Bothriolepis (Kaiyodo)

Review and photographs by Tim Sosa

Some of the commonest vertebrates on earth during the Devonian period were the antiarchs, a group of armored fishes that lived all over the world while the ancestors of you, me, and Triceratops were just barely starting to crawl out of the water. Despite their abundance, they went extinct almost 300 million years before Triceratops showed up. Antiarchs don’t get made into toys very often, but Japanese manufacturer Kaiyodo made a version of the best-known genus, Bothriolepis, as part of its Dinotales line, which we’ll take a look at today.

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Antiarchs first appeared in the late Silurian period, and they were among the first fishes with paired fins, which you can see in the photo above. Whether they had proper pelvic fins isn’t completely clear, but they had some soft-tissue structure of unclear function at about the location where you would expect pelvic fins. Antiarchs were also among the first fishes with jaws, although by the time of Bothriolepis, its distant relatives, which had inherited the same features, were becoming much more widespread–sharks, ray-finned fishes, and lungfishes, for example.

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More than 100 species of Bothriolepis have been described, and it’s difficult to be sure which species Kaiyodo’s figurines are meant to represent, if any. The shape of the plates rules out B. canadensis, but the overall arrangement is a very plausible representation of the genus in general.

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If you turn the figure over you can see its downward-facing tooth plates (not true teeth, but bony ridges at the edges of the jaws), consistent with an animal that feeds mostly on items found on the river and lake bottoms, perhaps algae or small mud-dwelling organisms. The long spiny pectoral fins would have been used to move along the bottom or lift itself up, perhaps to breathe air as some scientists believe.

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Bothriolepis is known from hundreds or thousands of specimens, and since it is so heavily armored, its external anatomy is well-understood. So, as you might expect from Kaiyodo, this figure is executed well, with no obvious inaccuracies. There were two versions made for the Dinotales line, a purplish one and a golden brown mottled version, and both look very nice. Both come in a few pieces that require simple assembly, and in my experience the mottled version, which came out slightly later, fits together more tightly. The purple one required a bit of glue to get it the pelvic fins to stay put.

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This figure is just over 7 cm long, making it roughly 1:4 scale. Antiarchs don’t often got made into toys, so it’s particularly gratifying that these are made so well.

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In 2015 Kaiyodo released a new version of Bothriolepis as part of its Capsule Q Museum “Encyclopedia of the Paleozoic” set. That set probably deserves its own separate review, so for now I’ll just note that it’s the same size as the Dinotales version and comes on a little base. All 3 versions can be found on eBay or other web sites, although prices vary considerably.

Leaps in Evolution (Kaiyodo)

Review and photographs by Tim Sosa

From July-October 2015, the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo hosted an exhibit called “Leaps in Evolution: Tracing the Path of Vertebrate Evolution.” To commemorate the exhibit, Kaiyodo made a set of five vending machine capsule figures, most representing a stage in the evolution of vertebrates. Each of these can be tied to a “key innovation,” or an adaptation that enables a lineage to diversify at the expense of potential competitors, predators, or prey. Let’s take a look at the five figures, starting with our closest relative and going back through time.

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First up is the skull of a Neanderthal Homo neanderthalensis, a species which lived until about 40,000 years ago, well after modern humans had started spreading outside of Africa, and may have interbred with them. This skull, showcasing the large braincase that is the hallmark of humans, is a fitting visual reminder of what makes us us. It’s well-made in about 1:10 scale and identifiable as H. neanderthalensis by the prominent brow ridges and large teeth, although in actual specimens the teeth are much less tidy, probably because of decay of the remains between death and fossilization.

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We travel pretty far back in time to reach Dimetrodon limbatus, which lived in the early Permian period over 270 million years ago. Dimetrodon was a synapsid, an early member of a lineage whose only survivors are the mammals. Synapsids did a couple of interesting things that ended up being important for mammals. One, they reduced the role of the articular and quadrate bones in the jaw joint, which freed them up to later become part of our middle ear. And two, they evolved the ability to regulate their own body temperature metabolically. It isn’t clear when that occurred, but one hypothesis for the function of the sail of Dimetrodon is temperature regulation, so it makes sense that it would be included in this set. This is a big improvement on the Dimetrodon from Kaiyodo’s Dinotales line back in 2001, with excellent detail and a pose that reflects recent suggestions that their stance was somewhat more erect than previously thought. It’s about 1:45 if it represents a large specimen of D. limbatus.

