Friday, 15 May 2015

TransFormers Legends (Takara Tomy 30th Anniversary) LG12 Windblade

(Femme-Bot Friday #18)
Very few people would ever accuse Hasbro of genuinely listening to fans, so when they announced their 'Fan-Built Bot' promotion, fans were naturally pretty sceptical. I honestly wasn't paying attention at the time but, during the early part of 2013, Hasbro asked fans to vote in nine polls to determine various characteristics, then revealed the 'finished' character at that year's San Diego Comic Con. Some suggested that the polls had been designed to fit a set of preconceived ideas that Hasbro had in their catalogues, but that seems rather unfair in retrospect. It took about a year for the Windblade toy to make its first appearances, and the end result seemed a little lacking... But then some bright spark decided to hand Windblade to writer Mairghread Scott and artist Sarah Stone and, from that point on, I was hooked. The Windblade comic originally lasted only 4 issues, but has since been fully rolled into an existing IDW continuity, and Windblade appears to be a major player in the new Combiner Wars series.

When Hasbro finally got the toy out on the streets, it seemed disappointing on a number of levels - the colourscheme tended too far in favour of black, where the character seemed more red in the comic, the head barely resembled Stone's gorgeously expressive interpretation of the character, and... it was another high-heeled femme-bot with stability issues. Then Takara Tomy released images of their take on Windblade, which paid proper homage to Stone's artwork...

While the best aspect the packaging of Hasbro's 'Thrilling 30' toys was the use of IDW artwork on the boxes, cards and, occasionally, comics - not to mention the almost G1-style tech spec graphs - Takara Tomy have aimed for a curious hybrid of current TransFormers branding and G1 homage. Hence we have Hasbro's simplistic new TransFormers masthead plastered over a grid-patterned box featuring the old-style boxed-out ID number and name, and something like the old-style Japanese masthead. The artwork on the box is a beautifully rendered hybrid of Sarah Stone's design crossed with the G1 box art style via Shōjo manga. Overall, while it's a comparatively small box - 15 x 17 x 6cm (6 x 6.75 x 2.25in) - it packs in a lot without seeming untidy (unlike, for example, Hasbro's AoE/Generations hybrid packaging)

Inside the box, Windblade sits in a plastic shell in a printed card tray, and has a large black and white instruction leaflet with a full-colour reverse. Half of the reverse appears to be what would normally be a collectors' card - a large, full view of the character art from the box, with photos of the toy in robot and jet modes, a bio (in Japanese, naturally) and her tech specs. The other half is an odd 2-page comic featuring Windblade - dressed in Uchikake and Furisode kimono, by the looks of it - addressing a set of Super-Deform Beast Wars characters (Waspinator, Rattrap, Megatron and Optimus Primal at first, later Cheetor and Tigatron as well) from one of the towers of Metroplex. One of these days, I sincerely hope to find a translation, as it looks bonkers.

Vehicle Mode:
As VTOL jets go, Windblade almost looks like a new version of G1 conehead Thrust, recreated without recourse to any of the existing Classics Seeker mold baggage. It's comparatively sleek but, as with many TF jets, robot parts are plainly visible on the undercarriage... and, to be honest, the top as well. The way the feet stick up out of the ankle suggests there may once have been the intention to have them fold away, probably cut to meet a strict budget.

There's a fair amount of molded panel line detailing that looks suitably jet-like, both on the wings and the fuselage, making for a nicely detailed model. Unfortunately, there's also a massive gap in the fuselage, in between the barely-disguised robot legs. The weapon can be pegged in here, on the underside, but it doesn't fill the gap very successfully and ends up causing couple of additional problems of its own - it just hangs out at the back, and protrudes slightly lower than the molded rear landing gear.

Windblade's arms just kind of hang out at the sides, barely hidden by the wings, and with her hands gripping posts on the underside of the stabiliser wings. The fact that little wings come out of the wrists does nothing to disguise the arms, either.

While the two rear landing gear are permanently extended, the front landing gear folds up neatly under the cockpit. The two turbines in her wings turn quite freely and are also directable, remaining flat for takeoff but tilting forward for flight... Though how much of her flight capability is down to the turbines and how much comes from the two afterburners is anyone's guess.

One thing I found amusing about Sarah Stone's artwork was that Windblade's jet mode appeared to have a face not dissimilar to the robot's, in that the nose is white, framed with black and with a red stripe below yellow panels which resemble eyes. While Hasbro's version left the nose area fairly plain, Takara Tomy's effort sticks to the source material

Being a Deluxe, Windblade makes for a very small jet and much of her plastic feels very light and thin. Mine doesn't suffer terribly from the widely-reported issue of the wings - particularly the very front parts that connect just behind the cockpit - not locking properly in place, but the rear of the jet doesn't connect very solidly to anything and the parts of that are made out of the robot's shins are very wobbly so, while jet mode looks good, it feels quite flimsy. There's also the small fact that, aside from the underslung sword and scabbard, her alternate mode appears to be entirely unarmed. This seems to fit with the way Windblade was portrayed in the comics, but is still a bit odd.

