Monday, 29 August 2016

TFNation - Day 1 & Toy Haul

The first indication I had that there was such a thing as TFNation was a somewhat cryptic business card-sized card on a table at Roll Out Roll Call. At first, I didn't even look into it and, had I known it was a convention rather than, say, a webstore selling TransFormers toys (which had been my initial assumption) I probably wouldn't have bothered with it. If I'd been told it was happening in Birmingham, specifically at one of the hotels in the NEC complex, I wouldn't have been keen because getting there would involved a train journey (I have terrible luck on trains - the first time I go anywhere is invariably a disaster) and paying for accommodation (albeit simplified as TFNation had made a deal for much-reduced rates with the hotel that was hosting the event).

In the end, I only properly found out about TFNation because of a posting on DaimChoc Reports' Facebook timeline, about Mastermind Creations' event-exclusive boxed set release of what had previously been an April Fool in their Reformatted line, Feral Queen, and its partner figure/repaint Nero Queen. It was created for a Canadian TransFormers convention but was also being brought to the UK - and TFNation - by Kapow Toys.

And that was the deciding factor. I contacted Kapow and, having been told that I could certainly pick one up at the show, but that I'd have to take my chances on any unsold stock going up on their webstore after the show if I couldn't get there, I booked my weekend ticket, hotel and train tickets in that order. It made the decision easier to know that my girlfriend would be away, visiting a friend in Munich, that weekend - I didn't have to worry about either dragging her along or leaving her at home alone - and the reduced rate for accommodation coupled with the excellent deal I got on train tickets brought the cost of the endeavour down considerably.

The days leading up to the convention were an exceptionally busy time - the busiest fortnight of my employers' year, in fact - and I ended up working overtime on the Friday because the last three magazines all went terribly wrong (one often does, the other had some very important sponsored editorial missing that was only noticed on its press day, and the other just got caught up in a massive software glitch), but thankfully had booked a late enough train that it really didn't matter. The actual journey from Euston out to Birmingham International was as perfect and as seamless as one could hope for, but I got a bit lost (and wet) trying to follow Google Maps' directions from the station to the hotel (they're overcomplicated and very wrong as far as I can see, directing pedestrians on the longer, traffic route around the NEC complex to the front of the hotel rather than on the footpath to the rear entrance) on what was a dark and rainy evening. Checking in was quick and easy but, while I saw signs of TFNation, I didn't see anyone dealing with Friday evening registration, so I decided to just go straight to bed. Weirdly, going by the schedule in the programme I picked up on Saturday morning, I would have been there in time for the screening of TransFormers: The Movie, so perhaps I should have looked around a bit more.

A terrible night's sleep was interrupted by a series of anxiety dreams - possibly my poor brain, frazzled by two busy weeks at work, couldn't cope with what had turned out to be a nice, easy journey to Birmingham. Whatever caused it, I felt so bad when I woke up properly (after 7am, which is almost unheard of during the summer months when I'm at home, but the hotel room was darker and quieter than my own bedroom) that I actually didn't want to go downstairs to get into the event I was here for. Thankfully, I finally managed to force myself to get out of bed after about twenty minutes, grabbed a shower and headed down. After a quick breakfast, I lurked around in the lobby and out the front of the hotel for a while, trying to calm down a bit before heading in to join what I thought was the (surprisingly long) queue for registration.

It gradually transpired that TFNation was the work of former AutoAssembly folks, and it really showed, from the disastrous entry queue that quickly became a jumbled gathering of people in a small triangular area at the end of a corridor, to the lack of any immediate instruction - either verbal or printed - that those who had already registered and received their wristbands the previous night could go straight in. At one point, as I drew closer to the doors to the main hall, one member of TFNation staff said to another that entry was "not as bad as AutoAssembly", but I'd beg to differ. They even made the classic AA mistake of having the main stage in the same space as the retail, compounding the problem by lining all the guests' tables up along the walls either side of the stage and leading back to the retail area. This meant that there weren't enough seats for some of the main stage panels (leaving some folks blocking the aisles and having to be moved along by show staff as guests were introduced at the 'welcome' event in the morning) and the retail area was almost always crowded.

I personally found that Saturday's panels weren't as inspiring or as well-planned as those at Roll Out Roll Call, despite the greater focus on TransFormers. Some felt rather perfunctory (though this could have been a symptom of not separating the main stage from the retail and signing areas), and I'd imagine they weren't that great for the guests due to all the noise from the retail area. I sat in on Paul Eiding's panel, but wasn't especially interested in later hearing from "the most accomplished scribes in the franchise's history" about how to write comics because, by and large, I'm just not that interested in the comics. At the time, I also didn't fancy the voice acting session with both Paul Eiding and Richard Newman, but rather regret not stopping by for that in retrospect. Looking back, I think my reluctance to sit in on the panels was more a result of being in a near-panic state most of the day, as the IDW Comics and Vector Prime panels might also have proven interesting. The panel named "We Love The Plastic Crack" had no description in the schedule, but I can pretty much guess that it was focused on the toys...

