Friday, 21 September 2018

Tenth Anniversary(!)

When I first started this blog, back in 2008, I was fully in the grip of my rekindled interest in TransFormers toys following my discovery of the 20th Anniversary products - MP01 and the Binaltech line - four years previously. At the time, since I still lived with my folks, my job left me with a good deal of disposeable income and, while the Binaltech line was winding down by that point (BT20 Argent Meister, the penultimate figure in the line and one of the first figures I wrote about here, was released that year), Masterpiece figures were still coming out, and I'd already amassed quite a collection of Cybertron/Galaxy Force toys before looking back to Energon/Superlink and even Armada/Micron Legend... Then Classics had happened and I suddenly had a growing collection of Hasbro/Takara Tomy's remakes of G1 toys along with the 'new' TransFormers Collection/Encore re-releases...

...And then, the unthinkable happened: by mid-2008, the (admittedly meagre, by today's standards) 50Mb web space allowance on my personal website ran out because even the tiny thumbnails images of my toys added up to quite a lot of space. I wanted to keep on taking photos of and writing about my toys... in fact, I wanted to do more of both. One solitary image of each toy's robot mode cannot capture the full awesomeness of TransFormers toys so, having hit my website's limit, I had to find a way to expand...

...Hence the move to a blog. And so, ten years later, here we are. I've managed to sustain the blog (just about) though some troublesome periods, created a recurring feature in 'Femme-Bot Friday' (sadly, Members Incentive Monday ended on #12, due to the closure of the TransFormers Collectors' Club back in 2016), filled in some regrettable gaps in my G1 collection, improved my photography a little, and had quite a lot of fun writing about all these transforming robot toys in my collection.

To more fully celebrate this new milestone, I'd hoped to write up a top ten list of toys of the past ten years (or possibly of my entire collection?) and maybe even a feature or two based around specific characters... But, for one reason or another, I've got no further than putting shortlists into a spreadsheet. Photos are not available for all the figures listed, and I can't easily get my hands on some of them. Perhaps I'll save it for next year, when I'll have been collecting again for 15 years?

For the moment, though, I'll write a few words about the coolest TransFormers toys I've picked up since last year (now, and henceforth, a Top Ten!)...

