Masterforce Microman

We've got a new guest reviewer in the house - Joe D'Angelo!  He's put together a fantastic review of the Masterforce Microman figures - take it away!

We toy collecting geeks tend to veer away from the usual “nerd” stereotype. Most of the toy collectors I know have gainful employment, social lives, and are either married with children or at least have girlfriends. Luckily for me, I have a very understanding girlfriend as was proven this past Friday when I returned home to find her preparing to take her little brother to the movies. We originally had dinner plans, but she told me they could wait until Saturday night: I’d gotten a box from Japan that afternoon in the mail.

I wasn’t going to argue. I knew what was in there. It was a love letter from the Takara Toy Company: nine new Microman figures from the recently launched Masterforce series.

Brief history lesson: In 1972, Takara Japan released a 12” action figure called the Henshin Cyborg. This was based on the popular 12” GI Joe doll, except instead of a kung-fu grip, it came with a chromed head and a translucent body. Around 1974, Takara released a 3 ¾ inch sized version called “Microman” which spawned quite the healthy number of characters. In the U.S., MEGO licensed the rights to these figures and released them under the name “Micronauts.” The U.S. Micronauts line died out in the early 80s, but the Microman series lived on in Japan, evolving, and eventually becoming known as “Micro Change” because now the figures could transform from robotic humanoid to a variety of items such as cars and microcassettes. Hasbro took notice of this new batch of Microman and released them in the U.S. as “Transformers.” In the late 90s, Takara began to issue replicas of the original Microman figures and now, just in time for their 30th anniversary, we’ve been presented with the outstanding Microman Masterforce series.

Last year, we were given a taste of this new series with four Microman figures and five Japanese hero characters from their Tatsunoko Fight video game (the four Microman figures and the Battle Of The Planets Ken figure were reviewed here.)  All of these figures use the same basic body that features around 30 points of articulation on a 3 ¾ inch figure. Take THAT, Marvel Legends! Since they all use this same body (to which I give a full four ****,) I’m going to review each one based on their respective accessories, coloring, and playability.

Each of the figures (except Kicker) comes packaged on a cardboard backer with a slipsleeve plastic front. Unlike your average Star Wars figure, the plastic bubble on the front of these guys slides off & on with the simple slicing of four pieces of scotch tape. The main accessories are contained in the bubble tray with the rest in a plastic bag, taped to the card. I kind of missed the tube packaging that last year’s figures came in, as they were a throwback to the plastic capsules the vintage Micromen arrived in, but the slipsleeve cards are much more collector friendly and you don’t have to destroy the packaging to get to the toys. The artwork on the front of the cards is very nice, although somewhat obscured by the large bubble. The back of the cards shows its respective figure in several stages of armorment from ‘naked’ (no accessories attached) to full on attack mode. There’s also a bio section which I understand tells about the character’s likes, dislikes, personality, etc… but as that is in Japanese I didn’t understand any of it (2 years of Japanese classes in college and all I can say is “I would like a beer.”)

First, let’s talk about the good guys. There are five: Skymaster Hayate, Groundmaster Alan, Divemaster Roberto, Automaster Ryan, and one simply known as “Kicker.” These new Microman figures stand a slight bit taller then their vintage brethren, but not to the point of it being hugely out of scale (see the new Harry Potter figures for more on THAT subject!) The four “masters” come with a clear stand (not that these guys need them unless you’re putting them in some seriously bizarre positions) and a baggie filled with six pairs of hands in a variety of gestures. Kicker comes with a very VERY large sword. Let’s talk about him first:

KICKER - ***
Kicker is meant to act as a link between the Microman of old and the Transformers of new, hence the Autobot emblem on his chest. His backpack & chestplate are removable and despite the size of his sword, he can hold it without support quite well. The sword is also meant to be wielded by Transformer figures, hence it’s size & heft. I was a bit disappointed that Takara didn’t include a helmetless human head with this, nor did they include the usual pack of extra hands or even the figure stand. A second version of Kicker was released in the Transformers Superlink Commemorative set and he comes with a chromed head, chromed chestplate, and a second, smaller Megatron sword. He comes in a basic rectangular cardboard box with an easily-crumpled window on the front. Collector friendly, the figure can be removed and replaced with ease.

The Masterforce figures are where the accessories really hit high gear. Hayate, colored in blue and black, comes with a large Buzz Lightyear-esque hood, positionable wings which can also act as a silver surfboard, a chrome bird weapon, and leg wings reminiscent of the vintage Command One Micromen. My only problem with his accessories is that once snapped on, they can be a bit difficult to snap off (I had to insert a knife into the seam of his hood to pop it back open.) But I guess that’s better than the accessories all falling off in mid-play.

Alan, colored in orange and black, comes with a variety of bits & pieces that can be used as armor for the main figure, or put together to form a drill tank. Other than the tread “skates,” the armor looks great either on him or in tank form. All of it fit perfectly and came apart just as well.

Like Alan, Roberto (color schemed in pearl gray & black) came with armor parts that could be used to form a separate vehicle. In this case, he can either wear the dive bell, or it can be used as his robotic counterpart. The pod snapped on and off very easily and despite its size, didn’t cause many balance problems for the main figure (especially when using the enclosed stand.)

