Sunday, 4 October 2015

Combiner Wars Firefly

With a team made up of four Deluxe aircraft and one Voyager, I wonder if Hasbro were tempted to pull the same trick as they did with Energon/Superlink and use only two unique Deluxe models with the colourschemes creating the characters. Thankfully, the designers of Combiner Wars have been clever with their parts counts... and probably had slightly higher budgets, and so the Aerialbots have four mostly unique models with only a few shared parts between two of them.

Firefly - formerly Fireflight - is one of the entirely unique molds... but is that necessarily a good thing?

Vehicle Mode:
Firefly is, for the most part, something approaching a Harrier jump-jet as opposed to the F-4 Phantom II form he adopted back in G1. Back in G1, the Harrier was Slingshot, which explains the repaint 'Quickslinger'. The reasoning behind this switch-around is likely that the silhouette is vaguely similar, but the Harrier alternate mode neatly avoids the need to have the wings below the arms and attached to the legs, per the G1 toy. The body is similarly tapered toward the back, though it doesn't quite have the entirely separate tail-on-hinged-arm... but it does have a reasonable alternative, which will become apparent in robot mode. A couple of major differences between this and a real-world Harrier is that his intakes are square rather than curved, and the inner parts are vent-like rather than turbines. Then again, if you want a truly realistic jet mode, you tend to have to go Third Party... At which point you get a white Harrier Slingshot analogue and a proper red/white F-4 Fireflight analogue. This model, meanwhile, is covered with panel line detail and is made of swooping curves and angled everything. It's interesting that the stabiliser wings angle down more steeply than the main wings, and the way the fuselage curves into the wings looks brilliant.

Firefly's colourscheme is very bright - more like one of the Red Arrows than a proper military jet. The ends of his wings are white plastic with blue and gold stripes and Autobot logos stamped on but, unlike the Takara Tomy version, no attempt has been made to extend either the white or the coloured striping beyond the hinge, so the changed between the white of the wings and the red of the fuselage is very abrupt. Even the Takara Tomy version gets it wrong, painting only a slim section of the fuselage white, parallel to the hinge rather than following the shape of the wing. Something for the customisers to fix, I guess...

Like all the jet Aerialbots, Firefly's robot arms collapse - barely, in his case - against the fuselage. Of the three Deluxe jets, Firefly's arms are probably the most obvious in vehicle mode - not only do they not tuck in very well, the shoulders are tipped with protrusions, and the foreams - visible between the main wings and the stabiliser wings - are conspicuously hollow. Also, the trouble with a Harrier as an alternate mode is that, without afterburners, the tail end gets so thin, it has had to be artificially bulked up so that the arms have a surface to tab onto.

Unlike the others, he has no missiles molded onto his wings, but he does have some kind of gun molded into his forearms... which end up facing backward in jet mode. Considering his only other armaments are a handgun that's molded to look like a flamethrower (complete with an ignition light right at the front) and the twin-barrelled mega-cannon/hand/foot weapon, this seems like something of an oversight. As with the others, the hand/foot weapon is just too large to be suitable for wing-mounting, and attaching a flamethrower to a jet's wings seems like a daft thing to do (I'm looking at you G1 Thundercracker). The most glaring omission with the Combiner Wars Aerialbots - across all the main components - is the lack of jet mode-specific plug-in weaponry. I know these guys aren't the Seekers, and I know the G1 toys didn't have weapons for the jet modes, but it's a massive oversight in this toyline, if only because the 5mm ports in the undersides of all their wings are just begging for decent weapon attachments.

One thing Firefly has that neither Skydive nor Air Raid have is a landing wheel which deploys from the nose. It's a nice enough addition but, without anything else looking remotely like wheels at the back, it's ultimately superfluous. Curious that the other two don't have them... but it's equally curious that Firefly lacks the 5mm port behind his cockpit which the other two have.

The funny thing about Firefly is that he highlights an interesting factor of the jet Aerialbots' designs that wasn't quite so apparent on Skydive or Air Raid: when viewing him from the side, if you ignore the robot parts on the underside, you're left with a halfway decent-looking mostly-red Harrier - properly slim and with an underside that seems to curve upward toward the point at the tail. Unfortunately, Firefly also has one of the more intrusive undersides of the Aerialbots, with both the robot's knees and feet scraping the ground. The latter in particular stick out like proper feet, with the only concession to his alternate mode being the vent-like detailing on the base of his feet which could represent some kind of additional booster system... Or it could just be vent-like detailing on the base of his feet.

