Sunday, 22 November 2015

TransFormers Legends (Takara Tomy 30th Anniversary) LG14 Ultra Magnus

Back in Generation 1, Ultra Magnus was a white repaint of Optimus Prime with a red and blue car carrier trailer into which the cab robot could be plugged (so, originating as Diaclone's Powered Convoy, he was basically a piloted mech piloting a larger mech suit). That seems, for many years, to have given both Hasbro and, to a slightly lesser extent, Takara Tomy a license to repaint any and all Optimus Prime figures white and call them 'Ultra Magnus'. Until recently, the only variations to this rule have been in the original Robots in Disguise/Car Robots line, TF Animated and TF Prime (although the earlier, unique toy was quickly replaced with a remold/repaint of Optimus Prime). The only way one could obtain a true G1 homage Ultra Magnus was to buy FansProjects' City Commander trailer set.

Then came KFC Toys' Masterpiece-scaled Citizen Stack and, soon after, Takara Tomy's offical Masterpiece model, which proved that, not only could Takara Tomy create a unique Ultra Magnus mold, but they could give him a cab that looked almost exactly like MP Optimus Prime v2, yet which transformed entirely differently, along with its car carrier trailer, to create a figure that was reasonably accurate to the TV series.

Then Hasbro announced Combiner Wars Ultra Magus - a trimmed down, IDW-inspired mainstream toy based on approximately the same principles, but with a distinctly underwhelming paint job lifted from the comics.

Leave it to Takara Tomy to repurpose the mold into its 30th Anniversary Legends toyline, with a more G1 toy-accurate colourscheme... But it is really that much better..?

Vehicle Mode:
Before I get started, apologies for the colour shift in the photos below - I took the vehicle mode shots in 'daylight', first thing in the morning, before the weather turned a bit grim for the day, so the blue really isn't accurate. Also, the close-ups were taken with an entirely different camera with a better Macro function, but useless colour accuracy. Weirdly, the vehicle mode photos make him look a lot more G1 toy accurate in colour, but the robot mode photos are a far better indication of colour, particularly that blue!

So... At long last, we have an Ultra Magnus figure that transforms into a proper car carrier. Much as I loved the FansProjects trailer, it was an enclosed box with virtually no useable space within, made as much to service an unfeasibly large gun as it was to create some Ultra Magnus armour. This thing has a proper, G1-styled skeletal trailer. Granted, a lot of its gappiness and open spaces are cost-saving measures which do leave parts of the trailer looking a little flimsy, but it's fairly well-built and more solid that it looks at first.

More closely following the style of the Masterpiece rather than G1, the cab is attached to the trailer via a clever little joint that allows the cab to turn right around until it butts up against the sides of the trailer - slightly more than 90° in each direction - and slide back up against the trailer for transformation. Unlike both, the cab on this version cannot be removed without unscrewing part of the joint. The cab is nothing like any incarnation of Optimus Prime (though it would appear that a substantial remold is going to bring us PowerMaster/HeadMaster Optimus Prime/Ginrai in Titan Wars), with and almost angry look to the minimal (painted) windscreen, and curiously tusk-like upturned headlights. The silver painted recessed stripes have the effect of giving the cab the appearance cheekbones from the front, so he looks like some kind of robotic Orc, in a way... While there's enough paintwork on the front, there's absolutely none on the back - the cab's rear bumper and tail lights would rarely be seen, granted, so it's understandable... and he does have all ten hubcaps painted silver and painted smokestacks, after all. As well as the paintwork, there's an awful lot of molded detail in some strange places - those silver stripes feature all kinds of lines and ridges within - but the weirdest details are the tiny ladders and doors molded on each side. If one assumes these are human-sized details, then this version of Ultra Magnus is a Titan in his own right. It certainly gives the impression that this was designed for Hasbro's Combiner Wars series rather than designed to be a proper G1-style Ultra Magnus... but it's easy enough to overlook these details.

