Monday, 18 January 2016

TransFormers Animated Optimus Prime (Earth Mode)

While TransFormers Animated looked to both Generation 1 and the more stylised American cartoons of the period for its general appearance, it took one significant story cue from Beast Wars: Its Optimus Prime wasn't the venerated leader of the Autobots. For TF Animated, he was merely the assigned Prime (team leader, effectively) for a group of maintenance 'bots. Of course, any 'bot named Optimus Prime eventually finds himself tackling all the nearby Decepticons, generally led by one calling himself Megatron, but it was a refreshing take on the character and the development of his story.

But - by and large - this is a blog about the toys, not the fiction... so let's see how the plastic version turned out, shall we?

Vehicle Mode:
At first glance this Voyager class truck tends to look like a super-stylised version of a fairly standard truck while, according to the TV show, this Optimus Prime followed the example of RiD Optimus Prime and Galaxy Force Optimus Prime before him, in becoming a slightly questionable firetruck. The main giveaway is the lightbar on his roof, while one of his robot mode weapons 'transforms' into part of the back end of his animation model firetruck mode. This also allows his other robot mode weapon to be mounted on the rear, to function like a turret of sorts. That sort of fits the image of a firetruck - not least because the toy's weapon was designed to be used as a tiny water pistol - but it's in what looks like a cutaway diagram of a firetruck. What this really needed - either from Hasbro themselves or one of the Third Parties - was a full back end. Weirdly, Xovergen were, at one time, working on just such an upgrade, but it seems never to have progressed beyond the prototype stage before they moved on to other things. Takara Tomy ended up releasing a 'Jetwing' variant for their TFA line, but that just gave him an even stranger back end. Without the part-trailer accessory attached, he doesn't quite manage to look like a cartoon truck because the back end isn't designed to be visible, it's designed to look like the robot's legs which get covered over with accessories.

Also, if we're being really picky, he doesn't even have the right number of wheels for his full-size firetruck appearance in the TV show - that had four wheels at the front, four at the back - this thing manages only two wheels at either end.

Still, as it stands, this is a decent enough representation of part of TFA Optimus' vehicle mode, considering how weird the truck actually looked, and how difficult the animation style made it to craft a full, three-dimensional version of anything. In particular, the angles of the cab area were pretty inconsistent, so this basically takes an average of how Optimus looked from various angles. He looks OK from the front and sides, but viewing him from any angle emphasises the strange distortions required to emulate his animated look. The front end actually reminds me somewhat of the Protoform Optimus Prime from the original live action movie's preview toyline, angling forward to a peak right above the grille. The bumper is an entirely separate piece which clips together (or tries to, at least - it's not the most secure connection) just below the grille, but with a very slight (yet noticeable) gap between it and the main body of the cab.

The paintwork is largely pretty good, if inconsistent in places. The red paint on the top doesn't quite match the red plastic, the silver stripe that runs down the sides from the headlights doesn't match up with the grey on the partial trailer, the yellow light on the left side of the bumper doesn't quite line up with its molded detail (while the right side is near perfect) and there's an uneven line of bare blue plastic right at the top of the grille. The side windows are very subtly recessed, but entirely unpainted. Likewise, he has molded lights on the front of the roof, but no paint to highlight them. On the plus side, all of his hubcaps are painted silver, and the equipment lockers from the side of the firetruck are picked out in metallic blue.

Robot Mode:
While vehicle mode is full of exaggerated angles, robot mode looks quite close to the animation model. The cartoonish physique is all there, from the barrel chest to the slender waist and the enormous boots. However, while the animation model was quite extreme in its size changes between the top of the body and the ends of the legs, the toy strikes a more realistic balance - the thighs look large enough both to support the upper body and to move the lower legs, rather than being stick-thin, and the shoulders are more in proportion to the forearms.

The only new colour in the mix in robot mode is a touch more visible yellow - mainly the five shapes on his groin, mimicking the G1 look (albeit with blue superhero underpants rather than Optimus Prime's usual silver/grey crotch area) and the short stripes on his helmet. The lack of colour and detail rather suits the Animated look, and the matte finish on the plastic works better for robot mode than it did the vehicle mode.

