Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Movie Masterpiece Barricade - Refined Review

- Ben Watson

Moving beyond the poster boys of Optimus and Bumblebee, the Movie Masterpiece line seems to be beginning to properly establish itself. With Ironhide on the way and our subject matter today, the line's first Decepticon, Barricade (if you don't count what is technically MPM-1, Takara's release of the 2010 Leader Starscream). So how does this bad cop go about his beat? 

Being one of the small roster of new characters chosen to grace the first live-action film, Barricade very quickly gained a kind of fan favourite status. What better way to represent and introduce the Decepticon philosophy than making the police car robot a bad guy? Something seemed to instantly click with his character. But somehow this didn't relate to him becoming a regular feature of subsequent media. Not appearing in Revenge of The Fallen, though apparently not shown to explicitly die in the first film so he could be brought back for it, it wasn't until Dark of the Moon that he popped up again in an unexpected cameo. Sitting out Age of Extinction and then making a semi-triumphant return in The Last Knight, replete with characterful new look, brings us to his standing in the present day. Ten years have yielded a total of two extra appearances for the character (No Animated walk-on? No Prime namedrop? Ok...) and yet even with those stats on the table, Barricade feels no less worthy of receiving the Masterpiece treatment. 

Widely regarded as one of the more iconic additions to the franchise made by the movies, Barricade - despite his lack of screen time - has never been far from the minds of fans. A strong contender for the 2007 focused MPM line then. Here his first appearance is as faithfully recreated in plastic (and metal!) as it's probably possible to be. His trollish proportions and appropriate layout of car parts are all here. Articulated claws end his very long arms of the law. The vehicle mode's actual wheels adorn his wrists. The front bumper of the car peels away and warps into his chest. Spikes fold out of his hips and feet. Even the lightbar on his back splits and angles out.

A great deal is done to break up and round out the shapes all previous Barricade figures have worked with which they - due to their mainline Deluxe (on average) price point limitations - never really did. The transformation of this figure is very involved to result in the look of this robot mode, but isn't anywhere near as complex as you might think. Following the general scheme of the original 2007 Deluxe, it's nowhere near as time consuming or frustrating as, say MPM Optimus' conversion. Using the greater size of the figure (something akin to a very large Voyager) parts which would have been fiddly and too small to manipulate, let alone engineer and mold properly are here given the ability to add that extra level of deformation to the robot mode.

However, care has been taken with the design to not break up the car mode too much. Seams are mostly kept to the "natural" panel edges of the car to result in a particularly clean alt mode. I say "mostly" because there is one particularly jarring scar running down each of the doors. Rather than work with the line created by the edge of each of the windows, which would result in more accurately shaped panels on the robot's arms, the seam is jagged and cuts into the body of the car. Why? Despite this singular flaw, Barricade's fully licensed Ford Saleen police cruiser mode is spot on. Featuring all the necessary decals, including his infamous "To punish and enslave" motto. This mode even goes so far as to sport an Oklahoma license plate and each of the headlights are actually painted pieces behind a clear front. 

While the alt mode is suitably imbued with malice and relatively perfect, to which degree the same could be said of the robot mode is up for debate. Yes, Barricade strikes the perfect monstrous figure when resting on his feet rather than his wheels, but isn't without his limitations. Firstly a waist swivel is present, but totally blocked by the folding and tabbing roof kibble that makes up his back (that has the gall to feature a stand port as if to say "yes this is his actual back, what were you thinking?"). Similarly, his wrists are fused. Admittedly, so much goes into make each of his hands in the transformation that I can't see how this could have been engineered to include a wrist joint, but the lack of one on a Masterpiece figure is certainly jarring. His large and expressive hands are left for you to try to make the most of using only his very high elbows and bicep swivels. 

Despite these slightly annoying hindrances, Barricade can still articulate with character. Even his mouth opens! Ratcheted shoulders, hips and double knees along with perfectly tight ankles allow him to hold many a menacing pose. The inclusion of diecast also adds to his stability. Found making the basis of his torso, including his radiator grille and in his feet (the soles of which are softer plastic for grip on flat surfaces) the material adds that suitably high-end heft to the figure. All this combined with the way the robot mode is made of relatively large pieces makes the figure feel rock solid. 

