VF-171EX Nightmare Plus Alto Saotome Custom
Review by VF5SS
The ever progressing Macross universe is filling up with even more Valkyrie designs. Not only do they serve as the machines employed by the characters, they also convey a sense of progression from one series to the next. The venerable VF-1 from the original Macross is considered a classic in-universe by the time of Macross 7 and has found its way into the hands of enthusiasts, space pirates, and an irate space Amazon mayor. Likewise, the VF-11, introduced at the beginning of Macross Plus, is shown to be outdated during the course of that OVA/movie and by the time Macross 7 rolls around it can barely keep up with all the stock footage. Even during a brief fling with prequels Macross used the real life Valkyrie inspiration, the F-14, to transition from conventional aerial warfare to the age where all jets have arms. To link Macross Frontier with its chronological predecessor, Macross 7, the striking black Valkyrie piloted by the cool soldier became the one that gets blown up by the bad guys to show how serious space war can be. Enter the VF-171.
The VF-171EX Nightmare Plus is a tuned up version of the standard VF-171. This particular unit is used by dashing young ace pilot Alto Saotome towards the end of the series. There was much talk during the airing of Macross Frontier on whether the Valkyrie with the most screen time (a lot of which is stock footage) would be getting a DX Chogokin toy so it could stand beside its series mate, the VF-25. In a strange case of life imitating art, the announcement of the VF-171EX toy was practically out of nowhere. Normally we would see a teaser, followed by CAD pics, and then a gray painted prototype over months of development ,but the VF-171EX was revealed with a fully painted prototype with preorders going up less than a month after it was announced. This preorder panic caused much grief to an already taxed western fanbase who cursed the shortage of Valkyries in the Frontier toy line. The first Valkyrie to be seen in the opening episode to Frontier became a highly desired piece for people hammering their keyboards searching for a preorder to secure.
The VF-171EX was fortunate enough to be developed after Bandai started bringing their A-game to the Macross Frontier DX Chogokin toys. It is a sight to behold both in terms of looks and in much of its engineering. Alto's Hikaru Ichijo-inspired color scheme is perfectly represented on this figure through the use of numerous paint apps and tampo printed markings. Like the YF-29 and Renewal VF-25 toys, the VF-171EX is solidly locked together in fighter mode and sits stably atop a set of diecast tricycle landing gear with rubber tires. The VF-171EX is slightly shorter in length than the VF-25 Renewal version and seems to weigh a smidgen less.
Some may argue that Alto gets more a raw deal in the Frontier TV series because in the movies he works his way up to the bleeding edge YF-29 Durandal instead of a brief affair with this stealthy lass. His use of a character-specific VF-171 did increase the chances of a toy being made, because character units always sell more than generic mass production models. This is especially true for Macross toys.
The Macross 7 fleet was in the process of transitioning from outdated VF-11 Thunderbolts to more advanced VF-19 Excaliburs. For the first half of the series, their singular elite special forces unit, "Diamond Force", employed the striking stealth styled machine designated VF-17 Nightmares (as seen on the right). As a way of connecting Macross 7 to Frontier, the main fighter of the Frontier fleet was the VF-171 Nightmare Plus. It is common in real life for military forces to eschew a top of the line fighter in favor of a retooled version of an existing one. As Yamato toys continued their foray into the Macross 7 license with their VF-17S Diamond Force Color, the speculation over a VF-171 from Bandai became much more fervent. The relative quickness of the release lead to many rumors that the two toys shared some developers. There are many similarities between these two toys, although I am not sure how much can be attributed to the fictional lineage of the VF-17 to VF-171 and how much may be direct inspiration at a design level. The VF-17 is noticeably heavier than the VF-171EX.
Hey look it's the Yin-Yang Diamond Force.
A lot of people ask if, by the end of the Macross 7 era even the space kangaroos are upgrading to VF-19s, why is the Frontier fleet using what amounts to a souped up VF-17? I mean, 19 is greater than 17, right? The answer from Shoji Kawmaori is that the VF-19 was too heroic looking to be relegated to a supporting role. Much to my chagrin I understand the VF-17 was always more a secondary hero and the importance of distinguishing the common soldiers from the heroes. Otherwise this would be a confusing mess of similar looking badasses like in Muv-Luv.
This F-117-inspired machine is far more sleek and graceful than its real life counterpart. Many have joked that Alto's preference for stark white Valkyries turned a once stealthy craft into a bright beacon in space.
