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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the coolest lines of action figures that is reasonably well known by American collectors, even if it's never been widely marketed in the United States, has got to be MICROMAN.

The creation of Takara, Microman first came along in 1974. It was not too many years later before the Mego Toy Corporation brought a fair percentage of it over to the United States under the name Micronauts, where it enjoyed considerable success for a number of years, before fading away, much as Mego itself unfortunately did in the early 1980's.

The line continued to run under its original name of Microman almost unabated for years afterwards, and sometime after it came to a close, enjoyed a resurgence of re-releases in the late 1990's. Then in 2003, Takara decided to revitalize the line with an all-new figure design.

The new Microman did a nice job of taking the Japanese toy market by storm, and garnered global attention among action figure collectors, who were very impressed with the versatile new design. Takara would later license a number of pop culture concepts, both Japanese and American, into the Microman line, including such popular character venues as Batman, Aliens, Predator, Street Fighter, Godzilla, and more, even as the main Microman line continued.

The basic premise of the Microman line, very different from its American Micronauts counterpart, proposed that the Micromen were miniature cyborgs, and that the figures a person was buying were "actual size". There were the heroic Microman figures, and the evil Acroyears, miniature cyborgs who had been infected by a sinister "Acro-Virus". Now, admittedly, a four-inch cyborg isn't going to present much of a threat, so both the Micromen and the Acroyears could, when needed, transform into full-size beings. This was something the toys were obviously incapable of, but it made for a good storyline and background concept.

The toys are not going to be found at Walmart or Target. However, there are a handful of online retailers that do carry them, and if nothing else, online auction listings that turn up when one does a search for "Microman" tend to be considerable, although these listings can include both modern and classic toys.

If there was one avenue of Microman that seemed to be, for lack of a better term, a road less traveled relative to its predecessor, it was in the area of vehicles. The original Microman/Micronauts line had fancy, futuristic vehicles all over the place. The size of the figures -- 3-3/4" -- certainly lent itself well to offering vehicles in various sizes that worked well with the figures. However, the modern Microman line hadn't really done all that much with this.

Most of the figures came with a host of accessories, that could be used to either build some sort of self-standing weapon, or attached to the figure itself as some form of battle armor. Some other Microman figures came with small vehicle-like accessories, and both figures and accessories were very cool, but they still seemed lacking relative to some of what the original line had produced as far as major vehicles were concerned.

That is, until the Road Spartans came along. Hailed as a much-needed departure from the more collector-oriented figures, with their highly-detailed but sometimes difficult to manipulate chrome-plated accessories, the Road Spartans have been described by fans as being far closer to "playable toys" than just collector display pieces.

Now, I realize I'm writing to collectors here. But I think it's a cool thing to have action figures that have a decent amount of playability to them and, at the very least, look like they'd be fun, as well as looking cool. The Road Spartans certainly fit into that category.

This review will take a look at the first of these. There are four in the series, and they can all be joined to form one larger vehicle. The first one is the RS-01 MACHSLUGGER, and it comes with a character called MICROMAN KAITO.

Let's consider the figure first. The basic modern Microman design is a very complex one. The figure is designed, at least to a fair degree, match actual human proportions, and be able to move almost as well as a human being. The articulation level is astounding. A standard Microman figure is poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, double-jointed elbows, wrists, hands, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, ankles, ball-jointed feet, and a later development added articulation to the fronts of the feet. Obviously the figures are too small to articulate fingers, but a typical Microman figure will have a set of about ten spare hands, five for each arm, in various positions for grasping weapons or imitating martial arts moves.

Microman Kaito has a number of unique parts, which if the photos on the package are any indication, carry over throughout the other Road Spartans. He has a distinctive torso, with specially molded ridges that go over his shoulders, shoulder armor that has attachment pegs on it, a unique lower torso, as well as unique lower legs and feet. The side of the lower legs have accessory sockets in them. All of the various distinctive parts have special sculpted detail in them.

Two things have tended to denote Microman figures over the years -- chrome heads and colored transparent bodies. There are exceptions, of course, but these seem to be relatively common. Kaito has the chrome head, but really, only his upper torso is partially transparent. I don't really mind it here, since I think it makes the character look a little more real, and his overall design is very cool.

Kaito appears to be wearing a pale grey bodysuit with dark silver components, outlined with a thick white line. His shoulder armor, torso, gloves, and boots (except for the feet), are red. This, certainly, is a common enough color within Japanese toys based on groups and teams -- just ask the Power Rangers. There isn't a single team of those guys that doesn't include a Red Ranger.

