Monday, September 05, 2016

Let's Talk About Nineties Fandoms

Pokémon Trading Card Game (Base Set)
Growing up there was a certain unspoken hierarchy to my toys that didn’t always follow the most recent trends in popular fandoms. Of all the franchises that I admired as a kid, three stood out among the rest: Power Rangers, Jurassic Park and Pokémon

Power Rangers was the very first toy line to catch my attention. Consisting mostly of Zords, action figures and a few weapons, they were my most valuable collectibles. Had it not been for a neglectful decade of teenage angst, topped by a highly disorganized move from our old house to my parent’s current one, most of them would be complete and in working order to this day. Sadly, it was not meant to be this way. 

Although most of the Zords are complete and in played, yet, excellent condition, some of the action figures are missing a few parts and a lot of the older Zords have sticker damage, and a thin layer of dust covering most of their crevices from years of poorly designed displays. Some of the electronics no longer work, either due to battery corrosion or to some other damage that they’ve sustained throughout the years. The worst case is my Power Dome set that is now only a display model, since the batteries I left inside it completely corroded its electronics. The cardboard display that came with the box is also ruined. 

Luckily a large part of my Power Rangers collectibles are still doing great. Especially the ones from Zeo and In Space. As for the other ones, it’s nothing that some thorough cleaning and attention can’t fix.

Even though my Power Rangers toys were always the main attraction of my collection, a new contestant soon made its way into their turf, Kenner’s very successful 1997 The Lost World, Jurassic Park toy line. Made up mostly of Dinosaurs, it also featured a few action figures and vehicles inspired by the movie. 

As a kid who dreamt about becoming a Paleontologist, it’s no surprise that I ended up going to great lengths to save every single part of my The Lost World collectibles, keeping them very close to me throughout the years. Some have a few layers of dust, not much different from the ones that plague my older Zords, but the electronics still work and all parts are accounted for. 

Over the last couple of years, after discovering that many toys from the original series never made it into stores in Portugal, I’ve managed to buy on eBay a few of the ones that caught my attention. My collection has since grown, in many ways thanks to Jurassic World’s premiere and both Lego and Hasbro’s new line of Dinosaur toy sets inspired by this franchise.

However, the nineties wouldn’t be complete without Pokémon, the franchise that toppled every other fandom, and the last one to transition from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and from my childhood into my adolescence. Although I did own a few figurines and the cutest ever Mew figure, Pokémon had me hooked over its Trading Card Game. 

Not only did I answer the call to catch them all, I also played in local tournaments, eager to earn badges and whichever prizes made it my way. As luck would have it, I had a tournament base right at the end of my street, just a few houses from my own. My main goal was to complete my card collection, but I also managed to build a strong and balanced deck that allowed me to advance comfortably through my local tournaments.

My love of Pokémon never really faded, but this fad was destined to last no more than a couple of years. Becoming a teenager meant that toys and Trading Card Games were no longer cool, and hanging on to them just stopped being worth all the social humiliation that came from such a childish fascination. How wrong was I, but alas, it’s hard to be yourself in a time before the advent of social media. Luckily, I did manage to complete the first ten sets of the Pokémon Trading Card Game, from the ominous Base Set to Neo Destiny. And in spite of all the social pressure for one to get rid of his toys, I merely had to hide them away from prying eyes, and keep them safe as these years of adolescent anxiety faded away from my path. 

My parents always supported my hobbies, especially when they didn’t need to worry about spending their own money on them. My mom did end up throwing away some of my old toys, but apart from a few Lego sets and some unrecognizable loose parts, she always took good care of them, even when it seemed I wasn’t interested in them any longer. 

These three franchises accompanied me throughout my childhood and are still a part of me to this day. These are my most valuable collectibles, and the ones that I am still willing to invest on, even as a young adult who doesn’t really have any real use for his toys other than the feeling of owning them.

There were other franchises that played smaller, yet significant roles in my childhood. The Land Before Time, Dragon Ball, Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, came in second, after the big three, and, on a lower level, movies like Space Jam, Independence Day and 1999’s Godzilla, also managed to sneak a toy or two into my collection. I was a true child of the nineties, and most of my fandoms are a product of the most popular trends of that decade. In a time before internet critics and easily unimpressed fans, all a movie needed to be popular was to look cool and to have an appealing set of merchandise and collectibles. I was truly lucky to live through such a plentiful decade. 

All these other franchises can’t compare to Power Rangers, Jurassic Park or Pokémon. The Land Before Time is my favorite movie series of all time, and even today I get excited about each new release. However, besides the VHS tapes and later one, its DVD releases, the only toys I own are the Pizza Hut collectible puppets. A set of six hand puppets that represent the gang of five little Dinosaurs and the evil Sharptooth that terrorized them throughout the original film.

