Friday, 16 March 2018

HasCon 2017/Titans Return Arcee, Leinad & Ultra Magnus

(Femme-Bot Friday #46)
Hasbro clearly understood that, by ending Fun Publications' license to act as the TransFormers Collectors' Club, they'd have to come up with some sort of replacement for BotCon but, for the inaugural HasCon, at least, TransFormers were only one small facet of the event, given no special consideration.

The absence of BotCon naturally meant the absence of BotCon exclusives, which rubbed a lot of fans up the wrong way (probably those same fans who were regularly rubbed up the wrong way by some aspect - present or lacking - in the BotCon boxed sets, let's face it). That's not to say there weren't any HasCon Exclusives - by the looks of it, there was one for each of Hasbro's major product lines - just that they weren't really 'exclusive' so much as they were 'early access'... And their TransFormers boxed set was contentious for a laundry list of reasons.

But I tend not to let that stop me, particularly when Femme-Bots are involved...

I'm not sure why exactly, but the box for this boxed set always makes me think of special edition training shoes. There's barely any labelling beyond an Autobot insignia in some sort of 'comet' icon on the front, and the brand masthead on the side... something about it seems to say "TransFormers/Nike Crossover" rather than "Limited/Special Edition Toy"... but then, this wasn't really a limited edition. Soon after HasCon, this exact same package turned up in Toys'R'Us across the States, and ended up being rather more easily accessible... HasCon attendees were simply able to obtain it earlier.

Unlike standard boxes, this one pretty much explodes outward, with the first flap revealing the collectors' cards for both Arcee and Ultra Magnus, along with 'schematic' diagrams of both Titan Master figures and the completed Arcee. Opening the remaining flaps reveals the figures themselves along with a gorgeous digital painting of Arcee vaulting over some random green 'bot, pistol firing, while a bunch of jets fly over explosions in the background, with various bits of branding around the sides. Quite why they felt the need to caption the picture "Fantasy Scene" (in four different languages) I'll probably never know or understand...

What bugs me about this box is that, impressive though it may look, the packaging actually has to be cut open to retrieve the collectors' cards... which doesn't cause me to lose any sleep, but I know some folks out there like to keep the packaging as intact as possible. It's an overly fussy box, and needlessly so - all very cleverly designed, but to the point of losing good functionality as a container for toys... but the most infuriating part is sure that it's not only really boring on the outside, but the contents aren't even slightly visible. Having eschewed any kind of window into the contents, and given the choice between putting the digital painting on the front and using the 'stylishly minimalist' black and white comet icon, they foolishly proceeded with the latter... One can only hope they don't continue with this wasteful and inappropriate packaging design for future releases, particularly if this is the best they could come up with to replace Fun Publications' premium collectable box style.

Vehicle Mode:
Inevitable though it may have been, there's a sense of disappointment to handling a Titans Return Arcee based on the TR Blurr mold. I mean, sure, they've remolded the front end, parts of the flanks, and even the 'nacelle' on the back... but Arcee really deserves a unique mold in each incarnation. Still, if she has to be a repaint of anyone, Blurr seems like a fairly sensible choice - even back in the G1 animation, Arcee's vehicle mode seemed like a curvier, retrofuturistic, wheeled version of Blurr's sleek, angular speedster form, particularly with both sporting those strange nacelles at the rear.

The most obvious - and largest - of the remolded parts has very little impact on the coherence of the vehicle - the front end is a bit strangely lumpy because it starts so low, with a shallower angle on the bonnet than Blurr's, so it has to quite suddenly curve upward halfway down the bonnet just to meet up properly with the windscreen - but the smaller, subtler changes to the flanks leave ugly gaps where the faked vehicle parts favour robot mode around what will become her shoulders. The vehicle ends up looking like it's been pieced together almost at random, and the front end sort of reminds me of Mastermind Creations' IDW-based hovercar mode for their Azalea. I almost wish they'd gone more that route, leaving the robot with a smaller, squarish buckler rather than the lumpen shield she got.

