VF-4G Lightning III
|Character Design||Shoji Kawamori|
Review by VF5SS
About thirty years ago the landmark anime Super Dimension Fortress Macross introduced the world to what would become a long running franchise filled with love triangles, pop music, and transforming robots. It's hard to believe that after the release of the stunning Do You Remember Love? movie adaptation, there was no full-fledged follow up Macross production until 1992's Macross II: Lovers Again. For the fifth anniversary of the original show series creator Shoji Kawamori reconvened with Kazutaka Miyatake and Haruhiko Mikimoto to create Macross Flashback 2012.
Made with the finest VHS based editing technology of 1987, Flash Back 2012 is a collection of anime music videos made using footage from both the Macross TV show and movie. These segments are bookended by the newly animated Lynn Minmay concert in where she performs "Angel's Paint" (Tenshi no Engou). Later versions of Do You Remember Love? would incorporate this footage as a more proper end credit sequence. Flash Back 2012 depicts the original love triangle of Hikaru Ichijo, Misa Ichijo (nee. Hayase), and Lynn Minmay flying off into the far reaches of the galaxy aboard the SDF-2 Megaroad-01. It would serve as a final farewell for the characters that the fans all loved so dearly. Everyone who worked on Macross went their separate ways and at the time Shoji Kawamori was not interested in making a sequel. He even went as far as to say there would not be a Macross 2.
We all know how that worked out.
The VF-4 Lightning III appears for maybe ten seconds during the "Angel's Paint" sequence as Hikaru Ichijo's new Variable Fighter (or Valkyrie). Its incredibly sleek profile and overall gorgeous design captured the hearts of many fans. The VF-4 would endear itself as an important part of Macross lore as at the time it was the only new Valkyrie design and remained so for several years. With its limited screen time there was no need to finish the design and depict its Gerwalk and Battroid modes so for a longest time people could only speculate as to how it transformed. Even so, the fighter mode of the VF-4 was so striking that many garage kit makers created exquisite resin cast renditions of just the fighter mode. For a while it almost seemed like a rite of passage for modelers to build a VF-4.
With the success of tandem series Macross Plus and Macross 7, there was growing interest in merchandising Valkyries as a wide range of products. With the VF-4 firmly rooted in Macross history, it was only natural for it to appear in the upcoming Macross Digital Mission VF-X video game. If you wish to get a brief history of the evolution of the VF-4's design please click here.
Companies like Yamato and Bandai have continued to push the envelope for high end Macross toys. While Bandai has settled into handling newer series like Macross Frontier, Yamato diligently worked its way through the vast backlog of shows in order to produce what has got to be the greatest variety of Valkyrie toys ever seen. With the release of each new toy fans would gather on message boards to inquire about a potential VF-4 Lightning III toy. As Yamato continued to assert itself as the leading manufacturer of Macross toys with such outstanding pieces as the VF-19 Fire Valkyrie, collectors gathered all their hopes and dreams into a wish that a perfect transformation VF-4 would someday be in their collection. Previously the transforming VF-4's existed as limited run resin kits by Studio Halfeye and Experten.
In the Macross universe, 2012 was the year in when the original Macross love triangle rode off into the proverbial sunset never to be heard from again. For us, it marks the momentous occasion where the VF-4 was finally realized in what I can safely call an outstanding transforming toy. This is truly the figure Macross fans have been waiting for.
The VF-4G Lightning III is another outstanding entry in Yamato's 1/60 scale perfection transformation Macross toy series. Constructed from ABS plastic and diecast metal, this toy is roughly a foot in length in fighter mode. Its primary light gray coloring with blue highlighting on the fins and canards reflects the craft's appearance in Macross Digital Mission VF-X. The toy sits atop a set of diecast landing gear that have real rubber tires. The two main wheels lock firmly in the down position, but the nose wheel does not. A minor issue for me.
