I've been an avid collector of Microman for a number of years and have been able to amass a reasonable collection of these awesome figures. Although here at That Figures we tend to focus on newer releases, we'll also be adding reviews of older toys you may still be able to find online or - if you're lucky - in a few specialist stores.
Today I'm looking at Takara's 1999 reiussues of the 1976 Microman line, Spy Magician, specifically the M14X series.
Microman has a rich history and legacy, something you could dedicate an entire site to. That falls outside of the remit of this review (and blog!) but in order to fully understand the toys, it's worth dedicating a few minutes to a quick potted history...
Japanese toy manufacturer Takara began licensing GI Joe 12'' figures for their home territory in the early 1970s. Somebody came-up with the idea of using the basic casts to create a 12'' transparent sci-fi toy, which became known as Henshin (Transforming) Cyborg. Henshin Cyborg was a big hit, but he was also too large a toy to be cost effective - after all, vehicles for 12'' figures would be overly expensive to produce. A 9'' retool, Shonen (Teenage) Cyborg followed - which incidentally, was released in Europe as Cyborg, along with Muton (King Walder) and Android (Android A) - but was quickly superceded by an even smaller line of toys. These figures - launched in 1974 and preempting the Star Wars ''toy in your pocket'' philosophy - were the first Micromen.
The line was a massive success and was introduced to the Western audiences as the Micronaut. The toys continued to be produced in Japan up until the mid-80s, at which point the transforming robots of the line were snapped-up by Hasbro, repackaged and reborn as The Transformers.
Takara gave-up on the main Microman line for some years, but in 1999 they revisited the series and issued a number of replica figures. The toys I'm reviewing today are replicas of the 1974 Spy Magician range.
The Spy Magicians
The Spy Magicians were a group of characters trained in the arts of espionage and magic. Takara were always very quick to cash-in on the fads of the day and these toys are no exception. The figures come with their own wands and spy communicator bracelets, which can be then used to ''train'' other Micromen. It's a nice little touch and a neat accessory set.
Each figure comes in a resealable card box, complete with a clear plastic window to allow you to view the toy within. The replicas do a great job of presenting a real retro feel and being able to open the box without destroying it is a definite plus in my view. It's also interesting to note that Onell Design's Glyos Founders series use a similar style of packaging.
As you can see, the rear of the box shows both types of Spy Magician - the M14X and M15X types (the latter to the fore of the photograph) - and a smaller image toward the bottom shows all 8 Spy Magicians. I'm unable to translate the Japanese but it'll be an awesome story no-doubt, as the Microman packaging is always chock-full of cool little details like biographies and plotlines.
Each Microman has a special designation, as well as a name. The first two numbers - in this case 14 - show he's from the 14-line. The third number is his designation. So Microman M141 Henry is the first of the M14 wave.
Henry's colour-scheme is blue and white, with a red chest panel. According to the excellent Microman Forever, Henry is a ''Naval and military scientist, make weapon design for the benefit of information gathering activities.''
The colour-scheme is distinctive and nicely produced, with a good balance between the colours, all of which are fairly muted but attractive nevertheless.
I have to tell you straight off - I'm a sucker for transparent toys, so I'm sure with that in mind it'll be pretty easy to figure-out which of the Spy Magicians is my favourite.
Hudson's green plastic is amazing when it's seen in sunlight. My glass display case literally glows when the sun hits it, thanks to Hudson's presence. It's one of the things that make Micromen such attractive toys to collect - they simply look stunning when they're lit-up.
Hudson's biography is that he's ''Expert sociologist, gatherer of information and profile study of Acroyear'' (Microman's enemy.)
Holms is the Spy Magicians' doctor, described as ''Field medical expert, well acquainted with emergency procedures and poison sickness.''
I'm not a massive fan of his colour scheme, specifically the way he looks as if he's wearing spats! I think white feet would have worked much more effectively and given him a better overall look. See how Henry's feet look like boots? That's because they kept the same colour scheme for his shins and feet.
Howard is ''Teacher of infiltration methods. Expert in insertion and extraction of Microman Spy Magician probe teams.'' Yeah, I think that gains something in translation...
Again, Howard's boot/shin combo is mismatched, but his black and yellow colour-scheme is strong and looks good.
Spy Magician M14X
So now we've seen each of the figures individually, how do they hold-up as a whole?
The joints are tight, flexible and strong. What's amazing is that these toys predate Star Wars figures (with their whopping-great FIVE points of articulation) yet not only have elbow and knee joints but even poseable wrists and ankles. It's amazing how intricate Micromen are and just how poseable toys from the line can be.
I've sadly never owned an original Spy Magician, so I can't compare these replicas to the 1976 releases. However, what I can say is that they're very well made, with no joint problems and, despite their detail and finesse, they feel sturdy.
Each Spy Magician comes with his own colour-coordinated base (something Takara added for the reissue) and a sprue with two wands and bracelets. Apparently the originals came with three, but I'm assuming Takara's accountants discovered that cutting down to two of each would save an accumulated fortune.
Each also includes an L-connector, a small peg that fits into the Microman's back and can be used to connect him to vehicles and other accessories. Each is individually coloured to match the Spy Magician's colour-scheme.
The bracelets fit well - simply pop the Microman's hand off at the cuff, slip if on and then replace the hand. The wands are also well-shaped and fit into - and remain in - the (semi-rigid) hand without any problems. It's something Western toy companies could learn from: I have a number of toys with accessories they cannot hold (Hasbro's Punisher, I'm looking at you...)
If you've never posed a Microman, you'll be amazed at how flexible they are. I've been collecting for years but it was only during the photo shoot that I remembered just how poseable they can be. It's possible to convey emotion and dynamic action very easily, as the joints are flexible enough to allow the pose and strong enough to hold it.
The Spy Magicians are a fantastic piece of retro Japanese design. From the bonkers idea of magic spies to the flared-leg tooling, they're definitely of their time and country, yet there's also a wonderful charm about them.
Sadly Takara has shelved the line for the moment, which is a real shame. And as they're no longer produced, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find Micromen for sale or retailers who've heard of them, let alone stock them. They're also fetching crazy prices online. My advice is to shop around, do your research and double-check before you buy: you may find that $50 toy set elsewhere for $20. And if you do, snap them up, because they won't be around forever...