Friday, 13 March 2020

Beast Wars TransMetals 2 Blackarachnia

(Femme-Bot Friday #70)
I have a bit of a history of buying toys that I once professed to hate. Probably the best example of this is Lio Convoy, about whom my feelings changed very dramatically and for no reason I can readily recall. He - and his gorgeous black repaint - seemed to open the floodgates, though, leading to me buying BotCon 2001's Universe Arcee, a repaint of the Beast Wars TransMetals version that appeared a couple of years before.

That, naturally, led me to seek out the mainline original, a much-maligned toy in its own right, both because of its wasteful transformation and the ridiculously un-robotic looking, bikiki-wearing robot mode. TransMetals was, after all, the point in the Beast Wars toyline where it started to go completely crazy, in preparation for the nightmarish distortions of Beast Machines... But I think I've already proven that I consider Blackarachnia such a fun character that at least one of almost every iteration is worth acquiring... How bad could this one be?

Beast Mode:
I'll note first of all that I've not transformed her strictly according to the instructions - as I did with BotCon Arcee, rather than have the robot's arms sticking out the front below the mandibles, I've folded them underneath the body, toward the abdomen. There are two reasons for this: first and foremost, the spider looks ridiculous with the robot's clawed arms fully extended out the front... but, secondly, they also raise the body up, giving the impression that the loosely ball-jointed legs are actually supporting the spider, even though they're actually far too weak to do so.

Given Blackarachnia's original Beast Wars spider form was fairly subdued - the robot mode's somewhat flamboyant green and purple parts mostly folded away on the underside - it's amazing how garish the TransMetals version is... even though overt garishness was pretty much the raison d'être of the entire line. The vast majority of the visible upper surface of the spider is chromed and overpainted with a magenta gradient, with the abdoment split open asymmetrically to reveal bulging purple innards which are, in and of themselves, sculpted with asymmetrical detail. Much as I liked the pearlescent look of the Arcee version, the sculpted detail shows up better on this one. It's also interesting to note that both use a gradient of silver and pink on the chrome and, while it's more extensive on this one, it becomes darker on Arcee, so it almost feels as though the chromed sections should have been swapped.

Where the BotCon version's spark crystal swaps between Maximal and Autobot insignias, this one honours the TV show by having it switch between Maximal and Predacon. The crystal is encased in a pink chrome frame, pretty much identical to Arcee's, but much of that figure's bare blue plastic (such as the knobbly wheels on her sides and the mandibles) is pink on this one, and the BotCon figure's white plastic is either black or purple on this one. Oddly the legs appear to be molded in pretty much the same colour of plastic.

While the head is no better disguised on this version than it was on the BotCon figure - the black head being highlighted by her gold-painted 'crown', and flanked by chunks of purple plastic - the chromed robo-boobs are somewhat disguised by a plain purple plastic 'bra plate'. Whether this is an improvement or not, I'm not sure... It certainly draws attention, since the underlying chromed part would have stood out less against its more similarly coloured, chromed surroundings. One curious difference between this one and the BotCon version is that the protruding robot feet no longer match the stubby spikes just in front of the wheels on each side of the abdomen. It's not a problem, though, as the black plastic blends in quite well to with the black painted section linking the abdomen to the cephalothorax.

Robot Mode:
Well, what is there to say about this thing that I haven't already said about Universe Arcee? This is basically just a weirdly-proportioned, quite overtly sexualised action figure with a massive backpack made out of robo-spider parts. Her body doesn't look remotely robotic, and the inclusion of the unpainted, purple plastic bikini-shell over her chromed robo-boobs seems like a bizarre form of non-censorship, bordering on the Streisand Effect, not to mention a waste of the pink chrome.

Her colourscheme is very much in keeping with what was the typical Blackarachnia look, as derived from the TV show rather than the toy - largely black and purple with magenta and not-quite-gold accents here and there. The layout of the paint applications is much the same as on the Arcee repaint, but appearing a bit more extensive thanks to the more apparent variation in plastic colours on the legs, and the spray of magenta paint down her shins. I had thought that the hourglass 'belly button tattoo' was specific to this version of the mold, but it's just that it's more prominent here, painted in magenta bordering on red, while Arcee's is pale grey.

Her 'weapon' is more of a grappling hook than a genuine weapon, despite the formidable-looking, spring-loaded mandibles on the end of about 24cm/9.5" of string... She does, of course, have those strange missle-like pods sticking out of her back, and she was often depicted on the TV show has having guns in her spider legs while in robot mode... There's also those enlongated, articulated claws of hers, for mêlée encounters... and, with her spring-loaded spin-kick action, triggered by pushing the head back after winding her up at the waist, she does seem to have been cast as more of a hand-to-hand fighter within the TransMetals franchise.

The head almost looks like a negative of the BotCon exclusive... though, technically, the mask would have had to be turquoise for that to be the case and, unlike Arcee, Blackarachnia didn't get any lipstick. The gold-ish paint of the mask wraps around to the back of the head, just like on Arcee, the couple of eyes/jewels on the forehead are painted with the same magenta used for the 'eyes' on her knickers, but the actual robot eyes are painted red.

The overall effect here is more 'Alien Dominatrix' than robot - the whole look wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Glen A. Larson's Buck Rogers show from the late 70s/early 80s. Knee-high stilletto boots, bikini, golden, jewelled mask... and seriously blinged-up power shoulders. The spider legs can either add to the majesty of the shoulders or be swept back down to form more of a cape or raised, segmented bustle, either being perfectly suited to that bonkers setting.

Between this figure and the BotCon exclusive Arcee, I really can't decide which is my favourite. I think the pearlescent look of Arcee's white plastic works well, but the overall darker look of Blackarachnia suits the mold far better. Both look great (read: terrifying) in beast mode, but, again the darker colourscheme works better. Both have exceedlingly floppy hips in robot mode, and the spider legs can't support the beast mode of either, but these are ball joints so, theoretically, this can be improved upon

I think this version of Blackarachnia, in particular, shows what a strange approach there was to the idea of Femme-Bots in the toyline at the time - since there were none in G1 (in the west, at least), Beast Wars essentially reintroduced the concept to the toyline. The original Blackarachnia - and Airazor, for that matter - were completely androgynous as toys either because they weren't originally designed with being Femme-Bots in mind, or because the molds were also used for other toys (Tarantulas in the case of Blackarachnia). The TransMetals Femme-Bots were overtly feminine in design, with varying degrees of success - I think with TM Airazor they were still hedging their bets - and I think that many of the complaints levelled at contemporary, Third-Party Femme-Bots are equally valid here. The bottom line is that an alien robot, should it adopt - or be assigned - a stereotypically 'feminine' nature, still does not require a stereotypically lithe, busty, humanoid figure with knee-length boots and a bikini- or lingerie-style colour pattern. I do like TM Blackarachnia, but more because she's a curiosity of her time than because she's a good TransFormers toy, or even a particularly good example of a Femme-Bot.

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