Monday, 14 September 2015

Combiner Wars Skydive

I can still remember being distinctly unimpressed by the G1 Aerialbots. They were small and awkward-looking, terribly basic, even by G1 standards, and not even as well-designed as the G1 Stunticons... With Combiner Wars remaking all the limb-bots as contemporary Deluxe class figures, it was tempting to hope that the new Aerialbots would take on board the lessons of the many Third Party gestalts doing the rounds...

But this is a creation of Hasbro, and they've been in full-on cost-cutting mode for ages... so it's bound to be a disaster, right?

Vehicle Mode:
While the original G1 Skydive transformed into a jet unique among his peers, modelled on an F-16, Hasbro and Takara Tomy's designers have been - objectively speaking - quite clever in their construction of Combiner Wars toys. As well as reusing molds wholly (even where not entirely appropriate), they have set up parts of certain models to be reused. This leaves Combiner Wars Skydive looking mostly like a bulked up F-16, but with the dual-finned tail end of CW Air Raid. It's actually not a bad choice, as it reduces production costs, and the recycling of parts isn't going to be obvious to anyone who isn't a military aircraft buff.

Keeping the colourscheme of his G1 ancestor, Skydive has a grey fuselage and stabiliser wings, while his main wings and tail fins are black. His paintwork is much simplified, with large gold panels painted onto the wings rather than the 'lightning strikes' of the original, and no blue on his tail fins. Red and silver are visible below the wings, on what seems to be modelled on intakes that aren't present on an F-16. Skydive is also one of only two Aerialbots with weapons molded on to the main model - a pair of missiles have been added to his wings and painted gold. He has a couple of odd blocks of red on his top surfaces: his wing hinges and two pieces of the robot's torso which are unaccountably sticking right through just at the point where the robot's legs fold up against the body in jet mode.

As has been quite common in recent years, several protruding and/or pointed parts are molded in soft rubber, but the choice of parts here seems odd. The nose, naturally, though it's actually fairly stiff rubber, and would still be quite capable of doing someone an injury if one were so inclined. This tailfins, meanwhile, are floppy to the point where I wouldn't be surprised to see some warped straight out of the packaging. What's strange is that his stabiliser wings are molded in rigid plastic... so I don't quite see why the upright fins are rubber while the horizontal wings aren't, especially when both are hinged.

While TFC Toys 2012 version of the Aerialbots managed to disguise the robots' arms reasonably well, Hasbro/Takara Tomy have elected not to bother on any of the Combiner Wars versions, so expect to see lots of robot arms flattened against fuselages as I go through the new Aerialbots. It's somewhat disappointing and does leave them less convincing as jets... but, in Skydive's case, they're not too bad - only a small section is really noticeable between his main wings and stabilisers, and pretty much no-one expects an official TransFormers jet to be streamlined these days.

His weapon can mount under either wing, or there's a single port on top, roughly in the middle of the fuselage. Both his dual-barrelled gun and his hand/foot missile launcher seem better suited to this port as it allows them to act like turrets (unconventional though that may be on a jet). It's unfortunate that he doesn't have weapons specific to jet mode, or that the dual-barrelled gun can't split into two, as mounting his weapons on his wings looks completely unbalanced and just a little bit silly.

Skydive doesn't have landing gear - neither fixed nor fold-out - and his jet mode rests on the bulbous part of his combiner joint and a couple of slim protrusions from the robot's shins. Probably the biggest downside of this mold is the back end. Whereas the G1 Aerialbots had tail sections that would swing up onto their backs, the Combiner Wars versions have mostly undisguised feet at the back. Skydive has afterburners sort-of molded in as details, but they're rather lost above the massive chunks of foot hanging off the bottom of the plane.

Robot Mode:
Skydive is an interesting place to start with the Combiners Wars Deluxes as his robot mode has a unique appearance, despite the re-used leg parts. The upper body is incredibly broad across the shoulders, narrowing out below the chest and becoming positively tiny at the groin, only to get wider again as the legs progress down to his feet. The 'wings on the back and nosecone poking up behind the head' is traditional enough, but the overall look couldn't be further from his humble, G1 origins.

