Friday, 13 July 2018

Repaints: Noble fanservice or lowly cash-grabs?

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Repaints are nothing new in the world of Transformers. Even in the halcyon Diaclone days there were a fair few releases of the same dude wearing different clothes. Hasbro, Takara and Third Party companies know the value of cranking out repaints; you just pour different coloured plastics into the mould and boom, a completely new character. It's something we accept and rarely question. 

With the last few lines from Hasbro leaning heavily into repaints and a number of repaints suddenly on the horizon from Fansproject, when, I ask you dear reader, does a repaint go from a smart reuse of a mould to an outright cash grab? I imagine it's in the timing....

The classic repaints from Hasbro, from G1 to Power of the Primes are often spread across a couple of years of releases. Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp do not all come out at the same time, being released over time, padding out future waves of toys whilst giving collectors the characters we want. Maybe the original release of such repaints were seen as a pure cash-grab but I wonder if many kids were savvy enough to clock this or even cared enough for it to matter. At this point in the franchise, we accept certain repaints are inevitable and welcome them with open arms. 

What about when a repaint is released years after the original? Or what about when it's an obscure character, meant only to facilitate a further usage of a mould? Is that just good business sense or is it maybe leaning too hard into greedy companies wanting to get the most bang for the buck, possibly at the expense of the customer's buying experience? 

Turning my attention to the world of Third Party, I can think of three key instances when 3P fell foul of some cash-grab repaints. 

Firstly, Unique Toys Mania King. Originally released in colours which definitely sang from the Galvatron hymn sheet, it was met with a fair amount of approval as a well sized and well designed Generations Galvatron (lack of wrist swivels notwithstanding). This was shortly followed buy a much more accurate, and might I say attractive colour scheme, all pointing towards a touch of greed on the part of Unique Toys or at least a touch of incompetency (I'm not sure which is worse). Had the two colours schemes reflected Galvatron's G1 toy-grey and cartoon-purple colour schemes then there would be a clear intent to provide collectors with two distinct options. Going from "vague Galvatron colour scheme" to "wow, this toy just stepped off the screen!" seems a bit of a bad move which left some collectors feeling a little swindled by Unique Toys. 

Secondly, Mastermind Mind Creations and their myriad repaints. On the whole, MMC are pretty clever with their repaints. The problem I feel is their remoulds. All too often the base figure straddles the fence between one character and another (or several) and in turn lacks enough identity to really own the character the toy is representing. Their Whirl is a little too much Obsidian going on and vice versa. When there is always a primary character the mould is released as (often the case for MMC), I'd rather see that have the bulk of the moulding dedicated to said character and the repaint as a bonus, rather than trying to cater to more than one character. The more we see of these repaints (albeit with some remoulding) the more it becomes clear how much their business model relies on repaints and that leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth. 

Thirdly, and finally, Fansproject. Of course I was going to finish up with my favourite company. Like a revenant, dragging it's ragged body along the floor, Fansproject have shown a spark of life and along with finally releasing a couple of long awaited moulds, have shown off some repaints of previous releases. Their Monstructor repaint of Dinoking was a nice surprise, especially as the word on the street was that this would never see the light of day (some parts were originally shown at conventions several years back). Images have also emerged for a Construction themed deco of their magnificent Steel core, a second repaint of that particular mould after their upcoming SDCC exclusive Severo repaint. I find it interesting that they are finally releasing more version of one of their most popular toys when at their peak, any further releases based on Steelcore didn't even seem to be in the pipeline.

While these will no doubt delight fans of Fansproject (myself included of course) I can't help but feel it's scraping the bottom of their creative barrel in a bid to make some of that dolla dolla. If this then results in a boost in production and new releases, then yeah, great, they're trying to get the ball rolling again. Sadly, I can see this as just their last salvo before finally going dark (again). 

Yes, I understand a company's primary goal is profit but there are still lines that should not be crossed or at least should be artfully navigated so as to not show this obvious intent to your customer base. We know these guys just want our money but it's nice to pretend they're actually interested in catering to our every whim and want. 

With that said, I'm off to buy these new repaints from Fansproject because I have no self control.....

Until next time, keep it #Refined.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Tapping A Different Source

- Ben Watson

Everyone has one Transformers line that they continually find themselves going back to. It needn't be a favourite or even one particularly expansive. Some kind of mystery element always comes back round to appeal to you again. For me, that line is the original 2001 Robots In Disguise. So what's it got that others don't? 

When I think of RID, I'm always brought back to a very specific point in time. While the line debuted in 2001, I ignored it for the most part of that year. My first line, Beast Wars was still very much in my mind and I couldn't help but view its most immediate successors as lacking. Beast Machines had come and gone in a flash, leaving me with only three of the line's smallest figures. RID appeared and just didn't look that good to me. The Autobot Brothers all looked fiddly and weird and - despite my holding on to Beast Wars - looked too much like Beast Wars figures trying to be cars. Vehicle modes? Autobots? Decepticons? It was all so different. At least the Predacons were there for some continuity...

Christmas 2001 narrowly scraped past to maintain my streak of Transformers under the tree thanks to the Spychanger pair of Ironhide and Mirage. Although I liked them, they held an odd spot in my toy collection. For all intents and purposes, transformable Hot Wheels cars, I proceeded to misplace their tiny tiny guns for the next fifteen years. While they weren't my first Autobots (now I knew what that face badge meant on my little red helicopter and ambulance guys that I was told were super old) as vehicles, they were still a minority in my Transformers lot. Even the name "Transformers" was something new to get used to. I really didn't know how I felt about it all, as some secret history seemed to open itself up and begin to connect dots that me and my mates were aware of through their older siblings' toys.