In terms of accessories, Barricade includes only one. The mace/rotor/spiked wheel/Dyson death machine that he extends from his arm in his only fight with Bumblebee in the first film. It certainly beats any previous weapon a Barricade figure has wielded just due to its screen accuracy but if this is what we got instead of a Frenzy minifigure... I know what I'd rather have. Still, the rotor itself spins and is of quite an appreciable size. However, it has nowhere to store in robot or vehicle mode when not attached to his half-untransformed arm and must adorn a clear display stand it comes attached to?! The instructions even tell you to keep it this way when not in use! While I can joke about something else replacing the weapon, it's clear as day that this stand piece didn't need to be included and can be chalked up as a complete waste of resources. ...Well I guess it did give me a laugh at least. 

So we've covered build, articulation, alt mode, weapon, detailing... What about the paint? This is my one real head scratching moment with this figure. Ok, the mace stand might have beaten it, but why does the figure feature this particular deco? Metallic blue abounds to add something for your retinas to latch onto beyond more black and white but surely it should be purple? Maybe I'm alone in this assumption, but when every other Barricade has had these sections painted purple (even the badge on the car's side) I have been lead to believe that's the colour they should be. Was I just not paying attention and he has in fact got blue highlights in the film? I can only assume "yes" is the answer to this as apparently the design team has worked with the actual renders from ILM used in the film when producing the MPM line. That doesn't make me think it's any less weird though. To me, this deco feels totally out of left field but I must admit, it works. 

MPM-5 Barricade then is a tour-de-force of excellent styling. Finally, after a decade we've received the most astoundingly accurate rendition of the character and while it isn't 100%, it instantly throws any previous contenders to its throne (looking at you Human Alliance) in overnight lockup/the big house/the klink. I'm left with the inescapable feeling that this is what movie figures should have been from day one. With no real budgetary constraints towards rendering the design as faithfully and as ingeniously (and as solidly!) as this, it really does have the air of a proper piece of movie memorabilia. Whatever your stance on that movie may be, this is the kind of product that has been missing from its merchandise for over a decade and for that reason alone, MPM Barricade is worth a recommendation. The real dues you have to give the figure however are many and its sheer presence gives me a lot of hope for the continuing Movie Masterpiece Series. To not think about adding this figure to your collection would be...criminal. 

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23

Read an older article here

Friday, 9 February 2018

Appealingly Weird: Beastformers

 - Dale Butcher

So, what exactly is a "weird beastformer?" To me a weird beastformer is a Transformer with a beast mode that looks really weird. Simple enough, right? 

Toys of this ilk were of course prevalent in the Beast Era. Granted, the Beast Era was a very weird time for Transformers in general, especially when it came to the Japanese incarnations of Beast Wars. Hasbro/Kenner and Takara were experimenting with all sorts of new ideas and concepts, so there's bound to be some weirdness born from that.

So why am I fond of them to the point of writing an article dedicated to them? Firstly, I'm partial to beastformers in general, since beast modes usually have more playability than vehicle modes. Secondly, I suppose I can identify with them in a way. They're strange, mostly unpopular, often far from the best, but lovable in their own odd ways. I'm flawed, and far from normal, but people like me for some reason. The fact that I can identify with these toys reinforces my point. I guess the last thing that appeals to me about weird beastformers is the fact that there's something inherently fun about toys that are unusual and daft, as opposed to your standard G1-based stuff. 

While the standard Transformers toys from Masterpiece, Generations, and the like are awesome, I sometimes feel they can seem a little boring in comparison to the likes of Injector, Tripredacus, and basically all of Beast Wars Neo.

In this article I will show off a few of my favourite weird beastformers, and discuss their unique appeal. 

Kicking off proceedings, we have Injector! Injector is arguably the most popular of the weird beastformers; he has a whole sub-fandom dedicated to him. It's easy to see why. He's so hideous and so unlike any other Transformer. Granted, that much is to be expected when your alt-mode is a combination of a lionfish and a hornet.