Much like other modern Valkyrie toys, the VF-171EX has an opening canopy with a removable pilot figure for the cockpit.
One oddity between the two Alto units I own is that their respective pilot figures are painted differently. The one that came with my YF-29 (right) lacks the black paint on its hands and feet. Kinda makes it look like Alto is feeling catty. This appears to be the case in all the YF-29 reviews I have seen. The VF-25F Renewal version also has the correct paint apps so it appears the YF-29's pilot is an anomaly for what should be the same character.
As I mentioned before, the toy has numerous tampo markings and paint applications that tastefully accentuate the graceful curves of the fighter without looking too busy. Unfortunately, due to the transforming nature of the toy, stuff can be unintentionally weathered through handling. The shiny hard ABS that Bandai uses is usually more prone to scratches and chips than, say, the more matte finish plastic Yamato used for their VF-1 toys.
The interior of the feet show a simple engine nozzle and some tread patterns along the soles, all rendered in diecast metal.
Much like Yamato's VF-17, the VF-171EX comes with a pair of covers for the hand ports. These do not retract or store anywhere and are for aesthetics only. They simply plug into the cuff of the wrist area. One thing I like about the VF-171EX's design that the toy highlights all the little details from the VF-17 that are carried over to the new fighter, such as the thrusters at the base of the backplate. The VF-171EX has these as permanently exposed gray vents, unlike the VF-17's subtle opening panel setup.
Unlike the VF-17, the VF-171EX stores its gun pod externally along the center line of the fighter mode.
The gun pod attaches with a simple tab that plugs into a slot on the dorsal plate. There's also a flip up bracket on the stock of the gun that gets sandwiched between a pair of tabs on the legs. The legs on my VF-171 don't quite come together flush so the front tab does most of the work. It still keeps the gun pod securely attached by itself.
The VF-171EX comes with a five part plastic display stand that is similar to the one with the VF-25 Renewal and YF-29. It is likewise very simple yet functional. The two piece adapter plugs into slots near the gullet and a slot in each leg.
Sometimes it can be difficult to leave the gun pod plugged underneath the fighter mode while attaching it to the stand. I found that leaving the gun pod on the stand and then attaching the fighter to the adapter tends to work better. You can fiddle the gun pod back into place after the fighter is secured to the stand.
Rather than a giant New UN Spacy logo, the VF-171EX's base is detailed like a launching hatch on a space carrier. I did supply my own NUNS sticker just to keep it more in line with the VF-25's giant SMS logo bearing stand. Oddly enough, Yamato's VF-17 comes with a complete set of NUNS marking stickers.
Alto isn't fast enough to fly with Diamond Force.
He isn't as much of a maverick as Ozma either.
A FlightPose stand helps me show off the fighter mode without the clunky default stand. She's a beautiful girl in flight.
And the VF-171 is pretty too.
The transformation of the VF-171EX toy has left me with mixed opinions on the overall handling experience. While the overall motions of the conversion process are rightly similar to the VF-17 toy, there are many places where Bandai tried to one-up Yamato with more fidelity while sacrificing ease of use. This area pictured above is perplexing in its execution. This small black piece hinges in the middle to allow the shoulder pauldrons to swing forward for arm deployment. Its purpose is to smooth out the space between the chest plate and the underside of the shoulder pauldrons. It isn't too hard to handle going from fighter to Gerwalk to Battroid, but going back sometimes requires small fingers or a tool to position it the right way as there's little to grab onto when manipulating it.
Almost all of the major transformation joints are made from diecast metal, such as the main backpack hinges. The biceps are also made of diecast, with many of the joints being very tight out of the box. Trying to loosen the main bicep required me to disassemble the arm and rotate the inner joint with a pair of pliers. You need the arms to rotate with some degree of smoothness, as they need to be in a certain position for fighter mode.
After you deploy the legs, those little black parts can be pushed farther inward so that they rest behind the calves. Be aware of their position when changing back to fighter mode so that they are not accidentally crushed or left in a position when you cannot pull them out because the shoulder pauldron is in the way. Ideally, for going back to fighter mode, these black parts should be pulled outward with the widest part at the end bent outward. See my videos for more information.
Also be aware that the wings are designed to be removable. The large white pivot point pops off intermittently during handling. It feels like it locks in when turned a certain way so I am currently omitting pictures of this feature for my own sanity. The upcoming Super Parts set has a new set of wings with hard points for missiles.
