Review by VF5SS
The iconic VF-1 Valkyrie of Macross fame, is a design that is highly praised for its ingenious transformation that turned an ordinary looking fighter jet into a sleek robotic soldier. It has been made into dozens of toys and model kits and continues to delight both old fans and newcomers. With every new piece of merchandise made, there is usually a lot of debate over just how this version will bring something new to table as many grumpy old men swear it was perfect back in 1982. It is here where the idea of a VF-1 starts to clash with the design of a VF-1. For you see, the VF-1 Valkyrie has a dirty little secret when it comes to its transformation, and it's something that often takes even longtime fans completely by surprise.
The way the legs are supposed to transform is just plain weeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiird. Each leg is attached to a panel that moves it down from underneath the chest plate to the waiting receptacle in the nosecone to form the Battroid's lower body. This leg delivery system is how the darn thing was designed to work since day one and I imagine it was also present on the wooden model Shoji Kawamori presented to toy companies as part of his Macross pitch. Here's a couple of screencaps just to show you what I mean:
Even in the very first episode you can see those little panels doing their thing as they lift the legs up to give the arms clearance to emerge.
Here's a clear shot of the panels moving the legs down to the nosecone. Zentradi trench coat is optional.
Probably the clearest shot of the panels during a Gerwalk transformation. Also note that the arms are supposed to travel backwards and then hinge out in order to clear the legs. We haven't gotten that feature yet!
As the very first Variable Fighter, the VF-1 is in many ways kind of over-designed with a lot of thought being put into making each mode free of obvious mechanisms for transformation. And given the way the classic Takatoku toy completely omits the "proper" leg transformation in favor of a simpler swing bar setup, there's almost a clash of culture where some prefer to changing a design to suit a toy while others stress fidelity to the original artwork.
Check out my video review for a look at how this kit transforms.
So the reason why I bring all this leg delivery system stuff up is because it is the raison d'être of Bandai's new VF-1A/S Valkyrie model kit. While Yamato sought to create the definitive toy version of the VF-1, Bandai found themselves playing catch up and eventually aimed on making the definitive model kit. They worked with Shoji Kawamori to both create the first variable VF-1 model kit to come out in decades, and to fully realize the leg delivery system the way it was designed back in the early 80's. The result is a hefty package of model kit that seems like it could build at least two models. For size comparison I have a Yamato VF-1 Valkyrie which is about ten inches long.
Everything is packed neatly together on the inside (or shoved to one side if yours was handled roughly during shipping).
The kit is laid out like a typical Master Grade Gundam with multi-colored sprues, bags of metal pins, an instruction manual, and three sets of decals.
For the less experienced (or more lazy) modeler, you get a small set of glossy paper stickers for doing small details like landing lights and the camera eyes. You also get two sets of decals for doing all the various stripes, warning labels, and associated airplane-y markings. One set is very thin (and slightly transparent) stickers while the other is a set of water slide decals. I've never been good at water slides so you can guess which one I ended up using.
Bandai definitely brought their A game when it comes to the engineering in this kit. For durability, this model kit uses a lot of metal pins for creating the hinges that will enable the VF-1 to transform. Using their patented System Injection technology, Bandai is able to create tiny hinge parts with fully formed holes. You can see how the surrounding sprue for these parts even has a little valley that lines up with the hole serving as a record of this mysterious process.
As I assembled this kit, I was amazed at how much they were able to pack into it while still keeping the whole build process quite enjoyable. What you're looking at here is the beginnings of the VF-1's waist joint that is normally hidden in the nosecone. There's a lot of detail on this joint, which is funny considering that it will be mostly covered up once the model is completed.
With the cockpit block mostly finished I can show how the waist joint works. Essentially you've got a free moving swivel much like on the original Yamato VF-1 that is augmented by a nose wiggling joint. You unlock this joint by flipping up a panel on the underside of the nose (like on later Yamato VF-1's), which allows you to use the nose like a pelvis.
