Observations & Critique: Both Chara-Works Volumes 1 & 2
These items are sold in a modern gashapon style where a person buys a box that contains several toys but no guarantee that you will get one of each toy in the series. The art on the boxes (both the larger box and the individual boxes) are nice and the packaging is efficient. There is a notable decrease in production value in volume II as the outer box art lost its color and was presented in black and white. Here’s what comes in each box besides the valkyrie:
2) Display Stand
3) Front landing gear bay doors (3 doors, one for each gear, on one tree)
4) Side landing gear bay doors (2 doors for rear gear on one tree)
5) Landing gears (3 gear on one tree)
6) Landing gear fillers (3 fillers for displays where the gears won’t be deployed on one tree)
7) Insert specific to the valkyrie with minor assembly instructions (generic) on back
8) Stickers (Four possible varieties, VF-1J, VF-1S, VF-1A, and Chase VF-1A)
9) Strike or Super Parts (Strike or Super Variants only)
The big accessory here is the display stand, something that was sorely missing from Doyusha’s diecast 1/144 valkyries. Unlike the Doyushas, these valkyries are extremely light which means you can use the very simple display stand with little worry of anything tipping over and if one does get loose on you a little clear tape in the stand’s plug fixes that. As you can see from the list above, a number of the parts come on plastic trees that you would need to disassemble and maybe trim flashing off of so expect to need a delicate hand for a moment or two. As with the outer box, the insert and even the stickers in the volume 2 toys also reflects decreased production values. These inserts are now black and white and both smaller and simpler. The sticker sheet is also a little smaller on volume 2 but it’s also more specific to the valkyrie. Whereas volume 1 inserts show the valkyrie artistically framed with text and character art volume 2 inserts are just sticker application instructions.
Volume I was released in April 2007 for an MSRP of 4,500 Yen for a box of 10 figures. Volume I featured the following valkyries:
1) VF-1A Mass Production
2) VF-1A Angelbirds
3) VF-1A Max in Zentraedi uniform (CHASE)
4) VF-1J Miria
5) VF-1J Hikaru
6) VF-1S Strike Focker
7) VF-1S Strike Hikaru
Volume II was released in January 2008 also for an MSRP of 4,500 Yen of 10 figures. Volume II featured the following valkyries:
1) VF-1A Hikaru
2) VF-1J Max
3) VT-1 SuperOstrich
4) VF-1S Strike Minmay Guard
5) VF-1S Super Roy
6) VF-1A Super Hikaru
7) VF-1A Hayao (CHASE) (paperwork says “VF-1J” but it’s the VF-1A)
Since each box had 10 figures in it and there were only 7 figures to collect, including the chase figures, it was very likely that one box would net you an entire set. While sales were initially good for these toys it’s hard to believe there’s much lingering demand. There’s no diecast here, no transformation, and the scale is small. As with any collection of toys like this, it’s likely that some toys will be more sought after than others. People might not care to track down a VF-1A Hayao but they might think that VT-1 would fill a hole nicely in their display. This is probably a good time to dispel some misinformation as well. When these toys were in pre-release preorder form there was a lot of information out there that just didn’t seem to pan out. Originally these toys were said to be in production by Bandai, that was then changed to Popy, and finally they came out under the Happinet name branded as Chara-Works. Also, these toys were said to feature “Magnet Action” or have some diecast content, they have neither. From a business perspective I think these toys were poorly executed. The series should have contained more than 10 pieces convincing people to buy more than one box. The series should have also completed at least one of the core squadrons.
These toys (models) are small but at the time of their release there sculpt was very nice. These days there weaknesses seem more pronounced. First, seeing reaction weaponry on standard valkyries looks jarring. Sure, I suppose a standard VF-1 could carry the big weapons, but since we’re used to seeing the small missiles on those planes why not stick to that? Also, the reaction missiles are attached to the wing via huge connectors that are completely out of place with the scale. Second, there are some little pointy details from the line art that aren’t present on these toys. They don’t look quite as smoothed out as the Doyusha 1/144 VF-1 figures but they’re still missing some points. Perhaps offsetting this issue to some extent is the inclusion of addition details like rivets in certain areas. Third, the landing gear area, when the gap fillers are installed, could look a lot better. The fillers don’t fit perfectly, mostly so you can get a fingernail on them to pry them off. Fourth, the canopy sculpt is awkward with large dips. Fifth, the backpack on the standard varieties is too high and shows gaps. Sixth, the head does not nestle as high into the fuselage as it ought to. Seventh, the feet are too thin and often times left somewhat open. Keep in mind when you view the pictures here, most will be much larger than the toy would be in person so many of the issues that are minor in person will look much larger here. While I have outlined several weaknesses, the figures do come together very well and do an above average job of emulating the sculpt, especially at this scale.
From a design standpoint these figures are about as basic as it gets. They did make it so this toy can hook up to a display stand with minimal intrusion to the aesthetic of the craft. The other area this “toy” gets points for is for featuring the ability to be displayed on its landing gears or with gear bays closed for flight. They went the extra mile with the landing gears and the doors which connect easily and look good in place (although it does seem like one door is missing that could have easily plugged into the same holes that are used to cover the bay doors when not in use). The wings on the unladed fighters can be rotated via a geared mechanism but sometimes it seems like the gears aren’t matched up perfectly so the wings aren’t completely symmetrical.
These toys are little, light, and sometimes look like they were built in a bit of a hurry. Build quality is below average as sloppy craftsmanship (like big seams and poor paint application)can be noted upon closer inspection. It seems that all the complaints I’ve read from others also identify similarly poor production. Add questionable build quality to a toy that is tiny and it’s a pretty safe assumption that this toy isn’t going to hold up to a real thrashing but since it’s essentially a model it’s doubtful it’d be subjected to too much trauma. I did find the landing gears, which are obviously quite tiny, were very susceptible to breaking. You can see in the picture below that the front landing gear on my Hikaru 1J snapped off at the wheels. This would not be something easy to fix. I also noted that some of my VF-1A toys had head lasers that were bent since the plastic tray doesn’t do anything special to accommodate the downward protrusion. In most cases the laser can be gently bent into place although there might be a chip in the paint due to the plastic flex.
The display stand can be pivoted. The wings do not move (except on the unladed valkyries), the cockpit does not open (although the canopy can be removed… sometimes a little too easily), there is no airbrake, no adjustment to the tailfins, no angling of the burners, nothing. The wheels on the landing gears don’t move, the landing gears don’t open and close, they are removed and replaced. Think of this as a tiny fixed and frail model.
If you go into this product knowing what it is and what to expect then I think you’ll find it performs relatively well. The most important factor here has got to be its level of detail and it does very well there, it’s just a shame that the production quality isn’t good enough to make satisfaction more assured. Now, if you’re looking for something fun to own, especially with the price of these continuing to rise, you could easily do much better. The pictures with the color background in this post are promotional pictures that I took from Hobby Search Japan.
NOTE: This review has been updated with all new high resolution photos, marketing photos, additional content, line art comparisons, HD Video Review, and now combines the following two posts:
March 21, 2008 CharaWorks 1/144 Valkyries Volume 2
July 25, 2007 CharaWorks 1/144 Valkyries Volume 1