REVIEW: MICROMAN ROAD SPARTAN RS-03 DELTAPHANTOM with MICROMAN THUNDER
Definitely one of the most impressive and coolest action figure series that is reasonably well known by American collectors, even if it's never been marketed much outside of its home country of Japan, is MICROMAN.
Designed and produced by Takara, Microman first came along in 1974. It was not long after that that the Mego Toy Company brought a generous supply of it over to the United States under the name Micronauts, where it enjoyed considerable success for a quite a few years, before fading away, much as Mego itself unfortunately did in the early 1980's. It has been stated that the Micronauts was the most popular toy line after Star Wars for some years.
The line continued to run under its original name of Microman for years afterwards in Japan, and sometime later, enjoyed a resurgence of re-releases in the late 1990's. Then in 2003, Takara chose to reinvent the line with an all-new figure design.
The new Microman did a superb job of renewing interest in Microman in Japan, and attracted worldwide attention among action figure collectors, who were excited about the excellent new design. Takara would later license quite a few additional concepts, both Japanese and American, and work them into the Microman line, something the original line had not done, including such popular concepts as Batman, Aliens, Predator, Street Fighter, Godzilla, Gatchaman (known to us as Battle of the Planets) and more, even as the main Microman line continued.
The basic premise of the Microman line proposed that the Micromen were miniature cyborgs, and that the figures someone was buying were "actual size". There were the heroic Microman figures, and the evil Acroyears, miniature cyborgs who had been infected by a sinister "Acro-Virus". Now, admittedly, a four-inch cyborg isn't going to present much of a threat, so both the Micromen and the Acroyears could, when needed, transform into full-size beings. This was something the toys were obviously incapable of, but it made for a good storyline and background concept.
The toys are not found in American stores. However, there are a few online retailers that do carry them, and if nothing else, when one does a search for "Microman" on any of the auction sites, the list tends to be considerable. Although these can include both modern and classic toys.
If there was one avenue of Microman that seemed to be, for lack of a better term, a road less traveled relative to its predecessor, it was in the area of vehicles. The original Microman/Micronauts line had fancy, futuristic vehicles all over the place. The size of the figures -- 3-3/4" -- certainly lent itself well to offering vehicles in various sizes that worked well with the figures. However, the modern Microman line hadn't really done all that much with this.
Most of the figures came with a host of accessories, that could be used to either build some sort of self-standing weapon, or attached to the figure itself as some form of battle armor. Some other Microman figures came with small vehicle-like accessories, and both figures and accessories were very cool, but they still seemed lacking relative to what the original line had produced.
That is, until the Road Spartans came along. Hailed as a much-needed departure from the more collector-oriented figures, with their highly-detailed but sometimes difficult to manipulate chrome-plated accessories, the Road Spartans have been described by fans as being far closer to "playable toys" than just collector display pieces, an assessment with which I definitely agree.
Now, I realize I'm writing to collectors here. But I think it's a cool thing to have action figures that have a decent amount of playability to them and, at the very least, look like they'd be fun, as well as looking cool. The Road Spartans certainly fit into that category.
This review will take a look at one of these. There are four in the series, and they can all be joined to form one larger vehicle. This one is the RS-03 DELTAPHANTOM, along with its driver, whose name is MICROMAN THUNDER -- presumably no relation to the G.I. Joe vehicle driver of the same name.
Let's consider the figure first. The basic modern Microman design is a very complex one. The figure is designed, at least to some degree, to mimic actual human proportions, and be able to move almost as well as a human being. The articulation level is astounding. A standard Microman figure is poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, double-jointed elbows, wrists, hands, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, ankles, ball-jointed feet, and a later development added articulation to the fronts of the feet. Obviously the figures are too small to articulate fingers, but a typical Microman figure will have a set of about ten spare hands, five for each arm, in various positions for grasping weapons or imitating martial arts moves.
