Sunday, 18 October 2015

TransFormers Animated Ratchet

The character of Ratchet, having been all but ignored since Generation 1, went through a series of rather massive changes (not to say transformations) when he turned up again in the live action movie series and in TransFormers Animated. While one seemed to be attempting a take on the 'party bot' persona hinted at in the G1 toy's bio, the other went completely the other way, turning him into a grizzled, curmudgeonly war veteran medic for an inexperienced team of Autobots whose primary function was maintenance.

The result was surprisingly effective, given TFA's heavily stylised look, and Ratchet was one of the best developed characters, gradually learning to soften his approach, as we learnt about the events - and the failures on his part - that shaped him.

Vehicle Mode:
Probably the most pleasing thing about TFA Ratchet is that he's a straight ambulance, not a Fire Rescue vehicle or a deeply unconvincing repaint thereof. It seems he's actually described in the TV show as a "tactical medical response vehicle" but, seriously, what the hell does that mean, other than "ambulance"? There is, however, one rather strange concession to that rather overblown epithet: I believe that's a winch on the front of the vehicle..? I don't recall it ever being used, and it's not even consistently visible in the TV show, so it's probably safe to ignore it.

TransFormers Animated toys were noted for their matte finish and rather dodgy/lacking paint applications, and pretty much the first thing you see on Ratchet is the huge and ugly white seam in the bonnet. After that, it becomes apparent that the sides of the vehicle aren't without detail, it's just completely lost in the off-white matte plastic - the only paintwork being the red stripe running along the bottom of the vehicle between the wheels, the rather blandly cyan 'window' the 'emergency' symbol and a great swathe of red paint over the top of the rear shell piece. The back end is just plain crummy, though - a mix and match of red and off-white plastic, with no paintwork other than the red stripe across the top of the doors, leaving the windows and other molded features looking very strange. Strangest among these strange features are the tail lights, which are molded in the same translucent cyan plastic as the windscreen and lightbar, and than just stuck over bare red plastic. The front fares a little better, with the headlights picked out in yellow and weird 'underlining' in black, which almost seems to mimic the bags under Ratchet's robot mode eyes. The windscreen features some tech detailing molded on the inside, and shows through to a very shallowly-molded pair of seats and some perfunctory dashboard sculpting. Like the rear lights, the lightbar has no paint behind it, so the translucent cyan shows through to molded light detail in bare red plastic which, again, makes for a very strange combination.

What this model is crying out for is some black panel-lining, which would bring out the molded detail and make it look a hell of a lot more like the animation model. The most frustrating aspect of the lack of panel lining is that some of the molded details were clearly put in there specifically to facilitate panel lining... and they've just been ignored. Other details, like the hubcaps and the lights mounted below the bumper - not to mention the panel they're mounted on - are also unpainted, leaving Ratchet looking decidedly unfinished from every angle.

Due to a certain element of transformation, Ratchet's vehicle mode has a cylindrical hinge protruding from each side. This wouldn't be a terrible thing if it weren't for the fact that the panel that hinges doesn't tab into place at both ends in vehicle mode, so one side on mine is permanently sticking out at an angle. Other than that - and the few obvious seams - he comes together quite well.
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Robot Mode:
It's interesting to note that, while the mass released version of TF Prime Bulkhead was slimmed down considerably, Hasbro back in 2008 had no problem creating several versions of an obese Bulkhead and a Ratchet with a very pronounced paunch. What's even more interesting is that, while Bulkhead's size and shape came as a result of a very simplistic transformation from an equally large vehicle, Ratchet's vehicle mode transforms in a particular way to ensure he has just the right size and shape of paunch.

The impression that the paintwork is lacking carries over into robot mode, with the slight-but-noticeable seam in the bonnet turning into a great, ugly, off-white scar because nobody thought to carry the paint on over the edges of the model which become visible in robot mode. The lack of black panel lining is just as pronounced as well - on the stock figure, only the line parts directly under his kneecaps have been painted. By contrast, the bold lines at the top of the animation model's forearms are actually made larger because the entire elbow joint section is molded in black plastic. He has no red collar and the oversized white panels on his shoulders had only the red emergency symbol to decorate them - much of the black paint you'll see in the photos below I added myself. It's disappointing, because the overall look of the basic model shows so much potential.

