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.