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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS ROBOTO
By Thomas Wheeler

I've said any number of times that the planet Eternia would either be an anthropologist's dream or some sort of Darwinian nightmare. The sheer variety of sentient humanoid life on that planet is absolutely staggering. Along with fairly standard humans, you've got beast men, mer men, cat men, bee men, crab men, spider men (no, not THAT Spider-Man), snake men, skunk men, and a few types that aren't that easily described.

And, it would seem, Eternia can also be home to sentient mechanical life, as well. That was one of the cool things about the Masters of the Universe line. Although superficially a semi-sword-and-sorcery fantasy, just about anything could be made to fit. G.I. Joe was about soldiers, more or less. Transformers was about robots. Masters of the Universe? Hey, give 'em an idea, they'll make it fit. A ninja? Why not. A western sheriff type? We'll figure something out. A robot? What the heck, sure, bring him on!

And so, Masters of the Universe gained the character known as ROBOTO! So, the name was a little obvious. So were a lot of the others.

There's not a lot of history on the character, unfortunately. He turned up only once during the original animated series, since the figure was released rather close to the end of the series. He did turn up several times during the 2002 animated series, and his backstory on the scroll-like file card, which I shall relate during this review, is derived from his 2002 animated origin.

Roboto's inclusion in the Masters of the Universe line may strike some as rather unusual, given the seemingly medieval nature of the environment. However, Eternia is unquestionably a strange world, and higher levels of technology had certainly been seen before. Man-At-Arms had a wide array of weaponry, Trap Jaw had assorted attachments for his cyborg arm, itself a technological advancement along with this jaw; Tri-Klops' rotating eyepiece was certainly a high-tech device, so why not an entire robot?

And it almost goes without saying that robots have long been popular toys. Transformers may be the best known robots in the modern era, but they're hardly alone, nor were they the first. Robots may well predate action figures insofar as toy products are concerned, although I'd have to verify that. But certainly robots have been a part of the toy world just as long as action figures. I remember having these cool little robots called Zeroids when I was a kid. There was the Lost in Space robot, C-3PO and R2-D2, and plenty of others. Bringing a robot into the Masters of the Universe line may have seemed like a slight conceptual stretch, although really, it wasn't, but it was almost certainly assured to be a popular toy.

There have been three versions of Roboto, one for each of the three major Masters of the Universe line. Yes, Roboto was lucky enough to squeeze himself into the 2002 line, even though the figure was near impossible to find, as was much of the supporting cast. And all three versions have had one really cool feature in common -- a transparent torso with real working gears encased within.

Mattel stated early on that most of the "action features" common to the original Masters of the Universe line would not appear in the Classics line. This didn't really bother me, or much of anybody. The most common "action feature" in the original Masters line was a spring-action waist that allowed kids to make it look as though He-Man or Skeletor or whomever was throwing a punch. It was a cool enough gimmick, even if it meant that the figure couldn't turn at the waist and stay turned. He would always spring back.

Granted, this wasn't that big of a deal in the original line, which wasn't exactly known for great levels of articulation. While the original Masters of the Universe figures were certainly well-detailed for their time, they weren't especially poseable. They moved at the head, arms, and legs, and had that spring-action waist. That was about it. The 2002 line, while even more detailed, if also distinctly more stylized, carried on the practice of limited articulation, although some of them were a bit more poseable, and most of them added rotating wrists. It's only been with the Classics line that the Masters have finally gotten the articulation they deserved, thanks to the sculpting and design team known as the Four Horsemen.

So, it could be argued, with all of those moving gears, that the original Roboto was one of the most articulated figures in the original Masters of the Universe line, and the 2002 line. He arguably still holds that position in the Classics line, but at least his companions are also a lot better off in this department.

So, how's the new Roboto figure? Extremely cool. There's a degree to which it could be said that he looks a little comical. The character tends to use rather bright, primary colors, and there's something about a bulky, muscular robot trying to look as humanoid as Roboto does that adds to the amusement factor. He'd probably get laughed right out of Transformers, even if his basic color palette isn't that far removed from Optimus Prime. And I won't go so far as to say his color scheme looks somewhat preschool-ish, but it wouldn't surprise me to walk through the toddler section of a toy department and find something that used colorful gears in its design. Now, in fairness, Roboto looks way too muscular to really fit into that world. And there's not a lot of preschool toys that have a high-tech axe for a right hand. Stand him next to My Little Pony or Dora the Explorer, and those neon horses would be running faster than Secretariat and Dora would be screaming loud enough to be readily understood in either English or Spanish. Roboto's no Terminator, but let's cut the guy some slack.

