Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Great Third Party Drought

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

The first quarter of a year is rarely booming with new releases from Third Party companies. Sure we'll see a handful of new releases but often these are delayed products, initially planned for the end of the previous year, delayed then caught up in Chinese New Year until finally, a toy planned for a fourth quarter release of the previous year finally sees release along with the first blooms of Spring. 

This year feels especially quiet.....

'Gaze upon my field of exciting Third Party releases and see that it is barren'
 - Wu Ming c.820 AD

Given the amount of Third Party companies it would be easy to think every month sees a swathe of new releases and teasers for upcoming projects but the current climate has seen more and more companies keeping their cards close to their collective chests. Gone are the days when we would be privy to the ongoing development of an upcoming release. With the ever escalating wars in the 3PMP game, it's only natural that companies and designers would want to keep their design secrets just that, revealing the truths of their works only upon final release, or at least a scant few months prior. The fallout of all this obfuscation is cold and disengaged sections of the collecting community. It is no surprise that my interest in transforming-robots-which-happen-to-look-like-Transformers often wanes around this time of year, the common cool-down period for many Third Party Companies. Without a fresh supply of releases or at least updates of upcoming products, it's difficult to stay excited. 

I know Fansproject set some early standards for the future of Third Party toys but that shouldn't extend to their communications.

Even with my recent change in collecting interests, I still like to keep up to date with upcoming releases and news within the world of Transformers, Hasbro/Takara and Third Party alike. With that said, I can't help but shake the feeling that the scene is especially quiet right now. Less releases, less chatter, less interest. 

2017 gave us some incredible reveals of what was to come. From Iron Factory's Decepticon Justice Division (which combine!) to Maketoys Cross Dimension and RE:Master releases, it was an exciting couple of months but it seems the furore has died down and the usual levels of updates from these companies and the subsequent discussion has all but vanished. 

C. TFW2005

C. TFW2005

C. TFW2005

Personally, I think a lot of the Third Party market is hype. Hype for upcoming projects, hype for a bigger and better 'Masterpiece scale' combiner. I enjoy taking part in the initial awe and early discussions surrounding an exciting reveal, even if it's just a grey prototype. It's exciting. It hints at what is to come and begins to inform future buying decisions and display options. Take that away and well, I find myself going into a long term Sleep mode, just waiting on some news from Maketoys on their latest Cross Dimension or maybe even, just maybe, the announcement of a new Third Party Liokaiser (Ah, TFC Hades, so close, yet so, so far). 

Maybe I'm just seeing things from 'the outside' as it were and it's only natural I would feel there is a lack of discussion and buzz about the Third Party scene as it stands. With convention season nearly upon us I hope we see not only a host of new reveals from a plethora of Third Party companies but more importantly, significant updates on those projects revealed last year. 

As always, keep it #Refined.

[Editor's note: Of course Fansproject would reveal the release of a long awaited set of repaints right as this article is published!]

You can follow Dorian @Vigadeath

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Greatshot and The Super Robot Factor

- Ben Watson

I'm now the proud owner of a glorious Takara LG EX Greatshot and I felt it time to tackle a particular concept that he and very few other Transformers come hand-in-hand with: the idea of "The Super Robot". 

It's widely accepted Transformers are a breed of super robots, the term even acting as descriptor of what they are in the original Japanese series' title - but to what extent in this space year 2018? In the past thirty years (probably more like forty if you want to properly chart the rise of the Super Robot) many franchises have flared to life and faded away within the stable of the concept. Some much more noticeably "super" than others that - at least in my mind - contribute much more to the overall nebulous mental image than Transformers ever has. So let's explore the concept through my admittedly novice experience (Bowing to RRCo colleague Dan as Master) and see how it's intersected and influenced the long standing brand we're all here for down the years. 

To begin, what qualifies Greatshot as a Super Robot to me? If I had to put it into words, this figure exemplifies it more than most by its particular set of colours first. The heroic staple of red, white and blue sings its debatably dated song of freedom to the eye but this isn't necessarily any different to any Optimus Prime or Ultra Magnus - two robots who in my headspace aren't capital S Super (Unless we're talking about a super mode...). What really brings the *clench fist* oomph to Greatshot is - and I'm sure your eyes have already been drawn to it - his big gold on black chest motif. In a better age it would have been glittering chrome but that right there is what elevates Greatshot to greatness. That extra layer of bombast and over-the-top styling incorporating an oddly mixed visual message. Does he turn into a bird like the big insignia across his pecs? Hell no, but it looks cool and that's what the Super Robot is all about. 

