Review by VF5SS
Special Armored Battalion Dorvack was one of a half dozen shows following in the wake of Macross and tried to capitalize on the "perfect transformation" craze. The series chronicled the exploits of the Dorvack team: a group of hotshot young pilots lead by a guy who looks inexplicably like Tom Selleck. Their mission was to use the highly advanced Variable Machines to combat alien invaders called the Idelians, who sought to colonize Earth after their home world was destroyed. In a very Gundam-esque development, the three prototype Variable Machines were mass-produced in the second half of the series allowing for more giant robot action and giving sponsors more merchandise to sell.
The VV-54A Calibur is the production version of Masato Mugen's personal Calibur unit. Oddly enough, Masato is voiced by Toru Furuya who better known for his role as Amuro Ray, which really drives home the idea the two Caliburs are akin to the Gundam and the GM.
The mass-production type Caliburs became a prominent fixture in Dorvack as teams of them lead the charge against the Idelian forces. While there were non-transformable toys and model kits of the design, it would be a while after the show was off the air before a fully transformable version of this green Variable Machine would hit the market.
Sadly Dorvack never made it to the US, but it did find an audience in South America where it was dubbed into both Spanish and Portuguese. For myself the show has held an ever present bit of fascination when I discovered it through its connection to the deluxe Autobots from Transformers. I threw caution to the wind and decided to sit down and watch the whole thing in raw Japanese. What I found was one hell of an early 80's action adventure show done by the mad geniuses at Production Reed (nee. Ashi Productions). Actually getting more context for everything gave me a bit of an appetite for the toys that are out there so went out and bought (or kinda re-bought) a CM's Corporation Brave Gokin VV-54A Calibur.
Please check out my video review!
I actually reviewed another version of this toy, the Mugen Calibur Miyazawa Mokei version way back in 2009 when these figures were released. I have long since sold off that figure so this will be a chance for CM's Corporation to make a good second impression postmortem.
All four variants of this toy were release in the same box that is nominally meant for the fully armored Combat Calibur. The only outward difference between them is a large sticker that covers the "Combat" part of the name and adds a small cut-in showing the toy you're buying. Be advised that the box is absolutely gigantic compared to the figure within which really adds up in shipping costs. Even the the complete Combat Calibur set doesn't really fill up the package.
There's also a caption noting what you are not getting that is still advertised on the back of the box. Sorry soldier, no High Laminate Armor or Blaster Gun for you.
The Calibur is packaged in robot mode so I'll start there. It stands roughly seven inches tall and lives up to the title of gokin by having a sizable amount of diecast . Most notably the upper legs and the wheel assembly on its back are all metal with some more used for the transformation joints. CM's take on the design is very true to the line art without any of the dynamic stylization seen in the anime.
Out of the package, the Calibur comes with its wheel covers already installed. These slide in and off the wheel axles with ease.
Besides its two tone green colorization, the mass-production type Calibur has a slightly less ornate head design. It's got a good unassuming look as befitting a grunt robot. In lieu of a clear eye piece, the visor is done with sparkly green paint. The head has a decent range of motion thanks to a ball-jointed neck.
The upper arms of the Calibur have a tampographed FA insignia which stands for "Federation Army."
You can flip of the front of the chest and a hatch to reveal the pilot. All versions of this toy come with a PVC figure of Masato Mugen, with the green version having a similarly clad repaint of goggle wearing protagonist. Due to the position of his arms, Masato has kind of a tight fit inside the rather sparse cockpit.
Also I want to apologize as for most of this review I forgot to click the shoulders into the "up" position. The arms can travel up on their simple metal hinge to create a more proportionate look in robot mode. Note that the arm on the right is higher than the one on the left.
Like with a lot of CM's toys, the Calibur feels like a throwback to the late 1980's in terms of design. Articulation above the waist is pretty good with strong ratcheted shoulders, bicep swivels, a deep elbow bend, and ball-jointed wrists. The hands feature a hinged finger arrangement that is nearly identical to Bandai's old High Complete Models. Also note that the hand guards can move about on a hinge, which is a nice touch.
Below the waist the Calibur's articulation is kind of a joke. The tops of the thighs are set way too close to the upper body and as a result can barely move. There is also a rotating waist but it is again impeded by the proximity of parts.
