Saturday, 21 September 2019

Eleventh Anniversary

With the end of the Prime Wars trilogy and the start of the War for Cybertron trilogy, the year from September 2018 to now has seen my toy spending substantially reduced. Part of that, admittedly, is that my finances have been less stable, and during that period there have been several more practical issues requiring financial consideration... but a lot of it has been a sense of apathy over Hasbro's most meagre effort at a reboot yet... However, to be honest, and as has often happened in the past, I've found myself warming to some of the toys in spite of myself.

Hasbro's pitch was that the toyline would represent the period before Generation 1 - life on Cybertron at the very start of the war. That, in and of itself, is another fine example of what I consider to be the greatest malady of the entertainment industry in the first couple of decades of the twenty first century: a prequel nobody needed... but, as the toys arrived, it became apparent that they just didn't fit that idea and that, toy-wise, it was a very thinly veiled continuation or reboot of Generation 1, as an excuse to release loads of toys they hadn't got round to already under Classics, Generations, etc.

Even the 'Cybertronian' aesthetic was inconsistently applied, with the reveal of Astrotrain over the summer offering ample evidence that WfC:Siege couldn't possibly be set before the Cybertronians' arrival on Earth, because he transforms into a steam train, just like the G1 toy. That's pretty much going to be my get-out clause against accusations of hypocrisy over any WfC toys I do end up buying.

Another factor, undoubtedly, was my non-attendance at TFNation this year. Part of that is, again, down to the current primary toyline, and the fact that I can do without spending the required money of ticket(s), transport and accommodation. Nothing about this year's lineup really grabbed me the way previous years have and, having introduced by girlfriend to the whole experience last year, I kind of felt the need for a break... I've not even gone to things like the London Film & Comic Cons this year.

But, anyway... This top ten of the last twelve months is not much less than the sum total of all my purchases during that time, with most of the remainder of that list becoming the 'Honourable Mentions' because they are deserving of note.

So, without further ado...

10. Prime Wars Trilogy Punch-Counterpunch
Thanks to Thew Adams, part of me will now always think of this character as Cunch-Pountercunch and, to be honest, it's
not one of the best PotP toys overall, feeling like a postponed Classics/Generations toy rather than something contemporary.
Also missing the G1 toy's personalised weapons, this felt like it could have been something better... but it at least stops me
wanting the crummy G1 toy...
9. War for Cybertron: Siege Flywheels
PotP Battletrap made it onto last year's list, so it's almost inevitable that Flywheels should
appear here, despite being comparatively disappointing due to the two components of this
Duocon lacking their own individual robot modes. It really feels as though this toy was
developed first - or at least in complete isolation - and Battletrap was an attempt at upgrading
the concept. This one is very true to the G1 toy, but with contemporary levels of articulation,
so it's one of the few Siege toys that was a must-buy for me.
8. Power of the Primes Evolution Nemesis Prime
While I'd have been happy with a Nemesis repaint of the PotP Evolution Optimus Prime mold
Hasbro actually went the extra mile and gave both the large and small robots unique new heads
and packaged the result with two swords - one of which was a Mini-Con - and two new guns
modelled after Armada Optimus Prime's forearm guns/smokestacks. I like Nemesis repaints
generally, but this was in a class of its own... Shame Amazon UK's handling of it was botched.
7. Studio Series Jetfire
The Leader class version of Jetfire released within the Revenge of the Fallen toyline was sadly
encumbered with the rudimentary and ubiquitous 'Lights and Sounds!' features of the era, and
consequently looked awkward and bulky, with the entire robot hanging off the bottom of a
halfway decent - and huge - Blackbird. Studio Series remedied this to a degree by stripping
out the lights and sounds, enabling a slightly more complex transformation that used more of
the jet to form bits of the robot. Still not perfect, and I'm not convinced by its vaguely simian
visage, but it's certainly a huge improvement.
6. Masterpiece MPM-7 Movie Bumblebee
All the toys of the Bumblebee solo movie's protagonist drew scorn from the fandom by taking
too many liberties with the design - or, more accurately, using an out-of-date design which
retained the door wings the character wore throughout the Michael Bay franchise. The MP
version fared no better despite a super-complex and quite fiddly transformation, but I rather
like it nonetheless, particularly the way his gun attaches to his forearm with the hand
threaded into it.
5. Studio Series (Bumblebee) Optimus Prime
I really wanted this to be number 1 on the list, as it's a really fantastic figure... Except that it
was made using way too much soft plastic and doesn't like to peg together very well. Of all
the movie Optimus Prime figures, this is likely to remain on the 'all-time greatest' list for quite
some time... but, sadly, it's given the knockoff/upgrade teams another excellent base figure to
upscale and improve upon, to fully deliver on the potential of Hasbro's version.
4. Studio Series (Bumblebee) Dropkick
Considering the travesty that was Studio Series Shatter, I was pleased to find that her partner
was better-constructed. He's pretty small, but has a unique and interesting transformation
between a good, solid vehicle mode and a robot mode with none of the issues of the earlier
figure. The only real downside to mine is that his rear wheels don't roll well in vehicle mode.
3. War for Cybertron: Siege Sixgun
For all my complaints about the War for Cybertron: Siege toyline, Sixgun came close to
redeeming the whole concept for me. It's a decent Deluxe class toy it its own right, but also
does a fantastic job of demonstrating - and really selling - the concept of Weaponisers, which
are about the only innovation in the toyline. Modelled after one of G1 Metroplex's afterthought
accessories, he has a vehicle mode that actually looks Cybertronian, a highly poseable robot
mode of his own... and also splits into new versions of Metroplex's weapons, albeit not quite
fully compatible with the Generations version of that toy.
2. War for Cybertron: Siege Brunt
While Sixgun appeared first, it was Brunt that really got me interested in the Weaponiser
gimmick because it was only a few years ago that I acquired Platinum Edition Trypticon,
and the version of Brunt included with that figure was a far more basic kind of partsformers
with and electronic light feature. This homage is a huge upgrade - granting Brunt a unique
robot mode of his own - and, while still a partsformer, it ticked all kinds of boxes for me that
the bulk of the line didn't even get close to.
1. DX9/Unique Toys La Hire
Once I decided to order this, it seemed like a foregone conclusion - barring Perfect Effect
Leonidas levels of QC fuck-uppery - that La Hire would be the best figure I've bought since
the last anniversary of this blog. Beautiful vehicle mode - beating Unique Toys' Peru Kill in
terms of presentation - and a stunning robot mode that looks good from any angle and is
among the most poseable figures on my shelves, as well has having a satisfyingly complex,
yet stable transformation. If only movie Hot Rod wasn't so damned ugly...

