Saturday, 18 June 2016

UFO Toys UP-2 Mega Arm & TF Dream Factory PJ-01 Evil-Blood Blade

I originally wrote about the Leader class Megatron figure from the Revenge of the Fallen toyline over six years ago, when I found it to be a rather poor attempt at realising the movie's CGI as a plastic toy. Given it's simplicity and lack of screen accuracy, one could be forgiven for thinking it wasn't even from the same toyline as its counterpart Optimus Prime, which is still one of the best TransFormers toys to come out of the movie line.

The problems with Megatron were mostly due to the CGI design being shit. Megatron in the movies was never recognisably Megatron, and not just because he didn't turn into a gun. After all, Megatron has been a jet/spacecraft thing before (Energon, Animated) and since (Prime, Generations), he's been a tank about a billion times (G2, Armada, Classics, off the top of my head) and since (Generations/War for Cybertron, twice so far in Combiner Wars). The problem was that, while all the other Decepticons and Autobots looked like robots that turned into vehicles, Megatron had been conceived as a character who felt that disguise was beneath him. The inevitable result was that he didn't look like much of anything in either robot or vehicle mode until Dark of the Moon and by that point he was, for the most part, a rusty shell of his former self.

As a result, the toys were terrible until the Dark of the Moon toyline, with the first being a misshapen jet/spacecraft made out of spikes, and the second being a misshapen tank made out of spikes. Both turned into misshapen robots made out of spikes, both had limited or poorly-designed articulation and neither one truly felt like they lived up to the potential of any of the available size classes. One would think, though, that Hasbro would have been able to do a better job of representing the rebuilt Megatron and his 'Murder Arm' considering the fact that his primary claw/blade pretty much disembowels Optimus Prime before his arm cannon finishes him off is quite a major 'plot' point in the movie, such as it was... and yet what we got was this:
"So... disappointing."
A downright shabby, poorly articulated, spring-loaded missile-launching mess, with a limply spring-loaded blade attached to a large, clawed plate... and then there's the other arm, known less than affectionately as 'the gimp arm', which is essentially the animatronic skeleton of a Skeksis spliced to a short, shrivelled arm on which the elbow is evidently also the wrist.
A tank... though almost by default.
Its vehicle mode looks like a robot doing weird alien yoga thanks to not even attempting to disguise the head (accurate to the movie CGI though that may be). Whereas RotF's Leader class Optimus Prime managed to include lights and sounds without sacrificing intricacy, this one - much like its predecessor - faked or bodged its detail to accommodate utterly lacklustre effects, and could have been made just as well in a smaller size class... My RotF Megatron has been stuffed into a box in the bottom of my wardrobe - along with the original movie's Optimus Prime toy, several others which were superseded by better toys, and a whole host of other junk - since I bought the Dark of the Moon Voyager toy.

But RotF Leader class Megatron need no longer suffer these ignominies. Two third party companies have independently developed replacements for both arms of this toy and, while it seemed pretty pointless to upgrade to UFO Toys' left arm and leave the right with its ugly, spring-loaded toy arm, the appearance of TF Dream Factory's take on the 'Murder Arm' suddenly seemed to turn both into must-have upgrades.

UP-2 Mega Arm
This arrived at my office in a large box built of polystyrene chunks and comprehensively covered with heavy-duty sticky tape. It was so light, the colleague who brought it to me thought I'd received "an empty box from China". Inside, however, was a nice, sturdy, and surprisingly small box, with an interesting (if misaligned) textured laminate on the front. The top and bottom of the box show a wireframe representation of the arm within, while the back offers the barest minimum of instructions for installing the replacement limb. Inside, the arm is contained within a simple clamshell of plastic.

Left Arm:
It took something like five years for UFO Toys to reveal their replacement for his withered left arm. UP-2 Mega Arm is a bulkier representation of the wacky, clawed arm that Megatron actually had in the movie. By the time this upgrade turned up, the RotF Leader class Megatron toy had been repainted as 'Shadow Command Megatron' and 'Dark Energon/Nightmare Megatron' so, by the looks of things, two versions were made available - the 'standard' version and the 'purple/pink' variant. The former seems to have been designed to work with both the original Leader class figure and the Shadow Command variant, and consequently matches neither - it's far too dark a grey for the original, at any rate. On the upside, it's ridiculously detailed and features sprays of silver to help in blend in with the paler body of the original release.

Fitting the arm is simply a case of removing a couple of pegged-in armour shards from the back of the shoulder, unscrewing and removing the rear plate, then fitting it all back together around the robot's shoulder mushroom peg. It works very nicely, but I did notice that the top doesn't stay together very well, and probably could have done with a screw of its own.

