Friday, 19 June 2015

Perfect Effect Motobot PE-DX02 Aranea

(Femme-bot Friday #23)
Perfect Effect's Motobot RC was certainly an interesting addition to their lineup, considering some of their underwhelming early efforts. As their first foray into full-size transforming figures, it was highly ambitious and pretty well executed. I'd been keen to get my hands on one of them from the first moment I saw them, however, my interest in the original Motobot paled into insignificance when the first remolded variant was announced... because rather than just rehash the same basic design with a couple of new parts, the remold was every bit as ambitious as the original, and they had only the core structural parts in common.

Plus, the remold - hinted at in the comic packaged with RC - was an intriguing Beast Wars/TransFormers Animated mashup homage to Blackarachnia in Perfect Effect's own futuristic biker-bot style.

Apologies in advance for some inconsistency in the photos - what's here comes from two different sets of photos, taken at different times on different days, and in very different conditions...

The style of the box is essentially the same as with PE-DX01 RC but, following the G1 homage, the background colour is purple on this version. There's an amazing digital painting of Aranea and, unlike RC, she gets a stylised name banner featuring her spider legs. The back of the box features photos of Aranea in vehicle and fully tooled-up robot mode, as well as a shot of her spider drone.

Inside the box is a fairly basic instructions poster and an entirely unique comic. The story of this comic seems to follow that of RC, and both femme-bots are actively pursuing their respective missions, rather than larking about in a simulation. The art style in this comic is noticeably different - more simple, coloured manga-style rather than the more arty look of RC's comic. I honestly prefer this one, except that Aranea appears too 'cute' compared to the actual model.

Vehicle Mode:
Well, damn. This has to be hands-down the sexiest motorbike I've ever seen (other than, y'know, the Yamaha VMax, the Suzuki Biplane and the Dodge Tomahawk, but they're real (if 'Concept' in some cases) and this is an entirely imaginary, futuristic, transforming alien superbike). It's all curves and angles and threats of swift and vicious murder. Just like RC, it has an area which is clearly intended to represent a seat, but I don't see how anyone or anything could actually sit on this thing and ride it due to the spines running from the middle to the the front of the bike.

The colourscheme and paintwork on this thing are phenomenal. RC had a decent amount of paintwork, but this one is positively opulent, with rich metallic paint all over the place. It's worth noting that the guy I bought this from on eBay mentioned some scuffing of the purple paintwork on one of the side panels but it's really barely noticeable - it took me a while to find what he described and, since then, it hasn't leapt out at me. With all the other paintwork around it, the eye is easily drawn elsewhere.

The choice of colours complement each other well, and I particularly like the graduation of red to gold on the tips of the spines, and the red blocks at the first knuckle. Considering the red plastic used at the last knuckle, it seems strange that there's no red painted onto the middle knuckle, but there's also not really any molded detail for it to highlight. The purple protrusions below the headlights can really only be mandibles, but since there's already a set of extended spider legs running along the sides, that's easy enough to accept. The translucent red headlights and windshield fit well against the plain black plastic and the gold painted parts, purple is used sparingly, and there's a mixture of silver and light gunmetal used here and there. Amusingly, the mudguards on the front and rear wheels are painted in such away that they look like Blackarachnia's face (more TF Animated than Beast Wars, but the reference is there). One thing that strikes me as odd is that the bike is predominantly black, while the artwork on the box suggests it should be purple. Whether that's simply reflecting the colouration of the box or just to be arty, I'm not sure... I do wonder if the model might have looked a it more interesting molded in a super-dark colour rather than just plain black but, with all the other colour dotted about, black was probably the most sensible choice.

The bike doesn't roll especially well, which would be unforgivable on a mass-market toy. On a high-end third party model like this, I'm not even sure it rates as an inconvenience, since I doubt anyone will be 'driving' this around their carpet. I noted a similar issue on RC, so it's clearly something about the design of the wheels rather than plastic tolerances or mold flashing.

All of Aranea's weapons can be stashed around vehicle mode, from the daggers mounted at the rear of the bike, to the pistol concealed within the front wheel mountings and the 'Electromagnetic Gun' slung like a lance on the righthand side of the bike. Due to the molding of the connector piece, it cannot be mounted on the left, even though a mounting is available on that side.

Robot Mode:
In her basic form Aranea's silhouette is basically identical to that of RC, and far more common pieces become visible in this mode - it's really only the paint job and the armour pieces that make her unique. The front of the bike becomes a sharper, more angular and rather less feminine chest, despite its greater prominence. Only a few parts on the lower half of the model were remolded - her knee plates, ankle plates and 'toes' are all new, and all seems slightly larger - and spikier - than those of RC.

On the basic model, robot mode reveals only a few more touches of dark gunmetal colour and some flat purple to complement the red highlights among the black and gold. Her additional parts don't significantly affect the distribution of colour, but they do make her rather more imposing - more like TF Prime's Airachnid (and far better than that bodge-job of a toy!) than any incarnation of Blackarachnia, but stylistically closer to TF Animated than Beast Machines. The high-heeled look seems to suit Aranea far better than it does RC - part of the 'femme fatale' look, I guess...

The base of the spider legs pieces each have a gunmetal panel which appears to be molded with a set of missile pods, though this could be coincidental.

