Mega Review: Includes all releases and gift-sets from both Takatoku and Bandai
What about Jetfire?
The following review will cover all Takatoku and Bandai releases and much of it would apply to the Transformer Jetfire as a 1980s Gift-set release. Many in the US are familiar with these Macross toys not because of Robotech but rather because of Transformers. How a Macross valkyrie became an Autobot is sort of an organic progression that may very well have led to the death of Robotech: The Sentinels. The first step in the process was the time delay from the airing of Super Dimensional Fortress: Macross and Robotech: The Macross Saga. Macross aired in 1982, three years before its American adaptation, Robotech: The Macross Saga. Unfortunately Takatoku needed only two years to make an absolute killing on one line of toys while bankrupting itself with others. In 1984 Takatoku was shuttered, the same year Transformers was making a big splash on American televisions and a follow-up theatrical Macross movie began production. Transformers was largely a commercial for Takatoku’s rival Japanese toy manufacturer Takara and its affiliate Hasbro. In the wake of Takatoku’s collapse, Matsushiro, the company that had been originally contracted to design the 1/55 VF-1, acquired the rights to the valkyrie mold. Takara/Hasbro contracted Matsushiro to manucature the 1/55 toy as part of Takara/Hasbro’s US Transformers product line, and rebranded the toy as Jetfire. Shortly thereafter Matsushiro also hit financial hard times and Bandai acquired many of Takatoku’s assets from Matsushiro including the 1/55 VF-1 mold. This created some truly odd bed-fellows as Takara/Hasbro was now paying a large competitor to produce toys. Things got even more uncomfortable when Macross was revived by the successful release of Macross: Do You Remember Love? and Harmony Gold’s airing of Robotech. While Takara/Hasbro regularly licensed the merchandising rights to specific toys for inclusion in the Transformers toy line without necessarily having the intention to animate the toy as a character, the success of Macross ensured that they would never include Jetfire (although the existence of Skyfire art before then is evidence that Takara/Hasbro never intended to license the valkyrie’s likeness). Of course, the valkyrie is a cool design so it did sell well in the US and did see several production runs (which is why you see different variants of Jetfire). The success of Jetfire and the pre-existing agreement between Matsushiro and Takara/Hasbro meant there would be no Bandai re-release of the Takatoku toys in the US as Robotech branded products. One could argue that had Matchbox been able to import these toys the Robotech brand could have potentially been profitable enough to produce the sequel that was ultimately aborted in 1986.
Packaging & Extras: (3/5) Standard Releases (Takatoku or Bandai)
Takatoku boxes (above) feature beautiful artwork and textured cardboard that really feel like a higher end toy for that era. These boxes aren’t the same premium grade as the one Takatoku employed for its 1/3000 SDF-1 release which featured two tops, one with huge windows to show off the toy within and a second top to protect the whole package. None-the-less, one of the few remaining reasons to track down an original now that Bandai has re-released the originals is the much nicer box. I’m giving Bandai the same score here because, while the box seems cheap and amateur Bandai included a swap out heatshield that really benefits these toys. Here’ the full list of what to expect beyond the VF-1 itself:
1) Transformation instructions
2) Gun that fires bullets
3) Bullets on a tree
4) Gun holster for forearm
6) Toy catalog/advertisement (Takatoku and early Bandai releases)
7) Battroid heatshield (Bandai releases only – excluding 2001 VF-1J Hikaru)
After the theatrical release of Macross: Do You Remember Love? Bandai released three super valkyries (Hikaru’s strike VF-1S, the VT-1, and the VE-1 included in subsequent sections) as well as a standard Hikaru VF-1A toy which would be included in this section although it lacks the textured box it does retain the impressive box art. The heatshield used for the VF-1A Hikaru differs from the one employed on the 2001+ releases in that it simply slides over the canopy and has protruding tabs that point upward that clip it into place (although those tabs are slightly visible at the top of the battroid’s chest). In 2001 Bandai began reissuing all of the original Takatoku releases beginning with Hikaru’s VF-1J. Since Hikaru’s VF-1J was the first release it did not include the pop-on heatshield Bandai included with all subsequent releases. This new heatshield replaces the canopy from fighter mode. Notable items missing here: no missiles, no antenna for GERWALK, no alternate hands, and no pilot figure.
