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Fantasy Mutants

by Rustin Parr

I travel a lot for work and as a result I do my best to hit up the local toy fare. There are, of course, the standard "Big Box" stores that can be relied upon for most mass-market needs, but frequently it's the smaller chains and mom 'n' pop places that provide the most excitement and fun for a weathered hunstman, such as my lonesome. And indeed it was on a recent trip to Chicago that I stumbled upon a trendy, upscale toy store (hoping for [but finding no] Playmobil) that I came across these stunning works of - dare I say - art!

Europe has a strong tradition in figural toys, and as I type, my mind touches upon the interesting socio-delineations that could be drawn from Europe's "static" figures and America's "action" figures. Surely both cultures offer both kinds of toy, but the popularity is swayed oppositely betwixt the two continents (or at least I am led to believe, based purely upon my Ameri-centric assumptions resultant from the Euro Toy Imports I am exposed to). There are several companies that specialize in "authentic" miniature reproductions of (chiefly) animals, dinosaurs, knights, and pirates - all pre-posed and ready for dioramas and non-articulated play. King among these companies is Schliech, whose products can be found in Target, Toys Я Us and many smaller stores. Next most common is Safari Ltd., which can be found at Michael's and most museums, as well as small/independent stores. And now, a new player has entered my awareness - Papo. As I perused the selection of Knights, Romans, Pirates, Dinosaurs and the like I came across four figures too awesome to be ignored - the so-called "Fantasy Mutants."

There are four "creatures" in this subline: Lion, Tiger, Rhino and Crocodile. Each is posed ready for battle in mixed and half-armor giving a gladiatorial feel. All are surprisingly well detailed - in both sculpt and paint. Of course there was the usual minor imperfections that had me going back and forth between individuals for awhile, but overall the biggest struggle was selecting a tiger with a dark enough orange to match my expectations of what a tiger's coat would look like. That is rather shocking, considering how miniscule some of the applications were - eyes, pupils, highlights and details on most figures were all near-perfect!

Needless to say, when it comes to articulation, there is none. And likewise there are no accessories, at least in the traditional sense. Each beast comes armed with two weapons: a sword and an axe, generally. Each weapon is an independent piece and can be moved, turned and adjusted within its position, though I have found they're not really removable (or interchangeable as a result) but it's not a problem as everything works so well where it is (though it would be fun to be able to swap the Rhino between axe and sword). In fact, its this overall quality of design that makes these figures succeed where so many these days fail; other than the ubiquitous requests for more articulation, I don't look at these guys and see a list of improvements that could be made. Everything just works, and it works well together, all adding up to a sum-of-the-whole that is original, cool, and captivating. A huge contributing factor to this is the intensely detailed sculpts, which are far beyond most things done at this scale.

Most import PVC figures are well sculpted, but don't really hold up, especially the figural ones, to modern action figure sculpting. Even Papo's other figures are good, but not great. As so many companies, both big and small, are proving nowadays, this is a tricky size to maintain sculptural detail, but the undoubtedly handmade-in-a-first-world-country nature of these figures allows for a higher degree of perfection. Proportional/ anatomical/ details are all spot-on to what feels "real" for these characters, and indeed favor they realism over fantasy. The cats are lean rather than bulky and the Rhino and Croc are thick in all the right places (ladies, relax) and carry a real sense of weight. The armor has many great "fantastical" flourishes but also sports rivets and straps maintaining that sense of realism.

Combining armor, weapons and anthropromorphism, Papo is catering to the very core of what makes us boys obsess over these small plastic baubles. They are, of course, immediately reminiscent of the Four Horseman's Seventh Kingdom line, but where those are large and poseable, these are small and static. They are ultimately 3¾" tall and therefore in scale with the new industry standard. What they lack in articulation they more than make up for in sculpt, paint and design, but unfortunately you're going to have to pay for it. Not only are these imports, but they hyper-detail puts them in a different bracket than their brethren, and thus I paid $13 each. Very steep in today's economy, but after two days I couldn't get them out of my head and ended up going back to make purchase of what are now some of favorite pieces in the collection. These are even more impressive in person, so if you like what you see here you will most likely love them when, and if, you can find them.

-- 12/16/09

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