The following article is an opinion article written by TokuNation.com webmaster and editor-in-chief TokuChris. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the feeling of other staff members of TokuNation.com or the website as a whole. TokuChris has been collecting various toy lines and working as a freelance journalist on said toy lines since 2001.
Bandai America has a reputation amongst toy collectors of being cheap, “knock off” quality of their superior sister company, Bandai Japan. When the Legacy items for Power Rangers first started coming out, fans began to think that Bandai America was actually changing their reputation by making high-end American exclusive product catered to the older fans of the franchise.
As the Legacy line of Megazords and roleplay items continued to sell well, Bandai America decided to adventure in to the realm of 6.5″ figures with a “build a figure” gimmick to compete with heavy hitter Marvel Legends. Premium paint applications and articulation were promised in exchange for a $19.99 price tag (or, as fans have discovered, now $21.99 in most places). Sadly, the figure line has been riddled with quality control issues since its second wave and shows no sign of improvement.
And now, with the release and revelation of the Legacy 6.5″ Power Rangers Zeo Gold Ranger having nothing gold about him, fan backlash has reached critical levels. Please click “Read More” to hear one opinion on the matter. Spoilers – it’s not going to be pretty.
A few years ago Bandai America was at the top of their game. Headed by Brehan Maul and second-in-command Gregory Mitchell, there was a new sense of fan interaction that had never been seen before within the company. At conventions they would make sure to stand in front of the booth and interact with every single fan and answer whatever questions they could answer. The booths were all about merchandise – showing what they had already done and what they were going to do. Going to San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and Power Morphicon was an amazing experience because you knew that you were in for a treat and that your concerns and ideas would be heard and responded to on the show floor.
And then Brehan left. Shortly thereafter, a number of Bandai America employees directly on the Power Rangers team also left to join Brehan, privately sharing with me frustrations regarding the direction that the new head of the brand wanted to take Power Rangers.
At San Diego Comic Con, and even New York Comic Con, merchandise was second to the INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE! Morph in to your favorite Mighty Morphin Power Ranger! And it was popular and it was pretty awesome. But that should have been at a Saban Brands booth and not the Bandai America booth. We were incredibly late at New York Comic Con getting photos of the booth up because the line for the interactive experience blocked the display cases.
You also felt a sense of abandonment. A majority of the booth workers were local hires just to man the booth while the actual representatives of Bandai America hid away. I understand at New York Comic Con it was slightly better at interaction but still a far cry from the days of Bandai America reps standing in front of their booth proud and ready to talk to fans.
But from what I’m hearing – Bandai America is in an increased sense of cost cutting and an expectation that older fans will buy whatever they put out. Why else at New York Comic Con 2017 would fans be told that they had to buy the older female figures peg-warming if they wanted to get the new figures that come out next?
For a year the Legacy 6.5″ Zeo Gold Ranger looked gorgeous at every show. Fans saw it and literally salivated at finally getting a highly articulated figure of someone not named Tommy. It simply looked gorgeous. And then, yesterday, we saw the final result in package.
Bandai America chose NOT to paint the Zeo Gold Ranger gold. They didn’t even bother to cast it in a “gold” plastic, opting for the “cheese orange” color that is cheaper to produce (and sadly shows stress marks like a mother f’er). And because that color is seen throughout the wave (especially on the Zeo Rangers Build a Figure Megazord) it means it’s not a “factory error” but an intentional switch which comes across as nothing but “cost cutting”, or saving money (or coming in at budget goal, blah blah blah whatever).
The issue I have with this is that we have been told, constantly, hammered through our heads, that we have to SUPPORT THE LINE OR IT WILL END. Whether it’s Bandai themselves or their bonafide spokesperson MMPRToys, we are constantly told that we have to SUPPORT THE LINE OR IT WILL END, and BUYING AT MARKDOWNS IS NOT SUPPORTING THE LINE, and so forth. But here’s my response to that:
It’s not my job to buy your product at full price. It’s your job to make me want to pay full price for it. It’s your job to make me want to buy it IN THE FIRST PLACE. And when you whisper in our ears every opportunity that you get that this is a line “for collectors” and then choose to cost-cut the COLOR of arguably the third or fourth most popular Power Ranger in the entire franchise? Inexcusable.
At New York Comic Con, Bandai America dangled the Psycho Rangers waves of figures as the carrot on the stick. “If you don’t support the line, you won’t get these figures”. Well, if you’re going to release the quality you just did – cheese orange unpainted plastic so you could look good at shareholders for saving money or coming in under budget – then you can keep your Psycho Rangers. You can go ahead and keep your 1:4 scale helmets, your non-transforming Legacy Zords, your reissue Legacy flipheads … you can keep them all. I don’t want them. If you’re going to tell me you’re making this for me and then hand me something subpar with a smile on your face, then I’m not the consumer you’re aiming for.
Bandai America took strides in the past years to change the perception of their company with the toy collector community by delivering high quality products release after release. The excitement for what was next had everyone on the edge of their seat. Fans riddled them with questions on what the next release was going to be, when it was going to be, and so forth. The excitement began to dwindle in recent months with unexciting releases revealed (like Legacy non-transforming Dino Zords). And with this highly anticipated wave of figures hitting shelves with subpar and inexcusable paint decos (or lack thereof), many fans are stating that they’re going to vote with their wallet from this moment on.
As a Power Rangers fan for 25 years and a collector since the Neo Saban Era began, it’s disheartening to see Bandai America seemingly not care about the collectors they claim to cater to. It’s disheartening to have no open line of communication with them regarding their releases or the quality control issues that continue to plague the line (or for all we know it’s actual design choice).
We did a news story regarding their choice to decrease female figures in the toy line. They issued a statement, through another site, that they will continue to release female figures. Aside from a Legacy fliphead Pink Ranger, we have seen no indication of a future female toy for the next couple of waves of toys. In this release of the new Legacy figures assortment, the Zeo Yellow Ranger was shockingly (or not shockingly) missing from the wave on the shelf (in fairness, someone could have purchased her). We expect a statement from Bandai stating they will address quality concerns in future releases. Or hell, they’ll release an accurate version of the Gold Ranger as a convention exclusive and make fans pay three times as much and smile as they claim they planned this all along. In which case, there’s not enough middle fingers to throw in their direction in response to the one they’re giving collectors.
But how many more times do we have to have this conversation? How many more times is Bandai going to promise us change and deliver us the same thing time and time again, and then blame us when things go wrong or something doesn’t come out? How many more times do fans have to settle for “good enough” instead of “good”? Why does it continue to feel like no one involved with Power Rangers at Bandai actually cares about Power Rangers as much as the people buying the product?
The title of the story is accurate here. Bandai reached for gold, settled for a participation trophy, and don’t seem to care that they fell so short of the mark. Collectors and fans are upset. You shouldn’t have to customize your figure to make it accurate – and definitely not in the line that is claimed to be collector oriented. Speaking to a former Bandai employee, it was stated we SHOULD be upset.
In a market where Hasbro is in talks to buy out Mattel and decrease the amount of competition, Bandai is just happy to be part of the game. And while Hasbro continues to set the bar in quality and expectation, Bandai continues to lower the bar of what a company can get away with. And shame on us, the fans, for continuing to support it.
When I started collecting Power Rangers merchandise, my collector friends asked me why I wanted “knock off cheap toys”. I argued with them about quality and execution and how Bandai is actually brilliant in their marketing strategy. A few years later I realize now, more than ever, that my collector friends were right.
Shame on me.