GUTTING A DRAGON

Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

This is sort of a signature concept for this web site-- a peculiar kind of review where instead of looking at the outside of a figure, we're going to be looking at it from the inside. Groovy, huh? Most people aren't demented enough to risk burning perfectly good figures and disfiguring themselves in the process, so my dementia is your good fortune!

I do want to stress that part about disfiguring yourself though. The rotary steel blade which produces fine cut lines in plastic can also do the same to your fingers and bones before you can think to say "@#%%!!!" or "#*$^%!!!". So unless you have the "bob-wan" junk after your name, think twice before playing with fire.

The Dragon figure is the most articulated of the reasonably-priced figures to come along yet, and most Joeheads seem to love them. The upscale Japanese import figures have had articulation coming out the ying-yang for quite a while now, but they usually aren't what people would consider affordable like the familiar vintage variants (Cotswold, ME, TC) and the CC variants (CC, Ultimate Soldier, HOF). The SOTW figures have been improving, but I'm not thinking about them as I write this.

The Dragons are the first figures in this category to sport double hinged elbows and knees, which permit a much sharper angle of bend, closer to what real people can do. They don't look horrible either-- certainly no worse than any of the other exposed articulation designs.

dragon figure doll dissection They've also included an upper torso ball joint which isn't present in any of the other figures. This isn't a total bonus, since it makes up for the limited rotation-only joint at the waist, which on other figures in this category is a ball joint. Some ball joints work better than others though-- The CC's range of motion is only a little more than rotation. Again I'll say that the addition of articulation always has a cost in appearance. The Dragon figure's articulation seam is especially obvious because the actual ball/socket frictional surface is deep inside the figure, and the skirt between the two sections has a fairly large gap.

dragon figure doll dissection There have been some complaints about the "floppiness" of the figure, and Dragon has responded by making some improvements, reportedly in their 3rd release, the "Adam" figure (not shown here). As you can see from this top view of the upper torso "ball", the surface is textured to provide some friction against the "socket". Apparently, not enough though. From what I understand, this is one of the areas they've tackled in their improvement. Seems to me that, as is, the little plastic texturing was just begging to be sanded smooth by wear.

The second picture shows the ball joint for the neck. There's a spring inside the neck pin that forces the neck ball against the socket of the neck opening. The little cutaways show why the neck movement is rather limited, compared to the deep linear cut in a vintage style neckpin.

I'd like to point out that the head isn't always as easy to remove as I'd indicated in a previous article. It doesn't appear to be deliberately glued on. Instead, the entire head is painted a flesh color and in some instances the paint seeps between the head and the neckpin, effectively gluing it on.

The biggest disappointment for me is the design of the leg-hip joint. This style is very similar to the CC's, and despite the fact that it gives a deeper angle of rotation than a ball joint, it's just laughing at you: "lotsa luck trying to repair me when I wear down!" It's even worse than the CC's since it's made entirely of hard plastic. I don't know what Dragon has done to fix that problem.

The shoulder joints in contrast, are well designed. The spring tensions a scored plastic washer (the click-clicker) against the torso housing. Even if the clicker flange on the housing wears down, the spring will still tension the washer against the wall of the housing. This would work great for the legs too, if only there were enough room...

Another slight annoyance is the rotation joints on the limbs, most notably the ones that let you rotate the direction at the thighs and the feet. They just don't provide much resistance, unlike those with a nylon friction fitting.

But hey... I like the figure. I don't want to gloss over any of its shortcomings though, since it's not perfect. Perhaps, in time...

REPAIRS: Hopefully, you'll never have to repair a Dragon figure, because they sure didn't make it easy for you. Screws securing the front and back halves would have been nice. As is, there's little hope for you to make a repair without marring the figure in some way. Even if you split the halves, there are a limited number of times you can do this, since no matter how thin a cut you make, you're still removing material. As far as I know, there isn't a solvent around which can distinguish between the figure's plastic and the glue. In fact, I think the "glue" is probably the type that welds the two halves together and evaporates. Basically, this figure was not designed to be repaired.

