Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Beast Wars Metals Silverbolt

While late to the game by over a decade thanks to patchy UK TV showings, I've considered myself a fan of Beast Wars for quite a while - certainly longer than I've owned the DVD boxed set of the complete series. Even so, I think the turns it took later on - mainly as a toyline rather than the TV series - were a little bizarre, and consequently I own very few toys from the extended lines (Fuzors, Metals/TransMetals, Beast Machines). Then again, the toys weren't very well represented in the TV series - only two Fuzors turned up, and the introduction of the TransMetals was completely inconsistent.

Of those Fuzors toys available, one exemplifies the better aspects of the concept, and was an awesome character in the TV series... That character is ol' Bird-Dog himself, Silverbolt...

Beast Mode:
As a fan of mythological creatures, the idea of a winged wolf isn't utterly bizarre to me. In fact, one of my few remaining Beast-type 'Holy Grail' toys - Tigerhawk - is little more than a TransMetals variation on the same theme as Silverbolt. According to the TV series, a Fuzor is what happens when a malfunctioning stasis pod DNA scanner combines the patterns of two suitable life forms into a single beast mode. I'd have to say that, in a toyline that include the hideous Injector, the ridiculous Nocturro and the flat-out bonkers Torca, Silverbolt stands out as a surprisingly good mix of beasts. There's something of a Gryphon about him, only with wolf (as opposed to lion) being dominant. The forelegs are very eagle-like, but the body is molded entirely in off-white plastic, with the scaly bird parts of the forelegs painted a bronze-ish colour. It's a shame the shoulders are a bit of a jumble of parts, but that's all down to transformation.

The wings are beautifully detailed, have an excellent span and a rather nice paint job on both the upper and lower faces, with the shimmery grey plastic giving way to the bronze paint, which then blends to a glossy charcoal at the tips. This is somewhat spoilt by the spring-loaded feather missiles that are the foremost tips but, with grey being the only plastic colour in use, they couldn't really be anything else. There's also a nice spray of the charcoal colour over Silverbolt's shoulders so, from above, he really looks nice. It's a shame his tail received only a partial coating with creamy-white paint rather than anything like his wings, as it's similarly detailed with a nice feathery look on both upper and lower surfaces. The grey plastic, faintly pearlescent as it may be, isn't adequate to make the best of the molded detail.The rear legs look a bit odd, with rather blobby thighs that don't conceal the robot's forearms, and they seem to be placed rather too far back considering the curve of his belly and the position of his tail.

The wings, aside from being hinged for a vague and rigid sort of flapping action, feature a fairly neat gimmick: pulling back on the tail causes the wings to angle forward. Move them far enough, and the large trigger rods protruding from the front edges will make contact with Silverbolt's neck and fire the missiles. Perhaps not the most useful weapon, as they would never fire forward, but it's an interesting feature nonetheless.

The head is nicely detailed, though somewhat spoilt on one side by a large screw hole just behind the mouth. This sort of thing might almost be forgiveable if his jaw could move as a result, but the entire head is immobile except for the purpose of transformation. One element of the head sculpt that stands out - or rather, doesn't - is the flattened-back appearance of the ears. While it is actually quite true to his appearance on the TV show (most of the time, at least), it's mainly sculpted that way to facilitate transformation - protruding ears would have complicated things. It's also worth noting that his expression is far angrier and more feral than he normally looked in the TV show, but it looks OK. There's a spray of the charcoal paint over his snout, but his eyes and teeth are separately painted in white.

One thing I find quite odd about Silverbolt's beast mode is the large, square hole in his posterior. I know it's there because of the way he transforms, but it looks very wrong... or at least as though there's meant to be another accessory that clips inside that section of the body in beast mode, to fill the hole.


Robot Mode:
All things considered, Silverbolt looks no less mythical in robot mode than he did in beast mode... but then, he also doesn't look especially robotic. This was one of the biggest problems with the Fuzors, since their bizarre beast-melanges didn't lend themselves well to transforming in the same way as the earlier Beast Wars toys. Still, he looks suitably heroic and, with the large wings spreading out over his broad shoulders, almost angelic from some angles. Of course, the clawed feet, bony loincloth and tooth-encircled ball of sinister orange fluorescence somewhat ruin that impression but, broadly speaking, he doesn't immediately look like one of the bad guys. That said, from the back and sides, he kinda looks like a humanoid robot-ish thing that's wearing the wings and tail of a large bird as some kind of grim and menacing trophy/cloak, because all of it sticks out so far from his back.

His forearms seem quite stubby, but his arms overall look about right... as long as you can overlook the large slits running most of the length of his forearms, making them the least solid-looking part on the robot's body. Meanwhile, one feature of the legs that's less more apparent in robot mode than it was in beast mode is the hollowness of his thighs. For whatever reason, though, rather than mold a plain, basic support strut inside the gaping hole, the structural part was sculpted to look like a cartoon bone...

