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Points of Articulation

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Toy of the Year

The ToY Awards started back in 1998, when I was just doing reviews on my own. Yes, there were other end-of-year awards around at the time, but most of them focussed primarily on "child safe" toys, handing out praise for educational content, safety in manufacturing, and encouraging non-violent play patterns.

How lame.

I wanted to honor the toys that older toy fans actually liked. ToyFare magazine had a similar year-ender, but when I started, they were nothing but whores to Star Wars. Now they go out of their way to ignore McFarlane. Plus, they had a tendency to include toys to which they as a news outlet had access, but normal collectors did not; things that they had received as samples, but weren't due on the shelf for a few months.

Thus, the ToYs were born. The ToYs are the voice of the real fan community, covering what's really the best of the best. What started out as one "best of" award has grown and expanded to include a few more categories, but still: they're all the best of the best. We've even inspired a few immitators (yes, guys, "TOTY" is such a clever acronym), but when you want the real toy of the year, you head for the Toy of the Year.

Here are a sampling of past years' winners:

  • 1998
    • ToY
      Trenchcoat Blade
      The toy that created the awards. Blade was just so much better than anything else released that year, raising the bar for the rest of the industry.
  • 1999
    • ToY
      Headless Horseman deluxe boxed set
      Innovative articulation, wonderful sculpt, and lots of detail work made this set top of the heap. Of course, that was before we knew about the Horseman's knee-rot.
    • Best Line
      Tomb Raider
      A dead-on sculpt, well-designed packaging, and tons of cool accessories for a great price? Lara only missed the ToY title because I couldn't choose one set above the rest.
    • Best Packaging
      Iron Giant
      A giant 3-D head poked out at the corner of these cards, which was enough to earn the Iron Giant the creation of a category it could call its own.
  • 2000
    • ToY
      Space Ghost
      He came out in January and fought off all comers for the rest of the year. Art Asylum's combo of sculpt and articulation won the day.
    • Best Line
      World of Springfield
      Ah, the Simpsons. We finally get some cool figures of tv's best show, and they talk, too? Swank!
    • Best Packaging
      X-Men
      That big red X in the corner of this distinct packaging doubled as a stand for the figure, so it served a purpose even for non-MOC collectors.
  • 2001
    • ToY
      Monev the Gale
      Bigass robot. Lots of articulation, lots of detail in the sculpt, and enough weight to put a hole in the wall. Excellent!
    • Best Line
      Bionicle
      Build-your-own action figures from Lego, they were fun and affordable. An element of randomness gave them some great collectability, too.
    • Best Packaging
      Lord of the Rings
      The die-cut packaging featured both the Fellowship and the Ring, as well as a map of Middle Earth.
  • 2002
    • ToY
      Sauron
      Giant, monstrous figure with enough detail to cross your eyes. Plus, it's got all the play features fans could have asked for.
    • Best Line
      Spawn Series 22: The Viking Age
      McToys listened to their fans this year, giving this line of figures the articulation that had so long been lacking (even the female!). With many other companies nipping at their heels, McFarlane's team had to do even better, which means the fans win. Though as Poe pointed out in his Skullsplitter review, the historical portion may be less than accurate, at least it exists.
    • Best Accessory
      Muppet Labs experiment table
      With real rubber straps and metal buckles, the table looks truly threatening. The wood is sculpted with real grain, and every little rivet on the stand can be seen clearly. The helmet fits on Beaker's head, ready to zap him at your whim.
    • Best Packaging
      Bohrok
      A new shape that lets you re-create the Bohrok nests, as well as perfect storage for the assembled figures. Very cool.
    • Worst of the Year
      McFarlane Toys
      What? How could we name McFarlane Toys the worst of the year? Simple: their decision to switch from blister packs to clamshells for all their figures. Those packages suck so long, so hard, and wicked hard. Worst thing that happened to toy fans in 2002. You should not need a tool to open your toys.
  • 2003
    • ToY
      Muppet Kitchen w/ Swedish Chef
