SF3D Ma.K MANIA 2011
09/29/11- On a day out... While shopping for paints at a hobby
store, I was surprised to see a couple of original Nitto SF3D figure kits
from the '80s. They were relatively cheap, so what the heck-- I bought
them to add to my heap of unbuilt 1:20 scale SF3D/Maschinen Krieger (Ma.K)
kits. I'd accumulated a bunch of 'em when I was building and customizing
my 1:6 scale vinyl kits almost 10 years ago (immortalized in these SF3D
project articles). Seeing all those unbuilt kits piqued my interest,
so I searched the Internet to see what was up in the world of Ma.K.
On a day out, and some cheap kits... it was a day that would prove to
be far more expensive than I could have possibly imagined! (apologies to RHPS)
1:20 Styrene Kits
The Heap: Huh? You're supposed to build 'em?
Flash forward from 2001: Lots of cool new 1:20 plastic model kits from
Wave and Hasegawa. They've reissued some oldies and some newdies and some
new variations on the oldies. Not that I would know this from actually
building them, but I've read that some of the kits use sprues from the
original Nitto kits and newly made sprues with better fit and easier assembly.
I can verify that the SAFS kit now has body seams on the sides instead
of through the front (which eliminates seam-filling work). The Gans kit
includes newly tooled Neuspotter sprues, which gives hope that the rare
Neuspotter and Krachenvogel kits might be reissued someday.
So why are mine unbuilt? Because they're such purdy kits! If I built
the kits, I'd feel obliged to save the boxes and paperwork, and then I'd
have to make room for both the boxes and the kits. I barely have space
for the boxes, much less the built-up kits. It would be opening up the
floodgates to hell for an entirely new scale for me-- the first one built
would demand a second one to establish the scale, and then on and on.
Did I mention that it takes time to build these things? I seem to have
no problem finding stuff to work on; I'll save these for when I'm blind
and my eye-hand coordination is totally shot.
Still, the desire to buy them is strong since
some cool stuff might not be available later (when I might have
room to build and display them). Fortunately or not, the new Wave kit
packaging doesn't have the iconic look of the originals: I guess that
makes it easier to see them as kits instead of a collection of cool boxes...
(so you can skip the agonizing and just build 'em?)
1:16 SF3D/Ma.K Toys
2011 Sentinel Fireball (left), 2004 Max Factory Snake Eye (right)
Max Factory released some 1:16 scale prebuilts back in 2004, but
they're discontinued and hard to find now except on eBay (where
I got mine after getting the Sentinel, because of
the Sentinel, and because I was curious). They produced two SAFS
variants, the Snake Eye and the Snake Ball, each in different paint
schemes. In the looks department, they hold up well compared to
the newer Sentinel product: They're very detailed and go overboard
with the tiny bizarre warning decals that SF3D suits are famous
for ("WARNING: Location for wing tip steadying trestle electorical
& radio soket wheels up when indicator flash turn screw clockwise
until chamber facing forward"). On the surface, they appear
to have a comparable mix of features: The suit can be posed with
the top hatch open, it splits open to reveal the armless and legless
pilot, and the arm panels fold down.
As the diagram shows, the hatch attaches and props open with some
important pieces-- some verrrry tiny but important pieces
that scream, "Lose me!!!" (While I was trying to squeeze
the support piece into the hatch, it shot up in the air in the direction
of a crowded set of shelves somewhere above and to the side of me.
It took me 30 minutes to find it, so I could take these @#%!! pics.)
The hassle of setting up the hatch display means that you'll probably
leave it one way or another, and you'll have to store the other
very tiny but important piece somewhere... which isn't very convenient.
If only they built these things with pockets!
What the diagram doesn't show is that the arms have no elbow hinge
articulation, and the shoulder hinges don't swivel outward-- rotation
only. Those are some significant omissions, in my opinion. However,
the leg articulation is more than adequate, lacking only the knee
joint (which I don't miss). I've read that the suit is made of vinyl
or PVC, but it's hard to tell without taking a blade to it because
the pieces are very small, robust, and rigid. Overall, it's a fine
upscale toy that likely paved the way for the Sentinel version.
Sentinel, a fairly new company, recently released their take on
the 1:16 SAFS toy with a fully opening suit and pilot figures. Naturally,
I had to get one to see how they did the hinges and the opening
cockpit thing. That kind of stuff fascinates me.