The paint job is more than a little disappointing - the entire torso, bar the rotating combiner plug section, is painted red, while the rest of the body has touches of black paint - the armour panels on the outside of his forearms and pretty much blanket coverage of his feet - on pale grey plastic. He only other thing that could count as paintwork is the Autobot insignia stamped on his left shoulder. I guess this rather lazy - if nevertheless quite extensive - paint job matches with the similarly simplistic paintwork on jet mode, but it's a shame none of the robot-specific details were picked out in the gold paint used so extensively on the jet. Weirdly, the Takara Tomy version of Skydive is painted as if he's wearing a red mankini over his otherwise black torso, but he also has touches of red paint on his shins.

Due to the way the legs extend, his lower legs are noticeably hollow, though an attempt has been made to disguise it somewhat. I'm not entirely sure why the inner parts couldn't be closed off as completely as the outer sides, but then it's not a big deal as I'm unlikely to spend much time looking at the inner surfaces of his lower legs...

Skydive's weapon doesn't quite work as a handgun in robot mode - it looks more like a turret from some kind of battleship - though it may have worked better as two single-barrelled guns. The big downside to it is that, as a cost-saving measure, it's entirely hollow on the underside, so it ends up looking like something you'd find with a knockoff toy. The hand/foot missile launcher is equally unwieldy, and Skydive has no handy 5mm sockets other than his fists to mount it in a useful fashion.

The head sculpt on this thing is downright weird: neither G1 accurate - either cartoon or toy, though it almost seems to reference the animation model in look if not in shape - nor even vaguely similar to that of the other CW Aerialbots. In fact, I'm tempted to think that, sooner or later, it's going to be reused as Megatron, perhaps in some kind of Combiner Wars/Machine Wars crossover by the Collectors' Club (though they're already using this entire mold for Subscription Service 4.0's Windsweeper and have already done a Machine Wars Megatron in a BotCon set, so perhaps that's unlikely). That said, none of the Aerialbots have quite the right jet mode for that homage. In any event, Skydive has a very Megatron-esque bucket head, and making it black with a coppery face doesn't do much to disguise that. It's probably one of the more detailed sculpts in terms of facial detailing, and it's not bad... but something about it looks out of place. Still, points for trying and making a CW head that isn't completely box-shaped.

One small element of Skydive's transformation - getting his extra-wide shoulders into place - is unique among the CW Aerialbots. Everything else is essentially the same with only cosmetic differences between the jets. It's a simple, reliable transformation, harking back to the smaller, more basic G1 original. I quite like the way the legs work - with a double hinge rather than the old, 'pull to extend' system, which had a tendency to wear out on some figures. It is rather a shame they couldn't have done more to disguise his arms in jet mode, but that would likely have had an adverse effect on production costs.

As we tend to expect these days, articulation comes from a decent collection of ball-joints, mushroom pegs and hinges. His stubby, fixed feet, molded at an angle, are a somewhat limiting factor, but they're large enough that he remains stable in most poses, as long as at least one of them is flat against whatever surface he's standing on. The arms move quite freely, though the elbows on mine are a little weak. Not bad enough that he can't hold up his weapons, but there's room for improvement. Strangely, despite the unusual head sculpt, Skydive's ball jointed neck doesn't allow him to look up. This is not a problem unique to this mold, just a curious one considering most of the others have no such trouble.

Skydive is a decent update on the G1 original, and a good example of tighter budgets resulting in clever design. Jet mode is understandably flawed, but robot mode is a very good action figure - an improvement on the Energon/Superlink gestalt components while retaining their flexibility. It's taken them a while... to get the formula right but, with just about every Third Party company producing combiners lately, Hasbro/Takara Tomy are showing some rare good sense with this line.

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