Aside from her spider legs, her only weapons are a single pistol (the box claims two, but that seems to be a typo, as there's only one pistol space in the packaging), a pair of daggers and a long rifle-type weapon. This latter gun can be hand-held but, thanks to its vehicle mode mounting, can also be attached to the spider legs on either shoulder. Sadly, it can't be deployed, Predator-style, as an over-the-shoulder cannon, which struck me as something of an oversight on PE's part. The way the hinge attaches means it will only tilt up to the side and, poseable as the spider leg mounting is, it can't be positioned in such a way as to make the rifle useable while attached there.

Weirdly, the pistol is sculpted in such a way that she must bend her wrist to point it forward. When not it use, it can be 'holstered' via a peg on Aranea's left leg, so it's likely the pistol was designed with vehicle mode storage in mind. The daggers look suitably menacing, but the hands don't grip them especially well. On the upside, my Aranea doesn't suffer from the fairly widely-reported problem of the daggers' hilts getting stuck in the spider head.

The head sculpt, like that of RC, is another slightly overengineered, multi-part affair. Rather than collapsing inward, Aranea's 'earmuffs' swing round to the back of the head for transformation. Also like RC, it's mounted on two separate joints, one for rotation and one for tilt, though the latter is somewhat restricted by the translucent red plate sticking out of the back. Amazingly, this piece actually manages to provide light piping, but the head tends to have to be tilted down for any light to make it through. The visor thing is a separate piece and can be removed but, while it looks as though it should be able to slip down over her face, it actually only fits one way. What really struck me was the contrast in face sculpts between RC and Aranea - the former seems younger and cuter, while the latter seems more mature and villainous - a stark contrast to the artwork in the included comic.

Spider Drone:
Whereas RC's accessories served only one purpose in her robot mode, Aranea's can detach from the robot and combine to form a separate spider drone unit which, going by the included comic, is at least semi-autonomous. It's also almost hideously convincing - the jointing of the legs is such that it can be made to look quite threatening, particularly because it's almost as large as Aranea herself.

It all pegs together nice and securely, stands and poses very well and is only let down by a couple of floppy joints. As multi-purpose accessories go, I think the TransFormers toyline should be taking notes.

Like RC, Aranea is a bit of a partsformer, only looking complete when all her accessories are attached to her vehicle mode, though robot mode looks decent either way. Transformation has its fiddly parts - notably getting the 'seat' section of the bike connected to the hands and wrists for vehicle mode, and the the knees are every bit as fussy as RC's - but is subtly different from RC, with the front wheel mounted at a sightly shallower angle to give vehicle mode a longer, lower appearance. What raises Aranea above other partsformers - even RC - is that her accessories are multi-purpose. They can be attached to the robot mode for a more sinister, TF Animated Blackarachnia/TF Prime Airachnid look, or they can be pieced together to form Aranea's spider drone - a well articulated figure in its own right.

Te photos above - and those of RC - hopefully demonstrate that the base figure is incredibly well articulated and, despite the very weird 'feet', is capable of adopting and maintaining a great range of poses. The only problems arise when the spider parts are added - the 'bustle' gets in the way of her hips and gives her an increased tendency toward back-heaviness and, while the spider legs themselves seem pretty sturdy, the hinges that plug into the handlebars are exceedingly floppy. These parts don't restrict her movement, as such, but Aranea becomes so fiddly when packing her full complement of accessories that posing her can become frustrating.

As with RC, I'm a little dubious about the strength of some joints, and how well they're likely to last (the red plugs that connect the spider legs to their mountings are apparently prone to breakage), but Aranea seems pretty robust overall. That said, I did have one piece pop out during transformation - part of the ratchet for her 'abs' joint - and I gather from my research on the web that this is a common problem with all the Motobots. It slots back in easily enough, but it's a small part, and it was only by luck that I noticed it had fallen out (well, that, and the sudden floppiness of her 'ab crunch'). Then I had to check Aranea against RC to figure out where it had come from in the first place.

And there are other major QC issues: one of the spider drone's back legs and the joints on the pieces that connect the spider legs to Aranea's robot mode are exceedingly floppy, and the right headlight doesn't sit in its proper place. This latter problem is another which is reported quite commonly, and is apparently due to mold flashing somewhere in the socket. Due to the complexity of the model - and the expense of buying it - I don't feel confident enough to open it up and fix it. The person I bought Aranea from mentioned this issue, and it's not a massive problem with careful handling. I've also found at least one of her knees to be rather unreliable. There's apparently some sort of connection between her kneecaps/mudguards and the angle of the knee, in that rotating the former locks the latter in place... but at least one knee on mine sometimes seems to be locked regardless of the position of the other piece.

Ultimately, I feel that Aranea is a figure that I like rather grudgingly: she's utterly beautiful in both modes (aside from a slightly dubious head/face sculpt), the spider drone is a fun and well-realised secondary purpose for her attachments, and the idea of her is fantastic... but the reality is frustrating and marred by some terrible quality control. It's not quite that, with her in hand, I regret buying her... but there's a certain sense that the cost of getting her was such that I'm now reluctant to part with her, so I'm a little resentful of the shelf space she's occupying... That said, I really do like her, just not as much as I'd hoped.

I hope that Perfect Effect learned some valuable lessons with this figure. It certainly seems that, unlike Mastermind Creations and their reuse of the Azalea mold (4 'mass release' versions and 2 convention exclusives so far) they've done all they intended with the Motobots and are now onto other things... but I hope they revisit the concept of Femme-Bots in future.

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