Sunday, 4 August 2013

Generations (30th Anniversary) Trailcutter

I'm having a bit of trouble understanding this whole '30th Anniversary' plan... Or, more to the point, I'm having trouble believing there is one. The selection of characters and alternate modes so far are undoubtedly nods to the excellent work of the artists involved in the more recent comic book stories, harking back to Generation 1, yet creating something new and contemporary, informed by the intricate designs of the live action movie.

Trailcutter (henceforth referred to by his correct name, Trailbreaker) is an exceptionally strange choice for the 30th Anniversary line, suggesting that the whole 'celebratory' angle is being shoehorned into what is basically just the ongoing Classics line. Much of what's coming certainly covers a range of continuities, including a couple of Beast Wars updates - Rhinox and Waspinator - which finally look awesome, and are a huge improvement on the earlier Classics beasts, Cheetor and Dinobot. In that context, it's perfectly valid to just lump everything together and call it "the 30th Anniversary toyline"... but, where Rhinox and Waspinator are significant characters, Trailbreaker is less so.

Just like Generations Megatron, the packaging features Clayton Crain's brilliant interpretation of another artist's original design, this time Alex Milne's pre-Earth Trailbreaker from IDW's More Than Meets The Eye line. Weirdly, while the version used on the cover of the Spotlight comic bears an Autobot insignia on his chest, the original artwork and the version on the card here both feature a red Decepticon insignia. Shattered Glass, anyone? Also like Megatron, Trailbreaker's 2013 bio is insultingly brief. While the original was characterised as a manic depressive with serious self-esteem issues, the update simply states "Deploys an impenetrable force field". Way to go, Hasbro - the brand is really feeling the love.

Vehicle Mode:
Back in the hallowed days of Generation 1, Trailbreaker was a camper van. That, or a pickup truck with a large, solid, windowed canopy over the bed. If this Generations update is meant to be a camper van, he's a camper van for the zombie apocalypse, with a three-panel windscreen, bars over the side windows, roof-mounted weapons and an extremely hefty set of wheels. What's really weird is that there was another version of Trailbreaker, a Legends Class figure released under the Reveal the Shield line (which possibly never made it to the UK), which was a fairly standard camper van, looking like a miniature version of the vehicle used for 2011's Generations (Sergeant) Kup, just with the extra cabin thing on the back. In many ways, I think Hasbro might have done better to reuse that mold, and create a transforming weapon to fit over the bed of that truck, rather than create this thing.

It actually looks pretty good at the very front - the headlights at the grille are picked out in metallic paint (gold-ish and silver-ish, respectively) and the molded winch looks fairly decent, very fitting for the overall look of the vehicle. From the sides, once you're past the yellow and red striping - a good reference to the G1 toy's striping, though it seems a bit random only having those stripes where they are. The bars on the side windows seem to suggest a military or Mad Max-ish style, and the truck bed roof cover just looks incredibly bland. The rear is easily the worst aspect - I rather wish Hasbro would stop molding details like rear indicator lights if they're not going to be painted, and I have no idea what the large box thing in the middle is supposed to be - it almost seems to be there purely to keep the bed roof in place, since the peg that slots into the back of the cab wouldn't be especially effective on its own.

The fact that all the weapons are painted silver serves only to highlight how incongruous they are on the vehicle. They look OK in and of themselves, they just don't seem to fit. The emitter can be tilted up, but the two roof-mounted guns are fixed in place. There are several additional 5mm sockets - two on each side, two on the roof and one - sort of - in the emitter.

One interesting aspect of this model is that it appears to have rear view mirrors. They're actually an important part of transformation (which explains why they're in such an odd place), but it's nice to see such things used for a dual purpose on a model of this scale.

Considering how cheap Trailbreaker looks in vehicle mode, it's rather suprising to see that he uses two different shades of black plastic - a cooler shade for the truck, and a warmer shade for the tyres - though there's not metallic flaking in either.

Robot Mode:
There's no mistaking the influence of Alex Milne's design in this robot, it's just a shame it's not more similar. The lower legs are much simplified, with the wheels remaining in their vehicle mode place rather than folding down and back. The chest is significantly less intricate and, in fact, the overall look is as close to Ford's Fall of Cybertron character, Torque, as it is to Milne's Trailbreaker update. While there's plenty of paint on the shoulders, knees and shins, some of it seems out of place, and the end result might have been more interesting had they coloured some of the molded linework to match the original artwork.

Trailbreaker still cuts a rather more colourful figure as a robot, though, with plenty of red, grey, silver, and even a few touches of cyan to break up the vast quantities of black.

