Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Masterpiece Rodimus Prime (with Offshoot)

There was a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the announcement of a Masterpiece Rodimus Prime, and when the first photos turned up, the buzz remained positive. A decently Animated-Movie-accurate robot mode that could switch between Hot Rod and Rodimus Prime by some simple-but-clever cheating, and which had the ability to transform into Hot Rod's futuristic sports car and - with the addition of a trailer - also into Rodimus Prime's Space Winnebago? How could it go wrong?

Exactly how became clear when Takara Tomy released their version - the 'upgrade' to Rodimus Prime was revealed to be basically cheated in both modes: robot mode was only a fraction taller, and vehicle mode was almost entirely made up of the trailer.

When Hasbro announced that their version would forgo the trailer and replace it with a Target Master, many fans voiced their disappointment... but Hasbro did additionally announce some significant structural improvements to their version of the figure... Nevertheless, I wasn't too keen on buying this - £60 for a cut-down package with a very basic paint job, plus it's a Toys'R'Us exclusive - and had fully intended to give it a miss... until I received a 20% off coupon, visited my local branch of TRU... and caved in.

Vehicle Mode:
The first thing to get out of the way is that, yes, obviously, despite being packaged as Masterpiece Rodimus Prime, this thing only transforms into Hot Rod's vehicle mode. The original Japanese release had a trailer that was basically the whole Rodimus Prime vehicle mode minus the front wheels, and Hot Rod plugged into it backwards, with the spoiler section twisted round so it was facing the right way. Straight away, you're working with a rather disappointing model.

And, sadly, this version is inferior in just about every measurable way. Hasbro decided to match the G1 toy's colours, rather than the animated movie, and also cut back on the paintwork. Sure, we have nice, chromed exhausts, just like the Japanese version, but the engine is painted a rather dull silver colour, the hubcaps are bare grey plastic and the flame pattern on the bonnet has lost the black pinstriping, so it doesn't stand out quite so well. At the back of the car, the afterburners and tail lights are unpainted, and there's a strip of transparent blue plastic beneath the spoiler where the red hasn't been painted in. Essentially, this model looks unfinished.

In terms of its shape, it's based more on the animation model than the G1 toy, so it looks far sleeker from most angles but, weirdly, there's just something about the front view that seems ugly to me... I think it's the width of the bonnet versus the overall width of the car, coupled with the stark contrast between the orange plastic (paler than the Japanese version) and the red plastic (a more red red than the Japanese version), as well as the aforementioned absence of the pinstriping around the flame pattern. From the cockpit on back, there's enough molded detail to evoke the animation model so, on balance, vehicle mode looks OK.

It retains the G1 toy's ability to mount one of the guns on the protruding engine block, though the fact that the block is spring-loaded (so that it can better collapse in robot mode) means that either of Hot Rod's pistols or Offshoot will tend to droop and rattle around.

The cockpit opens, but it's completely unpainted, furthering the impression that this version is unfinished (the Japanese version was painted grey, although none of the details were picked out, so even that wasn't much better). Worse still, there are great chunks of the cockpit missing, to accommodate the robot's feet, which stand out quite dramatically against the plain red plastic.

The other issue with this model is that, despite Hasbro's tinkering, it still doesn't come together particularly well. The nose of the car and the wings just below the cockpit don't quite sit flush, leaving rather ugly seams.

On the upside, at least the tyres are rubber...

Robot Mode:
While Takara Tomy's version took its colour cues from the animation model, Hasbro have - again - decided to pay slavish homage to their original toy so, while the Japanese version had dark brownish-grey lower legs with no decoration, this one uses the same red plastic as just about everywhere else, and his shins are tampographed in silver with red and orange chevrons, just like G1 Hot Rod's shin stickers. In fact, this version of the model comes with a set of similar stickers to go on his upper arms, further aping the toy from 1985, but sadly no adhesive decoration for his thighs or his - exceptionally plain - bare red plastic crotch plate.

And, again, the Hasbro version is lacking the paintwork of the Takara Tomy version, which would have broken up the monotony of red and orange that is this model. The little touches of red in his collar, the orange on his wrists... and that crotch plate on the Takara Tomy version appears to be transparent plastic with two different shades of red paint.

Apologies now if it seems as though I have a morbid fixation with that crotch plate, but that's one of the most disappointing aspects of this model's robot mode - since it is one plate, hinged at the waist for transformation, it does rather interfere with the movement of the hips. Sure, the plate can be flipped up and out of the way, but it would have been far better if it had been made as three independently mobile pieces, so that dynamic leg poses would not reveal his hip joints quite so readily.

The head is a very close match for the animation model, and even features the flip-down visor Hot Rod used in the animated movie, to get a closer look at the shuttle just before the big battle scene on Earth.

