Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Masterpiece Optimus Prime v2

When I finally got round to writing up the original Takara Tomy Masterpiece Convoy, I noted that it would be interesting to see the Masterpiece line revisit Optimus Prime after the live action movies, to see what improvements would be worked in. Little did I know (a) that they'd actually do that and (b) that, for the most part, the improvements would be very subtle - after all, when it comes to remaking G1 Optimus Prime, it's on a par with trying to reinvent the wheel.

When I first saw MP10, I wasn't especially impressed, and I certainly didn't rush to buy the Japanese version on import. Even when I learned that Hasbro would be releasing it - and particularly that it would be sold in the UK by Toys'R'Us - I just wasn't interested. I was perfectly happy with MP01, and the new version was smaller, lacking the extensive die-cast metal, and just didn't look as impressive overall.

However, regular readers of this blog will know that I make a habit of buying things I didn't expect - or indeed want - to buy. Seeing it in person, in one of my 'local' branches of Toys'R'Us caused me to throw caution to the wind and part with £100...

How big a mistake did I make..?

Vehicle Mode:
The first thing to note is that MP Optimus Prime v2 comes with the trailer that everyone complained was missing on MP01. This, apparently, makes him a 'proper' Optimus Prime, and a more worthy homage to the Generation 1 original. Personally, I was never too fussed one way or the other. A 'Masterpiece' can be a masterpiece without duplicating all the content of the Generation 1 original, particularly since the line has a habit of focussing more on accuracy to the TV show than to the original toys, so the trailer/combat deck and roller were not essential components... Still, here they are...

I'm in two minds about the truck. The cab generally looks better than that of MP01, though the windows seem too small. It looks - and feels - more solid, partly because of the lack of die cast, which made MP01 sag slightly. The petrol tanks seem to be a reasonable size, more in keeping with a truck of these proportions than those on the original. The back end of the truck is where it all goes wrong, though... If MP01's rear section seemed too bulky, this one is comparatively enormous - there's a full centimetre of height over the rear wheel arches, which seriously harms the realism of truck mode. Contemporary trucks are basically a large cab which houses the engine, with a framework attached to the back where the rear wheels and trailer hitch go. The amount of bulk on the back of this thing almost makes it start to look like a pickup truck. Additionally, and just like MP01, Prime's crotch is clearly visible as the part where the trailer hitch area joins to the cab.

Much like MP01, the positioning of the molded details one could take to be 'doors' is rather suspect. They're too small and too high up. There are steps up to the door, but they're behind the wheel arches, meaning one would have to swing across the cab, balancing on a wheel to gain entry. On the upside, this was the first new Optimus Prime outside the movie lines to feature wing mirrors, even though they'd been a staple of the Binaltech/Alternators and Alternity lines before this Masterpiece rolled round. They're not especially well executed, but they're a welcome additional detail on an otherwise boxy vehicle.

The colourscheme is what one would tend to expect from Optimus Prime these days. The red is bold, but not fully saturated... though it's not quite the typical Hasbro anaemic red. The blue is far too bright, though - just like almost every Hasbro Optimus Prime in recent years, it's a Royal Blue rather than a Navy Blue, because it's aiming for the colours in the G1 cartoon rather than those of the G1 toy. On the upside, there's plenty of chrome - the front grill, bumper and headlights, all six hubcaps, the petrol tanks and the smokestacks are all nicely reflective. Prime's traditional silver stripe is nicely painted, and the windows and wipers are also painted silver. The rear indicator lights are unpainted grey plastic but that's pretty typical for Hasbro... and it's not as if the Takara Tomy original had them painted either.

While MP01 had a sort-of opening cab and a sort-of seat within, it was central in the cab, right behind the vertical bar between windows. This version has the same kind of sort-of opening cab - the panels containing the windows hinge outward - but a sort-of improved interior with two sort-of seats... that is to say, the Spike figure can be sat in one of two wells, on either side of the cab. It's not very convincing - he's far too small for Prime's vehicle mode (unless this is Spike at age 8, or something) and he sits too close to the sides of the vehicle. Not that you'd seriously expect Optimus Prime to have an actual steering wheel...