The view from the rear isn't very convincing - the parts that stick out are so obviously robot feet and robot kneecaps that none of it can really be described as 'disguise'. It's not as if they haven't really tried - the feet have molded bumper and tail light details - there's even a recess for the number plate spanning both 'toes' - but, with those details unpainted, they just looks like huge feet at the bottom of huge armoured shins. The ramps are painted to more closely resemble the design of Ultra Magnus in the comics, rather than leaving them almost entirely unpainted like the Hasbro version. This is an upside for the robot mode, but less so for the vehicle.

The attachment of his missile launchers is obvious enough and, despite being awfully hollow, they look pretty good on the sides of his top deck. The handguns are a very different matter, as if their attachment was an afterthought. Sure, there are two 5mm ports on either side at the back, but the guns just don't look good when plugged into them. The more G1-styled gun is just about passable, but the other sticks out in all directions, most significantly with its handle sticking straight out.

The sides of the trailer may be full of holes, but they still manage to look the part, and it's good to have a version of Ultra Magnus with a nice, mostly flat main deck and upper deck for carrying other vehicles, even if the scale is a little confused/confusing. While it sort-of fits the Combiner Wars Deluxes, the aforementioned 'human scale' details make even less sense if those Deluxes are themselves more human scale. It also sort-of fits some of the earlier Classics/Generations Deluxes figures, but they confuse the scale even further. While the G1 version could carry two of the Diaclone-derived vehicles on each deck, this version can only really manage one.

Ultimately the proof of the a car carrier is how accessible it is to ground-based vehicles... and, unfortunately, this version is just a bit too heavily embellished with robot mode detail to work well. The main ramps have to drape over his protruding toes, but even that wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the kneecaps preventing the ramp from making proper contact with the ground. A similar thing happens with the upper deck where, while it can angle down nicely, the robot's cuffs prevent it tilting down to meet the ramps. Given that the molded insides of the ramp almost look like steps, perhaps this is more of a troop carrier than a car carrier, and his passengers are required to stay in robot mode..?

I have found that closing the ramps can be a little hit-and-miss, as they tend to clash with the upper deck. The tabs on the outsides of the ramps do fit nicely and keep them up securely, but getting them into place to begin with sometimes seems to require pushing them away from the sides for clearance.

Robot Mode:
My first impression of Legends Ultra Magnus - even before I got him out of the box - was that he was a lot smaller than I'd been expecting. I know the new Leader class is smaller than those of past toylines, but he almost looks like a large Voyager rather than a 'proper' Leader class toy. That said, at 9"/23cm to the top of his antennae (almost 11"/27cm to the top of his stacked shoulders) he's really not that small at all and, going by photos I've seen online, he certainly appears to scale well with the likes of Generations Springer and most other Classics/Generations toys based on the cast of the animated movie. He's also much the same size as the G1 original, but with much improved proportions.

While I rather liked G1 Ultra Magnus as a toy, even back then, I felt he was somewhat lacking in articulation, and wondered how one might go about giving him mobile legs. Plenty of people have tried over the years, but it always seems to involve breaking the trailer into pieces, then attaching them separately to the core robot, generally creating a thing of monstrous proportions, wider than it is tall and with massively oversized lower legs. The best attempt thusfar has been FansProjects', which was only really let down by the core robot's weak joints. This version solves the problem by not having a core robot at all, and the full-size robot built largely out of the trailer. This has enabled the designers to give him the ideal proportions and all the freedom of movement of any other figure. As is fairly common with TransFormers toys, he doesn't look great from behind, where the rear wheels of his cab stick out and its rotation joint is exposed, but the way the legs were handled is interesting. While the thighs are hollow, the lower legs are nicely closed up by the side frame of the trailer.

