Hasbro’s Rangers

Recently Hasbro, the same you company who is in charge of G.I. Joe and Transformers, announced that they have acquired Saban’s Power Rangers and other entertainment related assets. This was almost to be expected, considering Saban cut ties with Bandai a while back, Saban then announced extended broadcast partnership with Nickelodeon with a new season called Beast Morphers, then Hasbro being announced the master toy licensee for Saban’s IPs. The progression of things have been extremely steady, and nobody should be surprised. Hasbro probably will handle the IP better than Disney did, which Saban bought back some time ago.

Why did Hasbro purchase the Power Rangers? I wouldn’t really have a proper answer, I don’t exactly follow what’s going on in the toy industry. However, knowing Hasbro’s history, it’s easy to see them wanting something special from Power Rangers, that they have a niche to fulfill and this IP fits them. They have the more standard boy’s military toys covered with G.I. Joe, Transformers for shape shifting robot toys, Star Wars license for Star Wars… which might actually be the thing they want to cover. Star Wars toys supposedly were shelf warmers with the The Last Jedi, and the SW toys were partially responsible in killing Toys R Us, at least according to Bobby.

If we take this stance, Power Rangers would fit this slot rather nicely. It would allow relatively healthy amount of characters toys to be manufactured alongside different vehicles and role play toys. Hasbro wouldn’t need to pay hefty license payments to anyone, as they’d own the rights. Well, to a certain point. As a reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that Power Rangers is made from the footage of Japanese Super Sentai franchise. The out-of-suit scenes are filmed for the show, while most of the action footage is lifted from the Japanese original. However, with time both Hasbro and Disney increased the amount of original footage they filmed as well as have Toei shoot some footage for the American use only. As such, Hasbro would probably have to pay something for the likeness of the characters to Toei and Bandai at least. That is, unless after Beast Morphers Hasbro decides to go their own way, stop using Super Sentai footage and create completely original content.

Considering how television and streaming services are starting to be full of decent looking special effects live action shows, especially from Marvel and DC, it wouldn’t completely unimaginable for Hasbro to partner with Nick or some other company to produce Hasbro-original Power Rangers to cut license costs altogether. This purchase probably killed all chances for the recent Power Rangers movie to get a sequel, but Hasbro could always have a new one and belong in their shared universe with M.A.S.K., Transformers, G.I. Joe and Inhumanoids. Well possible shared movie universe as well, we’ll have to sit back and see what comes of it, if any.

If Hasbro wants to bring Power Rangers back to its glory days, they have lots of work ahead of them. When the series hit the scene in 1993, it was a massive success, a cultural phenomena and a multimedia behemoth. You could see its influence every which way and sort of brought martial arts back to popularity like it was the 70’s again. You saw its influence on the Old Continent as well, where it took root in certain places. South America already had Super Sentai on their television, so the impact was less impressive, if there was even any. I don’t know about Australia, but I’ve heard that it was moderately popular at least.

But times change, and Power Rangers settled into its role after first few seasons and kept going. We never got to see past the third season, but looking at what the Alien Rangers were, I don’t mind missing any of that. In few ways, Power Rangers is a mainstay in American television and few generations have already grown into adulthood with it.

It would be impossible for Hasbro to capture the thunder in a bottle again, mostly because how saturated the current entertainment media are of super powered heroes and their stories. Power Rangers does have a niche fulfilled there, being aimed at a younger audience overall and the emphasize at martial arts, something that’s been slowly being toned down like no other thanks to Japanese soccer moms wanting Super Sentai and Kamen Rider to be less violent. Hell, Kamen Rider Ghost toned its violence down to the point of the main character fighting enemies by eerily floating around them, but this was deemed to scary for the kids by their mothers and it got changed back to good ol’ punchan and kickan. There would need to be a proper paradigm shift in the franchise in order to lift it from the place it has sunken into.

Whatever the end aim is, money and toys are involved. Hasbro is, after all, a toy company and whatever they do aims to sell toys. If we get good stories out of the deal, like Beast Wars, that’s good. Considering Bandai’s toys with the Super Sentai have been less than stellar for number of years now, with Doubutsu Sentai Zyuogher having immobile cubes as the robot. They’ve become completely gimmick driven. Some of the suit designs have seen drop in overall quality as well in terms of used materials compared to other contemporary shows. It doesn’t help that giant robots is old men’s stuff in Japan, not something that would sell all that well.