Wow. This was the one I was most looking forward to and I wasn’t disappointed. Ryan, colored in green and white, comes with a selection of armor bits that can be transformed into a nifty Tron-esque light cycle. Once on the bike, it may take some shifting and tweeking to get the balance just right, but seeing as how positioning and repositioning these guys is half the fun, that’s just fine with me! And since he’ll be displayed on his bike, I can give his stand to Kicker or one of my older Microman figures (which, by the way, the stands fit. The peg on the left of the stand are meant for the newer figures and the peg on the right fits the older figures. Brilliant!)

Hmmm. I said there were NINE figures in the box, didn’t I? Well, let’s bring on the bad guys!

Much like their goody-goody Microman counterparts, these Acroyear evil-doers use the same killer base body which was a bit of a shock to long-time Microman collectors. In the past, the Acroyears were more of mechanical monsters – whereas they used to appear as dime a dozen army builders without distinct personalities, these new Acroyears are definitely individuals… and damn MEAN looking individuals at that! Let’s start with Acroscorl: the black and red dude with the skull-faced head. He comes with a set of clawed wings that would put Wolverine to shame and a decidedly vicious-looking probe spike. His armor also includes leg guards and a chromed chestplate. Not someone you’d want to run into in a dark alley. Heck, I wouldn’t want to run into a lifesized version of this in a light alley! All of the chromed armor parts stayed snug & tight as I positioned him for his close-ups and also like the Masterforce figures, the Acroyears come with 6 sets of hands and a clear stand.

Done up in all yellow & gold, Acrocleve may be the least interesting of the series from a visual standpoint. Devoid of a plethora of accessories, Acrocleve comes with a wing pack reminiscent of the old Acroyear “fan wings,” a spike sword that doubles as a tail to the wing pack, and a small flame creature that can also be used as a weapon. Cleve also gave me the most problems when it came to parts that just didn’t stay together. His ‘ear’ parts don’t stay on very well and I had to use a little bit of fun-tak in each. His flame creature didn’t attach to his arm very well, either. A little TOO much yellow for my tastes.

I thought I was going to HATE this one. From the images I originally saw, he looked like something out of MARS ATTACKS! Colored in a pearlish white / purple, Voltech lives up the ‘volt’ in his name, coming with positive/negative prong foot attachments, electrodes protruding from his arms and back, and a weird-looking ray gun. But wait a second. The head of that ray gun kinda looks like… the head of the very first Acroyear! Sure enough, hidden within this brain in a jar martian was an Acroyear of old: remove his arms, snap in the electrode balls (no jokes, please) and exchange his head for the tip of his gun and wah-la! Instant homage to Acroyear 1. Like with Cleve, a couple of the parts didn’t stay in place as well as I would have liked (the electrode arms, specifically) but that, too, was repaired with a dab of fun-tak (I swear I hold no stock in fun-tak. This stuff just works for EVERYTHING.)

This was the one I had to look sideways at. I mean, what’s with the HEAD on this thing? Blue and purple in color, Biom comes with chrome wrist blades, a shield, and a double-pronged sword. He also comes with the afore-mentioned giant bug head and a clear blue ponytail draping from it. After reviewing the instruction sheet for this one, I discovered that when you attach the shield to the head and the sword to the tail of the ponytail, you end up with a nasty-looking snake creature, which can operate independently of the body. Very nice touch. Especially since once you transform Voltech into the Acroyear 1, you’ll have a leftover head that can be used on Biom’s body. The snake tail took some getting used to (if you turn it too much, the joints pop out) but like everything else in the Microman world, parts are interchangeable and snap right back in.

Which brings us to the capper in this review: not content to simply unleash these nine figures unto we Micromaniacs, Takara has also released, via Toys-R-Us Japan, a series entitled “Material Force:” BLANK core bodies for customizers to go hog wild with! Currently available in Black, Red, White, and Peach, each figure comes with 6 sets of hands in its particular color. Utilizing one red, one white, the sticker sheet from a Microman repro figure, and the head of a Beta Midget, I crafted an updated Microman Zone figure (shown side by side with his inspiration.) A variety of other colors, both clear and opaque, are set to be released in Japan later this year. Amazing! As far as artist’s models, these have those wooden mannequins beat down cold. I’ve been using them as models for my online comic strip, Pirate Cove (oh look! Blatant plug!) since they first came out last year.

Also due to be released soon are two different Batman figures, a series of female Microforce figures and the first ever female Acroyears.

Packaging – ***1/2
Sculpting – ***1/2
Paint – ****
Articulation – ****
Accessories – ****
Value – ****
Overall – ****

Where To Get ‘Em:
At this point, you have a couple options: A) eBay. B) Diamond Distributors took orders on them so you MIGHT be able to find them at your local comic shop. If not, perhaps your comic store will still take orders. C) Online web stores like Big Bad Toy Store or Small Joes D) Go to Japan. I don’t recommend this one from a price standpoint.

For more info on Microman, top to bottom, I wholeheartedly recommend the MicroForever site which features tons of photographs, pages of Micro history, and even information about MicroHeritage (such as Transformers and the varied Micronauts spinoffs.)


Figures from the collection of Joe D'Angelo.

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