The new 1/12 ATM-09-ST Scopedog toy by threezero from the anime 'Armored Trooper VOTOMS'.
There are very few mecha designs as noteworthy as the Scopedog from Armored Trooper VOTOMS. From predicting the use of virtual reality and inspiring the creation of Heavy Gear, this design has a great deal of history behind it and this toy definitely delivers on that.
Armored Trooper VOTOMS was an anime from the early '80s that dealt with a hundred year war in the Astragius Galaxy between the Gilgamesh and Balarant forces, with the former using the Scopedog armored trooper, or AT, as its mainstay in terms of armament.
What made VOTOMS so different from other anime of the period and even today, was that it treated the mecha as mass manufactured pieces of machinery that were as expendable as their pilots. In part inspired by the Jeep, the Scopedog was a multi-purpose humanoid tank that could be affixed with a variety of weapons and mobility packs, allowing it to be used in space, in cities and even in swamps.
As anime mecha go, the Scopedog was all about its function and the form followed. For many, it is regarded as being one of the more realistic mecha designs out there and there is a lot of truth to that.
For instance, the Scopedog was around 4 meters tall and that meant that it could not have a sufficiently armored canopy to protect the pilot. Instead, the pilot sat enclosed with the visuals from the camera cluster outside fed into their helmet. In short, the Scopedog used virtual reality, or VR, to impart the necessary visual information to its pilot. That’s how ahead of its time this mecha design was, as it predicted the utility of virtual reality back in 1983.
This is why when Bandai Namco added a VOTOMS game to its VR Zone attraction in Diver City last year, it worked flawlessly. You will be happy to know that this VOTOMS game is also available at the new VR Zone Shinjuku facility that has recently opened.
Following that, the roller dash setup in the Scopedog’s feet, as well as the overall configuration of the mecha, had a direct impact on games such as Heavy Gear. Much like Fang of the Sun Dougram before it, which was used as the basis for BattleTech and MechWarrior, VOTOMS was the second major intersection between Japanese mecha anime and Western video games.
Put simply, without mecha like the Scopedog, games like Heavy Gearand Hawken would not exist.
The fact that Dougram and VOTOMS have been so very influential with mecha games is no accident really, as the mecha in the series operated around rules laid out by their writer and director, Ryosuke Takahashi. When I interviewed him last year, he had this to say about the process behind VOTOMS.
When I started on the second mecha series, VOTOMS, I started to think about what needed to be fixed after Dougram. The problem with Dougram was the mecha's size. The Dougram was around 10 meters tall, which in animation can be depicted as being both small and large. So that wasn't great in terms of the mecha's sense of scale. The other major problem was the mecha's speed at this size. Compared with Gundam, which features fights mostly set in space and looks fast, Dougram was entirely ground based. So battles were just running around on the ground and that lacked speed. I really wanted to do something about both the size of the mecha and its speed for the second series I did. From that point I thought about what would be a realistic size, so maybe 2 to around 5 meters. If it was 2 meters, maybe some small Japanese person could pilot it but it's closer to a powered suit than a full on mecha. Also powered suits and powered armor were getting popular around that time too. Though, for me at that size, that wasn't a mecha it was a powered suit, so 2 meters was too small. However, if it was 5 meters when drawn in the anime it won't be that different between the 10 meter tall Dougram. People wouldn't really notice the difference in terms of the animation. So I thought 4 meters was just right. At the same time, Okawara was thinking along the same lines and he too thought 4 meters was the smallest size where a mecha could still have a pilot and be a mecha. So we both agreed at that time that 4 meters was the right size for a realistic mecha.
The roller dash was to make the mecha faster but what I was really concerned about was that adding wheels under the feet would make the mecha look like a childish toy. In my childhood, the tin toys I had always had wheels underneath. So maybe adding wheels would make it feel like one of those toys. To solve that I decided to have a good sound effect, so something realistic and almost violent sounding might fix the problem.
One other thing, it's assumed that the roller dash was used to reduce the number of frames of animation as it would mean the mecha wouldn't need to walk as much. That's what people say. However, that's not the real reason for the roller dash. This is because Dougramwas a successful series, so VOTOMS had enough funds to have the artists draw those frames of animation to have the mecha walk step by step if we wanted to. So the roller dash wasn't a cost saving idea but to make the mecha move a lot faster.
The speed at which the Scopedog moved also made it stand out among its competitors of the era and was something that would also end up in another of Takahashi’s works, as the mecha in Panzer World Galient also utilized a similar roller dash.
Regarding the design itself, when I spoke with mecha design Kunio Okawara last year about his work on VOTOMS he had this to say.
With VOTOMS, one of the problems with the Dual Model toys though was that they couldn't recreate the famous sitting down pose of the Dougram. In the anime, the Dougram was 10 meters tall but in the anime it looks much bigger than that. In animation it is quite difficult to express the scale of things, whether making the head smaller or bigger. Animators cannot really communicate the size to the viewer so I started to wonder whether I could do a project where any animator could realize the scale of the mecha. I wanted to something much smaller. So I started to think of the armored troopers in VOTOMSversus a person, allowing the relative scale to be always apparent. As anyone can understand the height of a person and that in turn would give a helpful point of reference for the mecha.
