Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Beast Wars Tripredacus

If I'd had any foresight whatsoever, I would have written up and scheduled this set months ago rather than trying (and, naturally, failing) to squeeze it in before the end of the last ever BotCon organised by Fun Publications. I mean, the whole theme of their last ever boxed set is the Tripredacus Council, and these guys are it, only substantially less red than the Club's interpretation. Annoyingly, though, it only occurred to me that I had this set on my shelves on the 9th and, of course, I hadn't already taken photos...

In retrospect, I couldn't even say why I picked up this set - when I saw them (at AutoAssembly, I think... second hand an in plastic bags, most likely) there must have been a moment of madness, or I simply wanted to know what the combined form looked like. Certainly, back when I bought them, I wasn't aware of the Tripredacus Council from Beast Wars, nor was I especially keen on expanding my collection of Beast Wars toys.

But, hey, I've got it, so let's take a look at the toys that (sort of) inspired BotCon's swan song, the 2016 boxed set, Dawn of the Predacus...

Beast Mode:
Oddly enough, it's a Cicada... sort of. No idea what sort, precisely, as there are lots of different kinds, but this fella has a short, fat, mostly green body with large, bulbous orange eyes. I'm not even certain about the construction of this fly as the traditional head-thorax-abdomen doesn't seem to apply unless the white bits sticking out of this back are meant to be the abdomen... I mean, sure, there are green bits below it, and the tapering of the green section in the middle tends to imply that's the thorax leading to the abdomen but a brief bit of research suggest this tapering section could be the tail end of certain types of Cicada. Basically, it's not very convincing regardless of the colourscheme, but the mixture of stark, contrasting green, white, orange and purple certainly doesn't help. The green plastic has a subtle gold flake element that catches the light in interesting ways and there may be a slightly pearlised finish to the white, but the purple is flat and very incongruous, especially where it's used for the insect's proboscis, coming out of the white underside of head's central portion.

There's quite a bit of molded detail, though it's difficult to say how much - if any - is authentically cicada-like. The panels down the sides which sort-of conceal his feet, for example, have weird, veiny, tendony details that look suitably squishy, but don't really fit the idea of an insect body, and none of it really lines up with any of the details on the head or the upper surface of the body. The overall effect is also let down by the rudimentary 'arms under the beast body' transformation

Like the old G1 Insecticons, Cicadacon's legs are stubby plastic protrusions with zero articulation - that is so say, they move, but really only in the service of transformation. The protruding proboscis (apparently a 'nasal cannon') is on a hinge, but the wings are the main feature: all four are molded in a slightly cloudy, but otherwise mostly colourless translucent plastic with a faint gold sheen (though, given the age of the figures, it could simply be that the plastic has yellowed over time), and each one connects to the body via it's own ball joint which allows them to rotate just about anywhere, and to fold up and down a little way. The ball joints for the larger wings are raised slightly, so they can fold back over the smaller wings for an 'at rest' pose, though most real cicadas fold their wings down their sides, and the ball joints don't have quite enough range for that

The wings are also where the robot's weapons are concealed (if honeycomb-patterned blades with bright, almost fluorescent orange ribs can be considered concealed by translucent plastic), plugged into the underside in a recessed area that actually allows them to swing forward, possibly as some kind of aerial weapon somewhat like the flip-out blades on Airazor... and, really, about as useful.

Robot Mode:
This is about as weird as one would expect from such a compact beast mode - it's basically the chunky fly body folded in half to create an even chunkier 'robot' body, with short and spindly arms and legs sprouting out of the sides and bottom, and the wings just kind of hanging off the back like a cape. In a lot of ways, it's the traditional Seeker look only, y'know, an insect rather than a jet. There's also something Superhero-esque about his overall look - the broad, cartoonishly muscular chest, and a distribution of colour that could easily work for a costumed hero... he even has the 'pants on over his tights, knee-high boots' look.

Yet what strikes me most - even more than the wacky build and the not-exactly complementary colours - is that this thing just doesn't look like a robot. Not even slightly... it's as if the techno-organic element that got explored with the Maximals in Beast Machines originated here. His overall form and style are not entirely dissimilar to the G2 Cyberjets - the front of the alternate mode folds down to become his chest, the wings are on the back - and it's even possible to give him a G1 Seeker-ish look by leaving the sides of the head up on his shoulders... though that does leave the combined mode's head completely exposed.

Cicadacon's swords look pretty good and fit snugly in his hands, but I've found the plastic they're made of to be a little on the soft side, and the very thin clip part that plugs it into the combined mode's weapon has some signs of stress on at least one of the swords, so they need very careful handling to prevent them becoming useless for the combined weapon wielded by Tripredacus.

