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Vehicle Voltron

Dairugger XV
by yo go re

We've previously called Vehicle Voltron "a first-rate Voltron knockoff," and we stand by that. Imagine you're a kid, and all your cousins get Voltron for Christmas, but you don't. Clearly that would make you sad. So your parents try to make it up to you, but they come back with Vehicle Voltron. That's just twisting the knife, isn't it? And it's not like you can complain, because then you'd really look like a dick. So you're left with a crappy Voltron that you have to pretend to care about so you don't hurt their feelings/look like an ingrate.

(This isn't my personal anecdote, by the way; I never had any Voltron as a kid, nor did I know anyone who had one to be jealous of. I'm just saying.)

And yet, this past Giftsmas season, when knockoff toys were showing up at every Market Six store imaginable, I bought a Vehicle Voltron. What's wrong with me? Have I the brain-worms? Or am I such a sucker for combining robots that I'd spend six bucks on something I have no idea about just because it's a combining robot? Yeah, probably that last one.

You may recall that the original Voltron was the story of five Earth explorers sent out to the ass-end of the universe by the Galaxy Alliance to find the legendary Defender of the Universe. Well, Vehicle Team Voltron was set closer to home, with the members of the Galaxy Alliance looking for new colony worlds to alleviate Earth's overcrowding. Unfortunately, the war-like Drule Empire is looking for the same thing, so the GA builds another Voltron to oppose them.

Vehicle Voltron was repurposed from a series called Kikō Kantai Dairagā Fifutīn - "Armored Fleet Dairugger XV" - so named because the robot was composed of 15 individual vehicles, divided into three teams: Kurugger, Kairugger, and Rickrugger. The name itself is a reference to rugby, where it takes 15 players to form a team. Since this is a knockoff toy, it doesn't split into the full 15 pieces, only 10, so you can't really form the teams the way you should.

Kurugger is the Air Team, comprising the Command Jet Explorer (a small rocket), the Strato Weapons Module (a large, wheeled command center), two Advanced Recon Helicopters (uh... helicopters), and the Falcon VT Fighter (a space ship). Their combined mode is rather unimpressive, in that it's clearly just five planes (or, to be more accurate, one rocket, one fighter, two helicopters and a wheeled bunker) jammed together. It's amazing the thing can fly at all! The helicopters' blades spin, and the wheels on the bus go round and round; they don't roll, there's a turntable underneath so you can turn them to point one way for "solo" mode, and the other for the combined team.

Kairugger is the Sea Team, which is why it's built from the Communications Module (a submarine), two Space Probers (more submarines, maybe), and two Multi-Wheeled Explorers (which appear to be trucks, but let's be charitable and assume they're amphibious crawlers meant to drive along the ocean bottom). The Probers and the Explorers cannot be separated without unscrewing pieces, but props to the original designers for giving the pairs similar yet different sculpts - one more rounded, one more angular, etc. - and also props to the bootleggers for keeping those sculpts intact. Their combined form won't work, because the holes on the Explorers where the Communications Module plug in are not here.

And finally, Rickrugger, the Land Team. It begins with the Jet Radar Station, a big black command base that's every bit as awkward as the Kurugger Strato Weapons Module. There's the Rotating Personnel Carrier (a... truck? A fist on wheels), the Armored Equipment Carrier (ditto), and finally, the All-Terrain Space Vehicles (a yellow van and a black SUV). There is no hope at all of building the combined team mode, not only because the Jet Radar Station is lacking the parts needed to mount on top of the ATSVs, but also because the two Carriers are permanently attached to the Kurugger helicopters. You can unscrew them and disassemble the joint if you really want, but that's a cop-out.

But I didn't get this figure for the teams - I got it for the full robot! And the full robot is... honestly, not bad. The plastic feels brittle, but that means it's stiff enough to hold all the sculpted details sharply. The colors, both molded-in and painted, are vibrant, and there's a lot of chrome all over the place. Vac-metallized pieces on a knockoff toy? What kind of mad, budget-busting world are we living in?! The paint apps are a little bit simplified from the real version of the toy, but that only serves to make it look more like the animation model.

He comes with a 6½" sword that's on par with the original, but his articulation is actually better than the one he's copying! His ankles turn, the knees are hinged, and the elbows have swivels and hinges. That's all the same. This cheap-o copy, however, also has swiveling shoulders and a swiveling head. Why did the original not have that option? That's frankly a bit amazing.

For all its shortcomings, there are a few ways in which this bootleg is actually better than the toy it's copying, which is something you almost never hear. No, it doesn't come apart as much as it should, but then, it also only cost $6. This isn't a case of getting what you pay for, it's getting more than you paid for. And while I still prefer the lions, Vehicle Voltron has grown on me. I wouldn't buy a Masterpiece Edition, certainly, but I don't mind putting this one on the shelf next to his brothers.

-- 02/25/14

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