In 1974, Takara, a Japanese-based toy company in Japan best known to modern toy collectors as the originators of Transformers, created a 4-inch humanoid action figure which they called "MicroMan". In the late 70's and early 80's, this toy was brought over to the United States by the Mego Toy company, which was desperately looking for a hit after being dunderheaded enough to pass on Star Wars. They renamed the line "Micronauts", and created enough of a back-story so that Marvel Comics was able to get a very healthy comics run out of it. Mego got several years of good product, which was about the same size as Star Wars figures, before the whole company went ashcan after ruling the 70's action figure world.
The basic construction of the Micronauts action figures would soon be utilized, interestingly enough, in Hasbro's new 3-3/4" G.I.Joes. And in recent years, the Micronauts concept, like many things from the 70's-80's time period, has enjoyed something of a resurgence. There has been a decently successful series of comic books, a trilogy of paperback novels, and a toy company called Palisades managed to re-create many of the original Micronauts molds. Unfortunately, the manufacturing company that produced the toys did one of the most slipshod jobs in the history of action figures, with the result being the peculiar phenomenon of toys that were seen to be self-destructing in their packages.
While all of this was going on, and even when it wasn't, the MicroMan toy line proceeded merrily along in Japan, with Takara turning out literally hundreds of products over the ensuing decades.
Then in 2003, something interesting happened. Takara decided to completely redesign the basic MicroMan figure, and essentially start all over again. And a lot of longtime fans of Japanese toys took very distinct notice. And so did some specialty importers of toys.
The new MicroMan figure boasted modular construction and no less than 30 points of articulation on its tiny frame. Many of the elements of the original MicroMan/Micronauts figures were maintained -- chrome-plated heads, frequent use of transparent plastic, and accessories out the wazoo. There were four figures in the initial offering, designated MicroCommander, MicroSpy, MicroGunner and MicroNinja. Not the most imaginative names in the world, but Takara was essentially "testing the waters" to see if this new MicroMan would fly. Not only did he fly, he soared all over the place where anyone appreciated really well-done action figures.
The four figures were very similar. Dark transparent plastic, a single color of trim which varied from figure to figure, none of the colors especially bright, and different heads.
If 2003 was "testing the waters", 2004 is opening the floodgates -- perhaps not so much in quantity, but in what Takara is willing to do with regard to design and color usage on these little beauties.
Four new "human" figures were introduced, and the longtime foe of the MicroMen also returned -- the Acroyears, one of the few names that was actually carried over to the Micronauts line, I might add.
A number of online toy retailers are making these figures available. I would personally like to thank and recommend Westfield Comics (www.westfieldcomics.com). Not to malign anyone else carrying these figures. There are many fine toy retailers online. But when my monthly comics order arrived without the expected Micromen, I politely e-mailed Westfield. Their customer service rep got back to me before the end of the day and said that the toys had arrived the day after they had shipped my books. They would become part of the following month's order. Was there any way, I asked, for me to obtain them sooner, since I wanted to review them in a timely manner for a Web Site I wrote for? I was informed within hours that they would be shipped out the next day, and I had a FedEx truck arrive with a large, well-packed box three days later.
THAT, dear readers, is what I call "customer service".
So, after all that, how are the toys? You know, it's probably just as well that Takara doesn't market these things to Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart over here. If they did, Mattel, Hasbro, and a whole bunch of other action figure companies would have to tuck their tails between their corporate assets and hang their heads in total embarassment at some of what they're putting on the shelves.
These new MicroMen figures, technically designated MASTERFORCE, are colorful, impressive, and even the package design is remarkable (although I do wish I could understand Japanese).
This is the 30th anniversary of MicroMan, and The cards bear a logo to that effect. And Takara is certainly celebrating in style. Let's review these figures individually, shall we?
First up is SKYMASTER HAYATE. Molded in a transparent dark blue with black details, this figure is the 21st century version of the original Micronaut named Space Glider, no question. The look of the winged backpack is undeniable, as are the wing attachments to the legs. The helmet is different, though. Still, overall, the figure is immensely cool. The head sculpt is distinctly anime/manga inspired. Although done in silver chrome, the large eyes are a dead giveaway. This is one of the coolest of the bunch.
Next we have GROUNMASTER ALAN, and no, that's not a typo. At least not on my part. I'm fairly certain that this guy probably would've been called "Groundmaster" anywhere else. The figure's outfit is a dark yellow-gold with black trim, and he comes with an assortment of equipment that looks like he pillaged a mining site. Foot attachments with tank treads, a drilling device, and a transparent shovel that doubles as a shirld. All of this equipment combines to make an interesting little gizmo that's half drill, half shovel.