Dragon Ball was the anime to watch if you were a kid in the nineties. I would always run home after school to catch the latest episode. As for toys, I only really owned two official ones, Krillin from DBZ and a Super Saiyan 3 Goku from the first anime movie that my aunt gave to me as a First Communion gift. I did manage to collect a Dragon Ball chess game from Planeta DeAgostini. It’s a very cool piece with heroes and villains facing off against each other in a chess board. 

My love of Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, coupled with my recently found passion for Lego sets, meant I couldn’t pass the opportunity of owning their respective Lego Ideas sets. I will, however, be passing on Ghostbuster’s Lego Firehouse since it’s just way too expensive, but I do own a few Funko Pop’s from Back to the Future.

The only other toy that I hold dear, and hope one day to find a way to display it, is a board game from the movie Space Jam, with all the main characters. Alike my DBZ chessboard it sets the heroes against the villains in a very well thought-out playset, with excellent artwork done on each of the figurines. 

Being a fan of so many great movies and TV shows, means that you need to make hard choices when you decide to invest in their respective merchandise. It’s truly a constant struggle between how much money you’re willing to spend and whichever fandom you love so dearly.

Growing up in the nineties, being a responsible child and having my parents support, helped me to keep a considerable part of my toy collection intact. However, one can never forget that the purpose of a toy is to be played with, and that there is no greater joy than to let a child play with his or her favorite toy. Toys allow them to travel to new worlds of pure imagination, where everything is possible, and where there is no limit but the inspiration of a young mind.

So let your toys tell their story. There’s a whole Universe of possibilities, just open your mind and press play.    

Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Lost World of Unforgettable Franchises

Kenner's Thrasher T-Rex (1997)
The Lost World, Jurassic Park was the very first film I ever saw in theatres, or at least, the earliest one I can remember. For years, this was my favorite movie, rivaling even the original Jurassic Park for top spot on my own personal list. However, it’s anything but a consensual topic between fans of the franchise. Swallowed by a loud voice of angry critics it’s easier to go along with the overall hate, than to defend this movie’s many positive points. But there is one thing about The Lost World that all fans can agree on: It gave us the best toy line that Jurassic Park’s franchise has ever had.

Kenner’s original The Lost World series was awarded the best toy line of 1997. And for many collectors like me, it’s one of the best toy lines of the past decades. The beautiful artwork of the Dinosaur molds, their color scheme, the range of vehicles and characters from the movie, the playability of the sets, and most of all, a very affordable price, made its sales go up through the roof over the next couple of years. So much so that an unscheduled second series ended up being produced, hitting the shelves only one year after this series original release.

As a little kid I used to dream about Dinosaurs. There was nothing I wanted more than to be a Paleontologist. I wanted to discover my very own Dinosaur, a brand new species that could finally bridge the gap between the evolution of Dinosaurs and Birds. But there was only so much that a child could get from books and documentaries, in truth, I need something that felt more real, and that’s where Jurassic Park came in.

In spite of all the scary scenes both in the original and in its sequel, Jurassic Park was the first movie to really show us how a Dinosaur could look like. Even if we skipped through all the scientific inaccuracies of the film, we’d still find plenty of material to aid us in our dreams. 

The minute I found out about The Lost World’s toy line, I put my Power Rangers aside and dedicated my time to collecting and playing with its toys. My parents were more than happy with this switch, since the price of a single Zord could pay for more than five or six Dinosaurs and Action Figures. 

To this day, this is one of my most complete toy collections and quite possibly, the one that I have cherished the most. Somehow, I’ve managed to never lose any part, no matter how small it may have been. In truth the only sets that are incomplete are two Dinosaurs that I wasn’t able to find back in 97, and ended up buying on eBay a few years back.

Sadly, growing up in Portugal, especially in the 90’s, meant that a lot of the toys that you know to exist today never made it into stores. My teenage toy neglectful years didn’t help either, so for years, I was convinced that my The Lost World collection was complete and that I had owned all of the Dinosaurs, vehicles and action figures ever released from that series. I soon realized how wrong I was, mostly due to Jurassic World’s premiere in 2015. 

As it happened with Power Rangers’ upcoming movie, Jurassic World’s premiere made me venture into online forums in search of any information about the movie and its official merchandise. Although this new line was somewhat disappointing, I soon made my picks of must have Dinosaurs and limited items from this movies’ original release. However, as I was reading through the new toys’ discussions, The Lost World’s series kept coming up, and some of the Dinosaurs and sets that they were mentioning were completely new and, almost, alien to me.

