Sunday, 2 June 2019

Binaltech BT04 Hound

As one the only overtly military-styled Autobots from the first wave of Diaclone-derived TransFormers toys, Hound stood out for two main reasons. First and foremost, his character was so at odds with his terrestrial disguise - Bob Budiansky's bio painted him as being entranced by the natural beauty of Earth's flora and fauna, and with an almost Pinocchio-like desire to be human. Secondly, he was pretty much the smallest of the former Diaclone vehicle Autobots, despite having almost comically large feet.

While I missed out on the original G1 Hound, later acquiring Takara's TransFormers Collection version, he ended up being one of my favourite G1 toys, so when the Binaltech version was announced, I was very keen to get my hands on the updated, part die-cast, larger-scale version of the character.

Vehicle Mode:
I have to confess that I think people who drive Jeeps are frequently poseurs. Jeeps started out as military vehicles and, while they branched out into so-called 'Sport Utility Vehicles' for civilians, the rugged, utilitarian feel of the vehicle is often belied by those who drive them in urban environments. G1 Hound was based on a version of the Jeep produced by Mitsubishi, effectively under license from the original - US-based - manufacturer, but the Binaltech version is a proper Jeep Wrangler - open-topped, with a rollcage over the back. Painted a military green, he doesn't feature any of the military stars and stripes of the G1 toy's stickers, nor even the winch arrangement on the front bumper, but he does have the characteristic and all-important 7-slot grille, round headlights, properly-coloured indicators (front, side and rear) and a nice set of multi-coloured tail lights, with all the lights molded in translucent plastic.

One thing he does share with the G1 toy is the spare tyre casing, though this one is a fixed part of the vehicle rather than a detachable accessory. He also comes with an Autobot insignia on his front license plate... which would seem to make the concealed insignia on his bonnet (accessed via a rotating flap toward the front) a little redundant. As one would expect, the bonnet and doors open, though the tailgate is a bit less real-world-accurate than the rest of the figure - rather than hinging down or to one side, it rotates 180° to the right because that particular bit of movement is more for transformation than vehicle mode, so he loses a few points in accuracy there.

As with most Binaltech figures, he has a full set of seats, a nicely detailed (though entirely unpainted) dashboard featuring a moveable steering wheel, and a detailed, silver-painted engine under the bonnet. What he lacks is the otherwise ubiquitous steering on the front wheels. This is down to an aspect of his transformation which would have made its execution very awkward (though not entirely impossible, I suspect) and, instead, he has spring-loaded suspension on the front and rear wheels. As far as tradeoffs go, I think this is more than acceptable - after all, MP01 had suspension rather than steering, and it works perfectly on a model off-road vehicle like the Jeep Wrangler..

The paint job isn't entirely limited to green over most of the body. Matte black has been used for the front grille, the door handles and to represent the rubber around the door frame and rollcage, while the Jeep and Wrangler branding dotted all over the vehicle is picked out in white, and the hubcaps and exhaust pipes have been painted silvler. There's quite a lot of plastic used around the sides and rear of the vehicle, too - this wasn't the first (or the last) time that the few proponents of die-cast in the fandom called Takara out on the lack of metal in the Binaltech line.

Robot Mode:
Where G1 Hound was a stubby brick with lower legs that seemed to foreshadow the crazy proportions of TransFormers Animated, the Binaltech version is a lot more rugged and athletic-looking. His legs are much more in proportion to the rest of his body, and the arms clear the sides of the car easily and fully... But he's one of those TransFormers figures that really only looks good from the front. From the side, the hollowness of his chest is painfully apparent and you get the first signs of the disaster area of a backpack he's been saddled with... while from behind, you see the windscreen and rollcage just hanging off his back like he's carrying around the leftover parts of an Ikea wardrobe. The lower section of rollcage - hanging down at a weird angle behind his legs - is die-cast but, thankfully, doesn't throw off his balance. What I don't understand is why this was necessary when the back section of the rollcage simply folds into the sides of his shins... Couldn't another section of the bars have been made to just hinge down around the backs of his legs?

Another oddity in this version of Hound comes from the necessities of his vehicle mode. G1 Hound had no doors, and therefore no 'door wings' - almost a defining trait of the Diaclone cars - in robot mode... With the Binaltech version being based on the Wrangler, he has another couple of panels hanging off his back in addition to the rollcage and windscreen. That, coupled with the largely hollow chest, almost makes him look like a more basic robot cosplaying as a TransFormer by hanging the front of a jeep over his shoulders. Except that he basically has no torso apart from the structural parts above his grey waistline and black robo-underpants, so it looks quite eerie from some angles.