The cockpit itself has a full instrument panel that is brought to life with some absolutely tiny decals. A humble nail clipper absolutely dwarfs this part of the kit. It's really amazing just how crisp these decals are that you can actually make out what's going on with these displays.
Included with this kit is a tiny Hikaru Ichijo pilot figure that I am terrified of gluing together. His head and arms are separate with no guide pins.
You also get a tiny in scale Lynn Minmay!
The Minmay is supposed to sit on this UN Spacy kite themed stage but she doesn't seem to have any way of pegging into it.
The upper legs of the VF-1 have their own intricate mechanisms that enable this VF-1 kit to transform into Gerwalk mode.
The locomotive knee joint can bend forward as the upper intake accordions out to give the kit that familiar bird-like stance.
Over the course of about two days, I assembled the kit in piecemeal fashion so I could get the look of a "half-finished" Valkyrie with a lot of its interior exposed. However unlike Bandai's VF-25 kit, the VF-1 does not have a full internal frame due to its small size. Still, it is a interesting sight to see. I should note that the VF-1 kit manages to have integrated landing gear whereas the VF-25 had to make due with plug in parts despite being a larger figure.
Here is a good view of all the various joints at play in this VF-1 kit. The aforementioned pelvic joint works in conjunction with ball and socket hips to give the upper legs a good bit of range. Bandai's unique addition with this VF-1 is an extra "thigh tilt" that lets the legs splay outward from the bottom of the jet intakes. Most transformable VF-1's only let you swing part of the thigh downward for Gerwalk mode. You do sometimes see this extra bit of articulation on non-transforming kits like the Hasegawa VF-1 Battroid though.
The arms on this kit are definitely up to par in terms of articulation. You get a full range of motion in the shoulders and a deep elbow bend to do the classic line art pose.
Even this half-finished bird is looking pretty good as a Gerwalk.
As you may have noticed, the VF-1 kit doesn't have a lot of color molding parts but what it does have is used in an interesting way. Things like the canopy cover, the ankle detail, and one half of each leg fin is cast in the appropriate red color. The rest of the fin is its own black piece that simply abuts front part and appears nearly seamless. Also note that the outer rim of the leg is separate from the curved portion, which to me suggests that a possible Max and Millia variant might look pretty good out of the box if they play their cards right. Those two were always tricky when it came to making models of them.
The inner shin of each leg has some odd mechanisms installed to make the fighter mode more compact. The interior actually sinks downward so the arms can be sandwiched between the legs with less of a gap. At the end of each leg is a slide out panel that hinges out the way to allow for a greater range of motion in the ankles.
As more and more of the kit was completed, I started getting a much better idea of how everything worked and moved. While some elements were not unlike any other VF-1, I found a few things that felt quite refreshing.
Even this not quite finished kit couldn't help but put on a show for the other airplane based robots. However as I played around with the kit more and more that smooth building process started to turn to frustration.
Here is the completed kit in fighter mode without any decals. As you can see, it's the color molding is pretty bare bones for a Bandai kit. However I think a lot of that is mostly due to the size of the kit and difficulty in getting more of a parts breakdown on things like the chest plate just due to how the VF-1 has to transform.
The fully stickered up kit is a good looking Valkyrie. At this point it's almost impossible to make a bad looking VF-1, and Bandai definitely did their best to realize the design in plastic. Everything locks together for the most part when the kit is in fighter mode. There's enough tabs and friction so that moving the Valkyrie from place to place shouldn't dislodge anything. It is however more delicate than your average Gundam kit and should be treated gently.
The 1:72 scale VF-1 kit measures out to about 8.5 inches long in fighter mode. As this is the most common scale for military aircraft models, the VF-1 can be displayed alongside dozens of real world fighter jets. Oddly enough the VF-1 is a fairly small for a combat jet. This is especially evident when it is compared to the famous F-14 Tomcat it was inspired by. The VF-1's small size has been both a blessing and a bane to merchandisers over the years as it's a little too small for the most common scales (1:100 and 1:72) to be easily realized as a transformable figure. This is why Yamato's toys are 1:60, which is a scale that is really only populated by other robot figures.
