehicles within the Real American Hero have been fairly fanciful, but even some (I stress, "some") of the more peculiar items that have cropped up aren't necessarily impossible -- although I don't know that anyone would want to build a working Cobra Pogo Ballistic Battle Ball...
A motorcycle that can be used as protective armor is probably pushing the envelope more than usual. That doesn't mean it isn't a cool item. Let's consider both the motorcycle and the driver separately, and then see how well they work together.
Neither the Cycle Armor, nor its driver, Ashiko, have any prior precedents within the G.I. Joe universe, so there's no real history to work on here, except in a general sense. As I already indicated, there's been no shortage of motorcycles within the G.I. Joe world over the years. So how does the Cycle Armor compare?
Quite well, really. For starters, compared to most of the motorcycles in the G.I. Joe line, it's huge. It measures close to 6-1/2" in full length. Compare that to less than 6" for a Silver Mirage, and barely 5" for a RAM. Additionally, the main body of the Cycle Armor is massive, whereas the bodies of the other two G.I. Joe bikes are relatively small. This is not only a large motorcycle, it's a powerful-looking motorcycle.
If I was a Cobra on a battlefield, and I saw a RAM or a Silver Mirage, I might be worried, especially if their guns were pointed at me. If they weren't, I might be worried as to whether I could actually hit the thing with whatever weaponry I was using. Conversely, if I saw the Cycle Armor plowing the field, I'd figure I could probably hit it, but I'd be more than a little concerned that if I did, all I'd really end up doing would be ticking off the driver and garnering some unwanted attention.
The main body of the Cycle Armor is a very dark steel blue, and dark gray. This just makes it look that much more menacing. The overall design of the bike is quite angular, which gives it a very futuristic look. I can't say that I've seen any real-world motorcycles that are especially close in design to the Cycle Armor. It isn't so far afield that it looks implausible, but it's definitely not like anything on the road today, and it looks both extremely powerful and more than a little mean.
The Cycle Armor has two kickstands underneath, which do a nice job of propping it up, but really, the main body of the bike, particularly the tips of the kickstands, ride so low, that you don't even really need to put them down for the bike to stand up on its own, albeit at a slight angle.
There's a few painted details on the Cycle Armor, mostly some spots of yellow on the sides, and the front headlight.
Let's discuss the labels for the vehicle for a moment. Fortunately, there's not a lot of them. I don't mind doing labels on G.I. Joe vehicles, but in recent times, Hasbro has gone a little label-happy with some of their mid-size vehicle releases. I can see the G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier or the Defiant requiring something on the high side of a hundred labels -- but the VAMP? Okay, labels help the vehicle look cooler and more authentic, but after dealing with something like that, I'm nearly crosseyed.
The design of the Cycle Armor is such that there's not a lot of places to even put labels, so it's probably just as well that it has less than a dozen. However, even some of these don't quite fit where they're designated to. This is particularly true with the G.I. Joe star-shield emblem. The spot where it's supposed to fit on either side of the bike isn't quite big enough to accommodate it, and on one side, it's where the date and copyright information has been sculpted in embossed letters. You really don't want to try to put a label in that area. So I suggest a little creativity with a few of the labels. I moved these to the upper body and they fit well enough and look fine. But it's your call, of course.
Overall, the Cycle Armor is an extremely impressive motorcycle, even without the transforming capability. Now let's consider the driver, an all-new character by the name of -- ASHIKO!
It's an interesting, and certainly atypical name. His real name is listed on the file card as N. Kaeru -- also rather interesting. According to one detail on the file card, he's another member of the Arashikage Ninja Clan.
So, between the code-name, the real name, the futuristic design of the bike, I was wondering if Hasbro was obliquely referencing some anime or manga that I just wasn't aware of. Everything sort of looked and sounded the part. Maybe I was thinking of Akira or some such. However, this does not appear to be the case. I'm not saying that whomever came up with the Cycle Armor and its driver isn't a fan of Japanese anime and manga. I'm just saying that there's no specific reference intended here.
I was able to determine that the name "Ashiko" and the character's surname of "Kaeru" do have some explanation. His code name refers to a ninja weapon, and his real surname is an actual surname, and is also Japanese for frog. How applicable that is to a high speed motorcycle is likely open to some interpretation, but the person who provided the explanation seemed to think it was a decent enough fit.
