Friday, 10 July 2015

3H BotCon 2001 Universe Arcee

(Femme-Bot Friday #26)
Once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet about a particular mold, or just a particular iteration of a particular mold... Especially if that iteration is an exclusive. For example, having spent many years thinking Beast Wars II Lio Convoy was the most ridiculous TransFormers creation in all history, I suddenly decided it was awesome and set about collecting as many instances of the mold as I could (currently the original and black versions of both the Robot Masters mold and the Beast Wars II version... Flash Lio Convoy I haven't bothered with thusfar because he looks rather like he's made of sparkly wee).

The latest example of this strange mania is the Beast Wars TransMetals version of Blackarachia which, thankfully, has only two iterations. One was the mass release in the TransMetals toyline... The other was this limited edition (1200 pieces, according to from BotCon 2001, back in the days when it was run by 3H Enterprises...

3H did things very differently to Fun Publications - whereas the latter go for heavy, strong, 2-part, foam-filled collectors boxes with art on the front only, 3H went for more of a 'premium store exclusive' look. For starters, they included G1-style 'clip and save' Tech Specs cards (and the translucent red reader strip!). The rest is unique, with only hints of G1 in the character's name box on the front and sides. The rear shows a wireframe of the CGI character (possibly based on the actual CGI from Beast Wars?) labelled with details of her armaments, and a larger, coloured CGI image of Arcee, along with a brief bit of text about the Wreckers. The front features a rather dull CGI pic of Arcee in a fashion model pose, in front of a sparkly web-thing, and a flap which reveals the toy, gives fuller details on her armaments and skills, and reveals/activates the infamously sensitive voice box (barely visible in the last of the six photos below).

The box is in decent condition despite its age but, in an apparent effort to leave the factory tape seal intact, the previous owner decided to open the box from the bottom which, while untaped, utilised a more secure form of tab-and-slot seal, which was fairly thoroughly damaged by the original attempt to open it. Rather than risk tearing it off entirely, I think I may leave the bottom flap alone, cut the factory seal tape and use the top opening in future...

Beast Mode:
What's always puzzled me about this mold was the way the robot's weird mutant arms stuck out below the mandibles. I'd always figured there must be a way of stowing them the other way around to make the spider mode look a little bit more like a spider, but no-one seemed to have found it. At it turns out, all you have to do is rotate them 180° and let them drape underneath the abdomen. They may not tab in anywhere but, since the ball joints on the legs aren't strong enough to support the weighty arachnid backside, the hands serve as a prop and give the illusion that she's standing up on her own.

At the centre of the eight legs is a stunning example of the opulent vacuum metalisation that was the focus and raison d'être of the TransMetals series. The chrome pink is rather beautiful and, most importantly, seems intent on staying put. Complementing that is a pearlised off-white plastic (which almost looks as though it should glow in the dark, but doesn't) used quite sparingly in this mode. The spider's cephalothorax features more of the metallic pink as well as plain white paint and a neon orange for the wonderfully asymmetrical eyes.

The back of the spider should, theoretically, involve some reference to spinnerettes. What's actually there is the robot's head, turned around and flipped down... and the robot's pink chromed's cyber-boobs. Certainly not the designers' finest moment. On each side of the abdomen is a curious blue wheel which looks like it should do something, but actually just spins freely. Perhaps it's a remnant of a feature that was ditched before the figure went into production... I'm sure the TransMetals were all supposed to have vehicle modes, but this mold doesn't appear to have one.

The fact that the robot's stilettoed feet stick out of the front of the abdomen would be a heavier blow to the overall look of the model if it weren't for a strategically placed white spike just behind it. It looks as though it might be another part of the leg, sticking out, and probably could have been... but it's entirely separate, and part of the abdominal shell. Just below, a pair of blue missiles jut out of the lower section of abdomen, but not in any way that makes them useful. The other interesting feature of the abdomen is the double-sided spark crystal right at the front. It can only switch sides either in robot mode or during transformation, and shows either a Maximal or an Autobot insignia. The piece of shell it's mounted in is largely painted white, but there is a graduation of metallic blue towards the back.

The cephalothorax is pretty much an empty shell except for the mandible, which are part of a separate piece, plugging into the underside via two pegs which, disappointingly, render the gimmick useless - the mandible can't actually fire out as depicted in the box art.

The molding throughout this model is exceptional, even though much of it is bizarrely overdone and even somewhat confusing in places. Quite apart from the sheer size of this model - the body is about 5"/13cm long - one of the most impressive things is that each pair of legs is unique in its moldings.

Come on - it looks pretty silly with those extra claw/mandible things sticking out the front. Is this a spider or a crab?

Robot Mode:
To be perfectly honest, the most surprising thing about this model is that I actually managed to get photos of her standing up without recourse to using the spider legs as support... but that's the thing: the feet are actually quite stable. The problems are pretty much everywhere else.

The model - like many TransFormers before and since - has a ridiculously large and heavy backpack. Not only that, but it's intricate as well. A good chunk of the spider shell remains completely intact, while the chromed parts spread out as 'shoulder armour' (significantly larger than it appears in the CGI images) and the underside flips up to present possibly the two most useless missiles in the history of TransFormers. If they could be pulled away from the shell pieces they're attached to and directed forward, they might seem better. As it is, they just point up and backward, and don't even fully clear the shell they're mounted in. What's most confusing about these missiles is that they just don't appear in the CGI on the box. I looked up Blackarachnia's appearance as a TransMetal in the Beast Wars series and she doesn't have them either. That's not out of the ordinary, considering the many well-documented disparities between the TV show and the toyline, but it does seem strange that such a physically large part of the toy was simply left out.

