Friday, 1 September 2017

MAAS Toys/TFNation CT001TFN Rune

(Femme-Bot Friday #43)
One of the best things about BotCon - the TransFormers convention I never managed to attend over its 11 year history of being operated by Fun Publications, let alone its earlier days, when I wasn't even aware of its existance - was the range of exclusives they made available. Starting out with one or two small ones, and developing into their lavish boxed sets. Some have been contentious, some have been mediocre, some have been awesome, but all of them got the attention of the fandom.

As someone who attends conventions for the merchandise more than the panels or the 'community' aspect, event exclusives are especially piquant, so I've made a point of encouraging everything from badges and clothing to toys whenever I've given feedback on a UK show, and I'm clearly not alone... Because TFNation have really delivered, in only their second year, partnering up with MAAS Toys to create an event exclusive version of their first model, Skiff (aka G1 Cybertronian Bumblebee) as a new take on a BotCon exclusive toy from 2002, Glyph (itself a repaint of the G1 Bumblebee toy).

Make sense? OK, let's take a closer look...

As the first ever TFNation exclusive toy (unless you count teddy bears), Rune's packaging couldn't be better. It's clearly branded, consistent with other TFNation printed material and their website, and is exactly what one should hope for in an event exclusive, Third Party transforming robot figure. It's not excessively large, the artwork is punchy and well-printed, and the small window affords a good view of the front of Rune's vehicle mode.

While other versions of this figure feature boxart by YouTuber Bobby Skullface, Rune's artwork was put together by Ed Pirrie, and I have to say I think it's vastly better, looking like something straight out of the comics, rather than the fan forums. It's used intelligently on the box - large on the front, and G1 boxart-style on the back, with robot and vehicle modes depicted. The only thing it's missing is a bio - the text block on the back is all about the toy rather than the character, describing its robot mode articulation and free-rolling vehicle mode.

A conscious decision was made not to include printed instructions - instead, the plastic clamshell features a sticker with QR codes which act as links to video instructions on YouTube (for most of the world) and YouKu (for China). While I almost never refer to printed instructions, and only very rarely need to refer to videos for assistance, I do think a little something extra could have been included, if only a bio card to show off the art in full. I know bio cards/collectors' cards aren't everyone's thing, and I'm actually generally ambivalent about them in mass-market releases, but they are something I like to see in Third Party releases.

Vehicle Mode:
I've always been curious about the way Bumblebee's Cybertronian vehicle mode was depicted at the beginning of the original TV show... In many ways, it seemed more suited to Cosmos, in that it was basically not that far off already being a flying saucer. It certainly offered no hints toward his robot mode, which was somehow identical to his Earth-based robot mode despite the fact that he'd never even encountered a Volkswagen Beetle at that point. Obviously, this was back in the 1980s, and animation character models weren't as sophisticated as they have become more recently. The comics were - and still are - better at representing changes to a robot's appearance based on their adopted disguise.

Like the unreleased TransFormers Titanium version of Cybertronian Bumblebee, this is based very closely on Don Figueroa's design from The War Within, but this does a far better job than Hasbro's ill-fated version at accurately representing that source material. While the animation model was notably simplistic, Figueroa gave the overall shape a bit of definition, and implied functional parts in its surface detail. This basically starts and ends with the engines either side of the cockpit and what are possibly boosters at the back, but the details here are cleanly sculpted, yet vague. Aside from the wide, white cockpit 'window', the blue sides of the nose and the black grille, vehicle mode is uniformly blue - no highlights, no metallic detailing, and the things I suspect are boosters are left as raised discs... I don't think I've ever seen a transforming 'adult collectable' so desperately in need of Reprolabels.

The blue plastic is of a nice, dense colour and feels sturdy. Everything pegs into place nicely, so vehicle mode is very solid... but it's also fairly obvious that the majority of its 'wings' are large panels that are just going to hang off robot mode - it's not a shellformer, but it's not far off.

Rune comes with two weapons, but there are no active mounting points for them in her vehicle mode, only the storage points on the undersides of the wings

Robot Mode:
Not having followed the comics at all back when they were published by Dreamwave, everything I've seen of the character models has come from the few TransFormers Titanium figures inspired by their designs and a bits of artwork that turn up in a quick Google search. I can safely say that the base Skiff mold produced by MAAS Toys is a far better three-dimensional interpretation of Don Figueroa's robot design for Bumblebee than the aforementioned cancelled Titanium. The robot actually looks pretty good and has decent proportions, the only problems are the mass of vehicle wing hanging off the shoulders and forearms. The shoulder panels in particular really needed to be able to compress somehow as, while they look OK from the front and back, they extend backward way too far when viewed from the sides, making them look more than a little ridiculous.

Where vehicle mode is all very blue, robot mode introduces a lot more white. The arms, crotch and the lower parts of the thighs offer a nice contrast, though they probably should have been grey or silver to better represent Glyph. I'm not complaining - I've no particular attachment to the concept of slavish accuracy to a fifteen-year-old convention exclusive - but it does seem a little odd when the box art seems to suggest either grey or silver for these parts. The lack of additional painted detail in robot mode is particularly disappointing given the extra sculpted details on the legs and torso. Strangely, the one place that has been painted in such a way as to only be visible in robot mode is the panel behind her head, which has a coating of black on the entire inner surface, not just the flap that sticks up directly behind the head. This does serve to emphasise the inward tapering of the torso toward the waist, but it seems otherwise rather redundant.

