Review: Beginning with the “Launch Edition” Hikaru VF-1J
Packaging & Extras: (4/5)
The original Yamato 1/48 toy came in a box that was roughly 36x37x14cm huge. This Bandai DX toy comes in a comparatively svelte 37.5×24.5x10cm (which is very similar in size to a DX VF-31 box). That’s a reduction in volume of nearly 50% so if you decide to ditch all your Yamato 1/48s you’ll be able to fit twice as many Bandai toys in the same spot in your garage. Inside the box you’ll find the Valkyrie nestled in a plastic tray with the following accessories:
2) GU-11 gun pod
3) Strap for gun pod
4) 4x pairs of hands:
a) mechanical-looking fists
b) mechanical-looking gun holding hands
c) mechanical-looking splayed finger hands
d) TV-style Right gun-holding and Left splayed finger hands
5) Intake fan covers
6) 2x GERWALK antennae
7) Display stand arm and battroid adapter
8) Leg removal tool (for waist gimmick)
9) 2x side cavity fillers (optional)
In a tray beneath you’ll find:
10) Display stand base and GERWALK and fighter adapters
The display stand base is the same generic base Bandai has been using since their first Macross Frontier NUNS toy… and it seriously needs a refresher. It really makes no sense that they didn’t go with a new UN Spacy kite display stand base. It’s not like they don’t know they’re going to make several variations of this toy and all of them, DYRL or TV versions, would be UN Spacy craft.
In a bag behind everything you’ll also get
11) Instructions (See a scan here: Bandai DX VF-1 Instructions)
The launch edition Hikaru VF-1J comes packaged in an outer sleeve that holds a second box (and bumps the overall dimensions to 37.5×24.5×14.5, pretty much the same size as the DX YF-19 Full-set pack).
That second box contains a special, fighter mode only, display stand consisting of a base, an arm, and an adapter. The benefit of this display stand is that it’s prettier and allows the plane to bank in fighter mode.
In comparison to Yamato’s 1/48 VF-1 toy, you get a display stand, side cavity fillers, and more fixed posed hands but you don’t get missiles (the Yamato 1/48 came with both TV and DYRL style missiles and the DYRL missiles functioned as storage boxes for the intake fan covers). The articulated, integrated hands on this toy are marvelous so I think most people would rather have missiles than the base model display stand, cavity fillers, or fixed posed hands. Don’t worry, Bandai has you covered: exclusively through the Tamashii website (TWE) you can get your very own missiles for the low low price of just 3,996円! Yeah… I realize that model manufacturers have been employing this strategy but it seems a pretty uncool move. Are they going to make these TWE missiles available frequently? If not, are the missiles going to be more and more coveted with each release in the line? Will some future releases include missiles and only Hikaru needs TWE exclusives? Time will tell…
Charm & Collectability: (4.5/5)
It’s new high-water mark for the unquestionably most popular Macross design that features lots of metal, perfect transformation, and looks gorgeous. The metal is mostly relegated to internal mechanisms though the feet are huge chunks of metal which also ensures a very sturdy toy in GERWALK and battroid modes. At 492g, the DX VF-1 weighs almost as much as a Yamato 1/48 VF-1 and Arcadia/Yamato 1/60 V2 VF-1 COMBINED (510g)! It’s expensive but priced very reasonably in contrast to many other ‘premium’ Macross offerings. The only major thing this toy has working against it is scale. At 26.5cm tall in battroid the toy is 1/48 scale. Collectors have been amassing huge armies of 1/60 scale Macross goods for over a decade now and will be turned off by the concept of buying a new scale. That said, most collectors will rationalize getting an one or two to own the new ‘best VF-1 toy’ while also deciding to hold onto their Yamato/Arcadia products to keep their 1/60 universe alive. The Hikaru 1J launch edition had preorders sell out and any excess stock was snapped up from stores on release day. Expect to pay a premium to nab one but there should be plenty of optimism for future reissues (and hopefully repaints). After all, this is a “launch edition” so you would expect at some point there will be a vanilla Hikaru VF-1J reissue without the special display stand (and maybe even at a lower MSRP!). For now, the lone release was:
Hikaru VF-1J “Launch Edition”, 18,000¥, December 29, 2018
Sculpt, Detail, & Paint: (9.5/10)
Any transformable design inked before everything went CGI will have to make compromises to be captured in a 3D physical form. The paint on the toy is nothing short of phenomenal. There are paint applications on here that you wouldn’t expect and it’s very detailed without being overly busy. I had only three issues from a paint perspective:
A) No paint in the airbrake area
B) No paint in the cockpit
C) No ejection seat markings
Fighter mode is pure sexy. Painted detail work is over the top including the pilot name, rank and ship (should it have both SDF-1 and Prometheus badges simultaneously though?). The sculpt is also amazing with the only weakness being the notch that allows the shoulders to pop out. The gun is positively gargantuan and looks a little silly in this mode and looks fantastic in GERWALK and Battroid modes.
No toy has ever made GERWALK mode look so good. The included hands are a nice size though the fixed posed hands are slightly larger. If you’re not a fan of popping parts on, leave the antenna off and this thing still makes a very impressive display piece.
