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By Thomas Wheeler

Bandai has a new action figure line for 2005, and it's name is D.I.C.E., which stands for DNA INTEGRATED CYBERNETIC ENTERPRISES. According to the description on the package back, "DICE is a large organization established to deal with problems in the Sarbylion galaxy. DICE F-99 is the only unit comprised entirely of children. When a problem arises, DICE is called to the rescue. And when their special training and their skills aren't enough, they rely on their vehicles, which can transform from Vehicle Mode to Dino Mode to help get the job done! Always on call, always on alert - DICE is ready for action!"

The toys started popping up right after Christmas, most frequently found at Target. The most readily available toys in the series are the 4.5" armored action figures. There's six of them, named Jet, Tak, Robert, Marco, Sam, and Phantom Knight.

Defining the team as "children' is a bit of a stretch, really. They're all around 15 years old except one who's 11. Jet's full name is Jet Siegel, whom I believe is the central character of the concept. He's described on a trading card that comes with the toy as "the hot-headed pilot of the Motoraptor, Jet lives for action and his fierce competitive streak often leads to friction with his teammates." He also reportedly has a short temper, and yet manages to have a strong sense of right and wrong. His armor is mostly primary colors, silver with red and blue.

Tak is Tak Carter, another 15 year old. Described as "Pilot of the Dimetrover and Captain of the DICE F-99 Fortress, a well-respected and capable leader." He reportedly retains his calm under pressure, and as the "oldest" although by how much one can only speculate, the others tend to look up to him as an older brother. His armor is predominantly yellow.

Robert is Robert Clapice, described as the "pretty-boy pilot of the Hoverptera and always concerned about his looks". His is also the only vehicle that can fly. His armor is mostly a bluish silver with dark blue details.

Marco is Marco Rocca, the pilot of the Monocrawler and apparently a perpetual complainer. He's described as the tallest member of the team, so none of the vehicle cockpits quite fit him, apparently his primary complaint. His armor is mostly metallic blue with dark red trim.

And Sam is Sam N'Dool, the 11-year old youngster on the team. He's described as "the cheerful pilot of the Paratricar" (my spell check is having fits, yes...), and is also listed as a "true genius and talented inventor." His armor is mostly metallic green, and along with the yellow armor, is one of two real standouts in the collection, visually.

The figures are -- interesting. The basic designs are decent enough, but the structure of the figures is a little strange. Of particular note is how the legs are attached. There's this strange, painfully visible gap between the waist and the top of the legs that results in a figure that just doesn't work as an armored human. While it is worth noting that the larger-scale toys indicate that these armored suits are a good bit larger than their human operators, although certainly nowhere near as proportionately large as, for example, a Gundam, which has a full cockpit in the chest, the look of the leg assembly on these smaller figures still doesn't allow for that.

Articulation is a little unusual, as well. These figures all have a very well articulated head, as well as arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and ankles. Now, that's not too bad, but it could've (and arguably should've) been a little better. These figures could really have used waist and upper swivel arm articulation, and perhaps a swivel at the knees, as well. It's like some parts of the figure are much better articulated than others. The ankles are ball-and-socket articulated, but there's no swivel arm?

I also have to say that I think Bandai made these toys as cheaply as possible. A quick study of these five armored figures shows that the only difference between any of them -- color schemes notwithstanding -- are the heads, shoulder pads, and front torsos. Their backs, arms, and legs are all identical. The larger toys are, for the most part, astoundingly unimpressive.

Concept-wise, I have to say that I think the whole thing is totally uninspired and unimaginative. You look at the toys, and the vehicles, and there's just nothing new here. It's like someone wanted to come up with a great recipe for chicken soup, and their idea of adding chicken was to have the bird walk through the kitchen. I can look at this and see take-offs on about three previous versions of Power Rangers, with a bit of Zoids, M.A.S.K, Zodiac Knights, and Exo-Squad thrown in for good measure.

There are also figures some of these characters in their non-armored state, and most of them look pretty silly. Jet is dressed in what one magazine described as "hobo chic". That's all we need -- fashionable bums.

Bandai's put a lot of enthusiasm (if not much else) into this concept. One of their representatives gushed about it so much in a recent issue of ToyFare that he'd probably be better off getting a job in politics. So far, though, it doesn't seem to be working. One online contact of mine reported that a Target in his area actually has already clearanced the toys after not selling a single one for an entire month. Granted Target tends to be merciless with its clearances, but another contact reported similar poor sales in his area. Around here, the larger toys have had their prices reduced, but not clearanced -- yet.

D.I.C.E. does have an animated series coming up, possibly already airing by the time this review actually is posted. Whether that helps the toys, I honestly don't know. Ultimately, I really find myself believing that there just isn't enough innovation and imagination here to allow this concept to work in any format. While the basic armored figures are decent enough, I don't see a single thing about D.I.C.E. to really make it stand out, either on the toy store shelves or on television.

Some have argued that Bandai threw Gundam out of the United States because of their enthusiasm for D.I.C.E. Granted, Gundam was already hurting because of the Battle-Scarred and SD toys cluttering the shelves. That doesn't mean there isn't a certain validity to the speculation, though, especially since Gundam toys are continuing in Japan, and to the best of my knowledge, D.I.C.E. isn't headed over there. But I find myself wondering if Bandai may well have to bring Gundam back to the United States just to maintain some of that oh-so-valuable shelf space in the toy departments that the companies compete over so much.

Either that, or Bandai may find their American market reduced to Power Rangers and not much else. Bandai is taking a big chance with this roll of the D.I.C.E. -- and I don't like the odds.