Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Titans Return Octane & Murk

I absolutely refuse to call this guy 'Octone'... that's just another example of Hasbro being unable to give a character his G1 name, and settling some something close-ish, even if it does just happen to be the original Japanese name for the character (in the same way that Alternators Jazz was called 'Meister'). The third and final Decepticon triple-changer, Octane, actually completes a pan-Generations set of the original G1 characters for me: I have Classics Astrotrain (though still haven't posted about it yet!), 30th Anniversary Blitzwing, and now Octane.

There was a Deluxe class Octane released in the Universe phase of the Classics line (under the name 'Tankor' just to confuse everyone), but that turned out to be arguably worse than the G1 original due to several odd design choices, so I didn't bother picking it up. We knew that Titans Return would be taking another stab at Blitzwing and Astrotrain because TR Megatron and Sentinel Pime, part of the first wave of Voyagers to be released, were obvious placeholders for the two G1 triple-changers.

Equally, we all knew a TR Octane was coming when Hasbro released a weird, cobbled-together TR Optimus Prime using an early draft of the mold, based around G2 Laser Prime (albeit several months before they released him again with a colourscheme more appropriate to that specific character, as part of a boxed set), but that just made the entire first wave of TR Voyagers a complete waste of time for me.

I do already have one iteration of this mold in the form of TF Legends Black Convoy, so I was looking forward to getting my hands on Octane, and managed to pick him up at TFNation 2017.

Truck Mode:
It's pretty amazing what a different paint job will do for a toy. Black Convoy, as his name might suggest, is largely black apart from the silver drum of his tanker trailer, his pinkish windows and the usual Nemesis Prime teal accents, so this truck looks very plain by comparison, even with the large, colourful stripe running down the length of his trailer. The original had chrome applied to the tanker parts, and I completely understand why they wouldn't do that anymore... but they could have simply gone with either a darker grey plastic or silver paint - the former being more likely as the tanker now forms the fuselage of the jet mode.

In the absence of silver paint on the tanker, one might hope that other details - such as the smokestacks and the racks on either side of the tanker - would be painted instead. Sadly, Octane is full of missed opportunities. For example, since the smokestacks disguise a transformation hinge, only the tops and bottoms are painted... and it seems they're silver more by luck than judgement, as the section of the cab they're part of is painted off-white, to hark back to the G1 toy. The racks on the sides are entirely unpainted so, while they physically stand out from the tanker they're not as prominent as they could, or should have been. It also strikes me as odd that the back end of the truck wasn't painted in some way to differentiate it more from the tanker above it. It's cleverly sculpted to look as though it's more part of the truck than the trailer, even though everything from the truck's rear wheels up to the Titan Master cockpit is all the robot's torso, but there's so much off-white plastic/paint here, it's difficult to see where one part ends and another begins. That said, for me, I think the most frustrating omission in the paintwork is the headlights.

There have been lots of reports of various iterations of this mold not pegging together properly at the front of the cab. Mine seems fine in this regard, but the cab window sections appear to angle outward slightly due to warping of the purple plastic parts they're mounted on. Since these parts aren't even designed to peg together, there's no way of avoid or even minimise this, so there is a noticeable gap between them.

While Octane is packaged with the same double-barrelled blaster/Titan Master bathtub as Optimus/Black Convoy, he comes with a second gun - single-barrelled, inspired by the G1 toy's accessory - molded in grey plastic, but is without the G1 version's shield since the aeroplane mode's tail is part of the main toy. No additional 5mm ports have been added to the mold, so exactly the same issues present themselves when arming vehicle mode, though two guns is a bit more sensible than one gun and a sword...

There's not much else to say about this mold that I haven't already covered... but Octane, so far, is quite disappointing compared to Black Convoy.

Plane Mode:
TR Octane's aeroplane mode is where the new parts appear - versus the Optimus Prime/Black Convoy version, he has a new nose and new, longer, single-part wings (which, incidentally, peg into the insides of the tanker properly, unlike the hinged, two-part folding wings on Prime). In this mode also, the bland paint job makes a lot more sense - the plane has an off-white fuselage and stabilisers, with grey wings and tailfin. From the side, and against a suitably dark background, Octane almost appears to be the right shape for a jet, bar the jumble of parts hanging off the underside - if you squint, it does look as though the rear of the fuselage tapers upward toward the tail.