As I worked on the project, I put a Microman into a mockup and from that mockup I calculated that four meters would be the right size to make a changeable toy. So using that quite understandable size reference and then worked on it from that. Luckily, at the same time Takahashi had similar ideas for a smaller type of mecha, so it quickly became a project.
To explain a bit further, Takahashi is about five years older than me and he was a kid during the Second World War. He remembers seeing the US Army jeeps around at the time he was growing up and that whenever they drove around they left a big oil slick everywhere. Making a really shiny oily pattern to the water patches all over the roads. So he was talking about those jeep sized mecha as an idea. As it turned out what I worked out doing the mockup with the Microman figure was this four size but that too turned out to be about the same length as a jeep. So that's how our ideas met.
In terms of the design itself, Takahashi doesn't tend to have too many requirements, so he doesn't ask me to change this part or that part. He doesn't do that. Where we both met in terms of ideas was that we understood the idea of heavy armaments for real warfare. Whereas the younger generation nowadays, who haven't experienced war, would never really understand how something that heavy was so close to our lives. So because they never really experienced war, they could never really come up with something like VOTOMS. For instance, the generation of Izubuchi already has a great deal of classic designs surrounding him, so their life is so far away from actual warfare. VOTOMS was a result of people who directly experienced wartime.
So the pedigree behind the design of the Scopedog is palpable and threezero has not shirked in its responsibility to bring this classic mecha to life.
Over the years, we have had all manner of Scopedog toys and kits released. The older Dual Model toys from Takara Tomy are still well regarded but they were quite small. That said, when these kinds of designs get larger toy treatments, things start to go wrong.
The last major 1/12 scale Scopedog toy release was back in 2004 by Yamato. This was an impressive and gimmick ridden toy but also one that had issues with its own weight in regards to the joints and articulation.
The Scopedog designed by Kunio Okawara was responsible for inspiring the functional approach for the mecha in 'Heavy Gear'.
Due to its size, the figure had a tendency to slump or lean forward under its own weight. It also lacked its own pilot figure and individually articulated fingers, among many other things.
It was a brave and bold toy to be sure but one that was probably a bit ahead of its time.
Around the same time, Takara Tomy did its own range of slightly smaller 1/18 scale Scopedog toys under a new Dual Model Zwei, or DMZ line, these were more sturdy and playable and included excellent Microman pilot figures.
In this instance, threezero has taken what made both of those older Scopedog toys work and distilled them into something truly fantastic.
At first glance, this threezero Scopedog seems more in line with the similarly scaled Yamato release. In reality, it is actually closer to the DMZ toys but executed with far greater skill and detail.
This is because, despite its size, the threezero Scopedog is very light but still has very sturdy ratcheted joints. They hold their position well and their range of articulation is comprehensive, to say the least.
The hands also feature fully articulated fingers and that makes holding the GAT-22 Heavy Machinegun a lot easier compared to previous toys. You can also switch out the parts to modify the machine gun to operate in the long or short barrel gun modes and it even comes with a very nice fabric belt.
This brings me to the detailing and overall finish. The version reviewed here is the Exclusive Heavy Weathering Version and the paint job is brilliantly done. The sculpt and other detailing is also spot on and the finish on the internal cockpit is amazing.
What’s more, this toy comes with a 1/12 scaled articulated pilot figure, with a variety of hands and an M571 Armor Magnum, which can also be neatly holstered. The figure itself has a wide array of joints that can enact a range of poses. However, what is most impressive is that it is actually wearing a proper pilot suit from the series. Unlike the earlier DMZ toys that had painted Micromen figures, this pilot actually has a plastic fabric pilot suit and all the trimmings.
The only thing to note with the pilot figure is that you cannot remove the helmet and I have it on good authority that it is not meant to represent the main character Chirico Cuvie from the series, instead, it is simply meant as a generic grunt.
Once inside the cockpit, the hatch closes snugly and you can bask in the variety of the other wondrous gimmicks.
The arm punch from the series is also recreated but is not spring loaded like on previous toys. That said, the arm punch magazine is spring loaded and pops out once a button is pressed.
The rollers on the feet roll and accompany a nice little threezero logo Easter egg and the turning pins can be lowered as well.
The other major feature is that you can lower the cockpit chassis down, as per the series. This was to allow pilots to be able to get into the Scopedog and the transformation is handled well here, simply and with good sturdy ratcheted joints.
The amazing thing in all this is that despite this toy’s size and complexity, there is no diecast to speak of. Like with its T-45 figure from Fallout 4, threezero has kept the weight down and focused on improving the strength of its joints. It is a very modern approach and like with the T45 it works incredibly well here.
As someone that loves VOTOMS dearly and has owned pretty much every Scopedog toy ever made, I can genuinely say that this is by far the most comprehensive and best-executed toy of the design to date. Even as a simple display piece it is incredibly well done but it is also something you can actually play with without fear of it falling apart.
In summation, this is the best Scopedog toy that money can currently buy. If you are a fan of the original anime then you owe it yourself to get one of these for yourself.
This 1/12 Scopedog toy is released this August and will cost around $450. It comes in either a standard or exclusive version, with the latter being what this review is based upon. It can be imported from most online retailers, such as HobbyLink Japan.