Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Binaltech BT08 Meister

This will actually be the second time I've written about this mold, the first being one of my earliest posts (a little under eleven years ago) focused on BT20, AKA the movie-influenced silver repaint, Argent Meister. Admittedly, I didn't go into any great detail there, likely because I expected to get to this version rather more promptly, so I'll try to make up for that here.

A little bit of backstory here... Back in the early 2000s, I was a member of an online writing group and, at some point, happened to mention to another member that I was collecting TransFormers toys again, having grown up with Generation 1 and was surprised to learn that she, too, had got into TransFormers in her youth (my terribly old-fashioned initial assumption having been that she was aware of them via her son). At some point, we got into talking about Binaltech vs. Alternators, and she mentioned that she couldn't understand why Jazz was being released under the ridiculous, nonsense name of 'Meister'.

Of course, it turns out this was because Meister was the name Takara had originally given to the character we, in the West, knew as Jazz, so it made a loopy kind of sense - for whatever reason, most likely trademark-related, Hasbro couldn't call their Alternators version 'Jazz', so they just used the same name Takara gave the Binaltech toy.

What didn't make as much sense was the choice of vehicle... or the super-plain colourscheme... But while neither are necessarily a dealbreaker, does Binaltech Meister really work as a Jazz-analogue?

Vehicle Mode:
I've nothing against the Mazda RX-8 - in fact, I later bought the red version and turned it into a custom Windcharger using the otherwise unused head sculpt from Alternators Decepticharge. A fairly innovative vehicle, the RX-8 had a rotary engine which reviews at the time frequently described as working very nicely until it would suddenly and without warning conk out. It's a nice-looking vehicle, with a sportscar-like design, yet is not too far removed from the appearance of Mazda's 'safer' cars. It is also, after all, a four-seater, making it one of the sexier family cars on the market at the time.

That having been said, it's certainly no Porsche, and absolutely nothing like the 935 Turbo in terms of high performance look. Covered with a slightly shimmery, creamy white paint, and with no further decoration beyond the Mazda logos on the front and rear as well as the RX-8 logo on the corner of the boot, BT Meister looks far too plain to be Jazz - no racing stripes, no sponsorship details, not even a spoiler... Just an almost unbroken white shell, with black-framed windows and chromed hubcaps... It's actually kind of boring.

Now, Reprolabels quickly came out with a set of upgrade stickers that mimicked the originals, even down to the Martini sponsorship, but it just didn't seem to make sense to apply them to this figure for two reasons: first and foremost, I didn't want to risk the paint job. Secondly... this is clearly not a racing car of any kind, so they wouldn't make sense here, however G1-referencial they are.

On the upside, the standard Binaltech features of tranlucent plastic for both headlights and tail lights are present, with indicators and break lights separately painted using translucent orange and red respectively, and the exhaust pipe is picked out. There are a couple of chromed nubs in little slots in either side of the bumper and the side indicators are translucent plastic sections on the front wheel wells. It's a nicely detailed model car and, aside from the split down the rear, the only noticeable seams are where you'd expect them to be - the car's doors. These are accurately modelled with the main doors opening as normal and the rear doors opening backwards to keep the car compact.

Additionally, the usual Binaltech features of linked front wheels for 'steering', opening bonnet and boot, as well as a detailed interior - with silver paint on the dashboard and seats - are present, and the car is a righthand drive. The engine 'detail' is a little disappointing compared to previous offerings in the line, in that it's just a painted panel under the bonnet - and all painted black, at that - rather than being a removeable part that transforms into his weapon. For whatever reason, Takara chose to conceal his weapon as the vehicle's muffler instead.

Where the numberplate on the silver version featured the RX-8 logo, this one features an Autobot insignia on one side, with the name 'Meister' on the other. I'd be happier with this sort of 'vanity plate' if it had been consistently applied across all the characters but, even though this is by far the most common format of numberplate, they didn't even stick to a single font across the line.

Robot Mode:
I get the impression that the designers of the Binaltech line took into account the complaints about the Subaru mold when creating Jazz as, much like the G1 toys, his robot mode is fundamentally of the same style, but different... and rather less subtly different in this case. The look of the upper half is very similar aside from the shoulders seeming slightly lower on the body due to changes in transformation, while the legs are chunkier and more squared-off. His feet are very much of the Subaru mold, just without the rear windscreen over his shins (since it's folded up on his back instead), which was one of the many points of contention with a lot of fans - Jazz is meant to have silver/chrome shins that run straight into virtually toeless 'feet', but this thing has the rear of the car, tail-lights and all, with a separate, somewhat poseable bumper-toe. The trouble is, the absence of the rear windscreen on this figure's shins actually makes the feet look clumpier than those of the Subaru 'bots because they now look more angular and not so well integrated into the lower leg.

To my mind, that's not the worst of it... in terms of engineering, these feet are - pardon the expression - a step up from the Subaru mold, and I rather wish they'd been able to retroactively add the toe tilt to the later re-uses of the earlier mold. What bugs me about this mold is that, just like vehicle mode, it's too white. Aside from the coloured racing stripes a traditional, G1-style Jazz would have black upper arms and hips, with far more extensive silver (or chrome) at the waist and on the shins. That the majority of these parts are white may just be an unfortunate fluke of the sprue arrangements, but it's also contributing to the overall bland appearance of the robot... And the one thing Jazz should never be is bland. This is, after all, the guy whose motto is "Do it with style or don't bother doing it."

