Saturday, 8 January 2011

Masterpiece MP01 Convoy

I can't believe I've taken this long to get round to writing about the first in Takara's Masterpiece line, begun in 2004 along with Binaltech as part of the 20th Anniversary of the TransFormers brand. This model, more than anything else, is responsible for me getting back into collecting TransFormers. I don't remember now whether I got this or Binaltech BT01 Smokescreen first, but both blew me away in terms of detailed alternate modes and improved poseability in robot mode. The Masterpiece line has had its fair share of detractors, not least because of the excessive re-use of this mold (MP02 Ultra Magnus, MP04 Convoy & Trailer, MP01b Convoy Black Version, MP04S Convoy & Trailer Sleep Mode) cheapening the whole 'masterpiece' concept. It has, however, produced some awesome models and this, while only the first, is no exception.

Vehicle Mode:
OK, let's be honest - the Masterpiece vehicle mode is never going to win any awards for realism. In fact, in many ways, G1 Optimus Prime's vehicle mode was far more believable than this, albeit at the expense of its robot mode. This model, meanwhile, pulls out all the stops to create an incredible robot mode, and so the vehicle mode suffers. That said, I'd be curious to see them try a new Masterpiece Convoy/Optimus Prime in the wake of the Movie lines, just to see how the improved complexity in transformation could allow for a more realistic contemporary truck.

From the front, this model looks perfect and reasonably realistic. The chromed grille and bumper immediately remind me of the sequence from the animated movie, where Optimus Prime is driving into the thick of battle, and runs straight through Thrust, having show the Decepticon his reflection in these super-shiny metallic surfaces. It was a neat image... but showed how irrelevant the artists considered the matter of scale to be. If Thrust was only tall enough to have his head somewhere near the top of Optimus Prime's grille, then either he didn't transform into a full-size plane, or Prime was the biggest truck in the universe.

From the side, despite relatively few visible seams, there are far more obvious signs that this is a robot in disguise - the cab doors are way too small, and they have no windows. Then there's the rear of the truck, where the trailer attaches - it's just far too bulky. You can even make out Prime's crotch, if you care to look. The indicator lights right at the back are a nice touch, but they don't do much to distract the eye from the fact that they're clearly mounted on feet.

Still, it's not all form over function. While there are no lights and sounds on this model - thank you, Takara, for truly understanding the wants and needs of the Collector - the wheels have spring-loaded suspension. Yes, all six of them. Push down on 'em, and the truck springs back up. This same effect was later used on the Binaltech Jeep Wranglers (Hound and Swindle), but this was the first time a TransFormer has had suspension. Of course, this means there's no 'steering' on the front wheels, but I can live with that.

I have noticed, having transformed this model a good few times over the years, that the cab now has a tendency to sag forward slightly... but, given the extent of the quality control issues on later iterations of this model (particularly the way legs are reported to fall off) I'm happy with its quality. There's also extensive use of die-cast metal (removed certainly in the later US/UK versions, if not from the first), giving the model impressive mass. The biggest difference between the Japanese and US/UK versions of this model - quite typically - are the smokestacks: as always, the western release has them cut down substantially... supposedly they are a health and safety risk...

Robot Mode:
Again, let's be honest... this is actually a comparatively blocky toy, particularly when compared to the later molds like MP03 Starscream and MP05 Megatron, and more recent mainstream toys of a similar size, like RotF Leader Class Optimus Prime... but it's very closely modelled on the G1 animation design, embellished with elements from the more contemporary comics. The arms, legs and ankles aren't just jointed, they have visible pistons, an extra detail that is particularly effective in the arms.

It's quite a poseable model, with excellent range of motion in just about every joint (bar the shoulders, I feel... and probably the ankles too, now I think about it). Even the hands are well jointed: the wrists rotate and have a certain amount of tilt, the thumb is on a ball joint, and the fingers have individual knuckles. It's a shame that the rest of each finger is in a fixed, grasping pose... but then he'd probably have trouble holding his gun if they were jointed. The feet are also impressive, in that they are ball-jointed at the ankle, but also have some movement in the 'toes', making a natural walking pose easy enough to achieve.

