Review by VF5SS
One aspect of the Muv-Luv universe that has rekindled many old school mecha fans' love of Japanese science fiction is its rich universe. Everything from character motivations (and what they're eating for dinner) to the foreign policy of each nation is handled with a good sense of weight and meaningfulness. Naturally, things like the development of Muv-Luv's ubiquitous Tactical Surface Fighters (TSF) was given a lot of thought which is in contrast to many other franchises where they just take giant robots for granted. Every good mecha series needs to have a historically important first robot to give everything a sense of lineage. They also need some kind of outdated grunt robot to die by the droves to make the newer machines look good! For Muv-Luv, these two roles are fulfilled by the same TSF: the F-4 Phantom.
A squad of Imperial Army F-4J's attempt to hold back an onslaught of Destroyer class BETA.
The Muv-Luv F-4 Phantom is much like its real-life namesake in that it was one of the first attempts by America's military to shift itself into a new combat paradigm. Both machines found themselves woefully unprepared for their eventual enemies and were forced to quickly adapt or continue to suffer major losses in combat.
Those who have seen some of my other Muv-Luv figure reviews are familiar with the basic silhouette of a TSF. I find the Phantom quite charming because of how unlike its svelte successors, the Phantom is a big hunk of chunky luv. This figure is another entry in the A3 line by Volks. Like the F-14D Tomcat, it stands roughly seven inches tall and is made mostly out of hard PVC plastic. Also like the Tomcat, the Phantom is outfitted with a plethora of Volks's patented A-Lock joints which function just like spring loaded ratchet but do so in a much more compact package. I highly recommend checking out the video review at the bottom of the page to hear some delicious clicking!
The most notable quirk to the Phantom's design is its massive thunder thighs. In the early years of the BETA invasion, designers thought that a heavily armored machine would be best suited to dealing with the unrelenting alien hoards so the Phantom is built like a tank. Because of this, the Volks figure is downright thick and feels pretty substantial despite having no metal. The whole thing is quite a robust toy with only the small fins on its thighs being a potential spot for breakages. I like to imagine those tiny fins are some designer's desperate bid to help the Phantom fly just a little better. Thanks to its larger feet and sizable legs, the Phantom is much more stable that the Tomcat figure.
As the forefather of nearly all Tactical Surface Fighters, the Phantom's influence can be easily seen in other designs such as the MiG-21 Balalaika. The Balalaika is a direct descendant of the Phantom and shares many of the same design elements. This is still readily apparent even though the figure shown is a Revoltech from Kaiyodo, which are known for taking liberties with a design to produce a more dynamic toy. I find that both Volks and Kaiyodo have a very similar approach to action figures in that they are designed like garage kits. Both A3 and Revoltech figures are constructed from solid body parts joined together by a standardized joint system. The only difference being that the resin plastic commonly used by garage kits is replaced with PVC. In fact, Volks is still making figures in their A3 line but only as low run resin model kits. They still use those A-Lock joints though! Some of them are even exact copies of TSF's they already made as regular PVC figures which makes me wonder if they're just adapting some master sculpts into a different medium. It's a fairly common practice actually.
You get a good number of accessories with just about every A3 figure and the Phantom is no exception. For projectile weapons there are four guns with two being attached to hands and two permanently affixed to mount pylons. You get a pair of fists, splayed hands, and hands holding some all American knives. Lastly you get a pair of bare mount pylons, some fill in parts for the legs, and the Phantom's own unique jump units.
I'm always a little amused by the fact that Volks would rather give you two full sets of guns that differ ever so slightly rather than just a single pair. This is illustrative of Volks's expertise as a manufacturer of resin kits. Having one gun that can be held in a figure's hand and also be attached to one of the mount pylons wouldn't really work on a resin kit so their solution (even with a PVC toy) is to just throw more plastic in the box! The mount pylon pieces simply peg into holes on the top of the Phantom's torso.
While this F-4 Phantom isn't as closely related to its namesake like other TSF designs, I think it captures the spirit of the real life airplane. The actual F-4 Phantom II dutifully served the American military for several decades and can still be found in use all around the world. Likewise the Muv-Luv F-4 is a common sight in nearly every country's arsenal. This particular variant is a limited release by Volks that depicts a Phantom used by the US military. The roundel on the shoulder is the very same used by the Air Force in real life and works in conjunction with this toy's aircraft gray colors scheme to add some legitimacy to the design. Remember that Volks liked to put out several variants of a single design so be on the lookout for different color variants if you're interested in acquiring one.
Whereas most TSF designs have a very narrow profile for their faces, the Phantom has a rather old school mecha feel to its head. The wide visor and simple arrangement of fins at the top of its head are decidedly more workmanlike in appearance. While the head is mounted on a ball-joint, it has a limited range of motion. You can move it slightly left or right but the Phantom generally appears to be looking down. The articulation on the figure as a whole is a bit of a mixed bag with some parts being brilliant executed while others are seriously impeded by the design of the limbs.
The Phantom can show off some American muscle with an excellent set of shoulder joints that can inwards and outwards with ease.
There's a double A-Lock joint in each elbow and the forearms can swivel around to give the Phantom a deep arm curl. The waist has small range of motion side to side with the upper body being capable of titling forward and back on an A-Lock joint.
