Friday, 13 February 2015

TransFormers Animated Blackarachnia

(Femme-Bot Friday #5)
TransFormers Animated presented a very strange and varied slice of TransFormers history - it was as much a superhero team show as it was a show about shapeshifting alien robots, and this was reflected in both the character design and the varied roster of characters, including the sort of human villains that might turn up in a piss-take of Batman. The majority robot characters were either straight out of, or adapted from a list that most G1 fans would be familiar with though, even within that, there were a few curveballs.

One such character was Blackarachnia, portrayed in TFA as a somewhat tragic victim of circumstance whose bitterness turned her a little evil. Formerly Elita-1, Blackarachnia was turned techno-organic in a mission that went terribly wrong, leaving her companions - Optimus Prime among them - believing she was lost and/or dead. One of only two beast-formers in the TFA cartoon (unless you include the Dinobots), Blackarachnia wasn't as much a departure from the usual aesthetic as you might expect...


Beast Mode:
As a long-time arachnophobe, it might seem strange that I tend to buy Blackarachnia figures. I don't have any version of the original Beast Wars toy or the Transmetal (yet), but I have one version of the Beast Machines toy and constantly debate seeking out the repaints (Universe Blackarachnia and K-Mart exclusive Crystal Widow, though the latter was packaged with yet another variation on one of the worse Armada toys ever). The thing is, Blackarachnia tends to be characterised extremely well - perhaps a bit of the clichéd 'femme fatale', but she's always another strong female character who knows what she wants, and doesn't wait for any other 'bot to do/get it for her.

That said, TFA Blackarachnia had no problem using her feminine charms to convince the Dinobots to do her bidding...

But back to the point. Another reason for buying Blackarachnia figures - and this may seem counterintuitive - is that her spider mode tends to be very well designed. Granted, the Transmetal goes a bit overboard and the original BW figure was simplistic and chunky, but the BM version was a fairly decent spider with excellent articulation, let down only by a weird colourscheme and slightly dodgy limb layout. The TFA version is an improvement for the most part. It manages to hit the right note of appearing 'techno-organic' without the crazy colourscheme, translucent plastic or excessively stylised molding. It very definitely looks like a spider.

The colourscheme is very much based on the CGI Blackarachnia from the Beast Wars TV series - black, gold, purple and red. It's a slightly coppery gold, but it suits the model and works well the other colours.

Like the BM version, this has only four really useful limbs, the rear set. The front four are molded in a soft, almost rubbery plastic and, while they can touch the ground and they are articulated, they're not articulated in a way that makes them especially useful in this mode.

Her large purple 'fangs' are mounted on ball joints and the smaller mandibles (I've painted mine purple - they're black straight out of the packaging) are mobile, there's no geared feature to animate them together.

Blackarachnia comes 'armed' - if that's the word - with a spring-loaded grappling hook. Like the one mounted on Live Convoy's arm, it pulls out (about 3 inches) and is snapped back at the push of a button. I quite like these features, but it's always disappointing to be given so little cord and, while the claw at the end is reasonably effective, it can't grasp many other TFA figures securely enough to yank them along, and it's rather too difficult to trigger the feature in such a way that Blackarachnia winds herself back up to a perch from a dangling position.

One curious thing about this 'spider' is that it has only four (painted) eyes, rather than the traditional eight... Still, it is a transforming alien robot-made-techno-organic, so she's not necessarily 'disguised' as any kind of terrestrial arachnid.
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Robot Mode:
Very clearly based on the look of the Beast Wars CGI, yet improved immeasurably, were it not for a few quirks, this could easily pass for an action figure in its own right, rather than a TransFormer. The entire body is made of curves, making for a very pleasant silhouette from just about any angle, and in just about any pose. The figure was very cleverly designed so that the (feminine, yet not overly busty) chest is made out of the beast mode's cephalothorax with the fangs and mandibles filling out the characteristic hourglass shape of her waist. Since the colourscheme seems to imply her 'skin' is purple, Blackarachnia appears to be dressed like some kind of Dominatrix, with a black, gold and red top over her chest, black knickers bearing the black widow's red hourglass marking, knee-high boots, elbow-length gloves... and pretty much nothing else. The abdomen hangs off her backside almost like coat-tails or a bustle, but largely as one solid piece. It's a shame it can't be split and angled outward, or something, but it's far less large and intrusive than the one on the Beast Machines model.