The piece of curved white plastic above these black streamlining piece is unnervingly thin. In Battroid mode this area is left without the black parts underneath to support them so an errant pinch might snap off the curved portion of the piece. This area is different on the base VF-17 design and Yamato's toy does it with a simple hinged part that is not fragile. I feel as though Bandai should have eschewed anime accuracy for something more durable or at least made this part out of PVC or diecast metal if this is how they wanted to engineer this area.
The hands normally stored inside the forearm in this position with the flat part of the hand matching the flat part of the arm. The index finger and thumb fit inside the slot at the bottom of the wrist socket. A flip out lock latches over the hand to prevent it from moving.
Flipping the lock up and pushing the elbow in until it clicks will expose the hand just enough so you can pull it out by the fingers. After this you flip the lock back down and it secures the sliding wrist socket in place. This is so you can swap between the default articulated hands and the set of six fixed pose hands. On the right wrist of my figure it is very difficult to get the lock to latch down so that it secures the sliding wrist socket. I find this to be an odd case of quality control as I can barely tell there is anything off from one arm to the other.
You get a pair of fists, relaxed hands, and gun pod holding hands in addition to the two articulated hands. Only the articulated pair can retract inside the arms.
The articulated hands look eerily similar to the kind Yamato has been using on their Valkyries since their second 1:60 scale VF-1. I know there's only so many ways to do a robot's hand, but this is an interesting detail to me.
The VF-171EX's gun is probably meant to be the same model as the VF-17's, although it is slightly smaller. It's interesting to see how all of the details carried through to the Bandai toy with a few extra notches along the barrel. The stock and handle do not collapse on the VF-171EX's gun, which appears to be accurate to the show.
Other than those fragile feeling areas under the armpits, the figure achieves a very solid Gerwalk mode. One thing you may notice during transformation is that the extra leg swivel below the knees does not move while the legs are fully extended for Gerwalk mode. This is so you can just use the swivel above the locomotive knee joint for a stable A-stance.
I saw Wings of Goodbye so I know Alto's pretty leggy.
The bulkier VF-17 toy isn't as solidly locked together in Gerwalk mode as the VF-171EX. the VF-17 is easier to switch between modes, though. Regardless of their differences, I feel both figures complement each other quite well.
Despite not having any pullout arm guns, the VF-171EX's double jointed elbows do allow it to mimic the VF-17's unique primary Gerwalk mode.
Again you can see many little details shared between the two Valkyries such as rows of nosecone verniers and the single piece canopy setup. Gamlin does have a much more distinctively 90's color palette on his flight suit though.
Swapping out one piece of the fighter mode stand adapter lets you mount the VF-171EX to the display base in Gerwalk mode. Again the simplicity of the stand limits how dynamic it can look, although I did find that you can totally prop up the base at an angle with the unused stand parts. That's something I guess.
The NUNS forces always lend a helping hand. It's a good break for Alto who used to hang out with those uncouth SMS private military contractors. Civil service builds character in a young man.
During transformation into Battroid mode you will come to loathe this little door that hinges at the top of the collar area. In fighter mode it rests between the white part of the head and the back of the neck. This door swings freely once the head is moved out of the way. It will often get stuck facing forward or on the top of the cockpit as you try moving the chest plate into position. Be patient and don't force anything. Once everything is in place the back plate locks into the dorsal plate using a tab on top and the gun pod slot. The base of the neck swivels around and rests above the troublesome door without locking into it in anyway. Everything is more or less secured by the two tabs in the back.
The VF-171EX is as equally beautiful in Battroid mode as it is in fighter mode. While far more svelte than its predecessor, it still looks like a capable craft with all the earmarks of a Kawamori mechanical design. The red and black striping all over its body is quite striking, while the clear green plastic visor draws the eye up to the top of its sleek silhouette. I've been told the colors on the feet make the figure look as it is wearing comfortable sneakers.
The back plate of the VF-171EX has extensive paint work that is very eye-catching without being too gaudy. Unfortunately, the red paint near the top is prone to chipping as that is where the arms rest in fighter mode. The edges of the elbow joint rub against that area and can take paint off. I don't want to think about potential paint chipping caused by the upcoming Super Parts set.
The head is absolutely gorgeous. The paintwork is crisp and the clear green double visors gleam as they catch light around them. You get two pairs of head lasers for the monitor turret: one hard ABS and one soft PVC.
I switched mine to the hard ABS set as the soft PVC one did not want to rotate smoothly and I feared I would sheer off the ball-joints.
