Saturday, 18 February 2017

TransFormers United 2-pack: UN-20 Rumble & Frenzy

If there's one thing I find frustrating and disappointing about the TransFormers brand, it's the reliance on tanks to solve just about any issue with updating a character's form. Megatron can't be a gun anymore because gun toys are considered more dangerous and contentious in America than real guns? Make him a tank. Shockwave can't be a space gun anymore because space guns are still guns? Make him a space tank.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so fussy about a toyline which is still, let's face it, predominantly made up of cars... but surely there are better updates to contentious G1 alternate modes than tanks?

And yet, just because the extended Classics line had no Soundwave of its own (despite there being a sort of contemporary figure in one of Takara Tomy's short-lived offshoot lines), two of his more enduring minions appeared in somewhat familiar and sadly unimaginative forms...

Vehicle Modes:
Yes, the former cassette minion thugs were reinvented as tanks... but, hey, at least they're sort-of sci-fi tanks. They each have two long, silver guns mounted awkwardly via ball-jointed C-clips on each side of the main turret chunk, with an independently mobile (albeit barely) multi-gun turret between them. Rumble is in his traditional black and red plastic, while Frenzy uses his traditional toy colours of blue and cyan rather than the pinkish-purplish cartoon 'Rumble' colours, and both have touches of gold paint on the rear, where the robot's chest is folded up, looking conspicuously like something that shouldn't be visible in their respective alternate modes.

These being models at the smaller end of the scale, there's not a massive amount of paintwork but, for the most part, there's not a great deal of need for it beyond making the weaponry and tank treads look metallic, accomplished using silver and goldish-gunmetal paints, respectively. The molded detail is nothing out of the ordinary - all the usual tank-ish panelling is sufficiently well-defined that it's not lost in the black plastic of Rumble and stands out effectively on the blue of Frenzy. Frenzy does have a couple of additional paint applications on Rumble, adding a darker to parts molded in blue plastic. The silver-painted panels on the sides are triggers for the mold's robot mode gimmick, so the paint serves as a reasonably effective don't touch signs... Which is undoubtedly a good thing as they're on hair triggers, and being transformed into the vehicle mode configuration proves to be no barrier to their firing.

Both figures come with identical weapons, but the C-clip system means others can be attached just as easily... so it's a shame neither Hasbro nor Takara Tomy ever thought to provide independent weapon packs for this segment of the Generations toyline. Takara Tomy, at least, released a few Arms Microns/Target Masters, but the limited supply of C-clip weapons actually provided with the figures (one or two per character, though Straxus/Darkmount and Skullgrin got three) meant that opportunities to mix-and-match weapons across the toyline with sadly thin on the ground. Aside from the main cannon mountings, Rumble/Frenzy only feature one C-clip mounting point in vehicle mode - the handle on the very back of the turret.

Robot Modes:
It's immediately clear that a lot of effort went into making the robot mode of this iteration of Rumble and Frenzy look like updates of the G1 originals. Everything from the sculpted detail to the colour choices, and even the way the C-clip weapons interact with the figure, pays homage to the Microchange-derived minions. While the silhouette is rather more natural - with the shoulders to the sides of the chest rather than angled down below - it cheats certain details. Despite being tapered inward toward the waist, the torso appears to be quite boxy because of the plate on the back which carries the turret, so having the shoulder ball joints out on little posts gives the impression of a wider, more powerful upper body, with the skinny legs adding emphasis. The only drawback is that, in silhouette, the top half remains a large box with a couple of long, slim boxes hanging off it - the arms are very uniform in size, and the piledriver bricks hanging off behind them effectively disguise the minimal variation in the arms' size. The tank tread sections look a bit daft sticking out of his arms from the mid-bicep swivel joint, but I have to admit they'd look worse if they had remained with the larger tread sections on the piledrivers.

The paintwork seems equally sparse in robot mode, with only the circuitry-style chest detailing on the chest and a small hexagonal detail just below picked out in gold (sadly just paint rather than chrome). Both have red paint on the kneecaps, silver strips down the shins and the goldish-gunmetal paint on the vent-like detail at the base of the shin/top of the foot. This is a little disappointing as, while it references the G1 toys' stickers, it doesn't acknowledge that they were originally coloured differently: Rumble's were red-silver-cyan, while Frenzy's were red-silver-gold. Perhaps this is their way of appeasing the RIBFIR crowd? Also disappointing is that, like the Encore re-releases of Rumble and Frenzy, there's no sticker-referencing paintwork on the wrists, and I personally think that would have made quite a difference to the figure, especially considering how much more detailed the mold actually is. There is one subtle difference between the paintwork on the two figures, in the Frenzy's chest has a coating of a darker blue, faintly metallic paint, to bring it closer in line with the look of the G1 original.

The weapons are fairly cleverly designed to mimic the look of the G1 toys' winged blasters while connected to the turret backpack - and they work just as well whichever way you orient the turret on his back, with the third C-clip or the smaller gun sticking up behind the robot's head. Like those originals, they don't peg into the robot's fists. They are molded with open hands, so he could conceivably hold something as long as the peg was small enough, though it would be a case of simply jamming it into a hand that was never intended to hold something. The mold features a C-clip point behind and below each hand, so the guns appear mounted on the wrists rather than attempting to cheat it so it seems as though they're being held. Thus mounted, they are rather too long, and I wish there was a way of compressing the barrel to a more practical length. I don't like the way they look compared to the winged blasters of the originals, but weapons designed with a more complete homage in mind just wouldn't have worked in tank mode.