Nevertheless, the color scheme is more primary-color-directed than most of the other Masters. Roboto has a silver head with a red faceplate, a transparent torso with brightly colored gears within, blue arms, red hands, purple trunks, red legs, and silver boots. Basically, along with the silver, every basic primary and secondary color is represented on him somewhere. Mostly he's red and blue -- that's two primary colors right there. Look inside his torso and one of his gears is yellow -- there's the third. His trunks are purple, which is one of the secondary colors, and if you check his back, two of the gears visible there are green and orange, which are the other two secondary colors.

I'm certain that the color choices are not coincidental. But they do make him stand out. The color palette for Masters of the Universe is extensive, but it's not usually this glaring. He-Man tends to use earth tones, underdressed as he is. The man has a good tan going, and he's dressed in a brown loincloth, brown boots, and a grey harness across his chest. Skeletor is light blue and wears deep purple. Mer-Man has dark turquoise-green skin, Beast Man has orange-ish fur. The color palette is varied, but I don't think there's another character offhand that's quite as obvious in the use of the main color spectrum.

Let's get into a specific description of Roboto. His head is probably the least human-looking part of him. It's slightly smaller than average, too, although "average" in the Masters world is admittedly a relative measure. It more or less looks like a silver dome, with a slight ridge down the center of it. There is a raised visor across the front, representing Roboto's eyes. The visor is silver with a light blue interior. The lower portion of Roboto's face is an angular section of red, looking as much as anything like a cross between a small shovel and an old-fashioned locomotive's cattle guard. This odd "jaw" is hinged on either side of the head, and moves as Roboto's mouth. The area behind it is painted black.

Roboto's neck is silver, and ridged, and leads into his transparent torso. This is an entirely unique piece to the figure, and is unlike any torso previously designed for the Masters of the Universe Classics line, and not just with regard to color or contents. It has a much more artificial, let us say robotic, look to it, than any previous torso. Roboto has a smooth chest, and a relatively smooth back with an angled indentation, making the raised sections look like shoulder blades. His abdominal region is ridged, but not like an organic being's abdomen would have, and there are also ridges on his back.

Although the entire upper and mid torso are transparent, the ridges on the front and back do more or less line up with ridges on his lower torso. Roboto is obviously not wearing a typical Masters-style loincloth. He has purple trunks, with lighter purple ridged areas on the front and back.

Roboto's upper legs are red, with silver ridged areas on the front. His lower legs, or "boots", perhaps, are silver, with a few metallic blue details. The silver areas on Roboto's legs and boots have been given a very slight wash of watered-down black to highlight the details. It probably wasn't necessary, but it doesn't look too bad.

Roboto's trunks and legs use the same molds as a couple of other Masters of the Universe Classics figures, notably Trap Jaw and Optikk. This isn't a problem in my opinion, as this Masters line, much like the original, swaps around parts as much as possible. The results are still extremely impressive, and certainly the color scheme is different from any of the other figures that use these same legs.

Roboto's arms are entirely unique. Although they have a muscular humanoid appearance, and are not as mechanical in shape as Roboto's chest, they are covered with little mechanical details. The arms are blue, with the assorted circuitry and such highlighted with a metallic blue.

Roboto's left hand is red, and also has some high-tech detailing on it, which has been highlighted in metallic red. In package, Roboto's right arm does not have a hand. Rather, a very high-tech-looking axe has been attached to it. This particular accessory is silver in color, with metallic blue highlights.

This is one of four accessories that can be attached to Robot's arm. There seems to be something about being able to attach accessories to a robot's arm that's been a common point among a lot of action figures over the years. The earliest instance I can think of are the Micronauts. There was a group of alien beings -- arguably not mechanical, but that was sort of debatable in the Micronauts -- who had assorted accessories attached to their arms, often in place of hands. I remember one in particular, a four-armed fellow by the name of Antron, who had an interesting arsenal accompanying him. Within the Masters of the Universe line, there is also Trap Jaw, whose cybernetic right arm has a number of different attachments. And, of course, there are the Cobra B.A.T.s, Battle Android Troopers in G.I. Joe. Multiple versions of these malevolent mechanical humanoids had assorted attachments that could be swapped out and fit to one arm or the other.

Roboto's additional arms, along with the axe, include a robotic claw, and some sort of high-tech blaster. These, like the axe blade, are also silver in color, with metallic blue highlights. He also has a "normal" hand, a right hand to match the left, which has been molded in red, with metallic red painted on the robotic highlights.

