Thursday, 4 June 2015

Age of Extinction/Generations Drift

Drift has a curious history. The original character was created by IDW writer Shane McCarthy, who apparently felt that a certain element of character was lacking from the existing lineup. Like Beast Wars Dinobot, he was a Decepticon-turned-Autobot with a strong sense of honour and a large sword. Riding on Dinobot's coat tails, McCarthy's Drift apparently proved so popular that Hasbro created a toy based on the character and then, all of a sudden, Drift was announced as a character in Age of Extinction. The design looked daft - someone clearly took the samurai motif a little too far and a little too seriously - but he was to be voiced by Ken Watanabe, so surely movie Drift would turn out to be awesome?

As it turned out, Drift was another toe-curling stereotype, along the lines of the twins from Revenge of the Fallen, speaking in haiku and, without explanation, suddenly transforming into a Cybertronian helicopter as well as using a terrestrial disguise, introducing the audience to the concept of Triple Changers in a slightly more overt way than the likes of RotF Mixmaster... But, hey, whoever said the live action movies were internally consistent or coherent?

Vehicle Mode:
Straight away, you can see that Hasbro (and Takara Tomy, as it later transpired) had royally screwed this one up. In the movie, Drift is glossy black (or very, very dark blue) with electric blue trim. This... is Blue. Not Navy Blue, not even 'Dark Blue', just... Blue. The metallic cyan trim is nice and all, but this is one of those mercifully rare occasions when Hasbro could and should have used black plastic and that horrific AllSpark Blue they were so keen on back in 2007/2008.

On the upside, Drift is an accurate representation of the 2013 Bugatti Veyron (almost out of date, considering Bumblebee was consistently a concept version of an upcoming Camaro) with lots of nice detailing. Transformation seams are, for the most part, very cleverly located to minimise the breaking of  panels but, like many movie TransFormers, it because quickly apparent that a large stretch of car shell, from the bonnet to the visible engine block at the back, is going to end up on the robot's back. While he has masses of metallic cyan paint on the bumper, sides and back of the vehicle, as well as painted headlights, tail lights and hubcaps, and even the Bugatti logo picket out in red on the front grille, the engine block as been left unpainted, and that looks terrible.

One rather cool feature of Drift is that all four of his sword accessories can be stored in vehicle mode: the two short swords stash under the roof, while the two longer swords plug in on the underside. The downside to this is that, having been made out of fairly soft plastic, they warp easily and end up dragging on the ground.

This is a gorgeous car, executed well... it just would have been so much better if only they'd got the colour right, or defaulted to black.

Robot Mode:
Movie Drift's robot mode is very heavily influenced by ancient samurai armour, to a degree that really doesn't make sense. Strange choices have been made in the molded detail, so that there are things on his back that are only visible during transformation, and there are inaccuracies all over his arms and legs. He's still recognisable, and I guess it doesn't make sense to design wheel details into his ankles and knees if all the wheels are plainly visible elsewhere in robot mode.

The detail on the front is all nicely done, but it's let down by the blanket coverage of metallic cyan around the waist. There's similar blanket coverage on the armour panels on his upper arms and thighs, when both only needed the edges highlighted. Even more crazy, the shoulder armour reveals that some vehicle shell parts were cast in black plastic, then painted over with a glossy blue. Unexpectedly, the details of Drift's arms are assymmetrical, which immediately scores him some points in my books, because they could so easily have matched, and I'm sure no-one would have minded.

The armour on his shoulders and thighs is nicely designed, but seems to stick out a little too far, accommodating the front fenders of the car on the shoulders and a large space in front of the hip joints on the legs.

Like all the other AoE Deluxes, Drift has a socket (right between his legs) for some kind of action figure stand to plug in if you want to display him in a jumping pose. I really must look into stands for some of these, as it would help use my shelf space a bit more efficiently...

Drift's weapons store in a fairly distinctive way in robot mode. The inside of the vehicle shell actually has two separate pairs of 5mm sockets for his shorter blades - one for vehicle mode storage, one for robot mode storage - and the rearmost panel as an additional pair of tabs for each of his longer swords. These do end up mounted quite low on his back and, for the sake of aesthetics, upside down, but it does make for a impressive silhouette, with his blades fanned out over his shouders. In his hands, they're somewhat less awesome because the wrists bend inward rather than rotating or tilting downward, and their soft gold plastic makes them look cheap.

The head sculpt is another contentious aspect of the toy. While reasonably accurate, much of the detail is puffy and fudged, certainly compared the the likes of Lockdown or Crosshairs. It almost looks like a golden robot Santa face stuck in a samurai helmet, and the chubby cheeks and full-lipped smile look completely out of place. The helmet design is nice and ornate but, again, it's the samurai motif taken too far. The light piping works nicely, despite his comparatively beady eyes and the deep blue glow stands out well from his golden face.

The main problem with Drift's transformation is the collection of vehicle shell parts folded up on his back. The bonnet doesn't like to fit back in its vehicle mode position (hence the scuffing of the paint on Drift's nose - rotating the head doesn't help because his helmet sticks out too far at the back), frequently preventing his shoulders from folding back inside, so you have to spend a while jiggling things around for clearance and, even then, it feels as though the tiny tabs are likely to break. Then the hinge that moves the shell parts around is incredibly floppy - I honestly thought it was going to fall off the first time I transformed him. The rearmost panel is an absolute pain to get back into its vehicle mode position, and the hinge which moves it never seems to want to sit flush with the roof.

Drift's upper body is very well articulated, with a ball-jointed head, freely rotating shoulders with pinned hinges for outward movement, rotation joints just above elbows that bend with decent range, and wrists that bend rather than rotating. This would be great if it weren't for the fact that the wrist bend in the wrong direction - inward, rather than down - so he can't do any truly dramatic sword-pointing poses. Below the waist, he's very disappointing. The hips move as if they're joined, but would have excellent range of motion were it not for the car's bonnet folded up right behind them. The knees have a decent bend, but the feet are almost entirely useless, and having the soles molded at an angle does them no favours whatsoever. They don't flip down far enough to allow Drift to stand properly straight, let alone posed, so his 'neutral' stance is dangerously close to a pelvic thrust.

So far, three versions of this iteration of Drift have been release - this one, Takara Tomy's mass retail release and Hasbro's 'Platinum Edition Autobots United' 5-pack version. Of the three, none are exactly right colour-wise, always skewing slightly too light on the blue in vehicle mode, but I couldn't be bothered to order either of the better versions online after waiting most of a year since its initial release. Finding this for £15 at the MCM London Comic Con in May, I just kind of shrugged and picked him up, having already got basically all the other non-Dinobot characters from the movie.

Objectively, Drift isn't completely terrible... but in many ways, he is the epitome of the step backward TransFormers toys took for the Age of Extinction toyline. Part of it is the ridiculous way the CGI robots were designed, so that there was no way to accurately render them in plastic at the Deluxe pricepoint. He would have looked so much better if it weren't for the backpack made up of virtually all the upper surfaces of the car, or even if the car's side windows could be folded inward. That said, there are things to like about Drift and he's only let down by these few strange design choices. In toy form, he reminds me a lot of the original movie's Deluxe Jazz, with a wide-looking upper body and massive, chunky legs for a comparatively short 'bot (plus, his feet are very similar in design). Even so, with him in hand, I do rather regret buying the standard version... and yet I'm sure I'd resent paying a higher price for either the Platinum Edition or the Takara Tomy version.

I know next to nothing about Shane McCarthy's Drift, but I know the AoE character was nothing like him, even ignoring the obvious difference in colour scheme, so I can't see this figure being wildly popular even with hardcore Drift fans.

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