Machine Robo Wedge

Released in 2005, Machine Robo Wedge is an A4-sized softback book giving a visual overview of the Machine Robo figures from 1982 up until 2005. The general idea is very close to that of the beautiful Transformers Generations retrospective. Despite the book being entirely in Japanese, I couldn't resist the thing, and recently got myself a copy from Hobbylink Japan.

And it's a great book. I can't read a word of Japanese, but, for the large part, it's a picture book anyway. There are some text sections, and there are some little notes I'd love to be able to read, but for the most part, a mixture of clear layouts and a respectable amount of knowledge about the line meant I found it fairly comprehensible.

The book's laid out very sensibly - the first section covers the pre-Anime Machine Robo toys; the second covers the 1980s Anime-related figures (plus a gallery of concept art); the third covers the modern Machine Robo Rescue and Mugenbine; the fourth overseas releases (i.e. Gobots, Robo Machine and Machine Men), and the fifth related documentation. There's also a Region 2 DVD included.

The layout is very nice - simple but effective, with decent-sized pictures showing the majority of figures in both modes (though variants generally have to make do with a smaller robot mode picture). It's great to have a good look at some of the Japanese-exclusive figures, while it's nice to have a comprehensive, consistent guide to all the other toys. I'm presuming the figures were drawn from the collections of fans (as they were for Generations). Some of the juicy stuff gets nice big pictures - this is the best look I've had at the three Japanese-exclusive Double Machine Robo, the Martial Arts Robo, Battle Base or Land Commander 5, while it gives a nice visual summary as to the contents of the ultra-rare Best Of Machine Robo giftsets.

The section covering the tie-in figures to the 1980s Anime series (Revenge of Cronos and Battlehackers) is a little less interesting to me, as it concerned the line switching to a more generic style - the likes of R. JeTan, Baikanfu and Drill Crusher just don't do too much for me, though there are a few interesting figures I either wasn't aware of or had only seen small pictures of, such as Pro Truck Racer or the Varigale-X play set.

Tagged onto the end of this section are the CG Robo, a failed 1993 revival attempt, and these especially are nice to see - shame I have a hard enough time tracking down the European-released Mega Truck, let alone the Japanese exclusives. Still, once again it's nice to have the figures clearly catalogued - though I'd love to know whether the boxed-out 'Battleship Robo' toy actually came out. Even the non-Japanese stuff taught me a thing or two, and is good fun. It's nice to see all the variants laid out, plus examples of the myriad packaging used around the world.

Sadly, the newer stuff isn't really my bag - I have three of the combining MRR toys, and to be honest while they're not bad I don't, at this point, intend to buy more; whereas the combining concept of Mugenbine has never really grabbed me. However, it would be churlish to say this section doesn't to its' job, and the crisp, clear photography lays out all the figures (including the myriad variants and combinations of each) beautifully.

The concept drawings are rather fun - while being unable to read the notes is a bit of a hindrance, I did spot some interesting stuff, like drawings of 600 Series figures modelled on Concorde and a Pitts Special, several unproduced Playsets, the Jetranser Double Machine Robo with an F-104 in place of the eventual F-15, and a clutch of unreleased Devil Invaders. The documentation section is all Greek (well, Japanese) to me - there are some nice sketches, though. There are also several articles, and I'm quite inspired to learn the language to find out what's said.

As well as all this, there's the DVD, titled MR VR: Machine Robo Visual Records. This is inserted in a thick cardboard 'page' at the back of the book, which is about my only complaint - it looks a little cheap. On the plus side, I suppose there are few better ways of storing it so the shape of the disc doesn't imprint on the other pages. The content on the DVD itself is a large number of Machine Robo toy commercials. These are generally great fun. The earlier ones are largely stop motion affairs. These are really well done, a combination of the military-style music and intricate model towns that reminds me a little of Godzilla films. This is a Good Thing.

The highlight is probably the Machine Puzzler one, which is pretty ambitious and well-executed. It's put to shame, however, by the masterful animated commercial for Battle Armor 5 - while the Battle Suits do take a ludicrously long time to merge, the beautiful animation makes up for it. It's really a crying shame Bandai didn't invest in an anime series earlier on, using the Romulos storyline, rather than waiting until 1987 and instead delivering the pompous, clichéd Revenge of Cronos . Talking of Cronos, the series' tie-in commercials are a lot more fun than the line's anime, especially the insane BB-gun armed Chara DX figures. Most of the 1980s commercials are actually quite good fun. Generally the quality's excellent - some are obviously from low-grade (possibly off-air) sources, but generally it's a good section of masters.

Of particular interest to me was the CG Robo commercial , produced in CGI. I've developed a strange liking for this 'in-between' line, which was the MR equivalent of Transformers Generation 2, I suppose. The commercials are quite crude CGI, but they're hokey fun because of it. Best of all are the two random jokey different takes, featuring various characters being squashed by the MR: CG logo in a Pythonesque fashion. However, the alternate takes are a bit of a problem for the DVD as a whole - practically every commercial is included in multiple, consecutive versions (generally just shortened cuts). While I appreciate the manufacturers' exhaustiveness, it means watching the DVD is very much like getting brain damage - it's best to dip into, as the Japanese-language makes a bit hit and miss for philistines like m'self. There are also a slew of Rescue/Mugenbine commercials on here, but as these were largely hyperactively-edited CGI models of toys I'm not keen on with some lunatic yelling "MACHINE ROBO!!!!" over the top I must confess I haven't watched them.

Overall, it's a gorgeous package with very few faults. It does exactly what it sets out to do with style (the design is lovely, and the cover is terrific). However, it does have a few qualifiers - it's recommended that those who can't read Japanese and aren't planning to any time soon have a fair amount of knowledge of Machine Robo to fully enjoy the book; and depending on which areas of the line you like, it may turn out to not have much content you find interesting (Gobots, for example, is treated as something of a sidebar - this is a Machine Robo book, and the two are considerably more diverse than, say, Diaclone and Transformers, as MR is still a viable franchise in its' own right). But for anyone interested in the MR line this is pretty essential, even if you only use it as a pretty picture book (like I do!). Copies can still be ordered from HLJ at a respectable price, and books on either line are so rare I'd recommend snapping up a copy and enjoying it while you can.

Incidentally, while I have made copies of certain pictures for illustrating this and other articles, I have absolutely no intention of scanning the whole thing - not only is it still in print and freely available at a respectable price, but it'd destroy the spine too, and I'm not going to wreck this lovely book to save you a few quid; please save your time and mine by not even emailing to ask for me to provide you with scans.