Four years after the Gundams brought the world together by pissing everyone off (That was the mysterious hidden agenda? The most obvious possibility?), people in the military have used popular support to crush all resistance and impose their will on the world (yes, it’s the Titans all over again). And the Gundams are back to fix things after realizing that their actions royally fucked the world. Most of the characters who were left for dead at the end of Season 1 are back again, except for one Gundam Guy who is replaced by his essentially equivalent brother. The gang is back together again for another round of pointless giant robot mayhem in snazzy new matching uniforms! (And the uniforms are conveniently made a size too small for anyone with breasts too large for the animators to draw realistically, so no attempts at fanservice this time around.)
Let me preface this by saying that I’m more than just a casual Gundam fan. I suffered through all of Wing (heck, I have it on DVD along with just about everything else released in Region 1), I’ve read a few of the manga series (well, the beginnings at least, they never seem to get finished over here), I’ve built tons of the model kits, etc. I even have Japanese Gundam postage stamps (thanks, Makiko). I’m sure I would have even visited the themed restroom (well, one of them at least, maybe the other one if nobody was looking) in the Gundam Cafe if I had ever been in the area (or at least anywhere closer to Japan than New Zealand). So why the hell can’t I get into this show?
One constant of toys is the old saying “You can’t always get what you want…” Well, not at one store anyway. Finding the toys can be even more difficult than transforming Masterpiece Megatron without breaking him in half.
When I look back at my childhood and all of the toys that were available then, I have just one question – why did I always have the crappy ones? It seems like I never got what I wanted and always had to settle for what was in stock. Even as early as 1985 I had realized that If I saw something I wanted, I needed to get it immediately or I might never get another chance. This is not what life is supposed to be like at 7.
The catalogs were always full of amazing toys. Everything for the entire year would be on one folded sheet of paper in all its full-color glory. They even had checklists so you could keep track of what you had and what you wanted. The two rarely intersected, and even when they did, it still didn’t feel right. Early on, I learned to settle for small things; my first Transformers were minibots. Whenever toys went on sale, I had a chance to get something a little bigger, but anything more than $10 or so would have to wait for Christmas or my birthday, both of which always seemed too far away. Even then though, I knew it wouldn’t matter; what I wanted would be long gone.
Thrust. The only Decepticon jet I ever really wanted, and the only one I still don’t have. I saw it one day in Caldor’s. I was thrilled. I showed it to my mom, but she immediately shot me down. Too expensive. Ask for it for Christmas. The usual lecture about the value of money. I never saw Thrust in a store again. Ever. Even in the era of reissues, Thrust never materialized. My one chance had passed, and my mom simply didn’t understand – these things don’t stay around for long.
Blaster. I had long since missed my chance with Soundwave, which, despite being in the 1985 catalog, hadn’t been seen in stores, well, ever by me at least. When I saw Blaster in Lloyd’s in the fall of 1985, I knew I had to act fast. Luckily, Christmas was close enough that I could convince my mom to buy it right then and there and stash it away for a couple of months. Most kids would hate having to wait that long for a toy, but I was happy to be getting it at all. It was relief more than elation and it gave me a new perspective on toys. The fun wasn’t in playing with them, but just getting them. The toys themselves would inevitably be a total let-down (Blaster sucked), but the sense of closure that comes from finding something you have been after for so long is what makes it worthwhile. Toys were about the thrill of the hunt; everything after that was inconsequential.
Now, I sucked at toy hunting when I was a kid. First of all, I couldn’t drive. You really need mobility to find toys, and I was limited to where my mom was going (and I didn’t get to change the itinerary). This meant a rotation of Caldor’s, Lloyd’s, and Kay-Bee. We had no Toys R Us in our area, so I had no idea what a real toy store looked like. What I did have featured limited stock and no guarantee of ever getting more of anything. And that was if they bothered stocking anything in the first place. By the time I was figuring out the rules of the hunt, all of my sources dried up. GI Joe and Transformers were devolving into crap, and what was worth getting was impossible to find (or was way too expensive – who the hell could afford to buy their kids an aircraft carrier or a space shuttle?). I shifted my focus to other things and spent my time hunting sales rather than specific items. Then baseball cards, and then came college. Then (way too many) more baseball cards. Anybody need any cards from 1979-2001?