Of the set, Cicadacon has the tightest joints, and his poseablilty is let down only by incredibly loose ankles as, since virtually all the joints are ball joints, they have decent range and don't sag in the least... but the top-heaviness of the figure leads him to tip backward at the ankle. He can perch on his wings if that happens, but that doesn't seem like the greatest of design choices. The shoulder transformation joints don't peg into place and have a habit of pulling the green panels with them during transformation or posing but, other than that and the amazingly hollow forearms, he's not half bad.

The head sculpt is pretty bizarre - halfway between an owl and a luchador. It's not the most detailed thing, and much of what's there is lost simply because the white plastic washes it out and the purple paint blots it out. Curiously, what could have been light piping was molded in opaque green plastic (the same as the insect body) and painted over with the same orange as the insect eyes.

Ram Horn
Beast Mode:
As if Cicadocon's beast mode wasn't creepy enough, Ram Horn, his shell molded in translucent burgundy plastic with a shimmery finish that seems to have elements of silver and red, would be quite eerie if only glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye. Upon closer inspection, though, and with this being an insect whose visible surfaces are largely shell, there's not a lot of molded detail, what's there isn't exactly sharp, and the main shell piece is broken by all the indentations required for fitting the pins, etc. to connect it all up. Also, while the plastic used for the shell is all very impressive, the flat brown plastic used for his insect legs looks and feels fairly poor quality. The only paintwork on Ram Horn is the yellow graduation over black on his eyes so, even with a sparkly plastic shell, he manages to look quite plain.

Of the set, Ram Horn's is the transformation I'm least certain of, because the 'robot', such as it is, occupies a tiny section of the belly of the Rhinoceros beetle, but the arms don't seem to have any specific place to go - they're sort of just jammed in under the main shell part - and then the beetle's forelegs protrude from the front section in a way that doesn't look right no matter how they're posed. Making matters more interesting, due to the orientation of the rather floppy ball joint, the front legs fail to support him no matter where they're posed. On the upside, the beetle's head can move around quite a bit, and the larger, forked horn can tilt a little, independently of the head. It's also possible to crack open the shell (and, honestly, it feels as though it will crack as the fit is so tight) to flip out his concealed weapon - a pair of translucent blades that just sort of stick out as an extra pair of horns. It's actually not uncommon for Rhinoceros beetles to have such horns, but they don't look as though they'd be much use...

Other than that, Ram Horn's beetle mode doesn't do a great deal, but it's interesting to note that he's the only one of the three at a remotely realistic size... which just adds to the creep factor...

Robot Mode:
There is something undeniably and amusingly bonkers about Ram Horn in 'robot' mode, from his bulbous chest armour to his tiny, insect-leg-sprouting legs; from his short arms to his very long claws... and then there's that head sculpt, which looks very much like the African witch doctor from some bad 80s made-for-TV Indiana Jones rip-off. Then again, there's also a sense of Murray the Demonic Talking Skull from the Monkey Island games simply because, where the other two have some form of articulation for their heads, Ram Horn has a fixed lower jaw and a ball joint for the rest of his head, meaning he pulls a funny face just by looking around. It's certainly one of the more striking heads in the history of TransFormers, though not necessarily for any good reasons. Unlike the other two heads, there would be no real way to give Ram Horn light piped eyes, so he has unpainted purple plastic for his beady little eyes and a touch of yellow eyeshadow... because... why not? Like the others, it's not overly detailed, but it kind of does the job.

More of the weird purple plastic is visible on Ram Horn's robot mode, though much of it gets covered up by his chest armour. That armour also restricts the movement of his upper arms, leaving what's left a bit like flappy Penguin wings rather than decent arms. Robot mode certainly suffers for all the gimmicks - the concealed weapon and his part in the gestalt - because there's so little robot there, compared to the enormous chunks of Rhinoceros beetle still apparent from most angles. The worst part is probably the way the beetle's legs make his individual robot mode look like an afterthought - the front legs just hang off the back of his neck, while the remaining for protrude from his shins.

His weapon from beast mode unclips (somewhat reluctantly) from the shell on his back and plugs into either hand via a standard 5mm port. It's probably slightly more effective in this mode, looking almost like a Predator's wrist-mounted blades, only translucent and able to swing freely.

Sea Clamp
Beast Mode:
When one tries to think of a threatening beast form for a Decepticon, insects may well only spring to mind because of the G1 Insecticons (or due to fairly understandable phobias of multi-legged crawly things), but I can't think of a single situation (outside, perhaps, of obscure Asian horror movies) where something like a lobster might come up. I mean, sure, they have massive claws that you wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of but, for most people, lobster is something they might have for dinner rather than something they'd shrink from in fear.