Power Rangers has always had a need to produce Western toys anyway, as it is relatively uncommon for Japanese toylines to contain bad guys. This is the opposite to American model, where both sides of the story gets toys. The best examples of this would be Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toylines. MOTU at a point had almost 1:1 ratio between the heros and villains. All this is because of Star Wars, in that kids weren’t just buying toys for the sake of toys, but because the toys were representing the characters. Hasbro has a history of being able do multi-media franchises, as long as they don’t forget that kids and fans are in for the characters, and Power Rangers certainly has characters consumers can connect with.

Well, if nothing else comes from this, I bet your ass that we’ll see Power Rangers/ Transformers crossover toys with the Dinobots at some point.

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Fight! Iczer-1 series celebration

These posts were originally posted as a Monthly Three, as well as Iczer-1’s 30th anniversary celebration series. They are now here collected for easier access. This post covers introduction to the history and the Original Video Animations the franchise has seen.


Rei Aran

If one doesn’t find much sources about Hariken Ryu in English (his career with Godzilla gives him a lot of leverage over other of his contemporaries, Aran Rei is barely recognized in any degree. While Aran is known as one of many people who made up the best era of Comic Lemon People, and thus one of those who influenced then-current Japanese popular culture, and to that extension modern Japanese pop-culture, his name is all but lost in the Western front. He was at his most active in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, having an influence over stylistic sensibilities as well as contributing to the OVA scene.

Born in 1960, Aran’s first published work was Fairies of the Star in Comic Lemon People #6, 1982. Whether or not he had released doujinshis before this is unknown. The one work he seemed to like the most and kept working on  between 1983 and 1993 is Galaxy Police Patrizer-3. If any of his works, it is this one that shows how Aran refined his self-taught skills within one decade to a whole new level.

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Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; F-18E/F Super Hornet

The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet was an upgrade to the single seat F/A-18C/D line of Hornets. It all goes back to the YF-17 test fighter in the 1970’s, on which the base F/A-18 Hornet is derived from. This base F/A-18 Hornet is a twin engine multi-mission aircraft designed around leading-edge extensions with digital fly-by-wire controls, with single-slotted flaps and ailerons over the whole span of the trapezoidal wings. This, alongside with canted vertical stabilisers give the Hornet an excellent high angle of attack, which was tested by NASA’s High Alpha Research Vehicle. All in all, an aggressive fighter, if needed.

Originally, the Hornet was to have two variants, an attacker and a fighter. However, these were merged into one craft via the Hornet’s multi-function displays, which allows the pilot to change to attack or fighter mode, or both, making the Hornet a proper multi-role fighter. This proved to be valuable asset in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, where operational commanders had large flexibility within scenarios and were able to adjust to situations with a single aircraft in the air.

The C/D version, the which Super Hornet is an upgrade on, has two variants; C being single seat and D being two-seat. D is more a training variant, while the proper mission-ready D’s second seat is reserved for Weapons and Sensors officer to assist the pilot. As such, it mostly served as U.S. Marine Corps’ night attack and Forward Air Controller.

Overall, the C and D models are block upgrades made to the Hornet in 1987, incorporating upgraded radar and avionics, ability to carry newer and larger variety of missiles and got neat little things like self-projection hammer and a synthetic aperture ground mapping radar. It also got a new ejection seat, the Martin-Baker NACES. 1989 models also had improved night attack abilities with Hughes AN/AAR-50 thermal navigation pods, good ol’ night vision goggles and two full colour MFD’s. An upgrade set that overall increases the effectiveness of the fighter.

The F/18-E/F upgrades were based on this, but where much larger in scale. While avionics, ejection seat and such things from the previous upgrades stayed largely the same, including the computer software, the Super Hornet is about twenty percent larger, has both heavier empty and maximum weights. Due to it carrying 33% more fuel internally, its mission range is 41% higher as well. All this meant that the catapults and arresting systems on the naval vessels had to be set differently for Super Hornets. Unlike the Hornet, Super Hornet was also designed  to for aerial fueling, extending its airtime even further.