Standing proud as an ultimate force for good, swathed in red and gold and generating a silhouette dominated by upper body spikes, the spirit of other Super Robos is conjured in my mind. GaoGaiGar, Thunder Gridman, Gurren Lagann, uh... one of the Gundams (hey that's a lot of G's) Greatshot joins the pantheon of these most mighty mecha and in doing so, kind of does himself a disservice... 

All of those "OG's" I listed are the central, most powerful and righteous robots of their respective series. The be-all-and-end-all of the protection of the innocent and spectacular destruction of evil. Is that Greatshot? Really? Arguably one of the most obscure Transformers characters of all time, one that I had no idea existed until about two years ago, he hardly fits the bill. Add to that a shady heritage (this figure's pack-in manga says he's just Sixshot? What?) and in terms of portrayal, Greatshot is really only a pretender to the mantle of Super Robot. 

But hold! Perhaps a redemption arc is in the cards for our hero, because like most of those G-men I named, I haven't actually taken in any of Greatshot's appearances in fiction. Yeah ok, I'll go and watch Brave but this is another facet of the Super Robot vogue for me. A veiling in mystery, a cladding of awe. Knowing that this particular robot I'm looking at right now looks really damn cool and I love what I'm seeing even though I know practically nothing about it. That's the only reason I bought Greatshot. I don't give a monkey's about... *checks the wiki* Victory or what he did in the episodes of it he appeared in. All I need to know is I want this robot in my house because he exemplifies all of that forceful aesthetic that only Japan could provide. 

Right now I'm realising how much that aesthetic really gets to me. If it transforms and powers up in a lengthy and detailed motion-line abundant stock sequence, I want to know about it. I'd go as far as saying I'd watch a show that was just that and thankfully, there does exist an animated short commemorating Gridman that I've watched over and over. Nothing quite like that distillation of pre-21st century mecha stirs the blood quite so. I could have been hunting for missing Armada figures on ebay recently but instead chose to track down every listing for Gridman toys because by god, Zenon is a robo I need in my life. But in the west such paragons of power are hard to come by in plastic. (Unless you're blessed with wherever sells those chrome-tastic KO's in the US... Like Dan is.) So to be present to watch a release come to fruition in the line my eyes are seldom not trained on, I simply couldn't pass up Greatshot, by virtue of everything I imagine he could be, rather than anything he probably is. . 

Yes, I will hold my hands up and say, it wasn't cheap. Being not only a Japanese exclusive figure but one exclusive to a particular store within Japan, Greatshot did come at a price approximately 1.5X the average Generations Leader. He is essentially just red Sixshot and I've been trying to enjoy that figure more than I do for a good year now. Greatshot does however have an advantage in-hand thanks to much better joint tolerances. Of course some parts are new and add a lot to push Greatshot far and away from his precursor, including new robot and animal mode heads and more ostentatious chest and shoulder adornments but all six of his modes (including "submarine") tell the same rote tale. While Sixshot's existence in Titans Return was an ultimate surprise, it was certainly foolish for any of us to expect a different six-changing mold anywhere in the vicinity of the next decade. At the very least however, this is of course G1 accurate and lets the figure play to that particular retro charm the original possesses in such a large amount.

Mild misgivings aside, I really feel like Greatshot will be one of the top figures of the year. Birthed in that limited foreign release mystique and filling a unique niche in my collection he's certainly a piece I'm very proud to have. Statistically speaking, few Transformers are released each year that really resonate with what I want my collection to be. Yeah, I buy em all the same but your RID Paralons and Legion Dragonstorms don't stand a chance in the wake of a release with this kind of mental heft. This robot is simply, super. 

What makes a robot "super" to you? Leave a comment and let us know!

