Kaiyodo/Toy Tribe's Assemble Borg are now finally available in the US. Click through as we take a look at the first from the series, Assemble Borg 001 - Mr Assemble.
Assemble Borg figures include two layers of packing: the outer box and the blister pack.
The outer box is certainly a nice addition and it does a great job of protecting the inner packaging. Unfortunately, though, this attention-to-detail and just general ''niceness'' disappears when you open the box to reveal the blister pack.
Unlike Microman figures, where the packs are designed to be resealed, the only way to free your Assemble Borg is by pulling the blister from the card, which destroys the packaging. Given how heavily influenced Kaiyodo and Toy Tribe have been by Takara's toys, I'd have hoped to see them pick-up on that and use packaging that could be opened without damaging it. It's a shame, as the outer box shows some thought went into the packaging's design, but it's let-down by the decision to glue the blister pack to the card.
As for the packaging itself, it's fine for what it is - barring the problem of it not being resealable.
Imagine a hybrid of Microman and Henshin Cyborg (especially in this case, Android A) and you'll be pretty close to Mr Assemble. That's not to say he doesn't have a few tricks up his sleeve but it's a sleeve he definitely wears his influences upon.
But before we get to that, let's start with the joint system. The Assemble Borg figures use the Revoltech system, a series of rotator pegs of varying sizes that can be used to both rotate and bend and allows for some very flexible posing of figures that use this system. Mr Assemble's wrists, for example, rotate within the arm cuff (or hand port) and may be bent using the joint in the Revoltech piece, much as a real wrist joint would work. It's an incredibly flexible system and - as you can see from the images - allows for some very dynamic posing.
However, it's not without its faults, the biggest of which is that the pegs can sometimes take a lot of pressure to drive home into the holes they're designed to fit. As they're very small and they bend, swapping hands or other pieces requires that horrible combination of finesse and brute force. Even when they are in place, posing the toy is an exercise in mild panic, as it does feel as if it would be very easy to force the joint the wrong way and snap it. That's not to say the whole thing feels cheap - far from it - it's simply delicate and requires a gentle, patient touch so be very careful when you first start posing your Assemble Borg.
This brings us to the second issue I have with Mr Assemble - it's very difficult to get him to stand on his own. If you look through the Image Gallery you'll see a number of poses where he's propped-up against the outer packaging. This was the only way I could get him to stand without falling (or leaning on a weapon.) Given the attention to detail normally associated with Japanese toys, I'd have expected him to ship with a stand. But no, if you want to pose him you'll need to either have him crouching or lean him against something. I don't understand how something so obvious could be overlooked, given the figure is packed with extras (see below.)
However, when you can get him to remain upright, you'll be - as I was - very impressed with the poseability of this toy. The Revoltech joint system - although it may feel a little femmer in my big, chunky hands - is incredibly flexible and offers a wide range of posing options. This is definitely where the figure scores well and it's definitely the high point of the toy. With so much flexibility it's possible to convey a wide range of expressions and the toy just looks so dynamic.
Visually, the toy is clearly a homage to Henshin Cyborg (and to a lesser extent, Microman), standing at 6'' tall (so he's somewhere between Takara's two classic lines.) The chest piece reminds me of Shonen Cyborg and the ''cyber-boots'' pieces are highly reminiscent of the Denys Fisher Android's Kryptonator Legs (which I assume were also part of the Henshin Cyborg line but released under a different name.) Mr Assemble's black and silver colouring is also highly reminiscent of Android/Android A and - when you don't think it can get any more Henshin Cyborgish, his head can be removed to reveal a robot-brain beneath.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising Toy Tribe for employing these designs or being so heavily influenced by Takara's classic line. It's actually one of the things I like about the toys, especially given that Takara themselves no longer produce Henshin Cyborg and his absence has left a large gap in the market, one I see Kaiyodo and Toy Tribe trying to fill.
(Incidentally, Jarkanoid XO, one of the villains from the line is cast in a shade of purple that's near-identical to King Walder, so the Henshin Cyborg vibe is set to continue when Wave 2 hits later this year.)
