Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Studio Series Stinger

The toylines accompanying the last couple of movies have been pretty perfunctory. From the very first movie, the toys arrived long before the films but, initially, carried on for quite some time afterward as well, with Hasbro winding down other toylines to ensure everyone was focussed on buying the movie toys. Dark of the Moon showed a marked departure from the strategy, with the toyline reaching a premature end before several of the toys had reached the market.

Takara Tomy filled in some of the gaps later on, releasing Wheeljack in Asian territories only, and creating Movie Advanced versions of some of the stragglers, including a repaint of Deluxe class Soundwave and an attempt at Dino from Dark of the Moon, based on the Revenge of the Fallen Sideways mold.

While the AoE toyline was still in full swing, Hasbro teased the existance of a unique mold for Stinger - the KSI drone created as a 'better-looking' Bumblebee analogue - but the line was halted before any images of the mold emerged, and Takara Tomy's version was just a repaint of AoE Bumblebee.

I'd given up all hope of a unique Stinger toy, and had been looking into acquiring the Takara Tomy version... until a new Stinger toy - with a whole new mold - was revealed as part of Hasbro's Studio Series line. Could this be the mythical toy that was made for the AoE toyline?

I'll only go into this once, as I think once will be enough in this case. I strongly suspect that this is what Hasbro were aiming for when they produced the abominable packaging for the Premier Edition line of toys for The Last Knight. It's clean and simple, very much in line with the Star Wars Black series, or Marvel Legends, rather than the mismatch of colours and textures from the last movie line. Thinking about it, and given how brief, limited and patchy the all-display-boxed Premier Edition line was, it could easily be that PE was the proto-Studio Series...

The intention here is for all the toys to be in scale with one another, as far as possible - something the collectors value more than the kids, I would imagine - so the robots that turn into cars will all be analogous to Deluxe class, with subtle variations in size based on the type of vehicle. Trucks and some aircraft will evidently be Voyager-analogues, and Leader class will be reserved for the giants, such as Blackout and Grimlock. Each release will be numbered - a feature previously reserved for Takara Tomy's releases or Masterpiece figures - and all will come with little display stand featuring a background diorama taken from an appropriate scene in the relevant movie.

As part of the 'Unification of World Brands', the packaging bears both Hasbro and Takara Tomy logos, and the Studio Series is apparently part of the Generations line, with a relatively tiny section of the front and back of the box set aside to show the logo of the movie the character appears in. There's also plenty of space on each box given over to images of the character - concept art on the front and both sides, and photos of the toy on the back.

I wouldn't want to see this sort of packaging rolled out across the board, but for a specific subline like the Studio Series, it's ideal - eye-catching and very professional-looking. My main question would be why they think they need the cyan and the red - one or the other would suffice and, with red being the signature colour of the the brand at the moment, that would seem to be the logical choice, unless they wanted to differentiate Studio Series a little more... Other than that, it does seem a little strange that all of the boxes seem to carry the Autobot insignia on one side, regardless of the allegiance of the figure inside.

Vehicle Mode:
Whereas Takara Tomy's first attempt at a Stinger toy was just a red repaint of the 2014 Camaro Concept Bumblebee, the Studio Series version transforms into the Pagani Huayra, as per the KSI drone from the movie. It's a truly gorgeous car - a little bit retro-styled, but with quite a few design cues from the likes of Ferrari - but, I have to admit, I'd initially mistaken it for some kind of Mclaren as some of the curves are fairly similar to at least one of their road cars.

Molded largely in red plastic, with a clear, colourless canopy painted over with a super-dark gunmetal/charcoal colour, this appears to be a faithful representation of the car, as one would expect from a licensed vehicle. Like the vehicle featured in the movie, it has the dark, charcoal-ish paint over the bonnet, and across the bumper/grille sections at the front and back of the car. The black and silver striping has been applied all the way down both sides of the car - no sudden cut-offs or blank sections due to differences in plastic. The headlights - such as they are - are picked out with a gunmetal paint, but the usual Hasbro skimping does come into play on the finer details. That the hubcaps are unpainted is, effectively, true to the on-screen vehicle, which had glossy black hubcaps. However, the plastic pegs the wheels are mounted on are unpainted red plastic (somewhat understandable - not much reason trying to paint where it's likely to get scuffed through play) which is pretty unsightly, and the detail at the rear - tail lights and exhaust pipes - is either part of the blanket coverage of charcoal paint or unpainted black plastic. The vent-like details, just behind the side windows, are also unpainted, but the omission isn't screamingly obvious here.

