Sunday, 25 February 2018

TransFormers Adventure VS05 Drift Origin Mode & Jazz Battle Mode

There are two main reasons I picked up this two-pack of Takara Tomy's repainted RID2015 toys. Firstly, I bought my niece Jazz as a birthday present a few years ago, in a failed attempt to get her interested in TransFormers and was actually reasonably impressed with the model, just not with the paint job. Secondly, this package also comes with new head sculpts for both characters - Drift's being more like the original Shane McCarthy/Guido Guidi design, the toy featuring a colourscheme to match, Jazz's new head simply features his traditional visor.

I was able to pick these up at a reasonable cost at TFNation 2017, so let's see if a new paint job and a new head sculpt makes all the difference to these two toys...

It seems a shame that Hasbro so rarely release two-packs like this anymore... Back in the Cybertron toyline, they were fairly common and were coming out in the Revenge of the Fallen toyline, and even a few for TF Prime. More recently, Hasbro's multipacks have been limited to toys of smaller size classes or Platinum Edition repaints, while Takara Tomy seem happy to take (or create) any excuse to repackage toys in 2-packs, frequently pitting an Autobot against a Decepticon. This one, despite being a 'versus' 2-pack, features two Autobots... though it's possible that 'Drift Origin Mode' represents the point in the character's history just after he switched sides, I guess... The front and sides of the box show some rather good character artwork of both characters, not entirely in the TV show's cel-shaded CGI style, almost of hybrid of that with TransFormers Animated's exaggerated and slightly angular look. There are also photos of the vehicle modes on the front and a 3-stage representation of the toys' transformations on the sides. The back shows and action shot between the two characters - featuring some cheeky Photoshop work to make eyes and weapons glow - along with what I'm assuming is some story to explain the pairing... It's probably been translated somewhere, so I may try to look that up at some point. There's also what looks like details of what the colour-coded ring sticker may reveal if scanned with a smartphone using the relevant app.

One reason I almost consistently prefer Takara Tomy's packaging over Hasbro's is that it tends to be brighter and clearer, with large character images but without the wacky textures and bizarre patterns that Hasbro always seem to add - particularly on the movie lines. The RID2015 packaging generally isn't bad, and certainly tends to be brighter than the newer Generations stuff. This box actually fits very well with Hasbro's RID2015 packaging, though it doesn't have the same coloured patterns in the background - this one featuring a radial gradient in red with a sort of angular lens-like filter applied.

Drift Origin Mode
Vehicle Mode:
I have to say that I really like RID2015 Drift's vehicle mode, it's just that the original colourscheme - orange and black - didn't appeal to me an any way, and wasn't exactly flattering to the vehicle design. It seems to be styled after much the same sort of Bugatti as the movie version of Drift, just with a slightly more angular design to its grille and a different shape/position for the crest on the front. In fact, it hadn't really occurred to me before I started writing this that the front of the car seems to be styled after the original's robot mode samurai helmet, which features the same crest.

Molded mostly in white plastic, this version of Drift carries red markings much like the Generations version based on Guido Guidi's artwork, and goes a long way to emphasising the curvy, futuristic, yet believable look of this car - it looks like a potentially real concept car rather than a mass-produced road vehicle, but that's not unwelcome, and sets the RID2015 toyline apart from its contemporaries. The headlights are picked out in yellow, though the paint seems a little lost in the outer section of the vehicle's front, despite being effectively framed with red stripe work and the dark matte blue stripes... I guess it's just too pale a paint colour over the white plastic. The wheels and the window section are molded in a very dark, barely translucent grey plastic, the latter meaning that a good chunk of the paint budget went on painting the roof white to match the surrounding plastic. Whether it's a result of this, or a deliberate decision with this version, Drift's rear window is unpainted - much the same as Takara Tomy's take on the 'normal' Drift, strangely. It also seems a little odd that the dark blue and red stripes stop so abruptly at the point where one would expect them to cross over onto the painted window/roof section. Given the angled panels making up the bonnet, it doesn't look bad but, equally, it doesn't look intentional.

Probably the strangest aspect of this vehicle is the back end, where tail lights have been painted red, but the parts in between (mostly the backs of the robot's feet) are completely unpainted, and the molded detail looks a little fudged and uneven. Without comparison to the original I don't know if this is a general flaw of the mold, a sign of overuse, or just something specific to my copy but, with the other details being so sharp, the unpainted back end looks all the worse for its unevenness.

