Sunday, 29 May 2016

KuBianBao Deformation Detective

Knockoff merchants have long been know to upsize existing toys in an attempt to make their luridly coloured, poor quality plastic and simplified mechanics less of an issue - bigger toy meaning greater value for money, and all that. In more recent years, though, many knockoff merchants have developed the audacity to knock off official products - and, occasionally, Third Party products - without simplifying the engineering at all... and one or two have even had the bare-faced cheek to improve upon the original.

One such manufacturer is KuBianBao, whose Deformation brand has knocked off and enlarged both Age of Extinction and Combiner Wars figures (though not, as yet, any of the gestalts). There seems to be a competition going on between KuBianBao and WeiJiang over the size of their oversize figures and the extras they come with. While WJ have produced the ultimate movie Optimus Prime figure, KBB's take on Hound seemed to be a more appropriate size versus some of the genuine figures and comes with a knock off of Doctor Wu's Mercenary kit.

There was some consternation when this box arrived at my office. It was handed to me by a somewhat excited and curious editor, and one of my colleagues asked "is that what I think it is?" in tones of awe. Rather than open it up in the office - since I wasn't sure if it had been despatched in its bare packaging or if there was a 'proper' box within - I sought out images on Google and video reviews on YouTube to show off what had arrived.

When I finally opened the box at home, I was pleased to find inside a Masterpiece-style presentation box with KuBianBao's logo proudly displayed, a silver foil panel proclaiming the presence of die cast parts, and a Spot UV varnished image of 'Detective' on the matte-finished, heavy card box. It's not quite so good as MP boxes, or even WeiJiang's - the front has a particularly muddy image of the robot in a comparatively dull pose (and it seems to be the same image as used in monochrome on the outer box) against a background so indistinct it may as well have just been a gradient - but it's clear they've put a lot of effort into it. It's just a shame that the bio on the back is in such poorly translated 'Engrish'.


Vehicle Mode:
Scaling has long been an issue with TransFormers toys - prominent characters from the same continuity are frequently released in all size classes rather than just the most appropriate one (hence the myriad Bumblebees, large and small) - and Age of Extinction Hound was squarely hit by this problem in just about every way. Not much larger than a Deluxe, he didn't scale properly with the cars or with Evasion Mode Optimus Prime, but nor did he match up with older figures like Dark of the Moon Megatron. He was, essentially, in size class all his own, and didn't work in vehicle mode with any other movie line toy.

Cut to this oversize remake from KuBianBao which, at 24cm long, 8cm wide and 9cm high (9.5" x 3" x 3.5" approx) is close to being the right scale for displaying alongside Revenge of the Fallen Optimus Prime... maybe a touch too big, but it's tricky to scale toy military vehicles against toy civilian trucks. Most of the detail is there, but notable by its absence is any Oshkosh branding, and the headlights on the main body of the truck appear to have been simplified. Curiously, the colour of some of the lights has been changed - from the bullbar-mounted lights becoming red to the switched colours of the main headlights on the bumper - though the five roof-mounted lights on the front of the cab are still orange. Like the Hasbro original, there's no paintwork - no detailing, let along camouflage - on the body of the vehicle, and no cheesecake painting on the side of the painted die cast cab. Probably the most disappointing aspect is the total absence of paintwork on the rear end, which looks just as plain as Hasbro's. On the upside, the hubcaps have all been painted, so the wheels look good.

Like the Hasbro version, all of Detective's weapons can be mounted on the sides of his vehicle mode, but the connections are rather more tenuous in some cases. For whatever reason, the triple-chaingun weapon doesn't peg on securely (it feels as though only one peg actually goes into the appropriate slot), and the pegs for the guns that attach above it are more than a little loose. The knife, meanwhile, barely plugs into anything because its pegs don't match the diameter of any of the holes. This is a stark contrast to Hound's weapons which, about a year and a half after purchase, are exhibiting signs of plastic stress on most of their sockets and the barrel of one of the larger pistols has broken due to the peg on the knife's hilt. The five-barrelled shotguns attach firmly to their tabs, but look as odd on this version as they did on the smaller original.

