Monday, 1 June 2015

AD17 Movie Advanced Darkside Soundwave

After a rather disappointing 'appearance' in Revenge of the Fallen, I was thrilled to see Soundwave taking a more active - and ground-based - role in Dark of the Moon... At least, I was until I realised that it wasn't really Soundwave. His satellite-violating tentacles were pared down into spiky things used to threaten Carly and he may have had weird speaker things all over his arms, but he was just another of Megatron's thugs - capturing, then executing some of the Autobots.

Even so, the design of the character impressed me, and I was really looking forward to picking up a small plastic version to transform and pose for my shelves. Hasbro even announced a Human Alliance version, which was awesome until I actually saw it (75% of the vehicle mass becomes his arms, and the rest is unevenly distributed between his torso and his legs? Is that really the best you can do, Hasbro/Takara Tomy?) so I was hoping to 'make do' with the Deluxe.

But, because Hasbro sometimes clearly hate TransFormers fans, neither version got a full release and the molds - licensed vehicle mode and all - were consigned to limbo.

Then Takara Tomy did something a bit special for their extended Age of Extinction toyline, and 'Darkside Soundwave' turned up with a new and unique paint job, along with a set of other toys which celebrated some of the lesser characters from the series. Of course, they weren't easy to find outside of Japan, and import costs were pretty heinous... But then I found this fella at the MCM London Comic Con in May, for a mere £30.

That, dearest reader, is what one calls "a no-brainer"

Vehicle Mode:
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is a rather sportier version of every car Mercedes-Benz ever make. I mean, really, there are so many characteristic features in a Merc that the location and extent of the curves is pretty much the only way to tell any of their cars apart. Oh, except this one has gull wing doors... which were very stylish... for about five minutes in the 80s.

The original, barely-released version of this mold was plain grey (representing silver, just like the first movie's Deluxe Jazz), so the first improvement to this version is its colourscheme. Cast in black plastic, it's decorated with a metallic greenish hexagonal grid pattern with a large Decepticon insignia on the bonnet, just to be subtle. The pattern continues on the roof, but there's a patch right at the front - part of the same piece of plastic as the windscreen - which has no black undercoat, so the grid pattern shows through to the translucent red. It's really only noticeable if you look for it but, nevertheless, it seems like a bit of an oversight.

This being a Takara Tomy product, the headlights and rear indicator lights are painted (silver for the former, flat red for the latter), the grille - with that all-important Mercedes-Benz logo - and the hubcaps all have a nice coating of silver. It's perhaps a little disappointing that the Merc logo on the back isn't painted, and the colour matching between the paint and the plastic on the boot isn't great, but these issues are easily overlooked.

There are only a few noticeable seams in in vehicle mode - those on the bonnet blend well with the molded detail, but the irregular line on the roof and the two seams down the boot stand out, as do those running down the middle of the car's doors. Being a black car, though, even these seams blend in fairly well. All this makes for a great looking vehicle mode... as long as you like the style of the average Mercedes-Benz.

Notably by its absence in this version is the Mechtech weapon which transformed from a blaster to some sort of radar dish. It wasn't one of the best of the bad bunch that was the range of Mechtech weapons, but it still feels a bit cheap that it was omitted from this 'special' release of Soundwave. Considering, too, that all the other Movie Advanced figures had some kind of additional weapon (frequently not that which was packaged with the first iteration of each mold), it's very disappointing that Soundwave came with no accessories at all - not even a solid Laserbeak figurine or cyber-tentacles to plug into his roof-mounted Mechtech ports.

Robot Mode:
...Yeah... This isn't quite Soundwave as we saw him on screen, even ignoring the colourscheme. There's something about movie Soundwave that doesn't seem to translate well into toys. The Revenge of the Fallen 'satellite' version was just plain weird, and this version doesn't have its proportions right. The Human Alliance version put far too much mass into the upper body, this version doesn't quite put in enough... except that there's somehow too much right on his shoulders so he ends up looking a bit hunchbacked.

Most of the greenish metallic paint ends up on Soundwave's back so, were it not for the large amount of silver paint dotted about, he'd probably look rather plain. His thighs, toes, wrist-mounted speaker-things, the sides of his head and the a strip down the centre of his chest get a nice, solid coating of silver (naturally, Mercedes-Benz wanted their logo highlighted in both modes). Other than that, the only robot-specific paintwork is applied to the curious dome on his groin, which is also the only occurrence of gold paint on the model.

He looks OK from the front (if you can ignore the car roof and windows hanging off his back) but, from the sides, there's a massive space visible in his belly, in which it's possible to see the front grille from vehicle mode folded up. This sort of thing was not uncommon in larger models - particularly the Human Alliance range - but this is probably the most blatant occurrence of a hollow body in a Deluxe class figure in quite some time. And, on the subject of the bits hanging off his back... I'm very puzzled by the piston details molded onto the inside of the section of the boot that sticks out below the rear windshield. It all looks as though there was supposed to be another hinge to fold the backpack into a more compact form, but it got removed at the last minute.

Soundwave's lack of weaponry is especially galling in robot mode. Again, it wouldn't have had to be the Mechtech weapon the original version was/would have been packaged with, any accessories would have been nice. I rather hope one of the third parties will produce some accessories, even if it's just G1-style weapons.

The head sculpt - what's visible, thanks to the black plastic - is very highly detailed, and the coating of silver paint on each side brings out the detail, but I can't help but think it would have been better to put the paint in the middle part rather than the sides, as there's far more detail there. The light piping would be exceptionally effective were it not for the blockage caused by the tyres and fenders on just behind the head. As it stands, what light comes through makes his visor glow in a suitably menacing fashion, but it's a shame only a small patch lights up effectively.

The first time I tried to transform Soundwave, I found it a bit of a struggle, and his left arm popped out of its mounting, inside the chest area. It's not very securely clipped in (to prevent breakage, no doubt), but - once I'd checked the instructions for the correct sequence of movements - it needn't pop out when properly handled. Other than that, transformation is a bit fussy, particularly the way the front fender panels line up, but it's quite fun... and the way the legs switch between vehicle and robot modes actually reminded me of Alternity Megatron.

With an excellent selection of ball joints and hinges, you'd expect Soundwave to be very poseable and, for the most part, he is. The only problem is that his ball jointed shoulders are restricted by the car's fenders, sitting up exactly where the rotating sections just above the ball joints need to be to allow for movement. The legs, too, have excellent range in theory, but the rear windscreen and that bizarre chunk of trunk hanging off his backside - and sticking out between his legs - really get in the way. That said, while his feet are quite bitty - made up of panels and parts that are never fully in contact with the surface he's standing on - the do offer reasonable stability as long as his centre of gravity doesn't go too far back. The head is only on a swivel joint but, given the tyres right behind it, sticking it on a ball joint probably would have been a waste of time.

This is another movie TransFormer toy with a lot of shortcomings, but I really like how it turned out. My only complaints would be the lack of weapons and the ease with which one arm detached itself the first time I transformed him. While the former problem isn't easily fixed, the latter was solved by simply following the instructions. Darkside Soundwave is basically further proof that giving something a black paintjob makes it awesome.

All we need now is a G1-coloured version. Come on, Hasbro...

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