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By Thomas Wheeler

Certainly one of the most impressive lines of action figures that is reasonably well known by American collectors, even if it's never been marketed much outside of its origin country of Japan, has got to be MICROMAN.

The creation of Takara, Microman first came along in 1974. It was not long after before the Mego Toy Company brought a generous supply 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. It has been stated that the Micronauts was the most popular toy line after Star Wars for some years.

The line continued to run under its original name of Microman for years afterwards in Japan, and sometime later, 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 resurrecting interest in Microman in Japan, and attracted global attention among action figure collectors, who were very impressed with the remarkable new design. Takara would later license a number of additional concepts, both Japanese and American, into the Microman line, something the original line had not done, including such popular concepts as Batman, Aliens, Street Fighter, Godzilla, Gatchaman (known to us as Battle of the Planets) and more, even as the main Microman line continued.

The basic premise of the Microman line 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 in American stores. However, there are a few online retailers that do carry them, and if nothing else, the 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 what the original line had produced.

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 one of these. There are four in the series, and they can all be joined to form one larger vehicle. This one is the RS-04 SIDECALIBER, and it comes with the lone female character on the team, named MICROLADY RAY. Okay, so it's not the most feminine sounding name to American ears. One of the guys is named "Thunder". Deal with it.

Let's consider the figure first. The basic modern Microman design is a very complex one. The figure is designed, at least to some degree, to 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.

Takara was never afraid to include female figures in the Microman line. Known by the umbrella term, "Microlady", there have been entire female assortments during the overall run of the modern Microman, including one that is the lone glow-in-the-dark figure in the series. Female characters, both heroic and evil, have been regularly produced within the Microman concept, and beyond. The Street Fighter adjunct consisted of two females -- Chun-Li and Sakura. So it's no great surprise that a Microlady found her way into the Road Spartan series.

As with the male figures, there was more or less a basic female body design, although there were several different -- to put it as diplomatically as possible -- torso sizes. The number of bad jokes I could make about that, especially the glow in the dark one, is far too extensive to get into here.

Microlady Ray has a number of unique parts, which if the photos on the package are any indication, carry over throughout the other Road Spartans. She has a distinctive torso, with what looks like sculpted body armor with ridges, shoulder armor that has attachment pegs on it, a unique lower torso, as well as unique lower legs and feet. The sides of the upper legs are also distinctive, with ridged sculpted detail, and the number "04" on her left hip. 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. Ray has the chrome head, but really, only her upper torso is partially transparent, and even then, only a little of it shows through the painted detail. I don't really mind it here, since I think it makes the character look a little more real, and her overall design is very cool.

Ray appears to be wearing a grey bodysuit with white trim, including elbows, knees, and feet. She has extensive body armor that is mostly orange, with some red. Each of the Road Spartans seems to have a distinctive color. This, certainly, is a common enough practice within Japanese toys based on groups and teams -- just ask the Power Rangers.

There is also a transparent blue visor attached to her ears, which can slide down over his face and protect her eyes and most of her face. Somewhat amusingly, even with the entire head, including the hair, being silver chromed -- she has a ponytail in the back. Her face has a definite anime look to it, with large eyes and a relatively small nose. The silver chrome makes it a little hard to determine facial detail, but the design is good and the sculpted detail excellent.

The one unusual color aspect to the figure are Ray's hands. They're a very pale pink. You almost don't notice it until you take a look at the separate "tree" of spare hands, and notice the color there. They're not really dark enough to represent a flesh skin-tone. I'm honestly not sure why they weren't made orange or white. It's not a complaint, just an observation. There's a little bit of this same very pale pink in the details on her shoes, which is barely noticeable except in the right light.

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. Ray, although no larger or bulkier than any of my other Microman figures, seems a little sturdier somehow, although in fairness, the female figures are a little more fragile than the male figures in this line, regardless. Even so, I'm impressed. Perhaps it's that her articulation points seem good and snug for the most part. I'm certainly pleased with that, but I would still recommend handling her with extreme care.

The overall look of Ray 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 almost induce eyestrain. Ray, like the rest of the Road Spartans, basically fits into a third category. She's not especially transparent, and while she does have a dynamic look and design, it's not too complex. Her lines are clear and distinct, reflecting as much as anything a fairly strong anime influence, which is hardly surprising. I'm extremely impressed by the result. This is one of the coolest-looking Microman figures (and teams) I've seen -- in a line that excels in cool, I might add.

Now, let's consider the vehicle. The SIDECALIBER is an impressive, futuristic motorcycle. A fairly elongated-looking machine, with the front and rear wheels definitely extended out from the main frame -- which is quite long in and of itself -- it measures over 7-1/2" in length, but is only 1-1/2" wide, without the sidecar. It has a very Japanese anime look to it on the whole. It has a mostly orange body with substantial chrome silver towards the base, with some black trim. The front of the bike has a very angular look to it. I'm not sure why, but it almost looks feline, like something the ThunderCats might use.

The bike splits in two, right in the center, but this isn't a function that is really served except when it is joined with the other three Road Spartan vehicles. The SideCaliber then becomes the two outside components of the joined vehicle. On its own, the split serves no purpose -- unless some of the Road Spartans are adept at riding a motorized unicycle.

The SideCaliber also has a separate sidecar, which is an impressive piece of work in its own right. It clips very effectively to the left side of the motorcycle. It is mostly silver, with some chrome silver trim, a bit of orange on the windscreen and over the single wheel, and a big gun barrel pointed straight forward. It does have a seat in it, which can effectively accommodate a second figure, even though it looks a little like he might be dragging his feet a bit. Depending on what the top speed of this thing is alleged to be, that could be downright painful.

The sidecar can also be transformed into a weapons pod that can actually be worn by Microlady Ray. One might assume that she's either had some impressive strength training, or there's some structural supports in her bodysuit. Frankly, the combined image really does look like she's trying to lug the entire sidecar around.

It has been commented that the Road Spartan series presents a greater play value to it than just display, and I agree. The vehicles in the entire series are immensely cool, the figures have a great design to them, and the combined look of the vehicles is one more cool element, almost something right out of Power Rangers, although certainly any number of other Japanese-based concepts have used the "combination" gimmick over the years. At the present time, Tomy, which now owns Takara, doesn't seem to be doing much with Microman, which I think is a shame. If they ever decided to, though, I'd readily recommend a Road Spartans II. Meanwhile, at least, the originals are still available if you know where to look.

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, and I'm very pleased with it.

I have to say that I am extremely impressed the Road Spartans toys, and certainly with Ray and the SideCaliber, 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 Ray, at least, doesn't seem quite as fragile as some of the others, and her design and markings are very impressive. The Sidecaliber is a cool vehicle. I believe that any fan of Japanese toys, or Japanese anime, would like what they see with this item, and that any Microman fan would see something very distinctive and unique in these Road Spartans!

The MICROMAN ROAD SPARTAN set of the RS-04 SIDECALIBER with MICROLADY RAY certainly has my highest recommendation!