Friday, 9 August 2013

Universe Nemesis Prime

While the western world saw its fair share of Beast Wars, the line was far more extensive in Japan, featuring many new molds that never saw western release. Some of them were utterly bizarre, and unlikely to have successfully penetrated the western market anyway (rabbits, pengiuns... tanuki...). Others, in retrospect, seem like glaring and foolish omissions, especially where they were Optimus Prime analogues in the Japanese fiction.

One such character was Big Convoy who, to this day, has had only one western release, under the catch-all 'Universe' branding as the tortured and broken Herald of Unicron... However, since the model is soon to get another usage, as one of the Collectors' Club's Subscription Service figures for 2013, I figured it was about time I took a proper look at Universe Nemesis Prime.

Beast Mode:
While some early Beast Wars models looked nothing like the animal they were supposed to be, others were very well sculpted and, bar the seams, could almost have passed for a model of the animal rather than a TransFormer. This woolly mammoth is one such model and, while it's beast mode is not as articulated as some of the other Beast Wars Neo molds, it does have some fun features.

There's a switch on the top of the head which, when pulled, causes Nemesis Prime to raise his trunk. It's a very clever piece of engineering, relying of the fact that the slatted part of the rubber trunk will contract when the plastic strip contained within is pulled back by the switch. Also, each ear is hinge-pinned so that it can flap around, but the pin connects it to a sliding part. When either ear is pulled back, the tusk on that side of the body will lift up. Aaaand that's actually the full extent of beast mode's articulation...

Looking at him from the back, it becomes rather obvious that this is a robot in disguise, because the robot's thighs are plainly visible. The rest of it is neatly folded up beneath the furry pelt... so much so, that this model is essentially a shell-former. If the panels that are connected to the robot by ball joints are removed, they can be connected to the robot mode's main weapon - which is essentially the spine of the beast - to create an almost complete mammoth shell. The only parts that are missing are the two central panels on each side - the robot's leg-mounted missile launchers and the forearms parts.

The colourscheme is pretty much what one would expect from a Nemesis Prime though, while the original useage of this mold had quite a markedly horizontal division between the painted and unpainted plastic down the sides, it almost seems as though some attempt was made to follow the animal's contours on this version - he's painted silver up to his knees at the front, then the paint angles up quite sharply along his flanks to end up around his hips at the rear. The trunk is also partially painted silver, with the colour reaching just over half the length of the rubber parts of the trunk.

I believe the entirety of the tusks are painted in the creamy colour, though I can't tell what colour the rubbery plastic is beneath. The tips of each tusk are painted bright red, simulating the effect of having gored an enemy. The only other paint on beast mode is the red of his eyes and the cream colour used for his toenails.

Without the robot, most of the mammoth remains perfectly stable 

Robot Mode:
This is one of many models that I originally thought was completely ridiculous. It's actually a well-proportioned, humanoid robot... just with large panels of mammoth hanging off. My biggest objection, in the beginning, was that virtually the entire mammoth head hangs off his shoulders, more or less doubling the width of robot mode, and making him very difficult to display with anything but the shortest of his contemporaries. Those tusks also extent quite a way backwards, meaning he'd tend to have to be in the middle of a shelf.

But that's all just the practical stuff. The mammoth head halves seem to house five non-launching missile pods each, which is actually a fairly useful addition. In terms of aesthetics, I didn't like that his arms were so different - the right is completely robotic, but the left appears to be at least partially organic and, even on the original Japanese release, Big Convoy, it's molded in translucent red plastic, painted over here with silver, black and a metallic cyan similar to the usual 'Nemesis Teal'. I'm sure I read some story explanation about the difference in the look of his arms, and that's part of what turned me off to the model... but, these days, I think it's actually pretty cool, and adds to the air of menace about the character.

The colour scheme is fairly standard for a Nemesis figure around that time. The year before this incarnation of Nemesis Prime came about, Hasbro released the Deluxe Armada Optimus Prime mold as Nemesis Prime in dark blue, red, teal and beige... Looks as though they had some beige left over, as there's plenty here... it's a slightly sickly colour, but it's also comparatively bright, so I'm torn as to whether or not it's an appropriate colour. The right forearm and a patch on the chest are painted to match, but all other instances of this beige are plain plastic. The silver and metallic cyan are used quite generously, and really bring out some of the detail on the model. It's interesting to consider how plain this model would have to look if it was made today...