I believe the most common problem will be the looseness of the legs at the hips. The only way you can fix this is to do a complete figure disassembly, as I've done. That's because in order for you to separate the groin, you have to separate the midriff, but in order to separate that, you have to separate the upper torso... how convenient! Fortunately, there is a small cavity in the hip halves behind the legs' pins which can be packed with a compressible material-- I used foam tape, but hot glue might work as well. With luck this will retain some of its compressibility so that it will provide a long-lasting frictional surface for the pins to rub against. The part can then be put under the pressure of a vise for gluing. If you're a real tinkerer, you could devise a way to screw it together, except you should be aware that there isn't much room to place the screws where they're needed most-- above & below the joint.

While you've got the hood popped, you probably will want to something about that upper torso ball joint. An idea (which may or may not work long-term) is to shoot hot glue between the vanes on the socket which contact the ball. This should be slightly higher than the vanes themselves. Hot glue is rubbery and compresses, giving a larger surface contact area with the ball. In addition, you could very easily remove the C-ring holding the spring on and slip a spacing washer in there. That will increase the pressure of the spring, which is a little too loose to do a good job.

If you've broken a pin like those securing the arms and legs, you might want to hang it up and declare him a war vet. Unless you take extraordinary measures, like recasting the parts, a glue repair will probably not hold a snapped pin together. They're very thin --heck, the whole part is thin. There's just not enough material to sink a metal pin or screw into. Hey, but don't let this stop you from trying, since anything can be repaired if you're willing to put in the time.

This should give you an idea of what you're facing if you should ever need to repair an elbow or knee hinge, or tighten those rotation joints-- a whole lotta work. Good luck!


05/26- 05/28/99 ADDENDUM
I just received a Dragon Adam version 1.1 figure and should comment on some of the improvements, since I mention them above. Surprise! The figure I received is nearly identical to the one I gutted above. I'm not sure if I just overlooked this before, but there's a clear plastic shim inserted between the leg pegs. This appeared to be a quick, improvised fix. Unless there's yet another version floating around, the torso's textured surface shown above is part of the improvement, so it's impossible for me to comment on how much they've improved the figure. It does make me wonder how loose the original version was, since I thought the improved version was pretty loose!

dragon figure doll dissection But there's more trouble in paradise: Upon unpacking the figure, I noticed that the head seemed to be way too wobbly, and sure enough-- the head & neckpin pulled right off! The end of the plastic pin which holds the C-ring on had fragmented inside the neckpin, so the C-ring was rattling around inside, and the spring wasn't tensioning anything. This isn't exactly a no-brainer repair: the neckpin (and probably the torso too) needs to be split open so you can get the parts, fix it and reassemble it. The end of the spring assembly needs to be reconstructed, probably by heat flattening it. I doubt whether a glue or putty job, by itself, would hold reliably against the tension of the spring. The internal retainer should be slipped in place (in the correct orientation) before you flatten the end, since the heat-flattened diameter there will probably expand; you can't put the retainer on if that happens. To reassemble it, you should split the top torso section, or you'll have a really hard time assembling it under tension, with half of it hidden within the neck socket! A wiser man would probably just see about exchanging it, but I'll let someone else brave that frontier. (I prefer mechanical challenges to customer service challenges, especially since I've already split the headpin.) Besides, while I've got it open I can also fix the "improved" upper torso ball joint. (Note: After splitting the torso, the lower C-ring flange snapped off, which necessitated splitting the lower torso section too! I plan to do some radical reworking of the design, rather than repairing the unreliable part.)

Unfortunately, there are several places where this type of connection is used: the torso joint and the arms. The part which fractured wasn't subjected to great force from me-- it appears that the plastic was just cast with some flaws, and the tension of the spring did the deed. Midway through writing this addendum, I read of someone complaining about the torso falling off... so mine isn't an isolated experience. This sucks, huh? There's something to be said about the simple beauty of the elastic-tensioned vintage design...

dragon figure doll dissection "Isn't the crack supposed to be on the outside rear?"