For whatever reason the tabs that attach the legs to the main body of the fighter mode seem to be set inward just a little too much which causes the legs to rest awkwardly against the arms.
Inside each foot is a well detailed engine component. Some artwork depicts this type of interior while some shows the flap-like louvers seen during action scenes. Bandai decided to go with the more conventional jet engine look.
The internal landing gear on this kit is a both a marvel of engineering and a pain in the rear thruster. While I understand that even the old transforming IMAI VF-1 kit had internal landing gear, I think trying to incorporate this feature on this particular version ending up being more of a hassle to deal with after the kit is finished. The gear doors are small and work off of tiny hinges made form millimeter sized nubs gripping their own telescoping panels. All these little bits are hard to manipulate and often require a tool just to get open. The landing gear in the legs is so deeply buried it most definitely requires some extra help to flip out. I've seen much larger Gundam models not even bother with working landing gear so it makes me wonder if Bandai just had something to prove with this kit.
For those who really want clean wings on this kit, you get four sets of panels for the wings. Some have the little hole for a missile pylon and others do not. You also get two sets of wing decals: one with all the parts of the stripe broken up to fit on the panels and another that is just a continuous stripe in case you only wish to build the wings one way. Also I should point out that you do not get any missiles with the stock VF-1 kit. You have to buy the extra Super/Strike Pack set for those.
For mounting the VF-1 to a Bandai Action Base while in fighter mode you get this adapter that slides over the tabs on the either side of the gun pod mount. When it comes to keeping the VF-1 on the stand, you're more or less at the mercy of the strength of the connection between the gun pod mount and the arms.
Unfortunately I do not own a Bandai Action Base to use the with the included adapters, so the Flightpose stand will have to suffice. Also please note that that despite the box art showing the VF-1's intakes in various states of being open, you only get a pair of closed shutters in this kit.
The transformation to Gerwalk mode is where this kit starts to shine (albeit briefly) as we get to see how everything works. Each leg swings out on a series of hinges in a way that's both intricate and surprisingly smooth.
Both the knee and ankle joints must be fully extended for Gerwalk mode. This is done by flipping up a pair of locks that allow these portions to extend. At full extension, these locks are flipped back down to keep the legs from collapsing in again. While this all works and works quite well, getting those locks to flip up can be a pain if you don't have have long fingernails. I found myself having to wedge the tip of a file in there a few times. Extending the knee joint and pulling out the side ankle guard will cause the inner leg panel to move up and fill in the sides of the shins.
With most VF-1's, the chest plate moves around to facilitate parts of the transformation. On this kit, it is the back plate (rear of the plane) that slides out to allow the conversion to Battroid mode. I found it's also pretty handy when moving the arms into position for both Gerwalk and Battroid as it gives you extra space to swing the arms out. I really like how on this VF-1, the shoulder hinges are actually attached to the hinges that are used to bend the whole airplane body in half for Battroid mode. It's a neat bit of consolidation that really helps keep things compact. Please note that in Gerwalk mode you need to keep the shoulder hinges above the white edges of the plane's underside so you can bring the two body halves together again.
The hands can be stored inside the forearms in a way that's nearly identical to any Yamato Valkyrie. Only the articulated hands seem to fit inside and the act of flipping them in and out tends to cause those hands to fall apart so I usually just pop them off and set them aside.
You only get four hands with this kit. Included are a pair of articulated hands, one saluting hand, and one splayed hand. The gun pod also comes with an optional strap that is made out of hard plastic and will be bent a bit after it is attached. I honestly thought the strap was going to be a more rubbery material at first. The strap looks alright but doesn't hang down naturally like a piece of rubber would. It also feels like it might break if it's bent too far.
Speaking of the hands, let's talk about how they work in relation to the gun pod. The gun pod itself uses a special adapter for storage in fighter mode. The tab on the end of the adapter simply wedges itself between the indents on each forearm and then plugs onto the gun with a big C-clip. When it's time for the Valkyrie to wield the weapon, you swap out the adapter for a proper handle. I can understand why the gun pod does not just attach to the forearms like on a Yamato Valkyrie as that area is both hollow and way too thin on this model kit to emulate the hardier toy.