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23 

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Trading Money For Memories aka The Snausage Factor

-mantis nine nines

I almost died. My mom pulled into traffic and all I can remember is the slow motion impact of the car smashing into the side of our van right next to where I was sitting, back seat driver's side. I was about 10 and we were late to church. Mom ran the red light and BAM. Other than a concussion, sprained wrist, and some wicked bruising I made out with no broken bones or internal bleeding, a shock to all who saw the wreckage. Whatever else I may be no one can deny I'm lucky, a few inches over and the impact would have been through my legs. In my short time as an EMT I saw what that can do close up, so I truly understand how fortunate I am.

Our red Nissan minivan (known as the "Snausage") was not so fortunate. It was almost folded in half, shattered. But in my haze I still managed to salvage something very important: Tote. That little micromaster had been a staple in the van since we bought it, I spent many an hour while riding pretending he was ironhide, or that he represented the van I was in which was secretly a super mecha. All the fun a kid can hope for when stuck in a seat while your parents argue and listen to talk radio. That cute crimson robo was there for every minute.

I'm reminded of this story as I unpack my brand new MPP-27 oversized KO Ironhide. True I love it for it's 1/24 scale and perfect fit in my collection, but those are rationalizations. Deep down it's the emotion that matters. And by emotion I mean more than nostalgia. Nostalgia is a nice warm blanket feeling we all get whenever we experience that tune, that smell, etc. What I refer to are very specific attachments that leap to mind crystal clear. As awful as that car crash was it remains a pleasant memory in the way the details are so permanently and distinctly preserved. It is as close to time travel as any of us will ever experience.

There are a few bots for me that accomplish this. My G1 Soundwave was purchased by my father after taking me to the disaster that was the 86 movie. It will always carry a residual feeling of the comfort it provided after watching my favorite characters coldly executed and replaced. My original does not travel, but MP Soundwave substitutes just fine. 

There are so many different reasons people collect. Some have an interest in the puzzle play, some find it a way they can sooth a compulsive nature, or even (foolishly) seek future fortune off a complete set. Whatever the reason, we plunk down our hard earned cash and walk away with a little piece of plastic paradise. I would have never guessed one of my favorites would be one of the smallest as well.

Contact Dan on Twitter @mantisninenines 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Changing Interests: Lego Rising

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

As collectors, it's only natural that our interests will include a number of hobbies, brands, franchises etc. I imagine the bulk of Transformers fans will also collect other toy lines or maybe they're bang into their vintage spoon and plate collections. Today I will discuss one such extra-curricular interest I have recently developed and the unexpected affect it has had on my engagement with the larger community. 

2018 had a very strong start for my collection. Fansproject Pinchar, Maketoys Thunder Manus, GCreations Prowl and Takara LG Overlord and Slugslinger made their way onto my shelves, all amazing toys, most of them worth their own article. Yet even with such a magnificent haul, my eye was already straying away from transforming robots to an altogether different sort of toy. 

Last year I started to buy a few Lego Star Wars sets. Nothing too exciting, a Microfighter here, a small speeder or playset there. Recently though, I've tumbled fully into the rabbit hole. Buying bigger kits and spending more time looking through videos, tutorials and building bits orders, this innocent affair with the classic brick building system has now moved in and kicked Transformers to the kerb. 

If you would allow me a moment to gush about this Lego business... It's so much fun! Pure, unadulterated joy. Be it the joy of having a growing roster of Star Wars minifigures, the tactile experience of building a Lego set which taps into that sweet sweet childhood nostalgia (extra points for being Star Wars flavoured) or the even the appreciation I can have as an adult collector, not just for the design and construction of the Lego sets themselves, but even the clever way Lego organise their larger sets into sub-builds, gently easing you in with a few simple steps before going full Master Builder on you. Compare this to the fairly serious business of my bot-buying habits, it's a nice departure. 

During my adventures in a Galaxy Far Far Away...I've found my engagement with the larger collecting community has diminished greatly, initially at least. This, of course, was to be expected. My interests have diverged (albeit only slightly) from those I regularly engage with but it seems to go further still. To be frank, it also lessened my engagement with writing articles and taking part in toy photography, something I felt fairly aggrieved about. I enjoy the level of discourse articles bring and it was only recently that I started to put a little more effort into my toy photography. Be it self inflicted or just the nature of a new interest, it became an altogether solo pursuit outside of a few tweets and quick snaps for social media platforms. That's not to say there's a lack of community spaces for the Lego enthusiast, far from it, I just found that this was something which diverged from my normal hobby habits and therefore changed how I shared my purchases and activities with fellow collectors and friends. Similar to past jaunts with miniature wargaming, which would come along with an enormous reduction in community engagement as I worked away at my table, sculpting tools or paint brush in hand, my recent dalliance with Lego has seen me recede a bit from my usual position within the larger collector community.

Time which would normally be spent setting up photo-comics or planning future purchases is now spent researching kits to build or watching tutorials in anticipation of building my first MOC (My Own Creation). The mental capacity normally given over to engaging with the hobby of collecting Transformers and all its related activities has now gone into my current interest of Lego. 

Thankfully, the bonds of friendship remain strong and even when I might be outside the circles of conversation about the latest Power of the Primes reveal, I can still take part in the shared appreciation of new reveals or new purchases. The same goes for the communities reaction to whatever content I have posted in recent weeks. Even those who don't deal with Lego can still fire a Like or a comment my way for some pictures or posts. 

When the time comes for me to put down the bricks and step back into the world of transforming robots, I'll do so with fresh eyes and maybe a new intent for my collection. I think it's important to dabble in several different hobbies and expand your interests. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

How Cyclonus Saved the Decepticons

 - Becka of the Rated Thighs

“Once the Decepticons nearly held the quadrant through terror. Now we scrap like slargs over a few energon cubes. Is this how you honour the memory of Galvatron? Is this the fate of the mighty Decepticon Empire?” 

I’ve been a fan of Transformers for nine years this year, and for eight of those years I wrote off season three of the Generation One cartoon as something I wouldn’t be interested in after all of the deaths in the movie and the change of setting from Earth to Cybertron. (Hell hath no fury like an Ironhide fan being forced to watch him die in two separate films). However after deciding to give season three another go, I found not only that it’s now my favourite of the cartoon, but also that Cyclonus is the most important thing in it. 

Copyright Hasbro

Yes, ol’ lilac bunny ears himself.

Or, to put it another way, he’s at least more important than any of the Decepticons who preceded him: Megatron as the leader, Starscream as the backstabber archetype (looking at you, copycat Terrorsaur), Devastator as the first gestalt, Blitzwing and Astrotrain as the first triple changers…heck, he’s even more important than his own leader, Galvatron.

And yes, he would punch me for saying that. And yes, I would still say it. Why? Because Cyclonus broke the mold of what it meant to be a Decepticon in the most instantly recognizable of Transformers properties. (Before anyone can object with “but the Marvel comic!” yes, the Marvel comic is amazing. But to the average casual fan I’d put money on the cartoon being the more familiar).

In seasons one and two, the Decepticons were portrayed as borderline-idiotically evil, despising anything ‘good’ just because (“I hate nice things!” says Rumble in ‘Microbots’, perfectly summing up Megatron’s entire movement) and refusing to even allow something as meaningful as friendship enter their ranks. Seriously, they spend 90% of their day hating and sabotaging the Autobots, and the remaining 10% of that same day hating and sabotaging one another (see Astrotrain and Blitzwing’s attempted coup in ‘Triple Takeover’ for a prime example of how completely incapable of working together the Decepticons are at this point). But they’ve still got a leg up on the Autobots, so their pointless squabbling doesn’t really amount to much other than to maintain the status quo of Autobots = good and Decepticons = evil. 

Copyright Hasbro

And then the movie happens to them, and they lose everything they’ve spent the last couple of million years building up: their entire homeworld, and the only leader they’ve ever known. The only leader powerful enough to force them to work together. ‘Five Faces of Darkness’ opens with the remnants of the faction hanging out together (yet oh so apart) on a cold barren world, unable to achieve anything even as basic as foraging for energon (although Astrotrain tries, bless his cotton socks). They’re dispirited, desperate, and broken as a faction.