Despite the Binaltech line not overtly taking its design cues from the G1 animation, Hound's arms are closer in appearance to the cartoon than the original toy. The barely mobile arms of the G1 version were just chunks of black plastic, decorated with stickers, which were barely visible below the vehicles wheel wells. These ones have his bulky, cylindrical shoulders, discernible biceps leading to hinged elbows, and an new hand sculpt specific to this mold. One feature of the animation model that is present here is the set of yellow stripes around his forearms and biceps, but they're not entirely accurate to that due to the gaping hole in his wrist where his fists fold in for vehicle mode. The legs, meanwhile, are much skinnier than the G1 version, with the thighs being fairly well-proportioned for a 'bot this size, but the lower legs are little more than shin plates with car seats folded up on the back, and the appearance of bulk given by the sides of the vehicle tagged onto them. His feet are tiny compared to his Diaclone-derived ancestor, and look very flat but, in retrospect, seem almost live action movie-styled due to the toe-like blocks sculpted on the underside of his rear bumper. The left leg is given additional bulk by the spare tyre folded up onto it, but there's quite a large space between the rear door and the side of his leg because the hinge is mounted quite near the middle of the door. Had it been a little further from the spare tyre, it could have sat flush against his leg and the tyre would have been closer to his knee... but I suspect there's a matter of structural integrity at play here, and the smaller section of the rear panel would have become too brittle that way.

The reason the position of the tyre is an issue is that it's actually the holster for Hound's gun - since his engine is tagged onto his arms, the designers had to be a bit more creative with this one compared to most other Binaltech figures. A section swings out, and then his weapon slips out of a little framework designed to accommodate it. The gun itself is tiny, very much in the style of the TV show (which misinterprested the foreshortened gun from the toy's packaging artwork) rather than the toy itself, which came equipped with a fairly long rifle. Given that Binaltech Hound doesn't come with a shoulder-mounted launcher, and TFClub didn't produce any Binaltech Arming sets other than those for the Subaru mold, he ends up lookin a little underarmed... and the fact that his tiny pistol is molded in plain, unpainted grey plastic - the same shade as this thighs - makes it all the more underwhelming.

The head sculpt is also a little odd, since it doesn't really seem to reference either the G1 toy or the TV show's animation model for Hound - there's a central protrusion on his forehead that isn't present on either, and the face looks altogether too triangular within the helmet due to the way it wraps around his jawline. The face is actually quite chubby - similar to Streak's - and features a large, angular nose and goatee-block on the chin. His mouth is probably intended to express grim determination, but it's squeezed into a small strip of face between the chin protrusion and the nose, so it looks rather unnatural. Plus, as if the hollow chest wasn't bad enough, due to the way the head transforms, it's very visibly sitting atop a gaping void, and so appears to be floating in space, unconnected to the body except by the ball joint on the back of the neck. Certainly not one of the finest examples of Binaltech engineering.

Hound actually has quite an involved transformation, though it's nowhere near as frustrating as the Subaru mold or as prone to scratching as the Viper. The way the lower half transforms into the rear of the vehicle - and particularly everything from the knee down - is rather more elaborate than one might expect given the end results, and it's surprising to see that the two halves of the vehicle are connected by little more than a double hinge (which forms the green centre of his belly) and a few additional tabs. The only troublesome part is getting his arms into place for vehicle mode, as they have to be pushed into the void in his chest together, but come in from opposing angles. I like the way the footplate and the back section of rollbar fold away for robot mode, but that just makes his ridiculous backpack all the more jarring.

As with the other Binaltech figures so far, Hound's articulation is something less than optimal. The ball jointed hips are limited by the shape of the upper thighs and the way they clash with the groin far sooner than one might expect, and there's still no separate upper thigh rotation joint. The knee is placed right next to a transformation joint and so it's fairly common for the wrong joint to move when posing his legs. The ankles are fairly well-handled, tilting forward/back and from side to side, but the limits on the hips have a huge impact on the sort of stances he can hold. His 'waist' joint is right in the middle of his belly, so it looks weird from some angles thanks to the gaping hole inside the chest, and the vehicle's front wheel mounts have to be angled just so to prevent them clashing with the rotation. Hound's arms are about average for the time - ball jointed shoulders on hinges for transformation, no bicep swivel, and about 90° bend at the elbow - expressive enough, but looking very basic by today's standards, and the ball joints are tight to the point of being creaky. The hands are articulated both for rotation at the wrist and for gripping his gun, and the head is on a ball joint, but mounted weirdly so its range of rotation is smaller than its range of tilt.

When I first had him in hand, Hound was rather disappointing - the crummy weapon and the empty chest were a huge let-down after the Subaru and Viper molds. The articulation made it difficult to pose him in a way that I was really happy with, while the rollcage backpack meant he took up more than his fair share of shelf space. His head sculpt may not be quite so bad as Sideswipe's in terms of its homage to the original toy, but it's still one of the worst the line offered. The clever storage method for the gun really didn't make up for its size, bit it may have looked better if it had some chrome applied. Nevertheless, he grew on me quite quickly, particularly once I figured out how to pose him in such a way as to disguise his gappiness. He's certainly an improvement on the G1 toy and really wasn't bad for a 2004 figure, just not necessarily as good as some of the mainline toys at the time. Still, the suspension feature on vehicle mode was a nice addition and, like the rest of the line, Hound is as good a display piece in vehicle mode as he is in robot mode - and, from a distance, most people would never even know that the Wrangler could transform into a robot as the seams are so well integrated. I guess the main issue here is that Binaltech Hound isn't as endearing as G1 Hound was... but at least he was made to the same scale as other Binaltech figures, and fits well with them in either mode.

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