Thursday, 13 February 2014

TransFormers: Prime First Edition Bulkhead

When character designs for TransFormers: Prime first started appearing, I thought it was a little odd that they chose to include Bulkhead - technically a creation of the TransFormers Animated team - along with G1 references like Bumblebee (OK, more of a live action movie reference), Cliffjumper, Ratchet and Wheeljack. Additionally, the decision to keep him as 'token fat robot', yet change his character so dramatically seemed a little odd - from a genius-yet-clumsy Space Bridge technician who longs to be an artist to a former labourer, former Wrecker, no-nonsense Autobot brawler. Sure, it suited the darker tone of Prime... but why not create (or recreate) a new character?

Even more odd, Bulkhead was one of the few characters to get a First Edition model, which looked pretty awesome when photos first appeared on the internet, let alone when photos of the terrible, misshapen main line 'Robots in Disguise' release came along. Considering the extra expense and complication of getting my hands on the First Edition, I'd hoped the mainline version would be worth picking up... but it ended up looking nothing like Bulkhead in the TV show. The very next time I saw the First Edition available at a reasonable price, I ordered it. But what it worth all the fuss?

Vehicle Mode:
The moment you set eyes on Bulkhead in vehicle mode, you know he's a vehicle built for driving hard over any terrain. There's something almost military about him - probably due to the colour - or the suggestion that it's the street version of a vehicle designed for combat. In many ways, he reminds me of G1 Hound on steroids.

The next thing you might notice is how small he is for a contemporary Voyager-analogue. At less than 15cm/6" in length, 7.5cm/3" in width and about 6.5cm/2.5" in height, he's certainly bigger than a Deluxe, but one could be forgiven for thinking he'll make a very small robot... Thankfully, the fact is that he's extremely compact and very well-designed. A quick look around the vehicle shows that there's very little empty space in Bulkhead. In fact, to be honest, there are several places where robot parts visibly overflow from the undercarriage. At the back, his wrists are cleverly almost disguised as exhaust pipes. From the sides, his hips are visible just behind the front wheels, and at the front... Well, yes, you can see his folded-up feet quite clearly underneath the bumper.

The paintjob is typical Hasbro 'premium' minimalism. That is, there's a lot of paint, but also a lot of unpainted details that really could have done with being picked out. Most curiously, his headlights are painted in two different colours - a (faintly bluish) silver and yellow - when a blanket coating of silver would have worked better and allowed for some of his front and side signal lights to be painted. The roof rack is mostly painted silver, but the pipe frame on the rear of the vehicle is plain green plastic. A darker shade of green has been applied to the sides of the vehicle - around the windows and at the base of the doors - but the hubcaps are unpainted black plastic. At the rear of the vehicle, the signal lights are picked out in red, the bumper painted black and what looks like the boot hatch is painted silver, plus there's a strange gold stripe down the rear platform. Overall, though, the paintwork is probably adequate... though the almost olive green plastic isn't quite the right colour... and might have looked better with a bit of metallic flake.

FE Bulkhead's weapon - his wrist-mounted wrecking ball - can be plugged in at the rear of the vehicle... but it looks a bit incongruous up there, and it's not as if it was ever shown there in the TV show. Still, there's no way they would have been able to fit it inside, is there?

Robot Mode:
The biggest advantage to this version of Bulkhead is the effort that has gone into making him as faithful to the look of the CGI as a comparatively small plastic toy can possibly be. Aside from the huge open space where his 'belly' should be, the upper body is nigh flawless. Panels sit where they're supposed to and look as they're supposed so - in particular, his headlights are angled and sit behind the side doors on either side of his chest. His arms are big and powerful-looking, and it's only when you get to the waist and legs that he starts to look a little off. Pretty much the only thing the mainline release got right was the legs, while these look too slim and, strangely, too long... In spite of that, Bulkhead is actually quite a small figure - he comes up to mainline Optimus Prime's shoulders, and is only a little taller than First Edition Arcee.

Colourwise, he's a little bit more varied than vehicle mode, with gold toes, beige hands, crotch plate and biceps, grey on his kneecaps and odd little bits of colour elsewhere. The strangest addition to his colourscheme is more gold on the backs of his shoulders. This is a continuation of the gold strip on the rear of the vehicle, which was unnecessary enough... here, it's an utter waste of paint budget that really could have been put to better use. For example, he has molded 'wheel' details on the insides of his lower legs which were left unpainted. It would have made all the difference for them to have been picked out in black, let alone with a bit of silver for the faux-hubcaps.

