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Roboto

Masters of the Universe
by yo go re

Anybody know how to say "thank you" in Japanese?

A gaming robot created by Man-at-Arms as a worthy Eternian chess opponent for Man-E-Faces. In a bid to help the Masters of the Universe in battle, he rebuilds himself in Man-at-Arms' workshop, transforming himself into a warrior robot.

In the original '80s mini-comics Roboto was just a war machine that Man-At-Arms built, but in the cartoon he came from an entire planet of robot men. That's just silly. The 2002 cartoon reinvented him as described in the bio above. You do have to wonder why Duncan was wasting time building a chess-playing robot in the first place: the kingdom is in the midst of a planetwide war against the forces of evil, and he's the only armorer on staff; how many battles were lost while he was dicking around with this clockwork Playstation?

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike the way Mattel handles the Masters of the Universe Classics, whether it's the way they hold fans hostage via subscription, their constant pleading of poverty, the terrible character choices, the overpriced shipping that takes two weeks and five stops, or even just the fact that the toys are the wrong damn size. But the main flaw I find with it is that it's just not creative.

Look at Classics Roboto: it's just an update of the 1985 toy. There was no challenge for the Four Horsemen, no chance to let them show off their skills. In cinematic terms, it's like casting the world's greatest improvisational comedian in your movie, only to have him recite poetry by rote.

By contrast, look at Mo2K Roboto: in broad strokes, the details are all the same, but then we go further. He still has technological sculpting on the outsides of his arms, but it's much more detailed and crisp. Plus, the arms those details are on don't look organic - they're blocky even by the stylized standards of the Mo2K line, making it clear that this is a mechanical construct. There are pieces sculpted to look like pistons that would drive his articulation, and the soles of his feet have a ridiculous level of detail, with three little turbines tucked in among all the tech bits. It's very cool. In the '80s, Roboto's legs were the same mold used for Trap-Jaw and Man-E-Faces; the three '00s toys used the same basic shapes, but were each exaggerated in different ways so that they look unique. It's that kind of design work that you don't get with the Classics, with its heavily reused parts.

The sculpt may be terrific, but the articulation is lacking. Roboto is sculpted to look like he has more joints than he actually does. He has swivels at the neck and waist, and swivel/hinge joints for the shoulders and hips. Certainly the left wrist is meant to be a swivel as well, but it doesn't want to move, and I don't want to force it. Beyond that, the sculpt suggests working elbows, knees and ankles, but that's just an illusion. If you remove his chestplate, you'll see that his actual torso is transparent and there are gears inside, just like on the vintage figure. The gears turn as you move the figure's waist, causing his jaw (and his heart) to move up and down.

Back in the day, the legs weren't the only thing Roboto got from Trap-Jaw: he also got the "three interchangeable weapon-hands" gimmick. For his update, however, we only get two - there's no axe, just a claw and a blaster. Given the track record these toys had for accessories mysteriously disappearing, you have to wonder if perhaps the axe or even a "plain" hand were intended at one point. The blaster updates the shape of the old accessory very well, and the gun barrels launch out at the touch of a button. While the gun can plug onto Roboto's back when not in use, the claw can't. That seems like an oversight.

I couldn't get Roboto when these toys were in stores, thanks to Mattel's legendary mis-management of the brand, and now the prices for him are kind of through the roof. I happened upon one that wasn't too outrageous, and I'm glad I did. This isn't the best Mo2K figure, but it's unquestionably better than the Classics version.

-- 02/04/13


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