Wednesday, 3 September 2014

TransFormers: Prime Sergeant Kup

Having seen all three seasons of TransFormers: Prime/Beast Hunters and the feature-length finale, Predacons Rising, I'd  have to say my biggest complaint was the lack of characters in the show. Whereas Generation 1 had masses of characters but very little in the way of decent narrative, TF Prime essentially had the opposite problem. I guess there's a balance to be made between number of characters available for story and overall coherence of story, and TF Prime certainly didn't have any filler episodes (that I can recall). The problem with a small roster of characters is that Hasbro has to make its money on toys... and while it seems happy to repaint Bumblebee every five minutes, it's always done better when it creates new characters with unique molds - or even repaints.

Thus, we get a unique toy of a character who never appeared in the TV show and, arguably, isn't even quite the right style, modelled as it was on concept artwork by Ken Christiansen, created before TF Prime was even called "TF Prime". Oddly the Cyberverse model came before this, in its intended colourscheme, as Ironhide, but I don't recall seeing that on the shelves in the UK. Kup seems like a strange choice for the Deluxe class 'repaint' - not least because he's now lumbered with the 'Sergeant' prefix just so they can use the name - but it was left up to Takara Tomy to release a Deluxe class G1-referencing Ironhide. Of course, if it's a good enough model, I might be tempted to pick that up, if I can...

When the character of Kup was first introduced to TransFormers fans, he was a curmudgeonly old-timer, full of tall tales and scorn for anyone younger than himself (but particularly Hot Rod). He was also a futuristic/Cybertronian pickup truck which, so the story goes, is the source of his name: picKUP truck. Tenuous... but I guess they were running out of cool names by that point.

Vehicle Mode:
This version of Kup is still a pickup, but far more terrestrial and not especially futuristic. It actually looks like one of those 4x4s that had its boot cut off and replaced by a truck bed - it seems that little bit too short considering the length of the bonnet and cab combined. It's also rather gappy, and not in the way that a truck bed normally would be - it's filled to the rim with robot parts, but there's a whopping great hole in the middle. It can be concealed somewhat with the addition of his robot mode weapons, but they don't quite fit the vehicle and they actually don't cover the gap at all.
The colourscheme is a bit strange for Kup. The G1 model used various teal-ish shades and grey, but this thing is out-and-out green. It's a fairly flat green for the majority of the vehicle's shell, but it is in no way even close to teal... plus, it's 'complemented' by an almost eye-searing light, bright minty green for the raised area on the bonnet and a couple of incomplete stripey bits on his sides. Much of the front of the vehicle - part of the bumper, the bullbars, headlights and grille - is painted with a dull, goldish colour which is also used to pick out the lightbar on the roof of the cab. The lower part of the bumper and a good chunk of the truck's rear are painted grey. As is becoming all too common, the rear lights are unpainted... though it's understandable in this case as it would have meant a whole fifth paint colour. These days, I've pretty much given up on the idea of painted hubcaps, too.

As well as stowing on top of the truck bed, the weapons can plug into the sides of the vehicle, evoking something of the look of the original live action movie Ironhide toy, albeit with them sticking out of the sides rather than underneath.

There is an awesome amount of molded detail in vehicle mode, all kinds of interesting panel lines and features, but it's let down slightly by the gaping hole in the truck bed, the uninspired paint job... and the fact that the robot's hands are clearly visible in the back of the cab. One rather cool molded feature is on the unpainted wheels - right at the centre of the hubcap is a panel shaped in such a way that it could easily accommodate an Autobot (or Decepticon) insignia, much like Christiansen's original artwork.

Robot Mode:
One thing that leapt out at me about this model versus Christiansen's concept art (and the Cyberverse model, for that matter) is that Sergeant Kup seems a lot less squat than the original design. I guess most of this is due to the fact that a Deluxe class plastic model is a lot less adaptable about where pieces end up that either a larger model or an artist's imagination. The roof of the cab, sitting on the robot's back, makes him appear somewhat wider than his comparatively svelte waistline, but there's no mistaking that the torso is elongated.

Colour-wise, robot mode is typically plain - the only bits of paint that are specific to robot mode are a few panels on his waist/groin, the Autobot insignia just below his chest window and the paint on his face. Unlike the Cyberverse model, the chest window is entirely fake and sits atop unpainted grey plastic.

Where this really falls down as Kup is that the head sculpt is so obviously Ironhide. It exhibits none of the features common to Kup, and isn't even vaguely military, so there's no visual reference to the 'Sergeant' part of his name in the model unless we're supposed to assume his primary colour is a military green... which it really isn't. The sculpt itself is very accurate to the original artwork - the heavy brow and jutting chin definitely give it a 'G1 Ironhide' feel, but with a tough, contemporary spin, like some of the more recent comics.

The weapons are obviously straight adaptations of movie Ironhide's massive arm cannons, though these are two of the same model, rather than one blaster and one rocket/grenade launcher. They're covered with detail, but completely unpainted. They also don't fit the sockets in his arms especially well, leaving them a little floppy. It is possible to fit them into his hands, but the large tab on each wrist is in just the wrong place for a snug, forward-facing grip. One rather cool feature is that the two cannons can be plugged together to form a larger blaster. This looks pretty cool when held by both of Kup's hands, but it's not exactly mobile when attached this way. In fact, once you've struggled to get both handles into his hands, the arms don't like to move at all.

Sergeant Kup's transformation is novel and interesting, but the front of the truck is tricky to shift between modes due to some awkward tabs and some very tight spaces. The back end, meanwhile, is simplicity itself... I just wish there had been some way to disguise the large gap between the shins in vehicle mode - even a shield accessory that could double as a cover for the truck bed would have been an acceptable compromise. In robot mode, the middle section of the bonnet, by default, sticks out behind his head, looking decidedly daft. By accident or design, however, it's not on a pinned joint, so it can be popped off and reversed so that it folds down onto his back for a more aesthetically pleasing look.

I can think of one reason why this model was put into the TF Prime line rather than, for example, the extended Generations line - the shoulder armour fits the recurring motif of several of the TF Prime models, in that they are entirely separate from the ball-jointed shoulder (much like the mainline version of Bulkhead, Voyager Megatron, and Smokescreen) and don't interfere too much with the freedom of the joint. It's a shame he has no wrist articulation, but the shoulders and elbows are adequate for most posing. The legs are about standard for the TF Prime line, with ball jointed hips leading into upper thigh swivel and knees with a decent amount of bend. The ankles are jointed oddly, with sideways tilt being offered by the transformation joint, while the ball joint only really deals with tilting the foot up and down - the recess in the joint only allows for the foot to be folded onto its side for transformation. The feet are nice and solid, though, and the ankles offer plenty of range for dramatic, powerful-looking stances... and with his knees bent, he looks closer to the build of the concept art.

While it's a shame that the first - and, so far, only - usage of this mold has been for a character other than that which was intended, Sergeant Kup is still a pretty excellent toy. He may not match the concept art in overall build, but the attitude remains. As with most Hasbro releases, he could have done with a bit more paintwork, but perhaps the mold will get additional usage further down the line... I'd certainly be happy to buy a repaint or two.

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