The variety of stock on sale was disappointing and lacking in much the same way as RORC, with essentially the same stalls offering much the same loose, bagged toys, and only a few offering new stuff, much of which was exclusively Hasbro's output. A couple of the larger stalls had some Takara Tomy stuff, but not a great deal of it. I got a close-up look at Titans Return Galvatron on Saturday morning, but really wasn't impressed (evidently others were, as they'd sold out by the end of the day!) and, aside from picking up my Mastermind Creations exclusive set, all I bought on the first day was the Perfect Effect PC10 upgrade set for Combiner Wars Bruticus and the cute (and semi-exclusive) G1/Masterpiece tape-bot Scorpinator. I was pleasantly surprised to see Xybertoys in attendance, as I haven't seen them for years - since the last AutoAssembly I attended, in fact. I used to buy from them pretty regularly back when Binaltech was a thing, but their webstore seemed to have stopped operating a few years ago.

Following the Third Party reveals in the morning's introductory presentation, I did take a quick look in the Display Room, but didn't take any photos that day. There was a Rock Lords cabinet full of outlandish transforming minerals (and their vehicles?!), frequently showing the UK, European and Japanese variants of the toys and packaging, some upcoming figures from Mastermind Creations, Fansproject and others, including both MakeToys' Pandinus and their only-revealed-that-morning Black Zarak repurposing. They also had what appeared to be a mostly-complete collection of Beast Wars/Transmetals/Beast Machines toys.

While there was technically a great selection of food available, both within the hotel and in the nearby Resort World, I ended up just grabbing a hot dog and wedges from one of the 'street food' stands set up in the hotel lobby, wandering out the front entrance to eat. After a bit more time in the main hall, looking at much the same stuff and debating whether or not to buy things like a loose TransFormers Animated Sentinel Prime or Takara Tomy's version of Generations Skids, I ended up returning to my room for a few hours, nursing a splitting headache.

The evening's entertainment wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but I kinda forced myself to attend - I'd bought a weekend ticket, after all, and the evening's events were part of that experience... Plus, I'd never been to a live script reading before (they were pretty much a staple of BotCon, as I understand, but not so much in the UK conventions). I sat down on the first spare table I saw (coincidentally close to the bar, as most of the tables closer to the stage were taken up first, surprisingly) but was soon joined by a large group of people (more than the table was intended to accommodate), a few of whom introduced themselves and intermittently chatted to me in between the scheduled entertainment. One decided to take a selfie with me in the background (I'd actually thought at the time that he was struggling to avoid getting me in frame) which he posted online (possibly on Facebook?) along with some narrative about my apparently lonely presence on their table, which had the almost immediate result of getting me a sympathy gift of a balloon from the group on a neighbouring table, who were celebrating the 40th birthday of one of their number. Even now, I'm not sure if I should be flattered or upset by that... I mean, yes, I was on my own (my girlfriend being in another country and my best mate just not being sufficiently into TransFormers these days that he'd make the schlep the Birmingham for another event so soon after RORC), but I wasn't really there for the social aspect, so I wasn't bothered by the idea of being there on my own.

The Cosplay competition was pretty cool - there were some amazing costumes and some very simplistic cardboard-and-Sellotape ones - with one category for 'Robot Costumes' and another for 'Humanised Character Costumes' and, aside from a couple of duplications in the latter category, they were all quite varied in quality, complexity and style. I'm not sure I'd entirely agree with the judges decisions, but it's all subjective, innit?

The script reading was good fun - to sum up the story, Vector Prime assembled the three greatest minds from TransFormers history (G1 Perceptor, Beast Wars Megatron and, bizarrely, G1 Grimlock) to discuss how to deal with an impending threat, only for the fourth wall to be broken at the end, and for the 'honourable mention' from the Cosplay completion (a tiny TFPrime Arcee) to swoop in and save the day.

I ended up leaving before the quiz got started. It sounded like a good idea - questions asked by the audience, with the questioner taking the stage if the current player was unable to answer their question, and the winner being the one on stage when the time ran out - but I wasn't really into it and definitely not feeling up to participating myself. I ended up going to bed not long after 10pm, in the hope of a better night's sleep.

As previously mentioned, the Day 1 Haul was pretty meagre, but I got everything I wanted from TFNation plus couple of other cool things, so I can't complain...
Mastermind Creations' convention exclusive set of 'Combiner Speakers', Reformatted Feral Queen and Nero Queen
(neither having R-prefixed numbers, like Azalea Asterisk), Scorpinator from KFC/Sid's Toys/Big Tin Robot and
Perfect Effect's second upgrade set for Combiner Wars Bruticus

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