There's certainly a lot more molded detail than the G1 toy, and the only partsforming comes from his weapons - no part of the Ultra Magnus robot is removable. The chest detail may all be cheated, but the way it fits over the truck cab, leaving the headlights exposed, is simple, but clever and surprisingly effective. Some details, particularly those on the outsides of the forearms, hark back to similar details on the G1 toy, while other aspects are either references to the design of the IDW character, or wholly new details for this mold. The red legs allow more of the molded hip detail to show up, though I suspect some of it could have been painted to bring it out some more, and it's curious that two different shades of red have been used. The blue plastic has a sparkly/metallic component which, on this darker blue, looks fantastic. It's curious that, these days, the blues on Optimus Prime toys tend to be getting lighter, while this Ultra Magnus is so much darker. I believe the Hasbro version has a more G1-accurate blue but, coupled with the excess of white plastic, he looks pretty anaemic. The paintwork all over is solid and clean, mostly covering plastic to ensure parts molded in the wrong colour look right, but lots of secondary details are painted in, from the gunmetal on the tops of his feet, the silver and yellow on his kneecaps, to the touches of yellow on the outsides of his shoulders stacks.

The weapons packaged with Ultra Magnus are a massive disappointment. His shoulder launchers take a cue from FansProject as much as IDW, with a pair of missiles rather than the traditional single one. Unfortunately, they are an obvious sign of cost cutting as, not only do the missiles neither fire nor even separate from the launcher, but the entire unit is extremely hollow. Of his two handguns, only one vaguely resembles the G1 toy's dual-purpose blaster, and the other is a big, bulky mess made purely to service the combined 'hammer' mode of all four weapons. Quite a lot has been said about how loosely Ultra Magnus holds his weapons and, while I don't disagree, I have found that both guns can be wedged in place fairly securely, as long as you don't expect his fingers to be on the triggers - they seems to be what prevents his hands closing as securely as they can get. The combined 'hammer' mode looks pretty terrible and is generally unwieldy due to the way it fits into the hand: since he can't grip it properly, his 'cuff' acts as additional support for the handle. On the subject of the cuffs, I'm a little perturbed by the great gap in his forearm armour just behind the wrist - there's no obvious reason for it as far as I can see, and the fact that it reveals quite a large chunk of his white inner parts unnecessarily makes it seem sloppy.
The head sculpt is classic Ultra Magnus, halfway between the 80s cartoon and the more contemporary comics. It's a stern yet neutral face, with an 'Aviators sunglasses' look that's a massive improvement on the G1 toy's literally hollow eyes. It's a small shame they're not light piped, but they are painted with a very subtly bluer metallic paint than the rest of his face. My G1 Ultra Magnus was one of those where the larger robot's helmet was entirely unpainted, so it's nice to see more effort has gone into this one, with the antennae painted white and the inside of his central crest painted with a dark-ish gunmetal.

I have to say that I was completely blown away by Legends Ultra Magnus' transformation. It's simple, logical, lots of fun and very effective. There are a couple of points where the tabs than connect certain parts can be a little awkward, and the robot's chest plate was frustrating both to stow in vehicle mode and to separate from its stowed position for transformation back to robot mode until I realised the side panels need to be rotated slightly down to release the chest plate properly. Rotating the rear side plates back and forth between modes was also a bit frightening to begin with, as it feels as though they get stuck on a little ridge down the bottom, and that something will break if it's forced over. Some aspects look or feel as though something has been removed - such as on the forearm, where the joint that swings the wrist armour into place appears to be missing a secondary piece that might fit around the existing joint, possibly to cover the gaping holes visible in vehicle mode.

One of the most interesting points of comparison between this and the Masterpiece model is that this one actually puts the whole truck cab into much the same position and orientation as the G1 toy once transformation is complete, whereas the Masterpiece broke it up and unfolded it, leaving him with an unsightly butt-flap. Score one for the designer of this version - a mass market toy rather than a collectors' piece, which is more elegantly designed and efficient with its vehicle mass.

For a figure this size, and in comparison with Leader class Megatron, Ultra Magnus offers a far greater range of articulation and poseability. He has a large footprint and two hinges servicing his feet - the only downside to which is that neither hinge allows his feet to tilt sideways - keeping him very stable in most poses. His knees and hips are on fairly sturdy ratchets (though, in common with Combiner Wars Voyagers, the movement between each ratchet is surprisingly large) while the mid-thigh rotation comes from a tight mushroom peg. His arms offer all the usual joints, and their outward movement is not hindered by the missile launchers as they are mounted on flaps which hinge out of the way. The wrists are fixed, by the looks of it to enable the additional support for the hammer form of his weapons. The head is a little limited, only about 90° rotation and no up/down movement, due to the way it's mounted. I was surprised by how easy it was to stand him on one leg, but he's actually remarkably light, for all his bulk.