I soon found Jurassic Park’s toy database, and was overwhelmed with the cheer quantity of items that had been produced over the last couple of decades. First Kenner, and now Hasbro, were keen on keeping the franchise alive, in spite of a general detachment of the fans from this franchise, especially after Jurassic Park III flopped at the box office.

In truth, my collection is far from complete, and sadly, some of the cooler looking sets were never sold in Portugal. Some of them have even had its value skyrocket over the last couple of years, due to an increase in demand for this unforgettable toy line.

It pains me sometimes to see how low the original cost of some of these toys was, especially when compared with how much you need to spend today to own them. Living overseas also means that the shipping cost for most of these items will sometimes exceed how much they’re worth. And as an investment, it’s a collector’s series that is hardly going to have any sort of return on profit. 

As someone who doesn’t seek to resell any of his toys, just owning the ones that I love the most is worth more than any profit. Thankfully, as incomplete as my collection may be, I can honestly say that the sets that I really want, I already own. So, nine-year-old me is very happy playing with his Dinosaur toys, still blissfully ignorant of all the ones he’s missing out on. 

Jurassic World brought back the excitement of waiting for a new line of Dinosaur toys. I ended up investing what little money I had put aside for this release, on Jurassic World’s Lego sets and on some of its Dinosaurs. As a cautious buyer I waited for the best sales and discounts to get the ones that I want, and as of now, I am only missing the Allosaurus from the Bashers & Bitters set, and the Hybrid Raptor from the upcoming Hybrid series, which I believe won’t even see the light of day on this side of the pond. 

Being a collector with a very short budget means a lot of hours dedicated to searching for the best discounts, and the best opportunities on eBay. Sometimes, you only get a few dollars off the original price, but if you’re lucky you might get them for half price or even a bit cheaper than that. 

One of the most awkward moments was probably when I was on a weekend away with my girlfriend last year, and I read about a 50% discount from an online store on Lego sets. It was my chance to get the Indominus Rex Breakout set at half price and I had only a few hours to buy it. The worst part was, I was nowhere near my laptop and could only access a very user unfriendly site using my own cell phone’s data plan. I ended up waking up early that Saturday morning, and after a few failed attempts I finally managed to place my order. It was a lot of unnecessary anxiety for the start of a weekend that was supposed to only be about rest and relaxation. But that is the life of a serious collector. 

Between rushing through crowds of angry shoppers and waking up at 6 a.m. to bid on an eBay auction, it’s a somewhat stressful hobby to have, but a very rewarding one. Especially for that brief moment when you finally have it in your hands and you’re no longer that adult filled with responsibilities and surrounded by stressful environments. No, you’re that nine-year-old boy playing with his brand new Raptor on Christmas morning. And life just doesn’t get any better than that.

For in that single moment, nothing else matters, there is only bliss. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Eternal Struggle between Money and Merchandise

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993)
Growing up in the nineties meant that I was one of the lucky few to witness the birth of some of the most popular franchises of the last couple of decades. Can you believe that it’s been twenty years since the release of the first Pokémon game? Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had its television debut twenty three years ago in 1993, the same year that saw Jurassic Park hit theaters in a roar that would change the concept of summer blockbusters for years to come.

As an only child I spent most of my time after school at home watching TV. Fantasizing over these brand new worlds that cartoons, TV shows and movies created in our collective imaginary. I used to dream about going into outer space, traveling through time, discovering new dinosaurs, and saving the planet from evildoers. Everything was possible, limited only by our own imagination. I soon became a fan of the stories that best captured the wonder of a curious child eager to learn, to jump head first into a world of adventure, to travel to the unknown.

Of the many franchises that painted the background of my childhood mind, and plagued my parents’ wallet, three stood out among the rest: Jurassic Park, Power Rangers and Pokémon. Jurassic Park showed me how a Dinosaur could look like in real life. This single film brought these beautiful creatures back to life after millions of years. They were no longer fossilized bones or pictures in a book, they were real, they were big and they were wonderful. But even though the original movie caught my imagination from the very start, the first ever franchise to crawl its way into my toy collection was Power Rangers. 

I have yet to find a nineties kid who didn’t want to be one of the chosen teenagers with attitude to protect Earth from Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd’s attempts at World domination. Sure, the acting was really bad and the story was at times confusing, but those costumes and, especially, their Zords won me over in a heartbeat. I confess that it didn’t hurt that two of their original Zords happened to be Dinosaurs, and that the other three were based on prehistoric animals. 

