Saturday, 16 December 2017

TransFormers Adventure/Prime of Micron TAV41 Optimus Prime & Gravity 'Gravity Armour'

Back in October 2016, my best mate took a holiday in Japan - somewhere I've wanted to go for many years now, and which was actually on the list of possible destinations when, about 20 years ago, he and I occasionally travelled together. I asked him to be on the lookout for any cool new TransFormers (and particularly Legends Blurr), but with no expectation of him actually buying anything on my behalf. When he came back, he came bearing a gift, in the form of one of Takara Tomy's versions of the RID2015 Mini-Con Battle Packs. He seemed a little disappointed, and said that TransFormers didn't seem to be widely available, but a gift is a gift, and I was more than happy to receive it.

I don't normally go in for this scale, but the RID2015 take on Mini-Cons was at least intriguing, if a little inconsistent,

Vehicle Mode:
Let's start with the good parts: the cab, being essentially two shell parts that don't really get involved in transformation, looks quite good. Its bumper, grille and windscreen are painted in a super-dark gunmetal or charcoal paint, while the main headlights are painted cyan. The smokestacks are painted silver, and what appears to be a sunshade has a strip of the gunmetal paint across the front, but it's set way too far back to be of any use as a sunshade. The doors have large rear view mirrors, but neither they nor the windows are painted in. The cab has no rear wheels, and features a large gaping hole where they would normally be... and things only get worse for vehicle mode from there back...

...Because RID2015 Optimus Prime is one of those versions where the robot transforms into a truck and trailer, and this version does very little to disguise the fact that the trailer is made up of the robot's arms and legs. Partly, the problem here is that the trailer sections are molded in the robot mode's colours and not painted to look more like a consistently-coloured trailer, so Prime's red shoulders are obvious, his black thighs are obvious just below, the exceedingly long lower legs are obvious from their detailing - not least the painted feet - and, despite featuring some trailer details, the forearms are entirely open at the ends, so his hands are visible just above the trailer detail optimistically molded on the soles of the feet.

While there's no interaction with Prime's Mini-Con parter, Gravity, in this mode, his armour pieces, when combined into their hammer form, can be rested on the roof of the trailer, with a small tab on the handle slipping into a socket on the roof. It looks disproportionately huge, and just kind of dangles off the back of the trailer... but that, at least, covers over the robot's feet and hands.

Back in the 80s, when TransFormers finally exhausted Takara Tomy's catalogue of Diaclone toys and everything went a bit sci-fi, quite a lot of the toys suffered from vehicle modes that looked like folded up robots... and so it's interesting to see that the brand hasn't quite moved beyond that even to this day. Granted, this is a toy in one of the smaller size classes, and Optimus Prime will always come out the worst in such cases, but there's really no way this can be considered a coherent vehicle in its own right.

Robot Mode:
One of the few character models I instantly liked in RID2015 was Optimus Prime, with his exaggerated proportions and cartoonishly angular chunkiness. It was as if they'd developed the TransFormers Prime aesthetic to a point where it could be rendered in the style of TransFormers Animated, and then applied it to an entirely new character model. Thus we have a broad chest, narrow waist, chunky arms, coupled with tiny thighs and massive lower legs, but with the defined, interconnecting panel look.

In this mode, Prime features the traditional red and blue colourscheme for the most part, but there's a surprising amount of black plastic on the torso and limbs. The animation model does feature some black, but the biceps and thighs should have been pale grey - possibly even white - for a better match... But that's where this toy first starts to fall down because, while there's a surprising accuracy to the molded detail, the paint job - at first glance - is Hasbro levels of miserly. The sides of his chest should have been painted red, but they've been left as bare black plastic, as there are a couple of transformation joints involved, and the same plastic has been used for the biceps and thighs. The hands, feet, knees and chest pseudo-window have been painted gunmetal but, aside from that, the only paint is the cyan strips on each shoulder... meaning there are only a very few paint applications more than the Hasbro paint job.

What's truly bizarre about the paint usage is that the silver parts at his waist, visible in vehicle mode, are almost entirely covered in robot mode by unpainted black plastic... suggesting that the silver paint is there for the benefit of vehicle mode alone... which is just insane considering its scant molded detail isn't designed to resemble any part of the truck.

It's inevitable that a toy this size ends up with some kind of backpack and, in this case, it's basically the entire truck cab, very slightly compressed, yet still protruding quite a way, and still very visible behind Prime's head. Also, given that his arms make up part of the vehicle mode's trailer, it's equally inevitable that there are large and unsightly plates on the backs of his forearms... but that's still preferable to the state of his lower legs, which are basically three gaping chasms separated by  structure-reinforcing plastic bars.

The head sculpt is surprisingly detailed and accurate for its size, featuring silver paint for the face and central crest, as well as cyan paint to pick out his eyes. His expression is neutral and a bit bland, but I'm always amused by the way the head looks, because the antennae make him look kind of like a cartoon, anthropomorphised cat wearing a helmet. I think it's partly because of the 'no nose' aesthetic of TFPrime and TFRiD2015, the small piece of helmet that sticks down between his eyes, and then how high up his face his mouth appears...