To supplement the non-firing missile pods over his shoulders, Nemesis Prime has spring-loaded missile launchers mounted on each leg. These are strange, sickle-shaped things, almost like grappling hooks. They launch very effectively, but their positioning is quite awkward. Inside each wrist, a kind on tonfa-style studded baton is concealed for those occasions when the battle gets up close and personal. Once flipped out, they plug very securely into the bottoms of his fists. In some cases, the fact that they are painted has made them a poor fit... but both are OK on mine - getting them in is easy, getting them out can be a bit problematic, though. That may be why Hasbro decided to have them clipped in, rather than be pinned in place like the original Japanese version. I can see parts breaking off otherwise...

That's not all his armaments, though. The entire top section of the mammoth separates from the body to become a gigantic dual missile launcher. While it's spring-loaded, it doesn't rely on the usual push-catch to launch. Instead, there's a wheel on the top of the launcher which, when twisted, fires one missile after the other. It's a fairly good weapon... but the massive panels of mammoth fur, while molded with technical detail on the inside, are a bit of an obstruction. Also, the grip for the gun is located in the mammoth's skull, meaning the trunk has to drape over the robot's arm and shoulder. In practice, it's not that unwieldy... but it does rather get in the way.

Nemesis Prime has a convenient mounting on his back to store the gun when not in use, but that just leaves the entire length if the beast mode sticking out, increasing his apparent width beyond even the extent of the tusks!

The last cool feature of this model is that, since it's a Prime/Convoy, the chest opens up to reveal a removable Matrix in his chest. According to the blurb, this is the Dead Matrix, a weapon forged by Unicron to destroy Primus. Unlike a lot of these model Matrices, this one can easily be held in the robot's hands. It looks as though it's supposed to be light-piped, but it's such a dark plastic that it doesn't work at all well. It seems to be the same dark, translucent red as is used for the chest, but it's much thicker, and the fastening clip at the rear of the 'jewel' doesn't aid the conduction of light.

Being a straight repaint, the only difference between Nemesis Prime's head and that of the original Big Convoy is the colourscheme. Like the Dead Matrix, it looks as though the eyes are supposed to be light-piped, but the bulk of the head is opaque dark blue plastic, so there's no light input.

One rather weird feature of this mold is the presence of what look like recesses for watch batteries. I'm not aware of any version of the mold that featured electronics, though, so it may be that they're a holdover from pre-production versions. Considering the way it transforms, I can't see where any battery operated features might be placed.

Getting Nemesis Prime transformed the first time was an absolute nightmare. In fact, I seem to remember I gave up before getting it right, and left him in robot mode for several years before trying again. There's a knack to getting everything folded up so that the mammoth pieces can close up around him and, once you've got that, it's actually fairly easy.

As you will have seen from the photos, this is one supremely poseable model! The head is on a ball joint, the shoulders have good, firm ball-joints, the elbows have both ball joints (in the biceps) and hinges (the actual elbows). The waist rotates, the hips have sturdy, two-way ratcheting, the knees have a double-hinge. The only disappointment is the feet... while each is made up of two ball jointed parts (heel and toe) which are on hinged arms, their mobility is somewhat hindered, and the toes on mine are a little loose, so they don't like to bear his weight. The stability of the heels is supplemented by the beast mode's front legs, which clip into place behind the ball jointed part and at the knee. Once he's balanced, Nemesis Prime is able to pull of some fantastic poses... it's just a shame that all those mammoth parts mean he'll take up ridiculous amounts of shelf space. Also cool is the fact that he can hold the Dead Matrix in both hands, and virtually pose as if he's pulled it out of his own chest, thanks to the clever jointing of the arms.

This is probably my absolute favourite Nemesis Prime mold. It's fun, unusual, packed with features and exceptionally poseable. One of my poseability tests these days is trying to get figures to adopt the strange, exaggerated poses of the live action movie bot artwork. While some of the movie toys can't match their on-screen counterparts, this version of Nemesis Prime can do just about anything. I'd love to see someone make a stop-motion animation of this guy, just to see how mobile it really is.

I mentioned earlier that I didn't think much of this beast-former when I first saw it... I had a similar experience with Lio Convoy... and I think it was around the time I changed my mind about Lio Convoy that I realised how cool this mold was. Not sure what caused the change of mind, but I'm glad it happened!

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