And then Cyclonus arrives, and with him change. Because Cyclonus is not an egocentric Decepticon who believes only in the superiority of himself, but rather the superiority of the Decepticon movement as a whole.
Within five seconds of being on planet Chaar, Cyclonus has the erstwhile morbidly depressed troops on their feet, cheering, and handing over their meagre energon supplies so that he can find Galvatron and restore them to their former glory. He inspires them in a way Megatron was never able to and Galvatron will never be able to; both versions of the guy led solely by fear, whereas Cyclonus’s natural talent for leadership comes from his own proactive nature. He identifies a problem and immediately starts thinking of ways to overcome it, rather than using the favoured Decepticon tactic of the first two seasons of either a) ignoring the problem outright, b) blaming the problem on someone else, or c) refusing to acknowledge the scale of the problem, refer to a) or b) to continue. (See: pretty much any episode from seasons one and two).

But beyond his complete lack of ego, Cyclonus is also totally almost selfless. The Decepticons of the first two seasons were greedy, desiring power for themselves above all else, but also just that slight bit too lazy and/or cowardly to fully pursue their goals. For example in ‘The God Gambit’ Astrotrain, Starscream, and Thrust discover an energon-rich planet and waste no time in conquering it and forcing its natives into worshipping them – all without contacting Megatron, because they would not wish to share this newfound wealth with their own movement? This is in sharp comparison to ‘Fight or Flee’, in which Cyclonus and Scourge discover another energon-rich planet. Do they do as Astrotrain and crew did one season beforehand? Nope. Cyclonus’s first instinct is to contact Galvatron and summon the Decepticons, recognising the planet’s strategic value in their continuing campaign. It simply doesn’t occur to him to keep the glory for himself. He is a warrior to his cause, and his cause comes above all else – even personal glory.

(Although, as an aside, it has to be noted that he carefully avoids mentioning that he and Scourge had their afts handed to them by the Aerialbots earlier in the same episode when speaking with Galvatron, so it is possible Cyclonus has pride that can be dented at times).

Finally, let’s consider his relationship with Galvatron. It’s fun to simplify it right down to a master and servant dynamic, but like the Depeche Mode song there’s a lot more going on that first appears. For example, I don’t think it’s right to say that Cyclonus has 100% confidence in Galvatron. He unthinkingly corrects him on a couple of occasions – such as commenting on his leader’s lack of strategy at the start of ‘Webworld’ – and also seems to spend the majority of his time acting entirely on his own imitative without any orders from above. In ‘The Big Broadcast of 2006’ he even outright ignores Galvatron’s warnings that the Decepticons are not interested in the Junkions’ rebellion against the Autobots and flies off with Scourge and the Sweeps to see how they could take advantage of the situation. Galvatron has decided against intervention, but Cyclonus deemed the matter important enough to override his master’s command – and drag Scourge and co. along for the ride. Cyclonus, then, is not totally blindly loyal to Galvatron – again, his interests are for the entire Decepticon movement, not the one person leading it. 

Copyright Hasbro

It’s also arguable that Cyclonus doesn’t even perceive Galvatron as a person in his own mind, but rather his own metaphorical figurehead. As already mentioned, Cyclonus has an innate ability to get people to follow him without a second thought and has both the brains and the brawn to back this up. Yet he always defaults back to insisting that Galvatron be the one in charge – and I will argue that this is not because he feels inferior to Galvatron, but rather because he recognises that one of them is good at sitting in a chair and yelling orders whilst the other one is good at actually flying off and making those orders happen. In other words, Galvatron must be in charge because Cyclonus is far too busy to lead and nobody else is suited for the role.

Another part of the Decpeticon mold thoroughly atomized.

If you want a neat summary of everything I’ve written above, I’d invite you to watch ‘Webworld’ – arguably Cyclonus’s most important episode. Cyclonus has enough of the Decepticons’ respect for both Swindle and Motormaster to warn him of the impending revolt against his master (Swindle, for goodness’ sake, does nothing without getting some kind of benefit out of it – yet here he is giving advice for free). Rather than allowing the revolt to happen so he can usurp power, as past Decepticons would have done, Cyclonus immediately sets about trying to fix the problem (albeit with advice given by Quintessons, but at this point he’s desperate). During the various ‘fixes’ on Torkulon he’s wise enough to not meddle in what’s happening – believing medical professionals to have more knowledge than him – but as soon as those treatments become harmful he immediately attempts to intervene. He then apologises to Galvatron, recognising that he has made an error in trying to force him to change, and guides the leader back onto his proper path of wanting to smash Autobots.

