Friday, 23 January 2015

Beast Wars Airazor

(Femme-Bot Friday #2)
After Arcee in the 1986 animate movie, the TransFormers franchise suffered something of a dearth of Femme-Bots until Beast Wars, when suddenly we had two in one continuity (though admittedly Airazor was... shall we say 'gender-fluid' in the Japanese version, appearing as both male and female across the various sub-continuities). Airazor was one of my favourite characters in the TV series, being a strong female character who developed an understated romance with Tigatron. Blackarachnia was cool and all, but rather more of a Femme Fatale stereotype.

Since, as I've mentioned, I was rather late to the game with Beast Wars, finding some of the toys became an epic quest and, for absolutely ages, Airazor was ridiculously expensive for what would amount to a Scout class figure these days. Aside from the recent Generations reboots, I suspect Airazor was one of my final Beast Wars purchases... So was she worth the wait?

Beast Mode:
Beast Wars was an interesting toyline, in retrospect, because of the sheer effort put into the beast modes. Since these were all organic creatures, many with fur or feathers, the molds had to give the impression of a whole variety of textures hitherto unknown to robots in disguise.

Some of the beasts had an almost cartoonish quality to them (such as Rattrap and Cheetor/Tigatron) while others (like Rhinox) barely resembled the creature they were based upon. There were plenty of gems, though, even in the early days before Takara unleased the marvels that were Beast Wars Neo and Beast Wars II. Airazor is, by and large, a very well-molded falcon. The plastic colour is about right (with a faint pearlescent quality) and the minimal paintwork does a fairly good job of mimmicking a falcon's wing patterns, though the head probably should have had a bit of grey detailing.

Despite being comparatively tiny, Airazor's beast mode has a few nifty features. The least of these is that her beak opens... but that's not the extent of her articulation. The wing tips can swing in and out, so she can be posed in a 'dive', the wings can also fold upward though, strangely, they can barely move down due to the way the pinned joint is built. Behind the wings are a pair of yellow spurs, and pulling back on these will cause the wings to angle outward. Strange, but an interesting addition... and curiously similar to the geared movement in Generations Waspinator's wings.

Where this model falls down - as is so common with aerial alternate modes - is the undercarriage, which just doesn't fold up very well. Airazor's robot arms are just kind of tucked in to the sides and below the tail, and the robot legs really don't fold up very much to become the falcon's legs, so she looks like she's permanently in an 'attack' position. Trouble is, the plastic colours were clearly chosen with the robot mode in mind, as the feet are a bright orangey-yellow, but the shins are brown.

In common with most Beast Wars models, Airazor can store her robot mode weapon while in beast mode - it plugs in under her tail. Unlike many Beast Wars models, however, she also has a weapon which seems to be specific to beast mode. I've failed to photograph them deployed, but a pair of curved panels - described as 'Cyberblades' - can be flipped out of the main wing section. Sadly, they don't extend very far beyond her head, so I doubt they'd be much use... and the feature - like so many other Beast Wars toy features - was never references in the TV show.

Robot Mode:
Like many Beast Wars toys in her size class, Airazor has a very basic and humanoid silhouette broken only by the pieces of her beast mode hanging off her back. As such, she's ultimately pretty nondescript in robot mode. Far more of the orangey-yellow plastic is visibile in this mode, and provides quite a stark contrast to the sparkly brown of her beast mode.

There is, admittedly, nothing overtly feminine about Airazor's robot mode - the boxy falcon-head-chest can't really be called robo-boobs, and the broad shoulders are just 'average small Beast Wars toy robot mode'. There's not as much molded detail specific to the robot mode - much of her body is actually quite smooth - but what little detail is there could have been brought out with a more extensive paint job, like those of the Takara Tomy reissues that came out back in 2007.

In fact, the only paintwork on Airazor that's specific to her robot mode is that on her head - an orangey-yellow crest on her forehead, a silver face and green eyes. The sculpt lacks most of the details of the TV show's CGI, so virtually everything that gave her character - and that was later transferred to the TFCC pre-Beast Wars figure - was extrapolated from a very minimalist toy. The head sculpt appears to have been made with lightpiping in mind, but the back section has been molded in the same sparkly brown plastic as the main part.

Weirdly, there's a lot more detail on her back - the underside of the tail - than anywhere on the front, but it's still very minimal - just panels and lines, possibly vents of some kind.

Her weapon is a strange amalgamation of a claw and a gun and, while the box art showed her holding it like a pistol and while it's certainly possible to plug it into her hand, it actually looks slightly better plugged into the underside of her forearm. This seems to be intentional, as there are two sockets under there, two pegs on the underside of the gun, and they line up perfectly. On the downside, it does mean the two outer 'claws' are kind of oriented wrong.

While the wing gimmick works in robot mode, but the wings tend to be folded back, so it's not as effective. It's also rather more difficult to use, since the spurs that operate it are at about hip level, and the force required to pull them down is rather greater than any of the leg joints will support. Likewise, the Cyberblades can be deployed in robot mode, but their location would make them next to useless.

Airazor follows the pattern for many Beast Wars figures in her size class, which essentially means she has a very simplistic transformation. The strangest part is that, lacking a waist joint, her lower legs have to be rotated on their ball joints to turn the robot's feet into the bird's feet. Naturally, with a spring-loaded, geared gimmick on her wings, they have no part in transformation and just remain on her back, but one interesting feature is that her thermal Maximal insignia sticker, located on the underside of her tail, turns up on her back in robot mode.

Also following the pattern for her size class, Airazor is basically made of ball joints - knees, hips, elbows, shoulders and neck all offer a great range of movement, though the socket for her neck joint is rather too open, so her head pops out with minimal provocation. The legs feature a pinned joint mid-thigh which is theoretically for transformation, to get the lower legs into a more natural position in beast mode, but actually becomes quite important in robot mode because she's so back heavy. A combination of angling her legs back at the hip, then forward again mid-thigh is about the only way Airazor can stand up 'straight', though it's easier to get her to stand in some more dynamic poses... as long as her back-heaviness - and the floppiness of just about every joint in the legs - is taken into account.

There's no ignoring that Airazor is a very basic toy and, in many ways, absolutely nothing special within the Beast Wars line... but it's Airazor, damnit! The character in the TV show was completely awesome, clearly laying the groundwork for later characters like TF Prime Arcee to be strong yet feminine. I'd really like to see what the designers of Generations Rhinox and Rattrap could do with a new Airazor and, given the unprecedented number of femme-bots in the 2014-2015 lineup, that's unlikely but not entirely out of the question.

Cross your fingers or start a petition, Airazor fans!

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