Sunday, 29 November 2015

TransFormers Animated Jazz

TransFormers Animated was a curious event in the history of the toyline. Taking its style from the exaggerated proportions of youth-oriented American cartoons of the time, it created designs that shouldn't have worked as toys, and yet the designers managed to pull off quite a few miracles. It also took its character cues - largely - from Generation 1, albeit re-imagining the core team to quite a degree. When it finally started introducing secondary characters, such as the Elite Guard lead by Ultra Magnus, a few more G1 favourites came along for the ride and, unlike Prowl, they weren't that different in appearance from their original selves...

Vehicle Mode:
I have to say, the first time I set eyes on photos the TFAnimated version of Jazz in his vehicle mode, my first thought was of the old Disney Herbie movies, thanks to the curves, the very simplistic red and blue stripes on the bonnet and, above all, the eyelashes on the huge headlights. There's also something delightfully retro about the whole look of the car, from the curves to the protruding side exhausts to the enormous wings and conical indicator lights at the back. Even the wheels get in on the act, with their 'bare spokes' molded detail painted over with a nice coating of silver. While the majority of Jazz's bodywork is molded in a curious, matte, slightly milky off-white plastic, the front and rear bumpers are slightly bluish-grey, vaguely metallic plastic, and certain parts - all but the very backs of the wing mirrors, then first section of the exhausts and the ridged mountings for the rear indicators - are painted a vastly more metallic version of this colour to match up, while the grille below the front bumper is painted silver. The main windscreen and side windows are the same translucent blue plastic as the headlights, but have been given a very dark, virtually opaque coating, while the rear window - just for a change - is painted a closely-matching, glossy black. Completing the back end are the rear lights, which gave been granted a truly glorious coat of glossy scarlet paint.

The paint job isn't perfect, though - at the back, there's a strange black stripe down what could generously be described as the boot, where parts of the robot's kneecaps haven't been painted white to match the rest of the car, and the parts that are painted aren't so thoroughly covered that the seams are tidy. There are also a couple of points on the sides that should have been painted with the metallic bluish-grey - the doorhandles and the strips just above the exhausts, behind the front wheels - but they're not a terrible loss. The worst paint issue is on the bonnet, though, where the red and blue stripes don't match up between the main section and the very front, where it leads into the Elite Guard symbol.

The toy of TFAnimated Jazz is far more interesting than the animation model it's based on due to the increased exaggeration of its proportions - the the show, the front end seemed to be mostly all on the same curve rather than having the raised wheel well/headlight section, and the wing mirrors are much smaller. As a secondary character, it seems strange that they've put so much effort into Jazz's vehicle mode, but it's certainly appreciated. The only downsides I can see are the obvious seams down the sides, where the robot's arms never quite line up perfectly with the car doors.
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Robot Mode:
Despite a very different look, there's certainly no mistaking Jazz in robot mode. He's a tall (about the same height as Prowl, so still fairly tall for a Deluxe), lean and sinewy, seemingly built for speed rather than strength. The massive car bonnet chest strangely doesn't look too out of proportion, even though it's comparatively larger on the toy than on the character model from the TV show. One thing that does seem adrift, though, is the position of the shoulders - despite the wheels slipping in under the headlights, his shoulders aren't brought that far forward on the body. It only really looks wrong in comparison to the animation model, though. On the toy it actually looks pretty appropriate - like he's standing with a very military posture.

For the most part, the only robot mode specific paintwork is the matte black on his waist, hips, shoulders (above the bicep swivel) and feet... and there's not a single instance on mine that doesn't have fuzzy edges or light, slightly greenish patches. Curiously, while the entire recessed area of the bonnet between his shoulders is meant to be black, the bonnet sections were left unpainted, giving him just a strip of black down the middle. Other than that, there's a raised, red-painted design on the torso, made up of two horizontal lines and a triangle... and it's pointing to his crotch. Since Jazz in the cartoon basically looks like a cosplayer wearing a black and white leotard and a few car parts, there isn't a great deal of molded detail, but some images from the TV show suggest he had pouches of some kind on his hips, which are missing from the toy.

A common feature with the TF Animated Autobot toys was that they were armed mostly with melee weapons, while the Decepticons tended to have guns of one form or another (many of the toys packing spring-loaded launchers). Jazz is no different, and comes with... weaponised exhaust pipes! They're supposedly some kind of laser nunchucks but, joined by a short piece of white nylon string, there's nothing very 'laser' about them. They're also not ideally suited to the fixed pose of his hand as, to get him to hold them, you have to slip the cord through the gap between his fingers and thumb, then pull one end through until it sticks.

The head sculpt is truly excellent, though not quite accurate to the character model in the TV show - the cheekbones are less pronounced, while the chin - no surprise, as this is TransFormers Animated - is rather more so. He also has a disappointingly neutral expression. I loved the fact that the character was designed to look like he was wearing black headphones over a white beret (or flat cap?) and, while the head sculpt rather flattens out the sides of his head, the overall effect is there. Despite the back of his head being largely translucent blue plastic, to facilitate his light-piped visor, the effect is surprisingly disappointing, and it can be tricky to find the right angle to properly catch the light.
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Jazz has a very simple transformation, curiously not entirely dissimilar to his G1 toy... but then, when a character's look as iconic as Jazz, with his broad car front chest, not even the live action movie chose to deviate from it too greatly. I like the way the wheels tuck into the chest as the arms are swung out and I like how tidy it is overall, but some aspects are troublesome. Getting the arms lined up properly in vehicle mode is made more difficult by the double-jointing of the elbows and the conflict between the shoulder ball joint and the bicep swivel, while getting the heel spurs to pass under the windscreen always makes me worry that something is going to break... It all seems pretty sturdy, though, despite the occasional quality control issues that seemed to plague the TF Animated toyline.

With a character as tall and lean as Jazz, one would tend to expect decent articulation and all the necessary joints are certainly there... but much of his articulation is hampered by odd design choices. For example, the head is on a ball joint, but he can't look up and can't turn his head without tilting it forward because his neck is higher at the back than at the front. His hands are on ball joints, but the wrists can't turn without tilting inward because they're butted up against car door panels. The range of the ball jointed hips is limited by the shape of the upper thigh, and the feet are on a pair of pinned hinges that don't offer him a decent footprint unless the foot is lined up with the heel spur. On the upside, combinations of hip articulation and thigh swivel can get him into some decent - if a little bow-legged - stances, and he does have waist rotation that isn't even necessary for transformation.

Jazz is one of those figures that falls into the "could have been better" category. The character in the show was a fine reimagining of the G1 fan-favourite, so the toy had a lot to live up to. Vehicle mode is possibly one of the most stylised and stylish to come out of the TF Animated toyline and is perfect for this new take on Jazz, but the model as a whole is a bit basic and robot mode on mine is marred by fuzzy paintwork. As a plastic representation of such a stylised cartoon character, he worked out well, but he's certainly not the best in the line.

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