Packaging & Extras: (3.5/5) Gift-sets (Takatoku or Bandai), (4/5) Bandai Strike Hikaru VF-1S
The giftsets come with everything mentioned above but also the following:
1) Super, strike, or grenade box protection armor (super armor includes VT-1/VE-1 specials)
2) Additional stickers for the additional armor
3) Instructions for how to attach the included armor
4) Minmay singing figure (Hikaru Strike VF-1S only)
5) Clip-on missiles (Hikaru Strike VF-1S only)
Charm & Collectability: (3/5) Bandai reissues, (4/5) Takatoku originals
Before the 2002 flooding of the VF-1 market the Takatoku “chunky monkeys” as they were affectionately deemed were collectable at a level that today’s collector probably wouldn’t understand unless they saw it firsthand. Collectors were paying over $1000 for these toys. Sadly, this led to a bunch of really unscrupulous activity and I highly advise today’s collectors to avoid Takatoku VF-1 toys and head straight to the reissues. With the price of Takatokus hitting the stratosphere at one point many folks scrounged up poor condition Takatokus and Frankensteined them into toys they could pass off as being in good to fair condition over the Internet. Ultimately the purchaser received a subpar product at an incredibly over-inflated price. With the Bandai reissues being readily available at discounts it just doesn’t make sense to run the risk with Takatoku VF-1 toys. Here’s a breakdown of the standalone releases:
Hikaru VF-1J (Takatoku, Bandai 2001, Bandai 2008)
Hikaru VF-1S (Takatoku, Bandai 2001, Bandai 2008 – this is a Focker custom but it shows Hikaru’s image because Hikaru flew it toward the end of the show and Takatoku thought they wouldn’t be able to sell toys for a dead man… uh, spoiler alert?
Max VF-1J (Takatoku, Bandai 2001)
Miria VF-1J (Takatoku, Bandai 2001)
Misa VF-1A “Cannon Fodder” (Takatoku, Bandai 2001)
Hikaru DYRL VF-1A (Bandai 1984, Bandai 2001)
It looks like the original price of these toys was just under 4,000YEN which was pretty expensive in that era. Gift-sets cost an additional 1,000YEN. There was never a VF-1D or Max TV VF-1A sold by Takatoku although they are common customs and some customizers have made very convincing boxes for them. Takatoku did include these two paint schemes in early commercials for the 1/55 VF-1 toy but I’m told this wasn’t so much a promise of an upcoming toy but rather an attempt to sell the toy to future customizers. The story goes that at the time young adults with the budget for this sort of toy preferred the realism of models and Takatoku was doing its best to sell the toys as being so realistic that model builders should buy them and try their craft on them.
Charm & Collectability: (5/5) Gift-sets (Takatoku or Bandai), (3.5/5) Bandai 2001 Super VF-1S Focker Reissue, (2.5/5) Bandai 1990 Focker VF-1S Re-tooled
There were several Macross gift-sets released over the years:
Hikaru VF-1S (Focker) + GBP Armor (Takatoku)
Hikaru VF-1S (Focker) + Super Parts (Takatoku, Bandai 2001)
Hikaru VF-1S DYRL + Strike Parts (Bandai 1984)
Superostrich VT-1 (Bandai 1984)
Elintseeker VE-1 (Bandai 1984)
Hikaru VF-1S (Focker) + Super Parts (Bandai 1990 re-tooling)
The retooled Focker VF-1S was Bandai’s attempt at improving upon the Matsushiro design that Takatoku had used. Bandai eliminated the landing gear doors, eliminated the push button to pop the landing gears out, and changed the head. The results were, at best, mixed and generally collector’s skip this toy hunting for the original and would rather have the reissue than this odd one-off. The SuperOstrich and Elintseeker were likely not made in huge quantities and just the same, they were dismal failures when it came to sales. Over time that has made these the two most hotly desired chunky monkeys in existence. The other gift-sets are also very highly sought after as they’re heroic to the core. Story has it that the mold for the GBP was lost which is why Bandai never reissued it. As with the stand alone toys there have been a number of convincing gift-set customs produced over the years that are not official products including a Max & Miria Marriage set (featuring the blue VF-1J packaged with the red) and a Hayao & Max set (featuring custom TV VF-1A Max and Hayao toys).