Most of the Fuzors, those extra special beastformers with an alt-mode comprised of several animals fused together, were unusual to say the least, but none were on Injector's level. Was making the whole fish portion Injector's head a good idea? Especially since it leaves the rest of his body looking rather spindly? Well, it certainly makes him unique. How many Transformers do you know that have a fish for a head? The icing on the ugly fish-bug cake is the fact that, according to his bio, he believes the complete opposite of himself.

Moving onto Japan's Beast Wars offerings, we have Moon from Beast Wars II. Moon is one of a handful of original moulds for the line, as it mostly consisted of repaints and remoulds of original Beast Wars figures. Moon's an oddity for a different set of reasons than Injector; he's unusually cute! His altmode especially, is adorable and looks like it came straight out of an anime (because it did). 

It's difficult to describe what Moon's alt-mode actually is though. I guess you could call it an alien, rabbit, dog, thing. I personally find it strange that such a unique Beast turns into a really basic robot mode. I think the most unique thing about Moon is the View Master gimmick. You look into a hole in his robot mode to see art and screen caps from the show. That's something I've only ever seen from this one figure.

The last figure I want to discuss is from Beast Wars Neo. Before I do, I should give a special mention to Beast Wars Neo as a whole as the line gave us some of the strangest toys in the franchise's history. For example, we have the likes of Break, Saberback, Cohrada, and Sling. 

So, without further ado, the figure I want to look at is none other than Longrack! His giraffe mode isn't up to much in terms of weirdness, but does have the unusual gimmick of moving his eyes by pushing in his tongue. Gross. 

Longrack's robot mode on the other hand, is something special. He has one arm that's the giraffe neck (with a spring-loaded extension gimmick), his legs are basically armoured giraffe legs with spurs, complete with missile launchers that the mighty Thew described as "back-mounted titty penises". Longrack is so unapologetically weird, and I love him for that.

Weird beastformers are quite divisive, because they tend to not to be the best of toys. For that reason, I can appreciate that they're not for everyone. I believe their appeal comes not from the quality of the figure, but the uniqueness of their design. They stand out in your collection, and are loaded with charm and personality. It all boils down to the fact that they are different; much more so than anything else that came before or after.

I suppose you may be wondering why I haven't discussed Beast Machines at all. That's because I have very little from that line. Even then, I have more Vehicons than Maximals. I do know it has some proper oddball bots though. I will however, give an honourable mention to BM Buzzsaw, who has a spring for an arm. I may do a follow up once I get some more BM Maximals.

As I mentioned before, the Beast Era seemed to have been an experimental period for Hasbro/Kenner and Takara. Sadly, we haven't seen Transformers like these since it came to a close. With shelves filled with movie toys and G1 updates and with RID 2015 giving way to Cyberverse, it's unlikely that we'll see such figures again. Speaking of RID 2015, it did bring us a few weird beast-themed Transformers, but none of them could hold a candle to the likes of Injector, Moon and Longrack. It seems that weird beastformers will remain a lost art.

As always, keep it #Refined (and weird).

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Fansproject Pinchar: The Changing Face of Lost Exo Realm

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Four years. Four bloody years. In 2014 Fansproject released Lost Exo Realm Columpio and officially entered the Dinobot war. Now, in 2018 we finally, finally have the fifth and final Dinobot (talking about the classic line up here) in the form of Pinchar and well... some things have changed. Be it a change in the design team, inconsistent aesthetic guidelines or just the product of a line changing over the years of release, there are several distinctions and differences throughout the LER toys, some minor, others a little more jarring to those with the eye for such details. 

Before I get into detailing these differences in design, I'll throw down a few words about Pinchar and Lepida - late to the party and wondering if there's any drink left over. To be fair to Fansproject, we could have had this toy earlier but the release of the two Dinogals Echara and Comera plus the internal issues which saw Fansproject sit out most of 2017 delayed this toy further and further. Was the wait worth it? Sort of. Maybe. 