The big downside to Silverbolt's robot mode is that there's precious little new paintwork on a detailed, albeit somewhat jumbled body. It's most annoying where there are obvious molded details, such as on the insides of his lower legs (details which are actually apparent in his beast mode) and on the arms, particularly inside the bizarre protruding flap of beast fur on his upper arms. Having a bronze-coloured ruff isn't quite enough to make him look 'right'. One thing I found quite curious is that the orange blob in his belly isn't a spark crystal, nor is it intended to be, while many of this (mostly) contemporaries had similar-shaped spark crystals hidden away on their bodies. What Silverbolt has is a Maximal rubsign, hidden up under his tail. It's one of the small, not-very-sensitive type that takes ages to react to being rubbed, then cools down incredibly quickly. There's a flap of beast mode abdomen just below it, and I'm never sure whether it's meant to be flapped down (which doesn't quite cover the beast head, peering out backwards through the robot's torso) or propped up toward the base of the tail... there's a small amount of detail molded into the inner side, which tends to support the former configuration, but either way works, I guess.

Silverbolt's launching feather missiles are as easily accessible in robot mode as they were in beast mode, but still can't fire in any useful direction. Thankfully, the rear ends of the missiles have been molded to fit the small holes in his fists, allowing him to wield them as clubs. The missiles lack the serrated edge of their on-screen counterparts - not to mention the colouring - so they don't look especially dangerous, and it's a shame he wasn't granted a gun of some kind to supplement his wing-mounted missile launchers but, by this point, the Japanese toylines appear to have all but deserted the idea of guns - certainly Longrack and Mach Kick have only mêlée weapons.

The head sculpt is a strange one - appearing more beast-like than robotic, with a short, dog-like snout and pronounced teeth bared in an uncharacteristic growl. It's almost as if the line started tending more toward the 'mutant' alternate faces of the earliest Beast Wars toys, only not... His strange charcoal-coloured mask is supplemented by a small mohawk, but most of the detail of the head is lost in the grey plastic. A touch of paint on his nose, or to highlight his teeth, would have made all the difference. A quick look at the back of the head suggests the possibility that Silverbolt should have had light-piped eyes, as there's a separate block of grey plastic glued in. Given how low his head sits inside his collar, I can't imagine it would have worked well, but it might have been better than the stark yellow paint used for his eyes.


Collectors' Card:
I have a few other Japanese Beast Wars figures from this sort of era (Heinlad, Longrack and Mach Kick I bought new, Stampy and Break were picked up second hand, the pattern being that their beast modes amused me), but this is the only one which came with a lenticular collectors' card. The front has an image of Silverbolt in either robot or beast mode, depending on the angle of view, while the rear is the usual Tech Specs and bio sort of thing... though obviously in Japanese. It's all pretty neat and, while I wouldn't expect Hasbro to produce anything so extravagant, the more of these things I see, the more I wish they'd at least put in the effort to produce basic bio cards.


Silverbolt is that rarest of things, the Beast-former who doesn't transform simply by standing on his hind legs and using his forelegs as arms... Quite the opposite, in fact. The forelegs hinge downward on arms to become the robot's legs, the hind legs hinge forward on arms to become the robot's arms, the beast head tucks into the gap in the torso... and the wings and tail pretty much stay as they were (although the tail can flap down to save shelf space). It's a simple but satisfying transformation that produces two fairly convincing forms, given that one is a mixture of a wolf and an eagle. Bits of it do feel untidy, and the fact that almost the entire top of the beast remains static throughout seems wasteful... but there aren't many TransFormers toys on which wings are actually put to good use.

Beast Wars is fairly well renowned for its ball joints, and Silverbolt certainly has a fair selection - the arms have ball-jointed shoulders and elbows, the latter supplemented by a hinge for transforming between arm and hind leg modes. The legs, meanwhile, only have ball joints at the hips, with the knees and feet on hinges. The feet are set up as two separate parts, the front three toes moving independently of the back one but, with them all molded in a fixed grip, they don't make the most stable footprint for robot mode. The bony loincloth part does also get in the way for some poses and, while it doesn't clip firmly in place, it is supposed to help keep the hips together. Disappointingly, the head is on a ball joint as well, but it's sunk so low into the neck, it leaves little more than rotation, and that's restricted by his large collar. On the upside, beast mode is fairly poseable in itself, as the front legs have all the range of motion offered by robot mode's legs, and the hind legs have all the movement of the robot's arms... just about - the only limitation is the fixed position of the small hind feet. Don't expect to be able to pose him rearing up, as he hasn't the balance for that without some kind of stand.

Personally, I'd say it's impossible to hate Silverbolt - the character in the TV show was great fun and fairly accurate to the plastic source material. Some of the choices in the toy's articulation are a little disappointing, but they serve to ensure both modes can remain stable in a reasonable variety of poses. The main disappointment, though, is the lack of paintwork - even a simple black wash - to bring out the fur detail would have been a huge improvement. So much of the paint budget appears to have been spent on the wings (and a worthy use they are to, as they look fantastic) that the rest of him - in either mode - looks rather plain, despite the plastic itself being anything but... The few mechanical details on robot mode really should have had a small touch of paint, so this almost doesn't seem like a Takara model. Ultimately, though, this is Silverbolt... and if you like the character, you'll love the toy.

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