Friday, 29 May 2015

TransFormers Legends (Takara Tomy 30th Anniversary) LG10 Arcee

(Femme-Bot Friday #20)
Back in 1986, TransFormers: The Movie was my first introduction to the phenomenon of the 'Femme-Bot'. In theory, had the UK airing of the G1 cartoon not been so damned patchy, I would have known about the team of Femme-Bots, led by Optimus Prime's old flame Elita-1, but 'Saturday morning kids TV' in the UK was still a fairly new - and, frankly, unreliable - concept that I would miss TransFormers for weeks at a time because it was never properly scheduled.

But I digress. TransFormers: The Movie introduced Arcee, the sassy, capable warrior who somehow seemed to be the only feminine robot in a war filled with large, boxy and overtly masculine Cybertronians. Virtually all the characters in the animated movie appeared in toy form - most looking nothing like their animated counterparts - but Arcee was notable by her absence from shelves.

In recent years, the internet has uncovered numerous - frequently terrible - early attempts by Hasbro and Takara at making an Arcee toy, all of which were mercifully cancelled, some barely even making it to the prototype stage. One - referencing Arcee's appearance in the Headmasters cartoon - was just a repaint of G1 Chromedome. The designer of this toy actually scratch-built a G1 Arcee model for a BotCon Japan competition, which ended up netting him a job at Takara Tomy. This led to the opportunity to revisit his scratch-build and turn it into a marketable toy, after several third parties had already released their takes on G1 Arcee.

It's quite stunning to think that it's taken almost 30 years to get a toy of a character from an animated movie based on the 1980s toyline... but here she is!

Like Windblade, Arcee comes packaged in a lovely presentation box with an excellent (if rather small) cartoon on the front, a larger version on the side, photos of the toy on the back and lots of G1-referencing background grid. Much as I like Hasbro's carded Generations toys with their comics (for the US versions, anyway), I do feel that presentation like this better suits the idea of a 30th Anniversary of the toyline, and it's suitably impressive packaging for a toy some of us have been waiting for since our early teens.

As with Windblade's package, Arcee comes with a poster featuring monochrome instructions on one side, and with the equivalent of a collectors' card as well as a short comic in full colour on the other. Again, I hope this comic gets translated, though I'm not sure it'll make any more sense in English...

Vehicle Mode:
The thing about wanting a figure based on the animated movie/G1 cartoon representation of Arcee is that her alternate mode is basically ridiculous and implausible. As a giant robot who was more human shaped than any other Cybertronian in the series, expecting her to turn into a believable car was expecting the impossible. That's probably why all of the few earlier prototypes that existed made significant sacrifices either to vehicle mode or robot mode, but more usually both. Which is why this is such an impressive feat - all the curves of the animation model are either accurately molded or improved upon, in a way that works brilliantly in three-dimensional reality, where the cartoon's occasionally Escher-like linework could have made things difficult.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing, because a smooth and mostly uninterrupted vehicle mode invariably means it's just a shell that'll end up on the robot's back, and the only visible robot parts are Arcee's thighs and part of her calves. On the upside, it means her vehicle mode is curvy and sleek, and looks stylised rather than overly futuristic - you can imagine this as a contemporary concept car... albeit possibly a concept car designed for Barbie. Then again, the 1986 animated movie was set in 2005... and that's now ten years in the past, so this almost counts as retro-futuristic. This impression is reinforced by the fully enclosed wheel wells, just like a beautifully curvacious classic car.

One thing many folks have said in favour of the Hasbro version is that the addition of black paint in certain areas provides a well-needed contrast with the white and pink that makes up most of the bodywork. Personally, I couldn't disagree more. With a vehicle that's predominantly white and pink, the last thing it needs is bold black panels and the robot's knee joints highlighted in black plastic. Takara Tomy's version works precisely because it's soft and subtle. They've even gone for grey wheels rather than black, and silver headlights and grille rather than blue. The visible robot legs blend in better because the whole vehicle is just pink and white. Aside from some pink paint on the white plastic, there's very little paintwork on the model at all - the aforementioned headlights and grille, the cockpit is molded in grey plastic, so only the seat backs required painting to match, and then her rear lights have been painted red because Takara Tomy do that kind of thing more or less as a matter of course.

Arcee comes with four weapons - a pair of TF Animated-referencing swords molded in translucent blue plastic, and two pistols - one molded in grey plastic, the other - curiously - in pink. While her two guns can stow in vehicle mode - in fact, the grey pistol is effectively a part of her transformation - the two swords don't. Sure, they can be attached to the sockets on the rear end of the car (one just above each rear wheel, the other on the shell of the car, just ahead of the rear lights), but they don't look as though they're supposed to be there, and they wouldn't be much use.. The guns can also make use of these sockets but using the grey one means Arcee's arms will be loose under the vehicle. The pink gun doesn't attach very securely under the rear of the car in mine, occasionally popping off of its own accord, but that's just a plastic tolerance issue.

Overall, I think Arcee's vehicle mode is excellent... and if Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds got herself a sports car to complement FAB 1, you can bet it'd look like Takara Tomy's version. If I had one gripe about vehicle mode, it would be that the 'meteor' protrusion from the back is a bit wobbly, and it doesn't take much to knock it out of place.

Robot Mode:
Here's where a whole generation of fans bow down to the toy's designer, Hironori Kobayashi, because this is probably the most perfect G1 Arcee toy anyone could hope for. Robot mode is a stunningly good interpretation of Arcee's animation model, though that does bring with it a downside - Arcee never looked particularly believable in the cartoon, standing out even among a large number of unbelievable and heavily fudged character designs.

