Saturday, 15 February 2020

2010-2019 - A Decade in TransFormers

It wasn't long after my post "A short break" that I realised not doing a summing-up post for 2019 was a mistake. Not just because I'd done one for the four previous years, and I don't like to break what could be considered 'a successful run', though that should probably have been a compelling enough reason. It would also have been a good opportunity to write about my collecting, generally, since Hasbro's latest main toyline was - and continues to be - a bit of a disappointment, while the Third Parties have started to out-Masterpiece the Masterpiece lines simply by upsizing and upgrading Studio Series toys, let alone with their unique molds.

Plus, I've been collecting TransFormers toys since the 20th Anniversary back in 2004 and, while I've acknowledged this blog's anniversaries since 2015, I've not had a great deal to say about the toyline's milestone years... Then again, the 25th Anniversary passed without much fanfare, the 30th Anniversary got a perfunctory offshoot of the ongoing Classics/Generations toyline and this year's 35th Anniversary got little more than some livery for the toy aisles. Oh, and War for Cybertron.

Even though my blogging has waned over the last few months, and hasn't hit the dizzying heights of 2015 (or even 2018) in terms of quantity and regularity of new posts, it would be remiss of me to not say something about the last ten years... And possibly even include some Top/Bottom 10s of the Decade in the process?

However, this post has been delayed and put off for several weeks, partly due to the fatigue I alluded to in the previous post, partly due to other responsibilities, but also - more recently - by the news of the death of a friend, Lesa, at the end of January. I'd introduced her to TransFormers (perhaps misguidedly) through the first live action movie, and she gifted me my first year's membership to the TransFormers Collectors' Club for Christmas that same year. Lesa developed a Bumblebee fixation that may have vindicated Hasbro's whole Bumblebee-centric focus on the series, she also accompanied me to several conventions - including a couple of AutoAssemblies - and drove me around on several odysseys around multiple branches of Toys'R'Us over the course of a few years. She wasn't a TransFormers fan, as such, but appreciated the engineering of the toys. Her opinion on my collection tended toward the negative, despite her enabling it to a certain extent. I'd known Lesa for a little over fifteen years, as we started working together around the middle of the previous decade, but hadn't seen her in a while because she retired to the south coast a couple of years ago. Learning of her death - via Facebook - was a huge shock, and has left me feeling rather apathetic toward toy blogging.

And yet, here we are, so let's get on with summing up the last ten years in my TransFormers collection...

By 2010, I was well and truly in the grip of collecting TransFormers toys again, and had been living in my own flat for over a year. However, I already knew at the start of the year that I'd be made redundant from my (fairly lucrative) job at the end of the year, just in time for Christmas. This probably should have put more of a dampener on my collecting than it did - at least from January 2011 - but I had a hefty redundancy payout due to over 11 years service, and I've never really been one for caution... Particularly when so many cool toys are being released, and being at home more meant I was be able to receive large packages in the post more easily. The continuing movie series ensured new toys in the exciting, yet divisive new aesthetic championed by Michael Bay and Paramount.

The movie series turned into what's colloquially known as a dumpster fire, each one having no regard for its own established history, with only tenuous narrative connections between them, a new McGuffin in each one (after the Allspark (TransFormers, 2007) and the Star-Harvester/the Matrix of Leadership (Revenge of the Fallen, 2009), we went through the Space Bridge pillars (Dark of the Moon, 2011), the Seed (Age of Extinction, 2014), before ending up with the Talisman/the Staff (The Last Knight, 2017)), and increasingly blatant product placement, as well an an overabundance of utterly disposeable and interchangeable human characters who spout a few lines then disappear forever. Dark of the Moon - the first TransFormers movie of this past decade - was derivative, patchy, yet ultimately bearable, but the last couple pretty much insulted the intelligence of its audience (not just by having Mark Wahlberg as the lead) and threw in way too much irrelevent garbage. I wasn't looking forward to the solo Bumblebee movie until it was announced that Travis Knight would be at the helm, simply because of the oversaturation of Bumblebee toys and merchandise already available as a result of the existing movies, and I'm still intending never to watch The Last Knight.