The real-life Pagani Huayra has its wing mirrors on super-thin stalks poking out over the front wheel arches, and they're well represented here, using a soft - not exactly rubbery - plastic. Obviously, the stalks are proportionally thicker, but they look perfect for a toy car of this size.

Stinger comes packaged with a set of four of those sawblade/ninja star things that sprout from his back in the movie. I'm not certain if they count as weapons - I don't recall them being used as such in Age of Extinction, but I don't remember his brief appearance in any great detail - and he can't really wield them in his hands in robot mode, but all four can attached to the underside of vehicle mode for storage. Two end up poking out the sides, just ahead of the rear wheels, while the other two attach to the robot's 'wings', in the middle of the underside. There's not a great deal of ground clearance, but it's the connection pegs, rather than the sawblades attached to them, that may scrape the ground.

Apologies for the quality of the vehicle mode photos - my usual camera refused to focus on any of the Deluxe class Studio Series toys, so I had to resort to using the older one...

Robot Mode:
At first glance, Studio Series Stinger is quite an oddly-constructed fellow. He has the front sides of the car hanging off his shoulders, the rear sides of the car hanging off his calves, and the rolled-up roof sitting on one arm. He also has his signature 'wings', on which can be pegged the four sawblade/ninja star maybe-weapon-things, but it's mounted on a slightly awkward, articulated stalk that seems to stick out too far from his back. There's a hinge right on his back, and another to allow the 'wings' to flare out or fold back toward the body, and these are mounted on a mushroom peg so they can rotate for transformation. None of the joints have a natural stopping point, except where the two black wings butt up against each other, which they're perfectly happy to do at any angle off the main hinge.

Having bits of the front of the car hanging off his shoulders isn't strictly innaccurate, but the precise placement here definitely is. Going by the concept art, the headlights should be able to face downward, parallel to the upper arm, but that's just not possible with the transformation joints available. It's easy enough to find a pleasant angle for them to rest at, and it's still not as bad as the execution of AoE Bumblebee's shoulders. The upper arms themselves could probably just as easily be used on a Bumblebee figure - there's nothing specifically 'Stinger' about them as far as I can see, beyond the car panel moldings on the outsides. The forearms on both sides are a little clumsy due to the car panels on the outsides but, here again, it's not as bad as AoE Bumblebee, even without the folding car panels on the undersides. Sure, it looks like he has most of a car door as a shield on the left arm, and the weird 'weapon' created by the car roof on the right is actually in the wrong position, but that gives it an element of G1 Megatron's fusion cannon, despite it's amost flowerbud-like shape. The legs and feet are fairly simple in design, with only a few signs of exposed gears sculpted in - all part of what made Stinger a 'better looking' 'bot than Bumblebee, according to KSI's self-promotion in the movie. Having the back end of the car dangling off the calves isn't half as intrusive as one might think, looking at photos, but it's surprising - and more than a little disappointing - that there isn't any robotic detail sculpted into the insides of those chunks of car shell, particularly as they're covering up the detail that was sculpted into the backs of the black parts of his legs.

Where this figure really shines is the torso, which comes together in a very imaginative way, and looks very close to the CGI and concept art in it's shape and detailing. It's remarkably well-constructed and gives him an appropriately bulky look... though there's a noticeable error in the paint job. The black/charcoal paint on the robo-boobs is fine, but it contines up around the area that's pinned for the transformation joint, which should have been left as bare red plastic. The area just inside that, where the sculpted detail goes quite deep into Stinger's chest, is what should have been painted. It doesn't look too bad as it is, but it is clearly wrong versus the concept art. Then again, the central part of the chest, which spikes upwards, also isn't quite right... Some of it should have been left unpainted, but then the sculpt for the bottom of his 'ribcage' isn't quite right either, so the way they've done it works in context. Below his chest, there are touches of gunmetal paint highlighting the inner workings of the robot, and the tips of his toes are also painted. The stock images had gunmetal or silver paint on the backs of the red toe sections as well, but this has been omitted on the final product. There does seem to be more red paint on the thighs, versus the stock images, though...