I have to say that I find the crotch area a little counter-intuitive - given that what is ostensibly the backside features something resembling the G1 Bumblebee animation model's crotch design, while what is intended as the front is an incongruous, largely featureless white block which leave's the vehicle mode grille in a position that's somewhat more suggestive on a femme-bot than it would have been on Skiff/Gold/Volk. Sadly, there's no way to remedy this without disassembling the figure, as the legs are designed to function with the white block facing forward - switching it round leaves the legs in a forced A-stance and makes the ankles tilt in the wrong direction.

Rune's twin pistols are exactly the same as those packaged with the other variants of this mold. They seem to be designed after the gun provided with Masterpiece Bumblebee, albeit rather more streamlined, compact and with the handle nearer the very back of the gun. Both are identical, and molded in black plastic - which is only used for a couple of joint pieces in the shoulders and hips, the swinging section in the transformation of the leg and, bizarrely, the soles of the feet... but, given that the only other choices of plastic colour are blue and white, black was pretty much the best option available, even if it does soak up what little sculpted detail there is.

The head sculpt is a curious one: the helmet is identical to the animation-inspired Bumblebee head supplied with Skiff, with its curved, pointed horns, but the face is entirely unique to this exclusive. It's softer-featured, wider-eyed and more feminine than Skiff's, but doesn't quite match the box art, not least because - just like the arms and thighs - it's far too pale. Granted, the expressions are very different, but the toy somehow looks younger than the character depicted in the box art. It's difficult to tell from the box art, but it does look as though the lips were meant to be darker and, while they're nicely sculpted, they tend to fade into the rest of the face. The eyes are painted yellow and are much rounder than those of the box art - quite oddly shaped, and somewhat alien (appropriately enough). While I do like the head sculpt, the original BotCon Glyph was based on G1 Bumblebee, and featured the 'battlemask'-style, proper robot face, which I've always preferred to the puffy 'Viking helmet'/hexagonal face look of the animation model. MAAS Toys created an alternate, toy-homaging head for Gold(bug) and Volk, and supplied it as an optional extra with Skiff, but Rune only has this one, deliberately feminine, very humanoid face... and the yellow eyes are the only reference to the fact that BotCon Glyph's whole face was yellow.

Transformation is simple and intuitive - I took Rune out of her box at the end of the Saturday of TFNation, and didn't need the video instructions to get her into robot mode (though I did miss off lifting up the two vent pieces that fill in the space between her back and the folded up vehicle roof). The arms - and particularly the wing panels on her forearms - can be troublesome, and neither of the two possible configurations for her wing tips are remotely secure, but I think the 'buckler' configuration I used for my photos is just about the better of the two. If I had a particular complaint about the transformation, it's that nothing actually pegs into place in robot mode. All of the transformation joints are stiff enough that they don't need to, but it is remarkably easy to tilt the waist joint without realising, for example. All the more curious, given how well everything tabs together in vehicle mode. There's also a fair bit of debate about the ideal configuration of the shoulders, as the upper arms seem overlong, and positioned too far out from the body in their intended positions. To me, it looks more like the wing panels on the shoulders should have been allowed to lift higher, or maybe even collapse inward slightly, to put the arms into a more natural position relative to the upper body and head.

One area where Third Party figures tend to excel is in their articulation, and this mold is no exception. The arms are a little weird, in that the active shoulder joint is actually on the large vehicle wing panels, with the upper arm being attached to it via a separate ball joint on a hinged arm. The bicep rotation is extremely tight on both arms, meaning it's easier to move the shoulder out of place than it is to rotate the bicep, and the ball jointed wrists keep the hands from clashing with the wing parts on the forearms. The elbows offer only 90° of bend, but that's sufficient for this size of figure, I think. The hips hinge and rotate for transformation, giving them excellent range in robot mode, while the knees offer only about 90° of bend. The best part is the ball-jointed ankles, which allow Rune to place her feet firmly on the ground in a variety of dynamic poses.

While I don't think this mold is brilliant enough to warrant picking up any of the other versions (I'm also pretty much Bumblebee'd out thanks to the live action movies, but was briefly tempted by Gold), I'm a lot more impressed with this figure than I'd expected to be. The design is unusual, a little awkward in places, but works very well. I'm not 100% sold on the face, and the whole thing really could have used a few extra painted details, but I'm glad I shelled out the (very reasonable) £35 for TFNation's first exclusive Third Party figure. Whether they continue to partner with MAAS Toys or choose a different company each time - or even manage to swing some kind of repaint deal with Hasbro UK - event exclusives like this are one of the coolest features of conventions. Rune/Glyph was an excellent choice as a first exclusive, not simply because she's a simple headswap for a mold that had already been produced, but because she's a clever callback to an old event exclusive, serving as a reminder of BotCon's early days and, thereby, a hint of what TFNation could become in future.

As to whether she's worth trying to pick up - MAAS Toys seem to have a limited number still available after TFNation - it's very much a case of 'your mileage may vary'. I like femme-bots, and I'm very keen to support event exclusive toys. Skiff or Gold may suit the collector who just wants a Cybertronian Bumblebee/Goldbug, while some folks might be put off by the weird shoulders. Build quality appears to be excellent, though, so I'd recommend looking into one version of the figure or another.

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