Drift's swords stowed on the underside, with no way of becoming dubious ornaments/armaments for a ground-based vehicle... always a wise move, in my books.

Robot Mode:
Contrary to his sleek and sporty vehicle mode, Drift's robot mode is very heavily armoured... a fact that doesn't help his already exaggerated proportions. The massive shoulders, wide chest, skinny waist and positively elephantine lower legs are as close as RID2015 gets to the proportions of TransFormers Animated. Stranger still, he also seems to have overly long arms - his hands reach down to the bottom of his large kneepads.

I'm beginning to think that every figure in the entire RID2015 toyline is an unmitigated disaster from the back, but Drift has shell-like shoulders, a trough made out of the front of his vehicle mode hanging behind his head, and his hollow lower legs seem to comprise about 75% of his car mode. Even worse, the lower part of his abdomen is also hollow at the back, with just a couple of structural supports running at angles from top to bottom, and one running across the middle. The strangest thing I've noticed is that the bicep rotation joint on the left arm is, for no obvious reason, a different size and shape to the one on the right - there's an extra notch cut out of the shoulder piece through which the top of the joint continues.

On the upside, the front is very well decorated, though it suddenly develops a lot more yellow in this mode. The chest plate is the main point of contention here, as the part of the car's bonnet that flips round to become the robot's chest has a massive band of yellow at the top, but this is broken by the dark, bluish-grey hinge, and so looks really bad. On the original, the entire collar was much the same colour - black/dark grey - and similar raised, dark stripes led up to it from the lower corners of the chest plate. Here, those stripes are unpainted white plastic, with red painted blocks acting as the 'background'... but the paint doesn't extend into the area where the hinge pin was pushed through, making matters even worse... Why they didn't paint the raised stripes red instead, I may never understand.

My main problem with the appearance of this figure is that it seems too high-contrast - the white plastic is broken up a little by touches of red and yellow paint for the most part... but then the secondary plastic colour is a dark, desaturated blue, similar to the paint colour used on the front of vehicle mode. Since the trim on his hip armour is yellow, the difference between his basically white armour and the super-dark waist and groin is far too stark.

In keeping with the samurai motif of the original, this version of Drift comes with two swords (a katana and a wakizashi, judging by their lengths) and, when he's not wielding them, they can be stashed in his left side faulds thanks to a pair of loops in the plastic. This is all very well, but I'm not keen on the fact that they stick straight out behind him, almost perpendicular to his body... a slight angle would have looked better, I think, even if they couldn't be made to cross as is often the way in photos and illustrations of supposedly authentic-looking samurai in armour. The swords are molded in the same white plastic as most of the rest of him, feature very little detail and are entirely unpainted. This may well be as much to avoid paint scuffing as it is budgetary restrictions, but I always think unpainted swords - particularly when they're not molded in a metallic-look plastic - are a bit crap.

The head sculpt is not quite what I'd expected - looking like neither a younger, 'beard'-less interpretation of Drift from the TV show nor even the Guido Guidi design. It eschews the faux-samurai look entirely and certainly aims for the more 'sci-fi robot' look of Guidi's artwork, but it's not quite square enough, tapering inward toward the chin, and there's a bit too much dark blue paint on the crown, between the three crests. It probably doesn't help that the neck seems far too thick, either. The face seems to have a youthful chubbiness to it, beneath the silver paint, and an appropriately stern expression... but something about it doesn't fit in with the aesthetic established by the rest of the figure - it'd look more at home on a Generations/TF Legends figure.

Like most of the RID2015 line, Drift's transformation is very no-frills and without any particular surprises... apart from how untidy it all is, to be honest. The front of the car hangs off his back like a shallow pack basket, while the windows and roof end up as further bulk on the backs of his already massive lower legs. Still, these toys are intended to be simple enough for younger kids, so... mission accomplished, I guess.

Drift is one of those molds which, in theory, should have great articulation within the limitations of the overall shape of the figure and the comparative sizes of the limb parts involved - the lower legs being about three times the length of the thighs, for example. Unfortunately, while the range of the shoulders' ball joints is supplemented by the hinged transformation joint for a bit more outward movement, they're still awkward to move due to that very jointed part, and the upper legs are seriously hindered by the hip armour which actually fits around three sides of the hips and has to be raised almost perpendicular to the leg to allow any forward/backward movement. This makes the hip rotation effectively redundant for most purposes, and leaves his armour sticking out to the sides while Drift is in any kind of dramatic or dynamic pose. The icing on the cake here is that the feet are designed for stability is a basic standing stance, but they are each large enough that he can balance on one foot if the rest of him is adequately posed to facilitate balance.