The articulated hands are setup in the same way as most Gundam kits where three fingers move as a single unit with a separate trigger finger and a moving thumb. The problem is someone got a little too drunk with the power to mold tiny parts like on a Real Grade Gundam. The result is that this VF-1 has some really tiny spindly hands that are difficult to handle and are actually a little too small for the gun they're meant to hold. The thumb can't even fully close around the handle as it has to be in a straight position for storage. The only fixed posed hands you get are an open palm and a saluting hand with no options for a solid gun holding hand. I know it's an odd thing to bring up, but Bandai never did this with their Master Grade kits of small Gundams like the V Gundam. They have recognized that sometimes a part can be too small to make fully functional so I wonder why that wasn't done on this kit.
Here's the Gerwalk mode without any decals. A plain and simple birdie.
When everything is setup the right way, you get a decent looking Gerwalk.
For all the extra joints present in this kit's legs, the Gerwalk mode isn't particularly dynamic. Due to how the upper leg connects to the lower leg via a long peg, there is a somewhat functional swivel that's buried deep below the knee. Despite the extra articulation in the upper legs, the lack of a good knee swivel prohibits this kit from achieving an aggressive A-stance.
Gerwalk mode tends to be more stable than Battroid on this kit. However one thing you may need to do is glue down the back part of each foot onto the swiveling joint that lets it move in and out. The front part of the feet stay in fine due to having enough "teeth" to grip where they attach to the inner mechanism, but the rear portions are completely flat where they connect leaving nothing but friction standing between, well... a standing robot and a heelless accident.
The stand mounting part simply slides onto the bracket on the underside of the Gerwalk.
As I slide the rear of the body out to continue into Battroid mode, there is a familiar canopy cover tucked inside that functions exactly how it does on the Yamato VF-1 toys. One rather novel addition to the transformation is how the wings actually retract inward a bit so they become shorter.
Now here is where the leg delivery mechanism really does its thing as the panels move the entire assembly down to the nosecone area. Along the way, the panel under the nose is flipped up and a tiny fill in piece is removed not unlike with the original Yamato VF-1. This whole area is very much a mix of the two different transformation schemes employed by Yamato's previous efforts.
The hip joints are pulled out from inside the intakes. These are inserted into the nose with the panel being the only way to keep them locked in place. On paper this seems like a good way to do it.
Here is the Battroid mode without decals. I'm sure if all the white parts were colored gray it would make some of my friends really happy.
Oddly enough the small red disk on the back is its own colored molded piece.
The clear visor features a lot of detail etched inside that represents tiny cameras and sensors. To preserve this detail while getting the right color you will have to use a "transparent" or "clear" type of modeling paint that is thin enough so doesn't become opaque when it dries. You do get a shiny silver sticker for putting behind the visor in order to reflect light back through once the eye piece is painted. I honestly wish this part was simply cast in clear green so save me the humiliation of the other option Bandai included.
The small sensors situated around the wrists and ankles are also made out of clear plastic. Strangely enough, you only get stickers for the ankle parts to make them the proper red and black. I was kind of baffled by this omission and checked both the decal sheet and instructions a few times just to be sure.
The fully stickered Battroid is a good looking VF-1 specimen that errs more on the lithe style of proportions.
I apologize for the rough look of the figure as the sheer size of some of these decals made it hard to keep them straight while sticking them on. I can't imagine trying to do all these markings with the water slide decals.
You can certainly use the gun pod strap to sling the weapon over the VF-1's shoulder but since the strap is solid plastic it doesn't look particularly natural. Well as natural as a giant robot made out of a airplane bent in half with a gun slung over its should can look.
For mounting the Battroid on an Action Base, you get this clip that wraps around the backpack's swing joint. It's also useful for keeping the backpack up if the joint has gotten loose.
