Review by VF5SS
The pride of the US Navy aviators, the Tactical Surface Fighter Strike Squadron 103 "Jolly Rogers" are preparing to launch to aid the besieged Imperial capital of Kyoto.
The unavoidable day has come. 8 years after the fall of Korea, the BETA advance has finally broken past the Korean Peninsula and continued on with their relentless path of destruction...
".....I Confirm all green Jolly Roger 1. Everything looks good outside, wind speed and direction nominal, catapult setting adjusted. Countdown to launch, 10 seconds."
"3.2.1. Rock 'n roll."
With the iconic launch gesture and stance carried out by the catapult officer, the F-14D roared and took to the sky aided by the speed boost from the catapult. Racing toward the Mainland, its graceful contrails left behind in the air resembles it namesake of the lithe form of a Tomcat.
-Excerpts from Tactical Surface Fighter in Action #6 Sortie at Daybreak. Screencap from the Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse anime.
One way the Muv-Luv franchise has managed to surpass some of its predecessors and contemporaries is creating a well realized universe in where different avenues can be explored without weakening the main story. While the core of Muv-Luv remains in its visual novels, it has spawned numerous side stories that both enriched the material and warmed the hearts of many old curmudgeons who hungered for a meaty world to sink their teeth into. The above excerpts are from a continuing series of "in universe" accounts of Tactical Surface Fighters (TSF) in situations not too dissimilar to real airplanes. The big exception is that this time there are more vicious aliens.
In the early days of Muv-Luv merchandise, the only mass-produced action figures of TSF's were from the Advanced System of Action Arms (A3) line by Volks. Having put up with Mamoru Nagano and his Five Star Stories shenanigans for years, the folks at Volks are no strangers to producing limited run products for a niche market. As these figures were sold only at a few stores and at specific events, they used to be very hard to come by in the west and often commanded high prices at auction. Thanks to the expansion of Muv-Luv products and places like Mandarake, many of the A3 figures have come down in price to where they are barely breaking their MSRP's. Having heard many fans talk up the A3 toys I decided to take the plunge on one that was being sold at roughly half price.
The real life F-14 Tomcat was a pop culture icon in the 80's. It was highly praised for its role as a "fleet defender" that could fly far enough to deter cruise missile armed Soviet bombers with their own impressive array of weapons. In the romanticized world of Cold War era aviation, the F-14 Tomact became the the focus of numerous comic books, movies, and toys. Everything from the blockbuster Top Gun to GI Joe's own Skystriker jet celebrated this world famous airplane. With the way Muv-Luv re-imagines fighter jets as sweet robots, it was only natural that the TSF F-14 would take up the same mantle as its namesake to defend a world being overrun by an implacable foe.
So this is a Volks A3 F-14D Tomcat. The figure stands a little under 7 inches tall and is made mostly from hard PVC plastic. The figure has very sharp detailing and the molding quality is quite excellent all around. It definitely doesn't feel as rough as some lesser PVC based action figures do. Even though the F-14 is not part of the main story, Volks was able to put out four variations of this figure to coincide with the release of Hobby Japan articles. This particular one is the VF 103 Jolly Roger's limited variant that accompanied the story I linked at the start of my review. Most of the F-14s I have seen on the Japanese aftermarket seem to be running under 4000 yen so I don't see collectors having a preference for one type over the other. The Jolly Rogers even got a minor cameo in the first episode of the Total Eclipse anime as their story coincided with the life of the main heroine, Yui Takamura.
At a glance at Volks TSF figure does not look too different than one of the Revoltechs. However their less stylized sculpt and less eccentric joint system means they are better suited to neutral poses than the equivalent Revoltech toy. They do however use a similar joint system called "A-Lock." Note some of the more model-like touches like the subtle metallic fade on the Jump Unit's engines.
A TSF without its equipment is often very statuesque and the Tomcat is no exception. Unlike a Revoltech there are no obvious holes where the Jump Units and Mount Pylons attach. The Volks figures strive to stick as close to the original art as possible.
Now if shoulder pads are a sign of status in Muv-Luv then the Tomcat is the Duke of Earl. This figure has a lot of presence to it and a good bit of that comes from its glorious shoulder pads. They are adorned with the famous skull and crossbones of the real Jolly Rogers squadron with the accompanying markings of a US Navy fighter. Moreover the cylindrical engine detailing echoes that of the real airplane. The simple gray body accented by bits of yellow makes this figure look like a real military machine. Part of me does wish some company would tackle a true high end TSF figure so all the little lights on the upper body could shine the way they do in the above screencap.
Like many other TSF designs, the head of the Tomcat is essentially a sleek looking robotic face topped off by a an airplane hat that resembles its namesake. The characteristic front intakes of the real F-14 are re-purposed as banks of sensors with the nosecone and canopy becoming the forehead. For some reason the shape of the faux nosecone reminds me of a banana. Speaking of bananas, even the codpiece has faux nosecone and canopy details to complement how the side skirts resemble the top part of the real airplane.
A closer look at the Tomcat's Jump Units allows us to examine some A-Lock joints. They are the black double hinge joints in the picture and are used to attach the jump units (up top) to the mounts seen at the bottom. These are also found in the shoulders, elbows, and knees of the figure. Much like a Revoltech joint, these are standardized hard ABS parts that replicate bulky spring loaded ratcheted joints in a tight space. While the A-Lock joints do have a few more positions or "clicks" than a Revoltech, I haven't found them to be vastly more precise. Aside from a few places, the A-Lock joints are not meant to be modular and are mostly embedded into the toy's body. There are also single type A-Lock joints found in the hips, ankles, and shoulder pads which provide the same level of satisfying clicky-ness.