It now appears that this was a bad batch of figures-- the plastic is unacceptably brittle. Owners should try to get a replacement instead of trying to repair the figure. As I was forced to disassemble more and more of the figure, I finally reached the clear acetate shim jammed between the leg pegs. Here, the top interior peg housing (not visible from the outside) was cracked from the stress of the pegs being forced outward by the shim. Even though this was a kludgy way for them to fix the problem, it's unlikely that any other approach would have worked better since the plastic doesn't seem to be capable of handling stress without cracking or fracturing. (But I'm partial to the hot glue idea I mentioned above, since the compression force is more distributed.)

dragon figure doll dissection Might as well show you the shoulder swivel & hinge... The black insert is what makes the hinge motion smooth. It's probably a different type of plastic, even though it feels about the same. Also, note the small flange on the pin (there's a second one on the backside). The black scored washer has cutouts which align with these so that when you rotate the arm, the washer moves with the arm's rotation, rubbing against a flange on the inner torso wall to produce the click sound as the wall flange encounters each scored line. Note that if the pin's flanges are broken, the washer won't move and the arm won't click lock into position. This isn't good-- without the click-lock, the arm is considerably more floppy, and because one end of the spring may dig into the washer and remain stationary, the other end is likely to catch the C-ring (which rotates with the arm), and pop it off. You don't want this to happen after you've reassembled the figure!

This isn't idle speculation either; with each exploratory step I took, the accursed plastic gave me a new opportunity to solve problems. For the broken pin flanges (the one shown above lived long enough to be photographed, but died during the first reassembly attempt), I drilled a tiny hole through the pin and inserted a section of a paperclip. This seems to be working, and the click stops have been restored.

At the start of what looked like a straightforward neckpin repair, I'd planned on attempting to elastic-tension the body and do major bodywork to reshape it. Then another part broke... then another... As I discovered that the plastic was so funky, I realized that I didn't want to invest the time in this "iffy" figure. So after making all the repairs, I hot glue-filled the various sockets to do away with the floppiness and reassembled the sucker. So now, it's back to the original Dragon form, with tighter joints, and a neckpin extension operation.

Note: If you tighten the neck articulation, the original head would certainly need to be glued on; better yet to extend the neckpin so that there's something solid on the inside of the head. The original neck pin is too short for the leverage you need to pose the pin in different positions if you tighten the articulation. If you simply fit the original head back on the original neckpin, it will come off each time you pose it since the pin is too short and the head is too soft to make a good "handle".

 

06/04/99- The ankles are weak, although they're sufficient to support the weight of this light figure. Inside the ankle joint, the rubbery plastic footpiece is molded with radial notches on one side (sort of like the arm's scored washer) which mate with a similar molded pattern on the interior of one half of the ankle housing. The positioning of the foot doesn't rely on pressure holding the pieces in tight contact; instead, it's accomplished by the notches and ridges interlocking. Because of the rubber, it's a "soft" interlock and there's some play between the interlock positions. This works fairly well for the arm since the parts aren't rubbery (I think the black washer is a type of nylon). The arms are also a lot lighter and shorter than the length of the figure which the hinge has to support. When you think about it, the ankle is simply a hinge which connects one very short piece (the foot), and one very long piece (the rest of the figure). A small bit of play in the ankle's notch positions translates to a huge deflection distance at the top of the figure. This is enough to significantly change the center of balance, which may cause the figure to topple. Sooooo... by my reckoning, the ankles should be tightened by stiff friction-- like maybe... a rivet??? Like in the vintage figure? D'oh! Sometimes I think the manufacturers place too much emphasis on product design to save a few production pennies, instead of looking at performance cost. I can't think of any other reason why they'd change it, because it's not a design improvement.

I don't mean to burst anyone's bubble about this figure--This is just my assessment of the product, based on my personal experience with these particular samples. Overall, I think the figure is a great value, especially when purchased with the superb outfit. And the quantity of the figure's articulation beats all others-- but I reiterate, it ain't perfect.

A FINAL, FINAL NOTE: Dragon DML has posted acknowledgement of this problem, an explanation, and an apology at their website. (Wow!) According to them, the subcontracting manufacturer used a different kind of spring in the defective units. (I don't think this completely explains the problem since they beefed up the ends of the pins too-- but it's close enough.) In addition to this, they offer to replace the defective figure and throw in a bonus grenade to compensate you for the trouble. I thought I should try going for this bonus since I'd saved them the expense, so I sent a friendly e-mail pointing to this article... not really expecting anything, since I wasn't providing any solid documentation and knew it fell outside their formal procedures. To my surprise, I received a prompt, non-form letter reply promising to send me a couple. Wow. Is this company great or what?


Here are some links to other articles like this: