Sunday, 27 November 2011

TransFormers Collectors' Club 2008 Exclusive Seacons Boxed Set

Funny thing: Back in the day, I bought all the G1 Seacons apart from Snaptrap, who I just never found. The Seacons turned up in the Marvel comics, and seemed pretty cool. Two of them transformed into robot fish (kind of like Sharkticons, in that they had arms and legs), one was a lobster, one was a ray and one... Well, I don't think it's ever been adequately explained what the hell Tentakil is supposed to be...

Somewhere along the lines, the Seacons popularity grew to near mythical proportions, putting them almost alongside the Predacons in the collective consciousness of the fandom. The Seacons were cool. Each one had a weapon mode, effectively making each one a TargetMaster as well as a component in the gestalt. They formed Piranacon. Piranacon was awesome.

And then, as an adult collector, a set like this comes along...

I know the official Collectors' Club has its detractors when it comes to their display packaging, but it's one of the things I really like about the Club. They are attempting to illustrate that they are a club for Collectors (note the capital 'c'), rather than for folks who just happen to buy lots of toys. Nowhere has this been more apparent than with their packaging for the Seacons. Not only is it their usual high-grade cardboard with full colour print and glossy finish, with the toys therein held snugly in a foam insert, but the box mimics the G1 gestalt boxed set format with cutaway/windowed sections revealing the contents.

It features the G1 artwork for Piranacon and the artwork for the individual robots that form the team, all lovingly recoloured to match the toys in this Collectors' set. It even has the G1 grid pattern in the background, and the cut out sections more-or-less line up with this grid.

Inside is the usual deal - foam insert, as mentioned, with the bio cards and instructions bagged along with the accessories, such as the weapons, Piranacon parts and the stands for each component's gun mode.

Alternate Mode:
Well, I guess we have to start somewhere... Snaptrap, being the largest in the pack, is naturally the team's leader. He's... Some sort of turtle? With cannons? And horn/wing/claw things?

There's not much more to be said about Snaptrap's alternate mode, other than that it's completely garish, and is actually better articulated than his robot mode - all four legs have hips and knees, the head can move (as a side effect of transformation) and the jaw can open. Additionally, the gun barrels can move in and out, simulating a firing action, by flipping a switch on his back from one side to the other.

Oh, and I'm baffled as to why only the tops of the gun barrels are painted black... Seems like an oversight to me. Other than that, most of the paintwork ends up on Snaptrap's rear end, which seems quite odd until you realise that Snaptrap's rear end becomes Piranacon's chest.

When I first saw photos of this model, I was disappointed that the horn/wing/claw parts were bare, flat yellow rather than chromed, but I eventually kind of rationalised it that they were supposed to represent a kind of boney protrusion, which had yellowed over time.

And, yes, I know that makes no sense.
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Robot Mode:
Deary me... What is to be said about Snaptrap's robot mode? Well, in its favour, it's colouration is fairly sober compared to alternate mode. Most of the purple winds up on his back and is only visible below his (exceptionally broad) shoulders. The only paintwork visible in this mode is on his face and chest - his alternate mode's head tucks in quite nicely, displaying some metallic blue and a tampographed Decepticon logo. Since the cannons are only painted on the tops, they appear to be plain yellow in robot mode.

Like most G1 toys, all the articulation is in the arms - both shoulders and elbows are hinged. The head doesn't move at all. The hands are rather awkard, in that they aren't extended via a tab, like most similar G1 models - they have to be basically shaken out or extracted by gravity. Also like many G1 toys, Snaptrap looks terrible from behind - two of his alternate mode's legs just stick up out of his backside, making it that much trickier to get at the slide switch that operates his cannons, and making him rather back-heavy.

Snaptrap can make use of a large yellow blaster and Piranacon's sword (each having two levels of grip - one for Snaptrap's smaller fist holes, one for the gestalt's larger hands), and the alternate mode's rear end can also be mounted on either shoulder as a shield. It's not particularly effective, and seems more than a little flimsy, but it's an option.
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Alternate Mode:
Well... it's sort of a lobster, isn't it?

Back in G1 Days, the Seacons were a serious colour-clash team, with purples and greens and pinks and greys... this exclusive set plays around with the hue settings and produces a team that, in some cases, clashes even more horribly, and Nautilator is the epitome of this. The head, tail and sides are a strange, desaturated pale sky blue, the body and claws are bright orange, and the legs (surely one pair too many?) are purple.

The common theme in this set is going to be sparse paintwork and, again, Nautilator could be the poster boy for plainness. He has a large, black panel at the back of his alternate mode head, yellow eyes, a couple of patches of yellow on his back... and, like Snaptrap's cannons, only the tops of his pincers are painted black.

Is it worth mentioning articulation on this model? Probably not, since the claws revolve at the 'shoulder' only because they're actually removeable. Oh, and the mouth opens.
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Robot Mode:
In all fairness, none of the G1 gestalt limb components from any team has ever been particularly impressive, but Nautilator has to rank among the worst. His transformation is somewhat less complex that a minibot, and he's one of the most disproportionate messes I've ever seen in the TransFormers line. He has one leg which, if your imagination is particularly effective, at least splits off into two feet. His head sits too far back on his shoulders and his torso is just an enormous barrel.