Following this is DIVEMASTER ROBERTO. I wasn't aware that Japan had much of a Hispanic influence to come up with that name. This figure is molded in a very pale metallic grey-blue, with brown trim. His main accessorry is an immense diving device that fits over his head and torsolike a helmet. It has plenty of moving parts (as do many of the figures' accessories -- surprisingly so in some cases), and can also be reassembled to form a diving exploratory vehicle of its own, that looks a little like a spherical version of some of those robots that visit Titanic.
Finally for the MasterForce team, there is AUTOMASTER RYAN. I have no idea if the name was taken from the American MICRONAUTS comic, whose lead character is an Earthman named Ryan Archer. It could be a coincidence, but I'm honestly just not sure. This figure is probably the most intense from a color standpoint among all four MicroMen. He's molded in a very bright transparent green, and has white trim on his uniform. It looks a little like Takara was going for a MicroMan NASCAR driver here. The figure comes with some fascinating accessories that can be attached to him, or rebuilt to make a vehicle that reminds one of, perhaps, a stripped-down Light Cycle from TRON.
That takes care of MicroForce, but we atill need to deal with the ACROYEARS, and they're a pretty mean-looking and nasty bunch. And they've got pretty strange names, too.
First up is ACROSCORL. He's molded primarily in a brilliant transparent red, with limited black trim. He has a head that looks like he took a face mold from Skeletor of Masters of the Universe and chromed it. His accessories are nasty pieces of work, consisting of a chest-and-back-plate with two huge claws. This guy would make Wolverine run for cover.
Next there is ACROCLEVE. Easily the brightest of all eight figures in the line, this character is molded in bright yellow transparent plastic. He has red flames on his arms, legs, and chest for trim. He comes with a highly articulated winged backpack, and some and weapons that you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.
Thirdly we have ACROVOLTECH. Probably the most amusing, and most easily understood of the lot, this character is obviously intended to be a walking lightning thrower. His chest even has tiny little "positive" and "negative" insignia on them, with what looks like intelligible printing beneath them. Unfortunately, I don't own an electron microscope, so I can't tell you what it says. Although I'm impressed that you could put printing this small on a toy (or anything else) and at least have it look legible. Acrovoltech is molded in a transparent whitish-silver, with purple trim.
Finally there is ACROBIOM, easily the weirdest figure of the lot. He's molded in transparent purple with blue trim, but the really strange thing about him is his head. His chrome-blue head looks like a Predator on steroids. As if that wasn't bizarre enough, there's this huge articulated -- well, I'd call it a tail for lack of a better term, that snaps onto the back of the helmet and ends in this really nasty double-pronged weapon. This guy is scary-weird.
There are come common points among all the figures. They all use the same body mold, but it's one heck of a body mold. It's one of the main selling points of the line, interestingly. It's even possible, in Japan, to buy "blank" MicroMan bodies in a wide range of colors for your own customizing enjoyment. And all of the figures include plenty of chrome-plated accessories, far more than I have put in these pictures (I wanted to emphasize the look of the figures), as well as several sets of spare hands in different positions.
They also each come with a little catalog of available products that is hysterically titled "Infomercial Vol. 01". Just what we need from the Japanese -- picking up on our stupid media jargon. And of course instruction sheets are included.
This is hardy the extent of MicroMan figures planned for 2004. There is, of course, the Transformers crossover figure KICKER, whom I have already reviewed, and a number of Japanese anime concepts, most of which I am unfamiliar with, have also received Microman figures.
There are also four FEMALE figures in development. Early photos of these look extremely impressive -- and a couple of them look easily as vicious as the guys. There's a scary concept right there.
And some characters more familiar to American audiences have also been worked into the line. There are a couple of BATMAN figures available, and I recently learned from a friend that there is not only a BATMAN/BATGIRL two-pack in the works, but another super-hero, one honestly better suited to this vast range of articulation and relatively slender body than the Dark Knight, is also planned -- SPIDER-MAN!
Overall, do I recommend these figures? Heck, yes! They're some of the coolest, best designed, best-articulated small-scale action figures you're going to come across. There's any number of online retailers that are carrying them, for various but generally reasonable prices, and trust me, if you have any appreciation at all for well-made action figures, you're NOT going to be disappointed in the least.
Takara's new MICROMAN figures are definitely top of the line!