Sunday, 2 March 2014

DotM Mechtech Armour Topspin

This is another one of those models in my collection that sorta slipped through the net when I photographed a bunch of models a while ago, so naturally I'm dealing with it now rather than adding it to the enormous list of drafts on toys for the preceding two movies.

It's also one that I hadn't intended to buy, having heard almost nothing but bad things about the inconsistently-styled Deluxe class Dark of the Moon Wreckers. Frankly, I was hoping to get the Human Alliance versions of both Roadbuster and Leadfoot and, since no HA version of Topspin was planned, expected to just do without a complete set of movie Wreckers (thankfully my OCD never really picked up on the movie toys beyond the Starscream repaints... and I'm still missing some of them). Sadly, none of the HA Wreckers made it over to the UK's retail shelves, and I couldn't afford the import prices.

Also, being completely honest, I cannot recall why I decided to buy this repaint when the original was (a) more accurate to the character's appearance in the movie and (b) not dull grey. Still, this is the one I picked up... The question is, do I regret it?

On Fiction, Part 2

In a previous post, I mentioned briefly that I prefer the Beast Wars/Beast Machines TV series to the likes of the Generation 1 cartoon and more recent entries like the Unicron Trilogy. The truth of it is that I didn't watch all of Beast Wars when it was on UK television because I missed some episodes either due to homework or other commitments... or just the extremely patchy showing it got, courtesy of Children's ITV back in the day. It was only a few years ago that I scored a free copy of the first volume of Beast Machines on DVD, but I enjoyed it so much, I tracked down and purchased the full series.

I watched it very nearly in one sitting - ending up forcibly rationing myself so that I could actually do other, more important things and then 'reward' myself with an episode or two of the series.

To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. It pretty much changed my perception of TransFormers as a franchise and, while the toys were largely awful (to this day, I own only two Beast Machines toys, and both of them are for novelty value rather than due to any inherent merit), the story was so very different to anything TransFormers had offered before (or, let's face it, since) I couldn't help but be entranced. There was also the nostalgia factor - I'd really enjoyed Beast Wars, but the DVD release of that in the UK was terrible (random, semi-related episodes jammed together like a 'Best of' compilation that wasn't) so I had a yearning to reconnect with Optimus Primal and his crew.

In fact, while it may not be the popular choice, I'd have to say that Garry Chalk is 'my' Optimus Prime. Peter Cullen may be regarded as 'the original and best' by some, but his was a stereotypically heroic Optimus - there was never really any doubt that he'd win in the end. Chalk, meanwhile, had the misfortune of lending his voice to the Optimus Primes of the Unicron Trilogy, widely derided for good reason. However, in his favour, his portrayal of Optimus Primal in both Beast Wars and Beast Machines was excellent. From the beleaguered leader of an insubordinate exploratory team, thrust into a battle against a whole new devious, power-hungry - and mostly competent - Megatron, to the techno-organic zealot attempting to understand the cryptic prophecies of the voices in his head, Garry Chalk was a powerhouse. He has a very commanding voice (netting him plenty of police and military roles in TV shows), but can be very soft-spoken when the need arises. Optimus Primal earned the respect of his crew (eventually) in the Beast Wars, and, as a viewer, I felt drawn in by his possibly insane, quasi-religious fervour in Beast Machines.

However you slice it, though, I was missing a great chunk of the background story due to all the episodes of Beast Wars I'd missed.

Cut to 2011, when Shout Factory released the complete series on DVD for the 15th Anniversary of Beast Wars.

But only in the United States.

Cut, next, to 2013, when I found the 15th Anniversary collection on Amazon, at a reasonable import price. I couldn't afford it at the time, because my finances were a bit rubbish, so I added it to my wish list, and hoped that someone in my family would decided to pick it as a birthday or Christmas present.

Well, thanks to my sister, I've now seen the entire series. Yes, it took me two months... I paced myself. And I've been working intermittently, and spending the weekends with my girlfriend. And I'm kinda glad I spread it out rather than splurging on a great big Beast Wars all-nighter.

While most folks these days reckon that TF Prime is the darkest TransFormers TV series ever, Beast Wars could be pretty dark at times. The only difference is that Beast Wars was pitched more obviously as a kids' TV show, padding out and softening its darker themes with plenty of comedy relief, from Rattrap's sarcasm and wisecracks to Waspinator's frequent demolition (and, therein, my favourite line in the whole series, "Waspinator has a headache in his whooooole body..."). Even when Megatron was about to succeed in altering the entire timeline of the Autobot/Decepticon-Maximal/Predacon war, they had time to poke fun at Hasbro's decision to ditch the die cast metal from their toy range. Beast Machines was even darker, with Megatron commanding troops bereft of free will and struggling to rid Cybertron and (spoiler alert!) himself of 'organic contamination', while Optimus Primal's troops feared that their leader was losing his mind along with their loyalty.

It's something of a shame that I only got to see the complete Beast Wars several years after watching Beast Machines, particularly considering how late I was to that series. There are many parallels between the two series that I'd have appreciated more had I seen them in the proper sequence.

Beast Wars primarily deals with a disparate team of Maximals thrust into a situation they weren't prepared for, and almost constantly several steps behind Megatron in his schemes. With a stock of protoforms - incomplete Maximals - in pods orbitting the planet and regularly falling to earth, each faction was desperate to claim them: the Maximals, to protect their own and ensure their freedom; the Predacons, to corrupt the protoforms, sway the balance of the conflict in their favour, and to further Megatron's secret agenda... The full extent of which only became apparent in the second season.

The series also introduced a race of aliens, the Vok, for whom the planet was little more than an experiment (for unknown purpose), but whose interactions with the Cybertronians had a vast and far-reaching impact over the course of the series.

In retrospect, some episodes felt like padding, while others seemed to miss their mark... and the end of the story, in the final episodes of season three, seemed rather abrupt. However, with a selection of renowned writers from other Sci Fi franchises, including Star Trek's DC Fontana, Beast Wars was a very impressive series overall, taking in many quite mature themes which, while common to Science Fiction in general, had never been attempted in the TransFormers franchise. Very few of the toys actually made it into the series... but then, it's easy to lose track of which toys made it to retail in the US/UK because of the extended Japanese lines, and Hasbro did go a little over the top with its Fuzors, Mutants and Transmetals. Some of the late-series additions to the cast seemed a little forced, yet it's unfortunate that other toys were overlooked, particularly the Transmetal forms of some of the series regulars... I mean, was it ever adequately explained why Rhinox and Waspinator retained their standard beast modes? Not that I saw... nor did any of the characters query the apparent discrepancy.

Mind you, I guess they were too caught up in the frequency with which Optimus Primal needed a new body...