Saturday, 30 April 2016

TF Prime 'Ultimate Opponents' Bumblebee

When I wrote about the mass release of TF Prime Bumblebee, I noted that his anaemic colour and some of the dodgier aspects of his construction left him feeling like a knock-off. Even so, I didn't feel any particular need to pick up the First Edition version and, in fact, when I did acquire one version of FE Bumblebee in the NYCC2011 set with Arcee, Jack and Raf, I happily parted company with New York Cab Bumblebee, giving him to a friend who collects versions of Bumblebee across all continuities.

I did also note that the FE version exhibited several improvements over the mass release... so when another version of FE Bumblebee turned up in a set with another version of FE Starscream, I figured I may as well give him a more serious looking-over.

Vehicle Mode:
Two things are immediately obvious about this version of the figure: first and foremost, it's molded in a much nicer yellow plastic - richer and warmer, versus the stark, somewhat acidic yellow of the mass release. Secondly... that's AllSpark Blue, isn't it?

Yes, that infamous all-but-fluorescent paint from the first round of TransFormers live action movie repaints is back... but, weirdly, it kind of works here... The way the bright cyan fades to black around the mid-point of the side stripes kind of reminds me of those old battery tester strips, which would 'light up' part of a bar to indicate the charge level of the battery... it suggests some kind of Energon boost that's lighting up Bumblebee's markings... and... it actually looks pretty decent. I rather wish the central pair of stripes over the bonnet had been continued all the way to the windscreen so they connected with the stripes on the roof, but the interruption doesn't ruin the effect.

I guess it's also noteworthy that the hubcaps and rear indicator lights have been painted (though the latter have a fairly weak coating of red that ends up looking more orange)... but, while the front of the car looks pretty good, the back is still rather lacking, despite the painted lights.

This version of the model has the exposed engine head of the mass release, but it lacks the 5mm weapon port, and the FE's single dual-barrel blaster mounts on the underside of vehicle mode, rather than anywhere useful. The central part of the engine head looks as though it could be removable, but isn't as far as I can tell.

With no other weapon ports and some cleverly positioned transformation seams (or precisely aligned paint applications, more to the point), the FE version of the Bumblebee is a slightly larger, beefier and cleaner muscle car in a more pleasant colour... but, on the downside, it has the same incongruous grey blocks visible on the front edges of its doors.

Robot Mode:
The more I look at the FE version of Bumblebee, the more I warm to it. Its proportions are pretty wacky - super-wide shoulders atop a positively waspish waist (seriously, even Barbie would blush), overly long arms hanging down to the knees of comparatively short legs, and ginormous clown feet - but it captures the essence of Bumblebee's CGI and takes to to fun, cartoonish proportions. The doors hanging off his back stick out a little too far and have halves of the roof folded down into them, but he doesn't have anything sticking up behind his head, blocking off his light piping, and he has no massive, ugly backpack, keeping his silhouette nice and slim.

The alterations to the paint job of the original First Edition aren't as obvious in robot mode because now only a small portion of the blue striping is really visible, except from above, and the door stripes are right behind his shoulder. Even though the shoulders on this are much truer to the CGI (and utilise a fairly clever transformation), they're still pretty large. Also, aside from a tiny patch of silver on his belly, everything between the chest and the shins is unpainted, which is pretty disappointing.

If there was one glaring problem with the First Edition, it was the inclusion of only one of Bumblebee's signature wrist blasters (it's only just occurred to me that Bumblebee is the only Autobot who doesn't switch his hands for weaponry... aside from him, I think it's only Megatron, Soundwave, Dreadwind and Skyquake who have separate weapons). It's a nice mold - larger than the pair included with the mass release, and without the 5mm port on the back since there would be nothing to plug into it - but it's easily the daftest aspect of this version of Bumblebee. When it's not connected in robot mode, there's nowhere to store it. I've also found that the very short peg on the underside doesn't like to plug into either of the forearm ports - it goes in, but not without a fight.

Bumblebee's FE head sculpt is surprisingly different to the mass release - it seems sharper, more detailed all round, particularly at the back, though this could easily be simply because less of the back of the FE's head was cast in translucent cyan plastic to facilitate his light piping... without the obstruction behind his head that the mass release has, he doesn't need as large an input for a very impressive output. On the subject of the eyes, they are perhaps the strangest difference between the two versions - FE Bumblebee's expression is fairly neutral, while the mass release has eyebrows molded in a more aggressive/angry look. The face is painted silver, like the NYCC2011 version, rather than the darker, gunmetal colour used on the original First Edition

At the rear of the vehicle, transformation is essentially the same as the mass release, bar a separate heel piece on each foot and a flap of rear windscreen behind the calves. At the front, however, it couldn't be more different. It's easy to see where steps and joints were cut out for the mass release as the head reveal is basically the same, just with a couple more twists, turns and folds to neaten things up, and it's only the windscreen on his back as the roof ends up on the 'wings'. If I had one gripe about the transformation it would be that it results in a rather odd-looking ridge on his torso, where his slim, trim belly suddenly has to jut out to meet the chest. It looks terrible from the sides, but works OK from most other angles. The way the shoulders fold/unfold for transformation is very clever, and the fact that the plug that connects Bumblebee's shoulder armour over the front wheels is reused in vehicle mode to keep the doors securely in place  means there was no need for any car frame parts on the arms. Overall, it's a clever and efficient transformation... but the whole chest arrangement is very fiddly, and the two flaps of chest that are supposed to pop down don't like to stay even.

At first, I didn't see any major improvements in poseability versus the mass release... but it didn't take me long to discover the waist joint which, alone, opens up all kinds of new possibilities. Shortly after, I noticed that the forearms can rotate just in front of the elbow so, while he's packaged with 'monkey arms', where the ball-jointed elbow bend mostly inward, toward the body, they can be adjusted to just about any position. The shoulders are rather awkward, in that their rotation comes from a rod that angles backward from the torso and, while one rod pops out slightly from its mounting, the other is reluctant to do so, which leaves the shoulder armour on that side clashing with his chest, unseating it whenever I try to move the arm.

Even though I've fiddled with the First Edition mold once already - before I gifted it to my Bumblebee-ophile friend - this was the first one I actually took any real time over, largely to figure out of I wanted to keep this one or pass it on... and I still haven't decided. It's definitely superior to the mass release version, but some of the fiddliness of the chest is frustating due to the amount of time needed to ensure everything is in its proper place after any movement of the arms. Neither version has perfect shoulders, but the clever overall design and more pleasant shade of yellow tip things further in favour of this one, and the 'Energon Charge' effect on the stripes is far more amusing than it has any right to be.

Just for fun, I'll include the Silas and Mech Soldier figures here - neither are at all poseable, not even the head moves, which makes them somewhat less impressive than the NYCC2011 figures of Jack and Raf.
Otherwise known as Gothic Spaderman and Myrey Silas
Also included in the set I bought was a 16-page booklet of 'CLASSIFIED' profiles of the characters. The US version had a DVD with a few episodes of the TV show, so I was a bit disappointed by this booklet. The CGI images aren't exactly pin-sharp, and each 'profile' is a single line in each of 13 European languages, including such dazzling insights as "Bulkhead uses his enormous strength against the Decepticons"

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