While the individual movie toylines of this past decade haven't been anything like as large as the awesome expanded toyverse of Revenge of the Fallen (which just about tail-ended into the start of the decade), they have continued to be among the most interesting TransFormers lines, and I think the move to a dedicated 'Studio Series' line was a rare wise decision on Hasbro's part. A single, continuous brand to cover any and all live action movies, in a specific packaging format, kind of like the Star Wars Black Series, or Marvel Legends is clearer and stronger branding than just about any other subline in recent years.

Generations took over from Classics/Universe as the Collector-oriented G1 reboot, incorporating the 'Thrilling 30' batch of toys for the line's 30th Anniversary in 2014, as well as producing some interesting toys inspired by designs created for the IDW comics and the War for Cybertron/Fall of Cybertron videogames. In 2015 Generations developed into Combiner Wars - probably Hasbro's best G1 reboot since the inaugural Classics line - which, while focussed on the original quintet of gestalts - Defensor, Superion, Menasor, Bruticus (each featuring one non-standard member) and, of course, Devastator, all made to the contemporary size classes rather than the weirdly miniaturised G1 toy scale - brought in some fantastic updates like a Masterpiece-style, all-in-one Ultra Magnus, as well as some new and unique combiners to be guilt from random Voyager class torso bots, like Sky Lynx and Cyclonus, coupled with the even more random selection of Deluxe class G1 limb bots, all of which were repaints of the existing molds from the main four 5-part combiners. This segued into Titans Return - HeadMasters revisited, but without the geared readouts in the chests - the following year, then concluded with the prematurely curtailed Power of the Primes in 2018. Rather than being accompanied by a TV show or a focussed IDW comics series, the so-called Prime Wars Trilogy came with a webtoon released by YouTube media monsters Machinima. Plagued by choppy animation, utterly nonsensical plots full of non-toy characters leading to barely any real connection with the toyline, it was regularly and rightly criticised by fans. Emphasis was put on features like the all-star cast (including Ron Perlman, Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn and Wil Wheaton), but that ended up as something of a distraction, and some of the performances fell very flat.

Outside of Generation 1 reboots and continuations, 2010 also saw the arrival of TransFormers Prime, a TV show originally conceived as not needing a full toyline. Consequently, Hasbro initially released a small selection of toys under the shortlived 'First Edition' banner, before quickly seeing reason and producing a full toyline. Sadly, there were signs of distribution starting to go adrift, as the line suffered some surprising ommissions (Breakdown, for example) in several regions. It also suddenly had beast-formers shoehorned into the final season... A decision which absolutely baffles me to this day, but was thankfully rescued by some strong writing in the TV show... even if it did ignore most of the toys in its stories. Takara Tomy's largely bonkers TransFormers Go! (2013) adopted most of the stray Prime molds that they didn't want to shoehorn into their TFPrime Arms Micron line and, with a few remolded heads and new colourschemes, cast these new 'beast machines' in an entirely different light, in an entirely separate continuity.

TFPrime got a follow-up in 2015, in the form of Hasbro's umpteenth re-use of the phrase 'Robots in Disguise' as the subtitle of a toyline, but the quality - in terms of the complexity of the toys, the materials used, the level of paintwork and the overall QC - took a serious nosedive compared to TFPrime. The series was also Bumblebee-centric, which meant dozens more Bumblebee toys, and the show (what little I've seen of it) ditched the idea of character arcs in favour of weirdly-designed 'enemy of the week' Decepticons (only some of which were turned into transforming toys in any size class) and goofy teambuilding antics from the Autobots. Following the end of the new RiD, we got a new pseudo-reboot in the form of the cartoonish and unsurprisingly Bumblebee-centric Cyberverse in 2018, though all of the toys are gimmick-heavy and, based on the one I picked up (Windblade, natch) the materials, paintwork and QC are at an all-time low.

