Saturday, 27 January 2018

Robots in Disguise (2015) Bisk

From the start, I was all set to completely ignore the new Robots in Disguise TV show and its toyline. Despite being a follow-on from the amazing TFPrime, it was watered down and kid-friendly, the robot designs looked awful and the first few waves of toys looked poorly designed, shoddily made and generally cheap.

Then I saw photos of the adorable Deluxe class Bisk toy, and the ice around my snobby heart just melted... I still don't know quite what to make of a load of Decepticons who, for no clearly defined reason, all look like weird animal hybrids in robot mode, but a lobster robot is always a win in my books. So, without further ado...

Vehicle Mode:
The first thing that struck me about Bisk's alternate mode was how much it reminded me of the Vehicons from TransFormers: Prime - it's a low, sleek car with a very long bonnet, an angular design on the front, vertically oriented headlights, extra curves around the rear wheels, a roof that swoops downward toward the rear, and has fins sticking up at the back. Bisk isn't quite so much of a muscle car crossed with a hearse but, had be been a similar near-black purple, he'd look just as menacing. As it is, it looks like the Batmobile got a respray for a stakeout in a pumpkin patch.

There's not a massive amount of molded detail on show here - RID2015 seems to make a virtue of keeping its vehicles smooth and simple - and the paint job is remarkably sparse, even for a Hasbro release. Virtually everything visible in vehicle mode - apart from the wheels, obviously - is molded in orange plastic with a gorgeous sparkly component, and the majority of the paintwork is on the front of the vehicle, where a T-shaped design is painted black, a couple of recesses just below its cross piece are painted in a desaturated burgundy and the headlights are painted both silver and cyan. Criminally, though, there's a detail molded into the centre of the T-shaped design that's clearly intended to accommodate a Decepticon insignia... but it hasn't been applied, not even on Takara Tomy's version. The windows are all painted black, and the spoiler/fins have blocks of a slightly pearlescent, desaturated burgundy... Not sure why, but that particular paint colour makes me think of nail varnish, to be honest.

The wheels are molded in black plastic and, while the hubcaps aren't painted, there's a nice ring of cyan paint around the hubcap which makes me think of old style 'whitewall' tyres... only cyan... though I'm pretty sure it's intended to represent the glow that turns up on most RID2015 characters' CGI models. Either way, and given the retrofuturistic design of the vehicle mode, I'd say they're a perfect fit to the look of the vehicle. The wheels themselves are clipped into place rather than pinned - a horrific cost-saving measure that gained traction with the RID2015 toyline - so they don't all spin very well, but at least none of the hitch at a certain point.

On the front of the car are a couple of 5mm ports - one behind each of the headlights - to mount Bisk's handguns, making another point of similarity with the TFPrime Vehicons... only Bisk is packaged with two guns, and the Vehicons only got one. Despite these being molded in black plastic, they work remarkably well stuck on the front of the car, and - being round pegs in round holes - can turn in their mountings.

While I really love the vehicle mode, I do have a couple of gripes. That there's no paintwork at the back of the car is pretty much par for the course but, with recessed indicators molded in just behind the rear wheels, it still feels like skimping that they're not painted in. There are also unsightly rectangular holes above each of the wheel wells for no obvious reason. If I had to guess, I'd say it must be some sort of structural issue due to the way the wheels are mounted... but it really ruins the fluid look of those surfaces. Plugging in the guns at the front disguises those two holes to a degree, but nothing can be done for those at the back.

Robot Mode:
Look at the photos below... Do I even need to explain how awesome Bisk is in robot mode? I mean, he's a giant alien robot lobster man... and he even has a dinky ikkle lobster tail (for better or worse).

I saw images of several sizes/versions of Bisk online, but all of them except for the Deluxe seemed elongated or just weirdly proportioned, whereas this one is appropriately hunched, has quite stubby legs (not helped by the massive wheelwells tagged onto each one - where's the Soundwave-style lower leg compression here, eh Hasbro?), and well-proportioned arms leading to his appropriately huge claws. Taking into account the simplicity of his construction, he actually looks a lot like the cel-shaded CGI model from the TV show, with the only things detracting from that being the overly-chunky lower legs and the car bonnet cape on his back, neither of which are too serious. His torso features all the usual overlapping armour panel detailing one would expect from this continuation of TFPrime, and it's all sharply detailed, albeit fairly minimalist.