Feature-wise, this one has it all: The top hatch is hinged, and
all the limbs are fully articulated. Its mechanical design has a
precision that the Max Factory version lacks, and it's apparent
in the "play feel". Spend some time posing the sucker and you'll
know what I mean.
1:16 is noticeably bigger than the 1:20 scale plastic model kits,
which is nice, but the scale is unlikely to see a very broad variety
of SF3D/Ma.K releases. The scale fits with my RC tanks, even if
the subject matter doesn't. It's kind of a curiosity item: I don't
see starting a collection of 1:16 Ma.K, assuming Sentinel stays
with it and produces other hard suits (like the Melusine? I might
buy...) Too many different scales to keep up with!
Since the extra
pilot figure was designed to lean against the suit (and to fall
down repeatedly), I turned her into a standing figure. The amputee
figure has no such problem.
Yeah, I bought this so I wouldn't be tempted to buy the big enchilada...
The Medicom/Toys McCoy 1:6 SAFS
Yowza! By far the coolest thing that I came across was the 1:6
scale Medicom/Toys McCoy SAFS collaboration from 2009, distributed
in the USA by Sideshow Collectibles. It generated a lot of buzz
within the hobby, at first very positive and glowing, then mostly
negative and angry, and for a simple reason: The price. Lots of
people seemed to want it, but at over $1K, it's priced far outside
the boundaries of reasonable hobby spending (unless one of your
hobbies is guitar). Despite that, the edition size of 600 pieces
is sold out (out of stock) at most vendors, and Medicom is releasing
a second, even more expensive version (Snowman) soon, two years
after the first version. I liked the first version better (it's
less gimmicky and more iconic) and since hlj.com had some in stock,
I bought one.
So how does one rationalize such an expenditure? The most important
hurdle is being able to afford it-- meaning, not at the expense
of anything important or essential (as we all know, property taxes
are simply a suggested donation, and only folks with more
bucks than brains actually pay them).
I have a bigger soft spot for this kind of thing than the average
Joe (evidenced by my homemade hardsuit and my other 1:6 SAFS projects),
so it shouldn't be too surprising that I would spend stupid money
to own one. Not only is it a neat toy, but it's also a means to
study how the pros tackled issues that I encountered in my own versions
(yeah, right-- it's called the scholarly rationalization).
Like the Sentinel SAFS, the Medicom SAFS cockpit opens the officially
sanctioned way, but the suit fits a 1:6 scale articulated pilot
figure-- unlike Sentinel's legless and armless figure. I was curious
about how it's jointed and how the figure moves with the jointed
shell. Hopefully, this would provide some insight to help me with
the 1:6 Nitto Fireball build that I've put off for close to 10 years.
Yep, I'm finally gonna build it, and I'm using the Medicom
SAFS as an incentive to get my butt into gear. "If you buy it,
you have to build the one you already own", said the Parent
Demon perched on my right shoulder. (Rationalization is a weird
Not that I would want to recreate the design. I rambled on about
this in my original article's
sidebar, but in short, I don't think that the official cockpit
design makes much sense in the real world. I bellyached about this
in my original articles-- operationally, the human arms have no
business being inserted in the suit's arms. The thin arm panels
opening outward makes even less sense: It appears that there's no
machinery, motors, pistons, or linkage driving the arms or providing
powered assistance. With the suit sealed shut, you could always
assume that there was some machinery hidden on the interior that
would take care of that. Not only that, but the clamshell opening
feature doesn't look like it would make access to the suit much
easier than the top hatch, and if it did, why retain the top hatch?
But hey, it's fantasy and it looks cool so it doesn't have to make
Dutifully, I started working on the Fireball kit and made lots
of progress without the benefit of the Medicom toy. Then it arrived...
WTF??? I had no idea that the thing was this honkin' big.
It's heavy, too. I assumed that it would fit nicely with my Nitto
1:6 vinyl kits, but it makes them look like dwarves! Fortunately,
it's a mechanical thing with no real-world size reference, so it's
easy to trick into scale with clever semantics: It's a Thooper...
uh... Super SAFS! (It beats calling the others "Pygmy
SAFS".) With a gigantic Racketenwirblerwanker array
mounted on its backside, the Post-It note label declaring its thooperness
probably won't be necessary.