Now this kit is marked as "VF-1A/S" which means it does come with an optional VF-1A head. As far as I can tell, there is only one double ball-joint provided the neck so you can only build one head at a time. When I tried to swap the neck part out it didn't seem to work with either the head or the base of the neck. The sockets on either part appeared to be too large or too small. I looked all over the sprues in search of another neck part and did not find one. Also I managed to misplace the clear camera eye for the VF-1A head so the whole thing is a wash.
Now before I get into the nitty gritty of this new Battroid Valkyrie, let's do some (excessive) comparisons to previous ones cuz we all love that. Here is the modern kit next to the 1:72 scale IMAI variable kit. The old kit was revolutionary for its day despite not having a true perfect transformation. In order to transform the IMAI kit you have to swap out the entire nose section and partially disassemble Valkyrie and then put it back together. The two kits are roughly the same length in fighter mode, but more modern engineering makes the new kit a bit taller in Battroid.
The 1:55 scale Takatoku VF-1 Valkyrie (represented by a Bandai reissue) is the standard by which all VF-1 figures are judged. The old toy is definitely a child's plaything through and through and really only deviates from the VF-1's design with the large obvious swing bars that move the legs from the body down to the waist area.
The tiny transforming Takatoku VF-1 is the standard by which no VF-1 figures are judged. Even though my example is a bootleg, the real deal wasn't that much better. These were sold in America under the Converters brand but mine isn't even classy enough to be from that line.
The Banpresto VF-1 prize figure is a cheap little toy that was meant to be won out of a UFO catcher (crane game) machine. These didn't aspire to be much more than what they are.
Yamato's very first VF-1 Valkyrie toy was met with equal amounts of enthusiasm and cynicism as it attempt to bring the venerable Valkyrie into the modern era without the use of modern computer aided design (CAD) techniques. These two do share a common link that they sought to realize the VF-1's leg transformation as Shoji Kawamori originally designed it.
Yamato's second crack at the VF-1 came in the form of the massive 1:48 scale Perfect Transformation toy. This beast from the east made a huge splash as the first VF-1 toy designed using CAD and the first time someone found a workable alternative to the original Takatoku design.
Yamato's third try at a VF-1 became their most prolific as it combined took everything that worked with the 1:48 toy and shrunk it all back down to 1:60 scale. While it may have shouldered a few growing pains (ahem), it became the one VF-1 figure to have nearly every variant as part of its line. Despite existing in a different medium than the new Bandai kit, the two are often compared as the Yamato toy has become for many fans the definitive VF-1 Valkyrie.
And also for some reason the heads included with the 1:72 scale kit are about as large as the ones on the 1:60 scale toys. Some designers believe that the head should be as wide as both the arms put together to create a seamless looking underside in fighter mode. Here it just seems a bit off overall.
Truth be told, I don't even like the VF-1 that much. It's just that being the very first Valkyrie, it tends to get the lion's share of merchandise in the same way there are a million RX-78 Gundams or enough Optimus Primes to populate the state of Rhode Island.
And now getting back to the Bandai kit. As I mentioned before, they included a less than ideal solution if you don't wish to paint the visor. You get a single green paper sticker that covers the visor (and all of its detail) entirely.
In addition to the usual way the head lasers can swivel, each gun barrel on the VF-1S head is on its own little gimbal that lets it move around a bit more. This is a rarely seen detail that is kind of nice to have but means the lasers can easily get messed up during handling and will give your Valkyrie bed head.
Battroid mode articulation is more or less on par with modern VF-1 figures like the VF Hi-Metal and the Yamato Perfect Transformation toys. The extra joints in the legs give it a good A-stance. Honestly though, the outward hinge below the intakes really just makes up for the minimal splaying you can do with the main hip joint so not a whole lot is being gained. The ankle panels are a somewhat clunky but necessary method of giving the feet enough room to move around.
For all the engineering Bandai managed to pack into this kit, this VF-1 is mostly competent without being outstanding in any way.
I mean, it certainly looks the part.
And if you're gentle with it you can achieve some classic poses.
The most notable thing Bandai brings to the table with their VF-1 kit is a fully functional waist joint. This is the real reason for the whole leg delivery system as it allows the legs to be completely separate from the upper body. Without classic Takatoku style swing bars or even Yamato's clever rear swing bar, the lower torso is free to move around with its waist swivel and pelvic joint. And not only that, but the area is completely clean and accurate to how the VF-1 is designed to look.
Here's a little flashback to 2001 just to illustrate what I mean.
This is basically what the very first Yamato VF-1 toys were trying to accomplish with their removable leg setup. They were simply omitting the whole delivery system to save on complexity The old Yamato toy was often criticized because its legs only slid into the nose area and relied entirely on friction to stay attached. While Bandai sought to bypass this issue by combining elements of the Yamato's later VF-1 toys (the 1/48 scale and second 1/60 scale) with the opening panel on the underside of the nose. In theory this should lock the legs in place while also allowing them the ability to detach.
In reality, this VF-1 is more likely to start kissing its own toes because the hips came undone.
In fact this is less reliable than the old Yamato toy because the mere act of rotating the kit's tight hip joints will probably cause the panel in the back to open up and disassemble the whole setup. As this connection relies entirely on friction, it definitely needs to be beefed up with glue or paint before attempting to pose Valkyrie. One thing that definitely doesn't help is how you have to flip up the nose panel before extending or retracting the nosecone just to make use of the pelvic joint.
Sadly that's not the only issue here, as Bandai committed the ultimate sin when it comes to VF-1 figures. This model kit lacks a solid connection between the front and rear halves of the upper body while in Battroid mode. The locking mechanism here is just wedging the leg delivery panels above the tab used to secure the legs in fighter mode. That's right, there is no slot on the panels that goes on the existing tab (which would make sense). No no, you see you have to just wedge the panel about the tab and into the rear of the body and hope it stays in place. It's a real shame too because the other than that the torso is smartly laid out with minimal gaps when viewed from above. If the whole thing would just stay together, this VF-1 would be a very clean looking and well articulated take on the design. The thing is, I have built a bunch of Master Grade kits based on transformable Gundams like the Zeta Gundam and the Zeta Plus and neither of those were this awful when it came to simply staying together. I think it really is the small size of the kit that is the source of many of its problems. If this was a 1:48 scale VF-1, it would probably cost at least 8000 yen but at least it would have enough room to accomplish everything it's attempting to cram into this tiny kit with a bit more grace.
"FORGIVE ME, FATHER!"
"Rise my son. I do not feel shame over what you are."
"Uh... I can't. I think my hips dislodged again."
Bandai's VF-1 Valkyrie kit had the unenviable task of being the first new transformable model since the original IMAI kit from nearly 30 years prior and having to meet or exceed the accomplishments of Yamato's now prolific toy line. These things coupled with the limitations imposed by the VF-1's size at this scale and a little bit of Bandai's own hubris ending up creating a model kit that is very much a mixed bag. I find a lot of things about this kit to be genuinely refreshing and a welcome take on the VF-1's design. For me just seeing the leg transformation play out as intended was the reason I wanted to get this kit. In fact I have to say it's one of the things this VF-1 does quite well. After much bellyaching about how a proper leg delivery system would amp up complexity, I can honestly say this VF-1 managed to accomplish such a thing in relatively simple and smooth manner. The main problem is the legs can be delivered perfectly each time but the whole waist area is just not good enough to make it all come together. That, combined with the poor parts fit in the legs and the lack of a solid locking mechanism that keeps the Battroid body makes this kit irritating to handle. It's a constantly struggle between good ideas and bad execution. For example if try to pose the arms while the kit is in Battroid mode the whole thing comes apart. And if you try to use the fancy hip joints, the legs fall off. Bandai reached for the stars with this one, but could only make a strange curiosity in the history of Macross merchandise. In the end though, somebody had to take the first step even if the result was too weird to live... and too rare to die.
|Posted 29 July, 2013 - 20:55 by VF5SS|