      The impressive and wonderfully fun Swedish Kitchen playset is a landmark achievement from Palisades is. The popular Swedish Chef figure is fully articulated and perfectly sculpted right in his home, the kitchen, complete with all the utensils and ingrediants to cook up a storm. Less a playset and an actual living, breathing kitchen, everything in this playset works - the cupboards all open, the utensils all fit, it's a marvel. Gorgeous to look at and even more fun to play with, the Swedish Chef playset impressed collectors all over. Palisades outdid themselves - this is a once in a lifetime treat for Muppets fans and toy collectors alike.
    • Best Line
      Emergency Forces
      There is just so much good about this line, from the McFarlane-quality sculpt and superb paint job to the great articulation (useful and hidden, all at once!) and sweet accessories. Looking at the Emergency Forces figures is almost like looking at a miniature human. The line harkens back to the original purpose of action figures - to provide kids with role models of people they could someday emulate. Along with EMTs and other emergency personnel (and I do wish there was an EMT in this line), firefighters are some of the only true heroes we have in this world. Soldiers, unfortunately, are largely mired by their surrounding political situation and the very nature of their jobs, which will most likely force them, at some point or another, to bring death to others. Firefighters just save lives. But there's also a kind of "boring," pedestrian nature about firefighters and toys, and what Plan B has done is to make firefighters and police toys with the kind of attitude and class that has characterized the action figure revolution of the last ten years. Along with the Four Horsemen, they're one of the best design groups working today. There was no way we could pick one above the rest (though the Structural Firefighter was edging up there), so the whole line wins.
    • Best Accessory
      Rizzo's pizza box
      Like it says in the review, this thing is a marvel of toy design. The box opens and closes, the cheese is stringy and you can even remove a slice. The paint apps are tight and crisp. Palisades really did a marvelous job on this piece, showing the ingenuity and dedication that many other companies have overlooked or outgrown. The Muppet figures may be a dollar or two more expensive than they should be, but accessories like this show that Palisades is doing its best to give us a lot of value.
    • Best Packaging
      Lego Star Wars Minis
      Because they know what McToys, ToyBiz and Palisades forgot: the point of a clamshell isn't to permanently entomb the toy; a clamshell is supposed to be resealable, so you can display your figures and still have a handy storage solution. A clamshell should snap closed, not be welded shut at the factory. The design of these clams is great, from the shape of the package to the graphics inside. Not only does the package look nice, but it's greatly functional, too.
    • Worst of the Year
      Clerks Inaction Figures
      There was a lot of really bad stuff in the toy world this year, but nothing as bad as these terribly ill-conceived lumps of plastic that don't do anything but prove how very insulated Kevin Smith is behind his encompasing cadre of hardcore fanboys. Plus, Jay looks like a buttplug.
  • 2004
    • ToY
      Masterpiece Optimus Prime
      There really wasn't much question that Prime would win - even with his mighty price, there just wasn't anything that came close. Huge, heavy and fun to play with, this is the Prime we've all been waiting for since the mid-80s. The transformation is complex, but easy enough to master with one or two tries. He looks dead-on as a robot, and the truck is no disappointment, either. The accessories are awesome, and if you sprung for the Japanese import, you even got his trailer and a booklet detailing his history. Now that's a cool ToY.
    • Best Line
      Street Fighter
      SOTA's Street Fighter line is about the closest to the vision of a perfect action figure line ever seen. First, the sculpting is excellent - slightly cartoony, yet still realistic, with great musculature. Second, the paint apps are great. They nailed the flesh tone and added just the right touch of flatness to the paint, but the colors are still bright. Third, the figures have just the right amount of articulation. ML is often over-articulated, a line like Hellboy is perhaps a wee bit under-articulated, but SF is just right. Finally, the accessories are great. Multiple heads and hands are exactly what this line needed. And, despite a few distribution problems, SOTA got the figures out there.
    • Best Accessory
      Jack the Ripper's base
      It's big! It's detailed! It's worth buying the figure just for this! They skimped on the paint apps, but you can use this with any figure you own.
    • Best Packaging
      Star Wars Original Trilogy Collection
      Beautiful and elegant card designs that do nothing but look really cool. Plus each figure has a photo backdrop of where they're "from." Best SW cards ever! And because Hasbro hasn't switched over to the HATED clamshells like everyone else has.
    • Worst of the Year
      VanHelsing