Where G1 Trailbreaker was essentially characterised as the 'jolly fat guy' of the crew, masking his low self-esteem with good humour, this version has a comparatively narrow, flat waist (lest Hasbro be seen to be glorifying obesity, I guess?) and a heroic chest with broad shoulders. He looks more like a warrior than a 'Defensive Strategist', ready to take the fight to the enemy rather than just protect against them.

Weirdly, Trailbreaker has even more additional 5mm sockets in this mode - all those of his vehicle mode (including the two on his bed roof/shield) and another one on each shoulder. I could understand Megatron having sockets on his forearms to mount his fusion cannon on either arm, but why does Trailbreaker need four mounting ports on his arms, two on his legs, and another two (technically) on his back? The only compatible piece he comes with is the roof/shield, and that comes with a fold out grip so it can be held in his hand. Supposedly it can also be held pistol-fashion, but the peg on the underside isn't quite long enough... And however it's held, it's an unwieldy weapon.

On the subject of weapons and hands, this model loses points in its homage because it has two hands, rather than one hand and one weapon arm, like the character in the cartoon. Granted, the original toy could be given either two hands, two weapon arms, or one of each because all the attachments were missiles for his spring-loaded arms... But it surely wouldn't have hurt to give this model some additional weapons to plug into some of those ports.

The head sculpt isn't quite the perfect Trailbreaker, deviating both from G1 (toy and cartoon) and the Alex Milne design. It almost looks like a halfway house between Sideswipe and Jazz, but without the antennae of either. With a red visor, rather than the transparent pale blue, a darker metallic paint for the face, and some silver paint on the vents on either side of his head, this might have worked a bit better.

For the most part, transformation in and of itself is simple. I like the way the legs fold out - the swinging hinge arrangement is infinitely preferable to the old-style 'pull to extend' things which are invariably either too tight (Alternators Optimus/Nemesis Prime), too loose and/or prone to wearing down (far too many G1 models), and the only sacrifice needed is that the lower legs are open on the insides... Considering how many models with other transformation sequences have a similar problem, or just move the gap to the back of the legs, that's no real sacrifice at all. The arms are a bit of a pest, in that the shoulders don't attach very securely in robot mode and fit too securely in vehicle mode. The worst part about it, though, is the chest... it doesn't peg in at all, and tends to flop about just from picking the figure up. Also annoying is the fact that the central panel in his bonnet (the bit with the Autobot insignia on it) seems to continually drop down... and it's very difficult to put it back in place while the arms are below it in vehicle mode.

On the upside, Trailbreaker is about as mobile as the average TransFormers toy these days - ball-jointed hips and shoulders, bicep and thigh swivel, bending elbows and knees, while the only movement in his hands and feet is that which is required for transformation. He does have completely uninterrupted waist swivel, though, which is still fairly unusual in this day and age. The head is pinned in place and only rotates but, again, its movement is uninterrupted by any of the surrounding parts. The interesting thing is that his legs are better-proportioned than many other TransFormers the length of the thigh versus the length of the lower leg just looks better, although the way the knee bends - pinned right at the back - leaves a weird gap above the kneecap. The upper arms seem excessively long, though, particularly in comparison to the forearms, which are stubby and boxy. While Trailbreaker does balance well, he has a tendency to lean backward because his heel piece - the otherwise redundant box on the rear of his vehicle mode - is too short, and doesn't sit flush with the front of the foot.

I hadn't intended to pick up Trailbreaker, as I wasn't especially impressed by the photos I'd seen. The whole Camper Van of the Apocalypse aesthetic just seemed lazy to me, especially for a model which would inevitably be repainted as Hoist, a tow truck. In hand, he's a mixed bag... in robot mode, he doesn't look sufficiently like the artwork, either in terms of molding or painted detail (his only Autobot insignia, for example, gets covered over in robot mode), and being lumbered with a shield seems a bit daft for a character whose defining characteristic in 2013 is that he "deploys an impenetrable force field". Vehicle mode is small and unimpressive, and the fact that the emitter-thing is a fixed part extending from the roof, rather than something that can fold away, doesn't do it any favours.

So, in retrospect, I rather wish I hadn't spent the additional £13 on what turned out to be a fairly mediocre effort from Hasbro. The source material was excellent, the execution in plastic is not.

And the daftest thing about this 30th Anniversary stuff is that the aesthetic of the toys no longer matches that of the Classics line when it first began...

Addedum 10/8/13: Cheetimus at Cheets' Tweaks has repainted this figure as Swindle, and it solves just about all the problems I had with this model - Swindle tends to be a military vehicle, so everything about it falls into place in both modes.

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