And it's not as if there's not much sculpted detail - the belly has a similar style of tech detailing to Smokescreen, yet the only silver there is from the seatbacks folded up onto his sides. The arms and legs have panel lines and raised details but, as is fairly within the Binaltech line, paintwork is minimal. The fronts of the hips even have raised details painted a sort of metallic turquoise - not entirely on-brand for Jazz, but nevertheless a clear reference to sticker detail on the G1 toy... or at least its simplified animation model equivalent. There's also a silver trapezoid right where the G1 toy had an Autobot insignia sticker over sculpted vent detail on the groin.

The hips and groin are probably the ugliest part of the figure, as the former are too chunky and blocky, while the latter is a comparatively small strip in between the two... I feel like this figure would benefit by having black hip chunks as Third Party upgrade parts, just to make him a little bit more G1-style... But then I'd want a chrome belly and black shoulders, too... My biggest regret is that the boot doesn't open flush with the shin to present a chrome (or at least silver) inner panel to link up with the shin... the closest we get on this figure is the grey plastic ankle joint embedded in the foot.

Of all the Binaltech weapons, Jazz's rifle/flamethrower thing pretty much remained the weakest right up till the end of the line, with the possible exception of the pea-shooters packaged with the Hound/Swindle and Skids/Blaster molds. Not only is it downright ugly and nothing like the elegant chrome rifle wielded by the G1 toy, but the body of the weapon is utterly hollow once the barrel, stock and grip have been folded out. Sure, there's sculpted detail on the inside of the muffler shell... but there's no 'gun'. Plus, his traditional shoulder launcher was not included, so I've had to substitute for it with another Binaltech Arming launcher, since the figure does at least feature the same appropriately-sized socket on each shoulder, despite it not being needed for transformation.

Of all the head sculpts in the Binaltech line up to this point, Meister's is by far the ugliest and most disappointing - even worse than Dead End's. It's blocky, poorly proportioned, the face is too flat, and the eyes and nose are basically obscured by the visor. Believe it or not, the beady, triangular little eyes are actually painted cyan behind the translucent cyan visor, but they may as well not have been. The face has the same neutral (bordering on gormless) expression of most of the others. I can kind of see what they were going for, but the visor is a touch too thick and deep, while the face rather too small within the helmet, so the end result just doesn't work.

While Jazz's transformation is fundamentally much the same as the Subaru molds, there are a handful of key differences that are, by and large, improvements. I'm not convinced by the 180° rotation of the painted, die-cast roof on a clear plastic ball joint that leaves the rear windscreen visibly hanging on his back (it'd be ugly however they did it, to be fair), nor the way the curved, triangular bonnet detail was used as the door through which Jazz's head is deployed (it's too small, and feeding the chunky head through invariably pops it off its hinges), but the shoulder transformation is largly painless by comparison, particularly the part where the pegs on the wheels - no longer featuring magnets - clip into the steering rack analogue without having to perform a complex yoga manouevre seemingly designed specifically to scratch paint on all the surrounding parts. On the downside, its connection is slightly less secure, since the pegs are tapered and prone to popping out as the wheels are turned. The legs are far easier to transform, despite being more complicated - 180° rotation of the waist, 180° rotation around each hip individually, then 180° rotation at the ankle to get the car rear back together - and I appreciate that the designers thought to include the seat backs as flaps to cover the calves and match up with the seats sculpted onto the backs of his thighs. Aside from deploying the head, transforming Jazz is a far more pleasant experience, and requires far less finnagling around the hips.

With so few significant differences in transformation, it should come as no surprise that there comparatively nothing special about Jazz's articulation and poseability versus the Subaru mold. It's certainly a good thing that the hips are ratcheted rather than ball joints, though it's more of an improvement in range of movement than stability - aside from clashing with the roof hanging off the robot's back the legs can swing forward, backward and out to the side without hinderance, though this comes at the expense of any rotation at the hip. The knees offer a good range of bend - not quite 90°, I think, but close enough. The ankles tilt forward and back for transformation, and the lack of hip rotation can be compensated for - to a degree - by the ankle rotation, this also being present due to transformation. The additional articulation of the toe/bumper pieces is not as useful as it initially appeared, but he does retain the heel spur, so his feet present a reasonably stable base for some quite extreme poses.

I confess that I wish a more impressive car had been used for Jazz or, failing that, Mazda might have approved a more elaborate paint job (the less said about the Mayuko Iwasa Edition, the better). Part of me even thinks that just switching the vehicles between BT Jazz and Shockwave would have improved both, since the Decepticon really needed neither the heavier front bumper nor the spoiler, while they would have brought Jazz just a couple of steps closer to the appearance if his G1 ancestor. That the eighth Binaltech figure - albeit only the fifth unique mold - is a qualified improvement on the first should go without saying. As an update to Jazz, it could certainly have been better.

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