Sunday, 8 October 2017

Robots in Disguise (2015)/Combiner Force Soundwave

There are few characters in the history of TransFormers as memorable and iconic as G1 Soundwave so, when he turns up in other series, he tends to look broadly similar, frequently featuring details which directly refer to, for example, the tape door or the stop/play/fast forward/rewind buttons (except when he doesn't). It's a brave designer who comes up with a whole new concept for Soundwave, so I was particularly impressed by his novel and original design in TransFormers Prime.

Being a continuation of TF Prime, Soundwave eventually turned up in the new Robots in Disguise TV show in his spindly, silent and sinister form before taking on a new, bulkier and very G1 referential form... but was it the right move to go back to his roots after such an impressive deviation?

Vehicle Mode:
The first time I transformed Soundwave into his vehicle mode, I thought it looked more like TF Prime Breakdown than Soundwave - perhaps a Beast Hunters remix that never was, considering Breakdown was destroyed, reborn as a robotic suit for MECH leader Silas, and killed off again before the beasts really got involved in the series. It's a bulky, blue truck with more than a few details in common - the huge front end, the high, small windscreen and the large wheels and wheel wells being the most obvious similarities. That said, there are some striking similarities to War for Cybertron Soundwave as well, most notably in the ugly, claw-like, angular front end, the very clear 'tape door' homage (even if these two factors do make it rather too obvious that the front of the vehicle is going to become Soundwave's chest), and the overall bulk. It's a staggeringly unappealing vehicle, not least because it's a ground-based vehicle at all and, while the front end looks reasonable, the back end does little by way of disguising this particular robot in disguise. The roof behind the cab is uneven and it's obvious that the very back is a pair of feet, but the worst and most obvious problem is that the robot's forearms are just lying down the sides of the vehicle. The facts that they're largely grey and so don't blend into the blue car frame, and that the open hands are clearly visible make this vehicle form a complete disaster even before you take a look from above and realise that the back end has a large gap between the robot's shins/knees where they meet the car's roof.

But did I say complete disaster? Well, one thing I have to concede is that the paintwork is excellent. Considering how miserly Hasbro seem to have been with their paint budgets on RiD2015 toys, even moving into the Combiner Force subline, Soundwave's paintwork is comparatively opulent. Granted, a good chunk of the budget seems to have gone on making the blue plastic forearms grey, but there's some good, accurate yellow linework on the front grille/window thing, and the headlights are picked out in a strange metallic purple. There's grey and metallic blue paint on the roof at the back of the car, but that's very much for robot mode rather than the vehicle. This is also one of those figures where the hubcaps are painted, though the translucent red wheels aren't exactly improved by the presence of large black discs in the middle, and I think perhaps more of the metallic blue should have been used... or even the grey.

Soundwave comes packaged with a single weapon - a seemingly G1-referential missile launcher that can mount on his roof. The launcher itself is mostly painted metallic blue, looking a little incongruous on top of a mostly matte blue vehicle. It also seems a little too large and a little too highly mounted. Interestingly, the sockets are detented such that, while I can't see an obvious protrusion from the 5mm peg, the launcher very softly clicks from point to point when it's turned in the socket. The peg also features a hinge but, sadly, it has only two functional positions - facing forward and turned up by 45°. It can be balanced in between with careful handling, but it prefers one position or the other.

I have to say that, if I was one of those TransFormers fans that liked to display their toys in vehicle mode, I'd be really disappointed in Soundwave. I'm not sure how apparent it is from my photos, but the car actually uses two shades of blue plastic for no good reason - the cab and the rear wheel wells are slightly darker than the rest. Then, looking at his underside, I'm sure the arms could have been stowed under the bonnet (they'd have to be slightly smaller, but the robot's head doesn't take up all that much room in there) and this would make for a more solid and believable vehicle... Then again, this is some sort of futuristic armoured car with some distinctly extra-terrestrial angles but, equally, if great chunks of robot limb are going to be left sticking out of the vehicle mode, it's surely not too much to ask - even on a Deluxe class toy from the toyline aimed at younger kids - that they should look like functional parts of the vehicle? There are also way too many gaps in vehicle mode. Certain parts mesh together well, others leave gaping holes, and the seams down the sides of the vehicle don't seem to match up. It was never going to be a pretty vehicle, but some corners have been very obviously cut - quite literally in some cases.

Robot Mode:
Borrowing a certain something from the TF Animated aesthetic, as well as the War for Cybertron version, Combiner Force Soundwave is a very burly-looking robot. There's not so much as a hint of the silent, stealthy robot from TF Prime in this heavyweight body. Then again, from what I've seen of the character model from the TV show, the toy doesn't match that either (then again, his appearance changes dramatically in one section of a scene, without context or comment, and it's the second version he resembles most closely). The upper arms are basically a complete mess, with the wheels ending up in the wrong place, facing the wrong way, and visible gaps all over the place. That said, I quite like the way they look... possibly even more than they way they're supposed to look, because the outer panels look like additional armour on arms that are left looking more in proportion with the body. It's even quite clever that the headlights end up referring it actual glowing detail on CGI Soundwave's shoulders.