While the robot is a bit bland, then, the weapon/armour parts are positively gorgeous. I don't know if it's the specific type of plastic or the particular colour used but, when catches even the slightest bit of light, it glows. The photos below really don't do it proper justice - even now, as I type this, on a dark, grey winter afternoon, having been frustrated by the lack of good light for photography over the entire weekend, Prime's armour and axe are glowing. It doesn't photograph especially well, but these parts react very strongly to UV. The axe-wielding, armoured look is very effective and, unlike Strongarm's armour, actually keeps his chest, forearms and shins covered. The axe itself is very Fall of Cybertron and, aside from the absence of paintwork, very similar to the version included with the Deluxe class figure, just with a longer handle. This allows for Prime to wield the axe with both hands which, in turn, provides additional support when the armour pieces are combined with the axe to create an imposing-looking clawed hammer. This alternate weapon, despite being substantially heavier than the axe on its own, still doesn't have to be held in both hands, but it does require a bit more effort in posing to keep the figure balanced.

Micron Gravity:
I'm more than a little confused by the way RID2015 seems to be handling Mini-Cons/Microns. Some appear to be launched like projectiles, while others become weapons, but many don't really do anything. Some interact with the larger robots - if only as weapons - while others can wear the larger robot's armour. Gravity is one of those that interacts with neither.

He actually reminds me a little of Armada Unicron's satellite, Dead End... but that's probably because he transforms into a sphere of sorts. He appears to be a chubby little 'bot wearing armour that's part viking and part samurai, and he's molded in Optimus Prime's main colours. Like Prime himself, there's very little by way of paintwork - a couple of spots of cyan right at the top of his chest and for his eyes, and gold for his horns - so he looks bland in either mode. It's a real shame considering the armour panelling molded onto him and considering that most of the Mini-Cons in the TV show are depicted using two or three colours, with two shades of at least one of those, as well as a 'glow' colour. One might expect this sort of corner-cutting from a Hasbro toy, but it's really disappointing to see it in a Takara Tomy version.

That said, one possible reason for this is that the back end - molded in colourless transparent plastic - is actually painted red to match the rest of the upper body. Given that these Mini-Cons are highly unlikely to be displayed with their backs on show, I don't see why any paint was wasted on that at all, when it could have been put to better use actually decorating the front of the Mini-Con more effectively.

Probably the weirdest thing - and something of a missed opportunity - about packaging this particular Mini-Con with Optimus Prime and the axe/hammer/armour pieces included is that Gravity has no means of interacting with any of the accessories. The sphere-type microns appear to be designed with one of the specific launcher-type larger figures in mind (only Crazybolt and Overlord, as far as I can see), so this set almost comes across as troopbuilding on behalf of a couple of Decepticons.

Prime's transformation is simple, intuitive and very minimal. The legs do nothing but peg together, the entire truck cab simply swings up from his back and clips in over the torso. The only complicated part is swinging the shoulder sections down at the waist, getting the forearms pegged in just below the kneecaps, then getting everything nicely aligned. The only problem I have with transforming him in either direction is that the top flap on the cab doesn't always like to stay where it's supposed to be, and the entire cab has a habit of popping off if handled carelessly.

Gravity, meanwhile, is geared such that moving his shoulder panels back tilts his head forward and raises his legs back, but the corners of the shoulders have a habit of catching on the bottoms of the horns, so a little extra user intervention is required to complete the shift from tubby robot to not-quite-sphere. The only other manual operation involved is rotating has hands back and forth between their robot (down) and spheroid (up) positions.

Being a small figure, this version of Optimus Prime relies on quite a few ball joints - six out of the total of eleven joints - with the others (neck and two separate shoulder joints) being rotation only. This allows for quite a bit of expressive posing, limited only by the fixed feet which have very little heel support. He's not too difficult to balance on his own but, when holding the hammer, his centre of gravity is based more on the weapon than the 'bot wielding it.

As mentioned above, the strangest part of this set is that the armour doesn't interact with the Micron in any way. There's no means of connecting the individual pieces to Gravity, and he sure as hell can't wield the hammer. Looking at other figures in the toyline, there seems to be a pretty even split between those where the armour can be shared between the Micron and the larger robot, and those where it's either armour or weapon enhancement... and, with Strongarm on my shelves, I have one of each.

Despite really liking Optimus Prime's design in the TV show, I didn't really like any of the toys. The Deluxe version had large chunks of the red truck cab hanging under the blue forearms and the larger size classes inevitably lost out in accuracy in favour of gimmicks, ending up comparatively more clumsy. This version takes some liberties with the design, has a fairly poor paint job for a Takara Tomy figure, and has some gaping holes in both modes, but is above average for its size class. Bearing in mind this is the smallest, simplest size class, intended for the youngest age group of TransFormers fans, it's actually pretty good.

The Mini-Con doesn't add much, but the armour parts and axe are awesome and fit the figure well in either configuration. While I wouldn't have bought this one for myself, I do quite like having a version of Optimus Prime from this continuity, and this one doesn't take up too much shelf space. I just can't help but think the set would be cooler if Prime had been coupled with one of the Microns that interacts with the armour in some way.

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