To fully utilize the rest of the legs, you have to basically cheat with the transformation joint. It's a very poor solution though as the legs move away from the body on a set of swing bars that only lock in at the groin. If you carefully balance the end of one thigh against the upper body, it is possible to temporarily get a more dynamic pose. To their credit, the Calibur does have fairly good knee joints with a swivel just above the bend. Also the ankles have a small degree of tilt for stabilizing the toy.
While this toy lacks the ability to pose like the Calibur would in the show, it does make for a handsome display piece even when going commando without its wheel covers. The hips don't plug into the groin too tightly so there's just even give for a good A-stance.
Here is the Brave Gokin Calibur next to Masterpiece Sideswipe. A lot of people were introduce to this design through its use as deluxe Autobot Roadbuster in the original 80's Transformers toy line. Recently the green Calibur made a rather roundabout debut in Transformers with the Fansproject Recoiler Core and Riftshot Core figures. These remolded repaints of the Roadbuster inspired Revolver Core are unmistakably a nod to Dorvack.
Fans of the Convertors by Select may remember this little guy named Wheels. This toy is a recolor of Takatoku's small Mugen Calibur toy done up in dark green plastic. I have to wonder if someone at Select knew of the mass-production Calibur or just felt in their heart that this design was meant to be green.
The VV-54A Calibur has almost all the same accessories as the regular Mugen Calibur but swaps out the leg mounted grenade rack for its unique bazooka weapon. This means if you wanted to display the green Calibur with a rack of RPG's like in the show, you'd have to own both figures.
The largest accessory is the Calibur's "Jumping Booster Unit" that clips in between the wheel wells on its back. It has two movable hand grips like any good jet pack. To complete the accessory you have to plug in a small hard plastic antenna that should be handled with care. Also be sure to check if the two handles are stuck due to paint gluing as this happened on my previous figure.
I love how this guy is basically a giant army man that can also transform into a jeep. It's like a GI Joe wet dream.
You can peg the vehicle mode gun into the back of the figure for storage.
There's even a gap in the back of the jet pack so you can have both the gun and the booster unit attached.
A big shoulder mounted rocket launcher can be attached to the right wheel cover. You simply remove a small panel on top and attach the weapon via a large C-clip.
The weapon that sets the mass-produced Calibur apart from the prototype is this big bazooka. Squads of Calibur generally carried these are their main weapon. The toy's hands do a decent job of holding the weapon and you can get a few underarm firing poses with it.
The bazooka pegs onto the right leg for storage. Be aware these two sets of holes with one being for the omitted grenade rack.
To complete the Calibur's handheld rifle, the barrel assembly from the vehicle mode gun detaches and plugs onto the unfolded firearm. Note that these parts are made from hard ABS plastic so mind all the tiny extremities lest they get broken.
The rifle is an unabashed homage to the real life AR-15. Again the toy can hold it fairly well. Getting the index finger into the trigger well can be kind of difficult though as the hand does not seem like it was tailored for this gun.
And continuing the theme of bringing everything along, the folded up rifle can store on the left leg.
Lastly the Calibur comes with the Twin-Barrel 100 mm MAC-11 gun. This huge piece of state of the art bang bang was featured most prominently with the model kits by Gunze Sangyo.
The Calibur doesn't actually hold onto the weapon with its hands. Instead there is a fist permanently attached inside the weapon that plugs on in place of the regular hand. I found the connection to be a bit loose so the big gun sags a bit.
It is quiet easy to have the Calibur carry most of its weapons into battle. This Variable Vehicle lets any soldier by an army of one.
Transforming the Calibur to jeep mode is straightforward and hasn't changed much since the design debuted over thirty years ago. Start by collapsing the thighs in the shins and flipping the front wheel assembly upward.
Next the back cover folds down on a pair of diecast struts. After that the front of the chest folds up to meet the wheel assembly to form the front of the jeep.
The legs then swing out on a pair of metal bars which allow the arms to shift down and fold into the chest. It's here the legs show off their ability to rotate a full 360 degrees along a ratcheting joint. Again it's a shame this bit of engineering is largely wasted in robot mode. The feet finish off the leg transformation with the toes sliding up into the ankle area forming a flat platform on either side of the driver. Here you can also open up the chest and push the driver's seat into position.
Locking the legs in position for keep mode involves sliding a small tab around the edge of the front wheel wells. Unfortunately this can lead to some paint scratches so you might want to coat this with some protective covering. It is possible to leave the legs un-tabbed as they will stay in place for the most part.