Overall, this really does look just like an oversized version of Hasbro's release, even down to the incongruous patch of grey ahead of the rear wheels and the unpainted grey middle section of the bumper-level bullbar. This being a much larger vehicle, though, the lack of painted detailing is all the more jarring, not to say disappointing. If a full camouflage paint job wasn't an option, a black or brown wash, just to make him look less pristine, would have been very welcome.

Robot Mode:
At first glance, the biggest difference between this figure and the original is its size and the included upscaling of the Dr. Wu Mercenary set. Honestly, it's a testament to the quality of the original that so little needed changing, and the main improvement - that of his size - makes for a very striking addition to a shelf of movie figures. Detective stands about a head taller than RotF Optimus Prime, which would seem about right, given the relative mass of the two vehicles (Hound's vehicle mode being slightly larger even that Prime's AoE Western Star concept truck), and is very broad and deep... he probably takes up at least as much shelf-space as RotF Jetfire, and my Movie Autobots shelf took quite a bit of reorganising to accommodate him.

The sculpted detail is, in the main, on par with the smaller Hasbro version, but I've noticed that the hips are rather different, with the details at the joint being hollowed out and looking decidedly ugly as a result. Everything else appears to be basically the same, though.

Whereas the Hasbro version featured only a few touches of paint on the torso, the entire central (die cast) part in Detective is painted sliver with the same dash of red in the upper recessed detail panel. He also features metallic paint on his groin and hands but, other than that, the paint applications are no more extensive than on Hasbro's version. The small missile things on his arms are painted gold and silver rather than gold and green but, while this may look more appropriate, it's actually less accurate to the CGI.

His weapons are all well and good, but they feel quite poor quality - very light, hollow-sounding plastic. They attach to Detective's body securely enough, but I have found it tricky to get them into his hands. More significantly, the loose connections mentioned above mean it's basically impossible to create the multi-weapon mega-cannon mode that the pegs, tabs and sockets are there for. The long, flat tabs on the triple chain gun are of inconsistent sizes - for some reason - but both are too large for the slots on the five-barrel shotguns. The larger pistols were held to the vehicle mode configuration by gravity alone, so won't stay on the underside of the chain guns and the knife won't fit anywhere other than the socket on his chest. The guns may look more impressive than the dull, grey, Hasbro versions, but they're actually pretty crummy. Making matters even worse, the upsized Mercenary gear set doesn't connect up very well (the webbing that sits behind the central portion really doesn't like to stay in place), and none of the weapons - the grenades in particular - actually fit in his hands, making them seem more than a little pointless. My set is also missing the 'belt buckle' that holds the two sets of straps together behind Detective's back (hence the green bulldog clip in my photos). Still, I can't deny that he looks particularly striking when fully tooled-up.

Detective's head sculpt is vastly more detailed than Hasbro's splodgy mess, but the face above the beard seems too human - too smooth and rounded. Like the Hasbro version, the front half is molded in rubber and painted - more or less just like the Hasbro version - with a stark black beard against a silver face. Unlike the Hasbro version, though, the back of the head is molded in grey plastic rather than green, which looks terrible. Making matters worse, for some reason, KuBianBao decided to paint the moustache silver rather than black, so it looks as though he as a 'jawline only' beard and a blobby upper lip. One rather cute feature of this remold is the 'cigar' stuck in his mouth. I can understand that Hasbro wouldn't include such a detail in one of their toys for fear of upsetting parents, but it was such an important part of Hound's look that he just looked wrong without it.

Transformation has barely changed from the official version - the only difference, really, is that the panels that made up the topmost rear section of the vehicle are attached, via little articulated arms (ball joints at either end, with a hinge toward the rear), to the robot's chest rather than his hands. This enables them to cover over what was a massive gaping chasm in his back. There's still a hole, but it's not as blatantly obvious as it is on the Hasbro version. Getting him back into vehicle mode, these panels present no additional challenges thanks to the otherwise excellent design of the original figure, though I do sometimes have trouble getting the arms to fold into place due to the way the panels behind his elbows tab into place with some parts, but just have to get wedged over others.

