Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Voltron, Red Lion & Lance - Review

Last Summer Mattel went sub-crazy and unveiled several new subscriptions for their various collector lines. Among them was a sub for the debuting Voltron toy line featuring the five robotic lions that combine to form the mighty titular robot and their respective pilots. The club exclusive would be Sven, the original Blue Lion pilot who was injured and forced to quit the team and replaced by Princess Allura. I figured, "what the heck?" and signed up.

However, much like the Ghostbusters line's Club Ecto-1 (which I also signed up for), Mattel didn't receive the support they wanted needed for Club Lion Force to be deemed successful, they switched up the plan forcing "day of" buyers to purchase the lion AND the pilot together, eliminating the casual picking and choosing from the equation. That didn't mean anything for subscribers, but unfortunately now everyone has to suffer the cost of those crappy pilot figures if they want a complete Voltron.

Red Lion & Lance
Mattel/ 3.75" Scale
$45.00 (Matty Collector)

I'll be upfront, I'm not pleased with these toys. Let's start off with the most disappointing element of this set, the pilot, Lance. Lance here controls the Red Lion although he wears a white and BLUE costume (that's not Mattel's fault, though) and comes to us in a new scale for Mattel. Not that they haven't tried their hand at this scale before, but their last attempt at delivering "collector friendly" figures in this size proved to infinitely suck beyond all reason. Although the pilots and lions are sold as a set, they each receive their own packaging and are then lumped together in a large white mailer box, which is then sent to you in a larger brown box. You know, standard operating procedure for Digital River.

Lance's sculpt is decent enough, but there are a couple of things that really end up screwing the figure over. Due to the sculpt his articulation suffers a lot. He has swivel/hinge joints on his shoulders, elbows and knees, but those mid-limb points have very limited range, less than 75 degrees at each of them. It's made doubly frustrating considering the shoulders and hips have excellent range. The knees are the worst bits being able to move about 45 degrees.

Mattel sculpted a holstered blaster on to Lance's belt, apparently for decorative purposes only. Hasbro has several action figure lines in this scale with removable weapons, so it's difficult to understand why Mattel couldn't do the same on a $15 toy. THEY did, however, sculpt an open, pistol-gripping right hand for Lance and it even features a trigger finger! Thanks, Matty!

Mattel will tell you that Lance includes three accessories, but that's not really the case. His only true accessory is an alternate, helmetless head. Each head is nicely detailed and the helmeted version is actually two separate pieces (helmet & head) which should be glued together, but weren't on my copy. That little QC issue actually opens up for some interesting poses. If only his articulation were better...

Aside from that, Lance doesn't feature any real accessories he can use. There's a display stand shaped (somewhat) like the keys the pilots use to activate their lions. It's molded in red plastic and features a Voltron team sticker with a peg to insert in Lance's foot. Mattel claims the key/stand "unlocks" the lion, revealing the cockpit, but you don't really need it to open up the lion. I'll cover the "third accessory" in a moment.

The real star of the show is the Red Lion! Well... actually, it's Voltron, but we have to do this one step at a time, right?

No, Lance, isn't the only thing disappointing about this set. Red Lion kinda ended up sucking, too. The only real thing RL has going for him (and by default, the completed Voltron figure) is his size. He's just a bit larger than He-Man's trusty steed, Battle Cat, but nowhere near as detailed or articulated. The sculpt on the Red Lion is very simplistic and you could argue that it's an accurate representation of the show model, but that's partially my main gripe with the toy. Where is the "Classics" sensibility we see in the current Masters of the Universe or DC Universe lines? Sure those are sculpted by the Four Horsemen, but look at the work Mattel's in-house team does on the WWE lines. They CAN make highgly-detailed sculpts. If Red Lion was half the size he is, I'd be okay with the level of detailing, but what's the point of blowing these up to such a large size if you don't add in more minute details?

In "lion mode", Red features an opening cockpit large enough to accomodate Lance, but you have to take care when closing the doors as they could clamp down on the pilot's head and ruin his paint. There's barely any clearance between Lance's head and the cockpit doors, so I wouldn't be surprised if his helmet starts to have some of it's paint rubbed off. The interior of the cockpit features minimal sculpting and Mattel added a few stickers to make it look like there are actual controls inside. I don't own a Wind Raider, but seeing it in pictures makes me wonder why they couldn't do something similar for the cockpit area and really liven it up.

The worst bit of Red Lion is his articulation which is severly hampered by an ill-executed auto-transformation gimmick. The conversion to "arm mode" involves folding each of Red Lion's legs up against the body. It's a simple and straightforward process. When Matty first announced their combining Voltron line, I, along with many fans, were under the impression that the "automatic" feature they described involved converting from lion to arm instantly. After all that would make perfect sense because in the old cartoon they were always in a hurry to combine into Voltron, not separate and get back to their individual lion modes.