Digital Mission VF-X was the first import game I ever bought for the Playstation 1. I didn't even have my Playstation modded to play import games at the time of receiving the game so I had to wait a week until a guy down at Tokyo Kid in Cambridge did the deed. What cost twenty dollars back in the day allowed me to launch into a gaming world where everything was anime and I could barely understand what was going on. As the leading Digital Mission VF-X expert (which means I have two of the books), I can say the game served its purpose as the first fully 3D Macross video game. While it played like a game coded by five guys in their college dorm, I loved the opening movie that featured Fire Bomber's famous "Try Again" song. This was the first time I had ever heard a Fire Bomber song and looking back I was doomed from the start.
There was some frustration among fans that this first ever VF-4 toy was going to be the VF-4G variant from the video game rather than the one from Flash Back 2012. As Yamato must comply with the wishes of Big West, they informed fans that due to the fact the VF-4 never transforms in Flash Back 2012 they were limited to making the version from Digital Mission VF-X. As compensation the VF-4G does come with decals that include the proper black tailfins and Skull Squadron markings. The decal sheet consists mostly of numbers and small warning labels as well as the names of several carriers the VF-4 served aboard like the Valhalla III from Digital Mission VF-X.
Regardless of its colors, the VF-4G is highly praised among fans and aviation enthusiasts for its incredibly sleek profile. Its stated role is that of a high speed and high altitude interceptor and certainly looks the part. The distinctive engine nacelle configuration is based on the real life SR-71 Blackbird, which itself was tested as a interceptor before being turned into a reconnaissance plane.
The VF-4G exudes the look of a lightning fast machine that appears leaps and bounds over its predecessor the VF-1. Not that the extra long fins attached to the legs must be angled upward when the VF-4G is perched on its landing gear.
As a design conceived in the heyday of Naval aviation, the VF-4G looks right at home on a carrier deck. In some ways it reminds me of the oft forgotten F7U Cutlass which is a real life airplane that looks far ahead of its time.
Underneath the opening canopy is a pilot figure OF YOU!
I appreciate Yamato taking the time to mold an accurate rendition of the pilot suit from Digital Mission VF-X. Despite the difference in color, it still looks just like you. You do have some problems staying centered inside the cockpit as you are a little smaller than the seat. You're also made of hard plastic and not squishy PVC.
Gimmicks include articulated thruster nozzles on the upper engine nacelles.
The bank of nozzles on either side of the tail boom can either be...
or closed through the use of their hinged upper panel.
The feet also have some appropriate engine detailing. The ankle itself is made from a combination of diecast and plastic parts. It functions as a more traditional universal joint rather than the ball-joints seen in the VF-17 and VF-19 toys. The whole ankle assembly slides in and out with a satisfying series of clicks.
To fulfill its role as an interceptor, the VF-4G comes equipped with twelve semi-recessed long range missiles. Each missile is removable and can come off during handling. I've found the leg mounted missiles stay on the most while the arm and ventral mounted missiles get knocked off due to how they stick out when the VF-4G is in Gerwalk or Battroid mode. It's a minor annoyance at best.
While all the missiles appear identical, they are in fact three types that can only attach in a specific section of the Valkyrie. Going from top to bottom, the missiles with the largest tab go on the arms. The middle missiles with medium sized tabs attach to the legs. Lastly, the missiles with the smallest tab go on the mounts just behind the nose wheel doors.
The ventral missile mounts are interesting in that they extend outward both to allow the nose wheel door to open and to keep the missiles out of the way during transformation. Sadly the act of extending these mounts usually results in the missiles coming off. I appreciate the attention to detail though.
The VF-4G comes with an adapter for use with any flavor of Yamato's Macross display stand or their Mighty Block stand. This attaches to a pair of divots in the underside of the fighter mode and is very secure.
The underside of the VF-4 is notorious for being so obscenely clean you could eat off it. Without knowing this is a transforming airplane, it's almost impossible to conceive that it will soon become a robot.
The VF-4G is such a graceful bird that looks so natural in the air. This toy is a true testament to Shoji Kawamori's skills as a designer and the dedication Yamato had in bringing this Valkyrie to life.
Now it is time for the real toy magic to begin as the VF-4G transforms in Gerwalk mode while I grab a washcloth to keep from banging the toy into the table. First the lower engine nacelles unlock the wing root.
A pair of panels are flipped up to allow the VF-4G's thighs to rise out of the fighter mode's sleek profile. These panels are designed to detach and can be easily reattached into their slots.