One interesting feature of this figure is that he's not quite such a disaster from the back as many others in this line. Yes, his waist and hips have great hollow areas, and the 'spine' joint is visible through a hole in the middle of the waist piece, but there's a blue panel just above that's there purely to provide detail for his back - it serves no other purpose and doesn't seem to be structurally important to the figure. Another thing I appreciate is that some inside surfaces - the sides of his shoulders that face into his body, and even the cavernous spaces in the back of his waist/hip section and this thighs - feature some sculpted detail, be it panelling or non-specific tech detailing, rather than being blank spaces.

The toy's colourscheme seems too dark - particularly the silver/grey, which is basically white in the TV show - the upper legs shouldn't be two different colours, and the feet should be darker. While the paint job still seems impressive when compared to other figures in the Hasbro lineup, it's actually very lacking when set against the TV show's CGI. So many little details are missing their glowing highlights, or end up being the wrong colour for one reason or another. Much as I like the paintjob - particularly the metallic blue paint on his robo-pants, and the red band around his cuffs - there's still plenty of missing colour detail that Reprolabels will hopefully fill in sooner or later.

Soundwave's weapon can still occupy either of the 5mm sockets it uses in vehicle mode, now on his shoulders. Despite appearing to have a standard 5mm grip, I can't quite get the launcher into his hands, but it wouldn't look right even if I could, as it's clearly not a handgun. It's a bit of a shame that he doesn't come with a separate handgun - or a Laserbeak accessory that could have occupied space under the bonnet in vehicle mode - but that does give Shapeways users something to work on...

While the body is largely an entirely new look for the TF Prime continuity Soundwave, the head sculpt is eerily familiar... In fact, other than its colouring, it's virtually identical to the faceless look of his previous form, very much like an exaggerated form of the Decepticon insignia. It does have a G1-inspired set of silver (or grey, actually) robo-muttonchops, but the red faceplate on this one is cleverly light-piped to present different levels of opacity for the visor and mouthplate - it's not a great effect, but it's certainly cool to see this particular interpretation of Soundwave's head on a more G1-homaging body. Aside from the head, the only thing this version really has in common with the TF Prime version is that his hands have only three fingers, and even those are bulkier than they used to be.

Soundwave's transformation is typically straightforward for the RID2015 line, but fits in a couple of interesting tricks that I wish they'd have rolled out across more of the line. In particular, the rear wheels don't just stay on the outsides of his legs, as they do on virtually every other car-to-biped transformation in the line - they're hinged to swing round, filling in the gaps at the backs of his legs. Of course, this is necessitated by the fact that his legs need to rotate at the thigh to go from one mode to the other, meaning the wheels would otherwise have been on the insides of his legs, but a simpler transformation could have been achieved without any of that fuss, so it's nice to see such simple engineering used to achieve a more screen-accurate, slimline look to the legs, resulting in his already bulky upper half looking even bigger. Other elements, such as moving the bonnet back into its robot mode position and revealing the head, aren't as smooth and, of course, the virtual non-transformation of the arms is hugely disappointing. Most parts peg into place nicely, even the flaps of car detail that end up on the insides of his forearms, though there's some sort of issue with the plastic tolerance on the piece that swings his forearms down into position, in that it barely grazes the post on the upper arms that's supposed to stop it swinging further forward - the plastic doesn't appear bent, and the joint certainly isn't loose, so it seems more like poor fitting.

There are quite a few ball joints on Soundwave, ensuring that his arms have a decent range, despite the bulk of his shoulders, and the hips are pretty much unhindered - there's no vehicle roof backpack or anything hanging off his backside - giving him excellent range in his legs. The knees, too, are about as good as one could expect given the bulk of his calves. Not unexpectedly, the only let-down is that his feet are only really intended to move for transformation. There's a small amount of play once the wheels are folded into place, but I wouldn't tend to describe that as 'articulation'. The most disappointing aspect of this figure's articulation is that the wrists look as if they might rotate, but it turns out they just have a surprisingly deep groove just behind the cuff.

Much as I loved Soundwave's daring redesign for TransFormers Prime, this mixed homage really tickled me the moment I first saw images of it, so I ended up spending a good chunk of one weekend a few months ago, travelling between toy shops and supermarkets, eventually finding him squirreled away in a branch of Sainsbury's. I like the way he transforms - apart from leaving his arms out in the open - and, awkward-looking and not entirely character-appropriate though it may be, I do rather like the vehicle mode as well. Considering this is effectively meant to be the same continuity as War for Cybertron, I'd have thought something like this was more likely to be Soundwave's initial Earth mode as it's similar to his Cybertronian form from that game, but I have to admit it's better suited to the exaggerated angles of the new Robots in Disguise.

Of course, now I've finally seen Soundwave as he appears in the RiD2015 TV show, I'm wondering if I'll end up replacing him with whatever Takara Tomy eventually decide to do with the mold. Chances are, it won't be hugely different, but they might get the colourscheme right, and they might include some sort of Laserbeak accessory...

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