A few days ago, when I wrote about the direction giant robot designs have taken over the years, I received a comment pointing out to me the “Master Grade RX-78-2 Gundam 2.0,” which was a new model kit version of the iconic original Gundam, only designed to more closely resemble the mobile suit as it appeared in anime. When compared to previous RX-78-2 model kits, this means less details, different proportions, and a more “cartoonish” look overall.
Interested in how hobbyists took to this version of the classic Gundam, I looked at reviews of the kit. Any time its aesthetics were criticized, it was largely because the model was not as detailed as they liked. Being “anime accurate” was not a positive trait, and they would point out other kits, notably the “One Year War” version with a higher level of grittiness and detail, as a preferred alternative. In response to all this, I made my own comment, which was to point out that these fans appeared to be saying, “I don’t want the RX-78-2 to resemble the robot in the show, I want it to resemble the robot in my imagination!”
Then today, I saw the Toy Fair 2010 GI Joe toys. These action figures were designed based on the 80s version of GI Joe, the 3 inch figures instead of the giant doll-like ones. The only thing is, they are much more detailed and gritty than the 80s toys they were based on! It was also made clear that these toys are there partially for GI Joe collectors, adult men who look back fondly on their childhood toys, and I think it is all the more apparent that, like the One Year War RX-78-2, these GI Joes are trying to fill the gap between the actual toy and the collectors’ memories of what the toys were like as children, memories fueled by the power of childhood imagination. And there, in the attempts to make up for the loss of childhood creativity and thinking with skilled craftsmanship, lies the foundation of the nostalgic toy.
That is not to say of course that adults are incapable of having strong imaginations. Fiction as a whole would be incredibly boring if that were the case. Nor am I lumping everyone in as wanting more “realism” in their toys, as the original commenter I referred to above was all in favor of more toys like the MG RX-78-2 2.0. Instead, the issue is simply that the mind of an adult is simply different from the mind of a child. I am reminded of this fact whenever I look at drawings from my childhood and compare them to what I have done as an adult or even as a teenager.
When I previously touched on the subject of childhood imagination as it applies to animation, I talked about how children tend to ignore significant errors in animation and make up for these deficiencies through their imagination. But now when looking at a similar topic, that of toys and model kits, I realize that it’s not just a matter of childhood imagination “filling in the gaps,” but that childhood imagination, unlike adult imagination, cares little about “structure.”
If you look at the Soul of Chogokin series of toys, you will find everything I’ve been talking about, with its more solid and realistic redesigns of classic mecha targeted towards adult buyers, but if you want to really see what I mean by adults caring about structure, take a look not at the Soul of Chogokin line, but the original-style Chogokin toys, or rather, reviews of them by collectors. You will find that the way the reviewers talk about the features of the toy, about what is good and what is bad, is almost inevitably a very “adult-minded” way of looking at the toy, giving words to topics such as “points of articulation” and what-not. Even when referring to the nostalgia factor this happens, whether the topic is Chogokin, Jumbo Machinders, or Generation 1 Transformers.
It’s common knowledge among collectors, but the first generation of Mobile Suit Gundam toys, resembling the “neat gadgets”-style Chogokin toys that preceded it, were a marketing failure, as the toys did not really match up with what was on the screen. It really wasn’t until the concept of the giant robot “model kit” revolutionized giant robot figures that Gundam merchandise became the monster that it still is today, and people claim that this has to do with the fact that the audience for Gundam was skewing older than giant robot shows had in the past. I may be jumping the gun here, but what it looks like to me is that the older audience of younger and older teens were looking for more structure and accuracy in their toys, and that is what they got. As soon as Gundam hit that older demographic, I believe the Chogokin-style toys were dealt a serious blow, even putting aside the shoddy designs and inaccuracies of the original toyline. I think that the attitudes towards the 2.0 MG RX-78-2 are actually an extension of this over time and international waters.
Actually, more than even Chogokin reviews, if you really, really want to see the difference between child and adult mindsets and creativity, take a look at the webcomic Axe Cop. Promoted as being written by a 5 year old and drawn by his 29 year old brother, the artist admits to the story not being truly written by his significantly younger sibling, but that he asks the young child questions about the setting and events that occur, and then builds a story around it. The adult adds structure to the boundless imagination of the child, structure that is necessary to keep it all together, even if it doesn’t make sense entirely.
The child’s imagination says, “This is what happens.”
The adult’s imagination asks, “Why?”
But when it comes to reality, the child and adult’s responses reverse.