Joints-wise, this is a real winner - with caveats. The arms have ratcheting shoulders, bicep swivel, hinged elbows, rotating wrists and reasonably well articulated hands (though their joints don't quite match up with the grips on any of his guns, so they're held quite loosely and pegged into his palms). His waist rotates, and every joint in his legs (including the upper-hip swivel) is a ratchet, with a hinged ankle for those splayed-leg poses. Unfortunately, the elbows don't even bend to 90degrees, let alone further, the shoulders collide with his backpack, and the ratchets in his legs and feet somehow conspire to make him exceptionally difficult to stand with any real stability.

As well as his two pistols, Hot Rod can wield his Target Master, Offshoot, and his hands can rotate back into his forearms to accommodate either a 'repair tool' (his welding torch, as used in the animated movie while repairing Kup on Quintessa) or a buzzsaw (as used when hacking up the robotic squid that tore Kup apart)

Strangely, he comes with two Matrix of Leadership accessories. One, the smaller of the two, fits inside his chest cavity and, while removable, serves only as a decoration. The other is too big to go into his chest, but can be held - open or closed - in his hands. I think it's about the same size as the one that comes with Masterpiece Optimus Prime, but this one isn't chromed, and features a darker blue 'crystal' in the centre.

But everyone knows what happens when Hot Rod opens the Matrix of Leadership... He becomes Rodimus Prime... and, with this model, that means pulling down the hip joints to get a few extra millimetres of height, and flipping out his longer, thinner, Prime face from his helmet. His spoiler can also be adjusted slightly but, frankly, the difference is so negligible, it's hardly worth bothering.

For this mode, Takara Tomy did something very clever. Rather than package the model with a separate rifle for Rodimus Prime, they made the two pistols combine to transform into Prime's rifle. I'm not sure how Hasbro's version compares to the Japanese release, but the spring-loaded barrel mechanism for the front half seems a little wobbly, and the extending fins on the back half have a habit of not extending.

Despite Hasbro's best efforts, the fixes they applied to the mold haven't really worked out that well. The backpack still doesn't clip together securely - the grey piece doesn't like sitting in place - the shins still don't peg together at all, and the pegs that connect the chest to the back still aren't secure enough to hold it well so, at any given moment, Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime is prone to flopping about.

I'm sure this is what Hasbro and Takara had in mind when the concept of Target Masters first came up back in the mid-80s, but it's taken this long to get the concept right. Of course, G1 Hot Rod's Target Master was Firebolt, so I can only assume that Hasbro weren't able to secure that name this time round. For the most part, though, Offshoot is the spitting image of (a hugely upgraded) Firebolt.

He's about the size of a Mini-Con, but has far better joints, and they're not all to service his transformation, meaning he's actually a bit more poseable than his full-size partner.

There are a couple of weird aspects about mine - the piece that connects his gun barrels to the body seems to have been warped, so I had to glue it in place... though this wouldn't have been necessary had the screw in the back actually connected to that piece. I honestly cannot see the purpose of that screw, since it passes straight through the joining piece, and doesn't fasten anything together... Possibly a mistake in the mold...

Transforming Hot Rod is a complete pain in the backside - there's no denying that. There are too many flaps, and so many parts have to be moved just right before the vehicle mode will peg together, but those self same parts have a fair bit of room to manoeuvre. The feet in particular have a ridiculous set of three ratcheting joints for the heel, which must be perfectly aligned to allow the hands to fit into the available space in vehicle mode. Even then, it's actually far easier to leave the fingers protruding under the wrists than it is to fold the hands up into the precise configuration that fits in there.

All of that would have been tolerable were it not for the fact that the robot mode just feels like a knock-off. The plastic feels cheap, flimsy and brittle (though it probably isn't) and it seems inconceivable that a pair of legs so well jointed would create a robot so hard to stand. Most of the fault for this is in the ankles, where the three ratchets make it quite difficult to get the two feet into the same position, let alone flat enough for the robot to stand. The flappy, ill-fitting panels further detract from what could have been a fine addition to the Masterpiece line.

It's easy to say that the loss of the trailer makes it impossible to call this 'Rodimus Prime' with a straight face but, let's face it, very few people would display this model in Space Winnebago mode, and the battlestation would occupy rather too much space. The Target Master is a cool addition but, again, this harks back to Hot Rod, not Rodimus Prime.

Really, the downfall of this Masterpiece is the over-engineering that was necessary to turn such an unusual vehicle into a cartoon-accurate robot and, in the Hasbro version, the decision to cut back on so much of the paintwork.

Even at the knock-down price of £48 (thanks to that TRU coupon!), I'd have a really hard time recommending this model to anyone - be they an adult collector like me, or a child who's seen and enjoyed the 1986 animated movie. Offshoot represents some additional value but, since he can only be used with this model (unlike MP-01's Megatron gun, which could also be used by Starscream in both plane and robot modes), that value is significantly reduced.

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