Worse still, what little paintwork was visible in his alternate mode is mostly concealed in robot mode - only the two touches of yellow on the torso and the smear of yellow meant to highlight his face are visible in this mode.
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Alternate Mode:
I must confess a bizarre fondness for Seawing's alternate mode... A ray was never going to be the easiest thing to turn into a transforming robot, but those G1 designers did a quite reasonable job on this mode, at least. Additionally, Seawing in this form displays what it easily the most elaborate paint job in the entire set. The wings are molded in bright orange, but have a graduated tint of yellow extending in from the wingtips, black details along the front edge (though, like Nautilator and Snaptrap, they're only painted on top!) and on the back, and that pale greyish blue is used again to bring out details on the head, as well as the yellow paint for his eyes. On top of this, he has Decepticon logos tampographed onto both wings... It's like he's the aquatic equivalent of one of the Seekers.

Where most of the other models in this set are merely more garish than their G1 counterparts, Seawing - in this form, at least - is a significant improvement on the original's comparatively bland colourscheme.

And, hey, robot ray!
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Robot Mode:
However much you may enjoy Seawing's alternate mode, though, his robot mode is utterly foul. He barely has legs (which probably explains why there are details picked out with paintwork), the ray's jaw becomes a faintly disturbing serrated crotch flap, and he's almost as wide as he is tall.

Additionally, all the paintwork that made his alternate mode look so groovy is utterly wasted because his wings are folded around his back.

Oh, but let's not dwell on the amount of his alternate mode that's just hanging off his back...
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Alternate Mode:
Were it not for the magnificent glory of Seawing's alternate mode wings, Skalor would probably have the best looking alternate mode in the set, largely because of the awesome dark wash that brings out the detail in his molded scales. He's also the only one whose mouth is properly painted so that both top and bottom jaws match, and he's the Seacon who looks most like the Sharkticons from the G1 animated movie.

Then again... that just means he's a giant robot fish with stubby legs and arms... and they really are stubby. While I can (just about) see the 'logic' behind giving this model legs (the other option would have been somehow turning his tail into the robot's arms), I don't see why he was given arms... particularly since he's the only Seacon whose arms are pinned in place, rather than being removable.
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Robot Mode:
Sadly, while Skalor looks wonderful as a robo-fish, he looks terrible as a robot. Like Nautilator, he's almost as wide as he is tall but, unlike Nautilator, it's because of the excessive bulk in his arms. There's really no reason for them to be as large as they are, considering the size of the pegs on the guns. The fists are larger than they need to be and, even if it wasn't possible to mount the guns in his fists, it would have been perfectly acceptable to plug them into his forearms. Either way, the arms could have been made slimmer.

As usual, robot mode is significantly less articulated than the alternate mode, and the legs require far too much suspension of disbelief to be effective. Also, much like Seawing, the most effective aspects of the alternate mode paint job are concealed in robot mode, leaving him looking rather plain.

Skalor is also where the quality control issues in this set start to become apparent - the 'knee' joint that allows his robo-fish head to become robot mode's feet is not particularly firm or secure in robot mode, though the most detrimental effects of this problem are felt more by Piranacon than Skalor himself. There's also a problem with the tail joint - my original manages to fold down so it sits flush with the back... this one sticks out at quite an angle.
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Alternate Mode:
While Overbite is clearly meant to be a shark, he's essentially a Seacon of the same format as Skalor - a robo-fish with arms and legs. As befits a shark, though, his legs are leaner and his arms are meaner - almost claws, really. The arms, much like Nautilator's are removeable, which does help him look a bit more streamlined and shark-like... but the lack of fins and the presence of legs naturally detracts from this.

There are bits of incidental paintwork other than his eyes - a metallic blue lump on his head, almost like a cockpit, sits just in from of his Decepticon logo, then there are several dark blue protrusions from his flanks, almost where a shark's gills would be. The claws also have touches of the light metallic blue.
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Robot Mode:
Much like Skalor, Overbite's robot mode is a bit of a travesty - not only does he seem to have one leg, but there's not even much to differentiate between his feet. Articulation is much the same, but his fists are molded onto the backs of his robo-fish feet, rather than being separate pieces that stow in the soles. And, just like both Skalor and Seawing, the paint that's visible in his alternate mode is completely hidden in robot mode.

Considering his size, and the fact that they're G1 models, we should probably be pleasantly surprised that his arms are articulated both at the shoulder and the elbow. On the one hand this is simply as a result of his alternate mode's articulation... but, on the other, since fish don't actually have legs, some kind of bizarre thought went into them, with the intention of giving the both of them more posability than the average gestalt part.
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Alternate Mode:
Really, I have no words... Tentakil is clearly based on some kind of squid, going by the short, stubby, rather flat 'tentacles' and the vaguely squid-like arrowhead crest... but that face... and those legs... What the hell are they all about? The face is almost cute, and just doesn't fit the largely robotic aesthetic of the alternate modes of every other member of the team, and the legs make him look comical rather than fearsome.