Unlike WeiJiang's Commander, there are no real changes to his articulation either - the hands are still solid pieces molded in a sort-of grip position and the feet still only have the dubious rotating toe section. The head is on a strange ball-jointed 'neck' that sort of snakes backward from its socket, giving him a decent range of natural motion there and raising it slightly higher over the shoulder line, keeping the beard clear of the top of the chest, where the original's was pinned and placed so low, the use of rubber was required to allow it to rotate more than a couple of degrees in either direction. Personally, I have found it nigh impossible to pose Detective's legs in anything other than a basic 'slightly spread legs' stance, and trying to pose him with his knees bent invariably leaves him leaning over, if not actually falling over. Due to the need to supporting additional weight, a very basic ratchet (a solid plastic tab extending from the vehicle panel on the back of the arm) has been added to the upper elbow joint, and it's already showing signs of plastic stress. The lower elbow joint is still pinned and tends to be about as strong as the Hasbro version... which is to say, not very. Also the thicker, denser rubber of his forearms restricts the movement of his wrists, almost to the extent where I wonder if KuBianBao understood that was why the forearms were molded in rubber.

So, let's bottom-line this: buying KBB Detective from the States cost me a little under £40 (which is approximately $60, yet roughly the price of an average Leader class figure in the UK) plus a little over £10 in shipping charges (via eBay's Global Shipping Programme, so no extra charges from UK Customs). The standard Hasbro Hound would have been about £20-25 ($30-35-ish), and the figure is at least twice the size, has improved engineering and die cast parts... plus the Doctor Wu Mercenary kit upsized to fit. On the surface, that's an excellent deal.

That said, I find Detective a little disappointing, not just in comparison to the re-engineering marvel that is WeiJiang's Commander but, certainly, the lack of additional paint applications is just plain annoying. Upsizing the mold, then putting all the die cast components in the torso has made for a very top-heavy figure, and the feet weren't exactly the most stable base to begin with when it came to balancing him in any exciting poses. With the added weight and fairly weak knees, Detective can be a complete pain.

On the upside, having the rear panels of the vehicle end up on his back rather than on his hands does make a huge difference to the look of the figure because it covers over part of the massive gap that his his back. The addition of the knocked off Doctor Wu extras is certainly cool - the webbing helps offset the excessively long legs, making him look more like the rotund character from the movie - but the rubber feels cheap and the pouches on the belt appear to be shallower than those of the original. As mentioned above, mine lacks the black plastic piece that acts as the main 'belt buckle' at the back though I don't expect that's a widespread issue.

My biggest gripe - and, admittedly, this is entirely down to the WeiJiang figure's excesses - is that the paint job doesn't significantly improve on what Hasbro did. Detective looks just as plain as Hound in vehicle mode, when a model this size really deserved the camouflage detailing visible on the movie vehicle. Robot mode could have had all kinds of painted embellishments added, but they've gone with the bare minimum so, good as it is, and more extensive than Hasbro's though it may be, Detective comes across as a knockoff with slightly improved engineering rather than a proper upgrade. Build quality on some of the joints is also debatable, and the elbow joints look especially perilous and prone to breakage, while the not-ratchets at the knees are so soft they're barely there.

For anyone who's on the fence about picking this guy up, I'd say it depends largely on two factors: whether or not you already have Voyager class Hound, and whether or not you want a version of Hound that scales better with other movie figures. If you don't have the Hasbro or Takara Tomy Voyager, this is almost a no-brainer - it's certainly well worth the £40-ish I paid, despite the shortcomings, because it's at least on par with current Leader class TransFormers toys. If you do, I'm not sure it represents enough of an improvement on the original unless you really need a Hound that's closer to the right size versus the other movie figures.

1 comment:

  1. Really useful review. I'll perhaps take the no brainer option. I'm expecting the Wei Jang Evasion oversized to arrive, really eager about it since recently I haven lessen the hype on shopping transformers. I also perhaps will take the chance of the poor paint work, for practicing some custom work on this, if I get to get it. Thanks againd.