Saturday, 14 February 2015

Masterpiece Thundercracker

When Takara Tomy took a second look at the Masterpiece Seeker mold and released a new Starscream only four years after the divisive original, it was only natural for Hasbro to follow suit. MP03 is truly awesome, though not without its problems (many loathed the tail fins hanging off the hips, for example) and the remold seemed, on the surface, to fix all the major issues.

When Hasbro US released the new Seeker mold as Thundercracker, I had to consider carefully whether I wanted to pay secondary market prices for the original MP07 (currently between about £550-£800) or go for the cheaper, more convenient new mold. Toys'R'Us in the UK briefly had the new Masterpiece Thundercracker available to order online, but eventually dropped it in favour of Acid Storm... who isn't even a real G1 character. I could almost understand if Hasbro Europe released Sunstorm... but Acid Storm? Did he do anything other that warm the pegs and shelves as a Deluxe?

From that point on, the secondary market prices on the Hasbro US version started creeping up... so when I saw an eBay auction starting very much at the low end (£40 - amusingly still about double what I paid for Hasbro's MP Skywarp at Argos many years ago) I jumped right on it. Naturally, the price went up quickly, but I managed to win the auction at a price still nicely below the current average for a new, boxed one.

Vehicle Mode:
At first glance, there's not a great deal of difference between this and the original Masterpiece F-15 mold. It looks excellent, albeit mainly cast in a blue that's more cartoon-accurate than toy-accurate, but with a nice metallic flake component. The striping on the wings and tail fins harks back to the toy, as do the markings atop the intakes either side of the cockpit. Whereas Skywarp had silver painted parts to match the G1 toy, Thundercracker merely has bare grey plastic with a faintly pearlescent quality.

Beyond that, while he lacks the technical markings of MP03, Hasbro decided to doll him up with some incongruously funky detailing, including names for his pilot and co-pilot (though the cockpit still only accommodates one tiny molded figure), his original Takara serial number, D-24, a silhouette Seeker carrying an oversize Soundwave with the words 'Sonic Boom' on his tailfins and a very weird 'tattoo' on the fuselage just in front of the wings: an image of Reflector in combined camera mode... captioned 'Say Cheese'. It's like someone at Hasbro had imbibed an excess of caffeine, and just started throwing in every idea that popped into their head.

One interesting thing is that the Decepticon insignias stamped onto his wings are the right way round - that is to say, they're correctly oriented for robot mode. The small insignia on MP03 are upside down in robot mode due to being oriented for jet mode.

Just like MP03 and MP Skywarp, Thundercracker comes with a single, fixed pose 'pilot' but, whereas the originals came with a terrible, barely painted Dr Arkeville figure, Thundercracker gets a 'proper' holographic pilot, in full flight gear... and entirely chromed. He fits in the pilot's seat rather more snugly than Arkeville did, but seems just as pointless. Thundercracker also comes with the same C-clip for mounting the Megatron gun packaged with MP01 or Masterpiece Soundwave under the nose.

Weapons-wise, the fact that his 'flamethrowers' are now integrated into the model rather than separate pieces is a mixed blessing. Fully extended, they don't fit snugly enough into the sockets in the undersides of the wings, though they don't droop too terribly. Folding them in toward the fuselage, they don't sit flush and often end up at an odd angle. I found that folding them backward, into robot mode configuration, offers the best solution, though they still protrude from under the wings and still have to be moved out of the way to mount his missile pods. Being on ball-jointed arms, they can simply be popped off... but the whole point of the arms is to keep them attached. The missiles aren't painted as well as Skywarp's, but at least they got some paint...

Like the original, he still has the functional landing gear though, again, the two at the rear only barely clear their own flaps. The airbreak flap remains, as do the opening canopies over his afterburners and the opening nose cone, which reveals an unpainted radar emitter. The nose, weirdly, seems to have been painted with a kind of rubberised finish. There's also a Decepticon insignia on the nose, just in front of the cockpit but, unlike those on his wings, this one is a sticker.