The reissues. This is where it started up again. I started going to toy stores again when RID was on clearance. Transformers that looked normal? For half price? I was so there, with there being every Toys R Us within 50 miles. Every single one. When it was announced that TRU would be the exclusive retailer of G1 reissues, I was ready. I went out and quickly did not find a single Optimus Prime anywhere on Earth. What the fuck? There were a million Ultra Magnuses clogging the shelves, where the hell were all of the Primes? It turned out that they were on eBay. It seems that the reissues were severely underpriced, and many generous souls were willing to rectify the situation and pocket some quick cash. Hasbro took notice and did something completely unprecedented – they made more. Supply meeting demand? This was unheard of for popular toys. The hunt was on.
I had it all mapped out – Salem, Peabody, Medford, Woburn, Cambridge, Framingham, Auburn, Leominster, Nashua. If I timed it right, and from the reports it would be now or never, all I needed to do was get up early on Saturday morning and hit every single store. And then pay $60 on eBay for one when I got home empty-handed. With Plans A-J in place I headed out. Then the unexpected happened – Plan A worked. Salem. Optimus Prime. Optimus Prime. Optimus Prime. I almost missed them, not expecting to see them. I thought some of the Ultra Magnus boxes looked a bit small, and they were, because they weren’t. They were Primes. Three of them. I hadn’t accounted for this possibility.
I didn’t know what to do. Right there, in the first place I looked, I found three Primes just waiting for me. Should I take all three and sell the extras on eBay? No, that’s just evil. Should I just take one and walk away from the others? No, I might want another later. That left me with only one option – get two, open one, and stash away the other. I placed the one leftover in the store behind the stack of Ultra Magnuses to make sure whoever found it needed to actually look for it and left with my two. Just like that, it was over.
Not all hunts go as planned even when they go exactly as planned, as nonsensical as that sounds. Take Black Friday 2003. Wal-Mart was advertising a yellow RID Build Team box set for only $15 (the original toys cost $40 total). This was a total must have because it was the first repaint of the Build Team, and it happened to be in G2 Constructicon colors. None of which means anything to anyone except obsessed adult toy collectors. But still, I had to make sure I got this set. I woke up extra early and ran out the door to make sure I got to Wal-Mart at opening (6am), which I did. Unfortunately, so did a few hundred other people. Remember the year that people were beating each other up to get cheap crappy DVD players or pretending to get beat up so they could sue Wal-Mart? This was that year. The line at the Hudson, NH store went practically all the way to the Massachusetts border, so I turned around and got out of there. I may be crazy, but I’m not THAT stupid.
On the way home, I stopped at the Chelmsford Wal-Mart to see if the situation was any different there. It looked almost like the place was closed – there was no mob, no line, no craziness. I walked right in and searched for the Transformers. And couldn’t find any. When I asked about them I was directed to a mass of displays over by hardware. It was there that I found the mountain of yellow Build Team packs. There must have been a hundred of the damn things. So much for this being a hard-to-find exclusive… I grabbed four and went home, back to bed. Boy was that anticlimactic. I later returned two of them to join the rest of their brethren that were now crammed into any available space over the shelves in the Wal-Mart toy section.
I know what you’re thinking – complain when you can’t find it, complain when you can find it. There’s a delicate balance between availability and scarcity that must be maintained with store exclusives. It needs to be rare enough to get people into the store, but easy enough to find to keep from alienating customers and causing them to curse your name on a daily basis. A delicate balance that eludes most stores.
Best Buy is a good example of the opposite extreme. To promote the release of the 2007 Transformers movie on DVD, Best Buy had several special offers, including a limited edition set with two Robot Heroes repaints and a lithograph included free with any version of the movie. They also got into the toy racket with metallic versions of Ratchet and Megatron, which were good for a $5 discount when purchased with the movie. What they failed to note was that stores would each have somewhere between nada and diddlysquat on hand on release day. Most employees knew nothing of the toys because they had never seen one. Best Buy is pure evil.