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by yo go re

When it comes to Masterpiece figures, Transformers get all the love. Optimus Prime has been released four times, already, Starscream was really popular with the fans, and Megatron is grabbing all the headlines now. But the robots in disguise aren't the only MP figures out there - heck, they're not even the best.

The fiendish King Zarkon of Planet Doom spreads terror throughout the universe, conquering planet after planet and enslaving its peoples. Only a single planet stood as a threat to Zarkon's reign - the tiny planet of Arus, which held a mighty secret: five fierce lion-robots that could combine into a great and powerful warrior: Voltron, the Defender of the Universe. Fearful of the power Voltron possesses, Zarkon and witch Haggar use dark sorcery to neutralize Voltron and hide away its five component parts in distant corners of the planet, allowing Zarkon's forces to run rampant over Arus, defeating its forces and deposing its rightful leader, King Alfor. Five years later, five brave space explorers arrive on Arus, ordered to search for the secret of Voltron, the galaxy's last hope against Zarkon's reign of terror. What will they find? Adventure beyond their wildest dreams, and a weapon that will allow them to return justice to countless worlds.

Masterpiece Voltron comes to us from Toynami, not Takara, so it's obviously not part of the same "Masterpiece" line as Optimus Prime - it just has the same name. And the same goal: create a high-end toy that painstakingly recaptures the look of a classic cartoon robot. Mission accomplished!

The packaging is really cool. It's a design that Toynami has previously used for its Robotech Masterpiece Edition figures - a big huge book. The front and back covers open to show off the figures, and the edge is designed to look like pages. The "book" is massive: 9½" wide, 12" tall and 6" deep. There's a certificate of authenticity inside the back cover. You know, in case you were afraid you picked up a bootleg Masterpiece Edition that still looked exactly like the real thing. The actual toys are stored in trays that slide up out of the book; reuseable packaging is always cool.

As per usual, the lions come in three different sizes: 2 and 3 are small, 4 and 5 are big, and 1 is... somewhere in the middle? That's new. In the old toys, 1 was always the monster figure. Here it's about 4" tall and 6" long, minus the tail. The lion has a noticably angular look , which helps it look like a standalone part, not just a torso-to-be. It's got 19 points of articulation. Nineteen! That includes balljointed shoulders and hips, and three joints in the neck alone.

The "leg" lions, 4 and 5, are truly massive. 8" long from snout to tail, they stand a little above 4¼" at the highest point. Their anatomy is distinctly different from their leader's - they look ready to pounce, with their hips held higher than their shoulders, and their noses low to the ground. They have 15 points of articulation apiece. Sadly, that doesn't include a waist, so these are the only kitties without one.

That's okay, though, because 2 and 3 make up for it. The runts of the Voltron litter have three joints each for their waists. Hot diggety! Pluss three joints in each leg, a balljointed head and moveable jaws. The little guys are only about 5" long and 2" tall, but those complex waists give them a lot of playability. If you want to have a tiny robot lion dragging its ass across the carpet, anyway.

The lions are a combination of plastic and die cast metal, but the distribution is really weird. For instance, the legs are all plstic, but they've been vac-metallized to make them look like metal. Why not just make them out of metal and save a step? The stuff's going to rub off in no time. It's basically the extremities that are plastic - limbs, tails, heads... you know. There's a slight color discrepency between the two materials, but not enough to take away from the figure.

If all you've ever known of Voltron are the old toys, you're going to be surprised. The Masterpiece Edition really goes above and beyond all the others, and it may seem strange at first. The assembly is still the same - each of the lions still forms whatever bodypart it's always formed - but there are subtle differences that add up to a better toy. The tails retract into the bodies, for instance, and 1's front legs fold into hidden compartments in his shoulders. There was some worry, when this figure was first announced, that the connections might not be up to snuff - plastic supporting metal and all that - but so far it seems unfounded. Everything fits together perfectly and holds together well.

Obviously, all that extra articulation carries over from the lions to the giant robot. Voltron moves at the mid-foot (or are those ankles?), knees, thighs, hips, waist, wrists, forearms, elbows, biceps, shoulders, neck and head. of course, there's still more than that, but those 25 points are the major ones. You can get a really nice range of motion from the figure, and he'll hold it as long as he's on display, but the pieces are heavy: pick him up, and everything drops back to the neutral position. Fully assembled, Voltron tops out at 12½" tall The hands can't launch off from the arms, but we can overlook that easily.

The robot's proportions look all wrong. He's too skinny, and too angular. Well, at least compared to the old toys. But then you take a look at the cartoons, and you realize that he's exactly right: it's everything else that's been wrong for years. Voltron isn't supposed to be square and blocky - he's mostly human-shaped, and the figure finally reflects that. The level of detail on the sculpt absolutely blows every other piece of Voltron merchandise away.

Big Daddy V comes with vac-metallized versions of his sword and shield, and they have pegs that allow the "hands" to hold them tightly. The shield is 4¾" across, and the sword is 9½". The hilt is long enough (and the articulation plentiful enough) that Voltron can actually wield the sword with both hands. Boss!

Voltron was edited down for American audiences from a show called Hyakujuu-ou GoLion (Hundred Beast King FiveLion). The general plot was the same, of course - five pilots gain control of mystical robots and fight giant space monsters - but the names were all changed, a lot of violence was trimmed out or written off (they completely excised Sven's funeral, for instance) and some major plot points were re-written. It's fun to watch the show now and see if you can spot the edits. And why five pilots? Because the number 5 is good luck in Japan. They even followed a convential character spread; you can find the combination of Handsome Hero, Athletic Hero, Strong Hero, Young Hero and Female Hero in any number of shows. All you Battle of the Planets/G-Force fans out there will recognize that line-up, for instance.

The Voltron Masterpiece Edition is not a cheap toy. Or even very affordable, to be honest. It's limited to 15,000 pieces, and it runs about $150, and that's no small chunk of cash. But the fact is that you're getting a superb toy for your money and yeah, it's probably worth it. If you don't care about Voltron, then no, this isn't for you. But if this is what you picture when someone says "giant robot," save up your pennies and go for it.

-- 02/25/07

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