Friday, 21 September 2018

Tenth Anniversary(!)

When I first started this blog, back in 2008, I was fully in the grip of my rekindled interest in TransFormers toys following my discovery of the 20th Anniversary products - MP01 and the Binaltech line - four years previously. At the time, since I still lived with my folks, my job left me with a good deal of disposeable income and, while the Binaltech line was winding down by that point (BT20 Argent Meister, the penultimate figure in the line and one of the first figures I wrote about here, was released that year), Masterpiece figures were still coming out, and I'd already amassed quite a collection of Cybertron/Galaxy Force toys before looking back to Energon/Superlink and even Armada/Micron Legend... Then Classics had happened and I suddenly had a growing collection of Hasbro/Takara Tomy's remakes of G1 toys along with the 'new' TransFormers Collection/Encore re-releases...

...And then, the unthinkable happened: by mid-2008, the (admittedly meagre, by today's standards) 50Mb web space allowance on my personal website ran out because even the tiny thumbnails images of my toys added up to quite a lot of space. I wanted to keep on taking photos of and writing about my toys... in fact, I wanted to do more of both. One solitary image of each toy's robot mode cannot capture the full awesomeness of TransFormers toys so, having hit my website's limit, I had to find a way to expand...

...Hence the move to a blog. And so, ten years later, here we are. I've managed to sustain the blog (just about) though some troublesome periods, created a recurring feature in 'Femme-Bot Friday' (sadly, Members Incentive Monday ended on #12, due to the closure of the TransFormers Collectors' Club back in 2016), filled in some regrettable gaps in my G1 collection, improved my photography a little, and had quite a lot of fun writing about all these transforming robot toys in my collection.

To more fully celebrate this new milestone, I'd hoped to write up a top ten list of toys of the past ten years (or possibly of my entire collection?) and maybe even a feature or two based around specific characters... But, for one reason or another, I've got no further than putting shortlists into a spreadsheet. Photos are not available for all the figures listed, and I can't easily get my hands on some of them. Perhaps I'll save it for next year, when I'll have been collecting again for 15 years?

