Monday, April 12, 2010

Voltron in Toys (Part 2)

So, if you will remember the last entry was about the original Go-Lion toy released by Popy, a subsidiary of Bandai, (in Japan) and by Bandai American (in America) in 1981. But, the first toy to carry the Voltron III name was based on the same model as the Bandai release and was released by Matchbox in 1984. This is probably the action figure robot most American collectors are familiar with from their childhood.

The Matchbox release of Voltron III (1984).
I assume that the rights were sold to Matchbox when the toy was renamed and remarketed to American children as Voltron III. Like its two predecessors Voltron III could be bought as a complete set or in individual boxes (body, one arm and leg, the other arm and leg). Yet, it no longer carried the full complement of daggers, small missiles, and launchers that had come with the originals. This may have been due to laws regarding the size of children’s toys and regulations to prevent choking. Though, it did retain the blue face (when in combined form) of the previous two models.

Again, this is a die-cast metal toy. The black lion’s shoulder’s open to hide its legs in robot mode and the robot face is hidden in its bottom jaw. Both red and green lions fire their heads (which is never used in the cartoon and seems like a terrible battle tactic). The yellow lion has ear flaps that open to reveal launchers and a pop-up cannon on its back. The blue lion has a pop up head and a cannon on its back as well. Unconfirmed: The Blazing Sword was not included with this version and had to be purchased separately.
The above image was borrowed from this website.

All for now,
Your obedient,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The History of Voltron III (in toys)

First of all, what many of us commonly know as Voltron is actually Voltron III and began life as Beast King Go-Lion. The American series Voltron: Defender of the Universe is actually based off of two anime; Beast King Go-Lion (season I) and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (season II). In order to maintain continuity the editors of the American series called the first incarnation Voltron III (Voltron of the Far Universe) in charge of protecting the planet Arus from the evil king Zarkon. It was “of the Far Universe” because in continuity Arus was the farthest planet from Earth in the known universe. In season II, we encounter threats much closer to Earth and the Alliance builds a 15 robot team of vehicles that combine to form Voltron I (Voltron of the Near Universe) or simply Vehicle Voltron.

But, this is the history of Voltron III (in toys). I say in toys because the die-cast Voltron III has been released 5-6 times alone. And, this is not including plastic versions of Voltron III, Vehicle Voltron, the action figures, enemies, or playsets. Why 5-6 times? Because, there is a perfect Taiwanese bootleg copy of Voltron III and I don’t know if I should count it or not. So, understanding and collecting a complete die-cast Voltron III is a tremendous headache so I thought I would help some of my nerd comrades by doing some of the groundwork. I’ll break this up into several entries to make it easier to read and digest. And here we go:

Popy toys in Japan released Golion in 1981. For those of you confused, Popy toys is a subsidiary of Bandai. If you found an auction and it says “Bandai” it isn’t fake or mislabeled. Also, the company that actually produces the physical toys is Taiwanese and named Y&K. So if the auction says Y&K it is still okay.

Sidenote: Godaikin was a line of super robot toys released by Bandai America from 1982-1985 based on the Popy Chogokin series. Chogokin simply means "Super Alloy" in Japanese. It is a ficticious metal which first appeared in the Mazinger Z comic. It was adopted by the Popy toy company in 1972 as the name of a new line of die-cast metal robot toys to be sold in Japan. If it says Chogokin, it is Japanese; if it says Godaikin, it is American, either one is an original.

These toys were later recalled because the paints used on the legs contained more lead than allowed by law. I figure you are just fine as long as you don’t lick them, but here are some articles that will help you decide for yourself.

(A Government Website)

All for now.
Your obedient,

(PS: In case you were wondering; TOEI is the animation company that first released Beast King Go-Lion and World Event Productions is the American distributor that adapted that show and released it as Voltron.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Lion King isn't Hamlet

Updating from the road is hard. New Orleans is what New Orleans always is to tourists, there's lots of drinking and delicious food. But, onto the important matters at hand. I am going to make this short because this wireless internet keeps trying to crap out on me. While I admit that the setups are similar, the themes that run through the play and film are not and the film's director was not trying to simply retell Hamlet. For example:

The setups are very similar. Scar, brother to Mufasa (King of the African plains) kills Mufasa in order to become king himself. His nephew, Simba, runs away and then returns to fight his uncle for kingship. Meanwhile, Claudius, brother to Old Hamlet (King of Denmark), kills old Hamlet in order to become king. His Nephew, Hamlet (Jr.), avenges his father (eventually). I mean, it's got to be the same story, right?

