Saturday, 21 September 2013

G1 Soundwave & Buzzsaw (My First Decepticons!)

Because, yes, even though Laserbeak was Soundwave's favourite in the TV show, he was packaged with Buzzsaw. And, curiously, while Laserbeak was the spy in the TV show, he was an interrogation specialist in the toyrange, and Buzzsaw was the spy. Honestly, that TV show was constantly screwing things up, wasn't it?

And, for the record, Rumble is red. The TV show got that wrong, too.

But anyway... With Masterpiece Soundwave now available in the UK (though Toys'R'Us seem reluctant to put him on their shelves), how about a look at the original, my first ever Decepticon toy?

Alternate Mode:
Soundwave's cassette recorder mode is a prime example of everything the TransFormers brand got right at the very beginning... but then, Soundwave had already been available - as 'Cassette Man' in Takara's Microman Microchange line - for over a year. It's interesting to look back at how a toy brand, cobbled together from several different brands, developed over its early years... In many ways, the quality of the brand started to drop as soon as those 'crossover' toys gave way to new, TransFormers Specific models.

The idea of Microchange, I gather, was for these to be life-sized Robots in Disguise - diminutive mechanoids rather than the giants of the TransFormers line, thus eliminating the need for all that contentious 'mass shifting' to make up the difference. However it was supposed to work, the end result is a fairly detailed, almost life-sized cassette recorder, about the size of a Walkman back in those days, but designed for micro cassettes such as those used by some telephone answering machines. There are two really cool features of this model: one, the battery cover features a belt clip, so you could actually walk round with Soundwave attached to your belt. The original Microchange version even came with nonfunctional headphones (with a microphone attachment), to complete the picture. The second and cutest feature of this model is that the battery compartment opens to reveal a couple of batteries... which are Soundwave's weapons... in disguise.

Soundwave retains basically the same colourscheme as the Microchange version - silver and blue, with touches of gold and red. There are a few 'functional' features aside from the obvious eject button: a switch on one side (marked 'R' on the model) and a freely-rotating wheel on the other (marked 'L'). Sadly none of the cassette control buttons are pushable, let alone functional. There is molded detail on the interior of the cassette deck - two tiny spoolers and miscellaneous technical detail - but, other than that, Soundwave is fairly plain and unremarkable because he's disguised as something fairly plain and unremarkable. He does suffer from the predecessor to 'Visible Robot Head Syndrome' - it's folded down, but otherwise uncovered, and the top of his head is plainly visible from the back.

Much of the remaining detail comes from stickers - some factory-applied, some coming on a sticker sheet. This explains why the black and red striped trapezoids are on the cassette recorder rather than the batteries on mine - the instructions clearly indicate they're supposed to go there, whereas all the artwork - not to mention every subsequent version of G1 Soundwave, such as the Music Label version and the Masterpiece version - has those details placed on his weapons. It's interesting to note that the counter sticker reads 010, since Cassette Man was listed as MC-10.

The blue stickers which wrap around his sides are a very poor match for the plastic - more metallic and a far more vibrant shade of blue - but it's clear that they were intended to match, as otherwise he has weird silver intrusions into the blue central section of the cassette recorder. This appears to have been the case on the Microchange version as well.


Robot Mode:
Just like Megatron and his trigger crotch, Soundwave is an iconic G1 TransFormer. Standing at just under seven inches tall, he's also the largest of the first year's Deceptions, dwarfing both Optimus Prime and Megatron. He's also of a heavier build than Megatron, who was supposed to be the most powerful Decepticon... Though Soundwave's tech specs list his strength as 7.5/8, so he's certainly no weakling.

On the whole, his proportions are excellent, the only glitches being a rather small head and the sense that his elbow is halfway up his bicep.

The colourscheme remains much the same, but a few more stickers featuring more tech detailing and more colour become visible in robot mode. It's fairly obvious, even in these photos, that I've misapplied some of the stickers - those on his wrists have the arrow detail at the back! What was I thinking? They're also peeling quite dramatically in places, and a fair bit of the gold chrome on his tape deck has worn away over the years.

The head sculpt is still probably one of the most memorable from G1, and it's a shame that the Masterpiece version followed the cartoon's look rather than that of the original toy, because this one somehow seems to suit Soundwave better. It looks far more like the Decepticon insignia (whether by accident or design, I know not - that is to say, the insignia may or may not have been designed after Soundwave's face, since Cassette Man in this form predates the TransFormers brand and so the Decepticon insignia... Though it's worth noting that an earlier mock-up of Cassette Man showed him with the head that ended up on G1 Trailbreaker!) and has a bit more molded detail, such as the circular patterns on either side of his forehead. The 'hat brim' effect above his visor is far less prominent on this than on the animation model and the Masterpiece. Personally, I also much prefer the way the faceplates work, with the blue part between the visor and the lower, silver section, and the indentation of blue into that silver section. No Soundwave since has looked quite the same, and the only head that looks (arguably) better than this is the Cybertron/Galaxy Force version.

The battery weapons are fairly simple - one simply mounts on his shoulder as is, the other needs the back end pulled out and a chromed 'missile' attached to the front. I put that in quotes because, despite the presence of a launch button, the attached missile doesn't launch.

A few structural parts of Soundwave seem to be made of die-cast metal, but the most obvious parts are his feet, which do a good job of keeping him standing, however much he may sag.


Buzzsaw
Cassette Mode:
Not really much to say... it's a microcassette. It's actually a fairly decent representation when you consider that, underneath the stickers, there's virtually no molded detail other than the spools. The back, naturally, features all kinds of tech detail for Buzzsaw, and the large die cast metal plate that forms most of his back.

After almost 30 years, Buzzsaw's cassette label stickers have proven remarkably resilient, with only a few edges and corners beginning to peel away. These were factory-applied, and line up very well. I can remember peeling and reapplying those of Rumble and Frenzy, but I think the stickers on both of the bird cassettes had been carefully and accurately applied. The tape sticker in the small, central window is completely separate to the main label.

Robot Mode:
Y'know, all things considered, I'd be pretty impressed by this as a robot 'condor' mode in a contemporary TransFormers toy, let alone something that was developed 30 years ago. The wings spread out nicely, and the attachable weapons are pretty damned cool... Plus, they explain how a metallic bird can fly by having honking great rocket boosters on the back. Not sure how safe it would be to mount lasers on rocket boosters like that but, hey, it's only a toy, right?

It's interesting to note that the booster-mounted lasers are not his only armament - there are a couple of smaller guns mounted on the main body, either side of the 'shoulders' but, since they're not picked out with paintwork, they don't stand out very well. All the more interesting because they're silver on the box artwork.

The die cast piece of the main body is painted gold, matching the background colour of the stickers on his wings. The eyes, also gold, are the only other paintwork on the cassette part of the toy, while the weapons are chromed. They've worn down considerably over the years, and the black plastic beneath shows through on almost all the edges.

Sadly, Buzzsaw was an early casualty in my TransFormers toy collection - if I remember correctly, it was only a matter of months after I got him that one of the pegs in his neck broke, effectively beheading him. By wrapping some tape around the hinge at the back of the head, I used that extra width to wedge the head in place, but it's hardly an elegant solution. I have a 'replacement' Buzzsaw in the form of the Encore version, packaged with Eject, Rewind and Ravage, but that one remained in the box until I started writing this up. Turns out those fragile pegs on the neck were remolded, with far less of a 'split' between them, thus making them stronger and far less likely to break the way my original did.


Transformation for both of these models is as simple as one would expect for a G1 toy. Flap Soundwave's head back, rotate his arms back, then fold his legs up to either side, and he's a cassette deck. Swing Buzzsaw's wings forward, push his head back into his body, and flip his legs back up and he's a microcassette. Simple, but very effective. Classic design of a kind that very quickly disappeared in favour of the kind of transformation scheme used by the Mini Autobots, scaled up to the equivalent of both Deluxe and Voyager class models.

There's an obvious sign that, as my first large TransFormer, not to mention my first Decepticon, Soundwave has been played with rather a lot, and that is that he is now incredibly floppy. However he's posed, he sags, and his shoulders will only stay in positions that gravity gets them into. His head may have full 360degree rotation, but it also has a tendency to droop backward. His legs tend to sag slightly forward, both at the hips and the knees, under the weight of his upper body. Back when his joints were tight, he had full 360degree rotation at the shoulders and 90degree elbow bend. His legs bend forward and twist at the hip but, as a result of his transformation, the knees also bend forward only, so he was never exactly dynamic, but at least he used to be able to stand up straight.
Compare and contrast: Vintage G1 (right) versus the 2006 Toys'R'Us exclusive
'Commemorative Edition', based on the Soundblaster mold (left).
Considering Soundwave's status as one of the most iconic characters in the brand, it's surprising that he hasn't appeared in every toyline since G1. It's not even as if Hasbro/Takara Tomy would be obliged to keep his alternate mode the same - in Machine Wars, he was some kind of military vehicle, and in Cybertron/Galaxy Force he was a steath jet/spacecraft. Even when attempting to update the cassette recorder mode, Hasbro suffered a terrible misstep with the Titanium version and its enormous 'diaper' groin.

Until I managed to find Megatron, Soundwave was the de facto leader of my Decepticons, I guess because his head looked like their insignia. I knew he was 'just' the Communications officer - and despised by his comerades for his opportunistic ways - but he just seemed to be the natural leader for my initially small collection.

The original toy, even 30 years after it was created, is still an excellent model, and well worth picking up if you can find one in good condition and within your budget. Alternatively, as recently as 2006, Toys'R'Us released a 'Commemorative Edition', based on the Soundblaster mold. The main differences between this and an original G1 Soundwave are the double-capacity tape deck (with far more interesting tech molding on the inside and hinges on the outside), tape control buttons that protrude further and are all a single piece of chromed plastic with no blue framing on the fast forward and rewind buttons, and rather crummy new molds for the hands, with massive holes at the wrists. He was also cast in much darker blue plastic with a prominent metal flake component. Just to sweeten the deal, not only does the 2006 Commemorative Edition tend to be fairly cheap, but it comes packaged with Laserbeak and Ravage.

I don't often say that any TransFormers toy, least of all something from G1, is a 'must have', but Soundwave should definitely be part of a proper collection.

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