2018 saw the inception of what is possibly the most bizarre new addition to the TransFormers pantheon, BotBots. Designed with the Shopkins-crazed 'collectible toy' fans in mind (because, clearly, serious TransFormers aren't collectible enough - I mean, it's not like they have a Collectors' Club... Oh, hang on...), this rubbed me up the wrong way from the very first presentation. Plenty of fans seem to actually like them, though... and, granted, they are just a bit of fun... but they're also a hugely cynical cash-grab by Hasbro, slapping the TransFormers brand on a blatant rip-off of someone else's product. I was given one at Hasbro's presentation at one of the 2018 MCM London Comic Con shows and, thankfully, that's very likely to be the only one I ever own.

Of course, the omissions over the last ten years are just as significant as what we've been offered. The Generations line, mainly during its Thrilling 30th segment, included occasional nods to other continuities - such as Waspinator, Rattrap and Rhinox (belatedly following up on 2008's Classics Cheetor), Tankor, Armada Starscream (belatedly dollowing up on Classics/Universe Hot Shot, also from 2008) and Sky Byte - the whole thing was G1-centric. This is in spite of fact that 2016 marked the 20th Anniversary of Beast Wars, while the 10th Anniversaries of the original Robots in Disguise (AKA Car Robots) and Armada fell in 2011 and 2012 respectively. There were signs - just last year, I think - of a Masterpiece Armada Optimus Prime (not to mention a Third Party version), but Hasbro's laser focus on reliving Generation 1 over and over again have let other anniversaries - and the mind-blowing idea of doing something new - fall by the wayside.

Hasbro's questionable decisions don't end there, though. In 2016, BotCon - and the entire TransFormers Collectors' Club - were wound down, with the promise of something bigger and better from Hasbro themselves, rather than a licensee. 2017's HasCon turned out to be a jack-of-all-shows 'celebrating' all their brands with a handful of exclusives for each, but the end result was a convention that was very much less than the sum of its parts... HasCon 2019 was announced without much fanfare, only to be - somewhat unsurprisingly - cancelled soon after, with its planned exclusives released through other channels.

Now, the Club was never perfect - far from it - and, by this point, it had already lost some of its appeal through the closing of its forums (to this day, still only fan forum I've ever actually signed up for!). I'm not that interested in forums generally, and rarely posted to theirs, but the fact that everyone on the forums was a Collector gave it the veneer of something better than the average fan forum. Then again, I got told off a couple of times for posting adult oriented humour (a captioned photo of Springer emphasising his popularity with the Femme-Bots and a follow-up comment about Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime), because they insisted there were children on the forum.

More importantly, the Club had a habit of reusing the same mold over and over again for their exclusives, and not only as Shattered Glass versions of characters they'd already done. The Classics Sideswipe/Sunstreaker mold was used for two versions of the Stunticon Breakdown (G1 and G2) as well as their own misjudged take on Punch/Counterpunch. Furthermore, they made some astoundingly poor choices of mold (Timelines Nightbeat), and split pairs of characters between their 'free' Membership Incentive line and their premium boxed exclusives, rubbing salt in the wound by having a foam cut-out for the free figure in the premium figure's box (the Battlechargers, pre-Beast Wars Rampage and Transmutate), not to mention their propensity for turning stock characters into underachieving BotCon exclusives (Timelines Thundercracker, Thrust and Dirge - all of whom nevertheless later became Classics/Generations figures released by Hasbro). Several of their boxed sets were plagued with QC issues that far overshadowed anything Hasbro let slip through, with plastic stress visible straight out of the box, tarnished metal parts and misassembled figures even in their BotCon sets. It honestly felt to me that calling time on Fun Publications' license was the right move, but having nothing to properly take up the TransFormers Collectors' Club/BotCon mantle was a mistake.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the recent announcement of BotCon 2021, but what I'd really like is an official/licensed BotCon UK and a European TransFormers Collectors' Club... though the latter may well be less accessible to the likes of me thanks to Brexit.