It's figures like Drift that really turned me off the RID2015 line, it looks OK in some photos, following careful posing, and the paint job on this one is decent enough, but it's another fine example of a toy developed from CGI that was clearly not planned with an associated toyline in mind. This version of the figure is far superior even to Takara Tomy's version of the stock Drift but, in and of itself, it's still not a good reason to seek out this set.

Jazz Battle Mode
Vehicle Mode:
Much as I like the chunky muscle car look, and appreciate the subtle G1 homages of the colourscheme and the overall look of the front... I can't help but think of bulky training shoes whenever I look at Jazz's RID2015 vehicle mode. There's also something curiously Super Deformed about it as, while the chassis and wheels appear to be mostly in proportion with each other, the windows and roof imply a tiny interior, completely out of scale with the rest of the vehicle and probably very uncomfortable for any small, humanoid passengers. Even if the interior could accommodate humanoids of the approximate size one can infer by the size of the car doors, they wouldn't be able to see much over the massive bonnet via the small and virtually flat windscreen... so, great styling, zero functionality in this car.

The bulk of Jazz's car shell - and one look at the underside confirms that's pretty much what it is - is molded in white plastic, with the wheels in black. So far, so like the Hasbro version... It does, however, have an arguably superior paint job, though the differences are actually quite minor when you get down to it. Hasbro's version lacks the blue on the very front and the three cyan 'glow' lines painted into the recesses on either side of the bonnet, its headlights aren't painted silver, and it doesn't even have an Autobot insignia at the very front of the bonnet. It has the stripes on the doors and roof, as well as the red details on the split spoiler, but it doesn't have the continuation of the blue stripes at the back, its rear windscreen is unpainted and it doesn't have the gunmetal paint on what could generously be described as the rear bumper...

...But that's where the improvements end in vehicle mode because, while those blue and red details are on the doors, that's all in service of robot mode, and the continuations - both forward and back - have been omitted even on this twin-pack version. Going by the character model from the TV show, there should be additional paintwork on the front bumper, not least the smaller lights molded in toward the sides, and the central section below the bonnet should be either black or gunmetal. The back end, sadly, is almost as devoid of paintwork as the Hasbro version apart from the gunmetal paint on the 'bumper' sections, but that paint is also more for robot mode than vehicle mode. The blue stripes right at the back are actually continuations of paint required for robot mode, hence the lack of connection to the roof stripes via the rear windscreen. The rear indicator lights, even the raised section for an Autobot insignia, are completely bare, and look alarmingly cheap for a Takara Tomy product. On the upside, there's no visible 'fudging' of the molded details here.

For some bizarre reason, Jazz comes packaged with a strange sword/lance hybrid weapon which, according to his TFWiki page, "doubles as a sniper." - methinks there's a missing word there... 'rifle', perhaps? Whatever it is, it doesn't look anything like a gun, but it can be plugged into the roof to function like one thanks to a 5mm peg behind the main shaft grip. Naturally, it looks ridiculous, but the concept reminds me of the first live action movie Jazz toy, which was packaged with a telescopic 'lance/gun' hybrid which could be mounted on the car's spoiler.

Despite the shortcomings of the paint job and the unlikely proportions, Jazz's vehicle mode is probably my favourite of the RID2015 Autobots, and this version certainly looks better than Hasbro's pathetic attempt.

Robot Mode:
Like most of the RID2015 line, Jazz's robot mode is actually only a vague approximation of his appearance on the TV show and, particularly with this version of the character and this paint job, relies more on one's familiarity with the 'traditional' Jazz look to fill in the blanks... of which there are sadly quite a few.

Due to his odd construction - design cues for the arms, or shoulders at least, taken from the mainline release of TF Prime Bumblebee - Jazz appears to be almost as wide as he is tall, and his door 'wings' are virtually invisible behind the vehicle mode panels stuck to the back of his chunky shoulder armour. The span of his chest between his shoulders is fairly huge, and the effect is exacerbated by the extremely slim bonnet plate parked on top of his torso. Other that that, his proportions are surprisingly balanced - the arms may be a little long, but they're also fairly bulky, and his upper and lower legs are of similar enough lengths that they look balanced despite the massive chunks of car hanging off the sides.