Well, that was soon disproven (after the sign-up period for the sub was over, of course) in this video released by Mattel. At that point it became apparent that the auto-transformation was a spring-loaded mechanism that would simply make the legs (and in some cases, the tail) pop out instantly when you pressed the buttons on the Red Lion's chest and, uh... butt. Who they hell wanted that?

Red Lion's legs feature ratcheting joints, but the spring-loaded feature requires the grooves in the ratchets to be far enough apart to allow the legs to fully extend when the buttons are pressed. That causes some issues when trying to pose the lion. Unless you manage to balance the weight of the lion evenly, the legs will collapse until they hit the next groove in the joint. It can lead to some awkward poses. In all honesty I could have done without the automatic gimmick altogether. It would have been useful if it worked the other way around, allowing you to instantly prepare the lion for combination, but even then, is it really necessary?

Red Lion includes an accessory of his own: a "mouth blade" he can clutch between his four teeth and use as a melee weapon. I can't say I remember seeing the lions use these blades on the show, but I guess it's as cool as you want it to be. It's molded in grey plastic with red and yellow paint apps for the handl- mouthpiece? As is common for Mattel "adult collector" accessories the words "made in China" are molded on the top side of the weapon. How do I know it's the top? The bottom side features two indentations spaced enough for the lower teeth. They want to make sure you know where this toy was manufactured. Personally, I think it looks kind of ridiculous, but at least it's something else in the package.

The third accessory included with Lance mentioned earlier is a twist on the whole "collect-and-connect" concept. Each pilot figure includes a portion of Voltron's blazing sword, Lance brought the handle. I've actually combined it with Hunk's piece, the guard, in the picture above. Once combined, you can't detach the pieces, which are more likely to break than separate. The handle features a large peg on one side which fits into a hole inside Red Lion's mouth, so you can be sure Voltron will have a firm grip on the sword.

I hate to pick on someone else's reviews, but prior to receiving Red Lion/Lance (which was delayed, I'll explain later) I read a couple of "earlybird" write-ups and even watched a couple of video reviews and I was surprised to see that they were all overwhelmingly positive. Obviously we each have differing opinions about what's good and what's bad, but I can't help but feel that most of these reviewers were heavily influenced by the free "review samples" and as such lost a lot of credibility with me in the process (some of them didn't have any to begin with). You may have noticed that I didn't bother to critique the color choices, which was a point of contention between fans. Some wanted vac-metal legs, others wanted silver paint. I'm probably in the minority that would have preferred white legs on the lions. But that's more of a personal taste. I'm not bothered by the choice here much.

However, overall I feel the Red Lion and his pilot Lance fail to deliver as collectibles aimed at adults. Aside from his size and the scale of the eventual completed Voltron, there's really nothing that stands out on these toys. I understand that translating these characters into there-dimensional objects that can actually go from lion to limb and combine is difficult, but I think that Mattel made it harder than it had to be. They could have skipped out on the 3 3/4" figures altogether and just given each lion a mini-figure that could fit inside it's head, much more in-line with the actual scale on the show. Supposedly the pilots were "collector-demanded", but I think delivering them in 6" would have turned out much better in terms of detail and articulation. So what if they didn't fit inside the lions? Also, making the lions slightly smaller could have opened up the oppurtunity to add more detail and getting rid of the pointless spring mechanism would have improved articulation.

I can't say I downright hate the figures (well, maybe Lance), but they're just not exciting me the way I initially thought they would. Making matters worse is dealing with Digital River. I signed up for Club Lion Force last Summer, before I moved to my current location. I contacted DR and informed them of this prior to Red Lion shipping. A month before it shipped and found out that you can update your sub payment/shipping info. via the website, so I logged in and made the changes (which should have been done already). When I received my shipping confirmation it had my old address. I contacted DR immediately and was informed that they could not change the delivery address at that point, I would have to wait until after it was delivered, and hopefully returned, in order for them to send out a replacement (WTF?!). Anyway, I was able to contact my former landlord and actually ended up driving by my old address and leaving a note for the new tenants once I learned the item was delivered. They were very nice and contacted me later that day and I was able to claim my Voltron toys the next day.

That isn't really an issue with the toys themselves, but it adds unnecessary frustration to the mix. I really have no one but myself to blame. I've been dealing with Matty Collector and Digital River for over three years now, but this is my first sub. To their credit they supposedly have a new, US-based, customer service team, so perhaps that will deliver a better experience when dealing with them now.

As alluded to above, I already have the second set of Voltron figures (Yellow Lion & Hunk) and will tell you now that they haven't done much to change my mind on the line, but I'll try to give each set a fair shake.
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