Pinchar and his Soleron meleemaster partner, Lepida are fine, they're just, fine. Maybe it's the extended wait but I feel this toy's value lies more in the completion of my Fansproject Dinobots than in the toy itself. Sure it's a good toy, well made, well designed and looks great with the rest of the LER crew and that's just, fine. It doesn't do anything special or new that we haven't seen in the line already and there's nothing particularly smart about the transformation. There could have been a really nifty trick or two with the tail and the backpack it creates but instead we have a strange overhanging piece and overly protruding tail sections which admittedly, I actually like but even a cursory glance shows how a few improvements could have been made.

The delay in this toy's release hasn't come with any improvements in comparison to the various renders and test shots seen over the years. Now, I realise Pinchar's delay wasn't due to a need to refine the design but it still stings a little to have waited so long and gotten a solid B grade toy. To be quite honest my favourite and I'd say the best part of the set is Lepida, easily the best of all the Soleron partners released within the LER line. 

So Pinchar, he's fine, he's a swell bot who sure looks like Snarl. He's definitely a bot which will require a fair amount of time spent in hand to fully appreciate as his arrival was heralded more with a sigh of relief that this long journey is finally over. Even now after spending a fair amount of time taking pictures I've grown to accept him as my long lost Dinobot son and would possibly move my "fine" up to a "good, maybe great" with a bit more play time. 

Let's move on to these differences I mentioned in the beginning. I think most collectors would overlook what I'm about to detail and not for lack of attention but because individually, many of them are minor but as a collective whole it leaves me with an uncertainty as to what journey the design of the LER line went on. Eyes, thighs, paint apps, and Soleron integration. The differences across the line are varied and seem to imply there wasn't a standard set of design guidelines. Lastly, I will also detail something which throws even more questions my way, the mysterious three little dots. 


Starting with the eyes we have a veritable pick and mix of styles for both bot and dino modes. Clear red plastic for both modes? We got it. Oh you want the bot mode eyes painted? Sure we got that too, red or blue? Wait, you want painted eyes for the dino mode too? Sure, we can sort that for you! This might seem like nitpicking but honestly, it's a little maddening. And while we're on the subject of clear red plastic, Severo is covered in the stuff! Eyes, thighs, shoulders and more, it's everywhere! But here's the thing, outside of some dino heads, it never appears on any other LER release. What's the deal Fansproject!? 

Eyes are such a focal point for toys and if the aesthetic of a group is somewhat varied, consistency in head sculpts and paint apps can tie a lot of loose ends together. I'd understand if there were some character specific differences, maybe Snarl traditionally had red eyes vs the blue of the other dinobots so Pinchar gets the same treatment, fair enough. But why does Severo burst onto the scene with clear red plastic eyes with terrible light piping to ensure they just look dead and dull, adding to an already ill-defined face due to a lack of finish or paint apps. It leaves me scratching my head and wondering how a line such as LER is managed to ensure a consistent aesthetic in what should really be basic details. 


This might seem like an odd detail to point out but it was obvious as soon as pictures for Severo were released. The first three LER releases all have fairly rounded thighs with angular detailing. Severo on the other hand is sporting a pair of G1 special, blocky, squared off thighs, totally at odds with the already established aesthetic. Okay, maybe it was just a little detail to make Severo more akin to G1 Grimlock as he's the Dinobot poster boy. There were a few other incongruous details on Severo to back this up so it's an understandable shift in design. But wait, there's Pinchar sporting the same style of thighs as Severo. 

Clockwise from top right: Cubrar, Severo, Pinchar, Columpio

This is where I would wonder if there had indeed been some change in the design process, be it in the design team itself or just the aesthetic direction for the LER Dinobots. Basic elements which are not necessarily the focal point of a design have changed and while it could have been the lead designer changing things up, it's a frustrating change in details mid-way through a line. The changes put Severo and Pinchar at odds to the first three classic Dinobot homages on a detailing level and again, similar to the eyes, it might be nitpicking but it's something which is clear as day to me and all adds to a growing feeling of separation between the LER releases. 

