Saturday, 25 May 2013

Micron Legend Starscream

The TransFormers toyline has always taken artistic license with its depictions of aeroplanes. From those models with the whole robot folded up into a block on the underside of an otherwise immobile plane, to the strange, bulky craft that could never become airborne. In more recent years, the designers and engineers have taken a few more risks with the way a plane could turn into a robot, such as Reveal the Shield Lugnut, but Micron Legend/Armada was known for its bulky and simplistic models... How could such clunky engineering tackle the requirement for svelte, elegant lines required for aircraft?

Vehicle Mode:
Short answer: it completely ignores that requirement.

Weirdly, this model is a strange hybrid of the two types of model described above. There's a large chunk of immobile plane, certainly, but there's also a lot of folded-away bulk which would somewhat hinder Starscream's aerodynamism. At its heart, this almost seems like a viable aircraft - the wings are a decent size, he clearly has powerful jet engines and, really, he's not that bulky. Granted he's missing a couple of tail fins, but the basic silhouette looks decent enough.

The trouble is that he has two large pods of indeterminate function hanging off his wings. On a larger plane, they might be additional engines. On another kind of plane, they might be something akin to pontoons, for landing on water. Upon closer inspection, however, they turn out to be landing gear.

Yes, that's right - flying in the face of many years of tradition, this is an aircraft with two wheels right at the back, and one wheel on each wing, rather than having a retractable wheel somewhere under the nose. There's a good reason for this, however. Well, 'good' is relative... The reason is that he has a Mini-Con gimmick under the nose, so there was no room to put a wheel. That said, given the alternate purpose of those under-wing pods, Starscream would be a pretty ineffectual robot without them. The first Mini-Con gimmick, then, is a kind of pickup/deploy action from just below the cockpit. In vehicle mode, Swindle clips in and can be deployed by pushing down on the canopy. I believe this yields a sound effect that is different from those when he's not plugged in, but cannot confirm as I've long since removed the batteries.

Something about the styling of this plane makes me think of Macross/Robotech. Those enormous engines looks like a FAST pack, not necessarily part of the basic plane. Their dual purpose isn't immediately obvious but, by plugging his Mini-Con partner, Swindle, in at the back, those engines flip forward and become missile launchers. How this might work in a real jet, I've no idea... seems to me it would destabilise the whole thing and, if those things were providing thrust, probably cause it to drop from the sky like a brick. The spring-loaded action is accompanied by a sound effect, but I can't remember what that is and, without batteries, cannot find out.

The other noteworthy point is that Swindle is actually too wide to fit properly between Starscream's engines, so he'll tend to block one or the other from swinging forward.

This being the Japanese version, the plastic colours are slightly different - the white is a proper, crisp, clear white rather than the pale grey of the US/UK release, the red is far more vibrant and the engine intakes and wing vent things are gold rather than bright yellow.

There aren't too many angles from which this jet looks good. From above, it is passable, but from most other angles, particularly from the front, I can't help but see a thinly disguised robot.
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Robot Mode:
From the front, Starscream actually looks quite good... if a little stiff... His silhouette and colourscheme both recall the G1 character, and he looks pretty powerful. From either side or from behind, however, you start to see the kinds of problems that can be caused by spring-loaded gimmicks like his missile launchers - a whole great section of plane is jutting out of his back. It almost looks as though the plane landed on a pair of legs, and just let its nose sag right there.

The head sculpt is interesting... on the one hand, it's typically boxy and plain, in keeping with much of Micron Legend/Armada. On the other hand, the details it has are direct references to the G1 model, and this head remained pretty much unaltered through Superlink/Energon to Galaxy Force/Cybertron, so the design teams obviously liked it. That said, this is the only version to display Starscream's trademark smirk.

Aside from the spring-loaded missile launchers - which, if anything, look even more bizarre in robot mode - and the ability to mount his Mini-Con partner on either wrist, making him at once a small shield and a short stabbing blade, the left-side wing can be detached and unfolded for form... A sword, I suppose. The size of the hinges - and the rest of the wing, to be honest - make it more of a baton than a sword, and its angles are a bit odd, but it's a neat enough idea. The only drawback is that he looks completely asymmetrical, his wings being that important to his appearance.

Strangely, this is one of the more detailed molds from the Micron Legend/Armada line, though most of it is purely cosmetic, and on parts - like the arms - which already stand out (for better or worse) in either mode. The Decepticon insignias molded near his elbows aren't painted on this iteration of the mold, though those on his wings are. The colourscheme is exactly the same as jet mode - nothing new and exciting revealed by transformation and - unusually for a Japanese version - versus the character art, seems to be missing a couple of paint applications, most notably on his feet.
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Micron Partner Swindle:
This is easily among the worst of the Mini-Con molds... it actually looks pretty decent in vehicle mode, and it's neat how the rear wheels are free-rolling despite being the robot mode's shoulders. Sadly, robot mode is just awful. While the lack of paintwork doesn't really hurt the racing car, the fact that the only paint on the robot is on his head just highlights how terrible this model is by adding plainness into the mix of terrible transformation and clunky appearance. There's also a mismatch in his colours - the arms are a more vibrant red than his legs and spoiler.

It might not be so bad if Swindle was a better fit for Starscream, particularly where the missile launchers are concerned but, ultimately, from a toy range with some distinctly poor Mini-Cons, Swindle is one of the worst... making it all the more strange that a subtly remolded version of this model was used as one component of the Skyboom Shield.
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Starscream's transformation is ridiculously simple, the hardest part being the act of getting his legs out from the back of the plane... or getting them back in again, because there's no outward movement of the hips. The automatic head reveal is a cute gimmick, but other methods - like mounting it on a panel that folds down into the top of the jet - would have made it more stable, and offered the possibility of movement.

Despite the awkwardness of the joints, this mold is reasonably poseable, though the feet are immobile and the hips have very limited range. The arms are fairly mobile, but the strange choice of shoulder joint doesn't help much.

Clumsy as this model is, I can't help but like it somehow. In this colourscheme it's Starscream enough to look pretty good. The design of robot mode harks back to Generation 1 whilst offering an attempt at something new and fresh, but the chunkiness and lack of poseability that comes with many Micron Legend/Armada figures just doesn't do this mold justice.

It's tempting to wonder what would happen if TakaraTomy or Hasbro were to attempt a remake of this model, the way they did with Micron Legend/Armada Hot Shot (see TFCC Dion). That model, despite its flaws, was a massive improvement, so there's a chance that an updated Starscream would be more poseable, and a fair bit cooler. While removing the protrusion from his back might not be possible, it could at least be folded down, if it weren't for the strange missile launcher gimmick.

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