One advantage to the MP01 way of arranging the cab was that the sort-of seat disguised the back of Prime's head. No such panel exists in this version, so Prime's head is perfectly visible through the windows, between the 'seat' hollows for the Spike figure.

The truck features one unexpected element - the smokestacks haven't been shortened... and they have sharp, angled tips, too... So where were Hasbro's safety concerns for this one? Considering the many iterations of Hasbro's MP01 and just about every other western release of any other Optimus Prime figure either had them shortened or molded in rubber, if not both, it's pretty incredible to see full length, solid, chromed smokestacks... It might almost suggest that Hasbro finally 'gets' the Masterpiece line...

On the downside, this version of Prime is missing the 'suspension' that seemed so cool on MP01. All the wheels are pinned in place, but they do roll well... and at least they all have rubber tyres... It's my understanding that the new Masterpiece Autobots - Sideswipe and Prowl (and their redecos) - have plastic tyres, like mainstream figures.

Externally, the trailer is only as detailed as it needs to be, so it's both an excellent nod to the G1 toy and a great looking accessory for the truck. Weirdly, it seems a little small for the truck, not least because of the extra bulk on the back of the vehicle, but when the two are attached, it manages to look pretty good. Cleverly, the joint that allows the truck to turn independently of the trailers is in the trailer side of the hitch, meaning it pegs in fairly securely (don't go trying to pick it up by the trailer though!), yet has freedom of movement. I also like that it has proper doors and a separate ramp, rather than cheating like the G1 version. I'm not sure the ramp is quite long enough, but it does the job. It's also worth noting that the entire exterior of the truck is painted silver, with the traditional white and blue stripes, and the Autobot insignia in red... The interior, meanwhile, is plain grey.

There are a couple of swing-out stabiliser feet about halfway down the length of the trailer and, while they're not long enough to touch the ground when stowed, they're geared to extend as they're swung out to the sides. There are also smaller flip-out feet right at the front of the trailer, which I didn't notice until I started taking photos. Another interesting thing is that the trailer has translucent red plastic for its indicator lights... shame they didn't do something similar for the truck...

Robot Mode:
The first time I saw photos of this new robot mode, I wasn't very impressed at all. Something about the torso always looked too long for the legs. Strangely, in person - and even in these photos - the body proportions seem fine... Better than those of MP01, in fact. I'm not quite sure how to explain this but, while MP01 was good, it was clearly designed foremost as a robot... but in comparison to this thing, it feels like a part die-cast doll, rather than a large action figure.

Much of Hasbro's take on MP10 looks and feels similar to MP01, albeit much simplified. The elbows and knees no longer have their impressive-yet-superfluous pistons, and the groin is a solid piece rather than having flaps to increase the mobility of the hip joints. The feet are broadly similar and, in some ways, are actually both more mobile and more stable.

One of the strangest 'improvements' is the individually articulated index finger, which has one functional joint allowing him to point heroically or look like he's actually getting ready to fire his gun. Unfortunately, the joint is very flimsy, and the end of his finger pops off very easily. One of these days, I half expect the joint to break, or that I'll lose the fingertip.

This version of Prime features the same 'Matrix reveal' gimmick as MP01, but the whole assembly is much simplified. It functions the same way, though the chromed bumper plate is an entirely separate piece to the Matrix chamber hatch, there's no LED gimmick to light up the Matrix inside Prime's chest, and this version of the Matrix doesn't open. It's a little smaller than the original and the larger of the two that came with MP Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, and the bulk of it is die-cast metal, with a transparent cyan plastic 'crystal'.

Other features include an improved rifle which folds away for storage in Prime's back. It's spring-loaded, too, so one false move when trying to stow it leads to it springing back out. I remember loads of complaints about the gun included with MP01 purely because it was the wrong colour. This one is the proper black, but it lacks some of the detail (I quite liked the green jewel thing inside the barrel of the original) and barely has any paintwork. What it does have is a peg on each side of the grip, so Prime can hold it far more securely than MP01 could ever hold his.