Now try to picture that episode happening with any other Decepticon, even Scourge, in Cyclonus’s shoes. It just wouldn’t happen – they would fly off the moment they discovered that the Torkulons are powerful enough to keep Galvatron prisoner and claim the Decepticons for themselves.

Cyclonus is also important because his colourful nature gives the Decepticons a flavour of believability. Even before season three and the excellently written Rodimus Prime and Ultra Magnus, the Autobots have always had the benefit of multifaceted characters; they had grumps (Cliffjumper, Gears, Huffer), they had naysayers (Sunstreaker in ‘Megatron’s Master Plan’), they had wildcards (Red Alert, Grapple, Hoist, and Ironhide at various points), and they had hubris (Optimus Prime, whenever they were doing badly). The Decepticons were just bad, period, and many of the new ones introduced during season three followed that same bland ideal. Cyclonus did not, and the season is all the better for him.

In closing: he’s a good lad whose positive attributes may have landed him on the Autobot side of things in another life, and showed television audiences for the first time that Decepticons could be more than bland villains hell-bent on the silliest world domination plans possible. And no, we’re not going to talk about what Headmasters did to him. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rate his thighs.

Copyright Hasbro

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Prime Wars - Looking Back at the Generations Trilogy

 - Ben Watson

With Hasbro having just announced the winner of the next Generations fan vote at the time of writing this, a slim window has been opened up to provide us a view of what's next from Generations as we near the end of its current phase: the Prime Wars Trilogy. Looking back at the offerings of the last four years, can we make a good guess at what's over the horizon? Or does the one truism from the whole line stand as better prophecy - expect the unexpected...

Beginning in what already feels like the mists of antiquity, the winter of 2014, Prime Wars made its start with Combiner Wars. After the previous Generations line hit its stride, Combiner Wars did at first feel like a very different animal. Parts counts on each figure seemed to be reduced, yet materials and paint apps were superior. A very small overlap with Thrilling 30 existed stylistically as repaints of some of that line's figures which were pretty well telegraphed moves filled out the peripheral pricepoints of Combiner Wars. This at least provided a sense of continuity, while ostensibly the line was very much a new start, from packaging style to the inclusion of collector cards and even a change in the way stock product images were handled. Eventually the line brought in a roster of new elements as sizeable as the eponymous gestalts themselves. 

Combining technology was now of an ubiquitous standard. Something which had not been true for any line for at least a decade, certainly not at this scale. Suddenly we were met with an unstoppable tide of combiners all (but one) formed from the general retail pricepoints already in use. Overnight the concept of buying a whole wave of Deluxes went from lunacy to sheer necessity. But not just the Deluxes, oh no, you need the Voyagers too and probably the Legends if you want an added bit of fun. Hasbro were all at once marketing whole waves of product, presumably raking in the cash from collectors like me who ate it up, as well as providing a solid play pattern for the first time in Generations' history. The staid and stoic vanilla line of wannabe high-end repute gave up its delusions of grandeur and became the most fun TF iteration on shelves at the time. 

This combination (hurr hurr) of collector must-have status and Kids Would Actually Love These quality made Combiner Wars a huge success, pushing it far and beyond its originally planned shorter retail cycle. Hasbro appeared to be aware of what fans wanted even without running another vote - which they did anyway to lead to the creation of Victorion. Exclusives bulked up the tail end of the line, providing G2 thirst quenching boxsets and even surrogate G1 accurate limbs if you were boring and didn't like Offroad. Combiner Wars was a smorgasbord of long awaited updates and fresh new Feels-Like-He-Was-In-G1 faces. Build quality was of a standard to sate even the long famine of Unicron Trilogy heft, decos were more toy accurate than ever before (firmly sealing Hasbro's position on toy vs toon) and reuse of parts and engineering was as sharp and cutting edge as the standard of sculpted detail. 