1. Power of the Primes Battletrap
OK, technically two figures - Battleslash and Roadtrap - but this rebooted G1 Duocon probably
made the swiftest transition from announcement on the fan sites to being part of my collection
simply because, terrible as the G1 toys were for both Flywheels and Battletrap, they represented
something new (sort of) and exciting, and the Power of the Primes version is every bit as good.
2. Studio Series Blackout
Much like the original toy, SS Blackout's robot mode ends up being shorter than you might
hope, but it's amazingly detailed and - aside from the huge chunks of helicopter hanging off
his forearms - remarkably accurate to the CGI. Let down only by feeling surprisingly small
for a Leader class figure, and featuring a few loose-ish joints, some parts that don't peg in
especially well, and a paint job that could be described as 'unfinished' this is still an awesome
achievement, and a thing of malevolent beauty.
3. Studio Series Stinger
Hasbro claimed to have created a unique Deluxe class figure for Stinger for the Age of
Extinction toyline back in 2014/15 but, like Dark of the Moon's before it, the line got cancelled
before the last few models were released. Takara Tomy released a Stinger which was basically
a red AoE Bumblebee, so the only Stinger figure that had the right vehicle mode was the
One Step Changer... Until, that is, Studio Series came along, with a unique Stinger based on the
vehicle from the movie, with an unexpectedly innovative transformation... and it was excellent.
4. Power of the Primes Evolution Optimus Prime
I was (and remain) dubious about Hasbro's ill-conceived 'Unification of World Brands' largely
because I was hoping that Takara Tomy would release a better decorated version using less
anaemic red paint/plastic, but I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised by PotP Evolution
Optimus Prime, in spite of the gappiness, terrible stickers and crummy paint job. Taking its
design cues from the second Masterpiece Optimus Prime, the combined robot looks great,
for what it is, while the first animation accurate G1 Orion Pax toy is everything it needed to be
(if only it weren't so full of holes). Overpriced, but pretty darned good, and something of a
yardstick by which I judged the rest of the PotP line.
5. FansToys FT-24 Rouge
Over the years, many attempts have been made to create a fully transforming Arcee figure based
on the animation model from the '86 movie and, frankly, most have been shit. Since her design
doesn't really lend itself to real-world interpretation, I never really expected anyone to top
Hasbro/Takara Tomy's own version (itself a development of a custom figure, which got its creator
employed by Takara), but then FansToys released images of their entry into the fray. Rouge's
transformation is fiddly and not at all fun, her backback is very untidy, and she lacks waist
articulation... but I still think she's amazing.
6. Unique Toys R-01 Peru Kill
A truly bizarre bit of nomenclature, but few would argue that this is an awesome achievement:
a Masterpiece-scale version of movie Lockdown that is both reasonably CGI-accurate and
comparatively simple to transform. Vehicle mode is a thing of beauty (but I'm biased as I
rather like Lamborghinis - everything from the Countach onward), and the added extras -
the head-gun, the alternate faceplate, the claw, the 'seed'... the cyborg hyena thing...
were additions to an already very impressive package, available at a reasonable price.
7. Alien Attack STF-01 Firage
While the name sadly reminds me more of a certain Europhobic UK politician than the
character from Dark of the Moon known variously as 'Dino' and 'Mirage', this is an awesome
achievement. It started out as a kitbashing project, but ended up getting mass-produced by
Alien Attack and is, in some ways, actually better than Peru Kill due to its smaller scale.
8. Beast Wars Transmetals 2 Blackarachnia
Yes, I already owned the BotCon exclusive repaint as Arcee, and it's hardly one of the
greatest TransFormers toys of all time, but that only made me want Blackarachnia even more.
Seeing her in Orbital Comics' front-of-store cabinets at a far more reasonable price than one
can generally find on eBay, picking her up was a no-brainer... and, with this one, I don't have
to put up with an annoying, hair-trigger voice clip inside the box...
9. Perfect Effect Perfect Combiner PC-16 Jinrai Prime
While I really liked Takara Tomy's reworking of Titans Return Powermaster Optimus Prime
into Super Ginrai, part of me really wanted a super-articulated version of the G1 original to
include a truck cab that transformed independently into a super-articulated robot.
Perfect Effect delivered the goods.
10. Masterpiece Barricade
As one of the movie characters whose toys have never been quite right, Barricade was well-
deserving of the Masterpiece treatment. While this isn't much more advanced than the
Human Alliance version, and the paint job isn't entirely screen accurate, MP Barricade is
a beautiful figure.
Honourable Mentions:
Armada Optimus Prime
While this one may only be a replacement for an existing (broken) figure, it still earned a place
on this list by reminding me how cool this playset really was, in spite of his clunkiness.
I was a little surprised that the electronics worked perfectly, but that meant I could just swap
a couple of easily portable parts from my old one to the new one, rather than having to
unscrew anything complicated. Getting this also prompted me to seek out Jetfire and Overload.
FansProject Lost Exo Realm LER-05 Comera
Yes, mine broke within a few hours of taking her out of the box for the first time, but TFSource
got me the replacement parts I needed, and it's hard to fault a model that looks this good, even
taking into account the simplistic transformation and my general dislike of Dinobots.
TransFormers Animated Sentinel Prime & Oil Slick
Bought second hand via eBay, these were two characters I wasn't overly interested in at the
time (about ten years ago, coicindentally!) but which slowly nagged at me over the intervening
years. Both turned out to be quite cool in their own way, though Sentinel Prime cheats a lot
more of his robot mode detail than Oil Slick.
Power of the Primes Evolution Rodimus Prime
One of these days, I'm sure Hasbro or Takara Tomy will get Rodimus Prime 'right', but they're
not quite there with the PotP version. Something about it just feels unfinished, but it's arguably
better than the Masterpiece simply because the trailer does more than just turn into a
battlestation, and his Matrix of Leadership serves a wider purpose within the PotP toyline.
The Rodimus Unicronus repaint is actually not as good in-hand as I'd hoped, but still decent.
Studio Series Ironhide
The first new Ironhide mold since the Dark of the Moon figures, since the character was killed
off at that point. Of all the molds, this is easily the most screen-accurate (with the possible
exception of the Masterpiece) but isn't quite perfect due to a lacklustre paint job and the daft
handling of the vehicle mode's front bumper.
Street Fighter X TransFormers Ken vs Chun Li/Ryu vs Vega
A bonkers idea executed rather well, with three Titans Return molds and one Generations mold
repainted as characters from the Street Fighter franchise. Does this mean there will be more on
the horizon? Probably not, as TransFormers don't generally lend themselves to repainting as
humans... But if there are more, I'll treat them on a case-by-case basis.
Black Mamba Deformation LS-01 Ares Nitrogen
I put TLK Nitro in last year's Top 9, so it didn't seem fair to put an upscaled/improved version
in this year's Top 10, but it's certainly a noteworthy figure. The changes to the engineering
are subtle, but worthwhile and the improvements to the paint job are phenomenal.
Studio Series Grimlock
The first few months since the last anniversary saw me buying a couple of Dinobots. First
was FansProjects' Lost Exo Realm Comera, listed above, then I piled hypocrisy upon
hypocrisy by buying this magnificent monstrosity, the first halway decent representation of
a movie design I hated. Along with TLK Megatron, this is a figure I'll be treating as something
other than a TransFormer, just to rationalise why I actually like it.
Legends TargetMaster Windblade
I honestly don't know why I keep buying Hasbro's Windblade figures - they're always so
dull compared to Takara Tomy's version. Not only does this come with a TargetMaster weapon,
it comes with her original sword rather than the weird Titans Return longswords, the Titan
Master figure has been painted, and the paintjob on Windblade's face has been tidied up.
Studio Series Thundercracker
Lower down on the list only because it's just a repaint, Thundercracker was nevertheless an
excellent (and unexpected) reuse of one of the best molds from The Last Knight's toyline.
Like Nitro, the lack of paint detailing was a disappointment, but the colourscheme and the
paint that is there is still a huge improvement, if not to the extent of Ares Nitrogen. The
'nightmare arachnid' head sculpt is a bit 'WTF?', but at least it's not boring!
I seem to have ended up qualifying several of these choices for one reason or another, but Power of the Primes turned out a bit of a mixed bag - what was done well was excellent, but it had more than its fair share of mediocrity. This time last year, I wasn't convinced by the line... but two figures have made it into my top ten and another is in the honourable mentions. It feels as though the end came a little too early for PotP, and without revealing as many innovations or surprises as the previous two chapters of the Prime Wars trilogy.