Of course, what's really interesting about this incarnation of Ultra Magnus is that - at least, as far as IDW and Combiner Wars are concerned - he's not really a robot in his own right, more a powered suit of armour piloted by a robot. Flip down his chest plate, pull his head up, open the truck cab and a cockpit is revealed... Legends Ultra Magnus is piloted by none other than...

Alpha Trion
While the Hasbro version comes with a tiny robot called Minimus Ambus - the character from the IDW comics who is revealed to be the current incarnation of Ultra Magnus - the Takara Tomy version eshews all IDW-ness an throws in the same model, repainted as Alpha Trion. Strangely, it kind of works, and the vehicle's canopy makes for a reasonably convincing cape on Trion's back. He also has quite an extensive and intricate paint job for something his size. Both the panels on his chest and the details of his helmet and face are painted in but, while Minimus Ambus is shades of grey and green in a white helmet, Alpha Trion has his traditional white 'facial hair' and blue eyes in a very pink face... He looks suspiciously like Colonel Sanders wearing an Alpha Trion costume...

His lower legs are fully painted, with purple covering the majority and the feet picked out in silver with red borders above them. His arms and upper legs are entirely unpainted white plastic. I've found the right shoulder ball joint to be very loose, meaning it can pop off all too easily during transformation or posing, but that's about the worst of the problems... Other than his lack of stability due to having pretty terrible feet with no heel support.

It is a truly miniscule hovercar - a little over an inch and a half (just under 45mm) in length, but it looks pretty good for what it is. The robot's feet (rather cleverly) become the vehicle's windscreen but, other than the rest of the windows and the spoiler, there's no vehicle specific paintwork. In this mode, the lack of anything to bring out the panel lining does leave him looking rather bland. There's also the matter of his headlights, which are covered over in purple, with no specific highlighting. Naturally, for a vehicle this size, there are no special features and, without a weapon, no attachments either. There's also no way to dock Alpha Trion with Ultra Magus in their respective vehicle modes, which seems like something of an oversight.

Transformation is about as simple as it can get - the cape/canopy rocks back up over the head, bringing the arms with it, the legs bend back at the knee, then it all just kind of clips together. Not that you'd expect anything more complicated from a model this size.

The tiny, heel-less feet do make standing Alpha Trion up straight quite a chore - it can be done but, in practice, it's best to lean him slightly forward. The arms, being on ball joints at the shoulder, offer a fair range of movement, but the simplicity of the legs is a real limiting factor. Then again, he's really only supposed to sit in the Ultra Magnus cockpit, which he accomplishes perfectly well.

This is a far better Leader class toy than Combiner Wars Megatron, not least because it's so much more involved and impressive. It's also a great homage to the G1 original in both vehicle and robot modes, while CW Megatron only managed a robot mode homage.

Ultimately, the choice between Legends and Combiner Wars Ultra Magnus comes down to this: is your preference for G1 toy accuracy or G1 cartoon accuracy (a question which boils down to an extension of RIRFIB/RIBFIR)? The IDW stylings work either way and, from what I've seen, they've used both colour sets in the comics. Weirdly, this import (bought via Amazon) ended up being slightly cheaper for me than buying the Hasbro version in a UK shop so that, coupled with the preferable colourscheme, made it the ideal purchase for me. Since I generally don't read the comics, I'm ambivalent toward the question of Minimus Ambus vs Alpha Trion, though I will concede that it makes absolutely no sense to have Alpha Trion piloting the Ultra Magnus armour without some kind of story to back it up, and the 2-page Legends comic printed on the instruction leaflet appears - from what little I can tell - to do the opposite of explaining: Ultra Magnus seems to be his own robot, but has a cockpit in his chest which, by the end, is occupied by T-Ai from Car Robots...

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