[Alen Yen's ToyboxDX]

  May 29, 2001

Big (Scale) Ones

In the late 70s (could have been 1980, the mind fuzzes in the mists of youth), I had happened to settle in front of the TV one Sunday afternoon for a KTLA matinee of the Beatles' Peter Max-addled psychedeli-toon "Yellow Submarine" which I'd never seen in full. As luck would have it, I was in for a double-feature, because immediately afterwards was broadcast the most bizarre thing I'd ever seen - a two hour movie featuring what appeared to be a gigantic Japanese World War II battleship floating in space. The movie's title was (to me) equally befuddling: "Space Cruiser Yamato." The fact that any show could come on immediately after "Yellow Submarine" and make you say "what the hell is *this*?" is a statement in and of itself.

It would be many years before "Star Blazers" surfaced in the US, and many more before I would see a Yamato toy, the Popy DX die cast, at a college town comic book store. A pricey $35 in 1985, I passed. I had to eat, after all. And yet the Yamato, an obvious visual hot-button image with a straight pipe to the Japanese cultural psyche, would eventually find its way into the holy quadrinity of 80s mass-appeal US anime: "Voltron, Robotech, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets."

And so, with fires stoked by rumors of a huge die cast toy with electronic features, hearts raced as the release date drew near. Would this toy, in fact, be the better of the two ubernaughts unleashed by Bandai in the spring of '01?

This toy is not die cast. Enough has probably been said about that. But it is 'heavy' out of the box. Adding all the additional parts, including the guns whose bodies are die cast, ups it to 'quite heavy.' By the time two AAA batteries go in, you wonder if you could even lift it if the hull was solid metal. Of course that would be great, but it isn't. Enough said. It is a nice toy with surprising heft, and that does not disappoint.

But does it deserve the monikers 'Popynika' or 'Big Scale', the first toy ever to claim both on one box?

I own neither the Popy DX, (or its precedent, the revered Nomura DX), but I have a feeling this toy doesn't deserve the SOP badge. Besides the metal deficiency, the charm of the gimmicks doesn't add up. Sure, it has opening hatches, but since when is opening considered a novel gimmick for a hatch? Power-springing open at a button push, maybe, or some other Rube Goldberg series of events, but simply opening? Feh.

And sure, the electronic sounds and lights are nice, but everything from keychains to toy dogs seem to have at *least* these features, and some have much more for far less money. Hell, even Buzz Lightyear knows what his pitch and yaw positions are in when you fly him around the house and responds accordingly, and he's a paltry $19.99.

One further thing disappoints - I was sure that the SOP Yamato had some motion features, a turning engine, or a moving wave cannon. But the turning of the engine is accomplished by pulling a lever down the side of the ship. The lever is cleverly disguised as a feature of the deck, but I assumed it would be one of several motor-driven gimmicks.

Does this toy, then, deserve the Big Scale badge? This is something I can speak to.

The original Big Scale Yamato is a nearly totally plastic toy, full of spring-loaded gimmicks and features. It measures in at a robust 20 1/2 inches compared to the SOP's 16.5 inch length. But the original Big Scale is in fact meant to be a representation of Yamato III, and so there is a chance these ships are actually in scale to each other.

While the SOP's 'full open' mode reveals incredible inner detail, and a beautiful sculpt that rivals any professional movie prop, the Big Scale reveals, well, a really cool gun that springs forth at the pop of one of five bright red buttons that litter the deck.

While both ships cut a nice 'sighted view', only the SOP would stand up to blue screen compositing. It is absolutely breathtaking to behold. The surface detail and the paint job are standout, with a perfect shade of grey, and a not-too-bright red, and just enough weathering to outline the ships' seams without appearing spattered on. The Big Scale is, well, bright. Sparkly bright. Toy bright. And yet, all the little guns are there, most with varying degrees of motion. The clear stand gives the Big Scale a nice impression of floating free, while the SOP is in dry dock. And side dials turn the main deck guns, just as they do on the SOP, with some key differences. The SOP has a single dial that rotates the three main guns in unison, creating a nice sweeping effect. But the Big Scale goes two better...

While both ships cut a nice 'sighted view', only the

TWO dials, one for each of the lower guns (the upper, third gun is only manually operated). But in addition to sweeping, the lower gun barrels also move up and down in a 'wave' motion (sorry) as they turn! The coolness of this has to be seen to be appreciated. For some reason I assumed the SOP guns would move in a similar way - don't know where I got that idea from.

Among the other Big Scale features are pop out wings, two spring-open side hangers that reveal spring-launched yachts, an opening bridge section that provides a storage bay for plastic missiles, and a missile-firing wave cannon that has got to be the most powerful launcher on any Bandai toy ever. It will leave dents on the sheet rock of your walls.

The size difference can easily be seen here, though it's the SOP that is heavier, denser. And while the technology available certainly could not have allowed the Big Scale to have the sounds and choreographed lighting effects of the SOP, or even the multiple paint masks for detail, it still has one feature that puts it over the top for me:

You're seeing right. Die cast struts extend down to give Big Scale wheels, for that ethereal 'floating thru space' effect, provided the surface is smooth enough. The rear wheels fold down 'just so', since they slide down as one unit before gracefully separating to either side to finally lock into position. Why take such care in designing such an odd, misplaced feature? It exposes the pure joy of the old designers, the pride they took in making something neat, no matter how obscure or tucked away it was.

You're seeing right. Die cast struts extend down to give Big Scale wheels, for that ethereal 'floating thru space' effect, provided the surface is smooth enough. The rear wheels fold down

Again, as with the Daikus, both of these toys are worthy of any collection. I find the SOP's level of detail and its presence to overpower anything I put it next to. It deserves its own shelf. One wonders if the SOP couldn't have been more reasonably priced, or at least contained additional features worthy of it's tag, but for all the finger wagging, to look at this toy is to have seen the Yamato in person. It's that good.

But at the end of the day, I have to say my first love is the old vintage Big Scale. To look at this toy, is to see a wasted afternoon of play. It's that good.


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