Sunday, 8 July 2018

TransFormers Legends (Titans Return) LG44 Sharkticon & Sweep

I'd have to say that one of the strangest - if not outright daftest - elements of the animated TransFormers movie was the sequence on Quintessa, and the introduction of Sharkticons to the pantheon of beastformers.

Not to say Sharkticons are inherently daft in a franchise that had already introduced Dinobots, and would soon introduce the Terrorcons, the Firecons and all the Decepticon HeadMasters... but the fact that they were seemingly an entire, separate race of non-Cybertronian transforming robots, all looking identical, which would normally indicate that their toys would be intended as troop-builders, yet the Sharkticon released in the toyline was given a unique name - Gnaw - and his tech specs bio appeared to treat him as an individual within the Sharkticons.

Hasbro's release of the Titans Return version followed this trend, albeit without the bio, but Takara Tomy seems to have gone back to the idea of Sharkticons as troopbuilders, not just because the packing names him simple 'Sharkticon', but he's also packaged with a troopbuilding HeadMaster

Beast Mode:
Sharkticons were never the most convincing idea - vicious little balls of teeth with barbed maces for tails, that somehow, through the magic of 1980s cartoon animation, turned into stocky, yet basically humanoid robots. The G1 toy was an excellent attempt at capturing the likeness of the beast mode, with its row-upon-row of chromed teeth, bandy legs, weedy arms and enormous bug eyes, with a body that tapered back toward the tail... This one captures the spirit of the Sharkticons, but doesn't quite get the shape right - almost like Armada Unicron, he looks great from the front, but the back is curiously flat because it's basically just the robot's legs folding back on themselves.

Sharkticon's paint job is probably one of the most extensive among the TF Legends figures I own, not least in proportion to his size. The entire upper section has a coating of gunmetal paint, with purple on the upper and lower jaw, silver for the teeth, cyan for the horns on the lower jaw, along with incidental details in red and an almost fluorescent green/yellow. His feet are painted cyan and, unfortunately, the robot's hands, sculpted onto the backs of the feet, are made perhaps a little too prominent by their coating of purple paint. This makes the back view even stranger, with two massive blocks of purple separated by a sliver of grey, running from the fin on his back to the tip of his tail, and with the beast's legs revealing themselves to be the robot's arms. It's a little disappointing that the spindly Sharkticon arms and the fin were molding in grey plastic and have gone unpainted, but there's so much paint elsewhere - more becoming apparent in robot mode - that it's not that big a deal.

One thing I really like about this figure is that the entire upper face is molded in translucent green plastic, all of which is covered over with paint except the eyes. They may not be especially effective in terms of light piping due to the way the rest of him is constructed, but the sculpted detail around and within them emphasises their bugginess, while the translucence gives them a vacant air, perfect for the mindless drones they've always seemed to be. The 'face', generally, is a very well-crafted aspect of the toy, and I particularly like the way it's sculpted to suggest multiple layers of metal, which is then emphasised by the multi-colour paint job - silver teeth, purple 'lips', then gunmetal for the outermost surface - so that, while there's a fairly limited range of up/down movement for the upper and lower jaws on the toy (the mouth cannot fully close, for example), there's the sense that these overlapping panels could slide over each other on the real thing.

The fin seems a bit lonely, since the original had a row of smaller spines running down its back. This one has sculpted details resembling these spines, but they're not visible as that section of the fin piece is well within the area of Sharkticon's body between his robot mode legs. The fin can't be moved any further forward than show in my photos as it's butted up against Sharkticon's robot head, within the body, and that's been pushed as far down the beast mode's throat as it will go.

His tail is surprisingly short and stubby, barely extending about 1.5cm/0.5" out of the rear, but with a comparatively large spiked ball on the end. The 'ball' features six cut-out portions on each side as a cost/plastic-saving measure, and looks pretty awful. Again, a different colour of plastic may have helped, but probably not a great deal.

Robot Mode:
Sharkticons are basically the TransFormers equivalent of a twisted Humpty Dumpty in robot mode: egg-monsters where the top of the egg is open and full of teeth. Of course, where the original was properly egg-like with legs sticking out the bottom, this one has half its mass in its legs. Looking at him from the sides or the back shows that there's really not a great deal to the body once you get beyond the shoulders. They've not skimped on detail on the back, though it is fairly minimal as it's built around screw holes, sockets for tabs and other transformation necessities. There's even some detail inside the hollow area of the body that accommodates the robot's head in beast mode... All very impressive in the sense of 'attention to detail', though I can't help but think it would have looked better if the top of the beast mode's head hinged onto the robot's back, like the G1 toy, and the heel spur was dealt with some other way...

On the lower part of the chest, just above the inset 'abs' panels, there's a trapezoid detail that always reminds me of a CD-drive - the long, thin 'drawer' at the top, above circular depressions at either side, and an eject button-like detail in the middle. This feature is also present on the original G1 toy, though the 'drawer' part of the detail there was more of a 'slot'. For some reason, I find the familiarity of this feature to be quite distracting, reminding me a little of the sort of low-budget robot suit you'd see in terrible sci-fi movies, where the robot is 'programmed' for whatever task by feeding it a disk/tape/card in some convenient slot either in its head or chest.

While much of the body is bare pale grey (albeit very subtly pearlised) plastic, with only the lower jaw/collar and a tiny block of green on the groin to liven it up, the legs have an abundance of paintwork. Not just the beast head parts on the backs of the lower legs - the thighs are painted purple, the 'toe' is painted cyan, and then the inner faces of the lower legs feature panels of purple and cyan, referring to aspects of the animation model from TransFormers: The Movie which couldn't be otherwise replicated on this new mold without adversely affecting beast mode. It's a nice addition to the toy - something Hasbro didn't do - but it's not as if those inner faces are particularly visible.

The only weapon packaged with Sharkticon is his tail/flail and if it looked short in beast mode, it looks positively pathetic in robot mode. The 5mm peg used to plug it into his hand is at more-or-less a right angle to the flail. This makes it more effective for swinging/attacking poses but, coupled with the fixed bend in the forarm, never really looks natural. It's interesting to note that the G1 toy also came with a handgun, even though I don't recall any Sharkticons using guns in the movie... though it's been a while since I last watched it.

Sharkticon's head sculpt is appropriately dome-like, with a subtly raised crest on the forehead leading back to a small fin-like protrusion from his crown, then additional spines (painted the same colour as his helmet) running down the back. The eyes, curiously, are painted the almost-fluorescent green used on the lower jaw and for the tiny detail on his groin, and there's a red panel on the forehead, while the face itself is bare grey plastic. It's not the most exciting of head sculpts, and it looks as though the eyes could either have used a darker paint for their recessed borders, or just having the green paint extended to fill them, making the eyes look larger. Just behind the head is a raised section of collar which I think is intended to resemble the teeth from the upper jaw, since that's where they'd end up on the original G1 toy. They're not painted, though, and they are almost entirely obscured by the head from several angles. It's a nice detail, I guess, just a little wasted in the context of the figure.

Sharkticon has a very simple transformation - the upper side and rear of the beast mode open up to become the legs, the beast mode's belly becomes the body, and its legs become the robot's arms, sculpted elbow bend and all. Thus, the upper half of the beast's face becomes a pair of heel spurs, and its lower jaw retains its traditional postion as a huge collar, sticking up in front of the robot's face. It's a reasonable transformation, given the size of the figure, but it leaves him looking terrible from behind or from the sides - his back is basically flat, with a gaping hole in the middle that the beast's fin doesn't quite fold fully into. The daftest aspect of this is that the fin offers no support to the rotating flap of plastic which accommodates the robot's head - it comes to a stopping point just a couple of millimetres away from it... though this arguably gives him the ability to look up and down very slightly.

