Friday, September 23, 2016

Format Shift

Welcome to 2016…even though we’re already closing in on 2017! Pretty much par for the course around here. But then again, y’all probably know by now that the less I post on my blog, the more stuff that’s going on behind the scenes. ;) And that’s a pretty accurate assessment. I’ve got some pretty fun stuff coming real soon as I promised in my last post wrapping up 2015…and I finally get to tell you about it in the coming weeks! But first, a couple quick pics from this past August’s East Coast Chogokin Summit

2016 has been great for me so far, as a collector and as a maker. The 3D-printing homies, Ben, David, and PJ, have been killing it throughout the year, and in this game, I couldn’t ask for better P.N.C.’s. And while the designer vinyl scene has taken a bit of a step backwards*, appreciation of cheap toys continues to thrive. When it comes to the resin/rubber-slinging arena, I haven’t thrown down for too many custom keshi as of late, but I’d love to do another collaboration with the Eric Nilla’s and the Zectron’s of the world. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, big up to my homie, Marcus of Onell Design, for his successful launch of his new vending machine line, Bit Figs!

* PLEASE, no more of the two-headed monsters, the rocky-textured horror/poop monsters, the eyeball/gorilla/cyclops/cat themes, the innumerable generic cutesy minis, the Garbage Pail Kids/Madballs/Ooze-It rip-offs, the pachi drawing adaptations, the bootlegs of bootlegs, etc…

Okay, let’s dive right into today's main topic. I wanna talk about a big decision that’s bound to ruffle a few feathers. There’s a pretty major format shift on the horizon for the MicroClone line. See, at the end of last year, I had talked about doing another big wave of MicroClones consisting of the standard figures, the augmented troops I teased about earlier, and the Mk II Powered Bio Suits. Lots of folks have asked me over the months when this release was coming…and at this point, the answer is likely never. That doesn’t mean that these toys won’t be available ever again—so don’t trip! But I felt bad being forced to tell everyone that other projects/collabs had priority. The real nail in the coffin, however, came with some pretty…shocking…mainstream Micro/Takara SF Land (Henshin Cyborg, Microman, Diaclone, etc.) releases that few people—myself included—saw coming.

First, US-based Hasbro and IDW Publishing have brought back the Micronauts! If you’re reading this blog, then you very likely know how EPIC this news is. In fact, the return of the Micronauts—not to mention the return of Rom to the comic book landscape—is part of IDW’s Revolution initiative. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Hasbro is developing a shared fictional universe consisting of some of their most popular toy properties of the 80’s, including GI Joe, Transformers, M.A.S.K., Action Man, and the aforementioned Rom and Micronauts.


This is a real thing.

And if you didn’t know about it before reading this, I sincerely hope I’ve given you at least a mild heart attack. A shared cinematic universe—akin to what Marvel Studios is doing with the MCU and Warner Bros is doing with the DCEU—is being developed, but it all begins with the foundation laid down in these comics published by IDW. And to kick off the hype, Hasbro released a set of four new Micronauts figures at this past SDCC, featuring brand new box art by the legendary Ken Kelly. Expect this story to continue to accelerate in the coming year…

And second, TakaraTomy, original Japanese producers of the Microman and Diaclone toy lines, have released the DA-01 Dia-Battles V2, the first in a new line of high-end “reboots” of the original Diaclone line. On one hand, the sheer audacity and utter absurdity that TT would resurrect such an obscure, failed toy line of the 80’s—cult following notwithstanding—is already mind-blowing. I mean, seriously. I’m part of that “cult”...and my head is STILL spinning from this news. *But then*…you go and add the fact that this new Dia-Battles toy might be one of the greatest Japanese robot toys ever conceived…and it’s game over, man. And I ain’t fronting: this toy, my friends, will leave you speechless. I’m pretty sure in all my years in the toy hobby, I’ve never handled such a brilliantly-engineered and flawlessly-QC’ed adult collectible. And again, NOBODY saw it coming. Besides their nice MP Transformers line and the mainstream Hasbro Transformers line, TakaraTomy had been pretty quiet on their “hobby” (vintage-themed) front for years. When the return of Diaclone—really a sequel more than a reboot—was announced last year, I was floored. But there it was: a completely re-engineered Dia Battles toy that sets a whole new standard for complex modularity and play value. I can’t say enough about this toy. And given the popularity of this initial release, TT has already announced Big Powered GV and updated Powered Suits (yes, the beloved ancestors of my Powered Bio Suits!).