Honourable Mentions:
Armada Jetfire
Stretching the date criteria for this list just a little, I acquired Jetfire in July 2018, and then
didn't think to add him to the list I already had in progress... So, here he is in this year's list
instead. Naturally, as an older figure, he's neither as intricate nor as well articulated as more
recent figures, and actually arrived very slightly broken (one ankle joint) and missing its
missiles, but both were easily remedied. Also, even though I already owned TFCC/Timelines
Astrotrain, I haven't actually played with him a great deal as he's not on display... so getting
this reminded me just how much fun Armada could be, particularly in ways that don't seem
to be present in the toyline anymore.
Studio Series KSI Sentry
OK, so it's largely a repaint of Stinger - who appeared on last year's list - but it's still a really
cool mold... The new head and weapon were both a mixed bag, and the protrusions from his
back are more annoying here than on Stinger because they've been made utterly redundant
by the change in accessories, but it's nice to have had another use for such a striking toy.
KO G1 Sunstreaker
I try not to make a habit of buying knockoffs like this but, as with G1 Mirage, it's basically
impossible to find G1 Sunstreaker in halfway decent condition these days - he's always
missing parts, or the chrome is worn away, or something's broken... So, when I got an offer
of a reduced price on this obvious KO from the eBay seller, I decided to take advantage.
Sure, it's a crummy toy by today's standards and the stickers are shockingly bad (almost as
if they're faux-aged)... but there's something charming about it nonetheless. Knockoff or not,
Sunstreaker is a cool figure to own.
Studio Series Bonecrusher
Hasbro admitted at the time that they'd made a mistake releasing the original movie's
Bonecrusher as a Deluxe rather than a Voyager, and it's only taken them twelve years (and the
appearance of a larger, Third Party alternative) to correct that mistake... And yet, honestly,
I think this toy is still too small. It scales fairly well with other toys in the line, but feels like
it could have been slightly larger... It's not perfect, but it certainly saved me forking out for
the Third Party version. I might be in the market for some upgrades, though...

So, from my point of view, 2019 hasn't been the most auspicious year for TransFormers toys, but that has allowed me to deal with more important matters more easily. Probably the most surprising thing for me (though probably not for any readers of this blog, who are likely more aware of my habit of slagging things off then buying them anyway) is that there are three WfC:Siege figures in my top ten... and they're not even what anyone would consider top-tier figures. Considering I only own four figures in this series (technically six, but I batched Ravage and Laserbeak in with Soundwave for my write-up) that almost makes it seem like the toyline has grown on me more than it has... After all, the first three waves total more than twenty figures of Deluxe class or above.

What's been quite interesting is watching how far Hasbro are willing to take their apparent fetish for massive figures now they've realised there's a market for them. With the first bunch of components for Studio Series Devastator coming out, along with the full reveal of both WfC Omega Supreme and the HasLab crowdfunding of a new take on Unicron over the summer, it could almost be said that the output of Titan class figures has accelerated.

I'm not fussed about Omega Supreme - frankly, I'd prefer the G1 version with its motorised features - but the new Unicron got my attention... It's truly massive - 27" tall in robot mode, though that is to the tips of his horns rather than the top of his head - and a complete shellformer... but, as a transforming toy based on one of Floro Dery's outlandish designs, it's turned out surprisingly well.

However, even before I saw the exorbitant price tag, I knew it was something I personally would not be going after simply due to its size - there's nowhere I could possibly keep such a behemoth. Plus, I have the Armada version with its underachieving LED effects and Mini-Con features (which has been repainted, remolded and re-released several times already) How many Unicrons does one collector need? That said, I think if I had somewhere to display it - and the disposeable funds - I'd actually be quite tempted... Compared to this, the Armada version looks both dated and overly chunky, really not much like the design from the original animated movie. Though, based on the early photos, I'd be most upset if they didn't improve the paint job.

The cost is what caused most of the vocal fans to balk. $575 per figure, payable in advance, with 8,000 backers ensuring the project goes ahead. That comes in at a hefty $4.6million... so it seems we're expected to pay for Hasbro's R&D rather more directly, bringing this official Unicron more in line with a Third Party product, particularly if 8,000 units is the expected production run. Considering it wasn't so long ago that Hasbro were saying larger figures were out of the question because people didn't tend to buy them, this HasLab project may just mitigate the risk for them... but I'm curious as to why they felt the risk was justified in the first place. Also, it was a little galling that the offer technically wasn't even open to collectors outside the States (with the exception of Takara Tomy's campaign, which rolled into Hasbro's) until Kapow Toys stepped in, acting on behalf of collectors across the whole of Europe. Props to them - it's a bold move, and may well make all the difference for a campaign that was quite slow to gain ground.

...Here's to the next 12 months... I'm curious to see what wonders they bring, but I probably won't be spending a great deal on toys until I find a more permanent job.

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