With the shoulders, elbows and hips being ball joints, there's a fair range of articulation to this guy, but the fixed bend in the forearm is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means he can bring his fist right up to his shoulder... on the other hand, he can't convincingly straighten his arms. The legs, similarly, have a distinct sense of 'squat' to them, even when straightened as far as they'll go, and there's barely any rotation on the hip. Despite a large cutaway in the back of the thighs, the knees are still quite restricted by the mass of Sharkticon head on the back of the lower leg, though this does act as a substantial heel spur, allowing for posing well beyond what the broad, flat, unarticulated feet would normally handle. There's no waist articulation, largely due to the Sharkticon fin folding up into the back from its hinge between the hips, and the dome-like head can rotate a full 360°, as well as tilting back and forward slightly on its transformation joint. It's not one of the best examples of its size class, but it's far from being the worst.

HeadMaster Sweep:
Entirely unrelated to the Sharkticon, the Sweep HeadMaster seems to have been included only because Takara Tomy insist on including a HeadMaster figure with every TF Legends release, regardless of size or compatability. Sure, you can have one of these figures standing in the Sharkticon's mouth, but that's hardly a sensible 'riding/driving' position, and there aren't any other Titan Master pegs elsewhere on its body.

The Sweep HeadMaster figure uses the same mold as TR Scourge's partner, Fracas, and a surprisingly similar paint job on the face. What's changed is that he uses two colours of plastic - a blue very similar to that of Fracas for the head, body and lower legs, with white for the arms and thighs - and there's no longer any paint on the lower legs as it just doesn't seem necessary.

The face on the back is structurally and functionally identical to Scourge, even down to the extendable nacelle on top, but his robotic facial hair has changed. Rather than the bold, angular horseshoe moustache of the Sweeps' leader, this grunt has a sharp, hipsterish handlebar moustache, though both appear to have the same trapezoid goatee. Where Hasbro's Scourge has the whole of his face - prodigious moustache included - painted silver, the Sweeps have a pastel blue face with a marginally darker paint used for the moustache and goatee. It doesn't seem especially well-applied, and neither colour wraps around the corners of the face. While this emphasises his sunken cheekbones, it also looks a little unfinished and untidy.

Sharkticon is not a bad figure, but it's certainly not great. Considering Reprolabels have a sticker set for the Hasbro version with three different colour sets - any of which could be applied equally well to Takara Tomy's version - it may well be more cost-effective to troop-build that way. For a single Sharkticon, Takara Tomy's offers a far superior paint job and an overall better-looking figure... though, to be honest, I'm liable to leave him in his beast mode, because the robot mode looks less impressive in just about every way. That being the case, Sharkticon is very much a novelty figure and, since there's not a great deal connecting TransFormers Legends - or Titans Return - to the events of the animated movie other than the parallel chronology of the ongoing Generations toyline, it's a really strange, not to say entirely superfluous, addition to the toyline.

TF Legends Sharkticon was 100% an impulse buy for me: I was one of the MCM London Comic Cons (late 2017, I think?) and found him reasonably priced at In Demand Toys' stand, so I bought him along with TargetMaster Kup. I wasn't really interested in the Hasbro version, and not particularly invested in the Takara Tomy version either - not least because it might encourage me to buy TF Legends Scourge and turn Hasbro's Scourge into a Sweep (though this will still leave me with a spare Titan Master figure...), but also because the Sharkticons weren't that interesting a feature of the animated movie that I've been eagerly awaiting a new version. In retrospect, this is probably a figure I could have done without - I certainly have no plans to get TF Legends Scourge (though I may well have felt more inclined to do so had be been released as a TargetMaster!). I may even end up displaying him with my mish-mash of Classics/Generations figures on my quasi-animated movie shelf, rather than letting him take up space with my other Titans Return figures...

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