Combat-R Zero "Plutonium"
Review by Sanjeev
Y'know what I like? I like independent toy producers who really get it.
As some of you may be aware, there's a huge movement in the independent toy production world known as "urban" or "designer" vinyl. It started in Japan where artists began to make simple slush-cast vinyl toys of their own original designs. These weren't "character" toys based on properties existing in some other media like film or comics. These were purely original--albeit, inspired--creations based on the creator's own art and imagination.
Now, there's good and there's bad associated with this rapidly growing designer vinyl world. As the industry grows in popularity (and lucrativeness!), many true fans are starting to feel the sting of "speculation". Because the very nature of these toys makes them limited in number, many "flippers" try to buy up as many pieces as possible upon initial release of a toy...and then immediately turn around and resell them to the real fans at exorbitant mark-ups. As some have said, the aftermarket has become the market...and this is *not* a good thing.
Also, critics of the designer vinyl movement decry the "counter-culturalism" that seems to be rising from the industry. Ironically, as the industry grows and opportunities for independent artists become more accessible, stratification and exclusion seems to be on the rise in collector communities. More and more, aspects of any subculture like style of dress and musical preference are being attached to a hobby that theoretically ought to be just about collecting toys. Now, it's "cool" to be a geek. And the implication, of course, is that if you're not the right flavor of "geek" (i.e., you don't collect the "right" toys, praise the "right" artists, etc.), you're just not cool.
It's important to keep in mind, however, that this is a young industry. Speculation nearly destroyed mainstream comics in the US in the mid-90's...but it survived. There'll never not be comics because there'll simply always be real comic fans. Further, the inflated subculture of vinyl collectors will collapse soon enough. The uniformity therein is simply antithetical to independent art. When the dust settles, just as with the comic industry, the real fans will be left. Those who are truly passionate about toys will continue to thrive.
Ultimately, it's a great thing that independent artists now have the realistic means of getting their designs produced. What we're seeing is just growing pains.
So, getting back to the focus of this review, there are some indy toy designers who really get it. These are typically the people who are fans, first...then toy-makers. Robert DeCastro is one such fan. He grew up with super robot cartoons and daikaiju eiga--and of course, with their associated chogokin and vinyl kaiju toys--so he certainly has the pedigree necessary for designing great Japanese-style robots and vinyl toys!
About a year ago, Robert created Atomic Mushroom Toys, a medium through which he could unleash his toy concepts upon the world. His first offering: the super robot, Combat-R Zero!!
There are five colorways of this robot toy, and today, we'll be taking a look at my personal favorite: Plutonium, the GID version of this toy, which is only available if one orders the superset of all five colorways. [Ummm, let's see...I have a degree in Nuclear Engineering, so I know my plutonium...I'm an avid robot and vinyl toy collector...and I'm obsessed with glowie stuff... Robert, did you make this toy just for me!? :P ]
First, so let's look at the packaging. I really like what Robert's done here. It's essentially a one-piece plastic clamshell. For those not planning on saving the packaging, at least there isn't a lot of material to waste here. For collectors planning on keeping the packaging, however, it's great because the clamshell simply folds around the 9-inch figure and snaps shut by means of six...snappy...indentation-things. Remember: nuclear engineer. Anyway, what this means is that you can remove the figure and put it back quickly and easily with no damage whatsoever to the packaging! Nice.
Okay, here's the first of my few beefs with this toy. Clamshell's killer...but the paper insert seems to detract from the overall presentation of the figure. A lot. I mean, once you get to the figure inside, your heart will soar...but that just makes such a subpar insert is even more of an eyesore. I'm not saying it's terrible, but it really does almost seem like it was designed as an afterthought.
First of all, the colors used on ALL five of the sculpt's colorways are absolutely nothing short of brilliant. You can tell that Robert really took his time formulating what color combinations would work. That's why when I see the garish colors on the insert, I almost cringe. Also, the art just seems unfinished. For example, the "COMBAT-R ZERO" logo is highly rendered and looks smoking...but it seems so out of place set against the basic, oddly-colored, cartoony explosion in the background. I definitely would have preferred more detailed artwork like in the background of Atomic Mushroom Toys' website...with darker, more realistic colors to complement the colors of the toys, themselves.
Anyway, in the end, packaging is just a side dish to the main course. Pop apart those snappy things and get to the toy, damnit!
