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Gipsy Danger

Pacific Rim
by Poe Ghostal

I have high hopes for Pacific Rim. Something about the project feels like we could be witnessing the creation of a new geek franchise, like all those birthed in the 1980s: Alien, Terminator, Robocop, Predator, Ghostbusters, and so on. Even if it wasn't the #1 movie opening weekend, it could prove to be an influential cult hit a la Blade Runner.

(The title is definitely weak. "Pacific Rim" evokes absolutely nothing in your average person except perhaps a vague recollection of high school geology. If one knows anything about the plot, "Pacific Rift" would have made more sense and evoked more of a sense of science fiction and conflict. I'm not saying that's the name I would have gone with had I been in charge - it's just a quick pitch off the top of my head, and I still think it's better than Pacific Rim.)

And you just know this movie has to bug at least some Japanese fans. They created the giant robot genre with Tetsujin 28-go and Mazinger Z, and successfully combined it with their already-popular "daikaiju" (giant monster) genre. There were few things as awesome to young Poe as Mechagodzilla, but of course Mechagodzilla had predecessors such as Giant Robo and even Ultraman (who, let's face it, looks like a robot, even if he's technically living being). But Japan's film business has never been able to throw as much money at their live-action movies as the United States, and so it falls to Guillermo Del Toro, director of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, to create the giant robots vs. giant monsters blockbuster fans on both sides of the actual Pacific Rim have been waiting for.

The giant robots are called "Jaegers" (YAY-gers) in the film. Jaeger is the German word for "hunter," and also the name of a North American seabird. (Frat boys may also associate it with a certain digestif.) Each Jaeger has a unique two-word callsign. America's robot is called Gipsy Danger and yes, that spelling is correct. Using the "i" instead of a "y" is a British spelling variant, which for some reason was used for an American robot. I'm pedantic enough that it annoys me a little, but in the movie the director of the Jaeger program is British, so maybe that's why.

NECA has secured the action figure rights for Pacific Rim, and they're starting out with three 7" figures - Gipsy Danger, another Jaeger called Crimson Typhoon, and a kaiju called Knifehead. The second series (due in September) will include a battle-damaged Gipsy Danger with extra weapons, a Jaeger called Striker Eureka, and an ape-like kaiju called Leatherback. There will also be an 18" Gipsy Danger with light-up features and a weapon accessory.

The figure comes in NECA's usual clamshell packaging. The cross-sell graphics on the back are of the figures themselves, which is a bit disappointing these days - it's better to get pics from the movie, or maybe some art. Fortunately, the front insert features concept art of Gipsy Danger from the film.

Gipsy Danger looks a lot like a football player - in fact, she (Jaegers are referred to by the female pronoun in the convention of naval officers referring to their ships or submarines) has a strong resemblance to the original Fox Sports Robot, right down to the shoulder pads. Her color scheme came from the Vought F4U Corsair fighter plane, while the robot's face was inspired by a glowering photo of UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre.

Gipsy Danger is the least interesting Jaeger design, but that may be intentional. With her all-American football player looks and strongly humanoid structure, Gipsy Danger is the "everyman" of the Jaegers. She's generic-looking so that it's easier for the viewer to identify with her.

The sculpt is a mixed bag. According to Randy Falk, the Pacific Rim figures were created by "digital outputs supplied to us through Legendary and ILM - then we articulated by hand and cleaned up and refined some details." But the sculpt is a bit soft and lacking in detail, and this is partly due to being designed from computer models.

It's a problem that also shows up when human heads are subjected to laser scanning for action figures: when you shrink something down in a perfect one-to-one ratio, many details become so tiny as to become invisible, leaving you with a bit of a simplistic, washed-out sculpt. There's a touch of that here, and it makes the figures look a bit more toy-ish than, say, an S.H.MonsterArts figure. By contrast, an action figure sculptor learns to exaggerate certain features in a way that if, for example, you enlarged a 6" figure's head to life size, it would look grotesque; but at the 6" scale it looks natural. (It's not dissimilar to the way that stage actors exaggerate their facial expressions so that the folks way back in the cheap seats can get a sense of their emotions.)

