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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 dull.

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. Then they went out of their way to ignore McFarlane. Plus, they had a tendency to include toys to which they as a news outlet had access, ToY 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 imitators, but when you want the real toy of the year, you head for the Toy of the Year.

  • ToY
    Sky Lynx
    Transformers: Earthrise has been turning out a lot of great work (Optimus Prime, the Seekers mold, etc.), but a lot of them have been, at best, minor upgrades to existing toys. Sky Lynx is a major step up from his (already rare) previous version, with improved playability, a sculpt that's detailed without coming across as "busy," and an intuitive conversion that's easy to master. Plus, unlike other big releases, like Fort Max or Scorponok, he doesn't sacrifice fun in service of size. "Being tall" isn't a personality, and being giant doesn't make a toy better. At some point, Unicron, it's just an impediment to enjoying the item. Sky Lynx is big, but he's big at the size he should be, not at a size chosen just because you want people to brag about him.

    Other nominees included Squirrel Girl, a popular and much-demanded character • the surprisingly high-quality Doctor Doom, allegedly a holdover from the 80th Anniversary line • Mezco's One:12 Collective Nosferatu, a creepy and fun update on an iconic classic • BotBots Wasabi Breath, a creative little design • Carnage, for being a Hasbro product that's better in every way than old ToyBiz ones • Ultimate Pinhead for pushing the character further than anyone ever tried before • GI Joe Classified Snake-Eyes (as well as several other of the figures in the line) • Jazwares' Peely, who definitely wasn't the best figure, but was a lot of silly fun to play with.

  • Best Line
    Okay, so the real winner is Marvel Legends. Again. They're currently the gold standard for what an action figure line should be: affordable, playable, beautiful, diverse... Marvel Legends, from ToyBiz 'til today, has already cemented its place in history as one of the greatest toylines of all time. But it feels lazy on our part to hand them the award EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. So consider them to have a Lifetime Achievement Award, and let's look at something else special.

    Minecraft is still doing Minecraft toys, always blocky and blocky and blocky, but Roblox is constantly in flux and evolving, so you have sets of toys that include generic people figures as well as duck boats and cars and also Tron-style tanks and weird meme collections. And those are toys that you can hilariously mix with Minecraft AND other 3¾" figures for weird and funny results. They also include little codes to redeem in game? Best of both worlds for that. Kids love them in a way most action figures can't capture these days, and unlike every other toyline that's nominated, Roblox have actually had a presence on store shelves all this year, not just empty pegs.

    Other nominees included Transformers Earthrise • McFarlane's DC UniverseGI Joe ClassifiedStar Wars Black Series • Mezco's One:12 Collective.

  • Best Accessory
    Jeff the Landshark
    For whatever reason, people weren't excited about Mrs. Deadpool, despite her complex paint apps and new costume elements. And yes, she had a BAF piece, but there was still plenty of grumbling about "having" to buy her. But throw in America's national hero, Jeff the Landshark, and suddenly she's looking a lot better.

    Other nominees included Invisible Woman's shield • Rogue's glove, a perfect piece for showcasing her powers • Norman Osborn's unmasked head • Lockjaw, who is definitely the reason anyone bought that set • John Wick's weapons chest, and everything that fits inside it • the Mouser included with Baxter Stockman • the steaming teacup included with Master Splinter • Chris Jericho's working ice bucket and champagne • Tomatohead's pizza cutter Harvesting Tool • the Jonesy (and cat carrier) Ripley carried • Captain America's Venomized shield • Black Widow's exploding display base • Marty McFly's hoverboard • Star Wars' Hoth Rebel Trooper's alternate heads and storage backpack • Cable's giant stupid gun, a break from the real-world weapons the other Deadpool 2 toys carried.

  • Best Packaging
    BotBots Gumball Machine Surprise Unboxing
    This was a banner year for packaging design, but absolutely no other toy's box was a playable item in its own right. Just like a real gatcha machine, you can dispense one capsule at a time, re-creating the experience at home. And if you want, you can even re-package the toys and do it all over again. Someone at Hasbro absolutely put their industrial design courses to good use on this one!

    Other nominees included Super7's Ultimates as a whole • NECA putting Animated TMNT figures in VHS-inspired boxes • the little dumpsters and trash bags Junkbots come in • GI Joe Classified, including the biographic icons on the side • AEW's A Little Bit of the Bubbly bottle • Marvel Legends armybuilders being sold in minimalist packaging, since most of it going to be discarded anyway • variations on the standard ML box, such as Walmart Black Widow or Walgreens Moon Knight. • the modified Star Wars Black Series boxes with identifying art on the side for easier peg-browsing • Star Wars Holiday Editions that had built-in "To" and "From" tags for gift-giving • Electric Mayhem's stage and risers • the lightning for Ultimate City Demon • and for that matter, the Lightning Collection Power Rangers • the variety of Back to the Future from NECA • X-Men Movie figures.