Combat-R Zero consists of big vinyl robot ass-kickery. Interestingly enough, Robert's own website, Atomic Mushroom Toys, makes no real mention of the story behind the robot. Here's an excerpt from Toysrevil's interview with Robert:
Here it goes...Earth's top minds, having knowledge of an impending full-scale invasion by a powerful alien race, scrambled desperately to create a weapon to combat the alien menace. After careful calculations, the scientist of "Shugato Heavy Industries" came up with a time frame, a window of opportunity, if you will, to create an effective "weapon system" before the aliens' arrival. With existing technology and manufacturing capabilities of the age, it was projected that from a first prototype "Combat Robot", man had approximately five chances to improve on the model into the ultimate fighting machine. So from Combat-R 5, 4, 3--you get the idea--2, and finally Combat-R 1...I know, what about Zero, right? I was actually thinking about doing a webcomic of Combat R ZERO. The story sort of goes like...After producing CR1, Shugato Heavy Industries believed they had the "perfect weapon", but during it's production, the head developer's son, Hiro, was convinced that the design had critical flaws...but the dad was being a jerk and insisted that SHI "knows what it's doing" and that he should "endeavour to be part of the solution". At this time, the bad guys are "at the gates", as it where. A landing force's "champion", a mech/evil robot, was CR1's first enemy, which he dispatches with ease. CR1 basically does this with the first two or three enemy bots, but then the alien bad guys start to see what Hiro saw as the critical flaw in the CR1 design, and exploit it.
CR1 fights the newest bad guy bot and gets in serious trouble. All is not lost though because unbeknownst to both SHI and the "bad guys" (I really should make up a good name for them, LOL), Hiro and his team of rag tag mechanics and "nutty" rogue scientist types were secretly developing a "ZERO" model Combat Robot. CRZ makes a grand and dramatic entrance and saves both CR1 and the day. Now with Combat-R Zero and the support of CR1 and the other prototype models, the alien invaders will indeed have a powerful force for good to recon with....
Sounds good to me! Oh, incidentally, the "bad guys" have been named: the Tyran!
Now, here is a beautiful toy. The paint is pretty damn near flawless--and this is no minor thing. There's a LOT of paint detail with all the stripes and rivets on the design. That's a lot of masking and spraying! Again, as I stated before, the colors on this piece are great. The purple and silver-grey offset the creamy off-white of the vinyl nicely. I assume the "0" on the sides of the head and the "SHUGATO" on the center of the backpack are tampo-printed (or some similar process); they're perfect.
But enough about how this thing looks under normal light...let's fire this sucker up!
Note how the eyes glow a little bit brighter than the rest of the body. Honestly, it beats the crap outta me how it works! Seriously--the vast majority of the glow vinyl I'm used to [and believe me: that majority is vast!] comes from Japan and it's the typical stuff you'd imagine: slightly yellow hue, glossy sheen, very even consistency and glow. This stuff's completely different. As I've heard form other toy makers getting their manufacturing done in China, no one really knows how Chinese glow vinyl works...it's a strange mystery!
I know--I'm probaby getting cancer just by messing with this thing! :P
Robert, himself, isn't too sure how the stuff works. It's almost like the off-white body was molded out of some sort of translucent white vinyl with glow powder infused into it. The body certainly doesn't seem painted. The material, itself, has a very matte finish (unlike glossy Japanese vinyl), and the glow has a sort of grainy quality to it--not that this is a bad thing at all, mind you. It's just different. And besides, the unique look of this toy is pretty amazing: I've simply never seen a seemingly unpainted off-white vinyl...that glows!
The figure has three points of articulation: the waist and both shoulders. One common gripe is that there's no forearm rotation. Robert wanted this, but jointing the arms at the small connection point between the big, bulky forearm and the skinny upper arm would not have worked--the weight of the forearms would've caused he joint to fail over time. Perhaps they could have worked something where the forearms were cut in the middle (along the stripe?)...
Anyway, it's a minor gripe, at best. Rotation in the fists would have made for some very cool punch or flying poses, but one neat thing that makes up for it is the removeable backpack. Why is it removeable? Why not!? Seriously, it'd be hot if Robert designed alternate backpacks for these guys--I'm thinking wings, maybe some kind of underwater submarine-thing, and outerspace booster pack, etc...
One thing to note about the picture above is that it's pretty obvious that the glow vinyl used in Combat-R Zero unfortunately isn't nearly as powerful as its Japanese equivalent. Bummer. Again, Chinese vinyl...who knows...