As with other RID2015 toys, though, the main problem with this figure is in the lack of supplementary paintwork. The wide chest 'window' is, of course, painted black, but the waist area should have been painted the desaturated burgundy colour, with a silver panel on each side, the panels on the inner surfaces of this claws and lower legs should have been painted black, the feet should have been mostly black with burgundy lines on them, and basically all of the thin lines sculpted into surfaces on the chest and groin should have been painted cyan, to represent the 'glow' elements of the CGI model. Takara Tomy's version does a better job, but even that isn't perfect.

The two handguns peg into exactly the same holes in robot mode as they did in vehicle mode, only now they're on the tops of Bisk's claws. It's one of those situations where you have to assume his weapons transform out of his hands, TFPrime-style, because there's next to no way his massive pincers could pull a gun out of a holster and mount them on each claw (yeah, I know it's based on a cartoon, but still...). Even so, it seems a shame they weren't designed to be held, or even mounted in a secondary 5mm port on the inside face of each claw... but then, I haven't yet seen any of the episodes featuring Bisk, so I don't even know if he really uses these guns.

The head sculpt is adorably goofy - antennae, eyes on stalks and two wibbly beard-protrusions (I'm sure they have a technical name) all molded in orange rubber, with a solid plastic (shell-like?) visage that would be oddly human were it not for all the sticky-out bits. The only way the head sculpt could have been better is if the protrusions - the eyestalks and antennae, at least - were actually wire-cored and properly poseable... because, sure, you can waggle them about, but then they spring back to their default position. It might even help them in transformation, but I'll get to that later. Bisk's face didn't need much paint, so it looks pretty good as-is... but his big, googly eyes have only spots of cyan on the front rather than being fully painted. I wouldn't expect Takara Tomy, let alone Hasbro, to paint in the white rings of the CGI model, but this miserly attempt at decorating his eyes is pretty crummy.

Most of Bisk's transformation is fairly traditional, straightforward and predictable, with the legs forming the back of the vehicle, the arms forming the front, and the head flipping back into the body via hinges at the waist and neck. The only issues I've had with it are that certain parts absolutely have to be done in a specific order (legs first, then head/chest) or the rubber antennae are liable to get caught up and bent out of shape by the pitted undersides of the feet and, after many transformations (because it's really, really fun), the claws have become a little reluctant to stay pegged into the shoulders to form the front of the car, often popping back out several times before they're finally convinced to stay put. Meanwhile, I find the roof pegs into the sockets at ankle level a little too securely in vehicle mode, while the right claw barely clips into place at the wrist in robot mode. There's also a strange gap left over just below each wing mirror - it's not especially obvious but, once noticed, it can become a little irritating, as it looks as though it should have been avoidable.

Given his size and awkward proportions, Bisk is nicely poseable. The way the feet are hinged - offering a fair range of useable tilt, both forward and back, in robot mode, he can hold some fairly extreme poses, as far as his comparatively stubby legs allow. The arms are intelligently jointed considering how obviously cheap the design was - open mushroom pegs for the shoulder and bicep rotation, though that's generally only apparent from the rear - offering excellent range, with the shoulder armour being able to move out of the way to a degree thanks to their ball joints. Furthermore, the transformation joint that swings the claw into place on the wrist can be used to supplement the bicep rotation in bringing the claws in front of the chest. The ikkle lobster tail, while exceedingly cute, does obstruct the backward movement of his thighs unless they're pulled quite a way out to the side first, but it shouldn't matter too much as Bisk is really intended to be hunched over with his legs bent. If there's any disappointment to be found, it's with the head: as previously mentioned the rubber parts would have benefited by wire cores to make them properly poseable, but also the head itself is mounted on a ball joint on a very short 'neck'. Thus, whereas few TransFormers toys manage to get much useable head tilt, due to the way Bisk's head is mounted, he has virtually nothing but tilt.

With all the short cuts in his transformation and paint job, I really shouldn't like Bisk as much as I do, but the whole design tickles me so much that I'm basically willing to forgive anything and, having got him in my hands, I made it my mission to also acquire Thermidor - frequently checking my nearest Sainsbury's and Tesco superstores (since I found RID2015 Soundwave in Sainsbury's) as well as the websites of the likes of Toys'R'Us, Smyths and The Entertainer. It's a ridiculously fun toy and, outlandish as the RID2015 Decepticons are for the most part, Bisk somehow appealed to me in ways that very few of the others did... It's not even really intended to appeal to grumpy 40-somethings, so clearly Hasbro and/or the RID2015 TV show's design team are doing something right... As far as the missing paintwork goes... perhaps I'll try to replace this with Takara Tomy's TransFormers Adventure version, perhaps Reprolabels will come up with an upgrade set... We'll just have to wait and see.

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