Robot Mode:
In terms of his colouring, Masterpiece Thundercracker owes a lot to the 2011 release of the Classics Seeker mold as Generations Thundercracker. It's a bit of a shame that his upper legs are unpainted, but none of the Classics or previous Masterpiece Seekers had thighs in any colour other than that of the lower part of their legs. The forearms, feet, and raised details on the shins are painted with an excellent dark gunmetal colour, but the grey parts remain unpainted, without even the linework around the chest turbines that the Takara versions had. In another nod to the G1 toy's stickers, Thundercrackers's shoulder protrusions have small red triangles painted in at the tops.

Thundercracker's primary weapons, mounted on ball-jointed arms, sit quite well against his arms in robot mode, and can be pointed around - they don't necessarily point in the same direction as his arms.While his missiles were painted, his flamethrowers are completely bare, though they are molded with slightly more detail than those of the original. He also retains the concealed missile pods in his chest, and his missiles even received a touch of red paint.

What's rather odd about this remolding is that, personally, I find the points extending from the wings rather more intrusive than the tail fins hanging off the hips of the original, and the tail fins on the lower legs of this one, while more G1 accurate, make his legs look bulky and clumsy when compared to the svelte, elegant original.

The head is larger than that of the original, fitting the shoulders better, and features an entirely new face sculpt into the bargain... though it's very neutral. Like MP03, his eyes are painted red, leaving Hasbro's Skywarp the odd one out with its toy-accurate yellow eyes.

Transformation is basically the same as with the original Masterpiece Seekers, except that one does not separate the tail section in the same way, the fins are on a piece that slides up to get it out of the way of the feet, and he no longer has odd pieces sticking out the back from his shoulder protrusions. The downside to this is that he no longer has an F-15's machine guns in either mode, as they were molded into those pieces. He also has a heel spur that folds out from the top of the afterburner section.

My first impression was that Thundercracker is incredibly light - the box he came in felt empty - though he still features the same structural pieces of die cast. Once I'd sorted all the weird limb angles caused by him shifting subtly inside the postal box, I started checking out the allegedly improved poseability of the new model.

The legs do have a very slightly greater range, and the heel spur certainly improves stability, but this 'upgrade'/'fix' to the original Masterpiece Seeker mold introduces problems of its own. Granted, the hips are no longer encumbered with the tail fin sections, but the small panels necessary to fill in the gap in jet mode still hinder his movement, just to a slightly lesser extent. The lower legs are ridiculously chunky compared to his thighs. The larger, squarer lower legs also cause the rear of his jet mode to look less realistic. The feet are terrible and he frequently ends up standing on their edges, despite the rotational nature of their main transformation joint. The torso no longer clips solidly together, so attempting to rotate his arms at the shoulder - or even just picking him up - invariably lifts the torso apart. The wings can no longer be angled backward as, while the way they're molded now gives a nice smooth transition from wing to fuselage in jet model, it features a protruding angle which knocks the connecting tabs out of their sockets if the wings are in almost any position other than flat on his back. The little ball-jointed arm that connects his weapons to his arms doesn't allow them to connect securely to his wings, and the fact that his robot mode weapons are permanently connected means his missile pods - while supplied and reasonably well-painted - are effectively redundant. Even flattening them against his body in their robot mode configuration, they still get in the way of the missiles.

I like the new head, but the loss of the face-change gimmick is unfortunate... though MP07's alternate face wasn't great, I have to admit. I'm just not sure the spring-loaded head-widening gimmick was worth it. One small thing that bugs me is that, on the original version, the crotch could flatten in for jet mode, and would hook over the outside of the canopy for robot mode... For no obvious reason, and despite being hinged, it's fixed in place on this version, and interferes with the canopy in robot mode.

Another thing that's worth pointing out is that the instructions present the MP03 version of Thundercracker, not the remolded version. This gives the impression that (a) Hasbro were planning to eventually release their own version of the original mold as Thundercracker and (b) they may have decided to use the new mold after getting the instructions printed, and so couldn't be bothers to reprint with the correct instructions.

All this said, I'm glad I've got a version of Thundercracker to complete my Masterpiece Seekers set and, while I might prefer the original version of the mold, I'm not at all disappointed that I have one 'odd Seeker out'. This version of Thundercracker is certainly worth tracking down if you have the G1 Seeker Collecting OCD and have the spare cash (generally in the region of £200 these days) as it's far cheaper than Takara's MP07, but it's by no means the 'must have' it might have been, had it received an official UK release.

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