If you have been following the action figure market over the last few years you may have noticed a growing number of
Kubrick or block style figures hitting the market. If you haven't, you should probably make an appointment with your
local eye doctor because these things are everywhere. It seems like every license has some of these mini-sized figures
being produced. While I'm not a huge fan of the style, every so often there is a line or license that catches my interest.
The TMNT Mega Blocks are one example of this. But Toynami has done a couple of my favorite licenses as part of their
I-men series: Futurama and Dragon Ball Z.
Packaging - DBZ 6/10, Futurama 7/10The I-Men come in two packs in a two pack on blister cards that are unique to each license. The figures themselves are paired off on either side of the blister and the coin accessories in the middle. An insert at the bottom of the bubble gives the characters' names. The Futurama figures also have an image of the characters in I-Men style in the middle of the insert while the DBZ figures have a group shot of Trunks, Vegeta and Goku in both regular and Super Saiyan forms. Both series use generic cards for the entire series. Both have three of the core characters above their logo with a blank I-men body in the background. The card backs really show what a difference a couple of years make. The cards for the DBZ figures that were produced in 2002 are extremely plain and uninteresting. Basicly, Toynami took all the stuff that is normally crammed into the small print at the bottom and filled the card with it. Most of the card back is used for instructions, credits for the creative team and a section tauting the coins that are included. A full quarter of the card nothing but an image of a blank I-men body! There is a DBZ logo and images of the entire series of figures as well, but both are far too small for a line that is driven primarily by the characters and license. In the end, it isn't too important since I've yet to see anyone who actually displays the back of the cards. The Futurama cards are much better thanks to a handful of changes. The logo is bigger, as are the images of the figures. Without the need for instructions about lightup features or battery replacement, the section about the coins has been expanded and made more astheticly pleasing. Plus they added an image of Nibble at the bottom.
Sculpting - Leela 2/10, DBZ I-men, Roberto & Robot Devil 3/10, rest 4/10These are block figures, and in the case of the DBZ I-men, early ones at that. So you shouldn't be expecting a great deal of sculpted detail. The basic I-men body has blocks that slope to a toe for feet, square legs, a basic "T" waist, a torso with narrowed waist, round arms with aslight bend for the elbow, Lego style clasping hands and a cylinder for a head. For the most part, the DBZ figures all share this same body with the appropriate hair sculpt added to the top. Goku and Gohan have a panel added to their chest to add texture to their shirts. The regular Vegeta has the suclpted saiyan armor permenently attached over his torso. And Piccolo has his trademark shoulder pads/cape and a new head sculpt. All of the figures actually come out looking pretty good. Two years ago when these were produced, they probably would have scored a couple of points higher. But with the glut of new Kubrick-esque figures that have hit the market since then, the standards have been raised, a fact that is nicely illustrated by the improvements made to the Futurama figures just two years later.
The basic body design for the I-men hasn't changed and can be plainly seen on about half of the Futurama figures. They all use that body, but Dr. Zoidberg and the Professor have lab coats on top of it while Bender, and the Robot Devil have additional panels glued on to give their bodies the appropriate round shape. Each character has a unique head sculpt and they all turned out quite well, especially given the difficulty of translating Matt Groening's 2D designs into a 3D sculpt. Roberto and the Robot Devil lost a point due to scale problems with their heads. They're HUGE! They should probably be about two thirds to half of their current size to be in proportion with their bodies and the other figures. And then there is poor Leela, proof of just horribly wrong things can go when one tries to bring Groening's designs to life, err.. plastic. If you see the sculpt from just the right angle, as it is shown on the back of the cards, it actually looks pretty good. But from any other angle it's a disaster. The problem seems to be with handling her bangs which are supposed to hang down into her face. But since both her eye and hair couldn't be in the middle of her face at the same time, the sculpters put her eye on one side and her hair on the other. Now when seen from her left side, rather than having one eye, she has none! Her hair also seems to be slightly off. It lacks sufficent volume on the sides. And when coupled with the sheer length of her pony tail and bangs, it gives the whole head a sort of flat look, as if her head were pressed in a vice. Finally, she has no neck. Now, in all fairness, neither Fry nor the Professor really have much of a neck either. But Fry's normally slouching demeanor and the way the Professor's head was sculpted keep it from being noticable on them. On Leela it looks like she is trying to touch her chest with her upper lip.
Paint - Futurama 4/10 DBZ 5/10The paint applications on all of these figures are very well done, something that is extremely important for figures that derive a great deal of their detail from the paint. The Futurama figures all have traditional painted details. While they turned out well, as always, there are some areas where the lines aren't quite as straight as they should be or a tiny amount of paint collects along an edge somewhere. Sadly, the worst one of the group seems to be Leela once again. The white for her eye ran slightly at the bottom just above the nose. Now she looks like she is crying. (Perhapse she saw her deformed head in the mirror.) The DBZ figures are an example of how progress isn't always a good thing. Unlike the Futurama figures that were entirely painted, much of the details of the DBZ figures, the faces in particular, are either a screen print or some sort of transfer, not painted. The result is much finer detail and exceptionally clean lines. Regular Trunks is probably the best example of this. His jackaet actually has two lines along the collar and pockets for the hemming. That just isn't realisticly possible with traditional paint.
Articulation - 5/10Since every one of these figures uses the same basic I-men body design, it's not too surprising that their articulation is almost all the same.
