By 1985 Machine Robo was on the wane as Takara's decision to import Transformers (replacing the Diaclone and Microchange lines that had inspired the Western franchise) muscled in on the transforming robot market. When Phantom Robo arrived in 1985, Bandai were already winding down its' initial Machine Robo Series. The figure was one of several initially designed to have a transforming removable accessory that could form additional parts for the vehicle mode or armour for the robot. In the case of Phantom Robo this was a helicopter engine; the basic concept was almost certainly the inspiration for the US-exclusive Super Gobot Raizor.

However, the figure was chosen for reissue in 1986 and the character made several cameo appearances as a Jet Tribe member in the Revenge of Cronos anime series. The same year saw the figure's Western release as Mach-3, recoloured in a darker grey and sold in USAF (Gobots) and RAF (Robo Machine) markings.


ALTERNATE MODE

Superficial it may be, but the lighter Japanese colours do an average mould a power of good. They certainly make him stand out a bit better (Mach-3, especially in American markings, always seemed a bit like a cheap substitute for Leader-1), and they're rather fetching to boot. The black cockpit looks a lot more realistic (though obviously it wouldn't have worked so well with the darker grey Western scheme, while the under-wing payload and wheels being painted black adds a dash of finesse. The dorsal sticker breaks up the fuselage a bit as well.

In a more flattering colour and with some nice touches, it's easier to appreciate the detail work on the alternate mode, and the fact that the Phantom is a nice-looking plane. Plus having a JSDAF jet alongside the USAF, RAF and Red Air Force planes is great for display purposes.


ROBOT MODE

Switching from Phantom to Robo is a simple enough business, perhaps reflecting a smaller amount of money being available to the designers. It's a bit of an odd layout for the robot with most of the plane still plainly visible - it isn't far from an F-4 stood on its' tail. Still, there's some charm to him and once again the lighter MR colours work better. One interesting quirk of the Japanese version is that the nosecone folds back about 15° more, meaning the head's not quite so covered, while the cockpit paint app not carrying on to his chest also works in the figure's favour, with the additional stickers breaking up the torso as well.

It's still far from the finest figure available in the range, lacking a certain amount of refinement (the wings folding back at 90° would have helped the look of the robot a lot) but this is the best look for the mould.


SUMMARY

So a below average figure is dragged up to about average. I'm enough of a jet fan for the different livery to make this one a worthwhile variant to collect, but the truth is a different scheme doesn't overcome the distinct mediocrity of the robot mode. The Phantom mould isn't good enough for anyone except lunatics like me to own multiple versions thereof; however, for US-based buyers where the domestic release is pretty rare, it's worth a look as the jump in price isn't as sharp. European buyers are advised to stick with the cheap, relatively widespread Robo Machine variant. Japanese buyers are just lucky sods as the most common version is the best (the reissue seems easier to find than the original version, and only the packaging is changed).


THE FACTS
[Corrections? Let me know!]

RELEASES:
1985, Machine Robo Series - MR-51: Phantom Robo
1986, Gobots Series 3 - 65: Mach-3 (grey recolour)
1986, Robo Machine - RM-63: Mach-3 (grey recolour, RAF markings)
1986, Machine Robo Revenge of Cronos - MRJ-5: Phantom Robo

PARTS:
None

WEAK POINTS:
None