The paint job is unmistakably (not to say unremarkably) Arcee - and more like Takara Tomy's Legends release than Hasbro's Generations version, as there's no black and precious little dark grey to this version - she is largely pink and white, as she should be, according to tradition. Where it starts to fall apart - because this mold was created to be Blurr - is with the windscreen, which is molded in translucent pink plastic and has a bold white panel painted at the top just to simulate Arcee's G1 torso design, thus substantially reducing visibility through the windscreen. It's just stamped over that entire section, including the sculpted frame of the window and a chunk of the window itself. I think that's my main problem with the paint job: that it too frequently fails to follow the sculpted details of the vehicle. Take the white paint around the 'headlights', as a further example: it's neatly applied, for the most part, but doesn't include the angled box leading back from the middle on top, nor the distorted rhombus on the bottom of each side. Then the white band across the top of the 'shield', where it meets the windscreen, doesn't even attempt to follow any of the sculpted details. Likewise at the back of the vehicle, which is just bathed in white paint where Arcee would traditionally be white, despite an absence of supporting panel lines, rather than using the lines of the Blurr mold to inform the paintwork.

As with Blurr, Arcee's weapons - twin handguns - can peg into the underside of the nose. Unlike Blurr, the guns actually suit the vehicle in remarkably well, looking like intentional features rather than just being guns stuck to the underside of the nose. The pegs being rectangular, they rotate easily within their circular sockets, suggesting an individual targeting capability, and they protrude just enough to be visible, rather than adding significantly to the overall length of the vehicle.

Robot Mode:
If the similarities to Blurr were striking in vehicle mode, they're blatantly obvious in robot mode, though the paintwork and the remolded shoulders really try to make Arcee look different. With the remolded vehicle bonnet on Arcee's back when it's not functioning as a shield, it's left up to the shoulders to differentiate her from Blurr physically, and they're not particularly well designed. The traditional pod-things are simply sculpted onto the backs of her oversized, almost spherical shoulders, and, sharing Blurr's bicep-to-elbow parts and the armoured forearms, the arms end up looking slightly bowed at the bicep.

The rest of her Arcee-ness comes down to the pink and white paint job and, at first glance, it's probably a bit more successful here than it was in vehicle mode. There's certainly something contemporary and IDW-ish about this version of Arcee, with no concessions toward femininity beyond what was already present on super-svelte Blurr, making her probably the first official Arcee without obvious robo-boobs. That, or her boobs are right up under her chin, standing to attention, and then her body tapers back down to her waist... The use of her windscreen as her chest, with its colouration designed after G1 Arcee's vehicle front, works to a degree, but I can't help but think it would have looked better if they'd kept the white paint mostly to the molded frame, with the white triangle ending up a little lower down. She doesn't have the traditional darker band around her waist, and the only reference to the usual block of tech detailing on her belly is a dark grey panel which, when I first saw photos of this figure, I'd taken to be a small rubsign. Probably my favourite part of the paint job is the legs, where the pink plastic of the lower legs has been largely painted over in white, leaving a few stripes of unpainted plastic to show through. Along with the vehicle mode boosters tagged onto the sides of her shins, this makes it appear that she has slim, straight, white legs with pink armour added to bulk out the lower legs... though this effect is lost entirely when viewing her from the sides.

Just like with Blurr, the vehicle's nose folds down onto the robot's back, but can be tugged free to work as either a crappy sledge for Leinad, Ultra Magnus, or any other Titan Master, or plugged into either forearm to act as a shield. This is probably its best usage in robot mode, as it looks about the right shape for a giant alien robot's riot shield, and is a decent size - not too small to be effective, not so large it becomes cumbersome. It also serves as a convenient holster for her two pistols which, unlike the two handguns packaged with Generations Arcee, are identical. Both are molded in pink plastic, then painted grey everywhere but the grip. While this version of Arcee has the standard 5mm socket in her fists, the grips on her guns are rectangular, and fit perfectly into Generations/Legends Arcee's hands... better, in fact, than either of the guns packaged with her, thanks to the shorter length of the grip. They're fairly simple weapons, detailed enough, and a good size for this version of Arcee, though I'm half tempted to trade weapons between this one and the Generations version.