The most obvious scaling difference is vertical, and in my opinion,
makes the proportions look off. But hey, Kow Yokoyama signed off
on this, so who am I to argue? Maybe the vinyl kits are off? I have
to admit that it's been a challenge fitting 1:6 scale dolls into
the vinyl kits, which is why I've used female pilots (and even then,
it's still been a challenge).
From the pics I thought that the pilot doll was a petite little
thing with perky nipples, but she's taller than Triad's Barb Wire,
who's wearing tall high heels and doesn't have nipples. She's almost
exactly 12", which would make her a very tall 6' female in 1:6--
not unheard of, but someone who'd stand out in a crowd in real life.
It seems odd for Medicom, who seems to habitually make their 1:6
scale stuff undersized, like their Dwarf Vader. (Actually, I believe
the doll comes from Toys McCoy but it's fun to pick on Medicom.)
The doll is well made, with tight, smoothly-operating joints,
and no slop that would make posing and standing frustrating. I get
the impression that her midriff was sculpted especially for this
outfit, although her exposed arm jointage definitely detracts from
the out-of-suit look. It's easily fixable with a jacket; one might
be able to replace her body with a skin-covered doll that might
accept her head swap and have it be in scale. Maybe. As such things
work, a skinned doll would lose some range of articulation for her
out-of-suit look (where the articulation is most useful); articulation
wouldn't matter as much for her in-suit, but you wouldn't be able
to appreciate the skin-covered arms.
The asian headsculpt is different from the usual SF3D fare, with
most of the 1:20 figure faces looking very european (fitting the
WWII inspiration of the genre). Some of the more recent 1:20 figures
(Brick Work's resin and Hasegawa's styrene figure kit) include some
asian-featured females, but the males have occidental features.
The aviator/tanker's helmet is molded as a separate rubber piece
and seems removeable, but is probably glued in place. I didn't see
anywhere in the cockpit where the headset is supposed to plug in.
(For what it's worth, old-style aviator caps are nearly impossible
to find in 1:6 scale nowadays. Cotswold Collectibles use to have
a couple in their catalog... uhhh... over 10 years ago, but not
The rubber boots are unremarkable, but like the cap, have decent
detail. They're actually boot-feet, with an ankle peg embedded in
the bottom. A spare pair of naked feet are included.
The tailoring of the outfit is excellent. The top and pants fly
have super-tiny zippers that are almost too small to operate without
tools. Since the pants and boots are meant to be removed when the
doll is inserted in the SAFS, olive drab undies are included.
(From my first 1:6 SAFS kit.)
| After unboxing the toy,
the first task was to figure out how to open up the thing. The top
hatch opened easily enough, but I looked at the instruction book to
reassure me that there wasn't a trick to cracking the clam, and that
it was okay to pull the clamshell apart. The retaining pins have a
tight grab that requires the kind of force that sometimes breaks things.
the Sentinel toy, the clam halves are secured by ball-ended pins
on the front half that fit into openings on the rear half and click
closed. These's some kind of internal friction projection or bearing
in the shaft that keeps the pin locked in position.
The arm panels are hinged at the bottom; they lock into closed
position by the tab and slot at the back and a notched projection
on the panel that snaps into its mate on the body, below the slot.
When the front closes, ridges on the front interlock with channels
on the side panel, holding it firmly in position. This is a much
more robust design than Sentinel's, which clicks the panels in closed
position, but doesn't prevent the side panels from being pushed
too far into the body. (For what it's worth, the OD cushioning and padding is cool-- it has a rubbery covering, but is squishy, as if it had a foam interior.)
This shows (roughly) how the doll's arm joints line up with the
SAFS's joints. It's the meat of the design, as it relates
to the suit's arm and leg articulation: The SAFS's limbs are hollow
tubes, with metal hinging on the interior. It's ingenious: The shoulder
has a rotation collar that connects to a standard hinge that provides
outward sweep-- it's identical in function to the doll's, except
that two hinge pins operate in concert on the outside of the tube.
The elbow linkage operates the same way, but has two rotation collars.
The hand ("manipulator") has a single rotation fitting (without
a hinge) at the wrist, and the fingers are fully articulated as
hinges at all joints. The thumb has an additional hinge along the
same axis as the wrist so that it can sweep outwards.
The legs are articulated similarly, but more simply. They have
an outward/inward sweep hinge and a forward/backward sweep hinge
at the top of each leg. The knees and ankles have the parallel pin
hinges, minus any rotation collars. Conceptually, the doll sits
within a metal frame that contains all the hinges for articulation
and support. The plastic parts are just coverings attached to the
frame. Oddly enough, this is similar to the what I came up with
for my first Hardsuit Project back in 2001 (although mine was a lot funkier).