Since Yamato introduced their 1/60 scale (version 1) VF-1, toy manufacturers have placed the emphasis of their design work on a better fighter mode with more compromises made to battroid. This DX toy cuts a perfect balance between all modes. My biggest grievance with Yamato’s 1/60 version 2 toy was the head position. On that toy, the nosecone slides up during transformation moving the head upward and exposing the back of the nosecone beneath the neck. It’s not an awful look, moving the head-up makes the Valkyrie look more like an unclad person while placing the head lower makes the Valkyrie look more like a person wearing armor. The DX toy still exposes a bit of the nosecone but the head positioning is much closer to what we see in the show. A lot of line art for battroid mode also includes very blocky shoulders that simply don’t work for a toy that needs a sleek fighter mode. The DX toy allows the shoulder armors to slide outward which increases articulation while making the shoulder armors appear larger. It’s not a perfect solution but it is a nice touch. Ultimately, Bandai has created the most attractive perfect-transformation battroid to date. Specific to the VF-1J head, Bandai added a lens effect just behind the eye that I think some will love and others will hate.
Before we dive into the design attributes of the Valkyrie, let’s discuss the display stands. First, the basic display stand that will presumably come bundled with all future releases continues to be a cheap prop to elevate your toy in any mode and nothing more. There’s no real heft to it, there are no points of articulation, and there wasn’t an effort made to make it attractive. Bandai did give us clear display stand adapters and it does accommodate all modes, those are the positives.
The Launch edition display stand has some nice heft to it. Mine seems to not point the toy directly forward, there’s a minor twist left at some point, and I’m not sure if that’s intentional or a build issue. This stand works only with fighter mode and has only one pivot point that allows you to select from three options: A) flying straight, B) banking left, C) banking right. You may not choose how much the toy is banking, the display stand has slots you must use that determine the exact angle of bank. You can not determine the angle of the nose, it’s locked into place with it’s nose up, not unlike the basic stand. Want to raise the arm up higher from the base? Not an option. While certainly more attractive, it’s not nearly the step up from the basic display stand one would hope it would be and, since it only works with fighter mode, many folks won’t use it at all.
Now let’s talk about the positive elements you have expected from a premium VF-1 since Yamato introduced their 1/48 Valkyrie back in 2002, all of which are present here:
1) Opening cockpit
2) Removable pilot figure
3) Removable intake fan covers
4) Integrated landing gear that lock into position with an articulated tow bar on the front gear
5) Perfect transformation including integrated heat shield
6) Ability to stow the gun in fighter mode while on the landing gear and on the arm in battroid mode
7) Gun with extending stock and trigger mechanisms
Then there are the super-premium elements Yamato also included on their 1/48 line which remain present here:
8) Articulated flaps on the wings
9) Articulated air brake
10) Side cavity fillers (Yamato introduced on their 1/48 GBP toys)
Not carried over from the Yamato toy was the integrated antenna for GERWALK mode. Yamato pulled this trick off by making the antenna small and curved. Bandai, instead, gives us a separate part that we can plug in if we desire but more closely resembles some of the more iconic VF-1 art. Bandai’s implementation of the side cavity fillers are a nice progression from Yamato’s 1/48 and then 1/60 V2 toys. The parts pop securely into place without fear of falling out during handling. The Yamato pieces were more finicky in comparison.
Then there are the new tricks that Bandai has introduced to the VF-1:
11) Rear landing gear that pivot outward
12) The ability to drop and pivot the head in GERWALK and fighter modes (this was present on Yamato’s 1/60 V2 toy).
13) Peg in connection for the gun strap
Like the Yamato 1/48, the gun also comes with a strap. Unlike the Yamato, which had little tiny rings the strap attached to that had to be fed through little tiny holes on the gun, the Bandai DX toy comes with pegs on either end of the strap. The pegs snap into the gun very quickly and securely making removal for fighter mode a breeze. The rear landing gear are a little tricky as the doors are very stiff. They should be extended away from the craft before being opened or they will bump into the fins on the legs. Notches in the metal of the gear should mate perfectly with the leg.
There are also new design elements in regard to transformation that will take some getting used to. There’s a fold out peg that goes from the back plate to the chest that holds battroid together but doesn’t grab as authoritatively as say, the peg from the old Takatoku toys (before they inevitably broke). There are some negatives here:
1) The legs detach easily from their transformation mechanism. The housing that keeps the swing bar attached to the crossbar that leads to the hips was intended to be very difficult to remove, and Bandai even provided a tool to help you. As executed in the Hikaru VF-1J, it pops off way too easily. Purists of perfect transformation are going to have a real hard time not having the toy become two separate parts. With some experience you’ll learn to hold the housing during transformation to keep the separation from happening.
2) The nosecone peg is insufficient for holding the nose in place (it flops down, presumably to accommodate a future GBP accessory). It needs to be tightened up on future releases.
3) The fins on the legs don’t lock into position so they can be bumped too easily (as with the item above, it appears these are hinged to accommodate a future GBP as well).