During the last decade, we've seen significant price hikes on Deluxe and Leader class figures, with the former recently hitting the Voyager class pricepoint of about a decade ago while the latter reached the £50 mark despite generally being closer to the old Voyager class size (albeit normally with some decent accessories). Curiously, the Voyager pricepoint has remained comparatively stable until recently reaching approximately £30. Price hikes are to be expected and, frankly, when Hasbro are asking us to pay £50 for Earthrise Optimus Prime (a Voyager-equivalent truck with trailer/base), and selling a reissue G1 Optimus Prime without his trailer via Walmart at an equivalent dollar price, it looks as though we're getting a good deal... Though Earthrise Prime's trailer looks very disappointing compared to that of his G1 ancestor... Leader class Studio Series figures, meanwhile, can be as much as £60, depending on the retailer.

But now, on with the Top Tens...

G1 or Reboot
Best of the Decade
  1. Reveal the Shield Special Ops Jazz
  2. Generations/Thrilling 30 Springer 
  3. TransFormers: Prime First Edition Bulkhead 
  4. Arms Micron (TFP) Breakdown
  5. Power of the Primes Evolution Optimus Prime/Nemesis Prime
  6. TransFormers Legends Super Ginrai/Ultra Magnus
  7. Platinum Edition Trypticon
  8. TransFormers: Prime Soundwave
  9. Reveal the Shield Lugnut
  10. Power of the Primes Battletrap
This was the trickiest category, as it's so broad... I can't really (be bothered to) do a Top 10 for every toyline or subline as I don't necessarily have ten toys in all of them, but whittling the full list of favourites down to only ten that showed a reasonable spread of lines was very difficult. Hence what we have here is a list including G1 and G1-ish toys - those that are clearly G1 (CHUG, Prime Wars Trilogy, etc.) as well as those that are alternate realities using (broadly) the same characters (such as TransFormers: Prime, though Animated would also have fitted this category)... and I've even been cheeky enough to include an actual G1 toy thanks to its Platinum Edition reissue.

The list is essentially what I'd consider my Top 10 today, but it might be a very different list tomorrow... I've tried to aim for toys I found impressive in some way, rather than those that tickled me (which is why RiD2015 Bisk isn't on the list!). Lugnut may be contentious, since he's more of a Movieverse-style entry into Reveal the Shield, but based on a TFAnimated character...

RtS Jazz tops the list simply because he's everything the contemporary remake of a G1 character should be: true to the original, while featuring technical innovations that aid both transformation and articulation. Having been released right near the start of the decade, it's a shame he's not yet been surpassed by any other Jazz figure (outside of the Masterpiece Movie line), but who knows what War for Cybertron: Earthrise will bring later this year...

Worst of the Decade
  1. Masterpiece Road Rage
  2. Titans Return Six Shot
  3. Generations/Thrilling 30 Chromia
  4. Power of the Primes Elita-1
  5. Combiner Wars Megatron
  6. Robots in Disguise (2015) Strongarm
  7. TransFormers Legends Godbomber
  8. Combiner Wars Sky Lynx
  9. Power of the Primes Dreadwind & Darkwing
  10. Prime Wars Trilogy Punch/Counterpunch
Strong as the ongoing sequence of G1 reboots has been in the main, it hasn't been without a few flunks. The Masterpiece line lost me the moment it started tending toward toon accuracy and fudging out any robot/mechanical detail. Nevertheless, as a fan of the Femme-Bots, not to mention the 1978 Corvette Stingray, I felt compelled to buy MP Road Rage, only to be so disappointed that I've steered clear of all G1 MP figures since. It's worth noting (again) that I got her for a relatively knock-down price... and yet still found her to be my most disappointing purchase from TFNation that year.

On balance, though, it's the most recent toylines have have brought the most widespread disappointment. The Prime Wars Trilogy fizzled out, the continuation of the TFPrime continuity in RiD(2015) was largely very weak, particularly when you have bulky characters like Strongarm turned into a robot action figure inside a vehicle box that mostly folds onto her back. That was bad enough back in 2005, with Galaxy Force Chromia/Cybertron Thunderblast. To see it ten years later was ridiculous. Even some of the so-called 'Thrilling 30' figures were minimally retooled versions of - by the time - mediocre molds.

