Saturday, February 28, 2009

ENTERTAINMENT: The Masters are Making IT

Masters of the Universe, a toy franchise that hit the market back in 1981, still has a presence today. Though its presence is not as strong as another successful, long-living 80s line, i.e. The Transformers, He-Man and his cohorts are finding their way into consumers' hands. MOTU's second climb to fame and success is still at hand, as the potential of the brand is obvious--there is just a need to market the franchise in a way that will make He-Man and the Masters king again.

In n2an ironic twist, the Transformer line did not appear in the United States until three years after MOTU filled the toy shelves, and then only a year after the He-Man franchise was booming--chiefly due to the success of the cartoon series that debuted in 1983 (MOTU is usually given credit for pioneering an action figure toyline that corresponds with an ongoing cartoon series). At the time, TF was one of the many boy's toy lines that competed for market success, it offered something different--an action figure that presented two modes of play i.e. car and robot etc., and likely wouldn't be compared to He-Man the way another line like Thundercats or Silverhawks would be. Perhaps because of that difference, and indeed Hasbro and Takara's marketing strategy, Transformers would persevere running almost non-stop from 1984 to the present with a steady level of success. MOTU, however, would run from 1981 to 1991 almost non-stop with varying levels of success, and meeting a total demise with the New Adventures of He-Man toyline.

Liken3 many 80s properties, He-Man made an attempt at a come-back--more than ten years after the franchise disappeared from toy shelves, and the entertainment market as a whole. Unlike Transformers, a line that maintained a presence in the boys toy market, as well as the adult collector market, He-Man had to make a come-back, a strong come-back. At a time when competition was fierce, more fierce than it was in the 80s, the marketing ploy had to be one that hit the consumer on multiple levels. Mattel, the toy company that owns the rights to the He-Man franchise, launched a marketing campaign that saw the release of commercials, a cartoon series, a comic book series, and miscellaneous items like partyware, socks, etc. Many argue that the marketing was not invasive enough. The cartoon series, though in many ways innovative and action-packed, somehow was not reaching its audience. In comparison, other brands debuted cartoon series on network television and syndication, hitting a wider audience. Some would even debut on Cartoon Network and air re-runs in syndication, ensuring a massive market coverage. He-Man was exclusive to the Cartoon Network, a cable channel that everyone didn't get.

The an1ction figures of the 2002 Masters of the Universe toyline were beautifully designed and sculpted by the Four Horsemen, a group that is amongst today's top and well-known action figure makers. The line was breath-taking, and when it made its premier at comic-cons and toy conventions in the early 2000's, fans were ecstatic at He-Man's return. Fans had been rooting for his return for years, voicing their desires on websites and forums that eventually merged to become The 2002 line indeed started with a boom with the toys on shelves, and a television series on Cartoon Network. Eventually, a comic book by MVCreations was released, showing that He-Man was on the up and up. With a second season, and more waves of figures, and statues and bust exclusives, everything was looking good. But then the numbers started pouring in, and He-Man apparently was not performing as well as expected. Yes, the adult collector was ecstatic and avid about the figures, and those expensive busts, but the 4+ year old consumer just wasn't buying it. The line was perhaps too sophisticated, and actually targeted to an older audience, losing the younger demographic.

With a campaign that failed to grab its target audience, Mattel pulled the line back. Though the second season was planned out, and a third season was conceptualized with He-Man's sister She-Ra coming on board, the cartoon was scheduled into the "Oblivion" time slot on Cartoon Network and eventually was cancelled. The toy line was cancelled, and the comic book eventually disappeared as well. Many fans say that the demise of the line was due to Mattel's poor marketing and distribution strategy--not enough advertising of the brand, and too many of the same two or three figures flooding the toy shelves. I experienced multiple times first hand the journey from Walmart to K-Mart to Target to Toys-R-Us to K.B. Toys, all in the same day, only to find the same He-Man and Skeletor variants, and none of the other figures of the rest of the collection.