Thunder has a number of unique parts, which if the photos on the package are any indication, carry over throughout the other Road Spartans. He has a distinctive torso, with specially molded ridges that go over his shoulders, shoulder armor that has attachment pegs on it, a unique lower torso, as well as unique lower legs and feet. The side of the lower legs have accessory sockets in them. All of the various distinctive parts have special sculpted detail in them.
Two things have tended to denote Microman figures over the years -- chrome heads and colored transparent bodies. There are exceptions, of course, but these seem to be relatively common. Thunder has the chrome head, but really, only his upper torso is partially transparent. I don't really mind it here, since I think it makes the character look a little more real, and his overall design is very cool.
Thunder appears to be wearing a pale grey bodysuit with dark silver components, outlined with a thick black line. His shoulder armor, torso, gloves, and boots (except for the feet), are bright green. Each of the Road Spartans has a different distinctive color to their outfit -- red, blue, green, and -- well, the lone female in the line tends to have both orange and red, but let's call it orange. All of the Road Spartans also have a number on their left hip, in white block numbers, which also corresponds to their vehicle, and their designation within the Road Spartans collection. As such, Thunder's number is "03".
Although all three of the male Microman Road Spartans are similar, there are differences besides the color. The pattern of color on their torsos tends to differ, their heads are entirely different, and notably, the red-patterned one, Kaito, has more red on him than the blue and green patterned ones. Whereas Kaito has red gloves and boots, the green-patterned Thunder as well as the blue-patterned Ryu have grey and white gloves and boots. One might take this as an indication that Kaito is the team leader. Hardly surprising. Red-uniformed characters seem to have that position rather frequently in Japanese pop-culture concepts. Just ask the Power Rangers...
Thunder's feet are white, and frankly look for all the world like robotic Reeboks or something. There's a vaguely fancy sneaker-ish look to them. Not sure if it's intentional. His head is chrome silver, and has a fairly typical Japanese anime design to it of large eyes, a fairly narrow nose, and a small mouth. His hair appears to be neatly cropped and brushed back from his forehead. He's not really wearing a helmet, but there's some sort of protection on the back of his head. There is also a transparent reddish-purple visor attached to his ears, which can slide down over his face and protect his eyes. In Thunder's case, this visor is noticeably slender, especially compared to the visors of the other Road Spartans. Given the color of it, and for that matter, his hairstyle, he almost looks like a chrome-plated version of the X-Men character Cyclops.
If I have had one concern with regard to modern Microman figures over the years, it's that they can be quite fragile. I've been told that Japanese kids generally take better care of their toys than American kids, so the toys can get away with being a little more fragile. Thunder, although no larger or bulkier than any of my other Microman figures, seems a little sturdier somehow. All of the Road Spartans do. Maybe it's that his articulation points seem good and snug for the most part. I'm certainly pleased with that, but I would still recommend handling him with care.
The overall look of Thunder is impressive. Some Microman figures tend to rely on their fancy transparent colors to stand out. Others have exceptionally ornate markings imprinted on them. I've got a few that can readily induce eyestrain. Thunder essentially fits into a third category. He's not overly transparent, and while he does have a dynamic look and design to him, it's not so complex that you're going to be reaching for the Visine. His lines are clear and distinct, reflecting as much as anything a fairly strong anime influence, which is hardly surprising, really. I'm extremely impressed by the result. This is one of the coolest-looking Microman figures I've seen -- in a line that excels in cool, I might add. I'd be inclined to say that about all of the Road Spartans.
Now let's consider the vehicle that comes with this figure, the DELTAPHANTOM. All of the Road Spartan vehicles are, to one degree or another, based on motorcycles, at least insofar as being two-wheeled vehicles with one wheel in front of the other (not counting the sidecar on the RS-04. The DeltaPhantom is no exception to this, but of the four designs, it's easily the most peculiar, and perhaps the least aerodynamic of the lot.
Technically, the DeltaPhantom has four wheels, but the front two and back two are so close together that it still qualifies as having a motorcycle configuration. The DeltaPhantom is not a particularly sleek looking vehicle, unlike the others. Honestly, it looks more like something that was designed for rugged terrain or a battlefield.