While the main shoulder joint can only swing either arm about ninety degrees forward or backward, an extra A-Lock joint hidden under a hinged panel in the shoulder pad allow for a much greater range of motion. The whole system is pretty ingenious considering this is all done with simple joints attached to solid PVC parts.
Without any pesky skirt armor, even the chunky Phantom can easily touch its toes.
This beefy bird can even do the splits.
The thing that kills me about this figure is how despite all the great articulation in the hips, the knees are downright awful. I did know this going in so I wasn't really surprised but is just a shame the most you can get out of the knees is a mild squat.
This is where the simple design of the figure clashes with A3 line's insistence on staying close to the original line art.
A more elaborate robot toy would have an extending joint in the knee to compensate for these chunky legs but here the Phantom must make due with a double A-Lock joint that is buried too deep inside.
These accordion style fill in parts are attached to the figure by default and are only here to maintain the utmost accuracy to the Phantom's original design. Most of the A3 figures have similar parts for their knee joints with the Tomcat I reviewed previously being one of the few exceptions.
When these are installed the knees are completely immobile. These meaty chunks of PVC simple tab into a small slot in the thigh and then are pushed inside the knee area for a seamless look. They're kind of a hassle to remove so I'd recommend keeping them off unless you are absolutely in love with the Phantom's knee pits.
You know who you are.
Jump units are often the most obvious link between a Tactical Surface Fighter and its real life namesake. These coattail-like engines bear a strong resemblance to the design of the real Phantom and are what allow the TSF Phantom the ability to move about like any good giant robot.
As the Phantom lacks any hip skirts like the Tomcat, its jump units plug directly into its thighs. They attach via a small rectangular peg that may need some thickening to prevent the jump units from popping off during posing. Of course I never think to do this before a photo shoot because I am a fool who loves to fumble around with robots.
The jump units themselves have a wide range of motion with a single A-Lock joint at the connection point. You do have to watch out for all the junk in the back bumping into each other though.
Each engine nozzle has an expertly applied rainbow effect. It really looks like burnt metal.
Just as in real life, Phantoms continue to serve faithfully beside their newer relatives. As you can see, svelte Tomcat is quite different from the burly Phantom much like with the actual airplanes. Unlike its namesake, the Muv-Luv Phantom never served aboard a carrier. Probably because it would break the ship the minute it stepped on deck.
Jokes aside, I am really glad to have this figure as it looks amazing even with its uneven articulation.
The design has a pretty intimidating intimidating look about it. Also I do appreciate the bright orange gunsights on the weapons. It adds a nice contrast to the stark gray color scheme of the whole figure.
You can tell at a glance that the Phantom is a dependable machine.
With guns at the ready and its legs braced for impact, the aging Phantom is still fully capable of repelling small BETA incursions.
"When in doubt just use more gun."
Like a true CQC expert, the Phantom holds its knives facing downward.
Barring my earlier gripes about the knee articulation, the Phantom's hips are great for an aggressive fighting stance befitting such a burly robot.
"Come get me you goddamn toothy bastards!"
With its powerful legs and engines, the Phantom can take to air on the wings of pure strength.
The versatility of a TSF comes from its ability to quickly bounce between ground based combat and low altitude maneuvering. Pursuers need to be wary that even guns attached to a mount pylon can still be fired. These guys are all about full 360 degree firepower.
Even this old bird can really motor when it counts thanks to additional rocket propulsion in its jump units.
The real life Phantom is affectionately called "an affront to aerodynamics" by both former pilots and aviation enthusiasts alike. On that note, the Muv-Luv version is downright aerial blasphemy. Still, good ol' American know-how and ingenuity has put far stranger things in the air!
Thanks to all kinds of sci-fi tech, the Phantom can land just as easily as it flies. That is to say, with a lot of abuse to whatever has to cradle the impact.
In the early days of the invasion, the Phantom's heavy armor proved no match for the pinpoint accuracy and sheer power of a BETA Laser-class. Initially casualties were so heavy that most new pilots died less than eight minutes into their first mission. The so-called "eight minutes of death" continued to be a rite of passage for young recruits trying to survive in a war of attrition. In all forms of Muv-Luv media, Phantoms are seen strewn about in various states of ruin to hammer home just how unrelentingly harsh this war has become.
Since the Muv-Luv Phantom was first deployed in 1974 of their universe, I couldn't help but give do a mock up of a vintage style book cover :3
I'm pretty hopeless... ha ha.
I've been regularly checking websites like Mandarake for a good deal on these Volks A3 figures. So far my diligence has netted me some great deals on what are normally outrageously priced on eBay. Even after shipping I only paid about fifty dollars for a toy that originally cost around seventy. I hope I can continue to shed some light on these odd and somewhat boutique releases. As these figures were originally sold only through Volks shops or Volks sponsored events, they were hard to find in the early days of online retailers. Now as Muv-Luv gears up for its tenth (!) anniversary, the Volks A3 figures have become a lot easier to obtain outside of Japan. All the Tactical Surface Fighter figures I've managed to obtain thus far have been really fun and interesting so I'm eager to acquire more. If my luck continues there will certainly be more coverage here at CollectionDX.
|Posted 28 February, 2013 - 21:30 by VF5SS