While there is a fair bit of paintwork to this model, some of the finer details - notably the gold linework - were missing, some of which I ended up applying myself. The figure didn't look terrible without them, but it certainly benefits by a little extra attention with a paintbrush.

Her grappling hook can remain under her 'bustle' or it can be plugged in behind her back for storage. For use, it can be plugged into a notch in either wrist and, thankfully, the ball joints on her shoulders and elbows are tight enough to support it fully extended. Blackarachnia's main 'weapon' according to the TV show, are the 'over the shoulder' stingers, inspired by the Beast Machines character. The beast mode's forelegs are poseable in robot mode, but not quite enough for swinging them over her shoulders the way she does in the show so, overall, the toy seems a little underarmed.

Like all the TFA toyline, the head sculpt is very simple and stylised. It's one of the better painted heads from the Animated line with most details painted in as necessary - for example, the hourglass symbol on her forehead is picked out in red and, while the entire eye-hole area in her 'helmet' shows through to the translucent red light piping which occupies much of the back of her head, the areas surrounding her four eyes are painted black. The one aspect that was missing was something to bring out the subtly molded lips. TFA Blackarachnia had either dark purple or black lips in the TV show, but the toy just has a splash of purple covering the whole area of exposed face.
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Oddly, this model has a couple of things in common with Mastermind Creations' Azalea. Excellent proportions is one, and the other is an incredibly frustrating transformation around the head. Just like Azalea, her head has to be fed back underneath the bum-bag and, again, it really feels as though it just won't fit. Eventually, though persistent jiggling, it'll go through... but then transforming her back to robot mode can lead to her head popping off. Aside from that, it's all rather easy and, while the transformation of the robot's arms to beast's legs isn't especially convincing, the robot's legs were very cleverly designed with a rotating hinged section that services both modes very well.

Articulation is as good as one should expect considering the mass of ball joints. The only issues I'd have are with the jointing of the elbows, which means that she can only really bend her arms inward or, to bend them forward, her hands must be palm-upward. It's a shame there wasn't some kind of forearm rotation to correct that, but it's a small problem in the grand scheme of things. Rather more significant is her positively miniscule footprint. It's not difficult to get her standing, even posing stably, but she does have a tendency toward back-heaviness, and her heel spur could have done with being a touch longer. Alternatively, had the 'toe' pieces been on ball joints rather than being hinged, they could have made for a more secure footprint. While it's not immediately obvious, Blackarachnia actually has waist articulation... or, rather, she has a rotation joint in the middle of her waist, though the beast abdomen/robot bustle does restrict it when fully retracted.

The parallels between this figure and Beast Wars Blackarachnia are pretty obvious and, in many ways, this is the figure Blackarachnia fans had been waiting for since Beast Wars aired. It maintains the sexy, organic look of the TFA animation model and, in some respects, actually improves upon it (the feet, troublesome as they are, are more believable than the high heels featured in the cartoon).

The less than comprehensive paintwork is a disappointment, but the figure overall transcends its decorative shortcomings by being generally well-designed (apart from the parts of transformation involving the robot's head) and, let's face it, TFA Blackarachnia was one of the more interesting characters. The toy seems rather small compared to almost anything else in the same size class but she's actually fairly tall in robot mode (slightly taller than the Deluxe class Optimus Prime, and just a hair shorter than the original Deluxe Prowl. By comparison, everyone else is just that much bulkier.

Amusingly, one of the Perfect Effect Motobots, Aranea, appears to be based more on TFA Blackarachnia than any of the others, at least in terms of body style and colour distribution in robot mode... and both have 'fangs' around their waist.

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