I'm quite happy with the overall toy. The figure clearly harkens back to what made classic super robot designs so great--hell, the Tetsujin 28 homage is pretty obvious! Simple geometry. Clean lines. No need for extraneous details just to make it "anime-accurate". Killer stuff!
I didn't bother to do a video teaser review this time around...simply because Toysrevil already did such a nice one!
Comments11 comments posted
Awesome review Sanjeev! I'm tellin ya, vinyls are really starting to grow on me. That thing is cool. I am glad I got to check it out and hold it. That sucker is heavy.
This may sound like a joke, but it's not: this toy makes me wish I was more into the whole vinyl/small-scale toy building company genre. I could almost call it inspirational. Would I get one? Ehh... maybe. But it does look quite good. Almost makes me wanna step up and design a toy like this...
So what are you going to do with the other four :p
I love unpretentious "designer" toys like these. This robot looks so clean and sharp, especially the red one.
Thanks for the comments, guys!
Yeah, in person and out of the package, these things really shine. It may not look it, but the green one, "Swamp", (which JoshB now has) is excellent. It seems that lots of people automatically go for the hero colors, but the Swamp version looks ultra-realistic, with its matte finish and just the right tone of olive drab. Seriously, Robert had to have taken a lot of time and care with the color choices for these figures. The colors combined with the sharp detail paint apps and prints make for a great piece.
Oh, Nidaram, the other four were very quickly snatched up by others (JoshB included!). But you hit the nail on the head: this is toy for the sake of toy. Excellently made, standing on its own merits...nothing pretentious about it.
I can't say that I love the design, although I do like it more than most designer vinyl. But the price is right and I can appreciate the quality of it. In fact, as I repeatedly said this weekend, I actually LOVE the insert! It's so simple and childish. It's designed like some cheap toy you'd get at Walgreens or a flea market. It reminds me of when you were little and even those crummy things were like gold, yet when you open the package you get something you can appreciate even as an adult collector. I say "bravo!" to that insert!
"This must be settled the way nature intended....with a vicious, bloody fight!"
Principal, Flatpoint High
Great review man!
Between you and toysrevil, I think I'm gonna have to really snag one of these...
Never been into the whole simple vinyl toy but this looks nice. would I buy one... I dunno maybe if I seen it in a store but other wise I don't think I could be bothered to hunt it down
Transformer and other robot art by me on my DA site blitz-wing.deviantart.com
Great review Sanjeev!
I've only recently become remotely interested in the vinyl stuff (thanks a lot to the Gore Sky Deviler for opening up a new world of junk to burn my wallet, lol), but I saw these in the newsfeed here on CDX and decided to check it out.
Well, I ordered the black one (aka Skunkwerks) first and really liked it a lot. So I decided to go back and order the whole set because, well... gotta catch 'em all... hehehe They're all cool, but the black one and the glow ones are definitely my faves.
Also, as a side note, I've noticed that in a lot of the online pics, the black one looks kinda... brown. Well it's not. It's an awesome matte black finish that isn't really done proper justice in most of the online photos. So yeah, just thought I'd mention that.
Anyway... these things are really awesome. They're big compared to most of the other vinyl figures I've seen online, and weigh quite a good bit.
In terms of being a full blown action figure, I'd say it's more of a vinyl sculpture with limited articulation, but then again, that's one of the things that makes it so cool. The beauty of the sculpt, and the simplicity of the toy. It's a nice combination, and a refreshing break from the "handle with extreme caution" side effect of modern gokins.
I think this is one vinyl most robo-fans can really appreciate, even if you're not into the whole "designer" vinyl thing. In fact, forget about vinyl... It's just a really cool toy robot. :-)
Oh, and I agree with Dave. I think the packaging rocks!
That's why he's "teh Jerk"!
"This must be settled the way nature intended....with a vicious, bloody fight!"
Principal, Flatpoint High
Aww...you guys make me blush! :P
Yes, teh Jerk rides again...hooking more and more chogokin collectors on lusty, luxurious vinyl!
But, yeah, I can't emphasize more the colors of these things. Digital photography and subsequent display on the internets is always a tricky thing with colors--you can pretty much guarantee you'll never get the colors of anything quite right! And color is pretty critical for these toys. Believe me when I say, they're just right. TBDX board member, eriku, just picked up the Swamp version and said the same about its brilliant shade of green.
Anyway, yeah, your mileage may vary about the card insert. I didn't like it, but I know many collectors who love it. All I know is that I'm anxious for more robot designs in this line!