Paint Apps

This one isn't as intrusive or visually disruptive as the previous two categories but once again it's Severo and Pinchar who are changing things up. From Severo's missing torso paint apps which feature on the rest of the line (yet were shown to be present in promo shots) to the random black detailing on Pinchar's Steggo-legs, there is again evidence of a lack of consistency in the LER line. This one is at least more easily sorted with the addition of a few paint apps on Severo if you're willing and if not, at least Pinchar's black detailing can be removed, bringing him more in line with previous releases. 


This is possibly the only beneficial change seen throughout the LER line. The design of the Soleron partners has gotten better and better with every release and Lepida, Pinchar's partner is by far the best. A pity that it took the last release to really nail these little guys. The issue is more in the interaction between the Solerons and their partners. Once again there is a divide with the first three releases when compared to Severo and Pinchar. In the first instance there are dedicated slots/tabs/ports to allow the Solerons to ride their partners in dino mode but this isn't the case with Severo and Pinchar. While I'm sure you could find some way to balance the accompanying Solerons on the back of Severo or Pinchar, there hasn't been any design time given over to accommodating an intentional saddle or set or foot holds. 

The Three Dots

Finally, there also remains the most intriguing detail, one which would go some way to suggest there was in fact no change in the LER designer and that any aesthetic changes were possibly just the bleed effect of other projects affecting the dinobot releases. The three little dots... 

Across at least four of the main LER Dinobots (only four as I can't find any on Volar) and even on DNA Design's Susanoo and some of the Fanshobby Monsterbots (a company with previous ties to Fansproject in some capacity) there exists a very specific set of three little dots. 

Clockwise from top right: Cubrar, Severo, Columpio, Pinchar

Top to bottom: Susanoo, Flypro, Megatooth

Initially it looked like a design detail and nothing more but when you account for the addition of those on toys such as Fanshobby Flypro and Megatooth, again, a company with ties to Fansproject, not to mention the similar aesthetic their Monsterbots have to the LER Dinoking set, it's definitely something worth noting. If I had to guess I would say it's a designer's signature of sorts given how frequent these little dots occur and the fact that they're sometimes sculpted onto areas of minor importance and detail. It could be a signature or maybe there's some Third Party Illuminati sending little messages out through a mysterious set of three dots. 

None of these changes are really too disruptive in isolation, maybe the eyes have the most affect, by itself, just be an odd quirk. Putting them altogether however shows a clear shift in either designers themselves or just a change in aesthetic preference and honestly, I find that quite annoying. It could be the perfectionist in me or just the pedantic ass-hat collector but these differences, seemingly without reason, drive me up the wall. 

There will of course be changes and improvements made to a line of toys which has taken so long to be released. For example Columpio has fixed wrists but releases afterwards added a rotational joint. This is the sort of improvement I'd expect to see (although frankly I would have expected Columpio to have a wrist swivel from the get-go). As previously mentioned, the Soleron partners improved with every release. 

This very well may be the exact sort of territory where I find some collectors not being fussed, maybe noticing these differences and moving on but for me personally? It's maddening. I can't escape it, I can't ignore it and every time I see the LER team lined up I'm reminded of the subtle yet intrusive differences among them. Of course the easiest way for my to quiet my pedantic mind is just to assume there was a change in designer, hence the delay and the differences but why oh why then wouldn't the new designer take heed of previous details to at least keep the line consistent? And you know, those three little dots!

I may be looking too deeply into things (probably) and it's possible I'm making mountains out of molehills (most definitely). Seeing the LER Dinobots finally completed is a wonder to behold and while they all have some design issues, they're fun toys with a great, (if maybe changing) aesthetic and I'm happy with my decision to go with Fansproject for my Dinobot needs (even if my first step was more of a push out the door by another collector). 

This is the sort of neuroticism that, in a twisted way, I love to indulge in when it comes to transforming robot toys. It isn't really fun if it isn't stressing you out.........

As always, keep it #Refined. 

Thank you to Anton and Richard for providing pictures for this article. You can follow them @Antronusnexus and @Bistoyeti

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath 

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Is It Too Early To Talk About TFNation?

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Image courtesy of TFNation

TFNation 2018 will be held from the 17th to the 19th August at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole. 