Despite Mattel's decree, fans were outraged and many online petitions, phone calls and emails followed. The toy company's only answer was to give the Four Horsemen limited power over releasing a line of "staction" figures, statues and busts through NECA (National Entertainment Collectibles Association) that basically keep the franchise afloat. The staction figures were hot order items, some of them going for $80-100 on Ebay because of the demand--off the shelf, one would usually cost around $17. Along with the Four Horsemen's line, BCI Eclipse has struck gold with their ongoing DVD series of the original. The Best of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a DVD set of 10 episodes voted on by the fans, was a smash hit. Winning the 2005 Award for Best 1980s TV DVD Release, the set paved the way for the entire run of the original show on DVD, as well as the She-Ra series, the New Adventures series, and the 2002 Mike Young Productions series. BCI also plans to release other cartoon series created by Filmation (the original He-Man's cartoon studio) thanks to the success of He-Man.

The desire for MOTU products is obvious with the aforementioned success of the Four Horsemen products and the DVDs. Mattel has released the Masters of the Universe Classics line (likely an attempt to replicate the success of Hasbro's Transformers Universe/Classics line). Unlike the retailer-prevalent Transformers Classics, MOTU Classics can only be found on Mattel's exclusive online store (they're playing it safe, gauging to see if producing such a line can prove to be lucrative). Mattel is also banking on the success of a live motion picture coming to theaters near you...hopefully within the next decade. I say if the Transformers can flood the market and conventions with its various products and sophomoric television series (not counting their most recent TF: Animated), and live motion pictures, the same can be done with the one toy line that started it all.

ENTERTAINMENT: Transformers Animated is Back!

The good news has finally come down the pipes: Transformers Animated is back for a third season on Cartoon Network, starting on March 14th. There's been much speculation about the fate of this show--especially with rumors abound that the toy line is coming to a swift close. Transformers Animated was something of a departure, as compared with preceding renditions of the Transformers franchise. Animated sports a very stylized look for its cartoon and action figure lines--most compare the style to the Cartoon Network's successful Teen Titans cartoon series of the early aughts (2000s).

Though the style of the cartoon series took some adjustment, the story and character quality are both vast improvements over the Transformers fodder that aired for almost half a decade before.
Animated is indeed a captivating show that does a good job of maintaining core characters, while taking advantage of the vast array of characters and mythology that this franchise has at its disposal.

And the rumors about the toy line being cancelled? There may be some truth to it. Though the figures
are very faithful to their cartoon counterparts, the quality of the toys themselves is questionable. I only have four in my collection--and only one of them seems to be durable enough to with stand my manipulation of it--and I'm not that rough. Aside from the possible fragility of the toy line, Animated also has Transformers toy counterparts like the Transformers Universe toyline, and the upcoming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen movie toyline to compete with for shelf space. It seems that retailers are expecting the movie toyline to be super-white-hot with the anticipated success of the film--and with preview shots of figures from the line showing up at major toy shows, and being leaked to the 'net by naughty fanboys, the movie toyline is obviously going to need some room on the shelves. Thus, stores like Walmart and Target are making that room by sacrificing Animated.

Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing...but as long as they bring back the cartoon, I can miss out on the toys.

Friday, February 20, 2009

PS3: Resistance is Futile

Resistance: Fall of Man, a game title that was released shortly after the debut of Play Station 3, has won the hearts of myself and my closest friends. I consider myself to be a mild gamer at best--having had a hard time switching from the old fashion side-scrollers to the contemporary 360 world.

Yeah, I'm slow.

My Better Half and I got the PS3 for each other for Christmas. My main interest in the console was the Blue Ray feature--a la Dark Knight. But I would soon discover how socially engaging video gaming would be. Mortal Kombat vs DC captivated a number of friends at the onslaught of birthday gatherings that seemed to stack up in the winter months. I received Resistance: Fall of Man for my birthday, and wasn't sure how involved I'd get in it. At first the play seemed to be complicated, and progress proved next to impossible. But it was a matter of getting acclimated to the controls, and playing with friends to get through the game.

I haven't played through a game with the involvement of friends in years--spending hours at one another's homes to assist in progressing through the game. We beat the game (I suspect on easy mode) within a week, and though it was quite an achievement, we were hungry for more. The gameplay was intuitive, and there was a tasteful mixture of the historical and sci-fi elements in the story to keep you going. It was an addictive experience that the four of us hope to experience's a matter of finding the right game.

Resistance 2
didn't prove to be as enjoyable an experience--fortunately we rented it, and demanded an exchange at our local Blockbuster.