Half of the top ten and four of the honourable mentions are movie figures - both Hasbro and Third Party - mainly because that's where the most innovative work is currently focussed. Hasbro's latest subline, Studio Series, has been a joy so far, and looks to continue in that way. The release schedule is a little on the slow side, the much-vaunted attention to scale for the robots has led to some bizarre discrepancies in the vehicle modes, and there are already too many Bumblebees in the line, but the designers at work on the Studio Series have worked a few miracles already. Third parties have been slow to skew toward the movie designs - understandably - and their results have been mixed thusfar, but it's still ripe territory, if only because of the figures Hasbro/Takara Tomy haven't (yet) produced.

But not only are there Bumblebee figures in the Studio Series line, there's also a Bumblebee movie-specific toyline featuring the myriad Bumblebees they can't shoehorn into Studio Series. Most of the toys in that line appear to be aimed at the younger audience - Energon Igniters, Power Charge and the like - but it feels like their marketing strategy is basically "if you throw enough shit, some of it will stick".

Weirdly, also, the majority of the entries on this list came into my possession during the first six months after the previous anniversary, and this year's TFNation only furnished me with one of the honourable mentions. I bought more than I'd expected at the show, but still not a great deal compared to previous events, and the lack of anything new and outstanding on sale there was a symptom of a wider problem with Hasbro's marketing, scheduling and distribution. I'm particularly miffed about the supposed Amazon exclusive release of Power of the Primes Nemesis Prime which was, by all accounts, not plentiful enough in the States for its Prime Day release and, as far as I can tell, was not available at all on Amazon UK.

It's been quite a strange year for TransFormers toys, with PotP fizzling out looking like a cut-down clone of Combiner Wars, demonstrating little by way of innovation and with a lot of outdated figures remaining on the shelves for far too long. Meanwhile, Hasbro's marketing for the next line - War for Cybertron: Seige - got off to an early start from the San Diego Comic Con onwards. What I've seen of it thusfar is a bit dull. I like neither the aesthetic, nor the fact that it's Generation 1 rebooted all over again. The handful of toys released in honour of the War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron videogames showed that a suitably alien aesthetic was possible and, while they obviously can't base the new line on that, everything I've seen so far looks functionally too similar to Earth modes we've seen before, so I really don't want to buy the same characters that have already occurred in both the Classics phase of Generations and the more recent Prime Wars trilogy. Furthermore, if they wanted to do a toyline set on Cybertron, why set it before G1? Surely a continuation - say, perhaps, a "what happened after the events of the animated movie" - would have worked just as well, with the Autobots battling to re-take Cybertron from the Decepticons, having spent a few decades on Earth? The look of the toys might almost make more sense that way.

Thus, my interest in the toyline is currently waning again because we're coming to the end of one three-year reboot of Generation 1 and about to start another three-year reboot of Generation 1... all stemming from the Classics, Henkei, Universe, Generations sequence - a Generation 1 reboot that began twelve years ago. I think I've reached my G1 reboot saturation point, and am thoroughly fed up with Hasbro's strategy of reliving its glory days, clinging to and milking the original toyline - standing on the shoulders of giants in the worst possible sense - instead of striking off in a bold new direction, the way they did with Beast Wars in 1996, or Armada in 2002. Hasbro have even curtailed the innovations that occurred in the comics, where they should have been encouranged and celebrated in the toyline. As I mentioned in my TFNation 2018 summing-up, Aaron Archer expressed the feeling that the brand is now oversaturated with cars, but his preferred solution was bringing back beasts - essentially ditching one reboot for another.

I've been collecting again now for fourteen years - longer than I did back when TransFormers toys first launched back in 1984. With prices increasing and my collection now in excess of 750 figures, I currently don't really have the budget or the space to sustain a collection growing at the same rate, even if the next toyline had sparked my interest the way the inaugural Masterpiece figure and Binaltech did. Cyberverse is definitely not a toyline for me, so Studio Series is the only thing that comes close to exciting me, right now. Movie Masterpiece as well, at a push.

Honestly, the way things are looking for TransFormers as a brand, I fully expect the majority of the content on next year's list to be figures from older toylines, where I'm still trying to fill in some blanks (or just clear my backlog!)... And there are still hundreds of toys in my collection now that I've yet to write about or even photograph, so this blog is far from done!

No comments:

Post a Comment