Friday, 22 January 2016

TransFormers Legends (Takara Tomy 30th Anniversary) LG17 Blackarachnia

(Femme-Bot Friday #35)
Completing Takara Tomy's second triumvirate of Legends femme-bots, Blackarachnia may seem like a strange late addition to a 30th Anniversary line, considering Beast Wars turns 20 years old in 2016, but I'm certainly not going to hold it against them.

Blackarachnia has always had rather weird-looking toys simply because getting a robot to transform into a spider is a tricky thing to achieve. To date, the best is (arguably) the TransFormers Animated mold, not least because the animation model drew so much influence from the Beast Wars TV show rather than the toys. No surprises, then, that Takara Tomy chose that mold from which to create a new Beast Wars Blackarachnia figure.

Beast Mode:
One thing most Blackarachnia toys have had in their favour (ignoring the original Beast Wars toy) is a certain eerie accuracy. Not necessarily to the way they appear on screen, but to arachnids in general. This one obviously has the TF Animated model's handicap of the very awkward-looking third pair of legs, featuring the robot's hands, but the main issue for me is that the front four legs and the rear two look fairly consistent, while the third pair are incongruously striped. If there were any markings on the other legs, this might make some sense but, as we will continue to explore, most of the differences between this and the TF Animated version are in the services of its newly Beast Wars-oriented robot mode...

The only visible differences to the mold in spider mode are on the cephalothorax, where she now has a more appropriate number of eyes. The main section is molded in translucent yellow plastic, then painted over with matte black, leaving most of the domed eyes uncovered. She still only has seven eyes, though - three up on the TF Animated version, perhaps, but still one short of the requisite for an arachnid... unless the two tiny bumps directly above the large, central 'eye' are meant to be eyes, and the largest one is supposed to be something else... Then again, the odd number of eyes does mimic the look of the original Beast Wars toy. The molded linework around the eyes is about the only other detail here - minimal, but effective - ensuring she looks acceptably techno-organic.

Where it starts to go a bit odd is the mandibles. On the TF Animated model, the mandibles were separate pieces right in the middle, with short, angled fangs on ball joints either side. This one has large, translucent chelicerae hanging down off rather boxy ball joints, tipped on the outer corners with very prominent fangs. More prominent than that, however, is the fact that the chelicerae themselves are bowl-like. It's almost as if they were fitted to the wrong sides, but it seems they are designed more for their appearance in robot mode than as spider jaws.

The weirdest aspect of the paint job on this version of Blackarachnia is that, while the abdomen retains exactly the same sculpt as the TF Animated version, the whole top surface of the 'door' through which her head gets passed during transformation has been painted. It's still molded in black plastic and still has the small black widow's hourglass detail molded into it but, rather than just paint that detail, as per the TF Animated version, the whole surface, including the two spines, was painted red. Granted, the hourglass detail could have done with being larger, but the piece itself doesn't taper sufficiently inward at the middle to represent that characteristic marking.

The grapple gun plugs in exactly the same way into her abdomen and, while the gun part is now molded in gold plastic, the claw itself is still translucent red.

Robot Mode:
It's interesting what a couple of changes to the design of the figure do for her silhouette - with the spider mandibles now forming her chest, her waist is literally stick-thin - there's nothing there apart from the joint, so it's amost relying on the hinges of her abdomen and the front legs to fill in the space. The chest is absolutely massive compared to the more modest TF Animated version, but that's wholly in keeping with the Beast Wars character model and her dangerously alluring curves.

The colourscheme is nice and simple - mostly black and gold, but with a couple of touches of purple (her feet and the pods on her thighs) and the orange highlights provided by her front spider legs, which look far better sticking out of her back that then ever did hanging off her arms. Gold paint highlights details at her groin and a bronze-ish colour continues the striping on her arms from the elbow up to the shoulder. The Predacon insignia on her collar seems almost to be a fluorescent yellow, but I think it's just slightly green. Possibly the most impressive aspect of her paint job is the three dimensional design of her chest - the spider leg pattern on the outside is painted black, but there's a similar pattern molded on the inside of the mandible pieces, and that's painted purple (turned brown by the translucent yellow plastic). It may not quite match the engraved gold look of the animation model, but it looks fantastic.

