By Graham Parkes 01/21/01
The Hong Kong Toy & Games Fair, Asia's largest toy trade show was held this year at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center between 9th-12th January 2001.
To my disappointment there was nothing really interesting on display at the fair. However, I was lucky enough to be invited back to Yamato's Hong Kong office, which to my amazement was filled with lots of interesting Macross goodies including many prototypes.
During my visit Yamato's staff were gracious enough to answer a great many of my questions concerning the Macross Plus and upcoming DYRL toys. They also kindly allowed me to examine some of their prototypes. I am sorry, but photographs of any of these prototypes cannot be published.
Unfortunately I had just missed out on meeting with Billy Wong, the sculptor of the Macross Plus toys, as he had just returned to China that day. Hopefully I will be able to arrange for an interview with Billy in the near future, as I'm sure his comments on the design process of the toys will be extremely interesting. Keep tuned to Macross World.
Anyway, here is the news I learned during my visit to Yamato's office. Hopefully you will all find it very interesting!
Yamato is not a company to rest on its laurels and from talking with their staff, I got the impression that they are obsessed with quality and getting their product right even if it takes multiple versions to do so. This quest for excellence is already evident in the huge jump in quality, and accuracy of the YF-21 compared to the YF-19.
I found out during my visit to Yamato's office that a planned version 2 of the already excellent YF-21 is being considered. This is not because there have been any complaints about the first version of the YF-21, but just because Yamato have recently thought of ways to improve the toy and want to get the best possible product to the fans.
I was allowed to see prototypes of the next generation YF-21 which featured some of the planned improvements, which are:
What happened to the YF-19?
Why was the YF-19 so difficult to transform? Well, the Yamato staffers admitted that because of cost Macross Plus toys have all along been aimed at the collector/fan market rather than being mass-market toys. It was mistakenly assumed by Yamato during development of the YF-19, that toy collectors would be somewhat like model builders in that they would like to tinker with their toys and wouldn't mind having to loosen screws to transform the toy. This of course was a completely wrong assumption on Yamato's part as most toy collectors want toys that while accurate and detailed are also easy to transform. Yamato learned quickly and did what very few other companies do, they actually listened to the fan feedback and acted on it. This is why the YF-21 and also the upcoming VF-11B transform more easily and without having to use unnecessary force.
The version # 1 of the YF-19 received a lot of fan criticism, some of it justly deserved. However, what a lot of fans fail to realize is that making a toy as complex as a transforming YF-19 is a huge undertaking involving a mind boggling number of steps and numerous obstacles to overcome, not to mention costing a huge amount of money in the process. Yamato took a big gamble with the YF-19. Luckily it paid off big time.
Members of the Yamato team also freely admitted that there are several areas of the YF-19 design and appearance that they are not happy with. However, the YF-19 is constantly evolving so more and more improvements will gradually find their way into the toy with future variants. It is this willingness to improve their product that really impressed me during my visit.
While at Yamato's office, I was able to handle, transform and photograph a fully painted transformable hand-made sculpture of the VF-11B made by sculptor Billy Wong. As a word of explanation, this hand made sculpture is used a tooling sample from which the first metal injection molds will be made up.
I was also able to examine a transformable unpainted plastic injection molded Test Shot of the VF-11B. It was explained to me that Test Shots as they are called are basically test versions of the toy made using the injection molds instead of being hand made. The factory engineers take the Test Shots and carefully check all the parts fitting and angle fitting. From Test Shot to production version it is likely that as many as twenty changes may have to be made to the molds before the toy is approved for production.
The VF-11B prototypes I handled looked great. They were very detailed and transformation was definitely easier than with the YF-19 or YF-21. Release of the VF-11B in Japan is presently set for late March 2001.
The VF-11B Test Shot and sculpture I handled were both fitted with removable FAST packs. However, because some changes still need to be made to these FAST packs (more details on this below), they will not be released with the first version of the toy.
I was very impressed by the design of the VF-11B's FAST packs which could be attached and removed easily without resorting to the use of ugly tab holes on the surface of the toy which would have spoiled the appearance. Basically, the back mounted FAST packs attach by means of two strong hooks which clip to the VF-11B's back mounted thrusters at the intake point and point the at the position of the rear thrusters. The leg mounted FAST packs attach by use of small but strong tabs on the packs, which do not compromise the appearance of the toy when removed.
While examining the VF-11B's FAST packs I noticed that each of the back mounted FAST packs only had two trapezium shaped micro-missile ports (like the Macross 7 VF-11C).The Macross Plus VF-11B should actually have four micro-missile ports per pack. I also noticed that there were no holes for the reverse thrusters that should be on the front of the back mounted FAST packs. I pointed out these omissions to Yamato's staff and they noted my comments down on a piece of paper. About a week later I received a phone call from Yamato informing me that the changes I'd suggested were being made to the FAST pack molds, but because of this the FAST packs would not be ready in time for the March release of the toy. Anyway, I am able say that in a small way I helped with the design of this toy, although I also caused a delay with the FAST pack release!
The VF-11B's gunpod features both a collapsible stock and folding bayonet. It attaches much more firmly to the underside of the VF-11B in fighter mode when compared with the gunpod of the YF-19. The VF-11B's gunpod has two small rectangular pegs on the underside close to the muzzle that plug tightly into matching slots in the belly of the VF-11B. This is a far more secure arrangement than the YF-19's gunpod that attaches only via a single loose fitting cylindrical peg. Another great point, at least in my opinion is that in fighter mode, the VF-11B's gunpod is visible when looking at the fighter from the front, unlike the YF-19 where in fighter mode the view of the gunpod is blocked by the groin piece.