The head sculpt is great, seemingly based on Arcee's current appearance in the IDW comics rather than being the usual G1 homage, so it certainly fits well within the Titans Return aesthetic. The only downside to me is that it's all so pale - the pink of her face is barely different from the white of her helmet. Her eyes and a tiny box within her central crest are painted the standard Autobot blue, and that's all the paintwork there is. Considering someone went to the trouble of sculpting some decent-looking lips - not overly pouty, though perhaps a little compressed - it's a shame they weren't picked out with some paint of their own - if not the full-on red of the G1 character or the strange blue of the IDW version, then just a darker pink would have been acceptable... and the 'earmuffs' have been highlighted - unnecessarily - in pink, so a small change in the paint plan is all it would have taken. The only problem is the weirdly-shaped Titan Master peg: it seems to fit in snugly enough, but it pops out all to easily when just trying to turn Arcee's head. That and the lack of paintwork turn an excellent head sculpt into a head that's simply adequate.

Titan Master Leinad:
Intended to somewhat resemble Daniel in his transforming exo-suit from TransFormers: The Movie, this is a pretty bog-standard, single-coloured re-use of Blurr's Titan Master figure with a dash of paint on his shins and a silver, egg-like dome for a head. Trouble is, unlike Takara Tomy's version of an exosuit-based HeadMaster - Spike, packaged with Takara Tomy's Legends Bumblebee - Leinad doesn't feature any parts that are actually sculpted to look like the exosuit - the resemblance is entirely down to the plastic and paint colours. This leads to an apparent mismatch between his arms and the sides of Arcee's head, with no continuation of the pink 'headphones' go when the Arcee faceplate ends.

Interestingly, the 'Spike' HeadMaster not only features uniquely sculpted body parts and more extensive paintwork on the body, but an entirely different helmet, molded in clear, colourless plastic with facial detailed sculpted inside and highlighted by a dab of paint. Granted, it could be said that Takara Tomy had the benefit of time to improve upon Hasbro's Leinad, but there's a good chance their Bumblebee/Spike set was developed in isolation and around the same time as Hasbro's Arcee/Leinad set.

This version is decent enough, and I won't be able to directly compare it to Spike easily (as I have no intention of buying Legends Bumblebee) but, as mentioned above, I find the head/connection peg is often more inclined to pop out of Arcee's neck socket than actually move via the neck ball joint, mainly because there's so little of Leinad's helmet to keep it in the socket - an obvious case of a (mostly) round peg being placed in a square hole... On the upside, he does at least look good sat in Arcee's cockpit, if not the ridiculous 'sled' that doubles as her vehicle mode nose and robot mode shield.

Unsurprisingly, the transformation is identical to Blurr since the only significant changes to the mold is to the shape of the vehicle's nose and the robot's shoulders. Disappointingly, it's easy to see how a couple of alternate changes could have given Arcee her iconic two-part backpack as part of a transforming shield rather than as weird extrusions from the backs of her otherwise almost spherical shoulders... and it would thus have been possible to remove the ugly, dangling cuff pieces as well.

Her articulation is, of course, identical to Blurr - none of the jointed parts are modified significantly enough to increase or decrease their range of motion. The two pistols do encourage some rather more dramatic

Titan Master Ultra Magnus:
There's a weirdly appropriate angle to this, in that Hasbro's Combiner Wars take on Ultra Magnus was packaged with Minimus Ambus as a sort of Mini-Con partner who would sit inside the 'Ultra Magnus Armour', and this Titan Master fulfills much the same role... or would, had there been a Titan Master-compatible version of Ultra Magnus at any point. Of course, this figure further muddies the waters by being painted to resemble the G1-style 'white Optimus Prime' that formed the core of the original Ultra Magus... only the torso detail is fairly generic rather than recognisably 'truck cab chest'. Then again, I doubt Hasbro would want to be accused of ripping off the Third Parties, specifically Junkion Blacksmith's series of triple-changing HeadMaster figures, which did include both an Optimus Prime and an Ultra Magnus, though the latter appeared to be the 'fully armoured' version, albeit with a truck cab-only vehicle mode, making him more similar to TF Prime Ultra Magnus than G1.