For the moment, though, I'll write a few words about the coolest TransFormers toys I've picked up since last year (now, and henceforth, a Top Ten!)...
1. Power of the Primes Battletrap
OK, technically two figures - Battleslash and Roadtrap - but this rebooted G1 Duocon probably
made the swiftest transition from announcement on the fan sites to being part of my collection
simply because, terrible as the G1 toys were for both Flywheels and Battletrap, they represented
something new (sort of) and exciting, and the Power of the Primes version is every bit as good.
2. Studio Series Blackout
Much like the original toy, SS Blackout's robot mode ends up being shorter than you might
hope, but it's amazingly detailed and - aside from the huge chunks of helicopter hanging off
his forearms - remarkably accurate to the CGI. Let down only by feeling surprisingly small
for a Leader class figure, and featuring a few loose-ish joints, some parts that don't peg in
especially well, and a paint job that could be described as 'unfinished' this is still an awesome
achievement, and a thing of malevolent beauty.
3. Studio Series Stinger
Hasbro claimed to have created a unique Deluxe class figure for Stinger for the Age of
Extinction toyline back in 2014/15 but, like Dark of the Moon's before it, the line got cancelled
before the last few models were released. Takara Tomy released a Stinger which was basically
a red AoE Bumblebee, so the only Stinger figure that had the right vehicle mode was the
One Step Changer... Until, that is, Studio Series came along, with a unique Stinger based on the
vehicle from the movie, with an unexpectedly innovative transformation... and it was excellent.
4. Power of the Primes Evolution Optimus Prime
I was (and remain) dubious about Hasbro's ill-conceived 'Unification of World Brands' largely
because I was hoping that Takara Tomy would release a better decorated version using less
anaemic red paint/plastic, but I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised by PotP Evolution
Optimus Prime, in spite of the gappiness, terrible stickers and crummy paint job. Taking its
design cues from the second Masterpiece Optimus Prime, the combined robot looks great,
for what it is, while the first animation accurate G1 Orion Pax toy is everything it needed to be
(if only it weren't so full of holes). Overpriced, but pretty darned good, and something of a
yardstick by which I judged the rest of the PotP line.
5. FansToys FT-24 Rouge
Over the years, many attempts have been made to create a fully transforming Arcee figure based
on the animation model from the '86 movie and, frankly, most have been shit. Since her design
doesn't really lend itself to real-world interpretation, I never really expected anyone to top
Hasbro/Takara Tomy's own version (itself a development of a custom figure, which got its creator
employed by Takara), but then FansToys released images of their entry into the fray. Rouge's
transformation is fiddly and not at all fun, her backback is very untidy, and she lacks waist
articulation... but I still think she's amazing.
6. Unique Toys R-01 Peru Kill
A truly bizarre bit of nomenclature, but few would argue that this is an awesome achievement:
a Masterpiece-scale version of movie Lockdown that is both reasonably CGI-accurate and
comparatively simple to transform. Vehicle mode is a thing of beauty (but I'm biased as I
rather like Lamborghinis - everything from the Countach onward), and the added extras -
the head-gun, the alternate faceplate, the claw, the 'seed'... the cyborg hyena thing...
were additions to an already very impressive package, available at a reasonable price.
7. Alien Attack STF-01 Firage
While the name sadly reminds me more of a certain Europhobic UK politician than the
character from Dark of the Moon known variously as 'Dino' and 'Mirage', this is an awesome
achievement. It started out as a kitbashing project, but ended up getting mass-produced by
Alien Attack and is, in some ways, actually better than Peru Kill due to its smaller scale.
8. Beast Wars Transmetals 2 Blackarachnia
Yes, I already owned the BotCon exclusive repaint as Arcee, and it's hardly one of the
greatest TransFormers toys of all time, but that only made me want Blackarachnia even more.
Seeing her in Orbital Comics' front-of-store cabinets at a far more reasonable price than one
can generally find on eBay, picking her up was a no-brainer... and, with this one, I don't have
to put up with an annoying, hair-trigger voice clip inside the box...
9. Perfect Effect Perfect Combiner PC-16 Jinrai Prime
While I really liked Takara Tomy's reworking of Titans Return Powermaster Optimus Prime
into Super Ginrai, part of me really wanted a super-articulated version of the G1 original to
include a truck cab that transformed independently into a super-articulated robot.
Perfect Effect delivered the goods.
10. Masterpiece Barricade