The larger frame of the Super Hornet comes from its longer fuselage and increased win area. The oval shaped intake ramps of the Hornet were switched for rectangular intakes, which also also slightly larger. Despite the larger size, the General Electric F414 engines give the Super Hornet 35% additional trust compared to Hornet’s F404 engines. The fuselage was not designed for stealth, but the overall design was to reduce ballistic weaknesses and emphasize the use of existing electronic warfare with innovative tactics its flip-of-the-switch multi-role function allowed.

The fuselage is also considerably smoother than its predecessors, as Super Hornet saw extensive use of panel joint serration and edge alignment to eliminate unnecessary surface joint gaps and resonant cavities. These help to reflect waves away from the craft, and with smaller frontal cross-section than its predecessors, the Super Hornet is hard to pick up by radar. F-22 and F-35 would totally eclipse it with their stealth technology.

The F/A-18E/F saw its first action in 2002 during Operation Southern Watch in Iraq as a bomber . After that, the Super Hornet has been flying every sort of mission, from escorting to  close air support. For the U.S. Navy, they’ve proven a competent and effective fighter, which has made it a possible candidate for multiple countries for adoption. The Royal Australian Air Force acquired 24 Super Hornets in 2007, which was a controversial order due argument made that Super Hornet was inferior to the MiG-29 and Su-30 in the South East Asia. The first RAAF Super Hornet arrived in 2009, with the rest coming later down the line.  Numerous other potential operators are about, including Canada to replace their CF-18 Hornets, Finland to replace their F/A-18 Hornets under HX Fighter Program, Poland to modernise their defence in 2021 and to have something to replace their Su-22M4 fleet, with few others in the line. Numerous bids for Super Hornet has failed across the years.

The difference between E and F variants are, as you’d expect, is that E is a single-seat variant while F is a two-seat variant.

And as usual, the image board original

The history of BETAverse Hornet and Super Hornet are very similar to the real world counterpart. Based on YF-17 from the Lightweight TSF Program, McDaell Doglam refined the fighter into a multi-purpose surface fighter for the U.S. Navy to use. While the F-14 Tomcat was still around, the Hornet began replacing them as U.S. Navy’s mainline surface fighter due to its lower maintenance and better cost-to-performance ratio. This mean that a Hornet had a longer fieldtime compared to the Tomcat, just like with the real world fighter. All in all, the BETAverse Hornet follows the history of the actual Hornet very closely.

The same can be said for the Super Hornet. With the all the upgrades made to the F-18E/F Super Hornet, it’s effectively a 2.5th generation TSF and fights in the same league as the SU-34 Terminator. Shoulders saw expanded thrusters, head section gained upgraded avionics and sensors and lower body overall was increased in order to expand operating time. The Super Hornet has similar performance to F-15E Strike Eagle, but at a lower cost, making it U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ flagship and mainline machine, which got exported to place like Australia. E and F variations have the same seat arrangement as the real fighter.

As for its armaments, the Super Hornet doesn’t exactly have a wide variety to choose from. The American Assault Cannon of choice, the AMWS-21 Combat System, is the standard long-range combat goes by. As a special option inherited from the Hornet is the MGM-140 ATACMS missile container system, which has a neat radar unit on it to help guidance. Luckily, the Super Hornet as CIWS-1A Close Combat Knife over the terrible CIWS-1B.

As for the design, the Super Hornet really goes its way to incorporate some of the fighter elements into the TSF, but due to the size of the shoulders and knees, you don’t recognize it as a Hornet of any sort from the first view. This is due to its front silhouette being too large, whereas the Hornet and Super Hornet were designed to have less bulk. The colour is adopted from a real life Super Hornet, as pictured above.

Super Hornet had that smooth surface going on for it, and the TSF version of it almost seems to use this. However, the torso’s many segments, and hanging bits on the skirt armour and slightly excessive raised levels on the arms tell that this wasn’t a main concern. Even Tomcat seems to have smoother surface than the Super Hornet. However, it must be mentioned that the skirt armour does relay some of the fuselage’s smooth look, but that’s about it. Not that TSFs have to concern with stealth when it comes to fighting the BETA, but it’s rather important when fighting other TSFs.