Robot Mode:
Windblade's design is very striking and, again, somewhat like a reinvention of the Seeker style of robot though, let's face it, TransFormers aircraft toys rarely deviate from the 'wings hanging off the back' style of presentation. Also, unlike the average Seeker, her proportions are very deliberately feminine - slim, shapely legs, slender arms, svelte waist... and robo-boobs because, obviously, femme-bot. On the upside, they're comparatively modest and there's no gigantic split in the chest the way there is on figures like some of the movie and TF Prime Arcees.

While Hasbro's effort looked predominantly black in jet mode, it ended up predominantly red in robot mode or, at least, better balanced again. Hasbro's version has red thighs, while those of Takara Tomy's version are black, as per all the character artwork. What's odd is that her thighs appear to have been painted black due to the larger number of parts cast in red plastic for this version. This does have the side-effect of making her knee joints tighter than they might otherwise be, but that's never a bad thing.

The head sculpt is certainly unique... to me, the Japanese/Kabuki styling is rather too overt, to the point that this almost looks like a human cosplaying as Windblade, rather than a robot. The paintwork is closer to Sarah Stone's interpretation and, just for a change, far more subtle than Hasbro's, but the sculpt doesn't actually support that as well as it should - Stone made Windblade's eyes larger, making the character seem young and somewhat naïve, while the sculpt for the toy looks older, harsher. While it has the red 'lipstick' indicated by all the promotional artwork, the detail isn't quite there on the sculpt, certainly not the to the extent of some of the earlier artwork, and then Takara have painted the lips a little wider than was really required. The gold fan in the back of the head can be removed, though it's a bit stiff the first time. It can be held in Windblade's hands but, due to the orientation of the connection peg, it never quite looks right. It's also not entirely clear if it's intended as a secondary weapon...

Windblade is armed with the 'Stormfall Sword' - a nicely-swooping blade molded in clear plastic and painted opaque black at the hilt and with a graduated tint of translucent pink up the blade making it look like some kind of Gundam-style laser scimitar. There's another turbine molded into the hilt, but it's left unpainted and transparent, and obviously doesn't spin. The scabbard can be plugged into her hip, but it can add to her balance issues. In a lot of ways, I think the sword - and its scabbard - could have done with being smaller - there have been Voyager class toys with smaller swords, after all (Skyquake/Dreadwing, I'm looking at you).

There's very little actual transformation to Windblade - most of it is just getting the wings and nose out of the way. Other than that, it's a simple case of shifting her arms into position, moving the shin/foot pieces into position, rotating her ankle to allow her heel to be deployed, rotating her waist and either stowing her head in or retrieving it from her chest. I've heard reports of the wings not pegging in securely in jet mode, but mine seems fine on that score. One problem I do have is the the left shin/foot piece is misaligned on the arm that moves it into place, so it won't snap together properly in robot mode. At first, I thought it was just mold tolerance issues, but a quick look behind the shin revealed the tell-tale stress mark of a pin that had been driven through the wrong part of the arm.

Windblade is one of those figures whose articulation is better in theory than in practice. She's not overburdened with ball joints, but just about everything moves with good range. The fact that her head is on a swivel joint only, rather than a ball joint, is a massive let-down, particularly because her high collar blocks her chin, and I'm more than a little concerned about the white paint on her face rubbing off. The main issue, though, is that her heels are about a millimetre too short, so getting her to stand can be a real trial. Weirdly, her scabbard manages to function as an adequate prop in some poses - and it can be mounted on either leg - but this is a figure which tends towards back-heaviness and which can't even stand straight-legged.

This is another one of those figures that I like in spite of its terrible shortcomings. There are so many design mistakes in this that could have been avoided - or mitigated at least - and it's said that the toy's designer basically worked harder on this than on anything else in his inbox... It certainly wasn't wasted effort, but the end result is deeply flawed: too many sacrifices were made in jet mode to accommodate a curvy, feminine robot mode. Takara Tomy's paint job is a vast improvement on Hasbro's but, as usual, that isn't really saying much.

As the first 'Fan-Built Bot', Windblade is a game-changer to a certain extent, not least because she is proof that TransFormers fans really do want to buy toys of Femme-Bots... it's just a shame that so many designers resort to ridiculous heels to reinforce the 'femininity' of a mold.

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