Monday, 25 July 2016

TransFormers Collectors' Club 2016 Members Incentive (Timelines) Ramjet

(Members Incentive Monday #12)
This is very likely to be the last ever Members Incentive Monday on this blog, unless Hasbro license a new Collectors' Club or, y'know, set up one of their own. These 'free' figures, given away since the very first year of Fun Publications' tenure at the helm of the Club, have been a welcome benefit of international membership to a club which is, awkwardly, based in the States and primarily geared toward the domestic market there. They haven't always been awesome figures, but they frequently exceeded my expectations.

Ramjet arrived a few days before Roll Out Roll Call, and was one of those Membership Incentive figures I had very low expectations of - I quite like the Armada Seeker mold, despite the massive protrusion from the back of its shoulders, but the Generations remake seemed pretty pointless. Based on a 2003 Toys'R'Us exclusive Universe repaint of Armada Skywarp, this is probably one of the more obscure homages the Club have released. Is it as dull as I was expecting?

Vehicle Mode:
The Armada Seeker mold was a strange one - very much in the 'too fat to fly' category, but quite nicely designed in some ways, with its powerful-looking jet engines mounted on top. This was muddied somewhat by the fact that they housed the spring-loaded, Mini-Con-activated missile gimmick which flipped the afterburners and their flames 180° to become forward-facing spring-loaded missile launchers... which would surely have resulted in the jet plummeting to the ground..? This version of the jet is sleeker - slimmer of profile and generally more angular - but in this version, strangely, the jet engines have become forward-facing missile launchers (friction-powered, the translucent grey protrusions from the rear being the plungers), leaving the plane with no visible means of propulsion. It's a shame some kind of afterburner-like detail wasn't molded into the insides of the knees, for example, but this isn't a terrestrial jet, so it could be argued that it doesn't need them... While the original had massive chunks of folded-up arm tagged on the undersides of the wings, this version has only fake wing chunks tagged atop the shoulders, with the arms folded straight back, somewhat like the Combiner Wars Aerialbots.

I'm not a massive fan of the colourscheme - largely white and blue with silver on the leading edges of the main wings, and then just enough red to make it uncomfortably Fourth-of-July-ish, without becoming uncomfortably Britain-First-ish. Some of the touches of red seem quite random and, yes, I know it's based on a toy from 2004, but that had some pretty random colouring. In fact, the use of silver on the wings on this one is far more sensible than that of the Universe original, and the jet is generally more colourful and far less white. It's almost a shame that the only mold variation is the robot's head because the Universe version used the Skywarp version of the mold, with its random VTOL fans in the stabiliser wings, and guns replacing the small wings either side of the cockpit.

All versions of the Armada mold suffered from varying degrees of Visible Head Syndrome, but this new mold seems to accentuate that effect by (a) not dropping the head quite so far into its cavity (it's actually flapped down, with the head tilted all the way back to compensate) and (b) having the head molded in bright red plastic. Being mounted on a ball joint, it's rather difficult to ensure it stays properly upright and with the crest in line with the centre of the jet, but that's not a major issue.

Curiously, there are four Mini-Con ports on this mold, though none activate any hidden features. The two missile launchers have one each (versus the single active port on the original, which activated its gimmick), and the other two are on the forearms, laying down the sides of the jet.

Probably the most significant improvement to jet mode is the landing gear. The Armada mold featured tiny pinned wheels in the robot's legs and forearms, meaning the jet could roll along on four oddly-placed wheels. This version has a non-rolling flip-out wheel below the cockpit (since there's no Mini-Con feature to accommodate there) and two additional non-rolling wheels that flip out of the robot's legs.

Robot Mode:
When I wrote about Micron Legend Starscream, I noted that it would be interesting to see what would happen if Takara Tomy decided to remake the mold, as it had with Classics/Universe Hot Shot (see Timelines Dion), and my main hope was that they'd allow the jet engines to fold down his back... Well, now they do, and it's amazing what a difference it makes. First and foremost, he gains a more G1-style silhouette - for better or worse - but it's no small benefit that he doesn't take up as much depth of shelf space as the Armada mold.