So, how's the figure? Extremely cool. Ashiko is dressed in an armored suit of his own, in black and dark metallic gray, pretty much a pewter color. His head is masked, except for areas around his eyes, which are very neatly painted. He has thick shoulder armor with a connected chestplate and backplate, that have circular peg-sockets on them. His arms are mostly black, as is the uniform under the chestplate, and these have heavily sculpted details of their own.
Ashiko's lower arms are armored, in the pewter color, and he has black hands. His lower torso is also pewter. His upper legs are black, but clearly armored, as they also have sockets, and his boots are pewter-colored and armored looking. He also comes with a black motorcycle-type helmet.
The figure is certainly rather futuristic in appearance, and if the uniform reminds me of anybody, it looks a little like Barricade's, at least insofar as the basic premise of extensive body armor is concerned. But Ashiko looks a little more plausible, while still maintaining a rather futuristic look. Painted detail is relatively minimal on the figure. Apart from the eyes, Ashiko has the star-shield emblem stamped on his chestplate, and a few little yellow dots on the shoulders -- lights, perhaps? Overall, he's an extremely impressive-looking figure, and a very interesting addition to the G.I. Joe collection.
There's another comparison that can be made here, and it's entirely valid in light of what the figure and the motorcycle are capable of together. There was an action figure line in the 1980's, from Kenner, called CENTURIONS. These figures, relatively large for the time period, were a team of adventurers dressed in futuristic uniforms that had a great many plug-in sockets as part of their design. Each character could have a number of assorted weapons and even near-vehicle sets attached to their uniforms, not at all dissimilar from Ashiko and the Cycle Armor. Centurions was an unfortunately short-lived action figure line, that nevertheless had a distinctly above-average animated series to accompany it. I'm not saying that whomever came up with Ashiko and his Cycle Armor was specifically inspired by Centurions, but there's definitely a similarity here, in both form and function.
Ashiko's file card is not all that extensive. Apart from referencing the fact that he's a member of the Arashikage Ninja clan, it says that he is a professional motorcycle stunt rider -- no great surprise there. It adds, "By combining martial arts expertise with advanced stunt motorbike skills, Ashiko becomes a menacing stealth missile on wheels!"
Now, before we get into combining man and machine, I just want to add one other note, specifically about Ashiko's weapon accessories. This is normally something I don't discuss all that extensively in my reviews, but wow! When I opened the little plastic bag that contained the accessories, as well as instructions and label sheet, a small arsenal of stuff came tumbling out. Either some military surplus store was having a sale, or Ashiko is on good terms with the G.I. Joe team's quartermaster.
Three different rifles, two UZI-like submachine guns, a small pistol, a ninja sword with a sheath, and a small dagger with a sheath. I mean, really. What, being able to wear your own vehicle isn't good enough? Being an Arashikage ninja isn't good enough? However, I will say that all of the weapons are very nicely made and well-detailed.
Now, let's consider what it takes to turn the Cycle Armor into a Battle Suit. There's a certain bit of cross-concept irony here. When I pulled out the instruction sheet, I was immediately reminded of an instruction sheet for Transformers. Same sort of graphic, step-by-step instructions. And just as with the Transformers -- no words. I've long felt that sometimes, a two-dimensional drawing doesn't always cut it with a three-dimensional transformation, so it's always been my habit when reviewing a Transformer to provide written instructions for the procedure. I see no reason not to do that here, as well.
First of all, there's these two little devices near the front of the bike, on either side of the headlight. Those must be removed. Next, swing the front part of the bike holding the front wheel in place out to either side, and remove the front wheel.
Now separate the main portion of the bike into two halves, remove the front piece, and set aside the rear wheel. If this were a Transformer, you'd be pretty concerned that you were scattering a robot all over the place at this point, and transforming him into little more than a pile of broken plastic bits, but you're really supposed to be disassembling the cycle into these component sections.
Next, remove the seat -- if it hasn't already fallen off, which it did in my case. The seat splits in half, too, by the way. Then take the portions of the main body remaining, and remove the bulky blue sections. You will notice inside one of these a small component with yellow straps. Keep an eye on this, you'll need it later.
Now take a look at the pile of disassembled bike parts you have scattered around, take a deep breath, try not to think about what it's going to take to put this thing back together as a motorcycle eventually, and go find your Ashiko figure.