Sculpt, Paint, & Detail: (6/10), Original Takatoku and Bandai releases, (6.5/10) reissues
As you might expect from a toy referred to as the “chunky monkey”, you may find the toy to be a bit on the bulbous side. The chest is too large and that theme is pretty much carried out the entire way down to the feet. Despite being a little chunky, the Takatoku does a really good job of emulating the battroid line art, even better than many of the newer offerings which have slimmed the mode down a little too much (although we live in slimmer, more angular times and I’m sure if the VF-1 was designed today the battroid mode interpretation would have been less blocky). Fighter mode is where the first generation nature of the Takatoku design is most evident. There are large lips and nooks that reveal the transformation mechanisms. The most glaring issue with fighter mode is the battroid head displayed very prominently under the cockpit. In the line art and later toys the head is nestled in a cavity toward the rear of fighter’s nose. Humorously enough, the original Takatoku is leaps and bounds better in both fighter and battroid modes than the allegedly second generation Toynami Masterpiece figures. The paint application is generally good although the legs of the Max & Milia valks look a little odd around the knees. Detail is present but not prolific. Unfortunately the gray Takatoku HikaruTV/Focker VF-1S comes with a permanently affixed black heatshield that looks great in battroid mode but not-so-hot in other modes. This might have been a selling point for the Super VF-1S gift-set that Takatoku released featuring a white Focker/Hikaru VF-1S without the permanently affixed black heatshield, instead that toy has an amber canopy. Bandai later retooled the Super VF-1S gift-set and gave it a new head (largely considered worse than the original Takatoku but it did have holes in the head guns) and a clear canopy (a black slide-on heat shield was an included accessory for this set). Bandai also shifted the color of the super parts from a green/gray to blue. When Bandai did its 2001 reissues it returned to emulating Takatoku’s original Super VF-1S set abandoning the “fixes” of the unpopular 1990 retooling but retaining the new blue color of the super parts. Perhaps related to American safety standards enforced on the Jetfire toys, the VE-1 and VT-1 toys feature more rounded nosecones. The VE-1 and VT-1 also feature re-shaped wings to emulate the wing nozzles shown in the movie. The reissues that Bandai began producing in 2001 and then later as the “Origin of Valkyrie” in 2008 improved upon the original by painting on the vast majority of the markings that had been stickers on the originals. Bandai did a really good job with the paint application also as markings that had once been meant to resemble text were now legible written warnings.
Obviously this score would be a lot higher if this review were happening in the 1980s. Yamato and Bandai have both greatly improved upon the original Takatoku design in the new millennium while Toynami tried to but didn’t really succeed. The toy features perfect transformation with the caveat that it lacks an integrated heatshield. There are collapsible spring-loaded integrated landing gears but they could have used a notch at the fully extended point as sometimes the nose gear has a tendency to collapse back into the bay unintentionally. When Bandai made the 1990 retooled VF-1S giftset they eliminated the button to extend the landing gears and removed the rear landing gear bay doors. To extend the landing gears the owner had to press a finger into the exposed cavity and press the gear forward. Fighter mode could have benefited from some locking mechanisms for the limbs as the arms have a tendency to droop though the leg joints are generally stiff enough to keep the main engines in place. GERWALK mode appears to work more out of happenstance than by design as the arms need to be angled at an awkward 45 degree angle to provide room for the hips. The lack of a rotation point below the knee and the fixed feet make the lower half of GERWALK very stiff. Battroid mode is limited in terms of articulation but otherwise solid for its day. The handling of the gun is awkward. It seems like the gun’s grip should have been thinner or the sliding mechanisms in the arms wider so that the gun could have simply been stowed by sliding the grip into the forearm cavity. In fighter mode this would have been off center but still better than nothing. Instead we’re given a separate part for stowing the gun on the forearm in battroid mode and no ability to stow the gun in fighter. There is no opening canopy, no pilot figure (fixed or otherwise), no optional hands, no wing flaps, no airbrake, or any other exciting engineering bonuses. The gun does fire its projectiles, quite well, but the little black plastic bullets are hard to find so they probably weren’t used very often. The super/strike parts included with the gift-sets seem like after thoughts but they work well. For the most part super parts are just hollow plastic shells placed over the existing toy; they don’t add much mass and they also lack any engineering bonuses like removable panels. The leg armors and backpack attachment methods are very obvious and the newer generation of toys has made huge strides of improvement here. The benefit of treating these parts as pop on shells was that the Elintseeker can function perfectly well as a standard valkyrie whereas Yamato’s V1 toy left the VE-1 with the radar arm permanently affixed to the backpack. The VE-1 is also the only gift-set to include arm armors that attach using the slot that slides the fist forward rather than the little pegs that clasp the front and back of the forearm. The Bandai reissues in 2001 feature slightly different forearms so super parts made for toys manufactured prior to 2001 will not fit on the reissues.