So what does this all mean for the future of the MicroClone line?

Well, there are suddenly a number of new and exciting releases competing for Takara SF Land fans’ dollars (or yen). See, when I first developed the Powered Bio Suit and later MicroClone figures, my intent was to serve a community I was part of that didn’t really have any new content/product being generated for it. Microman and Micronauts fans certainly had vintage toys to keep them busy, but there just wasn’t anything new on the horizon. These toys were my small way of helping revitalize the fandom…and to push my engineering and 3D-printing skills, of course!

But now that Micronauts/Takara SF Land fans have multiple comic books to look forward to on a monthly basis, new Micronauts toys undoubtedly being developed, and an ultra-high-end line of Diaclone reboots to smash their wallets, where does my high-priced bootleg (read: homage!) toy line fit in??? Even without my toys being a part of the conversation, I’ve heard plenty of grumbling about how there’s all this new legit/mainstream stuff to pick up. I wouldn’t quite call it “overload”, given how diverse all this new content is, but it’s still a financial strain for those who want to stay up-to-date with these franchises.

So here’s what I propose: rather than doing formal releases, where I kill myself making a huge stockpile of toys to put on sale at a particular date and time, I am going to produce them to-order, on a commission basis. Essentially, everything will be a “custom”—meaning colors can be selected, rather than forcing folks to buy into the colors I’ve already manufactured. Every now and then, I’ll post images on social media reminding folks that these toys exist and are available for custom-ordering…but my day-to-day focus will remain on my Shogun Voyager toy line and the various collaborations I have in the works.

I think that’ll be the best for everyone. The hardcore fans out there (you know who you are! THANK YOU ALWAYS!!) will be able to order the figures they want—in the color schemes they want—and I won’t have to drop everything I’m doing to spend several weeks cranking out toys en masse. I know this will annoy some casual fans who are accustomed to easily-accessible products that they can click-and-buy instantly. I get it—I hate having to jump through hoops myself. But I think this is the right move for me. Plus, I like the idea of a “sale” actually being a conversation. I don’t like being a vendor who has customers. I look at everyone else in the hobby as my peer, a fellow fan. And to work with someone to make the “perfect” toy for them in the exact color scheme they’re looking for will be a breath of fresh air!

And onto a lesser-known aspect of my Takara SF Land homage series: the Powered Suit Fake Type! Yeah, remember those? LOL

Okay, so it’s been an eternity since I’ve even brought up these all-Shapeways-produced minifigs. For those who may not know, I designed these toys when I first got into the 3D printing game (and before I had my own FFF printer!). There are a few reasons why I’ve sorta abandoned these lil guys. First, they’re damn expensive. That’s just the nature of Shapeways—it’s an online service that has access to some pretty exotic 3D printing materials and technologies. If it weren’t for those high-resolution processes, I never would’ve been able to make these Diaclone-scaled suits on my own. But on top of cost, if you wanted the steel “DX” version suit, you’d have to purchase separately the exact magnets used to articulate the shoulders. Who wants to do that?? And lastly, Shapeways is unfortunately infamous for screwing up orders involving complex assemblies of components produced in different materials. :/ There have been a number of reports from folks I know saying that they ordered, for example, a Type A suit, but it came with Type B fists…or some ridiculous thing like that. That’s unacceptable.

So my solution here is that I will be offering these figures for sale *myself*. The idea is that when someone contacts me to buy a Fake Type suit, I’ll order the parts myself to make sure there are no Shapeways shenanigans. I’ll then assemble the figure (adding magnets where needed), and ship the completed item to the customer. I’ll likely leave the components in my public Shapeways store, but I’ll continue to urge people to contact me directly if they want to order a suit.

And y’know, I’ve considered abandoning the Fake Type suits altogether, given the cost and annoyance involved in dealing with Shapeways…but here's a pretty compelling argument that pushes me to keep hope alive for these shorties:

Yowza! (that closing price—for the most common Powered Suit type and color—is $405USD, in case it's hard to read)

Okay guys, that’s it for now on the Takara SF Land front. Please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts on this shift in format. Meanwhile, in the coming weeks, I’ll be (finally!) revealing the future of the Shogun Voyager line. And, oh, it’s a BRIGHT future. ;) Also, I’ve got a wild collaboration in the works with a big name and local homie of mine…that’s of a more barbaric nature. As always, stay tuned, my people!