Stretch out what are now the "feet" of the former grey sections of the main body of the motorcycle. These now become Ashiko's armored legs. There's a peg inside them that secures to the sockets on Ashiko's legs. Impressed with the design at this point, as there's actually a knee joint in the armor parts that corresponds to the figure's knee joint!
Now take that piece with the yellow straps, attach it to Ashiko's back, and bring the straps over his head, and wrap the hole around the first socket on the chest armor. Then attack the former front of the bike that includes the handlebars and the now wing-like sections.
Next, take the former seat halves, attach the little devices from the former front of the bike, and secure these to the arms.
Finally, take the rather bulbous body sections, attach these to the back of the figure, and attach the wheels to these sections.
Anyway, what's the result? Well, I think it's a good thing that the package back says that Ashiko can use this armor get-up for air reconnaissance, because I'd think it would be darn near impossible to move in this thing -- despite the fact that it claims to allow the wearer to run faster, as well. Even though most of the figure's articulation points are allowed for, it's still a very bulky apparatus.
Even so, it's an extremely impressive design, and one could see it as a logical extension, and a bit of a sidestep, given the motorcycle mode, of previous robotic battle suits and similar devices that have been part of the G.I. Joe world, dating all the way back to the Cobra SNAKE Armor, and including such items as the Power Fighters and the more modern Defense Mechs.
Several things impress me about it from a toy standpoint. For one thing -- the ENTIRE motorcycle is used. Somehow, I didn't expect that. And it still looks extremely cool AS a motorcycle, while still being an excellent fit, for the most part, on the figure. And as I indicated a couple of paragraphs back, the figure's overall range of articulation is accommodated in the design, although handling the figure when he's fully armored is more than a little awkward.
In many respects, I believe this toy to be more complicated than the average Transformer. When one is transforming an Autobot or Decepticon, one is essentially changing a single specific toy from one internally-designed mode to another. Ashiko and the Cycle Armor are a little different. The Cycle Armor had to be designed to look cool and be functional in its motorcycle mode, and still be able to be disassembled and rebuilt WORKABLY on an entirely separate, SECOND toy -- that being the Ashiko figure. For that matter, the Cycle had to be designed so that Ashiko could use it in motorcycle mode.
None of these things would be easy from a design standpoint. There's no mention whatsoever of Tomy on this package, so I'm reasonably certain that the Japanese company that still produces the Transformers had any hand in the Cycle Armor, despite the fact that there are some structural and functional similarities here and there. I have to believe as such that the designers at Hasbro no doubt took what cues they had to from the design of Transformers, and were able to implement them very effectively on Ashiko and the Cycle Armor. They are to be commended for their remarkable work here.
Removing the armor from Ashiko is relatively easy. Reassembling the armor into the Cycle is a little more challenging, but honestly not as bad as I expected it to be. Of course, I frankly expected it to be a huge pain in the neck -- and a few other anatomical regions -- and it was nowhere near that bad. Heck, I don't usually even mess with my Transformers that much. Just change them from vehicle into robot mode and leave them that way.
So, what's my final word? It's no secret that Hasbro had some trouble finding a retail home for this item, as well as for its assortment-mate, the Cobra HISS Scout. And I think that's a sincere shame on both counts. Ultimately, they did -- outside the United States -- and I'm truly grateful that both ultimately did become available, and that I received a set of them through the generosity of a fellow collector in Canada.
But seriously, this Cycle Armor is easily one of the most innovative and involved items I've seen in the world of G.I. Joe for some time. It's got just enough of a Transformers flavor in it to cross that particular bridge and really be of interest to collectors of both. It has more than enough play value in it to keep any kid who's reasonably good with working with toys like this interested and occupied for some time. The motorcycle looks cool in bike mode, Ashiko is an interesting and somewhat futuristic-looking new character, and the combined mode between the two of them looks like something right out of any number of very cool video games. And let's not forget the considerable arsenal of hand-held weapons that comes with this set. There's really nothing NOT to like here, and it's a real shame that this toy has been turned by circumstance into the "hard to find, hard to get" category. More than most such, it deserved better.
However, if you're willing to make an above-average effort, it IS available. It CAN be found. And if you're any sort of G.I. Joe fan, or for that matter Transformers fan, or if you just like cool toys with a certain sci-fi look and more than enough intricate working parts to keep it interesting, then this is something you seriously need to add to your collection.
The G.I. JOE CYCLE ARMOR (technically spelled "Armour" on the box) with ASHIKO definitely has my highest recommendation!