      Reason? "VanHelsing." 'nuff said. See you in 2005.
  • 2005
    • ToY
      Sandman
      Sculpt, articulation, paint, playability and price, all in one figure? That's ToY material. Sandman isn't wildly better than the other nominees, but he brings everything together beautifully.
    • Best Line
      Justice League Unlimited
      Because despite the constant re-releases of the big characters, they're burning through the ranks of the DC Universe even faster than DC Direct is.
    • Best Accessory
      ML10 Sentinel
      It's big, it's detailed and it got people to buy figures they normally wouldn't - the real mark of a great accessory. The assembled piece is entirely in scale, and darn fun to play with.
    • Best Packaging
      GIJoe Sigma 6
      Nice design that has a vaguely import/artistic feel to it, and the end caps turn into a footlocker to hold the accessories. That's awesome.
    • Worst of the Year
      Various
      The worst thing this year wasn't something we got, but everything we didn't. More great lines failed, disappeared, went on hiatus or otherwise ended this year than any time in recent memory.
  • 2006
    • ToY
      Xetheus, Champion of Mynothecea
      More than just the sculpt and articulation, Xetheus represented a change in the toy industry. By taking orders from the fans instead of a company, the Four Horsemen made an exclusive figure that was actually worth the money you paid for it.
    • Best Line
      DC Superheroes
      This line is a huge leap forward from the one that came before it. Mattel's Batman comic line was a joke and failed spectacularly - DCSH is almost on par with the best in the industry.
    • Best Accessory
      Billy the Puppet (Saw)
      This little guy might have been the actual figure, with the killer as the accessory. Nobody bought the Saw figure in CC5 because of the bald guy - the puppet is what sold the set.
    • Best Packaging
      Solomon Grundy
      A cool design that shows off the figure, plus there's an action feature in the box.
    • Worst of the Year
      Fantastic Four Classics
      Series 1 had a terrible assortment of characters, and Series 2 never showed up in stores. This line might have been really good, if they'd made smarter choices.
  • 2007
    • ToY
      DCD First Appearance Blue Beetle
      The new Blue Beetle has a great design that translated very well to toy form, and tons of articulation to boot. The price was a bit higher than your average figure, but well worth it in this case.
    • Best Line
      GIJoe 25th Anniversary Collection
      Whether in boxed sets or individually carded, these anniversary figures are a great value. They offer excellent sculpts, top-notch articulation and killer accessories, all sold affordably in beautifully designed packages. That's why this category even exists.
    • Best Accessory
      Safe Deposit Box ("Crime Boss" Destro)
      Slide the cover back on this bank box, and you'll find gold bars and stacks of cash - just the kind of things that can be used by any number of figures. If anyone was on the fence about Destro, this accessory was enough to tip them in his favor.
    • Best Packaging
      Legendary Heroes
      Bright, colorful packaging that looks good on the shelf and can be re-closed if you want to put your figure away again.
    • Worst of the Year
      Distribution
      There were a ton of popular toys that just never seemed to show up, this year. DC Superheroes, Transformers, Star Wars... more often than not, if you went to the store, you came home empty-handed.
  • 2008
    • ToY
      Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
      It may just be one toy with four heads, but it is a really good toy. Plus, the figures were available in lots of different styles, for however much you wanted to spend.
    • Best Line
      Transformers Animated
      The toy designers and the animators worked together to create characters that were stylistically distintcive, but still worked as three-dimensional objects. Plus, availability was great, and you could find pretty much anything with ease.
    • Best Accessory
      Darth Vader's helmet and mask
      They said a multi-piece mask like this could never be done, but now we've reached the point where it can. Will the world ever need another Darth Vader toy again?
    • Best Packaging
      Iron Man
      Distinctive packaging that even goes so far as to use the backs of the decorative inserts inside the tray to carry forward the theme of the design.
    • Worst of the Year
      Indiana Jones
      Everyone was looking forward to this line, and it absolutely failed to deliver, dropping off store shelves just before the fan-demanded characters would have appeared.
    • Best Exclusive
      The Crystal Skeleton
      Playable and well designed, and incredibly fun to own, but not a necesary part of anyone's collection.
  • 2009
    • ToY
      GI Joe Pit Commando
