September 3, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light - The Action Figures

Once upon a time, basing a cartoon series on a toy line was a no-no. But in the early 80s, President Reagan effectively deregulated children's television and it ushered in a new era: the age of the toy based cartoon.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is generally recognized as the first property to benefit from the relaxed rules. In a bold move, toy company Mattel and Filmation studios, under the leadership of co-founder Lou Scheimer, created sixty five episodes of an animated series based on Mattel's new toy line and sold it into barter syndication. The result was an explosion that saw both the toy line and the animated series flourish. By 1984, the franchise had reached a peak annual revenue of (cue Dr. Evil) $400 million dollars. That kind of success is going to draw imitators, and it wasn't long before everyone was getting in on the act.

Fast forward to 1987. Toy maker Hasbro and animation studio Sunbow had copied the Mattel/Filmation formula and achieved similar success with their G.I. Joe and Transformers cross-promotions. One of their later projects was Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. As we know, the cartoon only ran for thirteen episodes, but what about the toy line? Well, it was similarly short-lived and under-appreciated.

The first and only series consisted of twelve figures, eight sold individually and four that came with their matching vehicle. No playsets or other accessories were made. The solo figures were Leoric, Arzon, Cryotek, Witterquick, Darkstorm, Cravex, Lexor, and Cindarr. Four good guys, four bad guys. The vehicles and drivers were Lancer Cycle with Ectar, Sky Claw with Mortdred, Capture Chariot with Feryl, and Dagger Assault with Reekon. Two good guys, two bad guys. Balance.

Note the lack of the two female characters, Spectral Knight Galadria and Darkling Lord Virulina, and, most peculiar, the Wizard Merklynn. Most toy companies at the time were skeptical that female characters would be appealing in a line marketed to, and consisting mostly of, boys. Ironically, it's the female characters that are often the most sought after and command the highest dollar in 80s toy lines in today's collector's market.

The figures were about 4 1/2", a little larger than Hasbro's G.I. Joes, but had the same level of articulation and bore an excellent likeness to their animated counterparts. Each figure came with its own weapon, powerstaff, and an animal totem in the form of the line's most noteworthy feature: a removable chest hologram. It was that hologram, in fact, that helped lead to the line's demise. Though the animated series had ended, a second run of figures was still being developed. Ultimately, it was decided that the hologram feature was too expense to produce and the toy line was cancelled as well.

The vehicles weren't as detailed as Hasbro's G.I. Joe line, but then again, the designs on the show weren't very intricate, either. Like the figures, the vehicles perfectly captured the look of their animated counterparts and featured large, eye-catching holograms of their own as well as "action features" that added to their playability.

As I mentioned, a second series was planned before the plug was pulled. It's unclear how far along Hasbro got in the process, but it was rumored that eighteen figures were to be produced, including the six Sun Imps from the final episode, as well as a large playset.

My research turned up precious little else in terms of Visionaries merchandise, other than the short-lived comic book series which we'll review in the coming weeks. I did find a plastic lunchbox on eBay going for a modest $14.99. If anyone knows of anything else I may have missed, please contact us and let us know, and we'll update this review.

Like the cartoon, the Visionaries toy line is seemingly buried beneath its more successful contemporaries. eBay auctions show little activity and prices are generally low, though complete figures are hard to find outside of eBay store auctions and there were no vehicles listed. It's a shame, too, because though short-lived, Hasbro's Visionaries line captured the spirit of the show and its characters as well as any of its better known contemporaries.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for the first Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light comic book adventure, "The End... The Beginning".


Colbey said...

Great post. I've been on a kick looking for carded Visionaries figures here of late and boy are some of these getting expensive!

Tony Williams said...

Thanks, Colbey. I didn't come across many carded examples when I did my research for this article, so that might account for why they go for big bucks when you do find them.

It's funny, there are some action figure lines from that era that are still quite reasonable carded. I've been pricing carded "Robotech" figures of late and most are South of $20. I guess it all comes down to supply and demand.

BTW, I took a look at your blogs. Great stuff. You're a man after my own heart. I'll be stopping by again in the future.

Thanks for the post and for checking out our blog!