The benefit of the leg housing, and the ability to separate the legs, is that it enables a waist twist. The nosecone and leg fin weaknesses stem from a plan to later offer Grenade Box Protection parts so it’s good to see Bandai planning ahead but unfortunate they goofed on the tolerances. All of the weaknesses could easily be resolved through the most minor tweaks to molds so I really hope Bandai incorporates changes in future variants.
Durabilty & Build: (8/10)
Someone reading this review was looking at one of my close-ups (above) and spotted a crack! It’s tiny for now but as you know, cracks in plastic have a nasty tendency of spreading. So, for all you guys going through transformation, take care when separating the chest plate, it can lock down pretty tight and apparently you can crack the part if you’re not careful. At first I thought I must have been rough transforming my toy but then I looked at my first picture I took and the crack was there from the factory. I’m going to assume I’m unlucky for now but keep an eye on that area and if other people have the same issue, let me know! Though I’ve listed the negatives in the ‘design section’, I’m currently knocking this score down a bit for the areas that are loose and shouldn’t be (leg connection housing, nosecone, leg fins). If these issues remain persistent through future variants, I’ll probably adjust the design score down a hair and this score up. If Bandai corrects the issues then this score may increase if we don’t start seeing more complaints about common problems. My toy (other than the tiny crack) is niiiiiiiiiice but I have seen some complaints out there already. Fortunately, I haven’t seen any fatal issues like limbs breaking off. Complaints so far include:
1) Paint issues (scratches/wear)
2) Leg fins popping off entirely. Everyone will experience some looseness as described in the design section, unfortunately, some people also seem to be encountering manufacturing issues where the leg falls off entirely or gets inadvertently knocked off which causes the nubs to sheer and the fin to never go on as tightly again.
3) Someone on MacrossWorld had a thigh that would separate as the knee swivel was engaged, probably from a bit of over-gluing within a joint or some plastic flash.
As we only have one brand new release so far, I’ll come back to this section and update as appropriate.
I do have some minor quibbles regarding fit of a few pieces that I hope are resolved in future releases. Both the cockpit canopy and intake fan covers seem a hair too large. The natural resting position of my cockpit canopy is not flush with the nosecone, I need to press it down to get it to sit right and, when handling the toy, I often find that it has crept up a tiny bit again. Similarly, the intake fan shield plug into place and they stay where they should but they don’t nest perfectly in their housing, it’s as if they’re a hair too large toward the top of the intake.
If this toy made no other improvements to the Yamato 1/48 VF-1 other than its increased articulation it would still be a worthy purchase. The head is a true ball joint, the shoulders spin around and are on a hinge so they can be rocked back (Bandai should have also let them be rocked forward farther on the hinge). The arm can pivot away from the body at the shoulder and there’s a twist above the bicep. The elbows allow you 180 degree range of movement. Ball joints at the wrist are fairly standard at this point but the full articulation of the integrated hands is very impressive. The toy features a waist with a decent amount of swivel. Ball-jointed hips allow the thighs to move or twist in/out and generate a fair amount of splay outward that can then be exaggerated by a hinge at the GERWALK joint that allows the toy to go deeper into the splits. Extending and swiveling knees allow the toy crazy lower leg mobility in GERWALK mode but only about 90 degrees of angle back for battroid. The feet extend and are on a ball joint allowing this toy to be far more dynamic than any predecessor though the shape of the housing around the foot may still inhibit some motion. The middle nozzle of the backpack is articulated also!
Total Score: (45/50)
There you go folks, the highest score I’ve ever awarded a VF-1 toy (the VF-31 toys have the highest scores ever) so if you’re a fan of the VF-1 you should get one (though you may want to wait for a reissue or a different variant as they will likely come). That said, if you’ve invested heavily in 1/60 scale, then this toy is going to be awkwardly large. The Yamato 1/60 V2 is still a fantastic toy and it fits within the larger Macross universe of toys that both Yamato and Bandai (and even Evolution Toy) fostered to this point. So, in a vacuum this toy is amazing, but within the larger context of toy collecting, the strategy is perplexing. I would have thought Bandai would have been better off going even larger, like 1/35 scale, and shooting for the perfect toy. They could have given us a heat shield we could close during fighter mode (hey, it happens once in the anime!), ports in the arms and plug-in parts for simulated manipulators (it happens in the anime at least once!), a pelvic thrust joint (happens all the time in the anime!), integrated side cavity fillers, and double jointed knees that could go a full 180degrees. At that scale, there could have even been some pop off parts to expose mechanical detail. Then, as Yamato 1/60 V2 toys became harder and harder to come by, they could have launched a 1/60 DX toy to conquer the mid-range. Instead, they’ve hit us with a “better than what you have” 1/48 toy, that is truly great, but doesn’t quite hit that holy grail status. Many 1/60 scale toy owners will likely see this toy and say “Yeah, it’s really good, but it’s not so incredibly better than the toys I already have that fit in with the rest of my collection, so I’ll pass.” That said, it’s hard to imagine anyone holding on to Yamato 1/48 toys much longer unless they’re real completists… this toy is materially better, priced similarly, and easier to store (comes in a smaller box).