The new nose makes his jet mode seem to be a larger vehicle overall, like a cargo plane rather than a small passenger jet, as the cockpit windows are smaller and more densely packed into a smaller area on the bulkier, rounder nose. He also has what looks like emergency exit doors sculpted onto the sides of the nose. There are stickers applied to the back of the nose which, I assume, are supposed to be continuations of the stripes down the sides of the fuselage... only the nose stickers are too small and the pattern doesn't match. The wings, meanwhile, are designed to look more like a terrestrial aircraft, albeit without engines, and feature stickers with a similar blue, yellow, purple and black stripe pattern to the ones running down his sides. Strangely, there are stickers on both the upper and lower faces of the wings, the latter being more for robot mode than this one, but still a nice addition to the toy... even if all of them are hopelessly misaligned and peeling straight out of the packaging.

Technically, I think the wings are too far back, but they can't move any further forward - they peg in where they're intended to be - into dips in the upper surface of the fuselage - and the multi-hinging joints for the wings will only take them further back, not further forward. I get the impression that, as with the other versions of this mold, they're positioned more to conceal the truck halves below them than anything else. That, or we're expected to believe that the truck halves are the jet engines..?

As with truck mode, his two weapons can only peg into the sides of the fuselage. I'm genuinely surprised that the new wings are not equipped with either 5mm sockets or Titan Master foot pegs - seems like a real missed opportunity, given that the wings are larger. This leaves with with only the same four connection points for Titan Master figures as the other characters made using the bulk of this mold.

One thing I neglected to mention when I wrote about Legends Black Convoy was the sculpted detail on the insides of the tanker/fuselage. With the plane's nose out, the entire front half of the aeroplane is empty, but has internal structural detail, and features like storage racks. None of it is deep enough to actually be of any use, and some of it appears to represent windows that aren't present on the outsides, but it's a nice way to add support to the plastic shell of the toy without making it look ugly and obvious that it's just structural support to keep the plastic parts sturdy. I'm a little surprised that there are not pegs or slots for attaching Titan Masters within the fuselage, but guess the internals aren't intended to be easily accessible once Octane is fully transformed into a plane.

Robot Mode:
While Black Convoy gets away with a limited palette, even in robot mode, Octane starts to look a little unfinished. Sure, it's G1 accurate to have legs that are basically strips of off-white with dashes of purple toward the bottom but, particularly with all the additional sculpted detail that the G1 toy just didn't have, TR Octane looks like something's missing. Even the torso, while painted to resemble the nose of truck mode, seems to be missing either some paint applications or some stickers beyond the solitary Decepticon insignia plastered onto his chest. All he has is a couple of yellow lines on his antennae-deploying belly button (representing details that aren't actually present on his vehicle mode) and a couple of touches of purple in his recessed nipples. What makes this figure so strange is that so much off-white paint has been used specifically to make him as plain as possible - the shins are actually molded in purple plastic, so a little less coverage would have made him look better, even if it wasn't strictly accurate to the original.

While Black Convoy gets away with being fairly plain - made up mostly of black and grey plastic, with a few teal highlights - Octane features more colour, but less detail paintwork due to the blanket coverage of off-white paint on so many parts. The purple of his arms is broken up by the off-white shoulder joint and bicep, and the fist is painted a darker shade of purple, but all the detail of the cuffs is unpainted due to to the heavy application of blue paint on the outer face of his forearms, as required by vehicle mode.

The chest plate is entirely remolded for this version - rather than having faux-window pecs, he simply has a few nondescript panel details sculpted in - but everything else appears to be identical. Whether the shoulder protrusions are deployed or not is left up to the individual but, with longer, fixed wings now sticking out from his back, leaving the cab sections on the backs of his shoulders does tend to get in the way of his articulation. Interestingly, Takara Tomy's take on this character came along with a translucent Ghost Starscream HeadMaster figure, and these protrusions are treated as manifestations of the traditional Seeker jet intake/shoulder protrusions when the Starscream HeadMaster is plugged in, possessing Octane's body, and very much intended to be folded away when Octane's own head is used.

Upon reflection, I think Octane may have been better off if he'd been given a pair of those handguns that could combine into a Titan Master turret, rather than having one unique handgun and one that's just a reuse of the double barrelled weapon packaged with every other version of this mold. Then again, that sort of thing may have benefitted all of them, as they could then have a single-barrelled gun attached to either side of both vehicle modes, rather than one double-barrelled gun and a sword. Octane's unique weapon is a long, thin handgun molded in the typically gappy contemporary way. Most of its details appear to be quite closely based on the G1 toy's gun but, rather than having a tall fin extending from the top toward the back, it has what could be a long, thin telescopic sight running along about half the length of the main body of the gun, before it gets to the barrel.

