Wednesday, 6 November 2013

TransFormers: Prime Bumblebee

Well, I had to get around to this fella eventually, so why not sooner rather than later? Bumblebee has been a fixture of TransFormers fiction over the last five or so years, having been cruelly neglected for many years after Generation 1. There was an excellent Classics figure (which has yet to be surpassed, in my humble opinion) but it's only really since the live action movies and TF Animated that Bumblebee has been ubiquitous in the toyline, to the point where seeing only one version of him in a line is highly irregular.

TF Prime took a leaf out of the movie franchise's book, casting Bumblebee as effectively mute, communicating in buzzes and beeps, much like a latter-day R2-D2. The First Edition toy was generally praised for its accuracy to the TV show but, just like the other FE models, he was completely redone for the mainstream toyline, Robots in Disguise.

Vehicle Mode:
And just like the movie franchise, Bumblebee is a muscle car. The thing that bugs me about TF Prime Bumblebee in particular being a muscle car is that they keep referring to him as a 'scout'. Now, I can see the necessity for speed... but a scout should also be stealthy, and muscle cars just ain't that. The car isn't completely based on the Camaro used in the live action movies, it's very much its own vehicle... but, coming from such a dull style of car (seriously, just about all contemporary cars look the same within their styles, regardless of who manufactured them - it's like there are only about three working car designers in the world today!) there's nothing truly unique about him.

The one consistent thing about Bumblebee throughout the ages is the base colour being yellow. This version comes with a number of issues with its colour. First and foremost, it's just not the most flattering shade of yellow - it's positively anaemic. Next, the yellow paint used for the doors and roof doesn't match the plastic at all well, so it stands out. Next, there are little grey boxes on either side, just behind the front wheel arches, that really should have been painted, even if only in the non-matching yellow paint, because they look rather crappy as they are. Finally, there's only one other significant paint colour: black, used for his stripes and the front grille. This means that, aside from the (slightly) raised engine block on the bonnet, there's no other paintwork on the vehicle. That patch of gunmetal is all very well, but there's all kinds of other molded details, particularly at the back of the car, that are untouched. Add all these factors together, and Bumblebee just looks like a knockoff. On the upside, the clear blue plastic they used for the car's windows has also been used for the headlights, which helps the look of the front of the car, if nothing else...

The car doors open... sort of - they're slightly cut off at the bottom, with the separate piece below molded to show the 'real' bottom of the door. This is quite unlike the movie toys, where the strip of car structure below the door was molded as part of the door. There's a fair bit of space inside Bumblebee's vehicle mode but, obviously, none of it is molded to resemble the inside of a car.

Unlike the First Edition version, RiD Bumblebee came packaged with two double-barrelled blasters. One can be mounted in the engine block, the other can be mounted in the hole at the back of the first, giving Bumblebee four cannons poking out of his engine. It's quite a neat feature, and preferable to having them mounted on the roof or sticking out of the sides.

Robot Mode:
Given the somewhat exaggerated proportions of the characters in the TV show, it's no surprise that Bumblebee is rather broad chested. Proportionally, this one is probably a bit better than the First Edition because the tapering from the waist up to the chest isn't so dramatic. On the downside, the lack of paintwork makes him look hugely wide because his shoulders are on the insides of a couple of blocks of car shell (a neat compromise, but rather ugly) and the car doors are basically parallel to the chest rather than sticking up at a slight angle. The legs, broadly speaking, are identical to the FE version, though they seem a bit shorter.

There are two main complaints about this version of Bumblebee, and both are quite valid. The first is the aforementioned lack of paintwork, which carries over from vehicle mode. The sea of anaemic yellow is broken up by the black parts of the front of the car, the blue of the headlights and the dull mid grey of the torso and inner thighs, but more paint on the chest (particularly right in the middle) and the shoulders would have been helpful. The grey torso has a touch of yellow paint above each hip joint and there are touches of silver on the shins but, really, the colourscheme does nothing to improve on the generally knockoff-ish quality of the toy.

The second main complaint is the execution of the head reveal. Technically, it's quite impressive, with a sort of Automorph feature which rotates the head into place as the arms are pulled back, and also pulls the chest in, angling each side as it goes. Unfortunately, it leaves Bumblebee's head in a rather awkward position - not quite flush with the shoulders below and almost looking like he's wearing some kind of neck brace. Then there's the central part of the car's grille sticking up just behind his head... Now, the head sculpt is great (albeit lacking in the paintwork department, and with a rather too pale silver on the face) with what should be excellent light piping for the eyes... However, that large panel sticking out of the back blocks most incoming light, rendering the light piping pretty much useless.

The two double-barrelled blasters come into their own in this mode, connecting to the forearms via their 5mm pegs, and they look pretty excellent. One of them seems a little loose on mine, but simply having a pair of them - the proper number - is one improvement on the FE version.

This version of Bumblebee is very reminiscent of the movie toys in terms of his transformation. The legs in particular work out almost identical to all but the '76 Camaro version (which was a very special kind of monstrosity). The Automorph feature falls victim to some rather floppy plastics and unreliable engineering. It should be great, but the chest tends to wobble from side to side and the shoulders seem to end up too low on the body. Versus the CGI from the TV series, his chest is also rather too deep, reminiscent of the old G1 Autobot cars with their protruding car bonnet chests. The weirdest aspect is the bar of car frame that sits on his forearms - I'm pretty sure that could have been avoided with a bit more planning but, for the most part, it doesn't harm the look of the robot too badly... especially when you consider the utterly massive lower legs, and how they just seem to work somehow.

All things considered Bumblebee's articulation is pretty good, but it's far from perfect. The feet are fairly large but, being mounted on a simple hinge, it can be difficult to put them in a suitably stable position for some poses. The arms are reasonable, but the alignment of the shoulder joint is such that rotating the arm forward also angles it inward, and the elbow joints feel cheap and clumsy. The worst part is that the hands and fixed in place, molded as part of the black section of the forearm. OK, he never holds his default weapons in his hands, so perhaps that's not important, but a bit of rotation at the wrist wouldn't have gone amiss. He also probably could have been given some waist rotation even though, technically, the roof of the car is supposed to peg into his backside. Then again, the hips are well-enough articulated that he can get away without. The head is on a ball joint and, unlike some other models with protruding collars, it rotates quite freely, though its up/down tilt is somewhat restricted.

If you feel you have to own a TF Prime Bumblebee, this - or the Shadow Strike repaint - should probably be the one. Let's face it, it wasn't exactly hard to find and is still pretty common, several waves on. It's fairly simplistic and rather overengineered for its size... possibly not as good as the First Edition, but it's certainly cheaper and does a pretty good job of representing the character from the TV show... Plus, only this version has the full complement of armaments.

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