And so here is the Calibur's jeep mode in all its brick-like glory. In this form the diecast parts make this toy feel like a small tank.
It is a single seat 4WD beast that a cool dude like Masato Mugen can handle like a sports car.
The overall design of the Calibur is so solid that this simple robot to vehicle transition still produces a good toy many years after it was conceived.
I gotta say the painted taillights are a nice touch.
This rendition is a bit low to the ground which kind of defeats the purpose of it being an off-road vehicle. Some of the old model kits gave it bigger tires to enhance the degree of realism. Well, as realistic as a transforming jeep robot soldier can be. The ties have a nice rubberized feel and the Calibur rolls well in the form.
The in-scale Masato Mugen can remain in the seat during the transformation but may need to be adjusted along the way lest his head bang into the moving steering wheel.
Ridin' in style.
Masato is repainted to look like he's wearing the regular Federation Army fatigues rather than his baby blue outfit. He has a small peg coming out of posterior that can secure him in his seat or can plug into the back of the jeep for chilling out. While his Calibur was being upgraded, Masato used a mass-production one to both train other soldiers and storm into battle against floating Moai heads with eye lasers.
You can pile most of the Calibur's accessories onto its jeep mode using all the storage areas I previously pointed out. The big MAC-11 plugs into the top for extra firepower.
Now this is a real road buster.
In place of the MAC-11 you can place the backpack over the top mounted gun to carry it along. Some of the old model kits showed the wheel covers plugging together so they could mount on the sides of the jet pack but CM's did not replicate that feature here.
As an added bonus, you get a distinctive pair of powered armor guys that are different than the ones included with the other Caliburs. You get one Guardian (left) and Tinklebell (right). These are made from PVC and feature movable arms. Strangely both of mine are kind of... sticky.
The Guardian is toting a huge gun for an arm which can be steadied by its left hand thanks to a swivel wrist.
Fellow reviewer Prometheum5 is a big fan of these guys and even incorporated elements of the Dorvack powered armors into his own 3D printed toy designs. Seen here is his "Stalking Toad."
You can swap the Guardian's left arm for a smaller triple-barreled blaster but on mine the existing limb came off from its hard plastic ball-joint when I tried to do this. Since these guys are sticky, I think I'll forgo trying to extra the joint when I can just put the other gun back on...
This is a Tinklebell! It's name is probably supposed to be "Tinkerbell" but that's what all the old model kits say so I'm going with it. These guys are really great in the anime because they are a danger to themselves and others. Billed as a walking missile battery, you would always seen one get shot while standing in the middle of a squad where it would then give an Itano Circus spew all over its fellow troopers. It even has an extra handheld launcher for even more friendly fire!
You can also swap that hand out for an oversized blaster.
Those lucky to come home alive can gather for a casual debriefing.
In the end I don't feel like opinion of this toy has changed much in five years. The Brave Gokin VV-54A Calibur is very much a toy out of time. It is a loving recreation of an 80's collector's toy done with greater fidelity to the source material as allowed by modern manufacturing techniques. Dorvack was one of many show of its era that was eventually swept to the wayside by the reemergence of Gundam and the rise of Transformers so there's not a lot of demand for merchandise outside of the diehard fans. As a result, this toy came with a fairly hefty price of 19,800 yen (roughly $200) which even back then felt too high for such a odd throwback of a figure. While it is a solid toy, it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel and can be regarded as a straight update of the old Takatoku Mugen Calibur. Even after the recent demise of CM's Corporation, these guys have been getting cleared out at shops in Japan for half their MSRP. I did a little hunting to track down this one with a slightly damaged box for a quarter the original price and I feel satisfied with it.
(Thanks again to Spacerunaway for the Dorvack record!)
I think what really changed over time was me. After watching Dorvack I consider myself a genuine fan of the show and want to buy stuff based on it. This toy really isn't any different than the one I had before, but now the design means something to me. The green Caliburs were a cool part of the show and even got a chance to shine on several occasions. They were cool and the Brave Gokin is a good representation of those awesome cartoon robots. I really wish Dorvack would get a little more exposure in the English speaking fandom as it is up there with a lot of the other 80's greats.
This review is dedicated to Pierre Bonaparte.
That Frenchman was so fly.