Very different. Hamlet is plagued by the speed and unnaturalness of his mother who married his uncle after his father's death. He is then visited by a "ghost" who is supposed to be his father who tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him in the garden. So, Hamlet spends the entire play agonizing over what to do based on what may or may not be his father's soul trapped in purgatory. His internal struggle is his battle with himself and his conscience, does he murder a man he does not know is guilty (there is a chance that this ghost is actually a demon in disguise trying to get Hamlet to commit a wicked act). Hamlet is never sure of Claudius' guilt except on the basis of circumstancial evidence (he never hears Claudius' confession while in prayer). Hamlet loses everything in his quest for revenge and everyone he ever cared about. His murder/death leave Denmark without a king and creates a power vacuum which Fortinbras (also avenging a father) readily steps into.

Simba instead is convinced he killed his father by calling out for Mufasa to rescue him when he was trapped by stampeding water buffalo. Mufasa would have escaped with is life but Scar secretly cast him back into the fray to be trampled by the water buffalo's hooves. His internal struggle is with his unreadiness to be king. He runs away knowing full well that Scar will rule for him. He only returns when he finds out what Scar has done to his homeland and his pride of lions (essentially handing it over to the hyenas). He returns because he has realized he must fulfill his destiny and become king. But he does not avenge his father, he grants Scar mercy, leaving him to "run away and never return" or Simba might then kill him.

In essence, the Hamlet story is about the many faces of revenge, blood in blood out, and the continuation of violence. The Lion King is about realizing one's destiny and not shirking responcibility. So while on the surface these two stories seem the same, the theme set them apart.

Your obediant,

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lying Revisited.

Now, where was I? I believe I was talking about the one example that is at the very heart of the film's troubles (note: the picture doesn't have anything to do with the scene I am talking about, it's just to remind you about the film). Now, during the time Mark and Anna were together, he told her a story about his father... a thief.

As audience members we were privy to seeing the story played out before our eyes. Mark's father is seen breaking into someones house. Unfortunately for him, that person was home. So here is the confusing part. The man answers the door as Mark's father attempts to pry it open with a crowbar. The man asks, "What are you doing?" Mark's father asks the owner what he is doing home? Mark's father explains that the robbery would have gone smoothly if the owner had been at work like he should have been. The owner informs him he will have the police here soon to arrest him. Mark's father informs him that the police would do no good because the owner does not know his name. The owner asks him his name and Mark's father responds, "Richard Bellison." He then waits with the homeowner for the police to arrive.

Now ignoring the idea that in this society people freely give away information and the first time Richard tried to spend the money he might blurt out that it had been stolen, if he was in the process of robbery couldn't he have been honest by telling the homeowner that he didn't want to share his name so that he couldn't be identified? Could he not have run away?

And this is the problem with all truth weapons, spells, science experiments, conditions, the easiest way to not lie and not incriminate yourself is to say nothing. This is a strategy I use when confronted with the police. I know you have to tell the truth, and I know an lie of omission is to tell a story and leave something out. But you can't lie if you don't talk. But, if the idea is that we are compelled in this society to not only be truthful but to always answer when questioned and even to volunteer information never asked about, how could anyone be a thief?

I've lost my train of thought, but the what I want people to take away from this is not a negative review of this film. It is actually really interesting, funny, and thought provoking. And I actually believe there was an idea behind it; but perhaps due to focus groups asking it to be more funny, time constraints, budget, or just the impossibility of imagining a world without lies, there are problems with the film.

So, my goal in writing this was to get people to consider the idea not only of a society that cannot lie, but of a society which has evolved without lies. Imagine for yourself how the world would be different and how history would change. What would be normal for people? People in the film lacked compassion, lacked tact, lacked pity. Is that how you imagine a society without lies?

Take a moment to appreciate the wonders and terrors that lying has given us. And imagine that honesty might not always be the best policy.

Your obedient,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A World Where No One Lies But Can Still Act Dishonestly?

So, The Invention of Lying is a 2009 film directed by, starring, and written by Ricky Gervais (also written in part by Matthew Robinson). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film, the idea is that society is exactly the same as it is now (with a few exceptions), except that nobody can lie. Not that it is bad or wrong or societally unacceptable to lie, they physically cannot do it. Which is an interesting concept and actually makes for an enjoyable and thought provoking movie experience. But perhaps you can already see where I am going to go with this.