Since the early days of using computer scanning and models for toys, companies have learned to have human sculptors touch up sculpts for that reason, and Falk even mentions that. Nonetheless, Gipsy's sculpt still seems a bit bare.

However, I like the somewhat toylike feel of this figure. It's appealing in a way that brings me back to previous eras of toy collecting. Holding the figure may remind you a bit of McFarlane Toys' heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s - it feels a bit like the stuff from that experimental era when McFarlane made Nitro Riders, Techno Spawn and Interlink 6.

The paintwork on the "steel" parts, such as the inner hips and behind the knees, is good. It's silver with a black dry-brush that will remind you of the aforementioned Spawn figures, or perhaps some of N2 Toys' Matrix stuff.

Unfortunately, the rest of the paint work is just plain bad. I don't mind the blue used for the body, but the dry-brush work that's supposed to give the figure a "weathered" look is amateurish. The white and red detailing are applied in bright, thick, sloppy lines. We were seeing better paint work than this in the late 1990s. I seriously don't know what happened here - NECA is better than this.

Despite the bad paint, it's the articulation that seems to be the biggest point of contention for collectors. Many seem to have expected the kind of super-articulation NECA has been putting on their Aliens and Predators lately, while S.H.MonsterArts fans seem to want the same articulation they're used to on those figures - despite these toys costing a fraction of the price of those.

Gipsy Danger features a balljointed head, balljointed shoulders, hinged elbows, ball-and-socket wrists, a balljointed torso, balljointed hips, hinged knees, ball-and-socket ankles, and an odd hinge at the heel, which allows the heel to go up and backwards in a very non-anthropomorphic manner.

If I may digress a moment, there's this perception that we're obsessed with articulation and are always disappointed if the figure doesn't have a few dozen joints. There's a kernel of truth to that, but it's more accurate to say that there's a certain baseline of articulation we expect to see. Articulation for all limbs - it doesn't necessarily have to be balljoints (like Ash from Evil Dead II), but I want a good range of motion. For example, I was fine with the upper articulation on NECA's Terminator figures, but the lack of leg articulation was a huge disappointment.

Gipsy Danger features what the most desirable joints on an action figure: a balljointed head, balljointed shoulders and hips, and balljointed ankles. Yes, I would have liked a bit more articulation - swivels at the biceps and upper thighs, for example - but this is figure is hardly disappointing to me in the articulation department.

There are no accessories, and that's a shame: the original sculpt for this figure had open hands, and I think we can all agree it should have come with a cargo ship.

There's a part of the sculpt, just over the right hip on my figure, that's bent. I haven't been able to get it to straighten out. Aside from that, Gipsy Danger is quite durable. She's fallen from a six-foot bookshelf onto a laminated floor a few times and hasn't had a scratch.

Some collectors are clearly disappointed with these figures. I understand where the critics are coming from, though I was far more disappointed with the paint than the articulation. There's no denying Gipsy's an average figure at best, but I still like her. It's one of those figures I find myself pulling off the shelf and messing with frequently, rather than just posing it once and forgetting about it. It's not NECA's best work - the articulation is decent but limited, the paint is sub-par, and there are no accessories. It seems clear NECA is proceeding cautiously with this line, perhaps due to their experience with Prometheus, which proved to be a dud with fans and consequently pegwarmed in the toy aisles.

I suspect that won't be Pacific Rim's fate. Reviews are pretty good so far, and the figures were selling well even before the film came out. If the line continues to be popular, you can expect NECA to put more money and effort into future figures - perhaps even a new, better-made version of Gipsy Danger. I will be very bummed if this line ends before I get a Cherno Alpha.

Oh, and for the curious: Gipsy Danger doesn't really work alongside S.H.MonsterArts, as he's too tall at 7" (the S.H.MonsterArts figures top out around 6", and the monsters in that line are supposed to be about 100 meters tall, whereas Gipsy Danger is only about 80 meters). As it happens, the Knifehead figure actually does work with S.H.MonsterArts, as he's both a bit shorter than Gipsy Danger and is supposed to be 100 meters tall - which means Knifehead is very out-of-scale with Gipsy Danger, one of the entirely legitimate criticisms leveled at this line.

-- 07/20/13


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