Sadly, this version of Blackarachnia does retain the TF Animated version's grapple gun rather than coming with a newly created bowgun/stinger similar to the weapon of the Beast Wars version. This feels like a missed opportunity to me, especially considering that Takara Tomy went to the trouble of remolding the body of the grapple gun - it now has a slightly longer, squarer peg with offers a more solid connection when pegged in to her forearm or on the back of her neck. Another change is that the cord used seems to be heavier-duty than that of the TF Animated version... and it's also about half an inch shorter. Given the size of the gun, I'm sure they'd have been able to include more cord - it's a bit pitiful compared to some other, similar toys I've seen, but probably on a par with Galaxy Force Live Convoy's rather sad winch.

The head sculpt is as spot-on as you could hope for, almost as if it was 3D printed from the TV show's CGI. Honestly, I think Takara Tomy could have got away with simply repainting the TF Animated head sculpt into Beast Wars Blackarachnia's colours, so it's very cool that they went this extra mile - even the back of the head has been resculpted with the little bobbles of the Beast Wars Tarantulas/Blackarachnia head. It looks as though the entire thing was molded in translucent plastic, and then everything but the eyes has been thoroughly painted - even the back of the head. Nevertheless, in direct sunlight (or strong enough electric light, applied directly to the head) she does have functional light piping. The shape of the eyes is perfect, and I'm pleased that they managed to cram in the 'mask' detail within the helmet without compressing the mouth too much. The gold paint looks great, and it's nice to see the hourglass detail on her crown has been picked out in red.

This version of Blackarachnia transforms the same as the TF Animated version except on two points - the simplest of them is that the tips of the spider legs that become the robot's arms don't need to be rotated 180°, as they better mimic the claws of the Beast Wars animation model when left in their spider leg position. It's quite a clever trick, considering how simple it is - the entire robot forearm is striped as per the character in the TV show, with the spider leg tip representing on half of the claw and her thumb representing the other, to a surprisingly effective degree. The major difference is with the chest, as the entire section has been redesigned. The curiously concave mandibles fold up over the spider's cephalothorax to create Blackarachnia's prodigious, techno-organic breasts, and the whole front section has to be forced upward till it clunks into place to fill in an otherwise large gap between the base of her neck and the chest. It is a real struggle, though, and considering the clear plastic and ball joints of her 'bra', it can feel as though something will break before the part moves. It's a decent bit of engineering but, I feel, could have used a bit more work to make it smoother.

Since the changes are all in the upper body, this version of Blackarachnia moves, poses and balances just as well as the TF Animated version, except that her shoulders are far, far tighter and ever-so-slightly in conflict with the the remolded chest plate. Here, again, I worry that the shoulder joints - or the arms - might break during posing, so I tend to move her as carefully as possible. It's a shame they didn't remold the legs very slightly, to give here a firmer footprint - I've seen many images online where her shin is erroneously split open to provide a more stable, almost four-legged, stance, but it just doesn't look right (unless you think of it as ridiculously high heels) and breaks up the fluidity of her curves.

Some very strange choices were made with this figure - the inverted mandibles are just plain bizarre, and the fact that they were made that way purely to facilitate large robo-boobs seems to play up to all kinds of otaku stereotypes. I also have some concerns about the materials used. The rubber used for the spider's front legs, and the tips of the rear legs feels much softer than the material used on the TF Animated version. This feels particularly dodgy when rotating the rear legs' final segment between spider and robot modes. I can't see any sign of the rubber twisting, but I am more than a little concerned that it might eventually tear.

This isn't the perfect Blackarachnia figure, but it's certainly one of the best we've had so far... And I'm curious to see if the 20th Anniversary of Beast Wars will bring us a Masterpiece version over the next year or so.

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