So how much of that bled into the more ambitious sequel: Titans Return? Apart from the main gimmick, pretty much all of it. While Titans Return didn't bulk its ranks with all new characters, the extent to which the line was full of them is up for debate... With almost all of the new Titanmaster minifigures included with each bot that wasn't part of the comparatively small cast of original Headmasters being brand new names, it could be argued the line contained more fresh content than any in years. However, backing up this miniature tidal wave of the frighteningly unknown was an assortment of the most evocative G1 characters, the likes of which had never been revisited. Gnaw? Misfire? Broadside? Six Shot? Titans Return served up a platter of the most faithful and unexpected updates; building and expanding upon Combiner Wars' unprecedented roster all while continuing its sense of fun through placing all the characters within it under the same play pattern.

It's not an understatement to my mind to say that Titans Return was a triumph. Pushing its core gimmick into every pricepoint on offer throughout the line and adding an extra one compared to Combiner Wars - all while keeping a firm hand on the wheel of G1 accuracy. It was a true crowd-pleaser. Continuing prepaint and reshell dynamics made things interesting and helped inject hype for new releases. And this time you didn't need to buy all of each wave! Though to be fair, it was pretty easy to still want to. Even without the impetus to complete combiner teams, I still accrued just as many (if not more in terms of the larger pricepoints) figures from the line as I did the year before. Titans Return was an unmitigated success, or was it? 

While Titans Return was certainly the Empire Strikes Back to Combiner Wars' A New Hope, there are signs that tell of the line's lesser success. Receiving nowhere near the kind of second half push as its predecessor, Titans Return was graced with only two exclusive boxsets out of a planned four, with selected cuts from these unmade sets seeing very limited release as odd deluxe-plus mini boxsets. And then there's the stickers. The largest point of contention for collectors currently has its roots in Titans Return and it's not the fact that everyone is a Headmaster now. With the third wave suddenly eschewing conventional tampograph paint applications for apparently cheaper foil stickers, the application of which has certainly left a lot to be desired, Titans Return didn't have as much of a strong third act as it probably could have done with greater paint budget. A knock-on effect of Combiner Wars' stellar deco treatments? Who can say. 

Now we catch up to the present with the end of the saga, Power of The Primes. Much like its predecessor, it carries through standards we're now very used to but with an uncharacteristic lack of flair. On paper the line introduces the Primemaster gimmick as its new play pattern but for all intents and purposes, nothing new is to be found here. The new minifigures  - now only included in their own smallest pricepoint assortment  - are the same as Titans Reurn's Titanmasters with the exception they now turn into not heads, but like, blocks? And these blocks can slot into points on the line's larger figures to achieve absolutely nothing beyond a minute cosmetic change. Oh, and did I mention combiners are back? Yes, Power of The Primes is certainly proving itself to be the weak end to the trilogy so far. (Editors Note: Just like Return of the Jedi) Plus the stickers are back, and in greater numbers. 

All is not lost however as once again new concepts and characters are smuggled in under the cover of night to place themselves sleeper-agent style into positions of power in your G1-But-New collection. Admittedly, this also contains at least two brand new gimmicks so far thanks to the left-field brilliance of the Legends Class Duocons and their unique combination and the Leader Class' Evolution enprimening deal. It could be said that rather than continuing the crescendo of Prime Wars and ending on an ultimate high note with another strong line of brand new dynamics, Power of The Primes is instead choosing to celebrate the trilogy it closes out by incorporating elements from each of its previous instalments. Rounding out the entirety of Prime Wars as one huge ecosystem filled with varying expressions of what is essentially the same thing, it could prove to be a good bookend to the series. Time will tell. 

Sadly if plans for the sequel War for Cybertron trilogy pan out, that won't be very much time. Power of The Primes could be the shortest segment of the trilogy, possibly being cut even shorter than initially planned, having to come to and end for January 2019 to usher in the next phase in time for the brand's 35th anniversary. Looking at the line now - from somewhere approaching its midpoint - it's easy to say it's underwhelming. Padded out with random Combiner Wars retools and already featuring a lot of tooling reuse in only its second wave, Power of The Primes could certainly be the anticlimactic end to Prime Wars. 