The vehicle consists largely of a very thick black framework, very angular in design, and reminding me less of a motorcycle and more like something that might have been a design element of some sort of heavy equipment. The front of the DeltaPhantom juts out at an extreme angle, and has some silver and chrome detail, eventually leading to the front two wheels.
The seating area is just sculpted right into the angular lines of the vehicle itself, requiring Thunder to ride rather low to the ground. Small handlebars fold out of the framework. There are two fold-out parts that, as the toy is packaged, need to be folded over and back before Thunder or anyone else can properly sit in the vehicle. Heck of a security system, if you ask me.
The two rear wheels are much larger than the front wheels, and are mounted on silver frameworks with chrome trim. Additional chrome parts include two detailed part-circles that mount to the sides of the vehicle -- purpose unknown -- and a long rifle that mounts to the front of the vehicle at a point where Thunder can access it.
There is some green trim on the DeltaPhantom, thus denoting it as Thunder's, but it's a far darker green than what's on the figure itself. As with all of the vehicles in this series, it has angled block lettering on it that reads ROAD SPARTAN, followed by a number, which in this case is, of course, "03".
All four Road Spartan vehicles are designed to combine into one. Based on the photograph showing the combined vehicle on the back of the package, it still took me a few minutes to figure out just precisely where the DeltaPhantom was supposed to fit. Given the unusual wheel design, I was convinced that the vehicle was designed to split into two -- or at least in half somehow, but that didn't quite answer the question of placement.
I finally figured it out. The RS-01 vehicle, which is the largest, is the centerpiece of the combined vehicle. The RS-02, a relatively small vehicle, fits behind and slightly above the RS-01, and is largely a weapons station in the combined mode. The RS-04 splits in two and forms the outer sides of the combined vehicle, and also gives someplace for Thunder to sit, since his RS-03 vehicle actually splits in half along its base, and opens up into a sort of semi-V-shaped framework to which the other three vehicles attach. Overall, it really is a pretty clever design, and in retrospect, it explains why the RS-03 DeltaPhantom is such an odd-looking vehicle on its own. It's because it's basically the support structure for the other three in their combined mode, so it had to fit into certain design parameters more closely in order to accommodate that.
Concluding thoughts? The vehicles in the entire series are extremely cool, the figures have a great design to them, definitely among and perhaps the most impressive Micromen that I've seen, and the combined look of the vehicles is one more cool element, almost something right out of Power Rangers, though hardly unique to them. At the present time, Tomy, which now owns Takara, doesn't seem to be doing much with Microman, which I think is a shame. If they ever decided to, though, I'd readily recommend a Road Spartans II. Meanwhile, at least, the originals are still available if you know where to look.
So, what's my final word here? I know that Microman has a somewhat limited American audience, and that the toys are not easily acquired. I also realize that the modern line has been very diverse, and everybody has their own favorites. In my own collection, I have quite a few of them from a number of assorted in-concept series, and a few of the licensed ones. It's not a complete collection, but it's a respectable one, and I'm very pleased with it.
I have to say that I am extremely impressed the Road Spartans toys, and certainly with Thunder and the DeltaPhantom, peculiar though it may be, and I am pleased to report that I have completed my collection of them. The Road Spartans are a somewhat more toy-friendly group, based on their appearance, and Thunder and his compatriots don't seem quite as fragile as some of the others, and his design and markings are very impressive. The DeltaPhantom is a cool vehicle, if a bit odd and not quite as anime-looking as some of the others in the group. But given the lack of vehicles elsewhere in the modern Microman world, I'm not at all complaining. I believe that any fan of Japanese toys, or Japanese anime, would like what they see with this item, and that any Microman fan would see something very distinctive and unique in these Road Spartans!
The MICROMAN ROAD SPARTAN set of the RS-03 DELTAPHANTOM with MICROMAN THUNDER certainly has my highest recommendation, as do all of the MICROMAN ROAD SPARTANS!