Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Classics Mirage

Classics was the right toyline at the right time for me - I'd got back into collecting TransFormers with the Binaltech and Masterpiece lines, but those models were few and far between... not to mention expensive. Classics arrived at an excellent price and at a decent size - a fairly consistent Deluxe class for most, with a few Voyagers here and there - and started out with several characters I'd missed out on back in the days of Generation 1. A whole two years before a G1 Mirage knockoff became widely available, Hasbro released an updated version of their untrustworthy, aristocratic spy...

Vehicle Mode:
While G1 Mirage was pretty out of date compared to Formula 1 cars even back in the dim and distant past of 1984, the Classics remake is much closer to the sleek, minimalist contemporary style of car. The real thing tends to be slimmer right at the back and they don't have completely enclosed cockpits, but the overall design looks like a proper racing car and an excellent homage to G1 Mirage, even down to the number 26 stamped on the chassis.

The basic colours are the same as G1 Mirage, albeit with a rather more saturated blue, making for a brighter look overall. Naturally, these days, cigarette brand sponsorship - even the fudged G1 kind (Citanes ≠ Gitanes) - is out of the question on a children's toy, so Hasbro created some additional homages to the G1 cartoon and, it would seem, some in-jokes in the form of a range of sponsorship logos placed around the chassis. On the nose cone, we have 'Lithonian Drivetrain', either side of the cockpit is a logo for 'Plasma Injection Energy', towards the rear wheels is a logo for 'F.P. Racing' and finally, on the spoiler, is 'Witwicky Sparkplugs'.

What's particularly impressive about this mold is how slim the front end is and how few flat areas he has - he's literally made of sweeping curves. It's difficult to imagine how this could be a robot in disguise, at least based on experience of G1 Mirage, so you already know you're in for a clever transformation. The way the front wheels are mounted is especially good - the skinny mountings of proper F1 cars are emulated well, with additional structural plastic kept to a minimum and placed strategically so as not to ruin the effect of the slim nose.

The spoiler can be adjusted somewhat due to its mounting on a pair of ball joints which, in turn, are on pinned hinges, but that's about the only mobile element on the vehicle. Obviously the wheels roll, but there's no steering up front, even on a Classics mold.

For such a small vehicle, Classics Mirage holds together very solidly, and the seams are well placed to keep them from being overly intrusive. There are a couple of issues, though, starting with a fairly shoddy application of blue paint to the white plastic either side of the cockpit, which seems too thin and doesn't go right to the edges, leaving white fringes between the blue paint and the seam to the blue plastic. Then, of course, there's the fact that the robot's head is visible inside the cockpit. Certainly not the worst case of Visible Robot Head Syndrome, and the translucent blue hides it slightly better than it appears in the photos below, but it's still one (small) mark against this update. The only other gripe I have is that his spoiler is blue and white rather than silver or - God forbid - chrome. Granted, that makes the model even more realistic - why limit the spoiler's availability for 'sponsorship' just for G1 authenticity? - but it does make him a little plainer... and Takara Tomy corrected this oversight for the Henkei release.

Robot Mode:
The new Mirage is a slimmer, sleeker, more dynamic figure that the old G1 toy. It's also very similar to the original in that there isn't a great deal of robot-specific molded detail - the vast majority of what's there is from vehicle mode, the only exceptions being the scant detailing of the forearms, the groin and the upper legs. The distribuition of colour seems to favour white in this mode, thanks to the newly-revealed parts, but it's not a massive shift. The sponsorship decals don't look especially out of place in this mode as they're comparatively subtle and well-placed. The only new bits of colour revealed in robot mode are a metallic cyan cutaway on the chest and the three red/orange bands on his forearms.

