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RVR-33 Apharmd-S

Virtual-ON: Oratorio Tangram
by yo go re

Look, Fei-Yen has a friend! Or maybe an enemy. If only there were some word that encompassed both possibilities.

Sometime between the original Virtual-ON and the sequel, Oratorio Tangram, DN Group (the company behind the development of the Virtuaroid robots) split into two factions: DNA and RNA. Both sides kept producing their own VRs, fighting over control of the plants where they were built - including one with the ability to rewrite reality, for some reason.

In the first game, the Apharmd was a generic kind of suit, sort of the Ken to Temjin's Ryu. When RNA split off, they didn't have access to the best VRs, so they took a bunch of Apharmds and began specializing them: Apharm-B, the battler type, was good at close-range combat; Apharmd-C, the commander type, was balanced; and Apharmd-S, the striker, was all about ranged attacks.

Virtual-ON's robots were designed by Hajime Katoki, who also did a lot of Gundam work. The Virtualroids are generally blocky, which played to the strengths of graphic processors at the time. Polygons, you know? Apharmd has nary a curved line anywhere on him. Even his "face" is hidden behind a mouthplate, and his head is meant to look like a flat-top haircut.

Why a flat-top? Because it's part of his overall aesthetic. Since the beginning, the Apharmds have been designed to look like soldiers. The legs are camouflage green, while the chest is black and silver - the intention is to look like a military man wearing pants, but no shirt. Between that and the flat-top, I guess he's more the Guile of the game than the Ken. The shapes of the body are only humanoid in the broadest sense: there may be two armor plates exactly where pectoral muscles would be, but human bodies aren't hexagonal, you know? There's extra armor on the forearms and ankles, and the shoulder pads have weapon pods on top. This looks like a robot that could dish out a serious butt-whooping.

The articulation will allow it, too. Although Apharmd came out at the same time as Fei-Yen, his joints are mostly designed to be useful. Mostly. There's still a little bit of esoteric Japanese style to be found - that is to say, joints that are technically joints, but don't quite move the way you would expect. He moves at the ankles, knees, thighs, hips, torso, wrists, elbows, biceps, shoulders, neck and head. As with Fei-Yen, the back of the card shows us lots of suggested poses, if only to prove they're possible.

There's also a sheet of instructions, which would probably be super helpful if I could read Japanese. Judging by the pictures, it's explaining that 1) you can remove the head and reposition it so it's looking up instead of straight ahead, 2) there are panels on the calves that are designed to collapse into the leg so you can get deep knee bends, and 3) how to open up the shoulders. Why would you open the shoulders? Maybe it's his hyper mode or something.

And as long as we're talking about the back of the shoulders, let's look at one of the coolest features of this toy and the design at all. Virtual-ON was a Sega game, and so was ported to the poor, doomed Sega Dreamcast. As a complete surprise, Apharmd-S has, in the center of his back, a control access port that is clearly meant to represent a Dreamcast. It has the unmistakable round lid, the triangular light, the circluar power and eject buttons, all that. What's amazingly cool, though, is that the entire thing is hinged: you can open the Dreamcast, and inside is a CD! There's a silver circle, a separate bit of plastic that's on its own hinge, just resting in there. How fun!

Accessories are plentiful with this figure. I mean, to begin with, you get nine extra hands. A couple for gripping, a couple of fists, a bunch in different open poses... you get a ton of variety! The hands swap out with thick pegs, so you don't have to worry about them breaking. Since he's a long-range fighter, Apharmd-S is armed with a massive handheld rocket launcher and a laser cannon that mounts on his left shoulder. The pod on top of the left shoulder is removable, allowing you to swap on either the gun or a version where the gun seems to have been ripped away. Hinged pieces under the forearms unfold in front of the hands - the right hand has a large orange device that may act like brass knuckles, while the left has some bullets. In case melee combat is necessary, he has a large combat knife that can plug onto the back of his waist.

One of the major features of Virtual-ON was jumping around like a coked-up cricket, because jumping also activated the auto lock-on for your weapons. In other words, a Virtualroid should hardly ever be firm on the ground. To achieve that, this toy comes with a display base. It's a large black rectangle with a hole in the rear corner to hold the support arm. The lift itself is a clever design, made with a 45° hinge in the middle, offering a much more secure way to display it standing straight up or bent nearer the ground. The hole in the figure where the stand plugs in is right near the knife storage, so it can get a little crowded back there, but it's still nice.

Apharmd-S is a much better figure than Fei-Yen was. The articulation is more workable, and there are a lot more fun accessories. Plus, since almost no one remembers these toys exist, you can probably get an amazing deal on them.

-- 02/28/17

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