While it may be a little early to start with the convention articles, after all there is more than six months between now and that wondrous weekend, I feel it is at least worth discussing the ways of maintaining your engagement within the larger community of collectors. Ways of staying aboard the hype-train, patiently waiting for Adam White to come along in full conductor's gear to stamp your ticket but then realising you bought an off-peak ticket and it's now during peak hours so you're unsure whether you'll need to pay extra or if he'll give you a free pass (this analogy is heading towards an odd destination...).

When I went to my first ever convention in 2010, my interest was focused primarily on the dealer room. A chance to be surrounded by table after table of bots from all corners of the Transformers brand (and a fair few unofficial ones too). As the years went on though, I began to realise the full potential of the social aspect of conventions like Auto Assembly and of course TFNation. It became a case of come for the toys, stay for the people. Fast forward to today and with TFNation 2018 in our sights I am fully in for the social side of operations and the dealer room is now just a bonus. My how the tables have turned. 

For many people, TFNation will be the one time of the year to interact with like-minded individuals, for others there might be pub-meets, organised days like the Northern Meet or even just the luck of knowing a few local collectors but sadly, we can't all be so fortunate. Even if you are geographically compromised though, there are still plenty of ways to interact with others and feel part of the larger whole outside of the weekend we all know and love. 

Image courtesy of TFNation

The TFNation team have already dropped the bombshell of STAN FREAKIN' BUSH appearing, live, in concert at this year's convention and that's before tickets are even on sale! (3rd February, in case you didn't know). I can't recall such a massive announcement at such an early stage in previous years so it's clear the TFNation team are going in strong. The hype, as they say, is real. Such early excitement might leave many wishing they could just sleep away the six months til August but rather than keep your head in the pillows, your time and energy would be better spent engaging with those you already know within the community, making new friends and in general, strengthening the bonds that were forged in the bar or at the dealer room at a previous convention, pub-meet or an accidental meeting of hands as you both went to grab that last £15 Skyshadow from B&Ms. 

Even when I had started to better appreciate the social side of conventions, there was still very little for me outside of the convention experience itself. Once everything was done and dusted, I would go into a sort of hibernation mode, just waiting for next year's event and doing little to keep the fires of friendship so recently kindled alive. This all changed a few years ago when I started to take steps to actively engage with the people I had made friends with, be it online or in person at the bar or the dealer room. It might seem like a strange thing to actively pursue friendships but I wanted to make sure every convention experience would be filled to the brim with good times and a large part of that came down to taking a more pro-active approach to bringing various people together, mashing them into one larger group of people, some sort of friendship powered combiner. With social media playing such a large part of our lives, it's the first tool with which to connect with other collectors. No longer are we relegated to newsletters, zines and news groups, instead, with a few clicks you can launch a profile and start surfing the web in a bid to make new friends or at least find a suitable space to talk about whether Rumble really is the red one (and he is!!!). There is one very important point to all this social media malarkey though, it takes time and yes, it takes effort. You can follow dozens of people on Twitter and have a great feed to scroll through but to get the most out of the social media game you need to get involved. Comment, like, retweet, join in on the conversation! Don't just stand at the edges hoping to be noticed or get a word in (an all too common sight at conventions sadly) but actually maneuver yourself into the conversation and take part. Or you know, you could just buy the Winning Personality DLC for $10 from the online store, whatever floats your boat. 

If you're more of a Facebook kind of person then try searching for fan groups. I myself follow a number of groups, the TFNation official page of course, the TFYTC, Transformers and Such and many more. They offer a walled off space within the vast landscape of Facebook where you can discuss every geeky subject your heart desires and not run the risk of a workmate or family member shaming you for your hobbies. But again, if you want to get the most out of any of these platforms you must take part. Lurking can be fine for some but I've always found the best experience comes from taking part in the back and forth of a conversation, sharing ideas and most importantly, creating some fun memories which will make any time spent in person all the more fulfilling. This, I feel, is the real magic of engaging with people over social media, the ability to continue and maintain conversations through the year, ensuring that at an event such as TFNation, you are not meeting with those people you see once a year, but catching up with old friends who you were possibly just chatting to the night before.