The Jump unit is a truncated and deformed version of the fighter, with the nose cut off. Nothing too special overall, though it is slightly bulky.

Where the Super Hornet made its name for the fans was during the events in The Day After timeline, where it serves as the primary American TSF. Especially notable is how twelve  Super Hornets defended USS John F. Kennedy against a sea of BETA in 2nd of July, 2004. Notable is also their use during the Defence of Seattle and during following events.

Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ

Previous: FORCE

In the early 2000’s, Sega’s plan was to deliver cheaper and more effective arcade hardware for the Japanese market, which of few would see worldwide releases. NAOMI 2 was given the emphasize over the Hikaru, which was phased out in 2002. NAOMI 2 would last to 2008, with Atomiswave, a Sammy developed NAOMI derivative, running by its side. Around the same time in 2001 Sega developed the Triforce with Nintendo and Namco, based on Nintendo’s GameCube. Two years later, Sega would release Chihiro to the arcades, based on Microsoft’s Xbox. All these arcade machines ran different games that Sega was directly involved and developed, like NAOMI 2’s Virtua Fighter 4 series, Triforce running AM2 developed F-Zero AX, Atomiswave running many fishing and fighting games Sega was part developer and publisher, and Chihiro most known for OutRun 2 and House of the Dead III due to their Xbox ports. Later in the 2000’s, Sega’s arcade hardware would be more or less completely home media derivative, based on normal PC architecture, making some of the modern games running on a modified Windows. However, there was no Virtual-On, on any of these systems.

With Virtual-On FORCE generally receiving lukewarm acceptance from the overall audience, regarding Oratorio Tangram the superior game, Hitmaker would develop a console-only sequel for the PlayStation 2; Virtual-On MARZ.

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Virtual-On Retrospective: Operation Moongate

Virtual-On is one of Sega’s hallmark game franchises, developed by Sega’s AM3 department. It had everything the arcades required in 1996; 3D graphics that you wouldn’t see at home, unique controls, flashy graphics and fast paced gameplay. When most of the 3D mecha combat games on the market aimed for slow and emphasized on realistic simulation, like Shattered Metal or Mech Warrior 2, Virtual-On hit the arcades with sharp, colourful 3D models in fast paced third-person action with (relatively) easy controls. This is perhaps the best example of East VS. West mentality when it comes to giant robots. Even in arcades, among other blooming 3D games, Virtual-On stood apart with its excellent presentation and unrelenting game play.

 

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To know the production

This is a topic I tend to repeat each year, though for a good reason. A designer who has no idea about the methods of production tend to produce expensive schlock.

That may sound a bit harsh to say, but sadly that’s a reality in many ways. A designer can be whoever, no matter the education, experience or overall knowledge of things at hand. There are many designers, very few master craftsmen with design as their main tool. What ultimately distinguish the two is application of knowledge. Experience can be argued to be a necessary element, but I would argue it is inherently required for a higher class designer.

To use an example from a product design side, customer works are good ones how things just sorta fall apart the moment you get an A4 in your hands with scribbled lines with no cohesion to them. Certainly it makes sense to the customer who drew it, but for someone who has make their design it may as well be Hebrew. A clean presentation of your design with all the necessary information is required.

While that’s enough for a random customer that just pops into your ‘shop and asks if you can make him a steel box, things are different in proper industrial environment. A designer who does not understand the methods and tools used to make their design a reality is, to be frank, out of his league. It’s easy to draw a box and send it forwards without a second though, 3D modelling programs make these things far too easy. However, the moment the worker gets the paper and has to create said box, questions arise. Will it be made from one sheet, with corners bent up and welded shut? Are all the sides separate pieces that need to be cut separately and then welded? Both of these are valid approaches, though only the other saves time, is effective and does not require excessive work put in. Bending would be the better answer here, despite it introducing rounded corners to the product. It’s faster and more material effective, saving money.

