Friday, 6 May 2016

Generations (30th Anniversary) Sky-Byte

I have to confess that, never having seen more than a couple of episodes of the early 2000s 'Robots In Disguise' TV show (a friend bought a random DVD - titled "Sideburn's Obsession", after one of the episodes included on the disc - in a charity shop) Sky-Byte is a bit of a random whim purchase, even by my standards. Not only that, but the original mold was used as a Maximal in Beast Wars Transmetals 2, then transferred into Robots In Disguise/Car Robots along with a whole host of pan-generational repaints on the Decepticon/Predacon side. As far as I can tell, while the Autobots were mostly new molds, the Decepticons/Predacons had only one - Megatron/Galvatron.

The original Sky-Byte was one of the weirder-looking molds, with a very awkward and asymmetrical robot mode and an oddly posed cybernetic beast mode. Coming 15 years after the original Transmetals 2 figure, what improvements can the Generations version bring?

Beast Mode:
Well, while the original seemed to have been sculpted as if frozen mid-attack, with the body and head thrashing in different directions, this new version looks as though it's supposed to be jumping through the air having propelled itself out of the water. I guess that's how Sky-Byte gets his name..? Though I suspect he didn't spend a great deal of time in the water in the Robots In Disguise/Car Robots TV show. This being a cybernetic shark - effectively still a Transmetals beast - the body features smooth organic patches and highly detailed exposed mechanical parts (which surely can't be good for moving around underwater?). He almost looks like a Terminator-style cyber-shark, in that the mechanical parts seem to be exposed in areas where the 'skin' has been cut or torn away in some places, or grafted on outside in others.

The paintwork on mine, particularly the blue paint over grey plastic panels, is very sloppy in places, in terms of both incomplete coverage and overspill. It's also very disappointing to find that lots of the sculpted protrusions and exposed robotic parts on the back are entirely unpainted (though some of this is true of the Takara Tomy version as well), and the symmetrical painting of the snout just looks dull. Furthermore, while I see that yellow plastic was needed in the gill area to remain true to Sky-Byte's traditional robot mode look, I don't understand why the painted gradient toward the top on each side is silver rather than blue, as it doesn't match up with the unpainted plastic of his flanks or the painted plastic on his snout. While the paintwork on the body isn't great, I do appreciate that the exposed teeth on the shark's upper jaw are not only painted white, but have a coating of a dark gunmetal on the 'gums' as well, to further distinguish them from the grey plastic.

When I first saw images of Sky-Byte online, I presumed that the inward sloping part just behind the lower jaw was due to mistransformation of the hinged yellow flaps, but they're actually designed to do that, and there's no way to connect or overlap them to fill out the shark's belly. Another interesting feature of the underside is the small hexagonal socket which Hasbro/Takara Tomy seemed to include on everything back in 2014, supposedly for some kind of display stand. Sadly, I don't have an appropriate stand so, since this guy doesn't stand well unaided, I had to balance him precariously on the most convenient stand I have for my photos.

The tail is articulated thanks to an exposed robot mode joint, and features a geared spinning gimmick (activated by the large grey dorsal button) and a spring-loaded missile (launched by a small grey button on the left side of the tail in my photos). The former gimmick only seems to turn as the button is pressed, with no free spinning, while the latter is a fairly standard launching mechanism with a bizarre, almost magic wand-like yellow missile with spirals down its shaft and a large knob on the end. The jaw opens a short way, revealing a space inside his maw which, on the original, was filled with a spring-loaded weapon but is empty in this version.


Robot Mode:
Sky-Byte is something of a jumble in robot mode, though not entirely in the way he should be. With the shark's snout painted a consistent cyan, he's missing his traditional asymmetrical chest (which, on the original, was an entirely separate piece painted to vaguely resemble his beast mode's snout). He has very broad shoulders and a very thin waist, though the tapering from one to the other is pleasingly gradual and works pretty well. One forearm is made of panels which contain a vast amount of space, while the other is a bulky, claw-like thing with a missile launcher. Along with the two shark fins which stick out on ball joints either side of his spine, he has the look of a weird and extremely malevolent butterfly.

His posture tends to be quite strange simply because his shoulders are so far back, it gives the impression he's thrusting his chest forward further than it already is, even when his head, hips and feet are aligned. His torso does need to be angled back a little, exacerbating this, simply because his head would tend to be angled down otherwise. Short of not tabbing it down into place, there's no other way to get him looking straight forward.

Since the shark's snout isn't asymmetrically painted, his chest ends up looking fairly plain, even with his 'spark crystal' (painted rather than the old style of translucent plastic with a silvered back) right in the middle and the obvious shark features all around. The sloppy paintwork on the central portion of the waist doesn't help and, aside from the silver gradient on the outside of the shins, the legs are entirely unpainted. Comparing this to the original toy, the inner, ridged areas on the upper arms should have been painted blue, but they don't look wrong as they are, it's just more molded detail that's underserviced by the paintwork. He doesn't look bad as he is, and it honestly wouldn't bother me at all if I'd never seen photos of the Takara Tomy version, or compared this to the original.

The geared gimmick work just as well in robot mode, and the tail makes a surprisingly effective claw - being somewhat better-proportioned, the yellow-edged claws being smaller and fixed, rather than pieces that fold into the upper and lower fins of the tail. What's odd is that the two yellow fins protruding from the left forearm appear to reference details from the right forearm of the Transmetals 2 original. The way the shark's bottom jaw is repurposed as kneecaps is quite clever, and eases the transition from the dark blue thighs and the yellow shins though, seeing it in robot mode, I can't help but think those pieces would have looked better in both modes had they been cast in the darker grey plastic.

The head sculpt is fantastic - his grimace is a perfect update on the sneer of the original, and the overall look is enhanced in just about every way, from the comically large crest to the sharp, flattened nose and the ridged detailing in his cheeks. The paintwork here is a touch sloppy on mine, with the yellow topcoat not completely covering the silver on the right side of his face, yet leaving a splotch on the left side of the helmet, and the silver stopping abruptly between the front and back halves of the head towards the ridge at his crown. It even appears, in some light, that the front and back portions use a different shade of silver paint. There are two disappointing aspects for me in that, despite the overall shape of the head permitting a lot of movement, the neck joint only offers rotation, so he basically views the world over an upturned shark snout no matter how he's posed, and that the segmented eyes are not light piped. I'm not sure how they could have accomplished light piping on this particular sculpt and the red paint works pretty well... but they could have looked so much better set ablaze by an external light source.


There's an awful lot of shellforming to Sky-Byte, lots of folding and interlocking panels, the largest of which end up on his back. The overall experience of transforming him isn't what I would call fun because all of these panels have small tabs that look and feel alarmingly breakable. The strangest parts are his lower legs, which may or may not be intended to flare out in robot mode (they're hinged, and have to be closed up for beast mode, though altering their position seems to be more or less optional) but either way leaves the backs as massive open chasms with slender 'bones' on show. These, too, are strange. At first glance, it looks as though the peg on one part is meant to slot into the hole in the other, but it actually clips (a little loosely because the plastic is quite soft, but firmly enough to hold) over the top, just behind the kneecap. The right forearm is an empty shell of panels that don't actually tab together but, hey, there's a little gun molded on there... as if the giant claw and missile launcher on the other arm weren't enough. One puzzling thing about this figure is the squared-off space inside the chest (also the shark's mouth) which looks as though it's supposed to accommodate something - perhaps a weapon, like the original. I'm not sure how well Sky-Byte's 'proper' hand would hold an accessory, but there is a small peg hole at the knuckle, so it's very possible that something was cut from the final release. The best aspect, for me, is the way the shark's snout collapses in on the body to become the robot's chest, with the tip of the snout rotating around to reveal his Predacon spark crystal (even if the 'crystal' itself is pretty disappointing), because this arrangement is far more economical, shows that a lot of thought went into this remake, and means he doesn't have most of a shark's head hanging off his backside.

In shark mode, there's a tiny bit of articulation - the tail swings through a small range and can open and close because of the robot mode's claw function, the jaw can open and close slightly, and the fins can move a little but, despite their ball joints, I suspect they're not really intended to move a great deal in beast mode. Robot mode does remarkably well considering how it all comes together and the fact that there's not a single ball joint in his limbs. The panels on the back don't get in the way of his arms as such, but they do tend to push the blades that slide out of the shoulder back in. The shoulder rotation and outward-swing joints are entirely separate from each other and, while both arms have a rotation joint just above the elbow, the elbows themselves have different ranges - the right offering slightly less than 90°, the left offering substantially more because it can bend backward. Without any wrist articulation on the right arm, the elbow only really bends 'inward' but the way the hand is molded and the separate, hinged thumb make for some decent gesturing. The hips aren't connected, but do have a tendency to move forward or backward together for whatever reason. Upper thigh rotation offers great range and the knees bend a little more than 90° though, like the left arm, that's because they're double jointed. The feet, being fairly large, mostly flat plates, keep Sky-Byte stable, but the fact that they're only hinged means the arrangement of hip, knee and thigh has to be just right to ensure a stable footprint. As well as all the standard body parts, the panels and fins on his back can be arranged according to preference, though there's no getting away from the evil cyborg butterfly look.

Sky-Byte is a pretty strange figure and it's debatable that this new version is much of an improvement over the original. Certainly, the cut-down and somewhat haphazard paint job is a step backwards and, while no-one was expecting chrome to make its return at this point in the toyline, it's very disappointing that Hasbro didn't retain Sky-Byte's traditionally asymmetrical paint applications. Takara Tomy's version used a darker blue paint and plastic, had far more paint applications generally, and kept the asymmetry, so this one feels watered down in more ways than one. So much molded detail on this one has gone unpainted, and only some of it got addressed even on the premium TransFormers Cloud figure Hellwarp, and even that didn't do an especially good job of picking out the details.

Personally, while I don't enjoy transforming Sky-Byte, I do find his shark mode and robot mode fun. Not least, the myriad possibilities for posing his butterfly wings - they can even be arranged over his shoulders for something approaching accuracy to the TV show. It's not the best thing to come out of the 30th Anniversary segment of the Generations toyline, and the paint job is nowhere near as comprehensive or gorgeous as the fifteen year old RID/Car Robots version but, despite the shellforming, it's a decent reworking of the original and a brilliantly quirky addition to the Decepticon ranks which seem to have been sadly neglected by Hasbro. I do rather wish I'd held out for the Takara Tomy version, but this one is pretty good for what it is.

2 comments:

  1. I'm actually really surprised how much the change of paint on this guy manages to make a difference. I didn't realise that Hasbro managed to drop the colour change on his chest for robot mode. Even FunPub got that right on their Skybyte figure.

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    1. Ain't that the truth! Sky-Byte was the best part of the BotCon 2010 boxed set (or, at least, the only one I thought was worth picking up), with a completely gorgeous paint job on a well-chosen mold with a decent new head, giving the limitations of fitting it into the alternate mode. Hasbro were just plain lazy with this one, which doesn't reflect well on their commitment to the 30th Anniversary.

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