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Next up is Ichthyostega, an early tetrapod relative. Ichthyostega lived during the Devonian period, and was one of the first fishes to have well-developed limbs with digits, and could probably have walked around a little bit in addition to swimming. This figure is in about 1:12 scale and looks great, with the characteristic broad, flat head and tail still adapted for an aquatic lifestyle. When Ichthyostega was first discovered, everyone assumed it had five digits just like us, lizards, and the earliest dinosaurs. But later preparation of the fossils revealed that some of the earliest tetrapods, like Ichthyostega, had seven or even eight digits. Some of those wouldn’t have been obvious externally when covered with muscle and skin, and this Kaiyodo figure is therefore well within the range of possibility, showing six external toes. Nice work!

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While Ichthyostega was learning to crawl, Dunkleosteus was the top predator in the world’s oceans. It was an arthrodire, a group that had already been around for tens of millions of years. Arthrodires were among the first vertebrates with jaws, which are not only great for eating things, but also became important for hearing for some vertebrates. This little ~1:40 scale skull replica features a hinged jaw, calling attention to its importance in the evolution of vertebrates.

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Finally we reach Anomalocaris, a major predator of the Cambrian period, over 500 million years ago. This is the only figure in the set that isn’t a vertebrate, and in fact the only one that isn’t relatively close to a direct ancestor of humans. Maybe that’s because at the time of Anomalocaris, our ancestors were essentially jawless, spineless little worms with a gill basket, which would look a little less awesome as toys. So Kaiyodo went with Anomalocaris, an arthropod distantly related to insects, spiders, and barnacles. Anomalocaris probably ate our distant relations for breakfast! It was part of the so-called “Cambrian Explosion,” a sudden (by geological standards) profusion of life that evolved in the world’s seas and set the stage for major lineages of animals, such as arthropods, mollusks, vertebrates, and echinoderms. This figure is similar to the one Kaiyodo made for their Dinotales line, but more finely detailed, a fitting homage to this extremely important time in Earth’s history. Like the Dinotales version, it’s about 1:10-1:15 scale.

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Overall, this set is a fantastic miniature review of evolutionary history (biased a bit toward our own ancestors). The exhibit in Tokyo has ended, but a fair number of these seem to have found their way to the secondary market, so you might be able to find them through web sites such as eBay or through a friend with a connection in Japan. They’re already fetching fairly high prices, so if you want them, sooner is better than later!

Indominus rex (Jurassic World Bashers and Biters by Hasbro)

Review and photographs by Takama, edited by Suspsy

The Jurassic World line is arguably one of the worst dinosaur toy lines I have ever seen. When you must pick through the different models at the store just to find one that is not broken, then you know the toy line is unworthy of existence. Just like the “Indominus rex.“

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In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t like the “I. rex“ itself. The reason is because a new generation of kids have been shown that real dinosaurs are no longer cool, and you must make a fake dinosaur to make everything fresh again. It really pains me when I see people on Facebook and our own forum requesting a “I. rex“ to be made by the likes of Papo and Rebor when there are plenty of REAL dinosaurs that deserve a toy more than this abomination from the minds of Hollywood. So when Hasbro revealed that they were going to make a “I. rex“ figure for their Bashers & Biters line, I was expecting it to be as bad as the rest of the B & Bs or even worse, as I feel that the folks at Hasbro might think that, with it being the coolest new dinosaur ever, kids would buy it even if it is a bad toy.

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When I first saw this figure on a store shelf, I was shocked at how well the function worked on the toy and that this model seems to be made out of a denser material than the rest of the B & Bs. To my surprise, the gimmick worked flawlessly on the first specimen I handled at the store. With most of the B & Bs, you manipulate the figure by moving the tail up and down to move the neck or pulling the tail to the side to operate the head. One model(Ankylosaurus) has you operate the head and tail by moving the leg, and two others only allow up and down movement on the tail.

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The B & B “I. rex“ is one of those two models (the other one is the Velociraptor I covered in another review). The resulting function is one of the most satisfying gimmicks I have seen in the entire toy line. When you pull down on the tail, it makes a snapping sound (that’s not bad) as the head looks to the side with its mouth open. And it does not feel like it could break from overuse like the other B & B figures.

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The toy also seems to be covered in a thick coating of whitish-grey paint. In terms of film accuracy, it is very faithful to the monster depicted in the film, and it seems like they put a lot more effort into the aesthetics of this model than all the other B & B figures. The limbs are articulated, but the toy cannot stand in a horizontal pose. Instead, you must angle the body upwards as if it’s looking towards the sky.

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Overall, if you must get one figure from the Jurassic World Bashers and Biters line, this is the one to get. However, this is one of the rarest ones. I have only seen it twice in stores and the asking price for one on Amazon is outrageous for a toy of this quality.