Hi! I’m Dave, and I want to talk to you about toys. I’ve been digging in the toy, statue, and figure subcultures for years, and the craftsmanship and engineering of these little mass-produced art pieces have never ceased to fascinate me. In this regular feature, I’m going to share some of the more interesting pieces I’ve come across, ranging from videogame characters like Street Fighter’s Chun-Li to Freddy Mercury. Yes, the one from Queen. Toys and figures have come a long way from GI-Joe.
There are plenty of toy review columns out there, which is why this one is going to go a little broader, giving some context for each piece and exploring the process of converting an on-screen character into a piece of plastic. Even if you don’t have any interest in running out and buying the toys I feature, I hope you’ll learn something new.
This week, I’m going to be pulling something off my shelf that’s been sitting around unopened for over a year now. I haven’t been buying a lot of figures lately, but when I do it’s kind of action figure tsundoku.
This one is from the delightful short anime Space Patrol Luluco, a middle-school love story/sci-fi adventure about a girl who is very unhappy about, among other things, the fact that she can transform into a gun.
One of the series’ sponsors was in fact the Japanese hobby giant Good Smile—responsible for the Nendoroid and figma lines of action figures that line the shelves at every comic shop and convention—and they had a very interesting angle for a specific novelty toy based on this show.
The “Metamoroid” Luluco is actually a transforming figure, capable of turning from a girl into a gun similar to how she does in the series. This is one of only two figures in the Metamoroid line, versus Nendoroid’s near-thousand—The other is a figure based on a single scene in an obscure gag anime.
There are some fundamental trade-offs involved with a transforming figure. As the figure is explicitly built for the transformation gimmick, it isn’t really sculpted for accuracy to the animation. Instead, the stylized, space-suited Luluco looks like the sign outside of a ladies’ room, with a triangle body and little stick limbs with bare-minimum joints at the elbows and shoulders. Every part of Luluco needs to open up, twist, detach, or tuck into the body, so the designers opted for extreme simplicity.
But it’s understood that if you want a look closer to anime, you’d go for the Nendoroid, which should be easy enough to—oh no, oh my god, never mind, it goes for one hundred American dollars on Ebay as I write this. It’s with good reason that one of the big rules of Japanese toy collecting—particularly when it comes to Good Smile’s notoriously small production runs—is “preorder today or suffer later.”
The company has made its fortune combining fans’ character love with the law of supply and demand, producing significantly fewer products than there are fans. If people love a character enough, they’ll go to the scalpers and pay what they ask. Meanwhile, Good Smile sells out of product almost every time.
Anyway, you’re not getting a large variety of poses out of this figure. Her shoulders have a certain degree of rotation that allow for a few more poses than “hand up” and “hand down”, but the legs aren’t going anywhere. Luluco is wobbly on her semi-flat feet, and the figure does not come with a stand, making this a risky display piece.
The fact that Luluco’s semi-removable helmet is made of clear plastic complicates the matter. Though I’m not about to throw the figure down the stairs trying, clear plastic is generally pretty fragile and I suspect it would be very easy to crack this part. Even trying to remove it from the front made me feel like something was going to break.
With that in mind, this is a figure you really don’t want falling from a shelf or just plopping forward onto its face. That means that you’ll need to find your own solution to keep her standing, like a third-party or home-made base. Otherwise, even if you get her standing up, I can guarantee you she’ll eventually fall, and the results are going to be ugly.
With all that out of the way, let’s look at the transformation. This isn’t what you’d call in Transformer parlance a “perfect transformation”, where you twist, pull and shift pieces but the body remains intact. Rather, you pull Luluco apart at the knees, open up her torso, twist her hips, and reattach her legs in completely different places. It’s quite a process (as this sort of horrific image of Luluco mid-transformation demonstrates), but the figure comes with very clear instructions. It is a bit of a pleasure to see how the toy’s creators made this weird design happen—that the arms fold up this way, the hips swivel that way as Luluco folds up into herself.
And then you have a gun! Or a weird cartoon Transformer body horror contortion, depending on how you think about it. Her head is all the way in the back. The cute white stripes on the side of the gun are kind of her ribs, based on how the body opened up. I’ve supplied a comparison image from the anime for you to judge against. Think about how it would feel to hold this pose.
You might have noticed I photographed the gun leaning back against Lulu’s head and against a wall, and there’s a really good reason for that: it doesn’t stand upright. Given the nature of the design, where one of Luluco’s legs is the grip of the gun, it’s not going to stand on its own. A simple, tiny plastic base could have held Luluco’s foot snugly and laid flat on the floor, keeping it balanced. That the manufacturer didn’t even shell out for a part worth pennies makes it feel like they didn’t care.
Finally, inexplicably, the muzzle of the gun doesn’t attach properly and will roll off if you so much as move it. The belt hangs loose on the barrel and will follow the muzzle right off the figure afterwards. This is the final insult, the kind of flaw you can’t make up for. It’s a cherry that rolls off the top.
This wouldn’t have been hard to address—any other figure, even the simplest and cheapest, would simply use a peg or other connector for a snug fit. This figure just doesn’t have any such thing. A blunder this basic is quite strange coming from the experienced Good Smile. Together with the lack of a stand, this finishing botch points once more towards somebody just not giving a damn at some point in this project.
I normally have a soft spot for this kind of extremely gimmicky figure meant only to do one thing; see also elaborate nerd jokes like Megadrive Megatron. If the announcement “AWAKE! JUDGMENT GUN MORPHING!” and subsequent screaming about “JUSTICE!!” is your favorite part of Luluco—as it was mine—then you might be the audience for which this silly little piece was made. That’s why I pre-ordered it.
Unfortunately, even for a cheaper figure like this, the production really isn’t up to snuff. The lack of a stand is a problem, but the fact that the barrel of the gun doesn’t stay on is an inexcusable flaw. Now that I finally got around to popping this figure open a year or so later, I think I’d have been happier if I’d left it on my shelf forever. I really can’t advise anybody buy it.
Unlike its cousin the Nendoroid, you can still easily find the Metamoroid Luluco for around $30 to $40 online. At the time of this writing, Amazon is offering it for $35 shipped.
One of the reasons people pay hundreds on the aftermarket for Good Smile’s toys is that they’re a trustworthy brand at a low price. Compromises always have to be made between quality and cost, but this is one case where the balance has shifted so far in favor of the latter that the figure’s ambitious concept and its half-baked delivery that it ends up not worth it at all.