One of the big selling points of these 'exclusive' Titan Masters is their die cast torso and faceplates but, to be honest, on the strength of this one, I'd say the metal is a liability. These figures already tend to tip over backward rather too easily, and with so much weight so high up, they become significantly more back-heavy. I also find the hip joints incredibly stiff, but that's one of those "your mileage may vary" joint tolerance problems. The real problem is the neck joint, which is virtually impossible to move on the Titan Master figure, becoming merely exceedingly tight when used as the head of a larger robot. The paintwork is nice in both modes - though understandably minimal for the Titan Master - but I can't help but think the Ultra Magnus faceplate looks rather gormless...

What I find really weird is that the faceplate has Ultra Magnus' antennae molded into it, rather than using the backs of the Titan Master's arms as the antenna, so the faceplate ends up shallower than it could have been. It doesn't look bad, it just seems that he has white antennae behind his silver antennae... I also think the legs should have been molded in cyan plastic - to match his helmet - so the head mode looked less like a faceplate on the back of a small, folded-up robot... but, of course, they were going for accuracy to the G1 cab robot, rather than trying to make sense...

My acquisition of this figure was fairly fortuitous in the end. Shortly after HasCon, I found this package on eBay at a reasonable cost, and ordered it immediately... but the seller seems to have been a scammer, because the tracking information - supposedly eBay's own Global Shipping Programme - never appeared. A week or two after its due date, I filed a complaint and eventually got a full refund, so it's not as if I lost any money on it, it was just an irritating inconvenience. However, while I was still optimistically waiting for my eBay purchase to arrive, there was an MCM Comic Con in London, and one of the stands (In Demand Toys, if I remember correctly) had a stack of HasCon Arcee boxes. After much consideration, I decided to risk buying one there and then, on the assumption that the one I ordered through eBay probably wouldn't arrive, safe in the knowledge that I could simply sell it on if it did. Of course, it never did... but I still have a HasCon Arcee.

Was it worth all that? Well, it's certainly nowhere near as impressive as any of the old BotCon exclusives, and isn't even a geniune event exclusive. Arcee's paint job may be closer to what we've come to expect from Takara Tomy's TransFormers Legends line, but it's certainly not premium and, while the Arcee face sculpt is very good, the lack of sculpt matching to Leinad's arms, for example, and the rather anaemic paint job - particularly the absence Arcee's characteristic red lips - is very disappointing. The 'bonus' Titan Master Ultra Magnus is decent enough, but entirely pointless without a dedicated body of his own or, at least, a reasonable alternative body, and the partially die cast construction does it no favours at all.

Then the packaging - and specifically the fact that the cards have to be cut out of their plastic coverings - is badly designed both in terms of looks and functionality, to the point that I'm seriously tempted to just cut the cards free and throw the box away... something I'm normally loathe to do with any special edition. Had the painting been on the front of the packaging, and the plastic bubbles mounted more sensibly within, I would have been more than happy to keep it all intact... as it is, I actually begrudge the box the space it occupies in my flat, but I'd probably still regret disposing of it - if nothing else, it's an object lesson is piss poor toy packaging design.

The bottom line is that, since it's nowhere near good enough to replace the 2015 Generations/Legends Arcee, this figure is basically superfluous. It doesn't represent Arcee especially well - not simply because the same basic mold was used for Blurr (and Nautica, with a couple of additional turbine parts as opposed to changes to the base mold, though Arcee's nose/shield would have worked better for Nautica), but because the remolding is minimal and lazy, while the paintwork is poorly matched to the sculpt in vehicle mode. It's essentially a fine example of Hasbro releasing a figure because they can, rather than because it's needed, or because it's something the fans particularly want... and that's probably not the smartest move with their inaugural HasCon offering.

Still, it could have been worse... they could have done her as a TR Hot Rod reshell...

...Or might that have been a better option, after all?

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