For me, the biggest let-down on this figure is the head sculpt - it has to be one of the worst that Titans Return has offered. The face itself reminds me uncannily of the iGear Raptor Squadron faces, in that he's been given a disproportionately large, flat chin and disturbingly angular cheeks, almost as if the designer had aimed for TF Animated proportions, but missed by a mile. The face is thin and expressionless, within a basically dome-like helmet with large, angular crests on the forehead. It's like a parody of a 'tough guy' face slapped into a poor reworking of the G1 toy's helmet, with too much emphasis on looking like the G1 animation model. It wouldn't be so bad if it more closely resembled the box art, but it's not even close to that. The Generations/Universe toy, released ten years ago as 'Tankor', may have been a terrible attempt at a Deluxe class triple-changer, but it at least had a decent head sculpt... This one is lazy, amateurish and seemingly designed to a completely different aesthetic to the rest of the line. Making matters worse, what little detail there is has been fudged by a heavy coating of purple paint - almost as if the faceplate was just dipping in a bucket of paint and allowed to drip dry - which is then painted over in silver for the face and red for the eyes.

Titan Master Murk
I have a sneaking suspicion that this Titan Master's name came as a result of a misunderstanding... It would make sense for a Decepticon like Octane to be partnered with a mercenary of some kind, and it really feels as though someone in the Hasbro offices said something about Octane's Titan Master being a "merc", but someone else only heard the word "Murk" and assumed it was his Titan Master's name.

Murk is largely molded in off-white plastic, matching Octane's lower half, but his head is purple plastic. None of it is painted, so he looks like an assembly error. As far as I can tell, this is exactly the same mold as TR Optimus Prime and Legends Black Convoy's parners, and even follows the same pattern in terms of both colour distribution and the complete absence of paintwork.

The only difference in Octane's transformation versus my Black Convoy is that his wings are slightly easiler to deal with, albeit with floppier joints. There are tabs on the insides of the shins that slip into slots in the wings, and the wings themselves don't have the tabs on the undersides that cause problems for the other version. The downside is that the fixed wings are so long, they actually protrude from the back of the trailer in truck mode, but that's not such a big deal compared to the large gap between the two halves of the tanker, which is more noticeable on Octane - clearly we're expected to believe it's two separate drums inside a larger, insulating drum. Or something.

As mentioned above, the new wings can cause some problems for Octane's shoulder articulation, but nothing too bad as the shoulders can be transformed like the Optimus Prime/Black Convoy version if having cab chunks on the backs of his shoulders becomes problematic. I have found a lot of Octane's joints to be far looser than those on my Black Convoy - particularly the hips and the outward shoulder articulation joint. Looking at the off-white plastic part of the shoulder, there are ridges running across the joint suggesting that the outward movement was supposed to be assisted by a soft ratchet of some kind. However, either a piece has been left out of every version of this mold, or the ridges are just sculpted detail and their resemblance to half of a soft ratchet is coincidental.

Octane is a very clear victim of Hasbro's habit of 'premolding' characters, where a design clearly intended to be one character - Octane, in this case - was first released as another, more significant character - Titans Return Optimus Prime. Even the Black Convoy repaint, initially a Japanese event exclusive, became available before Octane. What made that all the more ridiculous was that the Optimus Prime released in the first wave of Titans Return toys was quickly superseded by the Powermaster version released very soon after. There was also no reason for Hasbro to create two versions of Optimus Prime - the standalone and the Chaos on Velocitron version - from this mold at all, when they could have simply released Octane first, then followed up with their own Nemesis Prime if they felt obliged to reuse the mold for another character. Alternatively, if they specifically wanted to create an Autobot using this mold, they could just as easily have created a new one, or repurposed a more obscure character from another continuity.

Octane was the last of the G1 Triple Changers to be added to my collection and, in terms of how convincing his alternate modes are, probably second only to Generations Springer. He's certainly more convincing than TR Astrotrain, and each of his vehicle modes exhibit fewer parts of other vehicle mode compared to TR Blitzwing. He's improved immeasurably by the Reprolabels sticker set, but the stock figure is plain-looking and the head sculpt doesn't suit the figure or fit in with the rest of the toyline.

He also makes for a very noteworthy stage in Hasbro's development of Triple Changers, from their reintroduction with Classics Astrotrain and Tankor, through Generations Springer/Sandstorm and Blitzwing/Doubledealer... not least because Titans Return is the first toyline since Generation 1 to feature all three Decepticon Triple Changers in a single continuity.

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