G1 Tentakil's paint job was largely restricted to this mode's face and there's not much of an upgrade on this version: some metallic orange on the 'wings', silver on the crest's grille, a subtle grey wash on the tentacles... and then a coat of glossy black paint on his 'shoes'. It's tempting to joke that they showed enough restraint to avoid giving him spats as well, but part of me has a sneaking suspicion that might have been suggested.

Weirdly, this alternate mode is probably the most posable... sort of. While it doesn't have the knee joints of Skalor or Overbite, the tentacles can be rotated forward and back, and the additional orange tentacles at the back can be positioned to offer additional stability... Essentially made necessary by the fixed squat pose of the legs.
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Robot Mode:
But if Tentakil's alternate mode wins in the category of most bizarre, the big surprise is that his robot mode probably exhibits the best proportions of the set. Sure, it's a little wide in the body, but of the Seacons, he's the only one to get anywhere near a convicing representation of two legs. Of course, this is completely ruined by the solid, very much one-piece 'feet' but, hey, at least they're showing off some of the paintwork. That makes a change, right?

Sadly, Tentakil also offers further evidence of both poor quality control and serious mold degradation - the 'knee' joint is so stiff, it feels (and, if I'm honest, actually looks) as though it's going to break. Many of those who bought this set complained of signs of plastic stress before they even attempted to transform him.
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I remember Piranacon's first appearance in the Marvel comics back in the 80s... a massive, terrifying titan emerging from the sea. Sure, it had a wacky colourscheme... but, frankly, it's not a patch on this insanity. Broadly speaking, the colours are as unified on this version as they were on the original... but it's still pretty bonkers. After all, these are Seacons... and yet they're a crazy combination of yellow, orange, purple, blue-grey, almost-black, and miscellaneous metallic colours... This could easily be mistaken for an elaborate piñata.

The quality control and mold degradation issues are bad enough in the individual components, but the combined form of Piranacon suffers from a terrible slouch, largely thanks to Skalor. You'll notice in one of the photos below, Skalor is facing backwards. This alleviates the problem somewhat, but there also seems to be a slight difference in height between him and his leg-mate Tentakil, meaning Piranacon is just all-round unstable.

Granted, all of the G1 gestalt limbs were designed to be completely interchangeable, but the box art does tend to suggest a particular arrangement. This set quite clearly depicts Nautilator as Piranacon's right arm, and Overbite as his gun... however, there's no way to make this work on the toy - everything about Nautilator gets in the way of Overbite's weapon mode attaching to the right fist.

Sadly, the QC issues don't end there. The chest plate doesn't sit in place as snugly on this model as it does on an original G1 Piranacon or, from what I've seen, the Hasbro re-release
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The limbs are completely interchangeable, using the standard square posts that all G1 gestalts had. Any of them can be any limb, or form Piranacon's weapon, though some are not quite fit for purpose as their individual weapons often don't attach properly in that mode.

It has been said that this set was originally intended to be a store exclusive, many years ago, but that the store chain in question pulled out of the deal, meaning this set very nearly never saw the light of day. In many ways, it's very cool that Hasbro consented to the Club's request to take on this set... but that cool factor is somewhat diminished by the fact that Hasbro subsequently re-released the Seacons themselves, in their original G1 colourscheme (more or less), with all the stickers and chrome of the original G1 release and somewhat improved quality control versus this set...

The most significant omission in this Collectors' Club redeco is the stickers - while each individual G1 Seacon came with the usual sticker sheet, this Club exclusive set has none. Reprolabels quickly produced a set of Seacons labels re-coloured to fit these models' colourschemes, but it seems pretty daft of the Club to neglect to do so themselves. Hasbro's re-release, meanwhile, was released with the stickers already applied. Adding insult to injury, it was - initially, at least - far cheaper, too.

Aside from this and the original G1 version, there was another set of these figures released in one of the Japanese Beast Wars lines. While it had a far more uniform colourscheme (mostly pearlescent white) it apparently suffered from terribly plastic quality, and a tendency to break due, in part, to the metallic flakes in the plastic. At least the Club didn't try to emulate that version.

It's a crying shame that such a highly anticipated Club exclusive turned out to be so flawed. I eventually managed to track down a fairly well-preserved G1 Snaptrap on eBay, to satisfy my obsessive compulsion to own complete gestalt teams. Aside from some chrome wear - almost inevitable, considering the age of the toy - it was more or less perfect and so, sadly, a huge improvement on this set, at a fraction of the cost.

If I ever decide to sell any of my collection, this set will be at the top of the list but, given its much-publicised QC issues, I wouldn't expect to get much for it, despite being one of the first Club exclusives to sell out on preorders (if I remember correctly). It's sets like this that make me wonder why so many TransFormers fans are so fixated on Generation 1.

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