Even so, there's something eerie about a mostly translucent brown lobster with a finely-detailed shell that has a slightly oily sheen. Parts of Sea Clamp look quite realistic, though the purple plastic and the partially-concealed section of the gestalt's weapon jammed up in his tail let things down a bit. While I'd have to say the translucent brown plastic doesn't really suit the mold (the Japanese version, a Maximal named Gimlet, uses red and silverish plastics, and looks a bit more realistic, but the 2007 reissue had a massively improved colourscheme), it looks pretty good for what it is, and the coating almost makes it appear wet, as if freshly plucked from the ocean. The only bits of paintwork on Sea Clamp are the almost fluorescent green blobs on his eyes, which add to his bizarrely trying-to-be-sinister appearance.

It should come as no surprise that this mode doesn't do much - the arms and claws move about, but the four legs on each side are a single piece of plastic, hinged under the body. The only other intentionally mobile parts are his short antennae, with each pair being pinned to one side of the head.

Sea Clamp is the only one of the set that has properly integrated weapons - serrated blades that flip out from his claws. I'm not sure how suited they are to his beast mode, though, so I've not taken any photographs of them extended.

Robot Mode:
It's not unexpected that a beast mode with massive claws would lead to a robot mode with massive claws, so it's no surprise to see that Sea Clamp pretty much has to drag his knuckles as he moves around. He also has about the broadest shoulders I've seen on a TransFormers toy, relative to his height, thanks to his shoulders being made up of the beast mode's head. This actually reminds me of one of my more recent purchases, Combiner Wars Skydive, due to how far away from his torso the actual shoulder joints are. His transformation is about the simplest of the set - it's little more than breaking the head in half, disconnecting the two halves of his tail to form separate legs and feet, then popping his chest open to reveal his head.

On the subject of the shoulder ball joints, they are the first sign of potential trouble for the gestalt, because they're extremely loose. In Sea Clamp's robot mode, they're oriented such that they have no real impact on his ability to hold a pose - they're there primarily to get his arms into the right position, then the lobster's arm joints become the robot's arm joints, and they're all nice and tight.

Just like the other two, Sea Clamp ends up looking far too organic to be a robot - none of the molded detail has been designed to look mechanical, as such, so he could easily be some weird, shape-shifting alien, rather than a robot which disguises itself in a beast shell.

Sea Clamp is notable when it comes to weapons: first and foremost, as previously mentioned, his claw-blade weapons - molded in a slightly warmer translucent brown plastic - are integral to his body. Secondly, he's the only one of the team who carries a weapon he cannot wield himself, because it's technically only a component of the gestalt's weapon. The small, white, spring-loaded launcher plugs up into the base of his tail (getting in the way somewhat in beast mode) and only really needs to come out when Sea Clamp combines with his team-mates.

The head sculpt, just like the other two, is a very simple affair with the potential for light piping removed by the use of opaque plastic for the eye section, with the eyes painted in the same nearly-fluorescent green as the lobster's. Other than that, the only paint is a touch of silver on the 'mouth', but the white-ish plastic on the back of the eye section actually emphasises the translucent plastic usef for the front and helps keep some of the molded detail prominent. Sadly the head is on an extremely floppy ball joint but, since its range of motion doesn't go far beyond simple rotation, it doesn't detract from the model.

Well, this is certainly a freakshow... Stretching even my appreciation of asymmetry, Tripredacus splits Ram Horn into two arms that couldn't be more different. One could almost pass for a heavily armoured claw-thing, only it's difficult to decide whether the insect front legs should be positioned symmetrically or whether the frontmost one should be rearranged as a 'thumb', while the other arm is disproportionately small and basically ends in clawed tentacles rather than anything approaching a hand. Worse still, it's barely functional unless it's clamped around the wing-missile launching, claw-bladed weapon and its joints are completely inadequate - the shoulder doesn't do much and the 'elbow', such as it is, won't bend to any useful degree without trying to drag the rest of the arm with it. Comparatively speaking, the proportions of the body and legs aren't too bad - Cicadacon's sides open out to bulk up his shoulder areas and the legs are about the right length. The lobster-head jodhpurs look a bit daft, and the feet are faintly clownish, but all the figures problems come from the way these toys were made at the time.

One thing I do like is the way that Sea Clamp's tail gets repurposed as a bulging, armoured spine which tidies up the rear view quite considerably. It sticks out even more than the chest and so looks pretty daft from the sides but, honestly, this figure is unlikely to ever be displayed in a way that shows off anything of his back.