Next a combination diecast and plastic double-joints allow the lower legs to re-position themselves while also gaining distance from the knee.
The fans inside the intake then can be folded downward so that the legs can fully straighten out. By default the fans are covered by a pair of intake covers in a similar manner to other Yamato Macross toys. One major difference is that these covers can only be removed while the legs are position away from the upper engine nacelle due to how they slide up and out of the exposed gap in the lower leg. You must remove the intake covers before transforming the toy further. While it is a marked change from previous Valkyrie toys, I don't find it too much of a bother and feel like I will probably just set the intake covers aside during regular handling.
The exposed underside of the upper engines show where a lot of the VF-4G's weight is centered. Hidden inside the nacelle is the VF-4G's shoulder assembly. Everything the from elbow to the shoulder to the hinge it connects to is made out of diecast metal. The upper arm may look plastic but it is indeed diecast that has been painted white.
As you stand up the VF-4G you extend the sliding diecast joint that allows the knees to clear the remaining edges of the intake.
A pair of sliding panels extend up from the base of the legs to cover the internals and to lock the knees at the proper height.
The forearm slides out from the upper nacelle. It will click into place.
Next the arm is positioned under the upper nacelle and turned around to expose the flat underside. Angling the gauntlet of the forearm allows you to flip out the fists. To finish off the arm area, a pair of shoulder guards flip out from the fronts of the nacelles
Even after an eight year gap between modes, the VF-4G still transforms like any other Valkyrie. The conversion process into Gerwalk mode is quite smooth overall with only the potentially detachable missiles and underside panels being a nuisance.
The VF-4G really exemplifies the image of a jet with arms and legs. Even more so than other Valkyries.
With its ball-jointed hips and knee tilts, the VF-4G achieves the classic Gerwalk A-stance with ease.
The two piece hinges that reside behind the thighs are the only major deviation from the original artwork. They happily stay out of the way during posing and can be removed if so desired. You will want to keep them attached for Battroid mode as they return to their horizontal position as part of the VF-4G's torso.
Due to the tight space in the VF-4G's forearms, only static fists can be stored inside. You do get an optional pair of articulated hands that are nearly identical to the ones seen on Yamato's 1/60 scale VF-1 toys. The only difference is the VF-4G uses a ball-joint at the wrist rather than a simple peg swivel.
So if you happen to have a spare VF-1 gun pod lying around (I know I have three) you can give your VF-4G a little extra firepower just in case the forearm beam cannons and twelve missiles are not enough. Some have tried to mount a gun pod on the underside of the VF-4G using the numerous slots available but I would strongly advise against putting things where they don't belong.
One reason the VF-4G was given the option of holding a gun pod is because it was infamously seen holding one in the promotional posters for Digital Mission VF-X. The VF-4G stood proudly front and center on this striking image of multiple Valkyries all lined up ready to fight. Not that the VF-4G uses a gun pod in the game itself, the illustrator just thought it needed a gun to look right next to the VF-17 that stands behind it.
The transformation to Battroid is where the VF-4G displays some downright stunning engineering. A large diecast double hinge is the main attraction of the conversion. Please refer to the video at the end of this review for a more in depth look. It really needs to be seen in motion to be fully appreciated.
As the entire rear section of the plane detaches from the nosecone and main fuselage the VF-4G starts to unfurl in a way that is not too dissimilar to the VF-19.
Even more diecast is exposed during the transformation and shows that all of the major load bearing points are reinforced with shiny metal bars.
The head emerges as the nosecone and fuselage start to reconfigure themselves. During the transformation the small fin located just behind the nosecone actually moves outward on a panel and then clips into the a slot in the nosecone. The still exposed parts of the fin will then rest inside the large slit in the groin section.
As the torso begins to take shape the upper body will end up clipping into the slots seen on either side of the cockpit area. A flip out tab in the groin solidly locks into the nosecone and helps keep the torso together.
The resulting Battroid mode is one that is almost unlike any other in the Macross universe. This incredibly sleek fighter has miraculously transformed itself into a decidedly bulky looking machine. I've heard it likened to a paladin with heavy shoulder armor.