One of the features that the Classics series introduced was clever weapon storage in alternate mode, and Mirage's weapon is, for me, a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I really like that they've put the front wing to actual use, rather than having it just sit at the robot's groin, and I suppose the crossbow-style handgun is fairly appropriate for Mirage... but, to be honest, it just doesn't look like a gun, crossbow-style or otherwise. I guess with a different colourscheme, or if it had been molded to look more crossbow-like and slightly less F1 car front wing-like, it might have worked better... but it seems a bit too large. Additionally, his bio describes his weapon as an 'electro disruptor' which "can create complex illusions, and even allows him to turn invisible"... is that really talking about his handgun/front wing? Not sure that makes sense... and the G1 toy carried an "armour-piercing rocket-dart hunting rifle" as a weapon, so why wasn't this an armour-piercing rocket-dart crossbow? It's also a bit of a shame that it took a third party company to give Mirage a shoulder-mounted missile launcher... but I guess that would have been more difficult to stash in vehicle mode.

It's interesting, also, that the two poseable flaps on the front of his hips almost seem to resemble the car's front wing... only not quite - as if the designer was hedging his bets. It's only really the way paint was applied that keeps it from looking like a mass-shifted version of the front wing.

The head sculpt looks pretty good for what it is - kind of halfway between the G1 toy and the look of the character in the cartoon, but a lot more rounded. The main problem with it is that it's disproportionately small - even moreso than usual in a TransFormers toy. Obviously its size was dictated by the space available under the canopy in his vehicle mode, but had the canopy been left open, a few changes here and there could have allowed for a better-proportioned head. On the upside, its light piping is pretty good for its size, and considering the large mass of car sticking out of the back of his shoulders. On the downside, despite being mounted on a ball joint, it ain't the most mobile head you're likely to encounter in the Classics range.

Mirage's transformation is very reminiscent of the G1 toy, just with lots of upgrades - the legs still pull out from the body, but now they do so via a double hinge that includes his knee; the arms still pull out from the body, but now they fold out via an excellent set of joints from the bicep to the elbow; the front of the car still folds down to form the chest, but it now hinges down in two sections. Being one of the few G1 toys to have waist articulation (albeit for transformation), it was a foregone conclusion that the same would be true of this Classics version, but the joint itself is a tiny 'mushroom' peg, so it looks almost as precarious as that of the G1 toy (which was notorious for breaking). I've had no trouble with it so far and, at the time of writing, I own three different uses of this mold, so it seems pretty reliable. The only real downside is that the knee doesn't clip together, though that does allow for even greater poseability, in its favour.

And poseability is where this model really shines - it's quite possibly one of the best articulated figures, even today. Each shoulder features a ball joint on the end of a hinged rod, this leads to a rotating hinge mid-bicep and a hinged elbow allowing for a great range of movement. The aforementioned waist joint offers full 360° rotation, the hips are ball jointed and, while not at all stiff, they're firm enough to hold steady in a variety of positions. The knees are effectively double-jointed and, while he doesn't have an especially large footprint due to the openness of the rear of the vehicle, the spoiler is very adaptable in offering support, making for excellent stability. Mirage's tiny noggin is incredibly limited by his hunched shoulders but it is on a ball joint at the end of a (short) pinned 'neck' which can move a very short way forward and back. Unfortunately, due to the way the back of the head was molded, this just forces him to look down, rather than giving him the freedom to look up.

It took me a while to warm to this version of Mirage, due to his rather bizarre proportions - hugely broad shoulders atop a almost comically thin waist, wide hips and massive, bell-bottomed legs with wide, flat feet - but once I spent some time posing him I found him amazing. It's somewhat disappointing, in a way, that this model - now almost ten years old - is more stable and poseable than some of the more recent entries in the continuing G1 renaissance. It's almost a shame that his unusual choice of 'disguise' limits the re-use potential for this mold - the Collectors' Club made a translucent blue version and a Machine Wars repaint as extras for BotCons 2007 and 2013, respectively, and Hasbro used it for a special edition Drag Strip and a movie tie-in version of the old Femme-GoBot, Crasher.

The only thing I really object to is the sanitising of his character bio. While the G1 character was "unsure of the Autobot cause" and, critically, not to be trusted, this shiny, happy update casually mentions that he's "not totally dedicated to the cause" but insists that he's a caring, sharing japester.

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