It may seem really simple but time and again I've come across people who feel they aren't getting the full experience out of conventions or just the community aspect of the hobby in general and I often feel this is primarily due to a lack of active engagement. Just following loads of pages or people won't give you the full experience. You can't just sit and listen, you must also speak up and join in. 

By putting the time and energy into interacting, connecting, engaging, networking or whatever you want to call it, by doing it now you can enjoy the rising wave of excitement that leads to TFNation but also maintain that feeling after the convention. Post-convention blues are a real thing and the leading cause of disengagement among collectors. They hit some people hard and can lead to a miserable time post-convention. You've just spent this amazing weekend surrounded by all the things you enjoy and then BAM back to reality. The best way to soften that blow? Have a foundation of friends you can rely on to keep those dopamine hits coming when you're struggling to get back into a 'normal' routine. Whatever experiences and memories formed from attending the convention can be relived through the social circles developed over the months leading up to and following TFNation. 

If you are successful in cultivating and developing connections, friendships and a wider network of collectors, chances are you will find someone who lives within reasonable travelling distance. At this point, if you are able and willing, go meet up. Meet up in town, go round to their home, chill out in a safe environment where you can recreate a spark of the blazing inferno of activity that is something like TFNation. Do what you can to fill your day to day, week to week schedules with the hobby of collecting you enjoy so much. It's not supposed to be something kept within the boundaries of the internet and a weekend long convention but rather something you can indulge in any time and place you feel the need or the want to. While yes, it might not be best to start quizzing co-workers or class-mates on who the best Decepticon Seeker was (Thundercracker, obviously) you can at least have these sort of conversations with that fellow collector you know who just lives a short train or bus ride away. But once again, this has to be actively pursued, developed and engaged with. It might seem a daunting task at first but in the past few years of trying to do just this myself, I have expanded and developed my social circles enormously and now I'm often able to meet up with other collectors, go round and have long chats about toys, collecting or all manner of subjects for hours on end. The time and effort put in has paid off, the seeds I have sown have given me a bountiful harvest. 

And this leads me onto the final and possibly most difficult yet most enjoyable way of staying connected and engaged with the larger collecting community. The Meet Up. There are a few organised meet ups throughout the year associated with collector groups and Facebook pages and they're largely split geographically but unfortunately they are few and far between and unfortunately I'm not aware of anything in my neck of the woods. If you're able to attend one they can be a great way of meeting people who might not have otherwise attended previous conventions, further expanding your social circles. On the other end of the scale is the humble pub meet; just a few people, arranging an evening at a local pub with the express intent of indulging in a bit of hobby talk. And of course there's the tradition of bringing a few bots along for some group play (sounds a bit rude doesn't it?). 

The larger meets ups, if you are able to attend, go a good way to recreating that group feeling of a convention and do a lot to keep the community spirit alive. Often you'll see any such meets advertised through Facebook pages or other social media platforms. If there aren't any near you then maybe the next big step is to try and organise something yourself. It might seem like a monumental task but if successful, the feeling of achievement from bringing together individuals into a collective whole is wonderful. 

And there we have it, from social media, Facebook groups, meets ups to just knowing the local collectors, there are many ways to stay engaged with the collecting community outside of TFNation or any other sort of convention you might regularly attend. The key part is it takes time, energy and maybe a little effort to step outside of some comfort zones but the pay off can be immeasurable. Not only does it maintain the excitement and buzz of a convention but it also fills your days, weeks and months with a level of interaction which allows you to indulge in your hobbies when you might be otherwise limited by the social circles you are involved with offline. 

I've posted some links to a couple of Facebook groups below which I feel are a great place to start if you aren't already a member. 

Transformers Youtube Community

Transformers and Such 

TFNation official page

Until next time, keep it #Refined

You can follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath

Friday, 19 January 2018

Jurassic Renaissance

- Ben Watson

I've never been much of a fan of the Dinobots. In fiction they're either portrayed as a group of lumbering dimwits or 2edgy4me "badasses". Couple this with the fact I suspect I grew out of a childhood fascination with dinosaurs around the age of 9 and these iconic staples of Transformers history have never had much sway over me. But now, thanks to their latest incarnations I think that's about to change.