The main event, weapons-wise, is of course the spring-loaded, hair-triggered piledriver gimmick, and I'm in two minds about how it works. On the one hand, I think it's rather clever that it takes after the G1 cartoon and has them transforming out of his arms (actually just partially transforming the arms back to their vehicle mode configuration, then rotating them into position at the shoulder), and it's far better than the partsforming Masterpiece route. On the other hand, this does leave them as unsightly lumps of vehicle when the proper arms are in play. The sensitivity of the trigger buttons is slightly less frustrating in robot mode as it's far more likely that they would be triggered intentionally, if at all, but the meagre extension means they don't look as effective as they otherwise might... and I really can't see why they couldn't fire out a little more - just two or three more millimetres would have made all the difference.

The head sculpt is truly excellent - perfectly evoking the old G1 characters and easily the equal of, if not better than, the Masterpiece sculpt, because it doesn't sacrifice the back of the head to the alternate mode. It's nicely detailed and, while the face is basically neutral, coupled with the visor, it give a sense of the thuggish attitude. The only downside is that it gets a little lost between the two large hinges which flip the chest plate back and forth between the two modes.

I'm used to handling some fairly delicate examples of my chosen plastic crack, and these things just don't like being transformed into their vehicle modes - the folded up feet and legs don't peg into the inside of the chest very firmly and the triggers are placed exactly where you would naturally want to grasp the toy when pegging in the feet, making the final stages of transformation extremely frustrating. Once everything is finally tabbed together and nicely lined up, it's actually fairly secure and solid (bar the spring-loaded piledrivers), but actually getting there is an aggravating struggle.

Like a lot of Scout class figures, Rumble and Frenzy are made largely of ball joints - neck, shoulders, hips and knees all have the freedom of movement you would expect, but the legs are somewhat limited by the awkward, upturned-bulldozer-blade blocks he calls feet, which are hinged for transformation in such a way that they're fairly useless for posing. The arms, meanwhile, are hindered only by the enormous piledriver housings which hang off the backs of his shoulders, clashing with the C-clip guns (if still connected to the turret) and occasionally even the legs. Due to transformation, there's also a mid-forearm hinge which is more inclined to bend than his actual elbow. It can give the impression of additional articulation from some angles, but it's not especially useful. Likewise, the bicep rotation is really only there in service of transformation and, while the joint will twist further out than the 'straightened arm' position, it's not really designed to do so. Likewise while the groin is supposed to peg into the tank plate at the back, the squared-off molding of the hips necessitates popping it out to make use of the ball joints' full range of motion... and the added bonus is that it gives him something akin to an 'ab crunch' joint. Having the neck as a ball joint means they can be quite expressive with the position of their heads... though mine suffer from some kind of imperfection which means they like to pop back into a not-quite-central position.

In this day and age, for me personally, the success or failure of a Rumble figure depends on one thing: can it pull off a halfway decent "I'm usin' mah piledrivers" pose? Sadly, this mold cannot, due to a combination of the piledriver being too short (they extend less than a centimetre from their resting position) and the limitations imposed on the hips by the tank plate directly behind them (not to mention the curiously squared-off shape of the hips themselves), the closest he gets is raising this thighs as far as they'll go straight out in front, then bending the knees as far back as they'll go, then angling the feet to stand him as straight as possible... Granted, he can tilt his head up far enough that he's looking forward in this position, but the net result is that he looks as though he's getting ready to expel some Energon waste product from his posterior, and his using his piledrivers for stability in case it gets a bit lively. Still, it's better than the Alternators Rumble.

Frenzy is another story because, like all those red repaints of Bumblebee that get called Cliffjumper, he's invariably just a blue (or purple) repaint of Rumble, piledrivers included, when he should be something entirely different. While the G1 TV show (and the animated movie) had both Rumble and Frenzy pounding away at things with piledrivers, the G1 toy's tech specs described a "high-pitch grating sound of 200db" generated by rolling his drums (which, one assumes, are analogous to the cassette reels), that "disorients and disrupts electrical flow in opponent's circuitry which makes them malfunction". Then again, Rumble's G1 tech specs seem to imply that he generates his "immense low frequency groundwaves" much the same way, so where the piledrivers came in to begin with is anyone's guess. The only truly unique Frenzy there has ever been was the live action movie interpretation, which was Frenzy in name alone.

I always liked the look of G1 Rumble/Frenzy's robot mode, because they were well-proportioned humanoid robots made out of blocks of around 5x3x1cm - and you only have to look at some of the dreadful third party attempts to see how good they still are. Granted, they weren't exactly well-articulated and they've been thoroughly superseded by the Masterpiece versions, but they can still be considered masterpieces of their time. These aren't bad figures by a long shot, even for their size class, and having them in a two-pack rather than having to frantically hunt each one separately is a great bonus for those of us with an OCD over these TransFormers twins. Taken as a simple update of the G1 figures, they lose out only due to the boring vehicle mode and the underachieving and clumsy spring-loaded gimmick. The base figure is fairly well designed within the limits of its transformation, and the Takara Tomy paint job, while quite minimal, makes clever use of molded detail to emulate the look of some of the G1 toy's stickers (albeit closer to the 2009 Encore re-release). Personally, I'm quite a fan of all the cassette-formers as they were all examples of excellent engineering considering their size and variety. These updates are cool, but essentially pretty nondescript considering what's available in the rest of the line... Which might explain why Hasbro ended up cancelling their release.

I'm pretty sure I paid only £20 for this set at Roll Out Roll Call last year, which is a bargain considering some of the prices currently on eBay (averaging about twice that)... And, considering the Titans Return version of Rumble (no Frenzy as yet) transforms into a tank as well as a nondescript data-cartridge-brick-thing, this mold remains my preference, even if it doesn't fill the shoes of its predecessors entirely adequately. They also scale better with more recent (non-Titans Return) Generations Deluxes, and obviously fit the aesthetic better than the couple of Encore cassettes I currently have perched with them on that shelf.

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