Sunday, 20 May 2012

Beast Machines Blackarachnia

Spiders are not my favourite creatures on this world of ours, so it's rather strange that I tend to be so fond of TransFormers spiders. The original Beast Wars Blackarachnia was just a repaint of Tarantulas, not one of Beast Wars' finest models, but her Beast Machines upgrade was rather more interesting, both for its eerily-almost-realistic beast mode, and its slender, slinky robot mode... at least, in the TV series...

Beast Mode:
I'm not sure you can really get away with calling this a spider... Arachnids are 8-legged creatures and, while their legs aren't of equal length, they tend to be either fairly balanced, or short at the back and getting gradually longer toward the front... A spider with four long legs in the middle, 2 medium length legs at the back, and two titchy ones that don't even reach the ground at the front just looks wrong... Like a 4-legged thing with extra claws, or something.

But, frankly, the arrangement of her legs is the least of Blackarachnia's problems in beast mode. OK, her colourscheme is (broadly speaking) intended to reflect her appearance in the TV show, but most of the cephalothorax is made up of transparent yellow plastic. This means that what little molded detail there is gets completely lost because the internal parts are more easily visible. The abdomen, meanwhile, is molded in an acidic yellow plastic containing metallic flakes, with metallic purple and almost fluorescent green paint, and a fair chunk of transparent red. It features two 'cutaway' sections - one containing her Maximal spark crystal, the other just features almost iridescent transparent green panel. Blackarachnia is certainly pretty, as arachnids go... if a little trippy.

A clever geared mechanism is at once her most impressive and her creepiest feature. Pull back on the front legs, and her mandibles raise. This also raises the green 'eye' from one set of the transparent yellow lenses to the next set... and what makes this mechanism really effective and really unsettling is that each side works independently of the other. Weirdly, and perhaps because of the transparent yellow body, there's actually a light piping effect on the green spider eyes.

With plenty of ball joints, Blackarachnia's beast mode is very well articulated, though the back legs are part of the abdomen rather than the cephalothorax, so they're not quite as effective as they should be, and the middle pair are joined at the hip, as it were. The colours and their distribution aren't necessarily accurate to the CGI model in the TV show, but you can certainly tell who it's meant to be. She's also pretty large, with a leg span of about 28cm/11"
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Robot Mode:
Here's where the toy ends up looking nothing like the lithe, seductive figure from the TV show... and very much not like a robot in disguise. OK, the whole point of Beast Machines was that these Cybertronian robots had become 'infected' with organic parts, so they were living machines of a whole new kind.

Blackarachnia's figure is certainly unmistakably feminine, albeit rather exaggerated in places. She has the upper body of a size zero supermodel (though perhaps with larger robo-boobs...), but quite... er... athletic legs (I could be cruel and point out her 'thunder thighs), and ridiculously long feet. Obviously this is to ensure stability, but it doesn't help her likeness (or lack thereof) to the CGI model. There was a stand available that let you display her standing on her toes, which improved things a little...

The arms are a curiosity at best... Both the upper arms and forearms have large holes in them, and the 'hands' are each made up of two 'short' claws and one freakisly long middle finger. I suppose there's not much one can do to turn long, thin spider legs into more believable hands... but I'm not sure which method I prefer, between this and Animated Blackarachnia.

The head sculpt is another curiosity. Clearly an attempt was made to capture the six-eyed, helmeted look of the CGI model, but the face is too dark, too long and all-round too weird with its red eyeshadow and lipstick. While the CGI model does appear to have hair, the sculpt on this model doesn't do it any favours (limiting the movement of the head, for starters!), and I'm not sure the fluorescent orange 'hourglass' on the back of her head was altogether necessary. There's light piping for all six eyes but, due to the way the head and mask are molded, it's only really effective for the main two.

The worst part of this robot mode is that the vast majority of the beast mode is hanging off her backside. Hardly the most elegant of design choices... and, while it might be reasonably accurate to the CGI model, I'm sure something more impressive could have been done with all that junk on her trunk.
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In so many ways, it's almost unfair to say that Blackarachnia transforms, there's so little to it. With the bulk of the spider simply folded up on her bum, it's really just a case of rearranging her legs and arms into an arachnid-like configuration. The legs are a cause for concern - the plastic is reinforced with metal plates in some parts, but there are so many pegs and sockets (4 in each foot alone!) that they're bound to get broken or warped or somehow abused sooner or later.

She's very well articulated (how many TransFormers can cross their arms in front of their chest?) but those feet aren't useful for anything much more than standing up straight. Some of the ball joints are a little loose, but she doesn't tend to flop over

The weirdest thing about this iteration of the mold and its repaints is that some effort has clearly gone in to making her 'sexy'... In particular, the TransFormers: Universe repaint from 2003 and the 2004 repaint, Crystal Widow, are clearly intended to look as much like vampish, latex-clad dominatrices as possible. Going in completely the opposite direction the Japanese Beast Wars Returns Black Widow from 2005 ramps up the garishness factor by replacing the metallic purple of this iteration with metallic hot pink.

This is a whole different kind of quirky to the typical Japanese Beast Wars figure, like Longrack or Mach Kick, but it's kind of fun... and I might be tempted to pick up the 'kinky' repaints if I can find them at a decent price (although Crystal Widow was packaged with a repaint of the execrable Armada Sideswipe mold...).

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