Bandai Armor Plus EX-Gear Alto

Review: It’s not a doll, it’s an action figure!

Packaging & Extras: (4.5/5)
The packaging for this toy exceeded Bandai’s efforts on their version 1 VF-25 toys. The box is efficiently sized (20.2 x 32 x 7.2 cm) and attractive, featuring original Alto artwork by Masahiro Kimura as well as pictures of the toy in various states. There’s a collector’s style flip-top lid that even has a dot of Velcro to keep it down though I dislike the use of Velcro as it’s often stronger than the glue or cardboard it’s attached to/with and could easily lead to damage of the packaging. As impressive as the packaging is, so are the contents. You get an Alto figure as well as:
1) 2x pairs of fixed posed hands for the Alto figure (total of 3 pairs included, gripping, open palmed, and fists)
2) Helmet
3) EX Gear (in lots of different parts)
4) 4 x pairs of fixed posed hands for use with the EX Gear (fists, open grip, saluting, airplane shape) and an additional right hand for holding the…
5) Really big gun
Behind the first tray you’ll find a second tray that contains:
6) Display stand (consisting of a base and several connectors for the armor)
and, tucked in behind the black sheet of paper, you’ll find:

7) Instructions
When I originally reviewed this toy, I was totally content with everything in the box. Now we have SHFiguarts toys that come with different hair options, alternate facial expressions, and more fixed posed hands. Those items would have been welcome here, though I remain quite pleased with what was in the box.

Charm & Collectability: (2/5)
Debuting in September 2009 for 7,500¥, this was the toy Bandai chose to launch the “Armor Plus” line. The line continued to include Ronin Warriors and Tekkaman Blade but never revisited Macross. In what has become a trend for Macross figures not based on the protagonist Valkyries, this toy sold poorly, ending any hope of Ozma, Luca, or Michael variants. It eventually hit clearance bins at a fraction of MSRP before selling out and is now only available on the secondary market where it can still be had for less than MSRP. It appears that early complaints about parts popping off leading to frustration, and perhaps some intimidation about the number of parts included, scared consumers away. On the plus side, this toy is of a heroic character, it is a good likeness, it does have some metal parts, and Alto stands a bit less than 14.5 cm tall which should roughly equate to the fairly popular 1/12 scale.

Sculpt, Detail, & Paint: (9/10)
It seems impossible to find a universally loved sculpt for a character figure but I felt that Bandai did well approximating the look. The figure’s physique is a bit awkward but that seems to be the norm for this type of figure. His shoulders are broad, but his waist is impossibly narrow giving him an hourglass figure. The nature of the hip joints also created significant “thigh gap”. Thigh gap aside, the joints otherwise are well conceived and concealed allowing for maximum range of motion with minimal visual obtrusion. There are some minor proportion variances and some rather unsightly joints but otherwise I was very pleased with the look of both the figure and the Gear.

Design: (7/10)
On the surface, this set is pretty cool. You get a fully functional standalone Alto figure and an EX Gear suit that converts to the stowed position. The EX gear has some cool features like controls built into the gauntlets and a helmet that swivels around to encompass Alto’s helmet without needing to be removed. Initially, I was impressed but there are a few design shortcomings that really inhibit the fun of this toy:

1) The most obvious issue is the weak crotch armor connection. It connects via the tiniest peg at the base. There’s a peg at the top that’s also supposed to grab the top of the pelvis but it never really accomplishes this and, even if it did, movement of the pelvis would knock it free. Instead of being a separate peg on part, this really should be a hinged part that folds down during installation and then folds up when installed.
2) Just about everything done with the shoulders feels very ‘first effort.’ From the covers that are natively on the pilot suit to the larger armor that wraps over the top of them, there’s an element of sturdiness missing and it’s problematic. On the pilot suit, the cover connects to the shoulder via a separate peg which frequently pops out. A much better solution would have been to give the cover some flex and have the peg be integrated into the cover or make the covers much smaller and integrate them into the mold for the shoulder.
3) Though the forearm gauntlets are very clever, featuring an internal joystick that is held in the hands, folding the gauntlets together without popping the hand off is difficult.
4) When the suit is attached, the hips have a lot of weight to support. When the toy is new, this isn’t a huge issue. As the toy ages, the hips loosen, and you’ll wish they were ratcheted joints.
Those negative aspects aside, the attachment of the armor, particularly the chest piece with how it opens up to encompass the figure, is really cool.

You also get the ability to reconfigure the armor into a seated position, as it would be when Alto is flying his VF-25F. While it’s a cool bonus, it doesn’t lock together in this mode as you would expect from a transforming toy. The lack of defined ‘correct’ positions for the armor in this mode can make it pretty sloppy and will have you double-checking the lackluster instructions and pictures of the seated position a few times before you feel you have it right. The display stand does a good job bringing everything together but it might make you long for something that looked more like a cockpit.

Speaking of the display stand, it feels and functions a lot like a large Tamashii Stage Act IV stand. The attachment to the stand is a peg that goes in the back to a sufficient depth to be very sturdy. The connecting piece has a pivot which is great for achieving angled flight poses. As with Stage Act stands, the base lacks any heft so you’ll need to be cautious in how you pose the toy to avoid toppling. Though a relatively simple affair, the stand does a nice job and using it helps alleviate balance concerns and ramp up the fun factor. The base of the stand also has small pegs that can go into the feet of the EX Gear so it can be used to assist in standing poses as well. Finally, the stand can be converted so the EX Gear can go into its ‘stowed for cockpit use’ configuration.