The colourschemes of Ram Horn and Sea Clamp - cool brown, warm brown and that otherwise incongruous purple - are fairly complementary, but Cicadacon's green, white and orange stick out like a sore thumb stuck in the middle. Having four of his insect legs trying to take centre stage as chest/belly detail somewhat eases the transition between the groin and the chest, but the upper chest is so bright, it would never look wholly appropriate. I'm also not convinced by the wings... I mean, this is surely meant to be a looming, threatening beast of a gestalt, not Tinkerbell...

The head sculpt makes me think of an Angry Birds version of the Joker, a Disney villainess or a smiling, chubby-cheeked guy with a purple goatee. The head is weird, both in shape and detail, but not really what I'd call 'threatening' - the expression is, at worse, one of slightly mean laughter, but could just as easily be an over-the-top Instagram selfie-grin. Tripredacus also has a large, purple horn sticking out of his forehead (which can be angled forward, unicorn-style, since it's also Cicadacon's proboscis) and purple eyebrows which are probably 'on fleek'. I'm honestly not sure whether the BotCon gestalt's head is an improvement, but that's hardly a recommendation.

Tripredacus strikes me as one of those figures that could be done much better these days - ignoring the BotCon version from this year. Each of the bots has to make so many sacrifices in order to present a viable gestalt that their individual robot modes are very variable in quality. In particular, Ram Horn seems to have been designed almost entirely in the service of his beast mode, with robot mode taking a distant second place and his asymmetrically-split-across-the-shoulders arm mode looking like an afterthought. The most successful of the three is Sea Clamp, who strikes a reasonable balance between all three modes, with the weakest aspects being his robot mode's weird proportions and the saggy shoulder/hip joints in his 'legs' mode, but he does stand and even manages to pose reasonably well as long as the upper body is balanced in such a way that it doesn't fall foul of the loose hips.

He comes together easily enough: Sea Clamp splits in half at the robot's waist joint, then again at the head; Ram Horn unfolds around a central extension block; Cicadacon's hips spread out, his arms fold up on themselves and the insect head splits into three sections, the central one being Tripredacus' head. Once transformed correctly, Ram Horn's central strut slots neatly into the cavity occupied by Cicadacon's robot head, then the two of them plug together with the joint inside Sea Clamp's waist, with his legs pegging into a pair of holes in Cicadacon's back.

As gestalts go, this doesn't really seem coherent - not even 'by today's standards', just generally. The only common colour between the three parts - purple - is the one colour that doesn't fit on any of the components, and the asymmetry of the arms rivals even Revenge of the Fallen Megatron. What they've attempted to do with the torso is quite clever, and has made for some cool-looking artwork and a decent-looking animated interpretation of the Maximal version in the Beast Wars II cartoon but, as a toy, it feels like they tried to do too much with three comparatively small - and already awkward - transforming beasts... and, since none of the robot modes look even remotely mechanical, I have a hard time thinking of them as robots.

There's a question that plagues me whenever I look at this set: does it make sense to have a team of two insects and a crustacean? Granted, their home environments are suitably different that they could be regional commanders of some kind, but two of the beast modes are capable of flight and one is aquatic, which would seem to be a limiting factor. The Maximals' equivalent, Magnaboss, made a bit more sense - one could fly, one was the 'tank' (an elephant) and the other was a frickin' lion and, despite having similarly dodgy individual 'bot modes and the gestalt's head perpetually angled upward, it looked OK and the team made more sense as a groups of complementary beasts that combine.

But the weirdest part about this team is the fact that, in Japan, they were released with a whole different colourscheme - no less garish, but slightly more convincing in the case of Sea Clamp and Ram Horn, at least - as Maximals who combined to form 'Tripledacus'. Now, granted, that could be a poor romanisation of the name, considering the R- syllables and L- syllables in Japanese are one and the same, but you can't have the good guys being called 'Tripredacus', can you? Even with the revised colourscheme, though, this thing still looks like a monster, and not the kind that could be one of the good guys. The most curious thing is that Hasbro's version seems never to have appeared in any of the associated fiction.

Ultimately, Tripredacus is an interesting curiosity, but certainly not a must-have. The gestalt is somewhat less than the sum of its parts, and those parts are deeply flawed. It's actually difficult to fathom what direction Hasbro thought they were taking with a set like this, and it's among the weirdest sets that they produced. While the BotCon version has the advantage of Combiner Wars technology and molds, and seems to exist somewhere outside the established Beast Wars continuity, this is very much a product of its time and its toyline.

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