Friday, 16 January 2015

Mastermind Creations Reformatted: R-08 Azalea (Avenger)

(Femme-Bot Friday #1)
What better way to kick off a new feature than with a transforming female robot that wasn't even made by Hasbro/Takara Tomy?

As a general rule, I can be quite late to the game when it comes to third party products. Loads of them look interesting but, with my financial circumstances being what they were over the last few years, I was rarely able to preorder anything and, by the time I had some spare cash, many were either sold out or being sold on eBay for multiples of their original price. Such is life, since third party models tend to be short-run.

Mastermind Creations' Azalea wasn't even really on my radar - I saw it publicised, sure, but its alternate mode just seemed to be a folded up action figure with a few bits of chassis attached... and it wasn't even a 'proper' vehicle mode. Not being a regular reader of the IDW comics, I was equally not sold on the robot mode - it looked like a decent enough figure, but a bit too angular and boxy compared to the lithe, curvy likes of Energon Arcee, TF Prime Arcee, TF Animated Blackarachnia, or even the first live-action movie interpretation.

I confess that it was actually a video review by Vangelus that got me interested, not only because he showed off the figure well - both the good and the bad - but because he explained the whys and wherefores of the colourscheme and the repaints. I still had some reservations, not least that there were many other femme-bots I'm more keen to get my hands on (Perfect Effect's Motobot, TF Animated Arcee and the new Generations Arcee, to name but three), but I found this available on eBay at a reasonable price, so I took a chance.

The box is a good size - not excessively large like some Masterpiece models and other third party efforts - and very definitely Masterpiece-styled - the bulk of the box has a silk/matte finish, but images of Azalea (a selection of model photos and CGI) are spot varnished on the front, back and sides. There's even some silver foil text on the lefthand side. The front flap is secured magnetically, and opens up to reveal the model and a nice, mostly monochrome stylised image of the character.

Inside the box, aside from the model and its accessories in a plastic tray, there is a combined comic/manual (easily one of my favourite features of third party packages) and a plastic 'collector card' featuring a CGI image of the model and the character's tech specs on the reverse. There's no bio information, but I guess the comic fills in most of the blanks.

Vehicle Mode:
Even now, this aspect of the model is a point of contention for me. Sure, it might be closely based on Alex Milne's design for IDW Arcee's early appearances, but it only really looks like a vehicle from the front. Every other angle reveals obvious bits of folded up robot, and the rear view is actually terrible.

The 'Cybertronian' hovercraft - Azalea's default transformation - is kind of growing on me, but her legs are far too obvious from the sides or back, and there are some quite significant gaps in the vehicle, with or without the weapons attached. 'Jet' mode, meanwhile, is simply a case of repositioning the front side pieces as a nosecone and rotating the legs down to the sides so that the 'wings' that stow in her shins can spread out further. In this mode, she looks kind of like something out of a scrolling shoot-'em-up, but the unfortunate side effect of this alternate vehicle form is that the gaps in her construction are even more visible. Also the nosecone connects to a piece that flips out from under her chest and to the plate in the centre of her chest, and I have found that removing the nosecone often brings that plate with it, as it's neither glued nor even clipped in place.

There's not much to say about the colourscheme - Azalea references G1 Arcee more closely than the Alex Milne colourscheme. She features several shades of pink (both paint and plastic), some white, touches of silver and orange for her grille and headlights, a rich cyan cockpit 'window' and a dark gunmetal for the bits that sit either side of the cockpit and are obviously just the robot's feet. The metallic pink used on her weapons complements the other colours nicely, so they feel like part of the vehicle once they're connected.

On the downside, while the weapons do connect, they don't attach in a way that would make them functional, so Azalea's vehicle mode is essentially unarmed.

Other than switching between hovercraft and 'jet', the vehicle mode doesn't have a lot going on - there are two pink sort-of directable booster things towards the back but, due to the construction of the white piece they connect to, they tend to point upward slightly.

This being a hovercraft, it's quite neat that MMC included a little stand which plugs into the underside of the vehicle and gives it some ground clearance - without that, it would look very awkward resting on the ground.

Robot Mode:
One thing I often complain about in official TransFormers toys is the proportions - when it comes to some Cybertronians, you can get away with short legs and long arms, because that gives the impression of awesome upper-body strength. What you can't get away with - in my humble opinion - is tiny thighs and six miles of shins, like High Octane Bumblebee. With that in mind, it's good to see a figure with damn-near-perfect proportions - and not just overall, each part looks right: the feet aren't overly large, the thigh-to-shin ratio is basically spot on, the arms look about right (though perhaps a little short in the forearm?) and the head looks about right... at least, if you assume Azalea is 'wearing' a 'helmet'...

...And that's probably why I think it looks so weird. It's almost like a Microman action figure (not least because of the mass of ball joints, but more on that later) rather than a TransFormers-style model. I'm so used to seeing weird proportions, that Azalea looks off, even though she's actually rather well-designed and constructed. The hands appear a little small, but that's largely the necessity of where they have to end up in vehicle mode.

The colourscheme in robot mode is a balancing act between G1 Arcee and the Alex Milne design. The distribution of pinks and white looks much better in this mode, and the additional patch of silver on her waist breaks things up nicely. Weirdly, despite a decent amount of paint, this model does appear to be slightly lacking versus Milne's design, which featured patches of orange here and there (notably the forearms, knees and feet) but I don't feel the models suffers from being 'too pink'. It does, however, seem a little odd that orange paint has been used on the headlights and nowhere else.