What's interesting about this model is that, large and unwieldy-looking as her backpack is, it's not the first thing that catches one's eye about robot mode. Given that Arcee is one of the original Femme-Bots, it's surprising how subtle and dainty the figure is for the most part, with slender legs and arms and a well-proportioned head. That subtlety doesn't extend to the torso, though. While Arcee doesn't have obvious robo-boobs, her chest is molded in a way that more than suggests firm, perky, upturned breasts, and the lower half of the torso looks positively organic. While it's not immediately obvious, she's been given a very humanoid backside as well so, even more than Windblade, Arcee looks almost like a human cosplayer. That sort of detail, along with her implied breasts, looks rather like creepy fanservice but, to give it a positive spin, it shows how passionate the designer was about the character, and making the toy all it could be.

One unexpected feature is that her upper arms are molded in a pale pink plastic - roughly the same colour as the paint on her face and hands. I'm not sure that's entirely necessary, and white plastic would have been perfectly acceptable, but I have to admit it looks pretty good. The grey waist area looks rather odd, but it's true to the animation model, as is the red 'tech detail' panel just above her robo-navel.

Arcee is probably one of the most heavily-armed Deluxe class figures in the continuing Classics line. With two handguns and two swords, she's basically armed like a Third Party figure (Azalea, for example, also features two pistols and two swords). All can be mounted on her hips or her forearms, but the connection pegs are oddly placed on the swords. While both guns are pegged in such a way that they look nicely holstered on her hips, the swords' only secondary connections are about midway down the back. That's great for mounting them on her forearms (shades of TF Prime Arcee) but useless for placing them anywhere else. She even has a pair of spare sockets on her backpack, one just above each shoulder, but the swords are too large to connect there, so she can't stash them like TF Animated Arcee. The guns also feature pegs on the back so they can be mounted as over-the-shoulder weapons, but they seem out of place in those positions.

The next problem with her weapons is the way her hands have been molded. This model had a running change in the Hasbro version due to issues with the weapons pegging into closed hands, and the Takara Tomy version uses the open-handed forearm mold. This wouldn't be a problem were it not for a ridge protruding from the base of the hand, which prevents any of the weapons being pushed fully into her hands. The upshot of this is that her guns look pretty ridiculous in her hands as her fingers are nowhere near the triggers. The swords fare better, but all of the weapons could have had their grips shortened to compensate for the change to the design of the hands.

The head sculpt is excellent for the most part, very accurate to the animation model and, unlike Hasbro's version, she has the bold red lips of the character from the animated movie. Just like Windblade, they're painted a little wider than needed, but that's less noticable on Arcee. Her lightpiping is excellent (hardly a surprise considering how much of the back of her head is given over to the translucent blue plastic) even though her car hood sits quite high up on her back. On the downside, where the Hasbro version has a couple of paint applications on her 'earmuffs', Takara Tomy have left theirs plain. More accurate to the animation model it may be, but a touch of paint could have brought out more of the detail.

While one may be tempted to compare it to the likes of Galaxy Force Chromia, in that she appears to be a Femme-Bot action figure with a vehicle shell, the comparison would be unfair.  There's a lot more engineering in this model than there was in GF Chromia, and parts of Arcee's robot mode are used as parts of her vehicle mode. The vast majority of vehicle mode does fold up into the robot's backpack, but there's more to unfolding Arcee than there was to Chromia, and I was quite impressed with the use of one of her weapons as a piece to keep her arms in place in vehicle mode. I do wish the backpack could compress a little more - the way some customisers have accomplished this has virtually no effect on vehicle mode - but it really isn't as intrusive as it seems in some photos.

Arcee's articulation is very nearly at dedicated action figure levels, even though her neck and shoulders are the only ball joints in the model. Despite thin arms, she packs in a bicep swivel and, despite the limits imposed on the hips by the jointing required by transformation, the legs manage surprisingly well. There's a swivel joint just above the knee and the knee has the sort of range you tend only to see on double-jointed limbs, but it really is just a single - cleverly designed - pinned joint. The ankle, similarly, is only pinned but, with the other joints offered by the legs and a subtle heel spur, her diminutive footprint is very effective. I'm glad they decided not to give Arcee stilettos. The massive backpack doesn't cause much obstruction to her articulation, though the front wheels are in the way of backward movement in her upper arms. She's well able to pose dramatically, dynamically and demurely, and compares very favourably to other figures in the toyline. The one problem I found was that she can't stand on one leg because her feet are molded at a slight angle.

I took my time considering whether to settle for Hasbro's version or wait longer and pay more for an imported Takara Tomy figure but, when clear photos of the latter finally emerged, the decision was made. Takara Tomy's improved accuracy to the source material - specifically the absence of unnecessary black paint and plastic - made their version impossible to pass up, and made Hasbro's attempt all but redundant in my eyes. My one and only real complaint is that her head sculpt and neckline are such that turning her head will invariably end up popping her collar out of its connection to her back. Other than that, this is an excellent figure and, while almost unforgivably overdue, it probably couldn't have arrived at a better time in terms of the toymaking know-how available today.

Some sacrifices have been made to the robot to ensure a decent representation of the character in both modes, but I can't see how this model could have been much better. The third party versions - specifically Impossible Toys' Valkyrie and IGear's Delicate Warrior - made greater sacrifices to less impressive effect, and this is a mass-release figure, sold at normal retail prices. That said, Takara Tomy's version was released in somewhat limited numbers, while Hasbro's version may well be a customiser's dream.

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