As you can see, the alignment of the doll's and SAFS's joints
are approximate, with a fair amount of "wiggle room", or space inside
the segments for the arms and legs (The top hips/leg area is where
it's most tight). Like all armoured figures, the articulation is
relatively limited. This is good, since it reduces the likelihood
of snapping the doll's limbs while posing the robo arm. You can't
really "feel" the doll arm inside the hardsuit, so it's not easy
to tell if the SAFS's joints are aligned with the doll's joints.
The doll won't move its arms to match or scream when they don't,
so the wiggle room and limited articulation are actually good things.
Bear in mind that the SAFS was originally designed on paper, then
as a miniature model-- it never had to work with a real human or
articulated doll inside.
The mobility limitations of medieval armour are easy to understand,
but such armour is relatively tight fitting and closely articulated
with our skeletal system: The armour doesn't stand alone, and the
leg articulation isn't defined by hinges at the hips. A tightly-coupled
"doll within a doll" with aligned hinges is possible: I used to
have a Godaikin robot that had 3 robots within each other, and the
hinges for all 3 robots were always aligned. The difference is that
the toy was designed specificially for that feature, and that defined
how the toy looked. In this case, the look of the SAFS was the starting
point, and humans have a pretty well known design-- Making them
work together without changing either means sacrificing something.
Sawn in half? I suspect that this is more for maintenance and assembly,
and not intended as a "feature" (although it might be useful in
a diorama). Less than a quarter turn at the waist separates the
upper and lower assemblies. It's dark in there, but you might be
able to see the outward/inward hinges at the front and back of the
legs at the hips. The knee hinges are a little further down.
These are the metal "guts" of the SAFS's construction: The front
cockpit section, side arm panels, and leg armature are hinged here.
From my own efforts at building a hardsuit and converting the Nitto
vinyl kits, I realize how desirable it is to have a rigid central
core of something, if you want to anchor articulation and
have the suit stand on its own, without a doll inside. For my first
homemade hardsuit, I used a corrugated sewer pipe.
With my first vinyl
kit conversion, I took an approach similar to medieval armour--
the suit's legs aren't hinged, but the thick rubber hose between
is hefty enough to support the suit without the doll inside: The
doll's legs actually provide the rigid hinging (sort of).
With my second vinyl kit ("Sow's Ear"), the hose solution
didn't work because there was too much slop. I therefore screwed
brass strips to the vinyl. This sort of works, but it wasn't
an ideal solution since it didn't allow outward sweep to the legs.
The rigid hinges kept the suit from leaning and falling backwards
without a doll inside.
The promo pics show some cool lighting effects in the cockpit, on
front and from the laser. I did have to consult the instructions
to figure it out, and there were some things that I didn't expect.
For one thing, there are three separate lighting circuits. The
cockpit control panel (in pic) lifts out to reveal a compartment for two
AAA batteries. The switch to activate that circuit is located under
the small left rear panel-- certainly not very intuitive. Fortunately,
this controls most of the lighting, including the red light on the
right front exterior, the cabin interior blue lighting (very cool)
and a small red light inside the switch panel.
The lift-out cockpit control panel has a small hatch on the underside
for 2 LR41 watch batteries, while the pull-out laser assembly requires
2 LR44s (It's wrong in the instructions). Both contain switches
(pushing the control panel's red button and twisting the laser's
barrel), so they're self-contained units. Unfortunately, batteries
weren't included, and I don't keep a household supply of all the
different varieties of watch batteries. I'm not curious enough to
make a trip to the store just so I can see what the lights look
like-- sorry! (Well, I really did want to see the green cockpit
display light, but I can live with the curiosity... Maybe someday.
The obvious comment to make
here is that evidently they didn't price this thing high enough
to include batteries... I dunno. Maybe they were just concerned
that these would sit in warehouses forever, so the batteries would
The "Is it worth it?" question is an obvious one, but a tired one. Yes,
it's expensive for a toy, yadda, yadda, yadda; 'nuff said. As you can
see, the interior of the Medicom Toys McCoy SAFS is capacious enough to
house Barb Wire's bulging breasts, so clearly it was worth every frickin'
Hopefully, this won't kill my enthusiasm for finishing the pygmy Fireball
SG kit... (Read on.)