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was the show that had me out of bed on early Saturday mornings just to watch the next chapter in their ongoing struggle against evil. All my birthday and Christmas gifts were, for the next four years, Power Rangers Zords, Weapons and Action Figures. From Mighty Morphin to Zeo and In Space, my Power Rangers’ toy collection isn’t that extensive, but it’s still one of my favorite mementos from my childhood.

Being a collector is in my blood, so much so, that I have begun to realize I’m literally running out of room to store, let alone display, most of my toy collection. Like every other little kid, I was pretty much broke throughout my entire childhood. My parents never really grasped the concept of an allowance, so I was only given enough money to buy lunch and school supplies. I was always a responsible child, even when I didn’t really understand the true value of money, or how much a certain toy cost, I was never too keen on the idea of spending what little money I had on such a futile thing.

So, every toy I had, at least, the ones that I really cared about, were always kept safe and somewhere where I could easily reach them. Sadly, I didn’t care much about my Lego collection back then, so a lot of them ended up losing a few parts, or getting lost altogether. A decision I would later live to regret.

Even though I cherished most of my Power Rangers collection, the same could not be said about their boxes. Sure, I still own most of them, since it was the best way for a kid to store his Zords, but Christmas Eve anxiety or just the cheer willingness to play with your new toy meant that most of the boxes were torn open on the first day. After all, I was a little kid, and little kids play with toys. Although my Zords and my Power Rangers Action Figures are pretty much complete, they were played with. A lot. And I mean a lot. Two of them have suffered from battery corrosion after my teenage toy neglectful years, and don’t work anymore. The earlier ones have high sticker damage, and some have a lot of dust incrusted deep in their individual crevices do to years of neglect and from being displayed in inappropriate places.

When my parents and I finally moved to our new home, they bought a few display cases for me to show off my Power Rangers toys. They’ve been well kept since then, and they’re still there, waiting for my occasional visit. I cared for them the best that I could over the years, in part because I thought they could gain in value as I grew up, but mostly because they were so dear to me. The sad truth is, even though they did increase in value, most of them didn’t really increase that much, and if you adjust the original price for inflation, I’m going to bet they still cost about the same, especially since they’ve been played with and most of their boxes are either ruined or covered in impossible to get rid of dust. 

Because of the new movie, that’s about to premiere in early 2017, I decided to start putting aside some cash that’s naturally going to be invested in Power Rangers merchandise. I’ve decided to buy the action figures, their Lego sets and, of course, the Zords. I might invest in some other movie merchandise if I find it appealing and if there’s any money left from my tight budget. 

To my own personal misfortune, I started googling about Power Rangers movie merchandise and ended up discovering that over the last four years, a new Legacy line of original Power Rangers Zords, action figures and weapons has been sold, sold out, traded and brought back. It has yet to reach Portugal, if it ever will, but it’s a huge success overseas. Had I known about this sooner, and I might’ve saved up to buy it and renew my current collection, but sadly most of it is now out of stock and second hand price is just going up through the roof.

It’s hard being a collector, especially when most of the stuff you want is never sold in your own country, not to mention when your income doesn’t allow you to truly take this hobby into the next level. 

A few years back I finally found a stable income situation, and after trying to save as much as I could for a couple of months, I’d decided it was time to start spending some of my hard earned cash on myself. Looking back, I should’ve slowed down a little bit, but I don’t regret most of the things that I bought. Sadly, no Power Rangers item made the cut, since I was very happy with my current collection and I had no clue about the existence of the Legacy line.

As the years went by, I found myself wondering about why I felt the need to own these things. As a child I would open each action figure, each board game and each Lego set and I would play with them. Now, I only keep them either on display, or saved away in their unopened boxes. 

The truth is, investing in my toy collection only means buying more stuff that is going to be sitting on a shelf, gathering dust, after I played with it for about fifteen minutes. And when I eventually run out of room, those that I’ve actually opened will go back into their original boxes, destined to sit forever at the back of my closet or up in the attic. 

It’s a hard thing to realize, but the truth is I don’t really need any of these things. Still, the urge and the need to buy them is just too damn high. I’m not an impulsive buyer. I might leave something sitting in my checkout cart for months or even years, either waiting for the right price, or discount, or for that moment when I decide it’s the right time to buy it. However, the urge never truly goes away, and it’s very rare when I can convince myself to shake off the idea of owning a certain item, especially if its price is actually within reason. 

I hardly ever suffer from buyer’s remorse, but to be honest that is only because I’m really good at rationalizing the need to own everything that is able to fit nicely in my own personal collection. I may have outgrown most of my stuff, but I still cherish and keep it close to my heart. Regardless of their current or future value, I would never be able to part ways from them. The pain of losing them would be just too hard and I would eventually end up buying back every single one.