Being a medic, Ratchet isn't armed, as such. He has spring-loaded things on the backs of his forearms which, one presumes, are intended to represent his electromagnets... though they look absolutely nothing like what appears in the TV show, being larger, more angular and less pointy of tip, not to mention molded in the wrong colour of plastic. This feature deploys when the elbow is bent to its fullest extent, as there's a little nub on the upper part which hits the trigger in the lower part. Aside from these, Ratchet comes with four attachments which clip over the spring-loaded joint, locking it in place. The hammer, screwdriver, spanner and... can opener(?) can also attach to a set of pegs in the otherwise rather pointless chunk of vehicle shell stuck on Ratchet's back. They're a fun addition, but I'm not sure they add much play value, and the way his hands are molded means it never really looks like he's holding them.

One cool feature is that Ratchet's left arm features a socket designed for the removable engine/EMP generator packaged with TFAnimated Lockdown. In the TV show, this was (occasionally) shown as a livid scar, showing through to his glowing inner workings but, typically, it is entirely unpainted on the toy. Lockdown's accessory fits snugly and deploys very well when attached to Ratchet... but the souped-up engine look doesn't seem as appropriate to Ratchet as it did to Lockdown.

The head sculpt is excellent, given that it's based on a cartoon character, but it's let down massively by an almost complete lack of black outlining. Given how important the black lines are to the look of the characters on screen, and given that Bumblebee's face was sufficiently lined (even though his helmet certainly wasn't) it's just another sign that Hasbro was going cheap on this toyline. Much of the molded detail, including his weird robo-moles, is lost in a comparatively sloppy paint job. On the upside, he has decent light piping, and the designer saw fit to keep his broken 'horn' rather than fixing it. The one thing that bugs me about TFAnimated Ratchet is the red leading down his face from his eyes... which, to me, always looks like a stream of bloody tears... Not exactly the sort of thing one would want to see on a medic...
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Technically, Ratchet's transformation is fairly simple - as far as the legs and arms are concerned, he may as well be a shellformer - but it's certainly not without complications. I'm not sure how common a problem this is, but the outward movement joints of the shoulders on mine were virtually rigid straight out of the packaging, and it's only recently that I decided to try taking them apart to see what the cause was. In theory, I think the joints should be smooth but, perhaps due to cheap plastic, the lightbars on his shoulders were getting stuck between the struts that hold the vehicle mode's side panels to his shoulders. Shaving down the corners and the sides with a scalpel sorted the problem out easily enough but, before doing that, the arms were more likely to detach at the bicep than move as intended. I also find the spring-loaded mechanism that deploys his head to be unreliable, largely because his head is such a tight fit in the recess behind the windscreen.

Poseability is generally good, partly thanks to the most ridiculously tight hip joints I've encountered on a TransFormers toy, though Ratchet is so top-heavy, balancing him on such a small footprint can be tricky. There's a mid-thigh swivel, good range on the knee, and the feet are each made up of two pieces, though the adjustable heel is quite small. Below the shoulder, there's a bicep swivel, a decent elbow (which, as previously noted, activates the spring-loaded tool deploying feature) and pinned articulation for his fingers (in one block) and his thumb. The gimmick is probably supposed to nudge his digits out of the way as they swing round... but it doesn't work that well in practice. The arms were originally problematic because of the tight shoulder joints mentioned above but, even now that's fixed, they're made more awkward than necessary by the large vehicle mode panels sticking up out of the shoulders. If only they could slide down, or if only slightly less of the front section of the vehicle had to be attached, they'd be far more mobile. As it stands, they only actually clash with the tools mounted in Ratchet's backpack so, if you choose to never use those mountings, everything is fine... but the whole point of that backpack is to accommodate his tools when he's not holding them. One thing that's missing - not unexpectedly - is waist articulation. It's not a massive loss, though, as the mid-thigh swivel works well enough for most poses. The other problem is that some of his swivel joints - notably the mid-thigh and mid-bicep - are clipped into place rather than being complete 'mushroom' pegs like you find on more contemporary TransFormers toys. While they don't just fall out, before I modified the shoulders, I did find the bicep joint would pop out as I tried to move the arms, and I still find that the leg tends to pop off when I try to move the hips. This seems to be because the black plastic used for these joints - and his sort-of-ratcheting shoulders - is one of the softer kinds. It's showing no obvious signs of wearing down, but the feel of it certainly doesn't inspire me with confidence.

I honestly think that the TFAnimated toyline came about at just the wrong time. The models themselves are frequently brilliant, but just as frequently marred by quality control issues, and the paint budgets were clearly ridiculously low. Ratchet is a clear example of each of these factors exacerbating the other to seriously damage the toy. He looks unfinished, the build quality is pretty terrible and things pop off rather too easily. Ratchet was a great character in the TV show and, while the design of this toy is good, the execution is a huge disappointment and, in some ways, one of the weakest in the toy line.

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