Friday, 20 October 2017

TransFormers Adventure/Prime of Micron TAV52 Strongarm & Sawtooth 'Torrent Armour'

(Femme-Bot Friday #44)
While I still haven't watched a great deal of the new Robots in Disguise series, there was one character who immediately stood out as something new and unusual. Strongarm was a Femme-Bot, but not of the typical slender, curvy variety. Nor was she an emotionally-scarred, battle-hardened warrior or a seductive femme-fatale... Instead, she was a rulebook quoting rookie, full of boundless enthusiasm.

Granted, that's swapping one kind of stereotype for another, but her appearance - rugged and bulky - was quite a departure from the traditional style of Femme-Bot, and that's always going to be worth a look.

I'd wanted to pick up a version of Strongarm for quite some time, but didn't think much of Hasbro's version of the original Deluxe, and didn't think it was a good enough toy to really justify importing the Takara Tomy version... But then the Prime of Micron subline brought a whole new version of Strongarm that, in photos, at least, looked to be a bit of an improvement...

Vehicle Mode:
Given that Femme-Bots normally adopt a small, slender, curvy vehicle as a disguise - Arcee having been motorcycles many, many times when she wasn't a curvy sports car - Strongarm's choice of a heavy-duty SUV, adapted into an emergency services vehicle to fit her Cybertronian law enforcement role, was quite a bold move, considering most kids TV shows these days, with a handful of notable exceptions, still don't tend to stray too far from a typically feminine body type for their female characters. Strongarm definitely doesn't fit in with that type, so why should her vehicle form?

Since I hadn't seen any of the Mini-Con 'Battle Packs' (and somehow hadn't connected them with Takara Tomy's equivalent) when I ordered this, it turned out to be far smaller than I'd expected, though my expectations were based on photos in which scale was fairly difficult to determine. This line pretty much has a scale all of its own - smaller than Deluxe, larger than Legion... perhaps roughly analogous to Scout class? Considering most of the RID2015 animation models are simple and blocky, it's no surprise that this is very much a brick of a vehicle. What is surprising is that, for a Takara Tomy version of a toy, the paint job is lacklustre. The front end is fine, both well-detailed and well-painted (the only paintwork missing, that I can see, is the lights in her bumper). Particularly impressive is the sculpted and painted Autobot insignia in the middle of her grille. As with the Deluxe class version, her front wheel wells are painted blue, but the inset details are also covered over and, from that point back, it starts to get disappointing. The windscreen and side windows aren't fully painted - the latter missing their blue frames - the sides lack any of the striping of the animation model, the roof is lacking its blue central stripe and the rear of the truck has none of its details painted in... Not even the rear windscreen. I'd say it looks like a Hasbro toy rather than Takara Tomy's usual output but, believe it or not, Hasbro's version is even worse, as it features barely any paintwork on the front either.

Strongarm's Mini-Con/Micron parter, Sawtooth, can be plugged into her roof in its weapon mode... but I've honestly no idea what the weapon is supposed to be. It looks vaguely like a gun, as a peg that can be folded perpendicular to Sawtooth's length can be used as a grip... but the overall shape looks more like an axe or weirdly-shaped club. It also doesn't balance especially well, being very back-heavy even without the Torrent Armour pieces, and so ends up pointing slightly upward.

Robot Mode:
The thing I found particularly refreshing about Strongarm's design is that she's not a robo-waif, she really looks like a 'bot that would be called "Strongarm", with broad, chunky shoulders, large, armoured shins, and a powerful-looking body. Aside from Beast Machines Strika, I'm not aware of any Femme-Bots that have such a stereotypically masculine body type. Given that these are robots in disguise, I think it's very cool that they're not keeping all the Femme-Bots looking frail but sexy, because I can remember the days when Hasbro weren't keen on making Femme-Bots because they still saw TransFormers as a boys' toy range, and felt that boys wouldn't buy toys of 'girl robots'... If only they'd made them like this in those days...

It's not perfectly accurate to her animation model, of course. All of the RID2015 figures of this size class retain the QR code wheel of the Deluxes, and the toy's designer decided it should be right in the middle of her chest on this one, between the two door panels. This ends up spreading them apart and shrinking them, but that just emphasises her broad upper torso. Similarly, her shoulders carry large chunks of the vehicle's from rather than just the wheel wells and tyres, but that sort of simplification in transformation isn't unusual in figures this size. The forearms are blue rather than white, all the more curious because they could easily have been cast in white. They have large, unsightly car shell bingo wings hanging off them which, on a Deluxe, might have folded in under the forearm.

That said, compared to the Deluxe (or 'Warrior') class Strongarm, this version has smaller and fewer car shell parts hanging off her. In particular, the backpack is small and tidy, featuring only the vehicle mode windows as 'wings', rather than having most of the central vehicle shell stuck loosely on her back, in such a way that it could almost be used as a cape instead. On the downside, the backs of her legs are basically identical to the Deluxe - vast gaping chasms where the thighs fold in for vehicle mode.

Her waist is fully painted, with both the dark gunmetal background and silver 'webbing' over the top, though her 'belt' and groin area feature only a silver 'buckle', with the rest being bare blue plastic. The legs are similarly patchy, with bare black plastic from hip to knee, a block of white paint on her otherwise blue shins, and then bare white plastic for the feet. It's actually weirdly obvious that all of the effort and most of the budget went into her upper half, just as it did with the front of her vehicle mode.