The flip out verniers on each shoulder pauldron are difficult to manipulate without some kind of tool. The fact that they're easy to forgot about is totally not the reason you might notice them retracted in several pics. No sir.
The chest mounted guns are attached with ball-joints just in case you feel like playing with Alto's nipples.
While in the NUNS forces, Alto studied CQC under the mysterious master Machida.
The VF-171EX is a well articulated figure with none of the limbs being impeded by airplane parts. The ball-jointed hips can be really tight out the box to the point of annoyance, though.
You are not Klan Klan...
Kneeling is doable with some careful manipulation. I always take up the challenge of not using the extra Gerwalk joint when posing a Valkyrie in Battroid mode.
Just a single adapter part is needed to mount the VF-171EX to the stand. It cups around the diecast hip swing bar and supports the toy adequately.
The toy is fixed in place on the stand so you have to get fancy with camera angles.
As Yamato and Bandai have become somewhat like anime rivals in the Macross toy business, there was much discussion on how the VF-171EX would compare to the VF-17. This not the first time Bandai made a toy of the same or similar Valkyrie design that Yamato already covered. From the brief time of the VF Hi-Metal line to the Frontier version of the Koenig Monster, Bandai seemed to be playing catch up with Yamato in terms of high end Valkyrie toys. The VF-171EX and the VF-17 are very similar in terms of their basic design, with the VF-171EX toy mimicking a lot of details in terms of how the arms are stored in fighter mode and even how the hands deploy. Other things like the base of the neck rotating around for Battroid mode and the use of a support arm for the rear of the Gerwalk mode walk the line between necessary developments and direct inspiration.
In comparing the two toys one has to acknowledge that their original mechanical designs come from different eras. While the VF-17 was planned out using a Lego model as was done with many Valkyries since then, its ultimate end as a 2D mechanical design brings along all the inherent inconsistencies of that medium. As such, there are several engineering challenges when it comes time to produce the definitive high-end toy rendition.
For some Yamato's VF-17 toy is both amazing in its sheer presence and feel, but a step back from their VF-19 toys due to its simpler transformation and distinct lack of solid locking supports for Gerwalk and Battroid modes. With certain parts being held in place by friction tabs or just being positioned the right way, the VF-17 feels more like a garage toy made by a small manufacturer. While Yamato is nowhere near the size of Bandai, their Macross 7 era VF-19s feel much more traditional toy-like with numerous locking tabs and a very solid design. While the VF-17 is much simpler in terms of complexity, its compactness does not allow a lot of room for bulky locking tabs, and its minimalist transformation relies on many small joints that cannot really be reinforced without interfering with the overall shape of the fighter mode. There is also the issue of its high price, as it is the most expensive Valkyrie to date at MSRP. The strong Yen only compounds this issue for foreign buyers. Its price is nearly twice as much as the VF-171EX. The VF-17 design predates the VF-171EX by over a decade and doesn't generate as much fervor as a result, so it comes across as more niche in an already niche market.
The VF-171EX and other modern Valkyries benefit greatly from the advent of computer modelling. Now there was much less discrepancy between the on screen designs and what ended up as a toy.The fast pace of anime production still leaves room for cutting corners, however, especially when it comes to supporting machines in a robot show. I get the feeling from how Bandai handled the main body transformation for the VF-171EX and other tiny details that the design itself was probably not as lovingly planned out as the main star of Frontier: the VF-25. It does benefit from being a three dimensional construct, and the overall figure feels more like a traditional toy with numerous locking tabs that audibly snap into place. If the areas around the armpits felt less fragile, and if the chest came together with fewer hangups I'd place the VF-171EX ahead of the VF-17. Those factors, however, combined with the scarcity of the toy itself places the two on a more even keel in terms of design and price. In my opinion, the VF-171EX is the most difficult to handle during transformation of any of the 1:60 scale Valkyrie toys in my collection. I have most definitely warmed up to it over time, but there is something to be said about how much easier the VF-17 is to transform.
In the end I would like to sidestep the issue of comparison as I feel both toys more than adequately fulfill their role as the best toy rendition of their respective designs to date. In a perfect world it would be more about which Valkyrie design do you prefer. The VF-171EX is a beautiful looking toy with some grating flaws to its engineering. Overall it's a satisfying purchase for someone such as myself who seeks to achieve Valkyrie nirvana. As long as you understand its quirks it's definitely part of the upper echelon of modern Macross toys.
|Posted 17 July, 2012 - 15:00 by VF5SS|