Welcome to The Pulse, your lifeline on media and pop culture. It’s Christmas week and what better way to celebrate the holidays than rampant consumerism? As a lifelong kid at heart I do love me a good toy, be it a high end collectible or something you’d find stuck on the pegs at your local Target or (RIP) Toys R Us. In celebration of the true spirit of Christmas I’m going to be counting down my top 10 toy lines of all time.
Top 10 Toy Lines
10. Hot Wheels Attack Pack
A bit of a blast from my past, and one of a few toylines on this list I would absolutely love to see make a come back. While there are a few entries today that I sort of broadened to include multiple “lines” within, I specifically selected Attack Pack to represent Hot Wheels because regular cars and trucks are boring, cars and trucks that turn into ferocious teeth are badass and awesome! I remember having a decent few of these, including a few that were given out in Happy Meals from Mickey D’s, and I absolutely loved them. The designs of the cars and trucks themselves were already pretty cool, but push down a lever and they spring to life revealing teeth and claws and mandibles and it was everything I loved as a kid.
9. McFarlane Toys
Not to be confused with the McFarlane of Family Guy fame, Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn) is also responsible for some of the coolest statues pretending to be toys of all time. I poke fun, but I really did love these things growing up and they have gotten, mostly, better over the years. The many, many toylines produced by McFarlane offered incredible sculpted detail (and little articulation) across a wide range of genres. From their Movie Maniacs series that gave loving recreations of iconic horror villains to their own original in-house designs such as Twisted Fairy Tales, Monsters, Dragons, Spawn and more. McFarlane Toys is still growing strong today and they have really branched out, even producing their own brand of not quite LEGO featuring iconic franchises such as Five Nights at Freddy’s.
Speak of the devil. I challenge you to find a kid that doesn’t like LEGO. The original building blocks (or at least the most beloved), LEGO is another line that has found itself tackling a multitude of themes. Various licensed products, such as the ever popular Star Wars, themed sets like Castle, Pirates or City, as well as their own “build a figure” lines in Bionicle and Hero Factory. LEGO has been a part of our lives for a long, long time and is not likely to anywhere any time soon. Inspiring endless creativity in kids and adults alike, the box says 4-99 years and they mean it.
7. Mighty Max
There was a strange trend in “pairing” girls toys and boys toys with little tweaks for their respective demographics to make them more “fitting” and appealing to one group or another. Girls got the Easy Bake Oven, which they could use to cook up some questionably delicious treats. Boys got Creepy Crawlers where they could bake ooze into the colorful shapes of bugs, aliens and..the Power Rangers? Girls had Tamogatchi and boys had Digimon. Girls had Polly Pocket and boys had Mighty Max. The idea of a portable playset is a pretty great one, choking hazards aside, and they really packed a lot into these things. Some were genuinely pocket sized while others you really wouldn’t be able to carry around with you, but they all were stuffed with details, little secrets and moving parts and the way they incorporated the interior pieces and figures into aspects of the outer design was always impressive to me. Such as a bloody-fanged Saber-toothed Tiger that, when opened up, revealed the massive fangs were in fact the tusks of a mastodon. Or a shark that revealed its fins to be the mantles of a pair of squid. A giant island in the shape of a dragon, its eyes actually being glowing orbs of some kind. I absolutely adored this line, I loved the accompanying animated series and I would love to see these make a comeback. I had a ton of them as a kid and while I really don’t have a place for them now, damned if I don’t miss them.
6. Hot Toys
A line that by all means should be the top of just about any list, my own personal lack of experience with them beyond seeing pictures, videos and reviews online (as well as a few in person) leaves me feeling not quite right including them in the top five. Hot Toys is a (very) high end line of intricately detailed figures based on various film properties and celebrities. They so perfectly capture the likeness of the characters and the actors that portray them it lends an almost uncanny valley effect at times. The outfits are all properly tailored and fitted and composed of a variety of materials. The accessories range from guns that, outside of being unable to actually fire, could pass as “fully functional” often featuring removable clips, bullets, moving parts to dangerous looking swords, intricate jewelry, multiple headsculpts and hands and they just really go all out. The price tag many of these run makes collecting them a pipe dream for most, but man do I love looking at pics of them online.
5. Kenner’s “Aliens”
I had an awesome childhood where I got to grow up watching movies like Starship Troopers, Terminator and, of course, Aliens. Continuing the theme of strange trends of the 80’s and 90’s we have toys, cartoons and comics aimed at children but based on VERY hard R rated franchises. Case in point, Kenner’s fantastic Aliens figures. Not only did we get some cool toys based on the characters and vehicles from the movie, we got a whole line of Aliens based off of the concept of the alien xenomorph taking on characteristics of its host body, and what better way to do that than giving us a bunch of awesome animal themed aliens. From the gorilla and mantis (pictured above) to the snake, crab and wild boar aliens, they really went all out on these designs and offered a ton of variety and colors and just got super creative with it. NECA toys has actually take to redoing some of these designs in their own Alien line and the results are impressive, it’s like seeing my childhood all grown up and even more badass than I had ever imagined.
