Sunday, 23 November 2008

BT20 Argent Meister

The Binaltech line, more than anything else, is responsible for getting me into TransFormers again. Starting in 2003, as part of Takara's 20th Anniversary line, Binaltech returned to and reimagined the Generation 1 story around the period shown in the 1986 animated movie.

It took contemporary cars - performance cars of one kind or another - and gave us part die-cast 1:24 scale model cars with all the detailing one would expect from models of that size, and then turned them into robots. The concept alone grabbed me enough to fork out well over the odds and buy the first one - Smokescreen, as the 2003 World Rally Championship-winning Subaru Impreza - at Forbidden Planet in London.

Eighth in the line was Meister (aka Jazz, but named Meister even in the US/UK line due to legal issues with the name Jazz, not least that a different manufacturer had a car on the streets around that time dubbed the Jazz). While G1 Meister/Jazz was originally a racing Porsche, Binaltech Meister was a Mazda RX-8 (a design and test model for a Porsche were created, but the manufacturer declined to approve it), and came in two different colours - traditional white and red, the latter being Mazda's choice for that model.

Now, as the Binaltech line wraps up to make way for the new Alternity line (smaller scale, but still part die-cast), Meister is reissued as the RX-8 Mazdaspeed version II (originally used for Laserwave, aka Shockwave/Shockblast), with a slightly remodelled front end and a spoiler. Showing some influence from the movie, he's recoloured to silver (hence Argent Meister - not, as many initially expected, a poor translation of 'Agent') to match the Pontiac Solstice.

The packaging is essentially the same as the rest of the Binaltech line - a high quality presentation box with a large window to show off the detail of the car mode, with the character represented on the front and back by photographs. It's only when you open the box that you start to see the cutbacks they've made in the presentation of the line.
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Within the box, rather than the old-style high-quality full-colour printed booklet containing storyline, instructions, and some concept art, you have only the two-colour printed leaflet with transformation instructions. The story is printed on the base of the box. In many ways, it's a very small cut... but in terms of overall quality of presentation, it's a significant step backward.

When Meister is removed from his packaging, there is some evidence of mold degradation. Car doors that don't close fully, or are floppy on their hinges, the raised area of the bonnet doesn't close flush with the rest of the bonnet, the rear end doesn't fit together very well. Even so, the die-cast metal feels nice and heavy, even if it does contribute to some of the problems.

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Thankfully, transformation and robot mode seem unaffected by this degradation. Whether it was through familiarity with the mold (I bought both versions of Meister and turned the red one into Windcharger, and bought both the Binaltech and the Alternator versions of Laserwave) or due to improvements to the mold, I had nothing pop off during transformation, and Argent Meister stands as well as all previous uses of the mold.

Not that that is saying much... In many ways, the RX-8 mold improved on the way the feet were handled after the Subaru mold. Sadly, the most significant change - the flexibility of the 'toe' piece - was entirely cosmetic, and the model's stability relies on two small tabs which fold out to act as 'heels'. These tend to be loose - though occasionally only one side is bad - meaning he's still not as poseable as he could and should be for a model of his size in this day and age.

Many people complained that the heavy die-cast metal affects his stability, and this is not untrue. Indeed, the same can be said for many of the Binaltech models. In fact, though, the most significant factor in his stability or lack thereof is the size of his footprint - very little of the foot tends to actually touch the surface he's standing on.
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(NB: Shoulder launcher is from the Binaltech Arming set by TFClub, and is not supplied with Argent Meister)

This is still one of the better molds to come out of the Binaltech line, so this movie-influenced restyling is a welcome one. The only disappointments are the rather weak-looking rifle (compared to others in the line and the original G1 Jazz's gun) and the lack of other accessories.

In many ways, I think the Mazdaspeed v2 should have been used for Meister rather than Laserwave in the first place. Equally, I can't help but think this re-release was the perfect opportunity to use either the mocked up Porsche Jazz head, or a completely new mold based on the movie model. It is, without doubt, a decent enough way to finish off the Binaltech line, but it's also a missed opportunity.

Addendum 15/07/2013: Weirdly, the darker blue plastic visor on this model has discoloured over time... and become purple. It's as dark as ever, just... purple. Not quite sure how that happened...

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