One of the things I enjoy in observing the toy industry, especially some of the smaller players, is watching a given companies product improve by leaps and bounds.
There’s a lot of reasons for this happening.
Sometimes it is as simple as a new person being brought on board to oversee your product lines. Perhaps this person has different sensibilities, or higher expectations. Maybe the company decides it’s willing to invest more capital into the overall toy making process. It could be new equipment, new designers, or new sculptors. It could be a lot of things. But, we on the outside looking in may never know what it is exactly that turns things around.
Many years ago, while I was at RTM, I wrote an article about how JAKKS Pacific was improving their product (specifically regarding their WWE lines) by leaps and bounds from where they started. I remember JAKKS first WWE line. It was pretty bad. The figures had little to no resemblance to their real-life counterparts, and generally appeared to be carved from soap. They were bad. Near "Milk Dud-head Phantom" bad, if you get the reference. But then something changed and so did the product. Everything got better. Likenesses. Sculpting. Articulation. Creativity. And this was just before they got into "Real Scan" and really changed the face of licensed products…literally.
Looking at the industry now I find myself having a similar feeling about Florida-based Jazwares, Inc.
Jazwares early stuff was pretty standard fare. If memory serves, their first line to really get any collector attention was Mega Man (based upon the long running video game series). They were ok. A little clunky. But, ok.
Later, the company acquired the license to Mortal Kombat. I’m pretty sure that it was around this time that well-known customized Joe Amaro was brought on board. The first series of Mortal Kombat didn’t do much to change collectors opinions of the company and their potential. They were bulky, and oddly proportioned. But, by the time Series 2 was released it looked like they came from an entirely different company! Everything was better by leaps and bounds. Proportions, sculpting, articulation, paint. It was a huge improvement.
Not too long ago Jazwares picked up the license to Sonic the Hedgehog. The first products appeared to be rehashes of figures from the previous license-holder, Toy Island. Nothing to impressive. I think these were just released to keep Sonic in the marketplace until Jazwares could get their own figures out. Jazware’s own Sonic lines were a huge hit. They were exclusive to Toys R Us and tended (at least in my area) to sell out within days of being put on the shelves! Then Jazwares introduced their 3" Sonic line and things really started to rock and roll! (and it was recently confirmed that they are working on a similar 3" line for Mega Man!) Sonic started out exclusive to Toys R Us, but now will be available everywhere.
Jazwares picked up several movie licenses over the last year or so: Astro Boy, Planet 51, Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The A-Team.
I felt both the Astro Boy and Planet 51 lines were quite well done, but neither movie did well at all (Astro Boy’s failure at the box office even led to the dismantling of IMAGI Entertainment’s animation house. But, if you haven’t already – especially if you’ve got kids – check out the movie. It was pretty darn good). Percy Jackson seemed much the same, ‘though personally I was hoping for a more mythologically-based line.
Jazware’s most high profile license yet is 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of the classic 80s show, "The A-Team".
Personally, as a fan of the old series and someone who is looking forward to the new movie, I’ve been dying to see what Jazware’s has in store for this line. No photography was allowed at Toy Fair, and no official product images have been released yet. Some small images of unarticulated paint-masters have just snuck onto the interwebs this past week, and even from that glimpse I have to say it’s looking very promising. I hope it does well for them. I know they’ve got my money. I’ve been wanting good 3-3/4" A-Team toys since those awful Galoob figures of old.
I’m excited to see where Jazwares goes from here, and how they will continuing to strive to improve their products.