That feels like an injustice of sorts. Combiner Wars and Titans Return have provided - at least to me - the greatest number of truly home-run pitching Transformers figures in years. To not see out the game with a heavy hitter is just poor coaching. But maybe the first War for Cybertron part will reclaim the title for next season? I don't know, I'm at a stretch with this sports analogy, man. But what can we infer about the future of Generations? If Prime Wars is anything to go by, a strong line-up of faithfully rendered characters incorporating a fun play pattern across multiple pricepoints awaits. Or, something completely different. Because if this last four years has shown anything, it's that Hasbro are always ready to pitch us a curveball. Let's hope it's not three strikes and out. 

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23

Read an older article here

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Moving the Goal Posts

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

You are never going to finish your collection. Or at least, Takara will do their darndest to prevent it. 

Okay, maybe that should be "you are never going to be finished with collecting"?

With the recent talk (legitimate or otherwise) of a 35th Anniversary Optimus Prime on the horizon, aka MP Optimus Prime 3.0, Takara have once again moved the goal posts. Just when you felt your collection was headed towards completion, they've rebooted things and given us a new aesthetic to buy into. I think it was inevitable we would eventually see a more cartoon styled MP Prime to go along with their wonderful Megatron and other such cartoon focused releases. Some are expecting this to be a complete relaunch of the Masterpiece line and honestly, I wouldn't mind. Seeing the recent reveal of MP Prowl with animation accurate bright blue windows did cause me to vomit a little; a styles clash if there ever was one. But a brand new, cartoon accurate Prowl on the other hand? I'd be keen on that. In my Sunstreaker review I floated the idea of Takara releasing a new Sideswipe to better match his golden brother. This is something I think we will definitely see in the coming years as Takara try to change the direction of their product to keep us digging into our wallets to buy more and more toy robots. 

Be it the pressures of business or an insidious plan to keep collectors on tenterhooks, rarely does a line reach full completion. Rarely do we have the entire cast of a show or every iteration of a toy we were hoping to buy, and even with something as grand as Takara's Masterpiece line, it was always going to be the same. Once the heavy hitters are released it's time to move on to another project and release those same big name characters in ever new and updated versions. Call it the fetishisation of Generation 1 and the seeming inability for companies and collectors alike to explore new and different ideas or just call it good business sense, one way or the other, you're never going to have that complete collection of Masterpiece styled bots. Of course in this instance "complete" depends on your personal definition. Complete might mean a certain core cast or sub-group of Transformers and not necessarily every single release or member of a team. But for those who seek to have a complete Season 1-2 cast of G1 Transformers, your time is running out and it might be Takara who decide when things change. I'm sure this will leave a large enough gap for a multitude of Third Party companies to step in and complete those missing figures but regardless of how much noise a group of collectors make, I doubt it would still be financially viable once a new Masterpiece styled line is fully underway, building off the back of seminal releases such as Inferno, Sunstreaker or the aforementioned Megatron. 

We have of course seen this before. As new lines roll out, new aesthetics take over and lines can remain incomplete. Generation 1 gave way to Beast Wars, which in turn gave way to Car Robots/RiD and so on and so forth. It's easier to accept when it's off the back of a cartoon. It feels more self contained and expected. Look to the Generations line though and see how with every iteration of that particular line, Classics, Universe 2.0 and Generations itself, the goal posts were ever changing and from one wave to the next we started to drift away from aesthetics laid down in the early waves. Again, this was probably easier to accept as a Generations shelf can accommodate a varying degree of different aesthetics and toy lines given the nature of the Transformers brand and the world it presents. 

Masterpiece on the other hand, the seemingly iconic representations of these characters? When that changes, it's more difficult to accept. I have written time and again about the diverging aesthetics of the line. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker encapsulate this perfectly and never was there a bigger red flag (or yellow in this case) that the line was going to change, restart, reboot, call it what you want, but the goal posts would be moved. Takara will usher in a whole new set of cartoon accurate MP toys and not just current moulds with ghastly blue windows but brand new versions of Sideswipe, Prowl, Starscream etc. It's bound to happen. It must happen. It's not in Takara's interest to allow us as collectors to finish up and complete a line. Sure, plenty of us will just find something else to collect but that might be a product from a different company altogether. Takara have captured the adult collector market as never before but with no other core product in their repertoire to keep those same adult collectors engaged, they'll just need to start all over again but in a new and interesting way. 

And on that grim note, keep it #Refined

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath