Mugenbine: infinite combination

Machine Robo Mugenbine is Bandai’s follow-up to Machine Robo Rescue, which was in turn Bandai’s updating of Machine Robo (or Gobots as toy fans outside Japan might know it).

Machine Robo Rescue, released in 2003 and backed by an entertaining anime by the always dependable Sunrise, did well enough even though the toys were lacklustre. The main concept for the toyline was Hyper Gattai: Machine Robo Rescue robots, strongly influenced by classic designs, could connect to interchangeable limbs to form a powered-up Hyper Mode. This connectivity was based on standard pegs and ports which fans dubbed the MRR joint.

(As an undocumented bonus, the use of the MRR joint in other Bandai lines, like its sentai robots and Ultraman vehicles, allowed for cross-line interchangeability.)

Though the official modes were uninspiring, toy fans went wild coming up with fanmodes despite being hampered by the fact the toys really weren’t designed for a great deal of interchangeability.

Perhaps inspired by what fans were doing, Plex, Bandai’s famous design house, went to work on the sequel, Machine Robo Mugenbine. Interchangeability, once again based on the MRR joint (now named the Mugen joint), would be emphasised as indicated by the name of the line itself. Mugenbine is a portmanteau word combining the Japanese word “mugen” (infinite) and “combine”.

Crucially, Plex moved away from the classic Machine Robo designs and designed a brand new core robot, the Mugenroid, a 9cm tall action figure bristling with pegs and ports, which had much greater potential for fanmodes. By transforming the Mugenroid into cube mode and attaching parts, you could transform the Mugenroid into a vehicle, an animal or a super robot. The designs, much like the ones in Machine Robo Rescue, tended to be simple and geared towards younger kids but the ability to create your own fanmodes appealed to toy fans young and old.

There was no Sunrise anime to promote the line so Bandai resorted to magazines and a few TV spots to spread the word but for the most part Mugenbine sold mainly on its own merits.

In the five years since its debut, Mugenbine has seen a lot of changes as Plex sought to freshen the line with new gimmicks and styles in order to keep fans engaged. The Turboroid replaced the Mugenroid then gave way to the Mugen Engine which was replaced by the Buildroid. But then change is to be expected in a line which features change as a central theme.

Mugenbine has lost a lot of its momentum since 2004 and Bandai has had to scale the line back but it is still selling even though the current designs barely resemble the original figures. It is something of an irony that the newer figures, cheap and unfortunately, feel that way as well, are the finest designs of the line. MugenPharaoh and MugenAshura really do deserve a higher price point, better plastic and better paint to fully realise the classiness of the designs.

Looking to the future, Bandai and Plex are about transform Mugenbine yet again with the release of Moebine, a bizarre fusion of moe figure designs and Mugenbine interchangeability. This is undoubtedly an attempt to get into the otaku-aimed moe-mecha market dominated by Konami’s multimedia offering, Busou Shinki. It will be an unusual experiment by Bandai and Plex, but as long as the toys retain the appeal of the infinite combination one suspects they will do well.

Mugen links

Bandai’s checklist of Mugenbine toys includes custom modes.

There are some staggering Mugenbine creations archived here. (Older archives.)

Prominence Image BBS.
A Japanese Mugenbine fanmode BBS.

Bandai’s official site for Mugenbine fanmodes. (Older archives.)

A thread at TFW2005 for English-speaking fans of the line.