The range of motion is much improved on the original, with the arm's outward movement unhindered by a mobile (and actually fairly wobbly) armour panel, though the inward motion does get hindered by the protrusions from the base of the shoulder armour and the upper part of the bicep. The bicep rotates a full 360°, while the elbow bends slightly more than 90°. The wrist also rotates a full 360°, if a little awkwardly due to the delicate-looking design of the hand, and the fact that the fingers are independently hinged (albeit with only one knuckle joint apiece). The upper arm is suitably bulky - far better proportioned than the original - while the lower arm is a framework of four twisted bars with a slightly mobile spike on the underside (though this may simply be due to an absence of glue sticking it to the screw channel within the forearm).

A screw hole on the bicep is concealed behind an additional spike which, by default, points backwards, but can easily be repositioned. I've also noticed that the wrist section comes slightly apart as the wrist is rotated - the hand seems to be held in by a similar mushroom peg as the shoulder, albeit protruding right through the wrist into the hollow forearm. The fingers, for no obvious reason, are evenly spaced rather than in the style of a proper hand though, given the state of the CGI model, it's difficult to tell whether this is accurate or not. The only real problem with this is that it's impossible to determine which is supposed to be his thumb... assuming Megatron actually has a thumb on his left hand...

PJ-01 Evil-Blood Blade
Third parties aren't always coy in naming their products and, while this set has a suitably obscure name, the artwork has Megatron's name emblazoned across the front in red, and the word 'Decepticon' added as a prefix to the product's name. It's another good, sturdy box but, while it doesn't have any snazzy laminated parts, the artwork is pretty cool. The front of the box shows a CGI representation of the Murder Arm over a cleverly Photoshopped image of the toy, made to look as if it's a sumi-e painting. The sides show a similar sort of thing, but with the 'normal' arm, while the back gives more details, as well as showing off Megatron's tank mode in a similar style and giving his tech specs. I think some of the numbers are oddly chosen (8 for strength? 9 for speed? 4 for endurance and 7 for courage?!), but I guess they could apply to movie Megatron specifically... and, as Starscream says at the end of RotF, "Not to call you a coward, Master, but sometimes cowards do survive...".

There's one feature of this upgrade that isn't highlighted very well on the packaging, but I'll get to that later on...

Right Arm:
There are significant differences in the way TF Dream Factory have handled their right arm versus UFO Toys' left. For one thing, they've followed the original toy's colourscheme, even down to the incongruously black shoulder. Hasbro's was - for whatever reason - grey plastic painted black, while this one is molded in black plastic. The shoulder is larger and more accurately-detailed, even including some Cybertronian glyphs which were omitted on Hasbro's version.

The sculpted detail is fairly true to the original, albeit much more refined. The forearm is fully enclosed, and the hand features only three 'fingers' and a defined, separate thumb. Each finger also features two joints so, while they're as oddly-shaped as UFO Toys', they're that little bit more poseable and expressive. The arm has similar articulation - hugely improved on Hasbro's stock right arm - with the outward movement and rotation on ratchets, an elbow that bends a little less than 90° and a wrist which rotates a full 360°.

Murder Arm:
This, of course, is the main event: the enormous, vicious claw that impaled Optimus Prime, allowing Megatron to basically fire off his fusion cannon right into Prime's spine. TFDF have done an awesome job in creating the arm the toy should have been created with in the first place. It has the proper, claw-like design with two slightly mobile digits (both rotate 180° at their knuckle, but neither opens very far), the lower one being able to extend to become even more vicious-looking. When I first got this thing out of its box, the lower claw was extremely reluctant to move, so I ended up unscrewing it to take a look. Turns out it's held in place by interlocking teeth on the rear shield parts and the claw piece itself and, personally, I've found leaving the screw a little loose to be very beneficial - the claw is still held firmly in place, but it's much easier to move when actually pulled, and hopefully isn't ruining the plastic teeth.

Aside from this, the articulation is much the same - this weapon arm actually has an elbow which, just like the 'normal' arm, bends on a ratchet, and there's the same rotation joint just above the elbow. Switching between arms is accomplished by simply pulling the arm off at that rotation joint but, like the claw extention, I've found that loosening a screw makes the process feel far less precarious. The peg above the elbow seems sturdy but, having forked out £35 on this, I didn't want to risk it breaking straight out of the box.