An overtly complex design that does not consider production quite literally costs money by forcing more work hours elsewhere in the machine. We can thank the engineers and mathematicians who have to calculate load bearings that keep designers’ “art” in check. You wouldn’t believe the sort of trailer designs I’ve seen.

Let’s apply this to mecha design in a way. Assume that we’ve given a task to sketch up some robot a company were to sell in limited quantities. The things we’d like to take into account in this scenario would be the relative simplicity of the moulds. This being a limited production, minimising production costs will carry long away. The more a mould gets used, the “cheaper” it is on the long run. For a limited production we need to be aware the amount of use the mould get. We can reduce the complexity of the mould by eliminating most, if not all, escape corners from the shapes. While this first seems easy, it’s something that can challenge even a veteran. We’d need to consider the spruces and their setting, and if we could re-use something the company has already produced, the better. Colour of the plastic used is a major factor as well, as certain colours and combination cost different amounts. The plastic itself needs heavy consideration, as not all plastics are equal when it comes to models.

To compare Bandai and Kotobukiya, there are numerous quality differences in both mould designs and used plastics, something that Bandai has fair few decades under their belt now. Revell, another major plastic model company, has seen little progress in how they create their kits for some thirty years now. Their injection kit technology more or less has simply risen in quality while keeping most moulds the same. Bandai’s approach is very much different, where they constantly re-engineer their models for modern age, as Gunpla is expected to be very poseable to the same extent as the robots in the cartoons. Not only that, but the emphasize on creating new moulds when necessary seems to be on the table with them, though old moulds will see lots of use whenever possible. That is not to say that Revell is a lesser company than Bandai when it comes to models. They’re simply playing different audience. One wants more accurate injections kits for vehicles and such, while the other concentrates on wanting to build their own toys.

All that said, in fiction this of course doesn’t matter, if there is no reason. Nevertheless, considering how most if not all series tend to get merch of their in some way, giving a thought how something could be done would be highly recommended. Even when CNC machines tend to be able to do anything nowadays, and 3D printing is becoming a more common thing by the year, ultimately overtly complex design only yield trouble.

The reason many 1970’s mecha look dead simple and lacking in bells and whistles compared to modern designs is because the production methods have changed and evolved. We are at a point, when it comes to models and such, that we can produce stupidly complex designs at a relatively low price.

However, that’s not the exact same tale everywhere. While productions methods do continue constantly, harsher limitations than what we have in plastic model industry are till in place. We can’t 3D print cards, for example. Foundries still need to produce the raw materials that can be put into use. There would be no reason to build a car’s frame by machining it from a solid block of steel or use a mould to make it whole. The best option still is to make it from bits and pieces shapen into proper form, then welded together.

As for character designs, well, that’s probably something I shouldn’t dabble into outside mentioning how excessive detail does not make a good design.

I wish you a merry Christmas, and hopefully we’ll back on schedule next Friday.

Mecha Design: Selling toys

I’ve touched this on multiple occasions before, but I still need to give it a single, emphasizing post: most robot franchises are there to sell toys. Transformers being the most prominent example of this, with the cartoon and comics supporting the toyline rather being a separate entities based on the toyline. Both the comics and cartoons had to adhere what Hasbro had to say, which resulted in death of numerous characters while loads of new ones being introduced in one panel. Writers can often try to tackle these as challenges, and while that has been less successful at times, it has given birth to a very rich franchise, with Beast Wars still contesting the place for the best written entry overall.

With Transformers, a lot of the things that goes in the designs can work in the toys, and sometimes Hasbro mandates things. However, that being said, Japan still likes to design toys first and foremost based on gimmick ideas to implement in the shows themselves. This is rather clear in modern Kamen Rider, where the themes and gimmicks have been decided beforehand and designed based on these. Sometimes, the concepts can be to counter previous seasons’ concepts, or based on research on what kids may like. The usual stuff really, and this is part of the whole research part when designing something for purpose use; find what it needed and wanted, and then fill those.

But enough intro talk, let’s talk about a Super Sentai mecha first.