That really seems to be where the most consistent disappointments have been, though: When Hasbro have attempted to update a G1 toy for a modern audience, or create a toy for an overlooked character from G1 lore, and the end result frequently showed none of the promise that 30+ years of toymaking should have brought to the toyline. CW Sky Lynx, TR Six Shot, TFLegends Godbomber, PotP Dreadwing & Darkwing and PW Trilogy Punch/Counterpunch may have been more poseable than their G1 ancestors, but they weren't anywhere near as impressive as they needed to be, while CW Megatron was just another bloody tank, however much silver paint they added.

Movie
Best of the Decade
  1. Dark of the Moon Sentinel Prime (Leader)
  2. Studio Series Blackout
  3. Hunt for the Decepticons Starscream
  4. Masterpiece Movie Jazz
  5. The Last Knight Nitro
  6. The Last Knight Megatron (Leader) 
  7. Studio Series 14 Ironhide
  8. Studio Series 07 Grimlock
  9. Masterpiece Movie Barricade
  10. Studio Series 02 Stinger
All things considered, I'd somewhat expected this list to be dominated by Studio Series but, honestly, what with the downscaling of each size class and the fact that some of the older movie figures - particularly those of Leader class - are still pretty awesome. Sentinel Prime and Starscream were among the last of the Leader class toys to be embellished with lights and sounds and, crippled though they were for the European market, they were still somewhat impressive.

Interestingly, even those figures that got the Studio Series treatment weren't guaranteed to supercede their predecessors, and the overabundance of Bumblebee figures really let the line down. Probably the strangest inclusion here is The Last Knight's Leader class Megatron figure, since it just didn't look like a TransFormers toy in many respects. I'm looking forward to the Unique Toys version, since their take on movie Lockdown was awesome.

What's really weird here is that, like the G1/Reboots list, two of the top three figures here are from the earliest years of the decade... Then pretty much everything else is from the last couple of years. Human Alliance hasn't even got a look in, despite how brilliant they all were, since it covered figures that were frequently done well enough in smaller size classes... or eventually superseded by a Masterpiece version. If I could be bothered to do a top ten list of sublines, I think Human Alliance would have been fairly high up the list.

That I have included two Movie Masterpiece figures should be no surprise... though I'm surprised by how slowly the line is progressing, and how easily the Third Parties have been surpassing it.

Worst of the Decade
  1. Studio Series 40 Shatter
  2. Studio Series 01 Bumblebee
  3. Studio Series 17 Shadow Raider
  4. The Last Knight Hot Rod
  5. Age of Extinction Lockdown
  6. The Last Knight Barricade
  7. Studio Series 20 Retro Pop Highway Bumblebee
  8. Studio Series 33 Bonecrusher
  9. Dark of the Moon Megatron
  10. Studio Series 38 Optimus Prime (Bumblebee)
Good as Studio Series has been in general, I think it's had more than its fair share of duffers. The very first figure - the '76 Camaro Bumblebee - featured some significant structural problems and ended up getting recycled three times in 2018 alone (four if you include a Chinese 'Lucky Draw' variant of SS01). However, the biggest pile of crap in the line so far is easily the car version of Shatter from the Bumblebee movie. Vehicle mode looks great, but robot mode only looks convicing until you try to pose it, at which point several parts just fall off and the car chunks limit the movement of the arms and legs.

SS Shadow Raider was a cynical cash grab, made all the more insulting by the inclusion of Lockdown's missing weapon and a head sculpt based in his battle visor. Meanwhile, AoE Lockdown and TLK Hot Rod were essentially the same toy, TLK Barricade was essentially a shellformer and SS Bumblebee Optimus Prime was an example of manufacture using poor quality materials... with the former two getting the full Third Party treatment at sort-of Masterpiece scale, and the latter two getting improved knock-offs.

Third Party
Best of the Decade
  1. DX9 Kaleidoscope La Hire
  2. FansToys Rouge
  3. Weijiang Deformation Era Commander
  4. MMC Cyber Engine Knight Morpher Airborne Battalion
  5. FansProject Causality Intimidator
  6. Unique Toys Peru Kill
  7. Fansproject Lost Exo Realm Comera & Echara
  8. Alien Attack Firage
  9. Black Mamba Deformation Ares Nitrogen
  10. Mastermind Creations Reformatted Azalea & repaints
Given the vast range of offerings from the Third Parties - from upscaled toys and straight knockoffs with minor improvements and those that were substantially re-engineered, to unique figures in various scales, there was almost too much to consider in this range. It probably says something that the first two in the list are basically my most recent Third Party purchases.