The fact that the car's windscreen ends up sandwiched into Stinger's waist is quite interesting, and has remarkably little effect on his overall appearance. Had the rim of the windscreen been painted red, it might perhaps have worked as a representation of the bottom of his 'ribcage', even though it doesn't line up in quite the right way. Below the windscreen, the waist piston detail is small and sunk quite far in, and it almost looks as though the details on his lower back are a more accurate representation of his belly. Certainly the four exhaust pipes shouldn't be protruding from his groin, but that actually just serves to differentiate him further from Bumblebee.

Weapons-wise, the four sawblade/ninja stars can peg onto the front or back of the four 'wings' protruding from his back. I tend to peg them to the outer side of the upper 'wings' and the inner side of the lower 'wings', just to avoid clashes, and to give a greater impression of depth to the arrangement. What's strange is that, since all of them are molded with central sockets, Stinger can't actually hold them... the closest he can get to that is mounting one on either of his forearms, using the peg intended for storing the discs in vehicle mode. The folded-up car roof on his right arm is intended to represent the large 'claw' weapon Bumblebee developed after upgrading himself to resemble Stinger. If you squint, it's almost the right shape... but it's a little too large, and too far back on the forearm. It's almost tempting to suggest this should have been a partsforming job - detach the windscreen, and wrap it entirely around the forearm. As it is, I personally prefer it to AoE Bumblebee's weedy arm cannon... though I do wish it pegged together, and that the shorter section of 'claw' had a natural stopping point in its range of movement.

The head sculpt is excellent, marred only by a lack of painted detailing. The central crest is painted black and the eyes are painted a sort of acidic green, but the face/battlemask is otherwise devoid of paint. Also, it's another fine example of light-piped eyes being covered over with opaque paint. Arguably, based on what I recall from the movie, the eyes could have been left unpainted so the translucent grey plastic would look almost black until light shines through from the back. There's no Bumblebee-style battlemask feature to this toy, but I don't believe Stinger was ever shown to have a 'true face' behind his battlemasked appearance.

Considering how similar all the Bumblebees have been, it's refreshing to see such a different transformation for Stinger. It's mostly quite simple, though very precise - parts have to be moved in a particular order to avoid clashing, then aligned just so to ensure everything connects as intended - and the way the upper body rotates 180° over the windscreen, placing it inside the robot's waist, is very original. The headlight sections on the shoulders are a little annoying, as it's not made especially clear where they're supposed to be, and they don't help the torso's clearance when rotating it around the windscreen. The instructions put them standing vertically behind his shoulders, but that's just plain ugly, and then there's no explanation for the joint that allows them to tilt outward, past the shoulder joint, or in over the shoulder joint, though the latter will tend to restrict the shoulder's movement.

Stinger has all the usual joints - ball joints for the neck, shoulders and hips, supplemented by rotation joints just above each elbow and embedded in the upper thighs. Elbows and knees bend just a touch less than 90°, and he has a little toe-tilt thanks to transformation... though I'm not sure how useful it is in practice. He lacks any waist rotation (unless you feel like using the windscreen rotation joint as a point of articulation, but that does make it look as though he's coming apart) but, honestly, the hip and thigh joints are adequate to compensate for this omission, and having a waist joint probably would have had an adverse effect on his overall stability, not to mention potentially adding further complication to his transformation.

For me, Studio Series Stinger was absolutely worth the wait - never have I been more glad that I held off buying the first available version of a figure, because Stinger completely deserved to be his own mold rather than being a repaint of a Bumblebee figure that was really just 'kind of OK'. Even without a thorough and completely accurate paint job, the detail and design of this figure are excellent. If this is actually the figure Hasbro had ready to release at the tail end of the Age of Extinction toyline, I'm in two minds about their decision to cancel it: on the one hand, that was a really daft move because it's such a good figure, certainly better than that line's Bumblebee... on the other hand, it's probably a good thing that they held it over to the Studio Series line, because they were probably able to do it more justice this way.

In fact, if Hasbro were to recreate AoE Bumblebee as a Camaro, but with SS Stinger's transformation, I'd have no qualms about buying that Bumblebee figure, because it would be a far more innovative and accurate figure than the one we got four years ago, as well as being more a more substantially different Bumblebee than anything we've had since the RotF toyline.

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