As one of the movie characters whose toys have never been quite right, Barricade was well-
deserving of the Masterpiece treatment. While this isn't much more advanced than the
Human Alliance version, and the paint job isn't entirely screen accurate, MP Barricade is
a beautiful figure.
Honourable Mentions:
Armada Optimus Prime
While this one may only be a replacement for an existing (broken) figure, it still earned a place
on this list by reminding me how cool this playset really was, in spite of his clunkiness.
I was a little surprised that the electronics worked perfectly, but that meant I could just swap
a couple of easily portable parts from my old one to the new one, rather than having to
unscrew anything complicated. Getting this also prompted me to seek out Jetfire and Overload.
FansProject Lost Exo Realm LER-05 Comera
Yes, mine broke within a few hours of taking her out of the box for the first time, but TFSource
got me the replacement parts I needed, and it's hard to fault a model that looks this good, even
taking into account the simplistic transformation and my general dislike of Dinobots.
TransFormers Animated Sentinel Prime & Oil Slick
Bought second hand via eBay, these were two characters I wasn't overly interested in at the
time (about ten years ago, coicindentally!) but which slowly nagged at me over the intervening
years. Both turned out to be quite cool in their own way, though Sentinel Prime cheats a lot
more of his robot mode detail than Oil Slick.
Power of the Primes Evolution Rodimus Prime
One of these days, I'm sure Hasbro or Takara Tomy will get Rodimus Prime 'right', but they're
not quite there with the PotP version. Something about it just feels unfinished, but it's arguably
better than the Masterpiece simply because the trailer does more than just turn into a
battlestation, and his Matrix of Leadership serves a wider purpose within the PotP toyline.
The Rodimus Unicronus repaint is actually not as good in-hand as I'd hoped, but still decent.
Studio Series Ironhide
The first new Ironhide mold since the Dark of the Moon figures, since the character was killed
off at that point. Of all the molds, this is easily the most screen-accurate (with the possible
exception of the Masterpiece) but isn't quite perfect due to a lacklustre paint job and the daft
handling of the vehicle mode's front bumper.
Street Fighter X TransFormers Ken vs Chun Li/Ryu vs Vega
A bonkers idea executed rather well, with three Titans Return molds and one Generations mold
repainted as characters from the Street Fighter franchise. Does this mean there will be more on
the horizon? Probably not, as TransFormers don't generally lend themselves to repainting as
humans... But if there are more, I'll treat them on a case-by-case basis.
Black Mamba Deformation LS-01 Ares Nitrogen
I put TLK Nitro in last year's Top 9, so it didn't seem fair to put an upscaled/improved version
in this year's Top 10, but it's certainly a noteworthy figure. The changes to the engineering
are subtle, but worthwhile and the improvements to the paint job are phenomenal.
Studio Series Grimlock
The first few months since the last anniversary saw me buying a couple of Dinobots. First
was FansProjects' Lost Exo Realm Comera, listed above, then I piled hypocrisy upon
hypocrisy by buying this magnificent monstrosity, the first halway decent representation of
a movie design I hated. Along with TLK Megatron, this is a figure I'll be treating as something
other than a TransFormer, just to rationalise why I actually like it.
Legends TargetMaster Windblade
I honestly don't know why I keep buying Hasbro's Windblade figures - they're always so
dull compared to Takara Tomy's version. Not only does this come with a TargetMaster weapon,
it comes with her original sword rather than the weird Titans Return longswords, the Titan
Master figure has been painted, and the paintjob on Windblade's face has been tidied up.
Studio Series Thundercracker
Lower down on the list only because it's just a repaint, Thundercracker was nevertheless an
excellent (and unexpected) reuse of one of the best molds from The Last Knight's toyline.
Like Nitro, the lack of paint detailing was a disappointment, but the colourscheme and the
paint that is there is still a huge improvement, if not to the extent of Ares Nitrogen. The
'nightmare arachnid' head sculpt is a bit 'WTF?', but at least it's not boring!
I seem to have ended up qualifying several of these choices for one reason or another, but Power of the Primes turned out a bit of a mixed bag - what was done well was excellent, but it had more than its fair share of mediocrity. This time last year, I wasn't convinced by the line... but two figures have made it into my top ten and another is in the honourable mentions. It feels as though the end came a little too early for PotP, and without revealing as many innovations or surprises as the previous two chapters of the Prime Wars trilogy.

Half of the top ten and four of the honourable mentions are movie figures - both Hasbro and Third Party - mainly because that's where the most innovative work is currently focussed. Hasbro's latest subline, Studio Series, has been a joy so far, and looks to continue in that way. The release schedule is a little on the slow side, the much-vaunted attention to scale for the robots has led to some bizarre discrepancies in the vehicle modes, and there are already too many Bumblebees in the line, but the designers at work on the Studio Series have worked a few miracles already. Third parties have been slow to skew toward the movie designs - understandably - and their results have been mixed thusfar, but it's still ripe territory, if only because of the figures Hasbro/Takara Tomy haven't (yet) produced.

But not only are there Bumblebee figures in the Studio Series line, there's also a Bumblebee movie-specific toyline featuring the myriad Bumblebees they can't shoehorn into Studio Series. Most of the toys in that line appear to be aimed at the younger audience - Energon Igniters, Power Charge and the like - but it feels like their marketing strategy is basically "if you throw enough shit, some of it will stick".

Weirdly, also, the majority of the entries on this list came into my possession during the first six months after the previous anniversary, and this year's TFNation only furnished me with one of the honourable mentions. I bought more than I'd expected at the show, but still not a great deal compared to previous events, and the lack of anything new and outstanding on sale there was a symptom of a wider problem with Hasbro's marketing, scheduling and distribution. I'm particularly miffed about the supposed Amazon exclusive release of Power of the Primes Nemesis Prime which was, by all accounts, not plentiful enough in the States for its Prime Day release and, as far as I can tell, was not available at all on Amazon UK.

It's been quite a strange year for TransFormers toys, with PotP fizzling out looking like a cut-down clone of Combiner Wars, demonstrating little by way of innovation and with a lot of outdated figures remaining on the shelves for far too long. Meanwhile, Hasbro's marketing for the next line - War for Cybertron: Seige - got off to an early start from the San Diego Comic Con onwards. What I've seen of it thusfar is a bit dull. I like neither the aesthetic, nor the fact that it's Generation 1 rebooted all over again. The handful of toys released in honour of the War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron videogames showed that a suitably alien aesthetic was possible and, while they obviously can't base the new line on that, everything I've seen so far looks functionally too similar to Earth modes we've seen before, so I really don't want to buy the same characters that have already occurred in both the Classics phase of Generations and the more recent Prime Wars trilogy. Furthermore, if they wanted to do a toyline set on Cybertron, why set it before G1? Surely a continuation - say, perhaps, a "what happened after the events of the animated movie" - would have worked just as well, with the Autobots battling to re-take Cybertron from the Decepticons, having spent a few decades on Earth? The look of the toys might almost make more sense that way.

Thus, my interest in the toyline is currently waning again because we're coming to the end of one three-year reboot of Generation 1 and about to start another three-year reboot of Generation 1... all stemming from the Classics, Henkei, Universe, Generations sequence - a Generation 1 reboot that began twelve years ago. I think I've reached my G1 reboot saturation point, and am thoroughly fed up with Hasbro's strategy of reliving its glory days, clinging to and milking the original toyline - standing on the shoulders of giants in the worst possible sense - instead of striking off in a bold new direction, the way they did with Beast Wars in 1996, or Armada in 2002. Hasbro have even curtailed the innovations that occurred in the comics, where they should have been encouranged and celebrated in the toyline. As I mentioned in my TFNation 2018 summing-up, Aaron Archer expressed the feeling that the brand is now oversaturated with cars, but his preferred solution was bringing back beasts - essentially ditching one reboot for another.

I've been collecting again now for fourteen years - longer than I did back when TransFormers toys first launched back in 1984. With prices increasing and my collection now in excess of 750 figures, I currently don't really have the budget or the space to sustain a collection growing at the same rate, even if the next toyline had sparked my interest the way the inaugural Masterpiece figure and Binaltech did. Cyberverse is definitely not a toyline for me, so Studio Series is the only thing that comes close to exciting me, right now. Movie Masterpiece as well, at a push.

Honestly, the way things are looking for TransFormers as a brand, I fully expect the majority of the content on next year's list to be figures from older toylines, where I'm still trying to fill in some blanks (or just clear my backlog!)... And there are still hundreds of toys in my collection now that I've yet to write about or even photograph, so this blog is far from done!

Friday, 14 September 2018

Masterpiece MP26 Road Rage

(Femme-Bot Friday #57)
I've more or less given up on the Masterpiece line, as it slips ever further down the slipperly slope of 'animation accuracy', but I'm still a huge fan of Generation 1 because of the range of cars it turned into awesome alien robots. While I only had a handful of the Diaclone-derived G1 Autobots at the time, I've filled in a few of the blanks over the years with both Hasbro and Takara/Takara Tomy's reissues, even managing to grab some of the e-HOBBY specials along the way.

One of my particular favourites was the Corvette Stingray and, while I own the Hasbro Commemorative Series version of Tracks, the Femme-Bot repaint released by e-HOBBY was never available at a price I was happy with... The Masterpiece version was available at TFNation this year, and, after much consideration, ended up being my final purchase of the show...