In the TV series, Bulkhead has two weapons, both of which transform out of his wrists. First, and well-represented here, is the wrecking ball (cue Bulkhead singing Miley Cyrus... Ugh. Trying getting that thought out of your head now...). It's molded in a pale grey - faux-silver - plastic, with a black wash on the top an bottom to make it look that little bit more interesting. It doesn't actually do anything other than plug into the socket on Bulkhead's wrists, but robot mode is mobile enough for him to wield in it various dynamic poses. The second weapon is, depending on how you look at it, either feebly represented by the empty sockets on the wrists or not represented at all. While the wrist sockets could pass for guns, they're nothing like the massive cannons Bulkhead uses so, while it's a reasonably cute 'double feature', it's not especially effective. Still, let's face it, if Hasbro/Takara Tomy did everything right, the third parties would have nothing to do.

The head sculpt is pretty good, though perhaps a little bland... and it's another fine example of Hasbro painting over the light piping with opaque blue. I can't help but think that the model might have looked better if all the transparent plastic was tinted blue, so the eyes could be left unpainted. As they are, Bulkhead's eyes give him a slightly blank look. Also, one other thing the mainline version did to improve on this version was to give him a mobile jaw. It's not a big deal, and isn't even especially well done (it seems to want to close up further than it should, and doesn't open very far because of the way the head is mounted), but I see no reason why a similar feature wasn't included here... other than because they just hadn't thought of it.

Some TF Prime models look rather odd or incomplete from behind, but Bulkhead manages to look fairly solid from that angle too - he has a large (and sadly unpainted) 'back plate' taking up most of his lower back, and the roof of the vehicle taking up the upper back. His wheels are, broadly speaking, where they're meant to be, though perhaps sitting a little low.

Getting Bulkhead to change between vehicle and robot mode could not ever be described as 'intuitive'. It's very complicated, with several parts that need to fold over, under or through other sections in ways that can be quite frustrating. Fortunately, Bulkhead is a very enjoyable puzzle box and, once you've figured out the most efficient order to do things (a word of advice here: don't follow the instructions) the sequence remains long, but becomes both enjoyable and rewarding. There's a real sense of achievement to be had when the final pieces slide into place in either mode, and whoever came up with the spine extension joint is an absolute genius, since that one key feature is what makes almost everything else possible.

With such a top-heavy 'bot, one can expect balance issues to hinder poseability. Bulkhead has comparatively small feet which aren't really articulated, and the heel piece doesn't align properly with the toe, so it's often advantageous to leave it folded slightly in. While there's no waist articulation, the hip joints allow for a certain amount of swing near the waist, and Bulkhead's arms are expressive enough to distract the eye from any shortcomings in the posing of his legs. The head appears to be on a kind of ball joint, but the shape of the helmet and the size of Bulkhead's chin does limit the amount of tilt you get out of it.

There's a common issue with the bicep rotation joint in the First Edition, where the at least one of the pegs exhibits signs of stress. Only one of mine has the tell-tale whitening of the plastic, but it doesn't seem to be in any danger of breaking. One of the chest/bonnet panels on mine also shows signs of plastic stress - it's only a small white mark at the moment, with one of the hinges directly behind it.

It's my considered opinion that FE Bulkhead is the only one worth owning. All the others either take too many shortcuts or end up with a robot that doesn't look enough like the on-screen character. The flattened out mainline version looks more like a body-builder than the mountain of metal Bulkhead is supposed to be, and that ridiculous 'Poweriser' weapon looks like his forearm with a chunk of the vehicle's rear attached for no obvious reason. Nevertheless, there are shortcomings in this version too. The head isn't as mobile as it could be, the legs and feet are awkward, the folded-in hands don't resemble his blasters closely enough, the waist area is a bit of a gaping chasm and the paintwork is a little lacking in both modes. Still, as a feat of engineering, First Edition Bulkhead is on a par with Revenge of the Fallen's Leader Class Optimus Prime, and manages to succeed in its size class without any of the gimmicks Hasbro seems so fond of.

This model is one of the rare cases of Hasbro/Takara Tomy getting it right first time... which is why it's so bizarre they went and rebuilt Bulkhead from scratch for the TF Prime mainline, especially when they did such a poor job with it.


  1. I really love this figure. The way he transforms is just a joy to behold. It's amazing how much robot is in that vehicle mode!

  2. Agreed - FE Bulkhead is easily one of the best TF Prime toys, and has to be a contender for one of the best TransFormers toy designs of all time. It really is a work of art...