Next you have the spider legs, which have to just sit there, sticking out of the backpack. Six of them can be swung upward on a hinged piece so that they can wibble around behind her shoulder pads, while two just dangle... though they are occasionally useful for keeping Arcee stable if you want to do anything other than stand her straight (ish - she has to lean forward slightly). The packaging artwork has them fanned out, cape-style... but that kinda makes me think of Unicron from the animated movie...

Her colourscheme is fairly true to her G1 incarnation - basically pink and white - though with a fairly blatant chrome pink 'bra' and flat pink 'knickers'. It's a little sad that she's molded to have quite obvious knee-length high-heeled boots, though the detailing and paintwork are pretty good. While the main parts of the lower legs are molded in plain white plastic, the 'blobby' bits on each side of the shin use the pretty pearlised off-white plastic. This also appears on her thighs (on the bits that appear pink in the CGI), her upper arms, the little arm things that swing her torso into place and the tiny bit of chest leading to her neck. The forearms are molded in plain white with pink paint on the detailed side, and her long claws - hard light force blades, according to the box - are molded in the same blue plastic as the 'missiles' and 'abdomen wheels', but seem slightly translucent due to being comparatively thin here.

The spider's mandibles detach and come into their own as a weapon/grappling hook in this mode. They plug into the socket in the base of her blue claws and then the mandible section can be pulled out on a spring-loaded string. Unlike other instances of this kind of feature, the string pulls back automatically, without any interventions like button-pushing. That's a bit of a shame, as the spring is strong enough to pull Arcee along when she's standing, though her weight is sufficient to keep the string extended with she's hanging from it.

One more gimmick is available to this model, and that's the "Cyclone Kick" alluded to by the packaging. Essentially, it's nothing more than a spring-loaded spin for her lower body - wind her up by twisting the waist clockwise, then nudge the head back to trigger the 'kick'. Her legs spin wildly, swinging in all directions as they do, so they'll invariably hit another part of herself and stop suddenly. It's an interesting feature - perhaps not ideally suited to the TransFormers toyline (Ninja Barbie, perhaps?), but inappropriate gimmicks are hardly a first... and it does make it remarkably difficult to keep her waist in place.

The final feature is a bit of a cop-out, hence the lack of photos. While the TM Blackarachnia mold has no 'vehicle' mode, there is what's called 'Defense Mode', where the shoulder pads fold down at the sides... perhaps this is why the box labels her shoulder pads as "Localized Deflector Shield".

It's difficult to know what to say about the head sculpt. In its own way, it's rather beautiful... but it's a weird, awkward, and subtle kind of beauty. Very little of this toy looks robotic, and the head looks almost entirely like that of an organic creature wearing a mask... almost as if it's a cosplayer rather than a true 'robot in disguise'. The colourscheme is extremely inadvisable - the 'hair' and face are left with the plain plastic colour showing, while the 'mask' is painted pink, leaving the five protrusions from the head looking like a bizarre phallus tiara. And just to add to the weird factor, she's been given pink lipstick.

Arcee's transformation is rather disappointing, in that it quickly becomes apparent that almost the entire robot is housed in the spider's abdomen, between all the shell pieces. The only parts in the front of the spider mode are the robot's arms, which don't tab into the body especially well for robot mode and look pretty ridiculous in their intended position in spider mode. Getting the backpack to mount correctly (thus getting the arms into the correct position) can be a trial, but I found some mold flashing right in one of the joints linking the body to the backpack and had to take a scalpel to it to fix it (yes, only a day or two after receiving a 1-in-1200 model, I've already cut a piece off... but it was necessary!).

In theory, articulation should be great - shoulders and elbows are ball joints, the hips are ball joints, the knees are double pin-jointed and feature a swivel, and the ankles are hinged. In theory, she should be able to pull off some amazing poses, considering the surprising stability of her high heels... sadly the hips are very floppy - a problem which, I believe, was supposed to be even worse on TM Blackarachnia. Using some of the spider legs as supports, she can achieve some quite impressive poses, but the waist joint outright refuses to lock in a central position due to the spin-kick gimmick. The legs tend to do better on a surface that provides some friction, but otherwise she tends to crumple spectacularly. It's a shame the head can only swivel, but it's understandable given the way that area is constructed and its transformation.

This is easily one of the most bizarre TransFormers ever made simply because it looks so organic - almost as if it should have been in the Beast Machines line rather than at the tail end of Beast Wars. The body looks far too humanoid with virtually nothing robotic about it. The masses of spider shell parts - and, of course, the legs - hanging off the back seems like wastage, but it's difficult to see what else could have been done to more closely integrate the spider parts with her robot mode.

Despite all its shortcomings, though, I really enjoy this wonderfully asymmetrical mold and I'm very tempted to seek out TM Blackarachnia as well, despite the near-certainty that it would be looser than this.

And, just for fun, here's an audio clip of the infamous speech sample: G1 Arcee's voice actor, Susan Blu, saying "Don't underestimate me... I'm more than just a pretty face. Arcee, maximise!".

I had to replace the three LR44 batteries in the 'voicebox' - no surprise, 14 years after it was put together - and, to begin with, I didn't find it as excessively sensitive as it was billed... In fact, initially, I had some trouble getting it to work at all. It was only when I put it back in its plastic shell that it started going bonkers and triggering the sound clip if I so much as blinked at it. That said, it seems to happen more under electric light than natural - this morning, it's back to being mostly unresponsive. Also, Whether it's age or some kind of damage/corruption, or even how it always was, I'm not sure, but the clip drops out when Arcee says her name, but goes back to normal when she says "maximise".

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