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Cybertron Excellion

With the Unicron Trilogy, Hasbro started each chapter with character names reassigned from their existing pool of G1 names, where Takara (by and large) came up with new names for what were essentially new characters within the franchise. Thus, while Takara had Exillion as their Hot Rod analogue in Galaxy Force, Hasbro actually named the same character Hot Shot for their adaptation, Cybertron, since Hot Shot had appeared, in one form or another, in both Armada and Energon.

But this led to things getting a little convoluted... Because Takara released a G1 Hot Rod-inspired repaint of Exillion as part of a DVD set (much like Chromia White Version), and Hasbro decided to get in on the act by releasing a similar repaint in the western markets. However, with the name 'Hot Shot' already taken by their version of Exillion, they decided to turn him into a whole new character within their Cybertron continuity, named... Excellion.

Confused? Well, let's have a look at the toy, then...

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

TransFormers: Bumblebee Power Charge Bumblebee

While the early trailer suggests the writer and director of TransFormers: Bumblebee have a better grasp of what could make TransFormers an awesome and awe-inspiring franchise than the likes of Orci, Kurtzman and Bay, I'm still not entirely convinced that Bumblebee is the ideal starting point for a reboot. Focus on one character, sure... but the TransFormers franchise is already creaking under the weight of Bumblebees, so making him the focal point fills me with equal parts of dread and outright loathing, and I'm having to tell myself that I'll want to see it because Travis Knight has worked on some excellent movies, and the quality of the cast - headed by Hailee Steinfeld (brilliant in True Grit back in 2010) and featuring the luscious tones of Angela Bassett as one of the Decepticons - is very encouraging.

Ultimately, though, we'll get what we're given... and for the toyline, that means a whole lotta Bumblebees. Toys are just starting to hit UK retail this month, well ahead of the film's Boxing Day release date... and a chance visit to The Entertainer netted me the latest in Hasbro's gimmick-laden, super-sized Bumblebee figures.

This isn't going to go well, is it?

Sunday, 9 September 2018

The Other Half 2: TFNation Edition!

I mentioned in my TFNation 2018 summing-up post that I'd asked my girlfriend, Courtney, to write a little bit about her experience of the show as 'an outsider' - that is to say, someone with a level of familiarity with thing TransFormers-related but is not herself 'a fan'. Courtney and I share similar tastes in movies and TV shows, but don't have a great deal of common interests and are both content to do our own things.

In part, I dread to think what it would be like to be in a relationship with another TransFormers fan - and particularly cohabiting with one - and haven't tried to engage her in my collection, though I have forced her to sit through shared with her some of my favourite TransFormers TV shows, and the first three live action movies. We've been living together for a few years now, and I have asked her if she wanted to come along to TFNation since its first year but, while she's been happy to attend more general conventions - MCM London Comic Cons, London Film & Comic Cons, Hyper Japan, New Scientist Live, to name but a few - she politely but nervously declined to attend until this year (she was out of the country the first year anyway).

Considering I enjoyed this year's show much more than I'd expected, I figured it'd be particularly interesting to commemorate this momentous occasion by getting her take on the event, both as a non-TransFormers fan, someone who doesn't necessarily enjoy crowds, and someone who occasionally attends events around the country as part of her job.

So, without further ado, I'll hand over to Courtney...

Saturday, 8 September 2018

iGear Con Air Raptor Squadron IG-C02 Sky-Wind

Is this the last of them? Am I finally up to date on my Third Party G1 Seeker analogues? Weirdly, it's taken me about 15 months per Raptor to get iGear's sort-of-IDW-style Seekers out of the way, having bought them over two and a half years ago. It's a fine example of the one of the problems with having a G1 Seeker OCD, and feeling obliged to buy the same mold in three different colours: what more is there to say having already written about this mold twice?

Still, Sky-Wind is the Skywarp analogue, so at least you know you're about to see photos of the sexy black-and-purple version, and that has to count for something, right?

No box shots with this one either because there's so little difference between the three... So, without further ado...