Robot Mode:
The Aeriabots have quite a strange variety of body types. From Skydive's super-broad shoulders to Firefly's more natural look. Sure, his shoulders are broad, but that's mostly the result of having very square shoulders with protrusions on the outer tips. His chest tapers inward more naturally than Skydive's yet less subtly than Air Raid's, so that his hips don't seem too narrow compared to his waist. His overall look is also helped by the fact that his lower legs are slimmer than those of Skydive and Air Raid, despite the fact that the tail end of his alternate mode had to be bulked out to accommodate his thighs for transformation.

While the Aerialbots have fairly uniform colourschemes, the distribution of colour in robot mode couldn't be more different. Most of the red plastic on Firefly's torso is covered by silver or cyan paint, highlighting the contours of his chest. However, right behind his chest is a large and intrusive plate of mostly wing underside which makes him look far stockier than the body moldings intend. There's a small amount of molded detail under there, but nothing significant enough to explain its presence, especially when it has such a detrimental effect on the overall look of the body. His arms are entirely unpainted and the only painted areas on his legs are the kneecaps, which received a rather incongruous application of black (referencing stickers on the G1 toy), and the feet, which are covered in silver paint. This works great for robot mode, but draws attention to his feet in jet mode. Strangely, there's lots of other fairly subtle molded detail both on the arms and legs, which would really benefit by a touch of silver, or even grey paint.

As mentioned earlier, Firefly's handgun is designed to look like a flamethrower. Even in robot mode, it seems like a strange weapon, since metal (ie. other robots) don't tend to burn, and you'd need a particularly hot flame - hotter than the average flamethrower could produce - to melt it. Even then, the Aerialbots can fly in both modes, theoretically, and I don't think of a flamethrower as being a very effective weapon for use in the air. The double-barrelled mega-cannon is just as unwieldy in Firefly's hands as any of the other hand/foot weapons are for the other Deluxe Aerialbots, so it's fortunate that Firefly comes equipped with molded wrist-mounted guns of some kind... Of course, without a bio of any kind for the toy, it's basically up to the individual to decide what these nozzles actually fire. Who knows, canonically, they might be flamethrowers too...

The head sculpt is an excellent update of the G1 toy's head - disguising the boxiness with all kinds of molded ridges and lines, and retaining the silver faceplate that was dropped for the G1 cartoon's animation model. With a sliver of nose between the eyes, this looks a lot like a face partially covered by a battle mask, almost Optimus Prime-like. The narrow eyes look pretty fierce and focussed so, despite the comparative simplicity of the sculpt, this might be my favourite of the Aerialbot heads.

By and large, Firefly's transformation is just like that of Skydive and Air Raid, the only real difference being that the jet's tail fin folds up inside and behind his left foot. I've no objections to the asymmetry of this, and it's certainly better than splitting it between both legs. While the legs work exactly the same way as those of the other Aerialbots, there's only a small gap visible just below the knee in robot mode, making him appear rather more solid than his team-mates. Due to the odd position of the wing hinges, robot mode looks almost as though it has stubby wings protruding from his back, from which larger, white wings stick out backward. The hinges could easily have been brought closer in to the body of the jet, and possibly angled to better follow the contours of the jet. As it stands, the wings do have a detrimental effect on the look of robot mode in a way that doesn't happen with the other two.

He has the same level of articulation as his team mates apart from one - quite significant - improvement: the ball-jointed head can look up. Other than that, there's not a lot to differentiate him - even his longer toes have no significant effect on the stability of his feet or his ability to stand in all kinds of action poses.

I can't quite decide if this is one of the best Aerialbot jets or the worst. The presence of a fold-away landing wheel - the only one on a Deluxe Aerialbot - isn't quite enough to offset the terrible underside with its protruding robot feet and the robot arms that aren't in the least bit disguised. Then again, the jet parts are all unique (or were, until Hasbro/Takara Tomy decided to repaint this mold, give it a new head and call it an approximation of Slingshot) and, ignoring those shortcomings of the model which come about as necessities of the Combiner Wars toyline, the jet does look very good... but that is a rather large caveat... Both modes would have looked better if more of the wings folded back, as the large plate of red sticking out of his sides ruins his silhouette in robot mode and makes the wings look weird in jet mode. In jet mode, it's not as good a Harrier replica as the likes of Skywarp and Thundercracker from BotCon 2013, but it's good for the size, considering it has to fulfill the function of a gestalt limb.

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