The head sculpt is fairly accurate to the animation model, though seems taller than it should be and, due as much to the size as the paint budget, is lacking a few of the finer details, including the more intricate white/blue linework on the helmet, the blobs of yellow on top of her 'ears' and, of course, the distinctive blue lipstick, but it's still recognisably Strongarm. The thing that weirds me out, every time, on far too many TransFormers toys, is when the neck joint is just behind the chin rather than at the back of the head. I get that these are robots, so the 'rules' of human anatomy don't - and shouldn't - apply, but it does look especially odd on Strongarm, and this is easily the worst instance of this strange positioning since the Collectors' Club TF Animated Cheetor.

The Torrent Armour is a strange addition, since most of it sits away from Strongarm's body. The chest plate is fine, albeit offering absolutely no protection around or below her Autobot insignia, the vambraces are almost like serrated claws, only they don't extent far enough beyond her fists to be very effective, and the greaves offer absolutely no protection for her legs unless you count the tiny area just outside her knees. The faceplate, being part of the chest plate, also prevents the head from moving when it's in place. On the upside, the armour set includes a serrated sword of a decent size, so at least there's one practical part to it. There's a fair bit of sculpted detail on most of the armour pieces, but here the gimmick lets itself down, as the translucent blue plastic hides a lot of the detail - particularly that of the faceplate.

With Strongarm in robot mode, I'm still none the wiser about Sawtooth's weapon mode - is it a gun? Is it a trident? Is it an axe? It certainly seems more functional in the latter role, particularly with the Torrent Armour applied, as Strongarm can't hold him especially well using the fold-out peg, largely due to the large chunks of vehicle on her shoulder getting in the way of the bulk of the weapon. However it's arranged, Sawtooth makes an exceedingly bulky weapon since the so-called Mini-Con/Micron not a great deal smaller than Strongarm.

Micron Sawtooth:
This new continuity certainly has an interesting way of dealing with Mini-Cons/Microns. Some are humanoid, others are weird hybrid animal things, and Sawtooth is... a sort of shark, I guess? It kind of reminds me of a cutesified G1 Rippersnapper, in that the body is broadly shark-like, but it has stubby, almost vestigial arms and legs. Sawtooth also has the fins that Rippersnapper lacked, but they're large and stick out to the sides, looking more like wings than fins... so perhaps he's a flying shark?

Aside from his own colourwheel code sticker, the only decoration on Sawtooth is some paintwork in a paler version of his plastic colour, used to highlight his jaw, and silver in his eyes. He's a bit plain, all told, but RID2015 is all cel-shaded animation, so it doesn't need much by way of detailing.

The Torrent Armour pieces are designed to attach to Sawtooth as well as Strongarm and, to be honest, they look far better on Sawtooth as they're fitted to his body... with the possible exception of the serrated sword and the chest/head armour, which attach well enough, but look completely out of place - the former attached to his dorsal fin, the latter simply hangs off his backside.

Given the limited articulation of the arms and legs, I was disappointed to find that his jaw isn't mobile, but I guess the central body is given over to the gears necessary for his one-step transformation into a strange weapon of indeterminate function.

Strongarm's transformation is very firmly in the Legion class level of complexity, only a little bit more involved than the Mini Autobots of 30 years ago. It'd be silly to expect more, given the size of these figures, and the end result actually looks pretty good from the waist up. The legs aren't so good, and actually getting the feet into and out of their vehicle mode position seems to take more effort and finesse than it really needed, while the flaps on her forearms cause more problems than they should, but at least almost everything tabs together securely. The main exception - which may well be intentional - is that the bicep part doesn't click into position in robot mode. It does eventually butt up against the inside of the car shell, and that may well be its natural stopping point, but that leaves the front of the car tilted downward on her shoulders. She does end up with a backpack made of the bonnet and grille swung back over the windscreen and roof, but it's reasonably compact and, while her side windows don't end up in quite the right orientation, they are at least in the right place and about the right size.

Figures of this size tend to rely on ball joints for much of the articulation, but Strongarm has them in the shoulders, knees and hips only. To be honest, I would have liked to see a ball joint at the knee, separate from the transformation joint, as bending her knee opens up an ugly gap at the top of her shins, and eventually reveals the back end of the car. The feet are a bit of a let down as well, offering no useful articulation, and only really giving decent support in their standing position. Her head can only rotate a few degrees in either direction, and that only because a notch has been cut out of the structure of the hinge just behind her head, but there's sadly no waist articulation. Pretty average for this size class, I think.

I was actually disappointed by this the moment I received it. Foolishly, I'd expected something larger, so that I wouldn't feel compelled to acquire the rather poor Deluxe class figure on import. For her size, this version of Strongarm isn't bad, and it's actually far tidier than the Deluxe. The addition of a weird Mini-Con/Micron doesn't inspire me a great deal, nor does the ill-fitting armour, but it's an interesting set, and the concept is handled better on other figures in this subline. This version is better than Hasbro's take on the same thing... but, as always, that ain't saying much...

Like the TV show, this toy is aimed at a far younger age group than mine, and it's a perfectly serviceable representation of Strongarm up to a point. The real problem for this set is that both of the included gimmicks have clearly led to shortcuts and shortcomings in the 'main' toy in the package... and that's something both Hasbro and Takara Tomy need to work on.

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