Following MP01's lead, this version of Prime also comes with the energy axe that he used in the pilot to the original TV series and in the terrible Japan-only PS2 game, TransFormers Tataki (thanks, Tets!). Rather than being a solid plastic piece that clips into the wrist with the hand retracted, though, this one is all rubber, and slides over the hand like a glove. Also unlike the original, it's not fastened together in any way. In fact, the axe shaft fits only loosely into the socket in the peak of the 'energy ball' base.

The head sculpt is far more accurate to the G1 cartoon than MP01's head and it also sits on a larger, more defined 'neck', rather than being on a tiny peg with a ball joint. It means he can't tilt his head from side to side, but that's no great loss... What is unfortunate is that he doesn't have MP01's push-button mobile face plate to simulate talking.

This version of Prime also lacks the wrist communicators that MP01 had... not that they were especially interesting... and, due to the changes in transformation, he doesn't have the fancy shin vent gimmick.

Transformation is broadly similar to MP01 and THS-02, particularly for the torso, but there are a couple of differences that simplify the process. The feet don't need as much attention, the hands fold into the wrists rather than being retracted, and the interior of the chest isn't half as fiddly... but then it also doesn't have a light behind the Matrix.

Articulation is basically identical to MP01 for the top half, but the bottom half is much reduced - the legs have multi-directional ratchet hips, but their range is limited by the solid groin plate, while the knees have only a single ratcheting joint, so they don't bend quite so far. On the upside, the legs swivel slightly at the hip and rather more at the knee so, overall, they're that little bit easier to work with for dynamic posing.

According to Optimus Prime's G1 Tech Specs, Roller was an autonomous module, though it was sometimes treated by the fiction as an extension of Prime because of the final sentence of his Tech Specs: "Injury to one module is felt by the other two". Roller hasn't tended to come into play in much of the fiction, but his absence from the original Masterpiece Prime led to several third party companies producing their own - from upscaled duplicates of the G1 model to a fully-transformable action figure, Roller had a significant, if brief, turn in the spotlight.

This version is very much like the G1 toy I remember, albeit rather more solid. The wheels are pinned in place and, unlike the Roller unit suppied with THS-02, there's no steering on any of them. On the upside, he does have a means of mounting Prime's rifle on the back, and even has a fold-away hitch so he can tow Prime's trailer. Just for fun, one of his molded seats is even designed to accommodate the Spike figure included in the set.

What it lacks - a strange ommission, considering how 'complete' this set is otherwise - is the 'fuel pump' attachment, particularly considering that flipping open the hatch to mount Prime's rifle turns the hatch into something resembling a fuel tank on Roller's back end. Interestingly, next to the trailer hitch is a mystery 5mm port, and the hitch itself has a groove in the back that suggests a dual purpose. It makes me wonder if some features intended for this set were removed before it went into production.

The original Roller came in two colours - blue or silver (grey) - mine was the blue kind, so I'm glad Hasbro chose that colour for this Masterpiece version. His seats are painted black and his headlights picked out in yellow, then he has a clear red plastic 'light' on the back in his default configuration. There's a fair bit of molded detail, but he's not overwhelmingly detailed - just enough that he fits with Prime and the trailer.

Considering the trailer has no launcher gimmick, or any means of fixing Roller in place while he's docked, I'm puzzled by the two tubes protruding from his rear. I guess they could be exhaust pipes... but they end up making it look as though there was supposed to be another gimmick which got pulled for time or budget reasons. There are a couple of screws 'concealed' in them, but there were better ways of accomplishing that...

Battle Station:
Oddly, Optimus Prime's trailer was once referred to as 'Autobot Headquarters'... which is rather underachieving considering even the original G1 fiction had their headquarters in a massive crashed spacecraft. The G1 version of Prime's trailer didn't have a great deal of molded detail, but it made up for it in interesting stickers. This one goes completely the opposite route - there's not a single smooth surface on the interior.

It's mostly unpainted inside - the little computer/operations stations and some of the areas around the maintenance bot are painted blue to match the plastic, but it's otherwise quite plain. It doesn't harm the molded detail, but it could have looked so much better with a little extra paintwork or - God forbid - stickers.