Durability & Build: (6/10)
As mentioned in the design section, there are some fit issues with parts being loose or easily popping off. The shoulder covers popping off raises durability concerns because the separate peg that attaches the cover is small and can be easily lost. I think my issues with this cover may be exacerbated by a build issue whereby I received two right shoulder pegs (it appears the pegs were intended to be symmetrical with specific pegs for the left and right). Some glue on the peg would probably fix this but it seems like Bandai wanted the cover to be able to move around the peg so I haven’t done this.
Unfortunately, I have also had one peg sheer off on my toy. The chest of the armor is held in place by two pegs. Unfortunately, these two pegs must slide across their housing before seating. The act of sliding across the housing creates a lateral force on the peg which can damage it. Since the peg also holds together the chest, it’s under a decent amount of strain when everything works properly. Fortunately, one peg is enough to keep things functioning without any issues. Sadly, if that second peg goes, I’ll probably need to give up on the armor or super glue the armor permanently on.

Articualtion: (8.5/10)
Articulation of the Alto figure is fan-frakkin’-tastic. The only issues you’ll run into with these poses are: 1) Your imagination, 2) Stuff falling off and frustrating you, 3) balancing issues. The ponytail plugs in via a ball joint. The head is on a double ball joint (one in the base of the head, one at the top of the neck) but both ball joints are nested so the range of movement, other than a lateral swivel, is fairly limited. The base of the neck can also swivel left/right but this movement is hampered by the collar and can cause the collar to pop off when used. The shoulder is very impressive. The base of the shoulder is an interior ball that pivots in all directions allowing the shoulder pivot to move to the front of the chest, up toward the neck, down or back, just like a real shoulder can move. The pivot of the shoulder spins 360 around while the hinge goes nearly 180 allowing the arm to move in all directions. Unfortunately, the shoulder is covered by a piece of armor made from two parts, the housing and a securing peg, and the securing peg tends to pop out of the housing causing both to fall off the toy during posing. A swivel point is located above the bicep and the elbow is double-jointed allowing about 150-degrees of motion. The ball-jointed hands can spin and pivot. The torso connects via a ball joint above the navel and the pelvis connects via a ball joint under it. The hips are rotating parts that the legs connect to via a hinge. For the most part, this allows the hips to have an amazing range of movement but the butt is a solid piece that prevents the leg from extending very far behind the body. The knee is a double joint allowing nearly a full 180-degree range of movement. The ankles are a ball joint that extends below the base of the leg to allow the foot to move freely in all directions. Finally, the toy also has a hinge at the front of the foot allowing the toes to bend upward.

I would score this toy higher if the articulation wasn’t hindered so much with the armor was installed. The helmet attaches via a pair of loose ball joints that allow some play in the angle of the head but won’t allow you to look hard in either direction. Unfortunately, looking hard in either direction is great for two-handed poses with the big gun. You can disconnect the helmet from the ball joint to make this work but better solutions could have been engineered. The biggest weakness of the suit is the shoulders which is compounded by the problematic stability of the parts involved. The shoulder armors do have nice, ball-jointed, covers at the end but they don’t flare outward adequately so the toy can’t reach out away from its body more than about 45 degrees. More problematic is trying to rotate the shoulder forward and rotating it upward is impossible without removing the armor and placing it behind the shoulder. The hip armors tend to fall off when you get too aggressive with posing the lower half of the toy and limit the extremes of the hip mobility. The leg armors reduce the range of motion at the knee from about 150 degrees to less than 90. The leg armors have their own ankles and they perform about as well as the ankles on the pilot figure so no complaints there.

Total Score: (37/50)
My first impression of this toy was quite strong but the years have been hard on it. Parts that occasionally popped off when new now pop off frequently. The once sturdy hips are now loose enough to give the toy problems when standing while wearing the armor. I once thought this toy was fun but now it is, at best, ‘fiddly’. It still looks great though, and it pairs well with the SHFiguarts Sheryl figure, so I’m not so cold on it now that I think everyone should avoid it. If you’re a Frontier fan who isn’t just all about transforming jets but also has a fair amount of love for the characters, then this might be worth the grab.

Original Post: December 1, 2009
Updated April 26, 2020, higher resolution photos, more thorough review and content updated to reflect historical events, and added a 4K video review.

3 Replies to “Bandai Armor Plus EX-Gear Alto”

  1. Another great review!
    I picked this one up about two months ago (perhaps) and I have no regrets at all about it. I recommend this to any Macross F fan. Its not too complicated to transform (like the Mospeada figures) and it’s a descent sized figure for the price.

  2. Very nice! Just ordered one last week, can’t wait! Alto stuff rocks!
    Hey, ever going to buy/review one of those 1:72 scale Valks? I havent really heard anything about them review wise..anywhere!

  3. Nice review, and I agree for the most part. Mine showed up from AmiAmi with a tiny flaw on the left leg armor,the only gokin I think. The Samurai Troopers Ryo looks to have more diecast ala the older Saint Seiyas,I say older cause I haven’t touched one in about 15 years so…

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