      He's incredibly affordable, fun to play with thanks to a ton of well-made accessories, and works with multiple lines.
    • Best Line
      Marvel Universe
      This was a new line, started from the ground up, but it has a wonderful character selection, beautiful packaging, and reliable construction.
    • Best Accessory
      G4H Lola's ATAC submachine guns
      Not only can you remove the clip and fold out the stock, but the slide is spring-loaded and there are individual bullets.
    • Best Packaging
      "Toy Story Collection" Buzz Lightyear
      It directly mirrors the Buzz Lightyear packaging seen in the film, making it more than just a box to be torn apart and thrown away.
    • Worst of the Year
      Mattel's attitude toward collectors
      They condescended, blamed us for their own failings and ignored what we said. It would have been better to have no contact with the company than this.
    • Best Exclusive
      Grifball Spartan (Recon Armor)
      A fun, obscure design, made entirely from existing pieces and existing only as a sidebar to a complete collection.
  • 2010
    • ToY
      Galactus
      He's big, he's detailed, he comes with a Silver Surfer, and he'll yell at you at the push of a button.
    • Best Line
      Pursuit of Cobra
      The figures are true to the spirit of the characters, but not to the point of being a slavish update. Plus, tons of accessories!
    • Best Accessory
      Prince Adam
      It's an entire figure! It's actually bigger than the character it's packed with!
    • Best Packaging
      Starro the Conqueror
      Starro the Conqueror's packaging is the first to ever have its own audio commentary.
    • Worst of the Year
      The Death of Eddie Wires
      As McFarlane toys proved long ago, a strong sculpt isn't enough to make a good toy. Eddie Wires was the guy who made the paint look good, too.
    • Best Exclusive
      SDCC Galactus
      He's the same as the basic figure, but his packaging is entirely different and entirely collectible.
  • 2011
    • ToY
      Warpath
      A very nice Transformer (in both modes) and eventually easy to find.
    • Best Line
      Gothitropolis
      Not only was it easier to buy the Four Horsemen's exclusive toys than many mass-market figures, they look better too.
    • Best Accessory
      Cringer
      Marlena would have sold by herself, but the inclusion of Adam's pet tiger sweetened the deal.
    • Best Packaging
      Batman: Arkham Asylum
      The blister is Batman's head - clever!
    • Worst of the Year
      The Walking Dead
      These zombie toys are an embarrassment to the memory of the once-great McFarlane.
    • Best Exclusive
      Mucus Tick
      Technically a real character, this variant stands out from the crowd.
  • 2012
    • ToY
      Ultron
      The look we've been awaiting for years, with great articulation and a fun base.
    • Best Line
      Predators
      NECA managed to create the whole clan, and the future is looking great.
    • Best Accessory
      Headcrab
      A perfect design, and it can integrate and interact with nearly any toy in your collection.
    • Best Packaging
      DC Signature Collection
      Beautiful artwork on the back of recloseable boxes? What's not to like?
    • Worst of the Year
      Dark Knight Rises
      Batman deserves better.
    • Best Exclusive
      Dollar General GI Joes
      Smart repaints that honor an overlooked era.
  • 2013
    • ToY
      Jungle Encounter Dutch
      The vest-no-shirt combo was seen on the movie poster.
    • Best Line
      Star Wars Black Series
      The 6" Star Wars toys we've all wanted for years.
    • Best Accessory
      Predator Trophy Wall
      The payoff to buying many, many series of toys previously.
    • Best Packaging
      Watchmen
      At least the boxes were good.
    • Worst of the Year
      Watchmen
      Because only the boxes were good.
    • Best Exclusive
      8-bit Jason Voorhees
      This SDCC exclusive inspired an entire line of money-saving repaints.
  • 2014
    • ToY
      Mario
      At last, the icon gets a good toy (and amazing accessories).
    • Best Line
      Game of Thrones
      This freshman effort from Funko met all expectations.
    • Best Accessory
      Robocop's Jetpack
      We would literally buy a figure we already had just to get this.
    • Best Packaging
      Boxes
      A tie between Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Magic, Planet of the Apes and every other company who used the same simple style.
    • Worst of the Year
      Bridge Direct's Hobbit
      Because they managed to release only a single toy this year, and it was the worst in every category.
    • Best Exclusive
      Knights of Unicron
      Transformers in an 80s hair band.
    • Best Trend
      Improved online availability
      Retailers finally figured out how to get even more of our money.


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