The tail fins on the production VF-11B will definitely fold into the leg, contrary to the photos on display at TOMOS' website. In fact the tail fins will pop-up automatically when the rear landing gear is opened.
Also, Yamato staffers assured me that they are aware of the fans dislike of the small vertical tail fins shown in previously published photos. Unfortunately, due to the limited space available internally in the legs of the VF-11B, it is not possible for the fins to be made bigger. However, Yamato are working on ways to tweak the design so that more of the vertical tail fins will stick out from the legs.
The best news concerning the VF-11B is that it will come with a detachable cockpit cover for battroid mode! There was apparently some disagreement among the Yamato team as to whether this feature should be added, but luckily it was decided to go ahead with the cover, a move which is sure to please fans.
My only minor criticism of the VF-11B is that the head looked a bit small, but to be honest this is not the fault of Yamato's designers. The size of the head is restricted, as in fighter mode it has to squeeze into the limited space between the shoulders.
FAST Pack News
FAST packs will be made for all three Macross Plus toys and for the VF-1 toys. Yamato have confirmed to me that the FAST packs will be released together with the toys and not as a separate accessories. Unfortunately, the FAST packs will not be able to be retrofitted to existing versions of the YF-19 & YF-21 as several components need to be changed or redesigned to allow FAST packs to fit to the toys. I was advised that there are about 90 changes alone planned for the FAST pack version of the YF-19!
The price of the FAST pack toys is not yet known. However, as the FAST packs themselves are likely to be of all plastic construction, the price increase (if any) should not be much. The FAST packs will have the usual high level of detail we have come to expect from Yamato. Also, it has been confirmed that a gunpod for the YF-21 will be released with the FAST pack version of the YF-21.
If you are thinking of buying one of the rare and expensive 80's era Takatoku or Bandai VF-1 toys, my advice is to forget it, save your pennies and wait for the Yamato version. This baby is going to be hot! Based on what I saw and learned during my visit to Yamato's HK office, the Yamato VF-1 is going to be the definitive VF-1 toy.
Initially when I heard that Yamato was going to make a VF-1, I was somewhat lukewarm to the idea. Sure, it would be cool and everything, but I already have a fairly extensive collection of Bandai and Takatoku 1/55 and 1/72 scale VF-1 Valks. What could be better than the old toys I thought. Well, boy was I wrong!
The reason for my optimism? Well, not only Yamato's dedication and commitment to producing absolutely the best VF-1 toy ever, but get this............. every single part of the VF-1 toy has to be approved by the original designer of the VF-1 before it can be put into production (I'm not allowed to mention names, but you all know who I mean). What this means is that if it is not approved, then it's back to the drawing board for Yamato.
Unfortunately, during my visit to Yamato's HK office there was no complete VF-1 prototype on hand to see. However, just before it was time to leave, I was given a sneak look at prototypes of the VF-1 FAST packs, GU-11 gunpod and missiles.
Yep, you heard me right, missiles! And not just any missiles but the complete works, AMM-1 medium range missiles, the big honking RMS-1 reaction missiles and also the rectangular UMM-7 micro-missile pods. At this stage of the design, it looks like the missiles will attach to the VF-1's wings in the same way as the Bandai VF-1 HCM toys. That is, pegs on the missile pylons will plug into holes in the underside of the wings. This is a far superior method to the ugly overwing clip of the Bandai 1/55 scale Strike Valkyrie's missiles.
The GU-11 gunpod prototype I saw also sets a precedent for a VF-1 toy, in that the pistol grip can fold up and the rear cover can slide closed for fighter mode, just like in the anime!
The VF-1 FAST pack prototypes I saw were incredibly detailed. The back mounted FAST packs were of both the missile type and double beam cannon type. And I must stress again, that the level of detail was phenomenal. These will put every other VF-1 toy produced to shame!
Here's a few other facts I was able to uncover about the upcoming VF-1 toys:
Both VF-1S and VF-1A versions will be produced.
2. The toys will be in 1/72 scale, not 1/60 scale as previously reported. This rumor was probably erroneously started because the initial mock-ups of the toys are made in 1/60 scale and then later scaled down to 1/72 scale for the more advanced pre-production prototypes and the final production version.
3. The initial color scheme will most likely be the Hikaru Ichijo type, but Max Jenius color scheme is also under consideration.
4. The GBP-1S Full Armor is a definite contender as an optional accessory.
5. There is a possibility that a VE-1 and VT-1 might be produced.
Many people have asked if the VF-4, VF-2SS, VF-5000, SDF-1, etc (add the name of your favorite mecha here) will by released by Yamato. The Yamato staff were very tight lipped about what is in the pipeline for the future, but rest assured that many new Macross toys are on the way and basically anything is possible! One thing likely though is that Macross 7 toys will probably not be produced in the near future as Bandai still holds the rights to these.
I came away from my visit extremely impressed with Yamato as a company and their superb commitment to quality and dedication to making the best Macross toys. Unlike many other toy manufactures Yamato are committed to constantly improving and refining their toys. This means we the fans will continue to get better and better toys as Yamato gains more and more experience.
I want to extend my thanks once again to the fantastic people at Yamato who graciously agreed to meet with me and spent hours patiently answering my questions and allowing me to photograph their prototypes.
Remember, keep watching Macross World for more groundbreaking news on the Yamato Macross toys.