It's evident in robot mode how much care and effort has gone into this mold, because even the hollow areas and the undersides of things have sculpted details - the insides of his lower legs feature panel lining, tech detailing and even tiny sculpted screw heads. The undersides of his missile launchers and several internal body parts seen only during transformation also feature their fair share of detailing. The outward-facing surfaces are just as detailed, with lots of reference to the original Armada mold in the sculpting, though it lacks the sculpted Decepticon insignias on the outsides of the forearms. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the sticker sheets made available at this year's BotCon (mainly for partially converting Superion into Magnaboss) included stickers to correct this oversight.

His concealed swords are a lot better concealed - not to mention much more sword-like - than those of the original Armada mold... and you also get two of them. Each made of two clipped-together pieces of translucent grey plastic, they peg into the undersides of the wings, folded up, rather than actually being the wings, and they end up looking like bladed weapons rather than long, squared-off truncheons. The hinge in the middle is, inevitably, a weak point, and one of mine does have a tendency to pop apart as it's opened or closed. The connection, perhaps strangely, is a very basic 'plastic peg into a plastic c-clip' arrangement rather than using a metal pin. Given that translucent plastic is said to be more brittle than opaque, it could be as much a safety measure as it is cost-saving. Still, the swords do look pretty good (the tips reminding me somewhat of the chunky sword packaged with Energon Starscream) and fit very firmly in his hands... to the point where I'm more worried about them breaking either installing them in or removing them from his hands than I am while simply opening them up or closing them.

The friction-launch missiles are surprisingly effective given how loose the mechanism feels. The translucent grey plungers rattle around like crazy and the red sleeves within the launcher move when the plungers are so much as nudged, not just when the missiles are fired. Still, I like the way the red sections come forward as part of the firing mechanism - it's a neat, yet entirely unnecessary feature.

The head sculpt seems intended more for Ramjet - with his glowing yellow 'mouth' and the impression of fangs - than for Skywarp, despite the latter being the Club's premium exclusive this year. It looks very much as though it was designed with light piping in mind, and that the back has been painted red. Assuming it's actually using the same translucent grey as the swords and plungers, I can well understand why... but can't help thinking a better effect could have been achieved with the same translucent yellow paint as the cockpit.

Having seen many photos online of Generations Armada Starscream and his repaints/remolds, I was curious to see how similar the transformation was to the original. It turns out to be broadly identical, just with a few refinements and several concessions to the reduced size. Of particular interest is the way the stabiliser fins collapse into the shins slightly, the fact that the wings are on ball joints, and the addition of joints that allow the missile launchers to fold down onto his back, to give him a more traditional, G1 Seeker silhouette. It's even possible to angle the wings back slightly, though they do tend to clash with the chunky shoulders.

On which subject, the majority of the improvements to the mold are for the sake of articulation. The shoulders, while not on ball joints, have the usual rotation supplemented by a hinged joint that allows the arms to be raised outward. There's also a bicep swivel and a standard hinged elbow, but no articulation to the wrists beyond that which is used in transformation. The ball jointed hips offer excellent range of motion and, as with most contemporary figures, are supplemented by a thigh swivel. The knees are hinged but, while the original only had articulated feet to the extent of having a flip-out heel piece which could be used to balance the figure in a variety of poses, this version has both heel and toe hinged, offering slightly better options for the more extreme poses. The feet are molded at a subtle angle, for a spread-legged standing stance, and tend to be very stable when firmly planted.

Ramjet's bio is one of the better kind, taking its cues very much from the old style G1 Tech Specs: it offers a few words about his background and character, then describes his abilities and weapons - both the missile launchers and the 'Antrodemonus Swords hidden within his wings' - before finishing with what could be described as his weakness. I have to assume that different people at Fun Publications have written different bios over the years, because this is so different from their usual pointless, meandering waffle that they couldn't possibly have all been written by the same person. I suspect there's at least one incorrect usage of a semicolon in the first paragraph, and there's an apparent misunderstanding of the word 'caliber' relative to projectile weapons in the second. Broadly speaking, though, it's actually quite well-written, and sets up the character well.

I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that a figure I had no real investment in, made using a mold I had no real interest in, has turned out to be fairly impressive as a Members Incentive figure, it's just a shame that the Club's last Members Incentive figure isn't somehow a little bit more epic. The funny thing is, despite my Seeker OCD, I don't feel compelled to track down the mainline releases of this mold (not least, I suppose, because the Skywarp version is actually a Club exclusive). It's good, but not so good I want to buy every iteration of the mold, even though it outclasses the G1-style Classics Seeker mold (now ten years old!) in just about every meaningful way.

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