Being a collector is part of who I am. It’s in my blood. No matter how many years go by, no matter how cheesy and poorly acted the original show was, Power Rangers will always carry a special place in my heart. It’s due to this very same strong emotional tie to the show, and to the impact that it had on my childhood, that these mementos are so dear to me, even after all these years. 

I might be a young adult, but I’m still a child at heart. And part of me is still in that playground yelling, ‘it’s morphin time’, wishing I’d be one of the chosen few to save the Earth from evil aliens from outer space. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Indiferença de Nada Surf

Nada Surf, You Know Who You Are
Only when we get to see the aerial view, will the patterns show. We'll know what to do.
Inside of Love, Nada Surf

Noites primaveris ao volante do meu velho Toyota a caminho do Furadouro. É nisso que penso sempre que ouço a Always Love dos Nada Surf. Cada música presente na nossa íntima playlist leva-nos para um local, um momento, uma emoção, um sentimento. Outras transportam-nos para actos rotineiros, simples ocasiões pontuais ou actos espontâneos. Mas todas guardam algum sentido particular que transcende a melodia e até mesmo a própria letra.

Nada Surf é uma daquelas bandas que marcam presença nas gavetas mais recônditas do nosso arquivo mental. Aquele nome que reconheces mas que não consegues identificar. Aquele momento ‘Eureka!’ que se acende no teu cérebro no preciso instante em que o primeiro acorde começa a tocar. 

Por mais Indie, alternativa, ou modesta que uma banda seja, acaba sempre por reunir uma série de fãs capazes de correr meio mundo para não perderem um único concerto. Aqueles que decoram os seus quartos com posters e t-shirts. Com todos os álbuns em CD e vinil nas suas prateleiras, e cada bilhete religiosamente guardado, ou até mesmo exposto como pessoais e intransponíveis Mona Lisas, reservadas para os olhos dos poucos sortudos que os desejem visitar.

Mas, para os restantes mortais, muitas dessas bandas acabam por cair no esquecimento. Remetidas a uma ou outra música presente nas playlists dos seus leitores de mp3, ou àquele álbum que compraste na tua adolescência, e que ainda hoje permanece no mesmo canto da tua estante a ganhar pó, ano após ano, sem nunca sair da sua caixa. 

Bandas de fundo que pontualmente aterram aleatoriamente no presente de um dia qualquer. Convences-te que provavelmente já terminaram e que não mais voltaram a tocar ao vivo, ou a lançar um novo single sequer. Talvez alguém se tenha lembrado de perguntar por uma reunião da banda para celebrar um ou outro momento histórico. Sugestão essa que os antigos membros acabaram por descartar por estarem demasiado ocupados com novos projectos, ou então, porque simplesmente já não se dão bem entre si.

Contudo, a história de Nada Surf não cai em nenhum destes lugares comuns. Há dias descobri que não só a banda ainda continua junta, como não pararam de lançar álbuns nos últimos dez anos.

Mas a maior surpresa ficou reservada para o fim. Os últimos dois álbuns são mesmo muito bons. ‘You Know Who You Are’, lançado em Março deste ano, é o oitavo disco de originais desta banda norte-americana. A celebrar o vigésimo aniversário do lançamento do seu primeiro álbum High/Low, no já longínquo Verão de 1996, os Nada Surf estão de regresso após quatro anos de ausência com uma das suas melhores obras musicais até ao momento. 

Nada Surf apresenta-se como uma banda mais madura, com letras profundas e uma melodia energeticamente positiva. É notável a grande evolução musical da banda nos catorze anos que separam este álbum de Let Go, o terceiro e mais popular disco deste grupo nova-iorquino.

You Know Who You Are’ segue na inspiração de ‘The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy’ (como adoro este título), e apresenta-se como um álbum que vale pelo seu todo. Cada faixa segue em crescendo apoiando-se no élan da anterior para concluir em beleza no epílogo de ‘Victory's Yours’, a música que remata este disco. Dois álbuns que funcionam quase como duas longas músicas em constante progressão, a lembrar os melhores momentos de bandas como Lifehouse e Angels & Airwaves

Nada Surf ganhou assim uma maior relevância na minha playlist pessoal. Não ao ponto de colar posters da banda no meu quarto, ou de forçar algum investimento considerável na aquisição dos seus álbuns. Mas, se algum dia tocarem numa cidade próxima de mim, quem sabe se não estarei na primeira fila para lhes agradecer por estas duas grandes obras, e excelentes fontes de inspiração.

As estrelas podem ser indiferentes à astronomia, já eu não sou indiferente a Nada Surf.