This incarnation of Optimus Prime comes with two weapons - a double-edged axe made out of his part trailer, and the water pistol blaster which gets mounted on it in vehicle mode. The former is molded to resemble the axe from the TV show, though I don't recall ever seeing it double-edged - it was only ever single-edged and with a rocket booster on the other side in the episodes I remember. There are details mold on the 'inside' of the trailer part designed to make the 'wings' look like axe blades but, without paintwork, it doesn't convince... and the large gap in the middle coupled with obvious trailer detailing on the other side further ruin the effect. The handgun is pretty good, except that the weapon it's designed to resemble was smaller and flipped up out of his wrist rather than actually being hand-held. Even at this size it might have been better to have it mount on his wrists, though that would likely have left an unsightly hole (which would show through to the robot's stowed hands) in vehicle mode. I've not actually tried the water pistol function, but there's a cap for the reservoir on the bottom and firing is accomplished simply by pushing/pulling back the barrel of the gun.

Optimus Prime's head sculpt uses the old trick of a lever on the back of the head to activate a battle mask gimmick. Trouble is, with the battle mask off, his already generous chin gains a large silver chunk on the bottom, so it almost looks as if he's wearing a neck brace. It can also get in the way of his neck's rotation as the blue chin protrusion falls into a slot in the top of the chest. The pastel blue painting of the face is fairly sloppy and doesn't quite extend up to the eyes - for a perfect match to the animation model, his eyes should be thickly rimmed with black rather than blue - nor does the silver on his cheek plates and neck cover fully around the stylised 'sideburn' parts of the helmet. The small armour plate that passes for a nose on this thing isn't fully painted either, with a small blue border where the silver paint doesn't reach the brim of his helmet. On the upside, the light piping is very effective, and has that 'pupil' effect that turned up on most TF Animated figures.

This version of Optimus Prime has a very familiar transformation - the legs are the back of the truck, the arms fold in under the windscreen and the head collapses into the roof. The only significant difference, really, is that the hips swing into position via a rather irritating sort of geared Automorph feature. They clip into place in either mode and to get from truck to robot mode, for example, you simply release a catch and let the entire section swing into place, spinning as it goes. Trouble is, sometimes, the 'automatic' action doesn't want to start and, since it's powered largely by gravity, getting him back into truck mode is a tedious process of spinning the groin and legs back into position, where the bottom of his torso ends up offering some resistance. Other than that, the only problem I have with this is basically a QC issue - the lightbar is supposed to peg into place on Optimus Prime's back via a couple of slots below his neck. On mine, the pegs are somewhat mangled, and don't fit the slots. This only means a little juggling is needed to ensure everything is lined up before turning his neck, so it's not a massive problem. One feature I particularly like is the way the rear wheels fold onto the insides of his ankles, allowing the front wheels to concertina back into the outsides of his ankles. This does leave large, unsightly panels of grey plastic on the outsides of his legs, but they don't have a huge visual impact, and the wheels on his ankles look somewhat like the animation model's ankle details.

Several TF Animated figures had their articulation somewhat limited by having either essentially immobile feet or weird jointing in their legs. Optimus Prime is, sadly, little different. His hips are OK for the most part, and there is a rotation joint at the knee... but his thighs are rather floppy due to the way they're made - there's a cut halfway down which almost looks as if it was supposed to be a rotation joint, but the v-shaped protrusion from the upper half prevents any such movement. I'd imagine this part is supposed to hold together, but it's very loose on mine, possibly due to the type of plastic used for the joining piece. Like many TFA figures, his poseability is limited somewhat by the fact that his feet move only for transformation, and not very far for that. In a standard spread-legged stance, he's stable enough due to the angles sculpt of his soles, but more dramatic posing can limit the useful footprint of one or both feet. I'm sure a bit of ankle tilt could have been accomplished by use of a ball joint rather than a hinge, but there's not a single ball joint on this figure. The head rotates but, due to the mask gimmick, offers no tilt, and the arms are on a series of hinges that work pretty well for the most part. He can actually wield his axe two-handed, for example, and swing it over his head in a dangerous-looking way.

The gimmick parts - the battlemask and 'trailer'/axe - are pretty poorly executed, and the toy would probably have been better off if the designers had stuck to either one form or the other for the former, and taken a different approach with the latter.

As a whole, the TransFormers Animated toyline was riddled with quality control issues and often suffered from either a dearth of paint or sloppy application, depending on the particular figure. I think, on balance, my Optimus Prime exhibits the worst of both out of all the TFA figures I picked up and, even so, ends up feeling like a decent toy in and of himself. That said, if I'd picked one up with a pristine paint job and no QC issues, it's still an unimaginative interpretation of the character, as much as it is of the animation model. As part of the toyline in general, though, the Voyager class Optimus Prime is decidedly average... and that's surprisingly OK.

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