Durability & Build: (9.5/10)
This score might seem a little on the high side because I imagine most of us remember eventually destroying our VF-1 toys. Every Jetfire I ever owned eventually had one or both arms fall off (there’s an internal plastic catch that eventually gets worn down with play). My Jetfires also eventually yellowed, which, looking back, probably says more about my ability to put my toys away than it does about the quality of the product I was playing with. Still, my Jetfires were ruined through YEARS of PLAY. This is in comparison to Yamato’s V2 VF-1 which had its arms break off after weeks of not even being touched because of a manufacturing issue it took Yamato SEVERAL production runs to correct. The toys of today are far more complicated though and so their lower durability in most cases (not the example cited above) is understandable. Common other issues to look for on the Takatoku and Bandai toys were:
1) Landing gears that no longer stay depressed in the legs
2) Landing gear doors that no longer stay up when the landing gear is depressed
3) Back plates that no longer have any resistance when tabbed into the toy’s front half in battroid (making the back come unhinged frequently when handling)
4) Loose wings and wear on the paint stripes on the wings. If the wings are loose they won’t stay firmly together in battroid mode.
5) Broken head lasers. A child in a rush to transform their toy could snap a head laser off while trying to force it.
6) Oxidized metal swing bars
7) Scratched paint (particularly on the legs of gift-sets where armor was applied to the legs at some point)
8) Yellowing. Even toys that have spent their whole lives in their box may yellow as many of these boxes feature very large plastic windows. This is particularly true of the snow white VT-1.
9) Broken plastic clips on the armors. The armors will still work with a few clips broken or damaged so it can sometimes be hard to tell. The design of these armors practically ensures that the clips will eventually break for someone who puts the armor on and takes it off frequently.
10) Broken tailfin assemblies. The tail fins reach their natural point by being pressed over a small plastic nub. Sometimes this pressure can lead to the assembly cracking over time which is why my VE-1 and VT-1 pictures show very erect tailfins… I didn’t want to risk anything.
11) Poorly applied stickers (by the factory). These toys feature lots of pre-applied stickers and it’s sometimes pretty obvious the factory worker was in a rush. The Bandai reissues don’t have this problem as they painted the details on.
12) Frankensteining (see my warning in the Collectability)
These toys also feel rock solid due to their beefy plastic and large metal content (primarily in the legs).
For the era articulation was very good and the toy’s articulation was not hindered if armor was applied. Knees and elbows offer 90 degree range of movement. The head pivots left and right and the head lasers can be angled up and down. The shoulders can rotate a full 360 degrees and the arm can extend outward from the shoulder parallel to the ground. The leg articulation forward is quite good while movement backward is limited by the wings. Later toys added ball joints to the head, shoulders, and hips, a swivel below the knee, articulated feet, hands, and wrists, and even waist swivels. As you might imagine, a Takatoku looks very stiff next to modern toys like the Yamato 1/60 V2 or Bandai DX or even Hi-Metal.
Total Score: (33/50) Bandai Reissues and 1990 Re-Tool Giftset, (33.5/50) Takatoku standard releases, (35/50) Takatoku and Bandai DYRL Giftsets
By today’s standards there are plenty of better toys out there but people don’t buy this toy anymore because it’s the best. These toys are collector’s items and it looks like the threat of further Bandai reissues has passed so the secondary market price of the originals has probably bottomed out and may start ticking up again. With so many superior choices out there though it seems a safe bet these will never get as outlandishly priced as they were during the days of the dot-com bubble.
Note: This Mega Review replaced the following separate reviews:
1) Takatoku 1/55 VF-1 Toys originally posted on August 28, 2006 with updates in February and September 2008
2) Takatoku 1/55 Super VF-1S originally posted on July 29, 2006 with an update in January 2008
3) Bandai 1/55 VE-1 Elintseeker originally posted September 2006 with an update in December 2007
4) Bandai 1/55 VT-1 SuperOstrich originally posted November 2006 with an update in December 2009
5) Bandai 1/55 VF-1S 1990 Re-tool originally posted June 10, 2006 with an update December 2007
6) Bandai 1/55 VF-1 Reissues (2001/2002) originally posted September 8, 2008