Much like vehicle mode, Jazz remains mostly white of plastic in robot mode, though the elbow and knee joints, as well as the hands, are molded in a softer, black plastic for durability. Given that Jazz is traditionally white and black with silver/chrome trim, the overall look works well even without being slavishly G1-like. The paintwork is far more extensive than Hasbro's version, with semi-screen-accurate touches of blue just in front of his collar, and red just below the car bonnet portion of his chest. What he lacks is the red rim to the bonnet - as it would have been visible in vehicle mode (instead featuring some barely visible red paint below the rim) - and the continuation of the blue on his shins, above the joint for the foot chunk. The red paint on the shoulders should continue round to the sides, and the CGI model also features blue on the upper surfaces, but the overall effect is pretty decent... And at least his entire groin has been painted dark gunmetal, with the cyan 'glow' painted in - Hasbro's version only had a painted codpiece.

Jazz looks a little better than Drift from behind, but resembles a schematic diagram of various aspects of a car, with interior views of the doors sticking out to the sides, a plan view the roof and windows in the middle and a plan view of the rear of the car at the bottom. There's some interesting tech detailing on the insides of his doors, and the extent of the window is sculpted into each, but there's no paintwork - not even a black wash - so they're not very effective as bits of robot mode detailing, and the windows no longer look like windows, even when the dark paint shows through the white plastic a little.

It's no surprise that Jazz's weapon looks as ridiculous in robot mode as it did in vehicle mode - while he can hold it either as a gun (via the 5mm peg sticking out behind the main grip) or as a lance/sword (via the main grip in the shaft of the weapon), it doesn't really look like either, let alone a multi-purpose weapon which can function as both. It's too long for a gun (even if it is supposed to be a sniper rifle, he can't hold it the way one would hold that kind of weapon) and the wrists don't move except for transformation, so it can't easily be wielded convincingly as a lance/sword. To be honest, it ends up looking better plugged into the 5mm port on his back, and I rather wish he'd come with an accessory resembling his G1 shoulder-mounted launcher...

The head sculpt is, for me, the main event with this toy: it's actually surprisingly good, in-hand. Where the box art of the Hasbro version features a visorless Jazz looking wide-eyed and slightly gormless, with the toy getting a pair of very beady blue eyes, this Takara Tomy version reverted to his G1 look with a visor and a very grim expression, and the head sculpt of the toy matches it admirably. The black helmet is instantly recognisable, the cyan visor is the right size and shape within it, and the touches of cyan on his three crests match the look of the CGI character model.

As mentioned, there's a very slight similarity between this figure and one of the TF Prime Bumblebee molds in the way the shoulders transform into the front fenders of the car. To a lesser extent, the back end is also similar, albeit vastly simplified. The bulk of Jazz's body basically sits inside the shell of the vehicle, with the bonnet laying over his chest in robot mode, and the car doors and roof/window sections forming parts of his backpack. It all seems quite wasteful and, given that robot mode doesn't even look that much like the CGI animation model, I can't help but think the transformation could have been done better.

Jazz's freedom of movement is far better than that of his partner in this boxed set. The shoulder joints are similarly odd, having been made up of one rotation joint for forward/backward movement and a separate one for outward movement (mainly for the purpose of transformation), but the legs have excellent range, given their chunkiness, and Jazz barely suffers from the lack of a waist joint. The fact that he can easily balance on one leg puts him a little bit above Drift straight away, but the fact that he can also adopt a breakdancing pose (albeit cheating and using the panel that sticks up behind his head as a third point of contact with the ground) makes him a lot of fun to lark about with.

By and large, and with a few exceptions, I'm not a fan of the RID 2015 toyline - transformations have been overly simplified, and neither Hasbro nor (surprisingly) Takara Tomy have gone for what I would call a complete paint job. Add to that, the fact that both of these figures have gaping chasms in their lower legs and look seriously crummy from behind, and the toys generally are quite hard to recommend... but they are aimed at younger kids who probably value durability over show accuracy (much like I did back when I first started buying TransFormers toys) and, while I always craved increasingly complex transformations (and still do, as long as it doesn't get too silly and time-consuming), many kids will prefer to be able to switch quickly and easily between robot and vehicle modes.

Both figures have superior paint jobs to the stock Hasbro figures, but Jazz isn't a huge improvement on Takara Tomy's standalone version... I did particularly want a version with the visor, though, since Jazz just isn't Jazz without it. I'm quite happy having these on my shelves, sharing space with the more random TF Prime and Arms Micron figures in my collection, but neither one is quite the must-have I had been hoping for...

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