Thursday, 7 July 2011

Masterpiece MP05 Megatron

After doing the MP01 mold to death and only producing one new mold in two years, Takara Tomy had to do something particularly special with MP05 to get some credibility back into the so-called 'Masterpiece' brand. The announcement that the fifth release would be Megatron met with mixed response. The revelation that he would appear in his old Generation 1 alternate mode - a Walther P-38 handgun - hopes were both raised and dashed in equal measure

Alternate Mode:
G1 Megatron is one of those models that people either love or hate. To some, it never seemed quite plausible that the leader of the Decepticons would transform into something as small and insignificant as a handgun. Then there was the question of how far the old 'mass displacement' system actually went - was he a human-sized P-38, or a giant-robot-sized P-38? G1 never gave a definitive answer - in the cartoon, he seemed to become whichever size was appropriate at the time, having been wielded most often by either Starscream or Soundwave, and certainly turning up in the hands of mere humans in the comics, if not the TV series.

The toy drew as much criticism for being too accurate a representation of the gun (only marginally smaller than the real thing, assuming my hands to be of average size) as it did for the poorly proportioned robot mode, with its thin legs, curious hip arrangement and, of course, the notorious trigger-crotch.

The Masterpiece version has several key differences, though most of these are only visible in robot mode. First and foremost, this Walther P-38 is oversized, far more detailed than the G1 mode and, while there is no action attached to pulling the trigger (no eye-endangering, spring-loaded pellet launchers here!), it does have a mobile safety lever. I was a little disappointed to find that the hammer is still molded as a part of the back of the gun, rather than being mobile, but reasons for this become more obvious in robot mode. Also, the molding and paintwork are intended to look like brushed steel, rather than the smooth, shiny chrome of G1, with a scored, grainy, matte grip that features a loop so the gun can be attached to its holster with a cord.

By default, Megatron is packaged only with the sight, without the stock and silencer that were included with the G1 version. All the other accessories are for robot mode. The sight isn't even functional - even in the toy sense, like G1 or Classics Megatron - because it incorporates a superbright red LED.

Oversized though it may be, there was some concern over MP05 being packaged in gun mode, and the likelihood that Customs offices in many countries would confiscate such an accurate model gun without the orange 'safety caps' toy guns now routinely have. Indeed, I believe it's still illegal to own MP05 in Australia without the sort of licensing one would normally associate with genuine, active firearms. I would suggest that it's not something one should carry around in public, particularly not with the Justitoys upgrade parts.
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Robot Mode:
One can see why hopes were both raised and dashed by the early artwork. The end result figure has many of the flaws of the G1 figure, even while trying to improve upon them. The first thing that strikes you is the lack of trigger-crotch. This was accomplished by splitting the entire trigger section in half, and having it fold down into the inner calf areas. The outer calf is further bulked out by splitting the grip, and folding the rear halves forward, but the upper legs remain very skinny, despite the upper part of the grip folding out a little way.

As far as the legs go, the real disappointment is that, despite very firm joints (almost too firm, in some cases) and double-hinged knees, he's neither particularly poseable nor stable, particularly once the fusion cannon is attached to his arm. With that in place, he has a tendency to lean to the right, no matter how the legs are arranged.

From the waist up, Masterpiece Megatron is as faithful a homage to his appearance in the G1 cartoon as one could possibly hope for, though the head doesn't quite look right from the sides. It is, however, mobile... which is more than could be said for G1 Megatron's very strange head. The face is quite well-designed, though the expression is on the blank/passive side of menacing, and it's painted in a faintly pearlescent off-white, so what little detail there is, just isn't picked out. I've seen customised versions where the areas around the eyes are painted in black, and that alone improves the look of the face.

Mounting the fusion cannon does create several problems, mainly due to its weight - the shoulder joint isn't firm enough to keep the arm outstretched (removing the electronics helps, but not for long!) - but also due to its bulk. It seems proportionally larger than G1 Megatron's weapon though, without that model to hand at present, I can't be certain of that. Thankfully, that's not the only weapon Megatron was packaged with - he also has his Energon ball-and-chain, as seen in the TV series pilot, in his battle with Optimus Prime atop the dam (though the chain seems longer than necessary - it could amost be used as a skipping rope), and the discarded beam sabre (apologies for borrowing Gundam terminology, I just don't know what else to call it...) and handgun used to fell Prime in the Animated movie. There's also a little 'Kremzeek' figurine, molded in transparent yellow plastic... though who knows why..?
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Transformation is surprisingly similar to the G1 model, just with a few extra steps and joints and, in the main, it's rather more impressive. The feet fold almost completely flat and stow inside the two halves of the grip, the hands fold back into a space that seems too small for them, and the way the arms bulk out is very clever, if a little flawed. It is scuppered somewhat by the mass of ball joints on which these panels are mounted - they're all prone to popping off. Also, both in the arms and the legs, there are clips that fold away for robot mode... I can't help thinking it was a bad idea, because it can be very difficult to align them, and to actually get them to clip together. The arms are particularly troublesome because of the ratcheting joints at the elbow and mid-bicep... they are an absolute pain to align.

This is technically my second Masterpiece Megatron - the first had a pin missing in part of the arm assembly, which led to one arm basically falling off the first time I transformed it, straight out of the box. This replacement has no such omission, and had transformed without incident until I took these photos - since he's displayed in robot mode, I took those photos first, then transformed him to gun mode, then transformed him back... at which point one of the clips on the upper arm broke off. That clip isn't thin plastic, so I can only conclude that it's exceptionally brittle.

Justitoys MP-5 Upgrade Package:
Third-party manufacturer Justitoys released an upgrade package which adds both silencer and stock, and replacement - die cast - grip parts which not only allow the stock to be attached, but lower robot mode's centre of gravity, making it a little more stable. It loses the cord loop on the grip, but that's really a small price to pay to upgrade Masterpiece Megatron into U.N.C.L.E./Rifle mode.

Additionally, just like the G1 version, the parts can be reorganised into accessories for Megatron's robot mode - both standalone cannon mode, and the shoulder-mounted 'bazooka'-style weapon can be accomplished, though the latter is unstable. On the upside, one of the stock parts includes a spring-loaded trigger mechanism which allows standalone cannon mode to fire the included plastic projectiles. I suspect these are just as eye-threatening as the G1 version, if not more so, and I haven't tried it yet...



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Even without the Justitoys additions, I personally think Masterpiece Megatron is a fine attempt at creating the impossible - Megatron in the cartoons cheated far more extensively than just about any other character transformation. While the G1 toy was derided for its trigger-crotch, this version was equally derided for its skeletal appearance. It's not a perfect success but, short of making a mess of the alternate mode, or following the Classics example and turning him into a gun that doesn't really exist, I don't see how they could have done better. It's a Masterpiece model for display purposes - an adult collectible, rather than an action figure.

One of the biggest controversies was with the metallic parts on Megatron's feet, which start tarnishing almost as soon as he's removed from his packaging. It's not too unsightly, if you ask me, and I've always been troubled by the idea of these giant robots looking pristine, but it is a failure of Takara Tomy's part to use a metal that would tarnish in that way.

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