The only problem will all these joints is that the extensive use of die-cast metal and the electronics in the chest make this model very top-heavy, and very much inclined to topple unless carefully balanced.

And, yes, I did just say 'electronics in the chest'. There may not be lights and sounds in vehicle mode, but Takara have added one brilliant little lighting detail - open up the chest cavity, and the Matrix of Leadership is revealed. A small blue button on the left shoulder activates an LED in its mounting, which would be cool enough on its own... but the Matrix is removeable, and can even be opened. Sure, it loses the lighting once removed from Prime's chest, but the core is made of transparent plastic, lightly blue/turquoise toned, so it looks pretty good in the outside world.

Other neat effects include the 'suspension' in the ankles, which links to the vents in his shins (push down onto the feet, and the vents open up), the communicator panels on his wrists (one shows Bumblebee, the other, strangely, shows Starscream), and the push-button-activated moving faceplate. It has been revealed that Prime has a kind of skeletal face behind this plate, but I've never been tempted to remove mine. As gimmicks go, they're nice and simple, but all very effective.

On the subject of the head mold, I'm in two minds... it's not the G1 toy model, and it's not exactly like the cartoon... I guess they were aiming for the cartoon, but they missed the mark somehow. Don't get me wrong - it looks fine... it just seems a little... lifeless?

The accessories - his blaster, obviously, the Energon Axe from the cartoon pilot (was it ever used anywhere else?) and a tiny Megatron Walther P-38 plus removeable stock, silencer and sight - are all very cool, and allow for this model to be displayed in a variety of awesome ways.

Transformation is relatively simple, compared to some newer models, and actually quite reminiscent of the old original G1 truck. Loosely speaking, everything happens the same way in transformation... but the Masterpiece model is far more intricate and involved than the G1 version. I love the way vehicle parts get flipped around and repurposed in robot mode - it may not be as complex as some of the movie figures, but it makes for a model of Convoy/Optimus Prime that looks just enough like the G1 animation model. Also, anyone who owned the original G1 model, and was disappointed that the robot fists were separate pieces that had to be removed for transformation, will be pleased with the way the hands stow in this model - very well thought-out design.

All the paintwork is nice and solid - the red is vibrant, far better than the anaemic shades used in the US/UK re-releases - and, while the blue isn't anywhere near as dark as that used on the G1 model, it's dark enough that it doesn't look garish coupled with the red. There's plenty of silver detailing, along with a few other metallic touches here and there, and, of course, the chrome grille is still visible.

A later version of this release, MP04 Convoy & Trailer, replaced the cardboard trailer that came as part of the box with this model, with a full, plastic trailer made to fit the vehicle mode, but it was left up to the third party manufacturers to make a transforming trailer and a proper Roller unit.

Masterpiece Convoy is an excellent model, and one which could be the centrepiece of any G1 fanatic's collection. While it's not a patch on RotF Prime, it's still an excellent model, and the perfect homage to the toy and the cartoon from 1984.

Addendum 9/6/2013: While taking photos comparing this, the original Masterpiece Optimus Prime, to the Hasbro's UK release of the smaller 2012 version MP10, Megatron's stock snapped off at the hinge. The tail end of the stock was made of fairly stiff rubber, at it was painted black, so I'm not at all surprised that the thin plastic connector got stuck to it in such a way that trying to rotate it caused it to break. Ultimately, all it means is that I'll have to glue the whole thing together, making the hinge useless... though, to be honest, I'm not sure what it was there for in the first place. Still, even for a small component of something that was pretty expensive at the time (though, oddly, not as expensive as the Toys'R'Us exclusive MP10 package), and even though it's about ten years old now, it's rather annoying that it broke as a result of poor quality construction.

1 comment:

  1. The Energon Axe was also used in the horrible G1 Transformers game for the Ps2 that was only released in Japan. It was a special attack that took your energy as it got you out of trouble.