These photos are from greenflour5757.blog96.fc2.com/blog-category-53.html I recommend giving it a look, there are a lot more there

Studio PLEX is a company that is under Bandai Namco holdings, and their main task really is to design and realise toys. GoTaurus above is one of their creations for Gingaman, and does exhibit a lot of their design ideas from the get go. I’m sure everyone can see how its transformation is essentially just to stand up. The reason this is of course; toys.

Most, if not all, Studio PLEX designs are not driven by technology, lore or the like, the things I’ve been praising with harsh bias all year around. The very core their designs are driven is to make the toy sturdy for kids to play with, and to look neat and accommodate all the necessary gimmicks. There are no flimsy bits to bob around, no sharp corners to speak of to pop one’s eye out. Real world concerns for child safety and sturdiness have driven the design, but that has not not impacted it. Certainly, GoTaurus may not have the most interesting design, and the relatively low production quality of the toys often can demerit it, yet ultimately the design is very eye pleasing due to the used colours and shapes.

The chains do seem a bit arbitrary, but they work in both modes

It is designed and build with intention. All the joints too are big and relatively heavy-duty compared to modern, more adult-oriented toys, where joints could be build from metal or have somewhat more complex design in a small build. Because the intent and use of Super Sentai toys is very different from what adults want to do with their toys, either just pose them on the shelf or hotglue them, there’s not much put into low-cost production and high sturdiness. At times, it feels it is the exact opposite, with high-cost productions with extreme detailing, but with even one hit or the like, the toy’s bust.

The A3 toyline of Tactical Surface Fighters from Muv-Luv Alternative is a good example how the toys were made with rather  high detail count and decent paint application, but everything else tended to be terrible.

This is, of course, because the TSFs were not designed to be toys in the first place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their toys need to be terrible. The joints were designed from ground up, and ended up being very loose. The used plastic is either too soft and has warped, or lacks toughness and breaks easily. All these combined make the A3 line very flimsy, and knowing how to repair broken bits is pretty much required. As the line went on, some of these issues were fixed, but in the end the A3 was a disappointment. The franchise moved on to the Plastic Model field, but even there the TSF models were costlier and of lower quality than competition, especially when compared to Gundam models. That may be a bit unfair comparison, considering what sort of gold mine Gunpla is for Bandai.

Speaking of Gundam, while the series is know for its giant robots and relatively good storytelling in general, it should be noted that it is very much driven by its model sales above all. Adults and kids alike find building their own toys fun, after all.

The one core thing that allows Bandai to roll out loads of different sort of varied designs like the above BG-011B Build Burning Gundam is the use of general use frames that you can slab armour on.

A generic frame, nothing specific

Bandai often reworks this frame. Certain series and eras themselves have a certain set frame, which may have an extra part to add a function or the like, but largely what makes the most difference in the model is its outside appearance. Part swapping is easy, as generally Bandai wants to make things modular within the series to a certain degree for their own benefit in mould reuse. It also makes kitbashing easier, when everything uses standardised parts.

Gundam as a franchise is freakish in the sense that it doesn’t serve the toys all the way, despite Bandai being the end-of-all being that dictates the final design. It allows the designers to work within the fiction, and this often results in a design that functions within pre-existing model limitations and fiction’s demands, as the paradigm in Gundam design emphasies using all three at the same time. Rarely you see a Gundam that could not be realised in model form, and even then it’s more common to see a modern redesign that makes them fit that box.

Gundam began to use transformations when the technology became cheap enough for it, and after Macross had made it popular. Looking at the current lineup of Gunpla, we can always see one or two models designed just around the shape changing gimmick. Thus, in a mainline Gundam show, the transformation has to work, toy accurate if possible. Because this mind set shifted only after later, mechas like Zeta Gundam had to come around its complex and nigh impossible transformation schemes (for toys) to the point of Bandai making a Zeta Model that, for in-universe reasons, had a simplified scheme. Namely, the MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam Wave Shooter Equipment Type. Nowadays, moel engineering and plastics have evolved to the point of pretty much anything is possible.

Though even when everything has become possible, it also has a cost. A simple design like with GoTaurus won’t cost too much to produce, but a more complex piece like a Zeta Gundam will due to complex mould needed. Considering the needs of the toy first yields a very much different design than considering the in-world or technological points. Toys, after all, exist.