The head of the VF-4G resembles that of a professional bike rider and is punctuated with a clear visor done in deep clear green plastic.
The neck has a pair of swivel joints so the head can move in all directions. Just be aware the tip of the head can bump the tailfins. Given how much the tailfins can move up an down it should be no problem finding a position where they will allow the head maximum range of motion.
The thruster vanes on the back of the VF-4G swivel down to form its backpack. The array can still open and closed like in fighter mode. Also note the molded detailing on the diecast bar that is accurate to the original artwork.
Yamato was able to balance the notably top-heavy VF-4G design so that the toy can stand up with some minor care. The hip and knee joints appear to be accessible with a screwdriver so they can be tightened through the usual methods of clear coating or nail polish if you feel they need some maintenance. Out of the box my VF-4G's joint were tight and ready for posing.
The flexible array of joints in both the hips and knees afford the VF-4G are wide range of poses. It does take some consideration of just how it is going to be posed due to the weight of the upper body. Still, it looks pretty good even when kneeling.
When place alongside its predecessor the VF-4G looks far more mechanical and imposing.
In contrast to its more compact and traditional looking successor, the VF-11, the VF-4G looks more like an over-engineered beast of a machine that exceeded all expectations in an unconventional manner.
I should address the Destroid Monster in the room that is the VF-4G's unfortunate inability to raise its arms above its head. Even with two prior transforming resin kits and multiple appearances in video games, no one has ever thought of articulating the shoulder pauldrons in a way that allows the arms more freedom of motion. The VF-4G proudly fights with its arms never reaching above its chest but never feels slighted by its disability because nobody will mess with you when you've got beam cannons right next to your hands.
That being said, the VF-4G does act like a proper Valkyrie with or without a gun pod.
The use of an adapter for the aforementioned stand types lets the VF-4G Battroid take to the skies. The adapter fit a little too snugly at first so I simply loosened one of the screws holding it together until it could clamp around the toy's waist.
In the air the VF-4G feels more at home where it can easily unleash an Itano Circus from the multiple missiles stored on its body.
Flipping the wings back up gives the arms a little more precious posing room. I feel as though leaving the wings up demonstrate how the VF-4G is a perfect blend of a sleek interceptor with a powerful robot.
Wherever enemies may flee, the VF-4G is ready to pursue. The leg joints hold up wonderfully and let you put this unique machine in many dynamic positions.
In the end Yamato's VF-4G Lightning III represents a turning point in Macross toy collecting. For so many fans this is the holy grail of Valkyries. It was a faraway dream that this breathtaking design would someday be rendered as a high quality toy just as the many other Valkyries has been before. Its status as a Yamato website exclusive seemed to speak of caution on the part of the manufacturer. Over the years other Valkyries that were arguably more exposed than the VF-4G had come into the market only to be relegated to bargain bins regardless of their quality. While Hikaru Ichijo's VF-4 from Flash Back 2012 left its mark on the faithful, the designs minuscule screentime and lack of merchandise outside of tiny trading figures and rare resin kits added up to the VF-4 existing in a state of fandom limbo. Combined with the final toy being resigned to be a color variation from just one video game, the VF-4G's chances in the open market seemed too shaky for a normal retail release. In the end the fears of international buyers were laid to rest as several online retailers carried the VF-4G either at or close to its original MSRP. There was no preorder panic like with several recent Bandai Macross products. While the made-to-order nature of the figure may make it difficult to acquire for those late to the party, it allowed Yamato a chance to guarantee a toy for everyone who ordered it. From what I have heard this experiment was a success and I hope this gives Yamato a chance to realize even more of the lesser known Valkyries in their fantastic Macross toyline. If the VF-4G is the standard of Valkyries in the coming years, I will put my vote of confidence in that any VF-5000 or VF-14 figure they may decide to produce will be just as outstanding as this one. The future for Macross looks bright as one dream toy is made while others wait on the horizon.
So as we say goodbye to the year 2012, I want to wish everyone a happy new year as we all feel a renewed vigor for our toy collecting hobby. For Macross fans and collectors in general this is truly a momentous occasion.
|Posted 1 January, 2013 - 00:55 by VF5SS|