The two computer/operations stations also have fold-away seats, both of which reveal 5mm sockets... though none of Prime's accessories use 5mm pegs, so I'm puzzled as to their purpose. The two large grey blocks on either side of the trailer do house accessories, however: the one on the right is designed to accommodate his energy axe, while the one of the left looks as though it's for Prime's rifle.

The maintenance bot features the same 'radar' thing and articulated arm as the G1 version, and even has the opening cockpit (into which the Spike figure can be placed). It's just as mobile as the G1 version, though a couple of the joints on mine are a little loose, meaning it can flop about slightly. What it's lacking versus the G1 original is the spring-loaded missiles... and what it's lacking versus the Hybrid Style version is the pair of fold-out handles which allowed mini-Prime to manually direct its fire.

What's really cool about the battle station is that it's designed to be used either like the G1 version - opening out horizontally - or to be stood up as a repair bay/weapons rack. In the latter form, it doesn't even suffer when viewed from the back as there's an enormous amount of molded detail on the underside of the trailer, including a spare wheel. Shame it's not removable, but you can't have everything.

Strangely, I think my favourite feature of this updated trailer is the opening for the maintenance bot in the roof of the trailer. The G1 original just had a square opening and no explanation as to its presence, it was just - coincidentally, it seemed - the same size and shape as the bot's boom arm. This version has a similar opening, but also two little doors to cover it up, and thus maintain the integrity of the trailer disguise, when the opening is not in use.

The Masterpiece line is no stranger to human figures - there's been one with all of the Seekers, starting with coloured variations on Dr. Arkeville, then moving on to Generic Pilot - but Spike is the first to feature any articulation. Considering the size - a whopping 40mm/1.6" - he's almost crazily articulated - shoulders, hips and knees all have a certain amount of swing, though there's no outward movement or rotation in the legs, or rotation at the neck.

It's a reasonably detailed mold, too, with Spike's traditional G1 'oil rig worker' shirt, jeans, belt and boots standing out quite well, and with the paint bringing it all out. The head is a bit of a let-down, with a big brown splodge of paint representing his 80s hair... and absolutely no facial features. The molded detail is there, but without paint, it looks decidedly unnatural.

Overall, considering I was initially against the mere idea of a second - smaller - 'Masterpiece' Optimus Prime, I have to confess that this one is objectively better. The additional weight of all the die-cast metal on the original caused it to flop and sag in both vehicle and robot modes and, while I liked the moving face plate gimmick of MP01, the head sculpt of this one looks better overall. Both are heavily based on the cartoon version rather than the G1 toy (if only the third parties would make a toy-accurate head for one of the Masterpiece Prime models!), but this one is more accurate and the eyes, while smaller, end up looking less vacant in pale cyan than they did in blue chrome. The folding panels on the legs are rather unwieldy, and I'm just waiting for the one that covers the wheels to break off, but other aspects of the altered transformation are very clever, and result in a much improved model... If only it weren't so small...

He's missing a few of the cool gimmicks of MP01, but none of the absences are enough to reduce the overall impact of the figure. My only complaint is that there really should have been a better way to disguise the truck's rear wheels, such as collapsing them into the lower leg, which would have also reduced their width nicely, making the legs look cleaner. I'm also a bit dubious about the upper arms - huge great cubes, thin biceps, then huge great box forearms? OK, it's just like the cartoon model, and at least this version of Prime has upper arms - MP01's arms basically went straight from the shoulder to the elbow - but the arms could surely have been done better.

I currently own about 30 incarnations of Optimus Prime (including duplicates, reissues, repaints and one custom) but I'd have to say that it's a tough choice between this and the Revenge of the Fallen Leader Class model as to which is my favourite. This is certainly the most 'complete' Optimus Prime since Generation 1, but I think the RotF one might just edge it out in terms of detail, complexity and cool features.

And, just for good measure, here are a few extra poses, inspired by artwork from the live action movies... They all look rather awkward - slightly drunken, perhaps - on a real-life model...

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