  • Best Build-A-Figure
    Studio Series Devastator
    This was a throwback to the olden days of BAFs: when they weren't a bonus to get you to buy other figures, they were an end in their own right. It took two years for Hasbro to release all the pieces needed to build this absolute metal unit, but slowly and steadily they came. The pieces fit together well, it's fun to assemble (and disassemble) him, and even if the posture isn't quite true to the movie, it feels like an actual accomplishment to finish collecting all the pieces and put them together. And if you didn't have the patience for two years' worth of toys, Hasbro's even offering a gift set of the entire team.

    Other top finishers included Demogoblin (Spider-Man Series 9) and Venompool (Venom Series 2).

  • Worst of the Year
    The year.
    Ah, 2020. The year that will forever be remembered as just a real all-around bummer. A deadly pandemic spread throughout the world, and thanks to extreme government incompetence and negligence, the United States has been left economically paralyzed, with 350,000 dead and counting. Millions are unemployed, entire industries are disappearing, countless families face eviction...

    Amid all this uncertainty, danger, anxiety and turmoil, it may seem somewhat trivial to complain about little plastic toys. And it is, it definitely is. But still, amongst many in the toy collecting community, 2020 will be remembered as the year of the dreaded retailer exclusive. Highly desirable toys were sent to specific stores as a result of deals presumably inked before the world was encouraged to stay indoors and only venture out to replenish food and other necessary items.

    These items are frequently snapped up by scalpers, taking advantage of the boom in at-home shopping by throwing their hauls up on eBay or Mercari at twice or thrice the retail price. Target has been one of the worst offenders, with its exclusive action figures selling out on their website before they even appear to be available at all, and empty pegs being all too common at their physical locations. Hasbro employees on fancasts would regale viewers with news of upcoming awesome action figures, only to quickly mumble "Target exclusive" under their breath before hurriedly moving on to the next topic.

    In a time when everything is going wrong, many organizations showed how unprepared they were for even the slightest change in normal proceedures; when toy companies had to fall back on online orders, they proved they were not remotely ready. You gotta take your joy where you can this year, and the way exclusives and pre-sales "worked" made that less and less likely.

    Other nominees included Bloodshot, a figure almost as bad as the movie it's based on • Zeb for the wildly off-model face • boring-ass BluepoolWolverine's so-called "likeness" • Transformers Earthrise and its over-reliance on characters who already have modern toys of decent quality • McFarlane's DC Universe had too many Batmans and was in the wrong scale • Hasbro's Avengers Gamerverse figures for being as boring as the game they come from • NECA's TMNT Musical Mutagen Tour Merch Set looked like the actual exclusives on the shelves until you got close and really examined it, so surely a few were sold by accident • the poorly painted and un-accessorized R5-P8 being sold at the same price as everyone else • Marvel Legends' new barbell neck joints, which are a step backwards as far as toy design goes • did you know Moose Toys sold a pooping flamingo? With its own toilet? They did. What the hell.

  • Best Exclusive
    TMNT Musical Mutagen Tour
    A pain in the ass to get (thanks in part to the afore-mentioned Merch Set taking up space and looking identical), but it still looked perfect as far as the sculpts and accessories went. The packaging even served as a diorama for the figures and looked like a band equipment box - perfect for a group on tour! There was no way this was a "must-have' item for the majority of fans, so casual buyers weren't being shut out of any important items or characters, but hardcroe fans got something unique and special. That's a hard line to walk.

    The "Best Exclusive" category is open to every exclusive (convention, store, online, anything) released this year.

    Other top finishers included:
    • GI Joe Classified Snake-Eyes (Hasbro Pulse)
    • GI Joe Classified Profit Director Destro (Hasbro/"NYCC")
    • Marvel Toybox Iron Man Hall of Armor (Disney Store)
    • AEW "A Little Bit of the Bubbly" Chris Jericho (Wicked Cool Toys/Ringside Collectibles)
    • Black Series The Armorer (Hasbro Pulse)
    • Toxic Crusdar/Baxter Stockman Glow-in-the-Dark Ultimates (Super7)
    • Black Series Mandalorian & The Child (Hasbro/Target)
    • Muppets Electric Mayhem (DST/"SDCC")
    • Star Wars Holiday Edition Range Trooper (Hasbro/Target)

Now that you know what's won this year, you can head on over to see our past winners. The Class of 2020 joined some illustrious ranks, and they're all archived here.

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