The idea is sound except the execution is not as thought out as one would hope. First of all, I maintain we could not achieve a society like ours or rather society would not evolve this way if we were incapable of lying. Our society is based on false compliments and social graces. White lies meant to endear ourselves to each other. I could not even imagine what a society without lies would evolve into. Why would we even have laws if we were all being honest about we truly wanted? Why not just kill and steal and when asked why we would say because we wanted it and we are bigger and stronger? Perhaps there are things I am not considering (perhaps definitely) but the point I am making is that society would be radically different from what is presented in the film.

But, this is an abstract idea. The concrete idea presented in the movie that would not allow society to function is the unnatural connection between truth and act. Let me explain. In the film Mark Bellison (Gervais) is attempting to woo Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) and she rebuffs him. The plot revolves around Mark's new found ability to lie. He "lies" to her in order to get more dates; never lying about what he does, or his feelings, or saying anything about himself that isn't true. He simply states that she has made an error in her assessment of him and that she should give him another chance. The implication is that she has not made an error and that logically all communications should be severed.

Herein lies the problem. The society cannot lie, or more specifically cannot say something untrue. But, in this society truth is a tangible thing. It is true that Anna is beautiful and that Mark is portly and has a flat nose. It is also true that beautiful people should only breed with other beautiful people to make more beautiful people. So not only is truth tangible, people may only act according to that truth. It is only through Mark's "lie" that Anna is still able to see him. Then, because of that lie, she falls in love with him because of his intelligence, his sense of humor, his compassion, and his kindness (It also helps that her handsome male suitor Brad, played by Rob Lowe, is a real asshole).

That's the problem though, in this society the "truth" is that only attractive people are worth anything. Things like kindness, compassion, humor, and intelligence are not valued and so a leader like Winston Churchill would never rise to inspire a people in times of war. He would be too ugly. Yet, somehow history evolved much like it does in our world. In fact it almost seems like society only recently cannot lie.

This was my major problem with the film. It played out more like a society that woke up one morning and suddenly could not lie. Not only could it not lie, but it volunteered more information than was even requested. People still acted the way they normally act but suddenly had to tell everyone around them the truth. for example there is a scene in a restaurant where Mark and Anna are on a date. As the waiter brings Anna her drink he informs her, without being prompted, that he has tasted the drink and even tells her from where he took the sip. Now in a society without lies, one would wonder why someone would do something like that? If he knew that he might be asked or even volunteer the information, why would he risk being fired over sipping someones drink?

My friend had an explanation. He said that if the society truly could not lie that they would become so jaded from hearing the truth all the time and no one would care anymore. In fact, they would expect bluntness and inappropriate revelations (like when Anna informed Mark that she had been masturbating before their date because she didn't think their night's activities would end in sex). But that still does not answer how in a society without lies one would still attempt to commit a "dishonest" act. I have an example but this entry has run long. I will finish this up soon in a separate entry.

Your obedient,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day

In the spirit of Ada Lovelace Day, my first blog post will be in celebration of women in technology.

Ada Lovelace is the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron. As a child she was often ill but was adept at science and mathematics. Her skills in writing and mathematics impressed Charles Babbage whom she worked and corresponded with on numerous occasions. In 1842, while translating Luigi Menabrea's article on Babbage's proposed Analytical Engine, Ada appended a set of her own notes. Among these notes was a complete algorithm for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli Numbers using the engine. For this achievement, Ada Lovelace is usually credited as the world's first computer programmer.

The extent of her contributions cannot be accurately guessed due to Babbage's tendency to not acknowledge other peoples' contributions to his work. But she was definitely one of the few people to understand Babbage's ideas so well that she could write a program that could be read and understood by a machine.

So what does this mean and why should we celebrate? Think how things might be different without Ada Lovelace's contributions. What things use computer programs? Cars, cell phones, digital cameras, GPS, MP3 players, XBOX 360, the Internet. I am not saying these things would be gone, but how might they be different? How might the timeline of computer technology be altered without one woman's contributions? Think about that while you use these devices today.

If you want to celebrate, think about Ada Lovelace and find out about more women in technology. Find out about women in engineering, in aeronautics, in politics, in science, in space travel, in the military, in every field imaginable both in history and in the future.

And remember that a woman's place is every place.

Your obedient,