Kaito's feet are white, and frankly look for all the world like robotic Reeboks or something. There's a vaguely fancy sneaker-ish look to them. Not sure if it's intentional. His head is chrome silver, and has a fairly typical Japanese anime design to it of large eyes, slightly wild hair, a fairly narrow nose, and a small mouth. He's not really wearing a helmet, but there's some sort of protection on the back of his head.

There is also a transparent blue visor attached to his ears, which can slide down over his face and protect his eyes. One semi-funny thing about this is that the visor isn't as good a fit on one side as the other. I was prepared to gripe a bit about this, but when I was doing some background research online, I came across a close-up of another Kaito figure's head, and it had the same situation with the visor. They're probably all like this. Not sure if it's fixable. Not inclined to risk breaking the figure finding out, either.

If I have had one concern with regard to modern Microman figures over the years, it's that they can be quite fragile. I've been told that Japanese kids generally take better care of their toys than American kids, so the toys can get away with being a little more fragile. Kaito, although no larger or bulkier than any of my other Microman figures, seems a little sturdier somehow. Maybe it's that his articulation points seem good and snug for the most part. I'm certainly pleased with that, but I would still recommend handling him with care.

The overall look of Kaito is impressive. Some Microman figures tend to rely on their fancy transparent colors to stand out. Others have exceptionally ornate markings imprinted on them. I've got a few that can readily induce eyestrain. Kaito essentially fits into a third category. He's not overly transparent, and while he does have a dynamic look and design to him, it's not so complex that you're going to be reaching for the Visine. His lines are clear and distinct, reflecting as much as anything a fairly strong anime influence, which is hardly surprising, really. I'm extremely impressed by the result. This is one of the coolest-looking Microman figures I've seen -- in a line that excels in cool, I might add.

Now, let's consider the vehicle that comes with this figure, the MACHSLUGGER. It is the largest of the four Road Spartan vehicles, and, no great surprise, the most central in the combined assembly.

In its most basic form, it looks something like a Power Rangers vehicle with a certain amount of Tron thrown in for good measure. It's definitely in the motorcycle family, but in this case, it's a pretty extended family. The MachSlugger measures 7-1/2" in length. It has two closely-places front tires, and a distinctly larger rear tire. The tires are very slightly rubbery, but don't have much flexibility. The MachSlugger is well capable of standing up on its own, without a kick stand (which it doesn't have anyway).

There is a transparent canopy over the front tires, outlined in silver. There is a black seat with two handlebars about midway along the length of the vehicle, for Kaito to ride. There's a separate piece in the set as it is packaged that snaps to the top of the rear of the vehicle. This piece is chromed, and looks something like a large spoiler. Four narrow extensions, two on each side, point forward, and are individually articulated. It's probably not too much of a stretch to see these as weapons of some sort.

The sides of the MachSlugger have huge, wing-like appendages attached to them. These are mostly red with white trim, and have the words "Road Spartan - 01" imprinted on them in white. They don't stay put quite as well as one might like, but they're stable enough. Underneath these, also attached to the sides of the vehicle, are two chrome silver units, which look as much as anything like massive blades, but they're an interesting complement to the vehicle, as well.

In keeping with the Microman theme of modular toys, the MachSlugger can be disassembled and reassembled in several ways. Parts of it can be used as additional armor for Kaito. This includes the front canopy, the side blades, and the rear spoiler. Honestly, though, he looks pretty ungainly with all of this hanging off him.

The MachSlugger can also be reassembled in such a way as to transform it into a small plane. This involves largely switching the wings around and placing the canopy over Kaito. And, of course, the MachSlugger is the central piece of the fully assembled vehicle that also includes the other three Road Spartan vehicles resulting in a fairly large attack vehicle that, honestly, looks even more like something out of the Power Rangers than the individual units. That's not an insult. The Power Rangers have had some seriously cool stuff over the years.

The MachSlugger rolls well of its own accord, and Kaito sits well in it. The overall design is excellent, with a fair anime look to it, and it's very well made, and nicely detailed.

So, what's my final word here? I know that Microman has a somewhat limited American audience, and that the toys are not easily acquired. I also realize that the modern line has been very diverse, and everybody has their own favorites. In my own collection, I have a good representation of many of the different aspects of the line. It's not a complete collection, but it's a respectable one.

I have to say that I am very impressed with Kaito and the MachSlugger, and I look forward to getting the remaining Road Spartans as I am able. The Road Spartans are a somewhat more toy-friendly group, based on their appearance, and Kaito, at least, doesn't seem quite as fragile as some of the others, and his design and markings are very impressive. The MachSlugger is a cool vehicle. I believe that any fan of Japanese toys, or Japanese anime, would like what they see with this item.

The MICROMAN ROAD SPARTAN set - RS-01 MACHSLUGGER with MICROMAN KAITO certainly has my highest recommendation!