4. Power Rangers
Go go Power Rangers! I was a boy that grew up in the 90’s, I loved the Power Rangers. Ok, I still love Power Rangers just..not quite as much. My dad could tell you stories (some more embarrassing than others) about me and my Power Rangers toys. Be it the heavy disappointment I’d feel while struggling to find them at the local Toys R Us (RIP) to the hours I’d spend smashing them together. I only really collected these for the first few seasons of the series, I think Zeo was the last of the Power Rangers toys I got as a kid. I still kept up with the show right up through to the end of Wild Force before my interested died off. I got back into the show with the phenomenal RPM and picked up the Megazord from that as well as the modernized take on the original Megazord they did, but the direction the toys ultimately took with the whole zord builder aspect just stopped appealing to me. Still, I played with my old figures like crazy and they remain some of my all time favorites. I’ve debated picking up some of the more recent Super Sentai mecha from time to time, but haven’t actually bit that bullet just yet. I gotta say though, if money wasn’t an object I would absolutely jump on the chogokin Megazord and Dragonzord figures, but that price tag….yikes.
3. Machinerobo Mugenbine
The ultimate in “I really wish this had come stateside and/or would continue to be produced” toy lines. A spinoff of the Machinerobo Rescue series, Mugenbine (lit. Infinite Combination) never officially left the shores of Japan and spanned a small handful of additional sublines. The main object of my desire, however, was the initial “alphabet” series (as fans tend to call it). These came with a small robotic figure known as a Mugenroid as well as several extra bits called “bine parts”. These robots were largely identical, the only differences between them being colorscheme and headsculpt (the mainline consisting of 26 figures with the letters A-Z painted on the sides of the head, hence “alphabet series”). They had limited articulation but could be folded up into a basic cube shape as well as a few other configurations. The mugenroids and bine parts were all covered with pegs and ports, all of which were universal among the line, this meant that any given mugenroid could use the bine parts of another in any combination. You could also combine the mugenroids together using the various pegs and ports on them, couple this with the bine parts and you could make all sorts of cool vehicles and robots and animals and really go all out. The more you bought the more options you would have open to you. Now I only have a few figures myself; Air Leon, Carry Eagle, Heat Tricera and Xenonbine (the only outright villain in the series). Air Leon can use his parts to become a lion or an aircraft. Carry Eagle can become an eagle or a transport truck of some description. Heat Tricera can become either a triceratops or a steam engine. Xenonbine is a bit of a unique case in that he has the most official modes of any single figure, he can become either a dragon, a scorpion, a tank or a spaceship. That’s a lot of variety just among those figures (and obviously any one of those mugenroids can use the parts of the other to make those various forms) and I’ve managed a few cool combinations sticking a few of them together such as a bigger spaceship or a giant robot form. Several sets are intended to go together to make their own official combinations, such as Air Leon with Build Giraft and Carry Eagle to form the robotic combination seen above, or Galaxy Rex and Heat Tricera to make a bigger dino mode or giant robot. The boxes also give you a few suggested combinations you can try and encourage you to experiment and make your own. I remember a lot of these being hard to find when I started collecting them and so I never picked many up, but I would love to try and finish out my collection some day.
What’s better than boring old cars and trucks that do nothing but roll across the table? Cars and trucks that roll across the able and turn into giant friggin’ robots, that’s what! The age old story of the autobots waging their battle to destroy the evil forces of the decepticons is a timeless one (if timeless means since the 80’s). It has evolved over time, it spent a good chunk of the 90’s focusing on the battle between the animalistic maximals and predacons, but the basic premise has always held true. Giant robots beating the crap out of each other will always be awesome and it’s even more awesome if those robots required a dozen or two steps in order to get them into said robot mode. I know I drove my dad crazy making him change them back and forth for me while I was playing with them. Maybe there is something to Hasbro simplifying the figures so much these days, kid me would have never been able to transform the Revenge of the Fallen Optimus Prime, and I think my dad would have chucked the thing out the window. I appreciate the sort of tri-nature of these toys much more now than I did then though. You’re not just buying a toy car or a toy robot, you’re getting the best of both worlds with a (sometimes intricate) puzzle to solve in between forms. This was, as stated previously, especially true during the Revenge of the Fallen era, where many figures were perhaps a bit too complex for their own good. I personally loved them, as we got some of the franchise’s best during those years, but I know plenty that couldn’t stand it (even beyond the usual hate the live action films get). There is something to be said for simplicity though. Animated had just ended its run around the time of Revenge of the Fallen and not only did we get, arguably, the best show in the Transformers canon, we got insanely screen accurate figures with simple, yet satisfying transformations into also screen accurate alternate modes and I hold them as the pinnacle of the franchise. The new studio series line has also breathed some new life into my love of these bits of plastic crack, it was the live action movies that brought me back into the franchise and collecting and getting all these new figures based on those designs made my heart swoon.
1. S.H. Figuarts
Henshin! I am a huge Kamen Rider fan, and trust me you will hear all about that soon, and nothing better represents the characters and suits I have come to love over the years than Bandai’s premier S.H. Figuarts line. Now, while this line has expanded to include other franchises from Super Sentai to Dragonball and even American made brands like Marvel and Star Wars and even Harry Potter, it was Kamen Rider that brought me into it. Highly detailed, at times looking like you plucked the suit right out of your tv (or computer, for us poor Americans that have to watch fan subs online), incredibly well articulated and often loaded with accessories, these things are basically a smaller and much cheaper Hot Toys figure. They’ve refined the line so much over the years and seeing the evolution has really shown how time and advancements in engineering and design can improve things, even things that were already the top of the line back even just 10 years ago. The near consistent quality and representation of one of my all time favorite franchises gives this line just the edge it needs to take the top spot over Transformers. That said, both are the star players in my display case and I look forward to adding more to my collection over the years.
Happy holidays everyone, thank you so much for joining me this year. I have one last list for you all next week to wrap up 2019 and big plans for next 2020.
Catch up on previous lists including my top 10 ICP songs, or my top 10 Christmas songs if you’re looking for something less clowny and more festive: