Sunday, 19 October 2014

Classics Jetfire

Generation 1 Jetfire was among a group of toys which Hasbro appropriated from a company other than Takara to add to their early TransFormers range. Bizarrely, he was licensed from Bandai's Macross line (which Bandai picked up from another company which had gone bankrupt) which, in retrospect, seems completely insane given the longevity and popularity of Macross.

In any event, what the TransFormers toyline got out of the deal was a nice - and very large - model VF-1S Super Valkyrie along with armour and booster pack, all of which made it very difficult to bring Jetfire into the TV show (he was redesigned entirely and renamed 'Skyfire') due to someone else already holding the necessary licensing for showing the Valkyrie in animation. In recent years, the current license holders in the US have thrown legal action at Hasbro every time they tried to create a Jetfire toy, most notably - yet weirdly - the non-transforming GIJoe/SDCC2013 exclusive Skystriker repaint.

However, back in 2006, Hasbro decided to try their hand at a new Jetfire toy for the Classics range - something entirely new in both jet and robot modes...


Vehicle Mode:
This is one seriously weird plane... the back end looks more-or-less sensible, but the front end is ugly and angular - like no aircraft I have ever seen. In some respects, it seems to be based on the animation model, but the nose isn't quite flat enough for it to be accurate. Obviously, that just makes it more aerodynamic than the animation model... which I always thought was rather crap. Plenty of people disagree, however, which explains why a whole bunch of third party 'Skyfire' models were announced a while back.

When it comes to TransFormers jets, there always seems to be some kind of tradeoff between creating a decent jet mode and creating a viable robot which, all too frequently, leads to a situation where you have the top surfaces of a jet stuck on the back of a folded up robot (RotF Leader class Jetfire and Universe/Classics Silverbolt/Darkwind being recent prime examples, with the likes of the first live action movie Starscream taking the idea to an extreme. Jetfire here was an early attempt at something better and, in some ways, he succeeds. The overall silhouette of the jet from most angles is acceptable... but the robot's arms are quite clearly visible, sticking out of the sides and completely undisguised. From the front, they almost look as though they might be related to the engines - additional intakes, perhaps, since the squarer, more traditional-looking intakes are neither fully molded nor quite the right shape. Unfortunately, any illusion that the arms are a functional part of the aircraft are shattered by the very visible fists at the ends.

On the upside, the rest of the jet actually looks pretty good. Loosely based around the iconic, swing-wing design of the F-14, but with afterburners more reminiscent of a rather chubby F-22 and that completely unique angular nose. From the side, it looks a little squashed, like a Super-Deform model aircraft, though this is largely because the rear is so chunky to accommodate the robot's legs and the fold-out undercarriage. Had the undercarriage been dealt with differently, this side view could have been far smoother.

The paint job is fairly simple - bare white plastic for the most part, with white paint covering over around the cockpit area to disguise the transparent cyan plastic. There's black linework around the panels of the cockpit, a patch just behind the cockpit and, somewhat incongruously, on the tip of the nose, then the rest of the paintwork is the red stripes and blocks on the body of the plane and on all the wings - even some paint on the underside of the wings. The markings make this look like more of a civilian stunt plane than anything military, which I suppose fits with Jetfire to the extent that he wasn't a soldier. What's quite clever about the markings on his wings is that they remain more-or-less lined up with those on the body as they're swung backward or foreward.

The basic jet is armed only with a pair of small dual guns mounted below the cockpit on each side of the nose, but these are fully mobile and could even fire backward over the top of the plane or underneath it. However, like the original G1 Jetfire, the Classics version comes with some extra bits and bobs. To start with, there's the booster pack... which plugs into the top of the jet once the tail fins are flattened down. It may look a little bit too Macross-y for comfort, but was apparently different enough that it didn't get Hasbro/Takara into trouble at the time. Pulling back on the raised section toward the back reveals larger cannons which flip out of the body of the boosters. These are then slightly poseable... though that feature only really becomes useful in robot mode. Other than this, the only interesting feature of the booster pack is that the nozzles have a small amount of movement on their ball joints..

Next up is the pair of spring-loaded missile launchers which plug into Jetfire's arms, almost neatly concealing them. The missiles stick out quite a way, almost making it look as though they were mounted on the wings rather than the body of the jet.

The last weapon is a pair of rifles which plug into Jetfire's fists, almost giving the toy's designer an excuse for not concealing them. They sit quite nicely under the arms for some additional firepower... So, basically, Jetfire is armed to the teeth... in the name of science.

The aforementioned undercarriage folds out smoothly, but the two wheels at the back offer very little ground clearance. That said, they're not hindered by their own mountings and so roll quite freely.



GERWALK Mode:
This is just a bit of fun - Classics Jetfire never had an official GERWALK mode because, obviously, the model is not derived from Macross/Robotech. The model was also clearly never intended to adopt a GERWALK form but, fans being fans, someone found this close approximation. It's basically accomplished by shifting the hips out to the sides, then rotating the shins so they face forward. The arms can be left in jet mode position or shifted forward to robot mode position, whichever suits your preference.

The main problems with this form are that the rear end of the jet hangs down limply (which is why the booster pack angles upward) and the knees don't bend forward... Not that Jetfire's feet would be any use if they did, but more of that later...

All the weapons can be mounted in this mode, with the two cannon things combining into the double-barrelled handgun Jetfire wields in robot mode. Additionally, the dual guns either side of the cockpit are fairly useful in this mode.

As unofficial alternate modes go, this isn't bad... but the design of the model isn't conducive to making a convincing GERWALK.


Robot Mode:
The big problem with almost all TransFormers aircraft is that the wings end up just kind of sitting around, protruding from somewhere and increasing the apparent size of the model. Jetfire is certainly no exception to that rule. The core robot looks quite well-proportioned, all told, but then he has wings sticking up behind his shoulders and tailfins sticking out behind his waist. The effect can be reduced by swinging the wings down but, unlike the original G1/Macross Jetfire, they can't swing together. They're also mounted in such a way that they almost touch the ground behind him, so it'd be even worse if they did swing right in. Plus, they'd get in the way of his legs. They do look rather like a cape when swung down, though... and I'm not sure that suits Jetfire.

While there's remarkably little paintwork unique to the robot mode - touches of red on the hips and shins only - the paintwork that's held over from the nose of the jet works wonders to break the monotony of white. It's also amusing to note that the black paint which seemed so unusual right on the tip of the jet's nost now gives the impression of the chest finishing higher than it actually does, simulating the high-chested, narrow-waisted look of the VF-1S Battroid... or it would if Classics Jetfire could be considered 'narrow waisted'. Sadly the section of jet which forms his chest is not only wide but quite deep, too, giving Jetfire a massively protruding chest which only tapers inward slightly at the waist.

For an accessory that seems designed for jet mode, the booster pack really seems to come into its own in robot mode. By default, all it does is stick out of his back - like on the G1 model, but making him extremely back-heavy. Pull down on those central parts to release those guns... and they can now be oriented to fire forward over his shoulders thanks to joints at Jetfire's head height. With all his weapons added, Jetfire looks like a one 'bot army, and the fact that his double-barrelled rifle can be split into two single-barrel guns allows for some awesome John Woo-style dual gun/missile launcher posing. I do rather wish that something could be mounted on the outer sides if his legs but, to be honest, the detail molded there looks as though it could have been painted red to add the effect of G1 Jetfire's leg armour... it'd also give the impression that his legs are slightly less chunky than they really are...

On the subject of moldings, what surprised me most about this model was the amount of detail molded into the inside of the basic robot's backpack - all kinds of technical detail can be seen in there if you ever look between the tail section and the mid section. This would benefit by having some paint but, let's face it, it wasn't really intended to be on display... which makes it all the more odd that they went to the effort of sculpting it.

The basic head sculpt is a clear homage to the G1 cartoon, albeit brought up to date and designed to be more fitting with the general Classics aesthetic. It does seem a little small on the stocky Voyager body and, despite being perfectly in line with the shoulders, it seems to sit too far back simply because the chest sticks out so far. The helmet slips on over the top of this head and fits very snugly, but it looks very boxy and the antennae/guns stick out to far due to the way they fit into jet mode. Weirdly, with the helmet in place, Jetfire's head seems too big for the body... so you never get a head that looks just right.



Jetfire is remarkably simple to transform, largely because so little of the robot is disguised in jet mode. Literally all the arms do is swing down from the shoulder, the legs collapse into the body and the cockpit flips up over the head. Then there are just a couple of panels to fit back into place for the jet. It's not even so involved as the G1 model and, while it's not terrible, I really wish they'd found something better to do with the arms.

The additional components certainly bulk up both modes and go some way to disguising the unsightly bits of robot in jet mode, but they make Jetfire very back heavy in robot mode and, coupled with the weird leg joints and terrible feet, he's very prone to falling over backward.

The weirdest thing about Jetfire's articulation is that, in theory, it should be pretty good - all the necessary joints are there and have a pretty decent range. The thighs are a bit weird, and it hampers the figure somewhat that the only swivel joint in the leg is below the knee, but what really wrecks Jetfire's poseability is his feet - they are possibly the worst feet ever to grace a TransFormer. On the one hand, it's good that they included the Macross reference in having his afterburners transform into his feet, but they're shaped in such a way that they don't really have a stable standing position. Most of the time, Jetfire will be standing on the inner corners of his 'toe' and 'heel', and it's quite difficult to find a position where he gets adequate support in all directions. Given that he's already back-heavy when fully tooled-up, he really doesn't like to stand up at all. His legs aren't the only parts with weird joint positions - his arms rotate just below the elbow rather than in the bicep, meaning he can't cross an arm in front of his body. This could be due to the large shoulder armour pieces, or it could simply be another weird design choice/oversight. The wings do inhibit arm poseability when in their upward position, but swinging them down starts to affect the legs, so it comes down to a matter of preference, and what sort of action one wants out of their action figure.

Much as I like this model, I can't help seeing The Tick's sidekick, Arthur, whenever I look at the basic robot mode with the wings sticking up - it makes Jetfire look like a butterfly. Even with the booster pack and additional weapons, he still looks too butterfly-like. I know it's trying to reference the G1 cartoon character model, on which the wings were oriented upward, but they probably should have designed a booster pack that was more like that than that of the G1 toy.

On the other hand, the booster pack does an excellent job of both referencing and upgrading the G1 version, while also taking it to a whole new level of Macross referencing by adding the guns, which turn it into something not entirely dissimilar to a Strike pack rather than just a FAST pack.

The inclusion of a helmet may be an attempt to link Skyfire from the TV show to Jetfire the toy in terms of the appearance of the head, but it's execution is rather clumsy. I've never been sure if the robot's eyes are supposed to be visible in the visor or whether his forehead was intended to fill the visor and give him more of the old-style toy/recent comic book look.

With this new Generations/30th Anniversary Leader class Jetfire on the way, I'm debating whether or not to pick it up or whether I have Jetfire enough in this eight year old Voyager. Both models have their flaws and neither really match the G1 toy or the animation model particularly well. I may pick up the Thundercracker repaint/remold instead... but then, you all know what I'm like for impulse buying...

For someone who'd never owned G1 Jetfire, I suspect either would be adequate, though the newer model is both larger and more elegant. Of course, it's almost more expensive than this Voyager was. Both are pretty cool in jet mode, and the differences in robot mode are mostly going to come down to aesthetic preference.

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