Having grown up with Beast Wars adjacent to the second Jurassic Park film, Young Ben loved some dinos and would happily reel off their names like some kind of cretaceous incantation. Back then T-Rexes were suave Machiavellian villains and Velociraptors, cunning warriors. However upon unearthing the Dinobots some years later left something to be desired. Here I was met with something that should by all rights be extremely cool - proper robot dinosaurs - but due to the toys' dated appearance and the group's lacking characterisation I think the best I could muster in response was "huh."

Subsequent reanimations for the team did equally little to stir my interest. I didn't pay attention to Animated at the time, never had any access to the early 2000's Dinobots subline and was made to groan and scratch my head at their apparently pivotal inclusion in Age of Extinction only to see them perform very little on the big screen. Of course at this point new dino figures in colourful imaginative forms flooded shelves and my personal saturation point was quickly reached. I can probably chart a solid 6 weeks of 2014 where I genuinely found appeal in the reinvented team and their perfectly fitting new members. Now though, I honestly think they'd be the first lot to go in a sales purge. Leave the movie lines to realistic vehicles, if I wanted some Digimon, I'd go buy them. But where does this leave the present day and the clear turnaround of thought that's making me write this article? 

After a brief moment of going "I actually really like this" when met with RID 2015's gold version of Grimlock I did stop and think equivalent figures of the other lads would be something I could go for. Of course, that never came to be and we were left with a single solitary big-name-from-previous-movie-hype-cash-in dino. But he was enough to open my eyes to the possibility of new G1 themed Dinobots being a bit of a hit. Roll on Power of The Primes' first wave providing as much dino content as the whole of Animated in one fell swoop (pardon the pun) and I became firmly fossilised in the notion of getting my hands on every dino the line would have to offer. 

Initial photography showed some wonkiness to the figures but when that's the sign of combinatorial sacrifices being made, I can certainly live with it. You may expect I was indifferent to the reveal of Volcanicus, the team's new combined form but this emergent behemoth may be a huge factor in the revived Dinobots' status as Actually Rather Good. 

I loved Combiner Wars' ethic of putting Special Teams and higher tier characters on the same footing by making them all gestalt ready and seeing the same being done with the Dinobots is a delight. Let's face it, most other five man teams in Transformers combine already, it's a no-brainer to add the dinos to that list and it adds a layer of fun to these figures that really makes them shine. That and the fact they're quite shiny. The uniform shade of gunmetal plastic for their bodies is spot on along with an applause worthy clear plastic over gold detailing effect. Hell, even the stickers on Grimlock add that necessary retro vibe to make him feel perfect. Somehow, where the G1 Dinobots always looked dated, the POTP Dinobots look both fresh and perfectly evocative of their iconic original selves. 

Excellent mechanical detail abounds in that modern crisp manner. Articulation and G1 proportions coexist. Headsculpts are more on-point than any predecessors. Paint jobs do everything they need to (unless you wanted Swoop to be red, sorry) but also much more than ever before. Now, the Dinobots don't just represent a uniform team with their shared colour schemes, but also the most visually cohesive combiner around - at least once Sludge and Snarl are released. In short, the POTP Dinobots seem to be a masterclass in updating G1 designs and they've totally won me over. 

I'll always value the qualities of a toy over the nuances of the character from fiction it represents every time (if indeed that character even appears in any fiction. Lookin' at you Slash). So with the sheer satisfaction these figures bring, I can totally overlook their 90% Furmanism By Volume personalities and for the first time also really appreciate the incredibly strong design the G1 - or Diaclone - originals represent. Thus the Dinobots have proven themselves to be the strongest slice of Power of The Primes so far and not only deliver a huge segment of the core of G1 that's been missing from updates for more than a decade, but a set of very fun new figures certainly worth your time. Even with the missed opportunity of Primemaster compatible Diacloney cockpits...

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23 

Read an earlier article here