The head sculpt is pure Milne though, again, lacking some of the paintwork suggested by the original design. The choice of pink for the face was apparently the result of fan opinion, even though IDW Arcee had a silver face, because the fans wanted a more G1-style for Azalea, and G1 Arcee tended to have a purplish-pink face. I'm in two minds about the face, overall, because they've molded lips, but not painted them separately. A proper G1 homage would have them red, but Milne's design had blue lips (this feature was painted on the silver-faced 'Asterisk' version of Azalea, which was available only at a convention). On the one hand, I don't see why they would be painted - it seems very unlikely that even a female robot in disguise would want or need makeup, and there's no reason for her lips to be any colour other than that of the rest of her robotic face... and yet it's disappointing that they didn't go one way or the other, considering it's actually a pretty well-molded pair of lips. Even a darker shade of pink, rather than a full-on G1 Arcee red, would have made the face seem that little bit more complete.

Wow... I almost can't believe I'm saying this model would look better with lipstick...

While the floatation stand from vehicle mode doubles as a foot stabiliser, as you can see from the photos, it's a very rare pose that requires it. The feet may be comparatively small (though perfectly in proportion), but they're remarkably stable. The heel spur is perhaps not as long as it could be, as I found that she would sometime rock backward onto her heel when the feet seemed to be nice and flush, but perhaps I'm not positioning them quite right...

Those weapons which serve no purpose in vehicle mode really come into their own in robot mode. All of them can be stowed around Azalea's body - the swords plug into her backpack or her legs, while the pistols (as far as I can tell) only attach to her hips. Getting them into her hands is easy enough but, since the handles are rectangular and the hands are molded with a circular 'grip', the weapons have to be inserted at an angle then rotated into the grip. Once there, they are good and stable, though I have found that the guns don't always like facing forward due to the molding of the trigger guards not quite matching up with the molding of her fingers. I do worry that the swords will break someday, as the joint between the hilt and the blade is very thin and pinned with metal - it's one of those situations were the flimsier 'bobble in socket' system, such as is used in MP Soundwave's index fingers, might have been preferable, even if it meant the blade kept popping out, because at least you'd know it could be popped back.

The backpack section is a bit odd - the main protrusions are actually removeable, but necessary to keep that 'Arcee' vibe. They can be repositioned and angled according to preference, but the flaps on which the swords can be mounted are a little unsightly. The white panel - which can only be described as Azalea's bum-bag - can be positioned and angled to a degree without getting in the way, but it can't go too high without becoming a problem for her waist articulation.

One of the big red flags I read/heard in reviews of this model was that transformation was tricky at best. The instructions actually recommend that the front side sections should be removed for transformation, then reattached to the finished robot/vehicle form as required. Weirdly, those parts didn't bother me so much as the head, which has to be fed back through the arms attaching Azalea's bum bag to her hips, to clip over a tab on her backside. For me, that is the single most frustrating aspect of transformation, because I keep thinking things are going to break. I do also find that the plate on which the head is mounted doesn't like to stay connected to the chest, particularly when moving the torso around.

The fact that she doesn't transform into a recognisable vehicle is disappointing, yet entirely beside the point. In may ways, trying to shoehorn the robot into something other than a 'space hovercraft' would be detrimental to both modes. I'm not a fan of 'Cybertronian modes', as a general rule, but this is hardly one of the worst...

Azalea is almost frustratingly poseable due to a surfeit of ball joints. The shoulders alone feature two ball joints - one in the body, one in the shoulder armour, all very Microman - and the torso has one at the waist and one just below the chest. While this allows for all kinds of amazing, dramatic, and quite organic-looking poses, it does mean that, by the time you've got one part set up the way you want it, another part has been shifted hopelessly out of position, and trying to fix that inevitably means you have to reposition other bits.

The rest of the body is rather more sensible - the head is on a single ball joint, the hips are ball jointed, but the elbows, knees and ankles are all pinned. The former two are double-jointed, while the latter has one joint for up/down toe tilt, and another for tilting the foot from side to side, which makes for excellent stability in just about any stance, regardless of how far apart the feet are.

The stuff hanging off her back and backside don't have much impact on the movement of her limbs due to clever positioning and jointing, but they do make it rather more difficult to pose the limbs because they occupy spaces you might want to put your fingers to facilitate moving certain parts. Also, the rotating armour panels - on her forearms and thighs - are a bit of a pest as (a) it's not immediately apparent where they're supposed to be and (b) they have a habit of moving along with other parts as a result of friction. At first, I thought the wrist armour was connected to the hands, but they can rotate independently.

Other than that, the only glitch in poseability is the protrusion from the back, just behind the neck, which prevents Azalea looking up unless she's also looking slightly to one side.

Yes, this model can pull off the "Boobs'n'Butt" pose
Not to mention "Draw Me Like One Of Your French Girls"
And she can even rock out like the
Knights of Unicron

Considering I was entirely ambivalent toward this model before sitting down to watch a video review, my attitude toward it has changed dramatically, and it has become one of my favourite third-part figures in only a couple of days. While I might have liked more/different paintwork, it's almost absurdly photogenic as it is and, despite the frustrations of the multi-jointed torso, it really is a joy to pose. Were it still available at a reasonable price, I'd be seriously tempted to get the Asterisk version (mmm... blue lipstick...), and the Shadow Assassin version looks pretty cool also. MMC seem happy to keep churning out variations - they have an Elita-1 equivalent and a battle-masked pastel pink and gold model named Salvia Prominon on the way... and why not? This is actually an awesome figure with lots of potential. Given new head sculpts and alternative weapons, one could easily end up with a whole squad of Reformatted femme-bots.

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