Let's discuss the interior of Roboto's torso. While it could be argued that an actual humanoid robot would need to be a lot more complex in design than a system of gears, and that's no doubt true, from a toy standpoint, it's pretty cool. There is a base gear, molded in yellow, that seems to remain stationary relative to the lower torso, the trunks. From the center of this gear is a post that runs up through the torso. Attached to this is a system of gears. On Roboto's back there is an orange gear that comes into direct contact with the yellow gear. This then turns a green gear that is further up the back. I believe that this gear is attached along its own axis to a red gear that is centered on the front of Roboto's torso, which in turn -- no pun intended -- turns two smaller blue gears that are slightly to the side, and visible from the front. There is no apparent gear on the front of Roboto that comes into contact with the yellow base gear. There are a few other visible internal details, that are strictly decorative and do not function with the gears.

Although I do not have the original Roboto from the 1980's, I do have the 2002-era Roboto, and I decided to do a comparison of their gear mechanisms. It was an interesting comparison. The new Classics Roboto has a larger torso with more room to work with. However, the gear systems are very nearly identical, from a basic design standpoint, with one significant difference. The two vertical gears are on the front of the 2002 Roboto, while the single large gear with the two smaller side gears are visible from the back. Other than this and the fact that the green gear on the new Classics Roboto is red on the 2002 version, they're extremely close. And hey, why mess with a design that works?

One question that might be asked is -- how plausible is a functional humanoid robot? And the answer to that question is interesting. When Roboto first came out, or for that matter C-3PO or the Battle Android Troopers, the answer would have been, "Not very". This despite the fact that humanoid robots have been postulated in science fiction for a great many decades. However, in more recent years, that answer has changed to, "Yes, we can do it." It hasn't been easy. One of the biggest hurdles was creating a humanoid robot that had something along the lines of a sense of balance, that could actually walk. But in 2004, at a demonstration in Epcot Center at Walt Disney World, I saw a humanoid robot by the name of ASIMO stand, kneel, walk, climb stairs up and down, and even dance a bit. And that doesn't even get into the dexterity of his very human-styled hands! Granted, ASIMO didn't look much like Roboto, or C-3PO, or (fortunately), a Battle Android Trooper. But he was basically humanoid in appearance, and very impressive!

ASIMO, if memory serves, was developed by Honda. So where did Roboto come from? His file card on the back of his package reveals that information.

ROBOTO
Heroic Mechanical Warrior
Real Name: Robot Model 9041

Originally built by Man-At-Arms as a chess opponent for Man-E-Faces, the robot companion was nicknamed Roboto and later given a heart-shaped program which altered his speech patterns. Under the influence of this new programming, Roboto came to understand the desire for freedom and upgraded himself for battle so that he could join the Masters of the Universe in their fight against evil. Roboto serves as chief strategist for the Masters and uses his unstoppable robotic strength in heroic combat.

That origin is based almost entirely on Roboto's 2002 backstory from the animated series, mostly because Roboto barely appeared in the original animated series, which wasn't exactly known for worrying much about backstories anyway.

A few observations about the information. First off -- Robot Model 9041? It took Man-At-Arms over nine thousand tries to get this guy right? Then again, it could just be some sort of registration number using a system we're not aware of.

Next, I appreciate the mention of Man-E-Faces, who must be a heck of a chess player to need a robotic opponent to give him a decent challenge. There are several characters from the Masters of the Universe concept that are starting to get to be a little overdue for inclusion in the Masters of the Universe Classics line, and Man-E-Faces is assuredly one of them. Granted, he'll likely take a little more work than most, since I'm certain that fans will demand that he have his primary action feature -- the spinning device in his helmeted head that changes faces -- but still, he needs to be brought in sooner than later. And since he uses the same leg design as Roboto, Trap Jaw, and Optikk, he's half made already.

Finally -- heart-shaped emotion program!? Sure enough, it's in there, right behind the red gear on the front. But is anyone else thinking of The Wizard Of Oz"?

Of course, Roboto is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, jaw, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, glove tops, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. The mid-torso joint had to be sacrificed to allow for the internal gear system, but in this case, I think it's more than a fair trade-off. It just wouldn't have been Roboto without that. Additionally, his lower legs are articulated just under the boot tops. This is actually very shrewdly disguised, as the articulation point isn't right AT the boot tops, but under it. It doesn't look especially articulated, but it is.

Any complaints? None. This is really a superb figure. Swapping out the right arm accessories isn't the easiest thing in the world, but I'm not prepared to call that a criticism.

So, what's my final word here? I'm extremely impressed. I've always liked Roboto, and was truly delighted to hear of his forthcoming inclusion in the Masters of the Universe Classics line. And now, he's here, and I'm very glad to have him as part of my collection. If you've been picking up the series, or just have an affinity for this particular character, or toy robots in general, then you should definitely bring him in as well. You won't be disappointed.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of ROBOTO definitely has my highest recommendation!