Combiner Wars put a stop to some - but not all - of the Third Party G1 gestalts, and arrived after the awesome Causality Intimidator - AKA Menasor - was completed. In every other way, the Third Parties have been diversifying and covering continuities Hasbro have never - possibly would never - approach... and, were it not for the cost, I could easily see myself ditching Hasbro and even Takara Tomy's output in favour of Third Party models across the board.

The trouble with the Third Party companies is the speed with which they drop off the map. FansProject seem to have disappeared entirely, much to my disappointment, but plenty of others have sprung up to take their place. They don't pick up where the former giants of unofficial transforming robot toys left off, but they tend to bring something new and exciting to the community, however divisive it may prove to be among individual fans.

Worst of the Decade
  1. Perfect Effect Beast Muscle Leonidas
  2. iGear Mini Warriors Bushwhacker
  3. KuBianBao Deformation Detective
  4. DX9 War in Pocket Toufold & Leah
  5. FansProject Function-X Quadruple-U
  6. KFC Scorpinator/Sting Thing
  7. MAAS Toys Glyph
  8. Mastermind Creations Reformatted Feral/Nero Queens 
  9. Iron Factory Arcee & Repaints
  10. Perfect Effect Motobot RC & Aranea
For the most part, I've been lucky enough to have avoided the shittier Third Party releases, so I've had to bulk out this list with some very qualified disappointments beyond #3. I'm still very salty about Perfect Effect's horrendous Leonidas, not least due to the accidental decapitation thanks to an overly tight neck joint and the fact that I may have been better off waiting for the knockoff, which was cheaper and made to a higher quality standard.

Bushwhacker was poorly designed, but its influence on Hasbro/Takara Tomy's designers can be seen to a degree in the legs of War for Cybertron: Siege Hound, which appears to be a far better toy... if you like that sort of thing. KuBianBao's upscaled AoE Hound was a comparatively meagre upgrade on the original, particularly when followed so closely by a greatly improved version from WeiJiang. It's oversized to the point of being unwieldy and the rubber 'mesh' accessory was ripped off from another Third Party.

Everything else here is... acceptable, perhaps a little mediocre, a symptom of an excess of repaints, or just a little overly ambitious and fragile, to one degree or another.

Limited/Special Edition
Best of the Decade

  1. Subscription Service/Timelines Ultra Mammoth
  2. BotCon 2013 Machine Wars: Termination Obsidian
  3. BotCon 2011 The Stunti-Con Job set
  4. Timelines Cheetor
  5. BotCon 2011 Shattered Glass Galvatron
  6. TransFormers Cloud Starscream
  7. BotCon 2015/Cybertron: Most Wanted Megatron
  8. Subscription Series/Timelines Slipstream
  9. TTS 2017 TFLegends Scourge
  10. Power of the Primes Nemesis Prime
While their hits-to-misses ratio was a little on the low side, Hasbro's decision not to renew the TransFormers Collectors' Club contract was, to me, a bitterly sad loss. I think I've got all the Timelines figures I really wanted aside from the Scourge figure from BotCon 2009 and the pre-Beast Wars Megatron from 2006, neither of which would fall within the parameters of this list anyway. I'd have to say they went very much off the rails with the Subscription Service after the first year, but I may be biased because I think Ultra Mammoth was possible the most inspired toy - with what certainly the most inspired name - the Club ever produced.

I've not picked up many exclusives outside of the Club - things like the Lucky Draw gold figures, for example, just don't appeal (certainly not with the weird unpainted butterscotch plastic they insist on using these days), and Cloud has tended to produce figures that are either a bit too weird or a bit too underachieving for my tastes.

Some might argue the inclusion of PotP Nemesis Prime simply because he ended up not being particularly exclusive... but Amazon UK's piss-poor handling of it (making the order page live months in advance, then repeatedly mailshotting punters asking them to cancel as they couldn't say when it would arrive, only to release it days after one mailshot) certainly made it feel harder to obtain than it should have been.