The really cool feature of this third party upgrade is that it comes with its own battery-operated light inside the cannon's barrel, which operates independently of Megatron's own battery-operated gimmicks. It's a super-bright LED with some kind of UV element to its output, as shining it on some of my other toys causes both plastic and paintwork to glow on quite a few of them. Activating and deactivating the light can be fiddly, as the button is a tiny little nub stuck in between two ridges in the sculpt of the forearm, and it has to be pressed in quite far to trigger the switch. Amusingly, the back of the box refers to an 'open laser cannon', seemingly presenting the light bleeding through the plastic as an intentional feature.

Beautifully sculpted and vicious-looking though they may be, neither the Murder Arm nor the normal arm feature any paintwork, not even the sprays of silver than the UFO Toys arm has. It's a bit of a shame, but I'm already thinking I might paint the black shoulder silver, so perhaps I'll add a few other touches elsewhere.

Upgraded Megatron:
And here we have a Megatron that's far closer to the movie CGI... though still far from perfect. I really don't understand why TFDF chose to cast the shoulder in black plastic, to match the appearance of the original toy, rather than the same grey as the rest of the arm, especially when the plastic used for the rest of the arm is such a close match - it's not perfect, but I can't quite decide in what precise way it's so very slightly different because of the silver and black paintwork on the body affecting the way it looks in just about every kind of light. The fact that there's no paintwork - silver or otherwise - on the arm doesn't help it blend in either. The only thing that saves it from looking unfinished is the sheer extent of molded detail.

The darker plastic of the UFO Toys arm is rather more obviously different, but the silver paint, and the fact that it is all one colour of plastic means it ends up fitting in better than either of TFDF's arms... but then, Megatron was rebuilt from parts of other Decepticons, so some colour discrepancies would seem to be par for the course.

While I like the fact that TFDF included a normal arm, I don't suppose anyone who buys the set will actually display their upgraded Megatron with anything other than the Murder Arm... Personally, I only reluctantly fitted the normal arm so that I could take a few photos for this posting, just for the sake of completeness...

Tank Mode:
One of the big gripes about Leader class Megatron's tank mode was that proper and complete transformation meant that his gun was permanently facing forward and that the shoulder - which could theoretically function as a turret - was made redundant because it had to clip in to service the electronic lights and sounds. TFDF's arm connects the shoulder to the body in the same way, but leaves the arm completely free to move around... though the UFO Toys arm does restrict its range of movement to the left because it doesn't fold all the way over and lie underneath the cannon the way the original gimp arm did... it just sort of hangs back along the side of the vehicle. Given that Megatron isn't disguised as a terrestrial tank, it actually doesn't look that out of place... and, let's face it, his asymmetry is no worse than that of Dark of the Moon Shockwave.

TFDF thoughtfully included a four-pronged cannon tip modelled after the one on the Hasbro version, which simply slides over the muzzle of the gun. The larger, evil-looking claw extends out over the rear of the vehicle, while the smaller one almost looks like it simply connects the cannon to the body of the vehicle, and completes its clever and subtle disguise by having what looks like two smaller guns sticking out of it.

The obvious caveat with these two is that they are entirely separate upgrades made by two entirely independent third party companies. I picked up UP-2 Mega Arm on eBay for £18 ($25), and PJ-01 Evil-Blood Blade at for a little over £25 ($35). TF-Direct actually stocks both at the moment, also offering three versions of PJ-01, to better suit owners of the Shadow Command or Dark Energon/Nightmare variants of the mold (the latter two featuring paintwork on the Murder Arm and grey or silver shoulder parts). If you own and like any of the official Leader Class figures, I'd say PJ-01 is a must-have, simply because it's a proper, articulated arm whether you choose to attach the 'normal' arm or the Murder Arm to the figure. However, with that installed, the terrible, withered left arm looks even worse, and begs to be replaced by UP-2 so that Megatron can start to look as he should. Since purchasing these two, I've put this figure back on display, reorganising my movie Decepticons shelf specifically to accommodate him.

Of course, if you're not a fan of the Leader class toy, a pair of upgrades which together cost much the same as the original retail price of the figure probably ain't going to change your mind.

It's also worth noting that the fingers on both replacement arms are exceedingly thin, rigid plastic, and consequently likely to be delicate and quite easily breakable. The joints on both - but particularly those of the PJ-01 'normal' arm's fingers - are even thinner, so I'd be inclined to handle both with care. For the most part, other than those points, both seem very sturdy.

...There are now rumours of replacement legs on the way... At this rate, eventually, this thing will get upgraded into a whole new figure.

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