Monday, 18 April 2011

TransFormers Animated Starscream

Aside from Optimus Prime and Megatron, one character has appeared in almost every TransFormers continuity, frequently with multiple appearances in each. The one constant in this Decepticon's character seems to be a complete absence of loyalty to Megatron, and the desire to supplant him as leader. I refer, of course, to Starscream

Even his form hasn't been completely constant - while he didn't appear in the Binaltech/Alternators line, he does appear in the very short-lived Alternity line, as one of the most interesting cars in the selection, the Mitsuoka Orochi.

One of the earliest TF Animated designs I remember actually liking (without seeing how they could possibly turn it into a toy) was Starscream. Something about the broad-shouldered yet skinny, perpetually smirking look captured the scheming, cocksure Decepticon Air Commander. It was also quite amusing that the character model appears to give him high heels... In many ways, it seemed to be the distillation of the personality presented in the G1 Tech Specs, far better than the seeker clone from the G1 cartoon.

I'm not quite sure when I finally saw his cartoon vehicle mode - whether it was before or after picking up the toy - but, for a plane which I'm sure was described as a Harrier, he looks remarkably like something out of the Macross series, particularly at the rear... and his transformation even has some common factors. Absolutely nothing like the little British VTOL jet.

Vehicle Mode:
Definitely more like a truncated YF-19 from Macross Plus, in fact... though the comparatively short nose and the look of the cockpit are almost vaguely something in the region of the Harrier. It's a pretty cool design, with its forward-swept wings and directable afterburners. It does look rather back-heavy, though... but I suppose this could be intended to indicate the power of his engines.

The thing that caused most fuss was the colourscheme, which was halfway to being Thundercracker rather than Starscream. At first, there was some debate over whether it was simply the quality of image that made him look blue rather than white, but he's remained blue all along... even though the repaints - Skywarp and Sunstorm - have stayed true to their G1 original colourschemes. Still, Starscream's coloursceme is only slightly less realistic than Takara Tomy's Masterpiece Starscream and, let's face it... it's only a cartoon. Like most of the Animated line, he's molded with a matte finish, and much of his paintwork is also matte, though some of the red is quite glossy.

There's not a great deal to this form, though he does have a working undercarriage - wheels flip out from under the engines, and another pops out just below the cockpit. Also, the spring-loaded missile launchers - rear-facing in all the photos here - can be flipped round to face forward, but they drag quite low compares to the undercarriage either way.
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Robot Mode:
While it is in no way a perfect rendition of the Animated character model, the toy's robot mode certain retains all the personality. The lower legs, naturally, aren't quite so bulky as they should be, and the shoulders are rather slouched, yet Starscream looks pretty awesome all the same. The feet, carrying on the Macross similarities, are just the afterburners split open but, since they're on a ball joint, they're poseable enough.

Articulation is, in theory, quite good, but the stylised shape of his legs is a bit of a let-down - even with mid-hip rotation, they're just not as adaptable as they need to be for really cool poses. The arms, too, have a decent enough range of motion overall, but the elbows are pretty awkard, to it's quite difficult to do anything interesting with his hands, despite the added expressiveness of the moveable fingers (grouped) and thumb. An additional feature of the arms/weapons is that, if the missile launchers are pushed forward, a pair of panels open up on each wrist. I'm not entirely sure what they're meant to represent (extra weapons, I guess), but it's an interesting feature

The head mold is an excellent rendition of the character model, though it does seem a little small, and perhaps too far elongated, even for an Animated character (big chins being quite a common feature in the series). I suspect this is so it retracts easily into the neck during transformation and, for the most part, the comparatively diminutive head suits the toy well enough. While it's on a ball joint, its movement is limited because of the way it's mounted, and the molded 'collar'. Still, the light piping works very well... though I'm at a loss to explain why the mouth is light piped. I didn't notice initially, but the eyes are actually painted over in red, at least partially... but, unlike the usual overpainted eyes, they still retain their translucency.
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One particularly cute feature of this model is that his missiles are molded with a shark's teeth design. I don't recall these ever appearing in the cartoon and, frankly, both the missiles and their launchers are far too large compared to the weapons weilded by the character in the TV series. Still, it's a Voyager class figure, and I guess Hasbro were keen to have spring-loaded weapons, even if they're not true to the original, and it's nice to have some effort made on the missiles, rather than just having the usual 'energy blob' at the tip.

Starscream can be a little fiddly to transform because of the two-stage auto-transform gimmick included. Raising the arms into their 'stowed' position will lower the head, flipping the legs toward the rear of the plane extends the nose of the plane. Trying to do both at the same time can result in the terrifying click of the gears skipping. I'm not sure how long the plastic will put up with such punishment, but as long as one remembers to do the arms first, then the legs (and vice versa for transforming plane-to-robot), it all works out OK. I do find now that the arms sometimes aren't keen to stow properly, and the lower legs can be tricky to connect with the midsection of the plane without pulling it out of true with the nose section, but a small amount of jiggling generally sorts it out.

By and large, I'm pretty impressed with Starscream. It may not be entirely true to the animated character, but enough of its personality comes through in the toy that it really doesn't matter. Whether spring-loaded missiles are better than an attempt to duplicate his cartoon armaments has to be a matter of personal preference. For my money, and considering I wasn't a fan of the Animated aesthetic to begin with, Starscream is probably one of the better toys.

I do find that some parts don't connect very well (such as the plane's midsection against the robot's back), or have a tendency to drop off (particularly the fingers) and some parts just feel plain flimsy... however, it seems to be holding up pretty well. There are also signs of either mold degradation or simply bad molding, so perhaps this is a contributing factor... Folks have been complaining about quality control for a good few years now...

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