Howdy! It’s Chad again. Today, I want to go down a different path than the majority of my bloggery thus far: toys. One thing you may not know about me is that I love action figures. When I was heading off to college, a relative gave me a few dollars to furnish my dorm. A few weeks later, she asked what her money went to. Was it a bean bag chair? A lava lamp? A black light poster? Nope. Action figures. People could sit on the floor for all I cared. They’d have a better vantage for my awesome Spidey and J. Jonah Jameson toys displayed proudly on my desk that came with the room.
Dating back to my childhood, my favorite toys in particular have been at the 3 ¾ inch scale, which in recent years has been quietly bumped up slightly to a 4 inch scale by the folks at Hasbro and their ilk. G.I. Joes and Star Wars introduced me to the scale and all the playsets and vehicles and fun that goes with it in the 80’s. In the late 2000’s, when I got back into toys, Star Wars and G.I. Joe still reigned atop the hill of 4 inch toys. Still, 3 ¾ or 4 inch are both close enough to fudge together. I much prefer the smaller scale to the more currently popular 6 inchers out there. Stay tuned down the road for my diatribe regarding why the smaller scale is superior. For now, let’s talk about the current state of my favorite scale:
For about five or six years starting in 2007, the four inch scale was all the rage. G.I. Joe, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Marvel Universe, Wolverine, DC, WWE, Star Trek, Chronicles of Narnia, etc. all had reasonably articulated lines in the 4 inch scale ranging from $5-$10 per toy. Today, there’s Jurassic World and rando Funko lines like It, Stranger Things, and Disney Afternoon figures. They’re cool, but compared to the output back then, they’re hard to stay excited about. Articulation has been cut, selection is waaaay down, and even the licenses that do get made don’t seem to make it very far. I’m looking at you, Batman ‘66! I’ve got a King Tut and a Bookworm, but no Joker or Riddler? Get on that, Funko!
Hasbro, once the biggest player in the 4 inch market, has all but abandoned the scale. G.I. Joe is nowhere to be seen. The majority of their Marvel output is 6 inch scale. This year, their big Marvel release is a Deadpool 5 pack consisting of one Deadpool they’ve already released and 4 lazy repaints of the same figure. They’re supposed to represent different characters with different body types, yet there’s nothing outside of color to differentiate the characters. They couldn’t even be bothered to throw in a set of unmasked heads. The suggested retail price for 5 repaints: $65. Insane.
Don’t get me started on the Star Wars line, a bastion of the smaller scale that in recent years has been a fiasco.
For a toy collector like me, switching scales at this point isn’t an option. I’m too far down the rabbit hole to turn back now. Another option that isn’t really an option is the burgeoning online collector figure market. Folks at places like Boss Fight Studios and Marauders are putting out quality figures in my favorite scale–but unfortunately, more often than not, they are priced beyond what I’m willing to pay. That’s not to knock those companies because I understand the economics of producing relatively smaller batches of figures, but I just can’t justify dropping $20 per figure plus shipping no matter how cool the accessories are. The few times I’ve found kickstarters I would back like the recent Amazing Heroes line, support just wasn’t there to fully fund it. My hope is either these companies do well enough they can establish a presence in some brick and mortar stores that will increase production and drop costs, or I will make enough money someday that I won’t have to feel bad about the financial hit of army building $25 figures. And while right now my favorite scale isn’t en vogue, I’ve got a feeling that the industry will cycle back to the four inch scale again soon enough. Until then, I just have to bide my time and allow my wallet to enjoy the break… or do I?
That answer is a big ole’ nope! Now is the time to go do some ‘sploring! To dive headfirst into the unknown! To willingly go to places I admittedly don’t understand. Now is the time to discover Japanese Kamen Rider Shodo figures!
Holy Moley! These guys are great. Let’s start with the unique qualities they bring to the table. Unlike most American action figures I’m used to that use a blister package where you can see the figure, Shodo toys come boxed. This could be a problem for collectors that like to inspect their packages to get the best paint jobs–except I’ve yet to see a Shodo figure with less than immaculate paint applications. The articulation on most figures is on par with, if not exceeding the best that the big American companies like Hasbro or Mattel offer. Figures are packed in their boxes in bags containing separate pieces, so there is a small amount of assembly required. Most figures also come with multiple sets of hands and a foot stand. Occasionally, they will also come with a weapon or accessory as well. Finally, they come with an individually sealed piece of candy that I’m kind of afraid to eat. It’s cool it’s there, though.
All of this happens at a cost of usually between $8-12 per figure, depending on where you’re finding them. I was first exposed to these guys at a local comic shop who “has a guy” that will drop off fresh figures once a month or so. That only added to the intrigue, as I felt like I was dipping my toe into some strange back-room world. $8 per figure at comic shop prices was somewhat of a surprise, too, seeing as most major retail stores have been charging upwards of 10-15 dollars for 4 inch figures the last few years. By the time comic shops get things like that, they’re marked up even more. I’m not blaming shops; I get they need to make money somehow, but the low cost of entry on articulated figures was a surprise. I’ve since discovered that figures are pretty readily available on the big online shops even more cheaply, especially if you’re willing to bite on a whole case.
Today, we’ll look at the most recent wave, which came to me this week via a paper bag shipped from Japan. It’s the Shodo Kamen Rider Vs 9. Now I don’t know the first thing about the Kamen Rider franchise, and a part of me refuses to learn. I’ve accidentally picked up along the way it was a Power-Rangers-esq kid’s show in the 90’s, and apparently it’s been a long running thing in Japan. I once had a kind stranger at a convention explain to me which varieties of the show are better than the others and why. I nodded politely, but really, all I wanted were the toys. In my head, my Kamen Rider guys are like a Japanese S.H.I.E.L.D.-type special ops force, helping out on international missions and using their bug-head helmet technology to carry out scientific experiments. So basically they’re part G.I. Joe, part super hero, all Japanese and I like it that way. I don’t need no stinking background. Maybe someday I’ll care who these guys are, but not today. Today, I’m making it up as I go, 8 year old style.
This wave is unique because of the 5 characters, it contains 2 non bug head dudes along with 3 more traditional guys. Takeshi Hongo, aka the dude in the suit, and the Beret dude join Kiva, Kuuga Mighty Form and Kuuga Amazing Mighty to round out the riders.
The two Kuuga figures are obvious repaints of the same mold, but each has their own distinctive pattern that I could easily differentiate them as two characters. Maybe they’re brothers that like to give thumbs up and fist bumps. Having previously given Hasbro grief about cheaped out repaints, I will say that Kuuga is an example of how to do repaints right. They weren’t forcibly packed together, and there’s enough different in the character designs that I’m ok with the repaint. Heck, G.I. Joe and He-man lines were built on the reuse and appropriation of parts, but they did it in a way that the characters always felt fresh. The only downside is the fact that the black Kuuga’s paint apps have a more complete gold trim around the figure, and it makes the red Kuuga look skimpy by comparison. Had I no knowledge of how cool the trim looks painted, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but now it can’t go unseen. Both Kuugas have pretty standard Kamen Rider articulation and can hold a variety of poses really well. They’re solid toys, for sure. My only other nitpick is that they only come with a right thumbs up hand, and now I need a left one. I’ll have to hold out hope for another Rider down the line who is a happy lefty.
Up next is Kiva. Kiva looks like the Gene Simmons style rocker of the group. He enjoys cracking skulls and rock licks that would bring a tear to the Devil’s eye in his free time.
And he has a bat leg! Why does he need a bat leg? What does one do with a bat leg? Why only one bat leg? It’s a mystery. One I probably won’t answer, honestly, because his original leg is plenty cool, and I don’t want to break his leg permanently switching legs…Ok, I can’t live in my fears. I’mma switch the leg.
Huzzah! Batleg! It seems…unnecessary. Now to switch it back.
That is one downside of all the cool extra hands and occasional legs. I don’t know how often I’ll actually switch them out. Due to their switchability, it adds the slightest bit of instability to the figures that’s a legitimate knock against the Kamen line. The tradeoff for having all the extra cool parts is that occasionally you’ll have a hand pop out of your figure mid-battle, and that stinks.
Or it could be handy to do on purpose :-).
The last two figures of the set were the ones I was most excited for. To my knowledge, there aren’t usually “human” Kamen figures. Before getting him in person, I imagined the beret guy like one of the goons from the old Batman ‘66 tv show. The Beret Bandito was a little bit of a letdown. Here’s this guy with a beret, a hamburglar mask, and a pro wrestling championship belt–all good things. Except his hamburglar mask doesn’t go all the way around his face, and it was red. I feel like classic hamburglars have black masks. The rest of him is an all-black outfit, and he has a slim, lithe build about him. This is a figure I considered army building to get a goon squad earlier, now I think I’ll hold off. Maybe I can make some custom alterations and see if I like him better then. For now, he feels a little unfinished. The wrestling belt seems a strange contrast to the all-black sleek outfit, too. I feel like they should have gone one way or the other–all sleek or all wrasslin’ bombast. I think this guy suffered from unfair expectations, but he was my least favorite of the bunch.
Finally, we have the gem of the wave: Takeshi Hongo, the guy in the suit. This is THE. BEST. SUITED. FIGURE. EVER.
Hasbro, Mattel, Jakks, and many other toy lines have all released suited figures in the past decade, and none of them have the range of motion or range of coolness of this figure. My only nitpick is slight, and it’s the character comes with gloved hands instead of flesh colored ones. Flesh colored paint is a pain. Otherwise, this is a near perfect figure, great for all those bad guys in suits who litter the business world or good guys who enjoy lookin’ snazzy. This figure would look just as comfortable sitting at a desk as it would Kung-Fu fighting, which based on the efforts of those other action figures companies, is no easy task.
So there you have it. Who needs Hasbro? I can be perfectly content hunting down as many Takeshi Hongos as possible until the big H gets off their big behind and restarts my G.I. Joe and Marvel Universe lines. Just don’t take too long, ok, Hasbro?
Until next time, I’ll be scoping the back rooms and comic shops to find the next thing to fill that action figure void!