The Jump Units have their own little gimmick that emulates the most toyetic aspect of a real F-14. Normally the wings on each unit angle upward.
So simply pull the wings out and swap them around...
And now they angle downward! The one on the right has been changed while the one on the left is the default. I have no idea how this is supposed to help a hulking brick of a robot fly but it looks neat doesn't it?
Moving on, the Tomcat comes with three pairs of interchangeable hands. These peg in and out of the wrist in a very smooth manner. All of the peg and holes on this figure are left unpainted so there is little chance stuff not fitting right out of the box. You get fists, splayed hands, and hands wielding some Close In Weapons Systems. By the way that's military speak for, "my big robot also has big knives."
For guns you get two slightly different pairs of assault cannons. One pair is permanently attached to mount pylons while the others have hands molded onto the grips.
You also get a pair of bare mount pylons that have their gun clamps closed up. None of these have the extra articulation as seen in the show and just fixed in place. I believe the reason is so the details of the figure will remain as accurate as possible without exceeding what Volks can engineer. In fact, Volks had to release extra accessory sets just to allow a select few other figures to have mount pylons positioned with their guns deployed. Unfortunately the Tomcat was no among these so this figure can only have guns on its back for decoration. All of these just plug into a set of holes on top of the Tomcat's back.
The front and back of each shoulder pauldron can be flipped up for extra clearance. This feature can also help you when you want to mount the included missile launchers on the Tomcat's shoulders. You start by simply unplugging the engines on the tips of the pauldrons.
Next you pick out the two replacement engine looking mounts that have a peg sticking out of them. The launchers themselves just peg on over those. Each launcher has three removable missile tips to simulate one missile tube being loaded or having already fired.
In true Japanese toy fashion, you get a complete set of full sized missiles with no indication of what you're supposed to do with them. These are modeled after the real F-14's signature Phoenix missiles.
Back in the day we had to make our own effects parts. A pair of Max Factory Di:Stages help me put missiles in the air.
Lastly, you get a set of waterslide decals for the sole purpose of adding either more skulls or a set of modex numbers under the right armpit. This where you can see how Volks was treating their figures as being more like display models than as toys.
In my review of various Muv-Luv Revoltechs like the F-18 Super Hornet see on the left, I tried to emphasize how those figures successfully combine style with playability. By contrast the Volks figures seem to emphasize looks and presence over the dynamic action. While the Tomcat is far from being a fragile brick of a toy, it is tricky to handle in action poses.
One thing to be aware of is when you start piling equipment above the waist the Tomcat becomes even more top heavy than it is already is. The uniform PVC construction and relatively small feet are not well suited to keeping this guy upright. Once the Tomcat is planted on its feet it tends to stay put but there's some degree of fiddling required to do more.
There are a few smooth moving swivels on the Tomcat in addition to the clicking A-Lock joints. Both the chest and head and move about ninety degrees to each side provided they have enough clearance.The arms also have shoulder and upper bicep swivels that uses the same smooth pegs as the wrists. Also the upper body can tilt upward which is does so with a soft click.
So posing this toy is a bit of an adventure as not only is most of its equipment trying to make it topple backwards (especially the jump units), the fact that almost everything is ratcheted means you have to position everything within a set angle allowed by the clicking A-Lock joints. There's almost no wiggle room between where you can place each limb so while they do have a great degree of freedom the lack of fine movement means the Tomcat is often balancing on the edges of its feet. As most of its parts are PVC with the same density there's really no getting around the fact that most of this toy's weight is going to be above the waist.
Having all four guns on the toy is a great display but be sure to plant its feet properly.
The thing is though, the Tomcat does look damn good once you get it in a pose but it lacks the almost puzzle like playability of a Revoltech. By that I mean with a Revoltech the aim is to figure out how to use the figure's joint to get it to do what you want. Here with the Volks toy, you know what all the joints can do but aren't quite sure how to make everything cooperate.
In fact those big ol' guns are acting as a counterweight in most of those photos. It's all about taking a TSF to the edge of its abilities. The thing that I keep getting hung up on is how the Tomcat's small feet have no ability to tilt upward. They do tilt downward about one click and also a little to each side though.
While the knees do have double joints, the shape of the legs prevent them from bending more than ninety degrees. As such it makes kneeling a bit stiff looking. One interesting thing is that both the forward and back movement of the hips as well as the twisting joint right near the thigh also have soft clicks when you move them.
This Tomcat is good n' mean lookin'. A real bruiser of a machine.
Again you can get the Tomcat to pose pretty aggressively but this is more of a "set it and snap a photo before it tumbles" kind of deal.
Any robot wielding a pair of giant knives is going to look intimidating no matter how small their feet are.
"The BETA bleed so we can kill them..."
An exercise in international relations.
"Ahhh! Arigatou, gaijin-san! But who are you?"
"I am... an American!"
"I feel a kinship with you, strange walking jet."
"That is because we are the same, Focker!"
"WE ARE BRRRRRRRRROOTHERS!"
I love the image of TSF's being launched from a catapult like an airplane. Who needs a show where the robots turn into airplanes when in Muv-Luv the robots are airplanes.
This Volks F-14D Tomcat figure was a interesting venture into another avenue of Muv-Luv merchandise. I hope I helped to demystify these toys since there is very little English language information about them. In the end I found the Volks figure to be more of a boutique release that has some of the qualities of a dynamic action figure. Like a good older brother, my Volks F-14 is a bit more quiet and contemplative than my brash and impulsive Revoltech F-18. It looks impressive and is feels very solid. While not necessarily the most action filled action figure, it can move when it has too. For the most part it is a very well done piece if not an overly ambitious one. I just wish all those A-Lock joints could meet me halfway on how they want me to pose them!
|Posted 29 January, 2013 - 21:25 by VF5SS|