As for the sculpt, it's highly stylised. Mr Assemble is ultra-sleek, almost angular at times and this lends him a very fluid, dynamic look. His face is almost featureless, an impressionistic reduction of the human face to eyes, cheekbones and nose. Unfortunately it's a little too small for my liking but it almost works with the dynamism of the design.
Mr Assemble's core body has no paint applied to it - he's cast in solid black, chrome and various metallic greys. The only core piece with paint applied is the head, which has an airbrushed silver effect around the eyes and cheek-plates. At least I think it has. It's very difficult to tell, because if it is there, it's applied incredibly well and I'm still trying to decide if it's cast in differently-coloured pieces or painted. His ''cyber-boots'' have black detailing applied to the grooves and joints and this works well, being - again - very well-applied, with nice, clean lines and no smudges.
Mr Assemble comes packed with an array of extras. Taking another cue from Takara, the figure includes a number of pop-in/pop-out hands, with two fists, two ''weapon hands'' and a set of one pointing, one splayed hands for less violent poses. The pack also contains a full set of spare Revoltech joints (just in case you do accidentally bend one too hard) and a set of weapons (that list in full: a sword, a knife, a pistol, a rifle and two SMGs.)
Perhaps coolest of all though are the ''cyber-boots'' accessories. Consisting of a foot and lower-leg piece each, these pieces replace Mr Assemble's regular lower-legs with some cool-looking cybernetics. Unfortunately though, they're not without their problems. For one, you have to assemble the pieces yourself. Granted that just requires finding the appropriate-sized Revoltech joint and popping it into the foot then combining those parts with the lower-leg. However, it's a little fiddly, due to the way the Revoltech joint must be angled to slot into the foot. Maybe it's Kaiyodo's way of teaching us how the joints work, but it is initially a little off-putting.
The box also contains a small plastic storage case, into which you can (just) fit the spare Revoltech joints and hands when not in use. The weapons, however, have no such storage facility but the pack tray is molded to hold them, so you can always just hang onto the packaging.
The biggest problem with the extras, though, is - as stated - the lack of a stand. I simply cannot understand why there's no base to support the figure and I think it's a massive oversight not to include one, especially as Mr Assemble's feet include holes for stand pegs.
Mr Assemble has a lot going for him, but he's not without his problems. I'll get them out of the way first and then move onto the stuff I do like, because that's what you need to take away from this review.
For a toy from a Japanese company, there's a bewildering lack of attention-to-detail here. The outer box is a perfectly-produced, good-looking piece of packaging that makes a great first impression, but then the inner box must be destroyed to get the figure out. Mr Assemble is incredibly poseable and clearly designed to be displayed, yet Kaiyodo didn't include a stand to help maximise his shelf-appeal. The Revoltech joints get their own case but there's nowhere to store his weapons. His hands include a mis-matched set, where his right hand is pointing and his left hand is splayed, with no matching counterparts, thus limiting his expressions. It's odd to see such ill though-out features in a figure that's intended to be a collectable toy.
The Revoltech joint system is also its own worst enemy. Obviously to accept such a high level of poseability you also have to accept that this is not a plaything or a toy to give to a child. The joints themselves work incredibly well and it's great to be able to convey human-level poses and dynamism in a 6'' toy, but you're always aware of how weak they feel when swapping them out or even bending them.
There's only one other real issue with Mr Assemble and that's the price. This figure is $29.99 from Kaiyodo's official retailer, with individual traders selling them for in excess of $50. He's not worth $50 and even the $29.99 mark is too steep. I understand it's a limited-market, (sort of) high-end toy and they're from a smaller manufacturer. But the price-point is just too high and I'll need to think long and hard about buying my next one.
Now onto the good stuff.
The Revoltech joint system is superbly designed (just so long as you're respectful of it) and it allows for some great, dynamic poses. I can see why it's being used so widely in a variety of figures. Kaiyodo's approach is clearly similar to that employed by Takara with the Micro Action Series - using their base figures (or in this case, joint system) to create licensed toys - and I certainly hope it's a success for them.
The visual design of Mr Assemble is excellent - he looks great and has enough of the Henshin Cyborg/Microman about him to make fans of the series smile. That's not to say he's not a good figure in his own right - he is - but it's clear that Toy Tribe were trying to design both a homage and successor to Takara's toys and they've come pretty close to doing so.