Friday, September 24, 2010

Spotlight on Irwin DragonBall Z

I came across my Irwin DragonBall Z toys in storage. I used to have them on display but I needed the shelf space for my growing DVD collection (which has since taken over much of my desk as well). I thought I’d use the opportunity to take a look back at some figures that are amongst my favorites that I own. This isn't the entirety of my DBZ collection. After Irwin went into bankruptcy the line continued under Jakks Pacific. My Jakks figures are stored off somewhere else. Theres even a few Irwin figures I have that weren’t stored with the rest of these.

When Irwin Toy acquired the license for DragonBall Z they started off with repackaged figures that were originally sold in Europe and Japan in the 90s. They were a little primitive compared to what was typical of the North American action figure market even at that time. After 13 waves of repackaged figures, Irwin began releasing higher quality figures that they developed themselves. The line started off as a continuation of the previous collection. The first few waves were filled with fan favorites who never got figures before like Nappa, Roshi, Yajirobe and Chaozu. Goku wouldn't even show up until wave four. But it was around that time that it began being treated as its own thing, separate from the toys that came before. It was also around that time that I started really getting into DBZ so it wasn't long before I started collecting the line.

Irwin expanded with lots of different sub-lines. There were Striking Z Fighters, Energy Glow, Secret Saiyan Warriors and Blasting Energy figures. I pretty much stuck with only the basic line, with the exception of a Blasting Energy Gohan because there wasn't another regular kid Gohan. (And there wouldn't be until Jakks released figures of young Gohan in his first outfit, purple gi, and orange gi packaged with Raditz, Goku and Shenron respectively.) The basic line lasted for eleven waves before Jakks Pacific took over the license. Jakks acquired the molds for Irwin’s figures including the molds for new figures they were working on before they closed down.

Irwin kept tinkering with the look of the line as the line went on. The first four waves of figures had a glossy finish. The fifth wave dropped the gloss and went with a matte finish. Then the sixth wave added a heavy paint wash. White surfaces like Android #19’s skin look gray. The Perfect Cell in this wave has blue skin and lacks the purple stripes he’s supposed to have on his face. (Jakks would re-release the figure with a more screen accurate deco.) With wave seven and beyond the paint washes were more restrained and they did bring out the detail of the sculpts. Nearly a decade later and I still haven’t decided if this was a good call. I’m not terribly bothered by the varying paint jobs. The paint washes are nice but are they appropriate for the colorful animated characters? Jakks’ figures would drop the washes.

You can't really call Irwin's figures super-articulated but they blew the previous DBZ toys, which typically only had cut joints at the shoulders, out of the water. I do think the articulation these figures had work well with the designs. The ball jointed shoulders are really great. Some of the figures have hidden cut joints at the wrists. While taking the photos I only now discovered Videl’s arms are articulated at her sleeve cuffs. It is weird that they started off with hinged knees but not elbows. Elbows were eventually added and the articulation continued to improve with Jakks’ line. This is another example of the line being tweaked for the better, albeit at the sacrifice of consistency.

Here are some figure specific details: The normal Goku released in wave four is based on his appearance in the Namek saga. A repaint was releases in wave eight without the kanji on his chest and back.

Piccolo has a removable turban. His cape isn’t meant to be removable but you could probably get it off if you detach his head first.

You can’t even tell in these pictures but Android #18’s sleeves are ribbed. It’d be nice if it had black stripes painted on to bring out that detail.

Majin Vegeta was originally released with black hair, even though he was a Super Saiyan the entire time he was under Babidi's power. Irwin did a running change with his hair painted yellow and that's the version I own.

The Great Saiyaman has interchangeable heads so you could display him with his helmet or his headwrap and sunglasses.

I was always disappointed that kid Trunks and Goten never got normal non-Super Saiyan figures. I wonder if Irwin would have gotten around to them had they not gone under. Jakks certainly never did.

So that was my look back at Irwin’s DBZ figures. Combined with Jakks' better efforts I think they're the best Dragonball toys ever made. They have the prefect balance of quality sculpting, articulation, and character selection which puts them on the top of the list for me. I can’t believe it's been about a decade since they were first released. I feel old.

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