Accessories - Trunks (#24 ) 7/10, Leela 6/10, URL, SS Vegeta & SS Trunks (in armor) 5/10, others 4/10Every I-men figure comes with at least one accessory, a coin. The coins are supposed to serve two purposes, first they are supposed to be collectible, with each figure having their own unique coin design. But since these are just accessories for action figures, and their is no variation in what coin with which a given figures comes, I seriously dobt anyone will every have any interest in these as anything beyond a part for their action figure. (If any numismatists want to prove me wrong, feel free.) In addition to their dubious collectibility, they serve as bases for each figure. It this role they actually function quite well. Thanks to the magnetic feet (see next section) of the I-men, the figures can stick to the coins and leave little chance of toppling over. The are also nicely proportioned to give just enough space for one figure and not make it overly difficult to display all of the figures even in limited space. Eight of the figures also come with additional accessories. Doctor Zoidberg and the Professor's lab coats are both removable (Dr. Z's head has to be removed first though.) But the characters' nature and the painted sleeves means there is little chance of people actually doing that. Super Saiyan Vegeta and one of the Super Saiyan versions of Trunks come with saiyan armor that is removable in order to accomodate a battery slot. Unlike Dr. Z and the Professor, Trunks and Vegeta don't look too bad with the armor removed. Unfortunately Toynami didn't bother to paint any detail on their chests so they don't really look too good either, just passable. The armor also has the drawback of sliding from side to side on the figures when it is worn. Url is one of only three characters that comes with a traditional accessory, his baton which he can hold securely in his hand. The only reason he didn't get the extra point that Leela and Trunks did was that his baton was left unpainted. In the show, the baton was more like a lightsaber, a hilt that produced a beam. As such, the majority of the baton should have been painted aqua/green. Leela has the best accessory of the entire Futurama set, her retro-futuristic style laser. The laser is reasonably well sculpted and painted, especially given the scale limitation. (Though I still think Leela may just have a gun in case she wants to put that hidious head sculpt out of its misery.) The real winner of either series is Trunks and his sword. (The sword is not included with the version of Trunks in his saiyan armor since he did not have the sword when he appeared in that costume. Points to Toynami for remembering that, but none for that version of Trunks since he is unarmed.) Not only is the sword integral to the character, it is very well done. It is nicely proportioned to the figure and can of course be held easily and securely. It also looks great since Toynami went all out with seperate paint aplications for both the hilt and the blade. But what sends it over the top is the removeable scabbard Trunks wears which can actually hold the sword. For a two and a half inch figure, that's impressive.
Action/Special Features - 7/10Every I-men figure with the possible exception of the Voltron lions, share a special feature, magnetic feet. Embedded into each foot is a small magnet that allows the figure to be attached to any convient piece of ferrous metal. This is a wonderful feature since it means the figures are quite stable, something that can be a significant problem for some smaller figures. Also nice is the fact that the magnets are not excessively powerful. They are strong enough to hold the figure or even lift the coin base, but not much else. As a result, the feet don't automaticly snap onto a metal surface and they should be fairly safe around your computer or monitor.
The DBZ I-men offer an additonal feature as well, the Super Saiyans' hair lights up. When both feet are placed on a metal surface, it completes a circuit through the body to make an LED in the head light up. It doesn't work very well. The LED is under-powered on many of the figures so unless it is used in a dimly lit environment, the light is barely noticeable if at all. The feature also requires several minor sacrifices to the rest of the figure. The first one I already mentioned, the lose of the waist joint. Remarkably, the hip, ankle and neck joints all survived. Second, as mentioned in the accessory section, the saiyan armor for SS Vegeta and Trunks had to be removeable to allow access to the battery which resulted in armor that slides back and forth slightly. While the magnetic feet are an interesting means of activating the feature, it poses a problem. You can't place the figure on a metal surface (like the coins) without activating the feature unless you pose one foot off the ground like they are in many of my pictures nor can you activate the feature unless you put the figure on a metal surface which means limited play value. The final drawback is that the feet use a different magnet in the figures with the light-up feature and I have had several cases of those magnets comeing out of the feet. This may just be an isolated problem in my figure and the magnets just slip right back in, so it is not a big drawback. And the feature comes with one redeeming feature that makes up for the small problems, translucent yellow hair. Lit or not, the translucent yellow used by Toynami for these figures is the best rendition of the Super Saiyan effect from the show. It is much better than simply using yellow or gold paint since the varying depth of the plastic causes subtle differences in the coloring, something few paint applicantions have been able to achive.
Value - 3/10 to 6/10The original retail for these figures was around $12 per two pack. At that price, you had to either really like a given license to be willing to spend $60 on the set. In fact, price is the reason it took me two years to bother picking up the DBZ figures. But these figures are old enough now that you aren't likely to find them at retail prices anymore. The Futurama figures in particular have become harder to find, most likely due to lower production numbers and higher interest in the line. This is after all, one of the only ways to get several of these characters, much less get them all in scale. However if you can still find them, especially on sale, they are well worth a look.
Happy Hunting:If you have been wondering why I'm reviewing toys that are two years old, here's why. Funimation, the company in charge of the Dragon Ball property here in the United States still has the entire series of DBZ I-men available and on clearance at their web site. I've actually had the Goku and Gohan figures for several years and have been waiting for a chance like this to complete the line on the cheap. Sadly, I have no such advice for the Futurama figures. Toynami's website lists stores which carry their product, so you may wish to start there. Or there is always the last resort of E-bay.
Oh, and for those who have been paying attention to the pictures and wondering why there is an extra Trunks figure pictured. That was a convention exclusive at Wizard World Chicago and the SDCC in 2002.