Points of Articulation
In Defense of Reviewing
I have a confession to make. I think we here at OAFEnet write the best damn toy reviews you'll find anywhere. There's no one else out there who even comes close. People who think big photos are more important than good photos, and can't give any info about the toys that you wouldn't be able to get by looking at them in the package. But just because I don't think anyone's up to our standards, that doesn't mean I'll stand by and let another reviewer's work get ripped apart for something it doesn't deserve.
Last month, the head of a mid-tier toy company wrote an editorial on a fairly well-known toy site, in which he complained about online reviewers, under the guise of "defending this newest toy world of TRON [sic]." It's clear who he was referring to, since we haven't reviewed any of Spin Master's new Tron Legacy figures, and there's really only one other review site besides us. But since he neither named the site nor the specific reviewer, we'll extend him the same courtesy of pretend anonymity.
The editorial began with some very good points. The company head said that he wasn't very excited about many toys these days, because it was all just the same licenses with the same molds. And he's not wrong: Hasbro's been making the same Star Wars toys, more or less, for the past 15 years; I already have 10 Darth Vaders, do I really need another? Mattel hires some of the best sculptors in the world today, then makes them do the cheapest repaints possible, so we can't even get excited about seeing their new work. Those are some real, undeniable issues with the industry (unavoidable as they may be).
However, he then goes on to talk about a toy that does have him excited. Given what he's said before, you'd expect it to be some cool indie thing, like Glyos, right? Or maybe something with a unique sculpt, like the Four Horsemen's solo work? No, it's Tron. The ultimate in pointless retro lines. Tron Legacy trades on nothing but people's misplaced fondness for a movie that wasn't very good in its own day, let alone now. "Oh yeah, lightcycles, I remember that! That movie was cool!" No, no it wasn't. Tron was never cool. It was a movie about computers at a time when computers were exclusively the province of nerds, so now nerds have some half-baked vestigial memory of it being a movie that somehow "belongs" to us, that it's our job to care. That movie was crap, and the sequel is counting on you not remembering how much it sucked. It's the cinematic equivalent of MotU Classics, the very type of toyline he was just complaining about.
So why is it Tron that the writer has latched onto? Why not, say, James Cameron's Avatar, a movie that was both original and had a toyline that was all new sculpting? As far as I can tell, it's the action features. He really seems to love the little light-up faces on the big Tron toys. He calls them "just about the coolest action figures I've ever seen," which to me only suggests that he hasn't seen many action figures. He's in love with a gimmick, not a toy. He then goes on to verbally felate what is, at best, a mediocre toyline. At least he admits it's because he had the original toys in 1982.
The problem is, his entire reasoning for why the new toys are so great? Because they're better than the ones from 1982. Wow, really? Well no shit they are! It's been 28 years, they'd damn well better be. But you know what? The 2010 toys aren't competing with the 1982 toys, they're competing with other 2010 toys. I don't care how much these Tron toys are better than those Tron toys, because it doesn't matter. Masterpiece Optimus Prime isn't a great toy because it's better than the original Optimus Prime, it's a great toy because it's a great damn toy. It was better than every other Transformer released anywhere near it. Other than the face gimmick, the Tron Legacy toys are barely better than movie toys from the mid-90s. He's not judging the toys based on what they are, but on what he would have thought of them as a child. Yes, in 1982, these would have been the best action figures anyone had ever seen, but in 2010, they're oversized, overpriced, and under-detailed. He goes on to say he's glad there were no "ridiculous" action features that are "useless" and "ruin all the good work." Uh, you just got done praising those stupid action features, guy.
One of his rebuttals to the review was hollow incredulity. "Ten points of articulation, accessories, a talking feature and holographic face at around a $16.00 price point isn't value enough???" No, it's not! A better question is "why do you think it is?" Ten points of articulation on an 8" figure? That's a joke. That's a minimum, not something to be proud of. Gimmicky electronics don't make up for minimal movement, and until you can sculpt as well as NECA or Mezco, fans aren't going to forgive that kind of corner-cutting.
Anyway, he gets hyper-defensive about the review, wondering when we, as a community, started reviewing action figures "with such vigor, with categories like Packaging and Paint specifically taken to task." Well, I started in 1998, long before you even founded your company, guy. Is that the answer you're looking for? He reacts like this is some weird thing that just started happening recently. OAFEnet itself is eight years old - again, that makes us three years older than you.
Yes, modern toy fans have modern standards. The soft, undetailed sculpts and the minimal articulation on his beloved Tron Legacy figures isn't up to the 2010 standard. The packaging is decent, but it lacks the visual flair the movie trailers have displayed. Those are honest criticisms of valid issues, but the writer seems to have taken it as some huge slap in the face.
What's supremely insulting, though, is this sentence: "[the criticisms are] all written by someone that clearly doesn't have an understanding or appreciation for the effort it takes to bring something like this to market." Bull-fucking-shit, sir! Those are the words of an idiot. For years, whenever some pinhead has disagreed with a critic's negative review - film critic, music critic, theatre critic, book critic, food critic, it doesn't matter what kind of critic it was - their excuse has been "oh, he's just wishes he were a (whatever) and is jealous of other people's success." Roger Ebert doesn't like that movie you loved (or heck, that movie you made)? Oh, well, he's just a frustrated wannabe. Yeah, that seems logical. It couldn't possibly be that he has a firm understanding of film and a good eye for what makes one good or bad.
Until this author's piece, no one had ever made that comparison about us toy reviewers. No one thinks we're reviewing toys because we wish we could sculpt. That would be stupid. But that's the argument he's making in his editorial.
You think I don't know what goes into the making of a toy? You think I don't understand negotiating a license? Or planning a lineup? You think I don't understand what it takes to find and hire a sculptor who can meet your deadlines and your budget, and still do work you're willing to put your name on (not theirs, just yours)? You think I don't understand graphic design for the packaging, needing at once to brand both the line and your company? You think I don't know how much tooling the steel molds costs, or how long production takes, or how frustrating it is when your spot on the line gets bumped because the factory wants to whip out a big run of McDonald's Happy Meal toys and make more money than you can pay them? You think I don't know that it takes a boat three weeks to get from Hong Kong to New York, and that if you don't get your stuff on the boats before Chinese New Year, you've got to add another two weeks? You think I don't know any of that? And what's more, you think any other reviewer doesn't know it, too? In the '80s you may have thought toys just magically appeared on the pegs at your local store, but in 2010 toy fans bother to learn about the industry they love.
There are two ways to look at the toymaker's short-sighted comments: either it's a new low for our hobby, because no one in any facet of the industry has ever said anything so insulting, childish and just plain wrong; or it's a new high point for toy reviewers, because for the first time, we're big enough to have ignorant haters just like everyone else.
He wraps up by bemoaning that we're all taking this way too seriously, that reviewers are "picking on the guys who get it right." Dude, just because you like a toy, it doesn't mean it's done well. Being willing to forgive flaws is different than not finding any. It's not wrong, just different. You like crappy old toys; we get that. Your company is known for buying licenses people would love to get action figures of, then doing nothing with them. You make bobbleheads and dolls, but not the action figures we're actually waiting for. You've been around for five years, and we've only got one review of your output on our site (and that one only because Rustin is a total sucker for the property, not because the toys were particularly appealing).
So here we have the head of an actual toy company insulting the work of a reviewer just because he didn't agree with the review - and the stupidest thing is it was a positive review! He's gotten facts (how many joints a figure has, how it compares to the prototype) confused with opinions (whether or not those things are good), and is mad because the reviewer dared to point out the shortcomings of a figure he liked. And in doing so, he insulted us all.