Worst of the Decade

  1. Subscription Service 4.0 Combiner Wars Thunder Mayhem
  2. Timelines Side Burn
  3. BotCon 2013 Machine Wars: Termination Hoist
  4. Subscription Service/Timelines Breakdown
  5. Studio Series 20 Bumblebee Vol.2 - Retro Pop Highway 
  6. Subscription Service/Timelines Scourge
  7. Street Fighter II x TransFormers Ken & Chun Li/Ryu & Vega
  8. BotCon 2012 TransFormers: Invasion Gigatron
  9. Timelines Ramjet
  10. Device Label Broad Blast
The top of this list was easy: there was very little of interest to any of the five individual components of Thunder Mayhem and the completed gestalt looked rather like a knockoff, a problem exacerbated by the misassembly of Bludgeon's legs. To cap it all off, though, the final part of the set - Impactor based on the Combiner Wars Rook mold - came with an utterly lacklustre 'bonus' figure in the form of Bluestreak, yet another recolouring of the Combiner Wars Streetwise mold, using the Prowl/Smokescreen head.

Were it not for the fact that it was released in 2008, the Club's Seacons set - a misguided attempt to resurrect an exclusive that Walmart declined back in 2004 - would have come in a very close second. 2008 seems to have been a particularly bad year in retrospect, since that's when the Club's attempt at Nightbeat - based on Energon Hot Shot - turned up. Also, to be fair, a lot of the Club's biggest duffers were pre-2010, and I've made a point of avoiding their most dodgy exclusives because they're all too expensive to go wasting money on just to have a complete set.

Figures like Side Burn and Ramjet possibly shouldn't have been included as they were 'free' Membership Incentive figures, while the individual Subscription Service figures of Scourge (AKA RiD Nemesis Prime) and Breakdown disappointed because they were so obvious, or just used a mold that the Club had already done to death. Gigatron used a decent mold to represent an unsuitable character with a hilariously bad head sculpt.

The wild cards on this list are the gold repaint of SS VW Bumblebee packaged with a couple of G1 cassettes (one of which misassembled!), which was just a poor representation of the movie CGI and more than a little bit overpriced; the Street Fighter II x TransFormers sets which, while fun, kind of had me wondering why I felt so compelled to own them; and Device Label Broad Blast, which probably wouldn't have been on this list at all had his USB Hub been Windows 10 compatible.

Top 10 Surprises
The Good
  1. Studio Series (whole line)
  2. Masterpiece Soundwave UK release
  3. TFNation taking over from AutoAssembly
  4. TransFormers: Bumblebee (movie)
  5. Third Party Steampunk Seekers
  6. TransFormers Prime (TV show)
  7. Platinum Edition Trypticon
  8. Smyths Toys opening a branch near my parents' home
  9. Official Triple-Changers, Combiners and HeadMasters
  10. TransFormers Legends (whole line)
This list was fairly easy, as there have been quite a lot of pleasant surprises over the last ten years. Hasbro switching to a dedicated, Marvel Legends-style line for movie-based toys was the clear winner, though, as it was just such a surprisingly good move from Hasbro, who are not well known for making sensible choices with the TransFormers brand. Not all the toys have been - or likely will be - to my taste, and a couple, at least, have been appalling, but including an 8-part combiner Devastator and remaking some of their less CGI-accurate toys from the earlier movie toylines was an inspired decision, as it freed the main line to pursue its unhindered run of G1 updates... if you like that sort of thing enough to collect reboot after reboot.

Distribution to this sceptred isle has always been a problem for the TransFormers collector, with entire waves of mainline toys from several lines that never even arrived on shelves, so the fact that the rebooted Masterpiece line actually got picked up by Toys'R'Us was a true delight. Granted, they'd already done the £100 MP Optimus Prime v2, but I honestly hadn't expected to have such an easy time acquiring MP Soundwave, let alone such a 'complete' package, with all but one of his main selection of minions (Ratbat having been held back for the Soundblaster repaint).

While it's not BotCon, TFNation hit the ground running and has since proved to be an excellent UK TransFormers convention, even attracting patrons from the Continent. Getting to Birmingham is a bit of a schlep for me, but it's certainly not the worst journey... the only real downside is the expense of travel and accommodation, even at hotels other than the venue. Plus, I'm probably going to have to miss this year's unless my work situation improves.

Much of the rest of the list is things we had no right to expect to be good, or even expect full-stop... And I could probably have extended this list to 20 items without too much trouble.

The Bad
  1. Brexit, and the accompanying pantomime of politics
  2. Cancellation of the TransFormers Collectors' Club/BotCon
  3. Toys'R'Us collapse
  4. Masterpiece aims for animation accuracy, and increases cost as QC drops
  5. The 'Unification of World Brands'
  6. The depths of juvenile 'humor' and absolute fucking stupidity plumbed by the TransFormers live action movies directed by Michael Bay, and the lack of creative control exercised by Hasbro over their intellectual property in Paramount's hands
  7. BotBots
  8. Diversification/Dilution of the toyline into too many continuities aimed at specific age ranges
  9. Combining HeadMasters, TargetMasters and Power Masters into Titans Return/Power of the Primes
  10. Simplified toy designs, reduced paint budgets, alongside increasingly frequent Quality Control issues
I try not to get into politics here, because it's a toy blog... but the fact that the UK actually voted to leave the EU after a campaign of easily refuted lies by certain elements within the Conservative party was undeniably a tragedy and a travesty of politics. The fact that, only two weeks after the final Brexit deadline, early this year, people are already posting irate "this isn't the Brexit I voted for!" Tweets just goes to show what utter morons they were to vote in favour of leaving without considering the ramifications. Those that voted most strongly in favour are likely to be the hardest hit by the negative impact of the changes, and I don't trust that dishevelled buffoon of a Prime Minister to negotiate anything to the benefit of the country.

On a more toy-related note, I was shocked and saddened by the end of the TransFormers Collectors' Club in 2016, even though their forums never re-opened after their unexpected closure four years previously, and their toy output became quite questionable towards the end (the Subscription Service being a great idea let down by rather dull and/or unimaginative content after its first year). That said, it was operated by a third party under license from Hasbro, so it was never going to be a permanent thing... Still, Hasbro has yet to present their own Collectors' Club, so I think it was a mistake to end the Club entirely rather than try having it managed by an alternative company. I mean, how many other toylines even have Collectors' Clubs these days?

Just as surprising was the sudden and comparatively swift collapse of Toys'R'Us, the behemoth of toy shops. At first, it looked as though only the US was affected, but stores in Europe and Canada soon followed... though the brand was resurrected on the internet and, on the upside, several of their stores in the UK were swiftly occupied by Irish-based Smyths Toys, including (as mentioned in my 'Good Surprises' list) one quite near where my parents live.

I think everything else is probably quite subjective - there are plenty of fans of the hideous G1 cartoon aesthetic who feel than the Masterpiece line has moved in the right direction, and that a single, more consistent brand will benefit both Hasbro and Takara Tomy, with no objection to the loss of the TransFormers Legends line of Classics/Titans Return upgrades. Even the most recent live action movie in the Bay franchise, The Last Knight, had its fans, BotBots have proven surprisingly popular with adult collectors, let alone the impressionable kids they're targeted at, and Hasbro's many, diverse angles on the TransFormers franchise each have their own loyal fanbases. The main complaint about the Prime Wars Trilogy wasn't its underwhelming handling of HeadMasters, but the sudden end of the toyline with an incomplete and underdeveloped third chapter (we can but hope that War for Cybertron doesn't suffer the same fate)... And, ultimately, simple and underdecorated though they may have become, with build quality edging ever closer to that of the pound shop knockoffs... they're still TransFormers, and Hasbro haven't yet given up and rebooted the line as Action Masters all over again.

So... that's my summing up of the last decade - the good and the bad. There's probably loads more than I could and should have written about, but this is about all I've been able to think of, and remember, and focus on actually writing about, so it's going to have to do.

Whether I'll do better this year, only time will tell... But, as I said before, this blog ain't over yet.

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