That all changed in the spring of 2002. Scant months before I tumbled down the yawning chasm of a rabbit hole that had Armada - Turn Back All Ye Who Enter Here signposted at its mouth, I found myself in a strange new toy shop. More of a warehouse for liquidated stock, it offered slightly old figures at discounted prices. It was a veritable Shangri-La. On one side a wall of nineties Spider-Man cartoon figures. On another, an already appreciable amount of Attack of The Clones toys. Tucked away in a corner, I found a Beast Wars Scorponok. But what drew me in, and ended up being what I walked out with, were the RID Decepticon Combiners. 

I had never before encountered the concept of Combiners in this sense. If I got them all (the odds of which felt shaky at the time) I could put them together into this "Ruination"? Surely he would be a behemoth! And that name! An engine of destruction, bristling with gunbarrels and formed from some of the coolest vehicles I could think of! A space shuttle? He was definitely coming home with me. And this army jeep, all dirtied up and packing a massive cannon? Yes please. But they were the only two I could get, so I silently bade the tank and helicopter to stay put - I'd surely be back for them - and walked away with my wondrous new loot. 

The reality however was to be disappointing. I never did go back for Armorhide and Ro-Tor and Mega Octane, the crucial center component was never even stocked there. Ruination would have to hang in the air like a military spectre of pure potential for years to come. But what about Rollbar and Movor? They were loved like little else. While I couldn't make them parts of their gestalt, I still found ways to "combine" them and separately, they represented so much fun. Not large toys, but not as small as the Spychangers, I could take them with me everywhere for an impromptu bit of space exploration or guerrilla warfare. Rollbar possibly has the distinction of being the first Transformer I ever took outside to place in a habitat that suited his alt-mode and honestly, if there's a memory I'm chasing with the continuation of this hobby, it's probably that one. A glorious day spent in the sun and the dirt of my new scrubby front garden as my mum went to work to make it more ours. That's it man. This stubby green bloke has a lot to answer for. 

But that's where my life with RID came to an end. I was opened up to vehicles and blocky robots and red versus purple but what came next was a fat yellow car and his tiny copter mate and the rest, as they say, is history. RID primed me for the explosion that was Armada. I often cite the beginning of the Unicron Trilogy as the most important line to me, but if it wasn't for RID, it wouldn't have meant half as much to me. My genesis of Autobots versus Decepticons, cars against army hardware, red grid packaging with the slick metallic logo, was Robots In Disguise

So if there's a reason I always find myself returning to it, it's that sense of an origin. My starting point of the Transformers status quo. I've never seen the cartoon, but RID as a toyline told such a different story to the Beast Era. To anyone else, it was a return to form, but to me, it was a brand new start and while my experience of those franchise norms was negligible, something of that established rightness definitely bled through to make the line so strong at a very basic concept level. Today it's easy to look back at it and realise it was just filler, put in place while Armada was finalised after the scrapping of TransTech, the proposed sequel to Beast Machines. But I think the line took on something of its own, even being mostly repaints and an odd collection of forms from the franchise's past; because it was mostly repaints and an odd collection of forms from the franchise's past. 

I've come to think RID represents my ideal state for Transformers. Disparate aesthetics and molds separated by decades come together to form a pure and simple distillation of the whole brand. It forms a backbone to how I curate my own collection. Yeah, the main focus is cool new vehicle guys, but there's nothing to say wacky beastformers and clunky old block boys don't have a place alongside them. It had an "anything goes" spirit that lines up with the whims of a kid and their toy box. As such, I can see myself coming back to it, time and time again, able to find something fresh from it until the day comes when I've amassed most of the small line's offerings. Thankfully, that day is currently hardly any closer than it was sixteen years ago. I frequently tap the nostalgia vein of Armada, but that deeper source that is RID, if managed properly could prove to be truly inexhaustible. 

And if it isn't I'll just keep buying Rollbars. 

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Friday, 8 June 2018

Studio Series Success?

 - Ben Watson

With the release of the Bumblebee movie trailer stirring a long dead well of positivity for a Transformers film, I felt it time to take a critical eye to the latest  - and by all rights greatest - offering of movie toys in the Studio Series. 

Celebrating a belated tenth anniversary for the live-action film series (some leaked documents suggest the line may have been intended for release last year as a way of properly marking the occasion), the Studio Series strives to delve into each corner of the continuity to provide all-new and improved figures for many of the most famous of the movie bots. Some having had no new full-scale figures since 2007. As such, for those of us not averse to plastic renditions of these designs, the line promises a smorgasbord of shiny new-old things. But is it really worth the price of admission? 

At the very least, the first of Mr Bay's efforts in the franchise holds a special place in my heart. I can successfully summon nostalgia for the summer of 2007 and thereby gain a much stronger connection to new toys of those first movie designs than pretty much all of Generations' wider G1 offerings. A properly massive toy of Blackout? Dream fulfillment. A version of '76 Camaro Bee that actually stays a car? Yes please. Another go at Jazz? I'll take it. In short, I'm here for at least half of the Studio Series and it's now become a mission to go after every figure bearing that metallic logo that was everywhere 11 years ago. 

But I didn't start out feeling this way about the line. I mean, Blackout was gonna have to be mine, but beyond him I was genuinely skeptical about its impact. Much of the line is either another unnecessary rendition of a character given countless toys already (Optimus, Ratchet) or first time figures for neglected non-entities (Crowbar, Stinger). I didn't feel I needed to really delve into this line and would be happy cherrypicking the couple of things I wish I'd had since I was 14. Factor in the ludicrous cost of each figure - a holdover from the even more ludicrous pricing from The Last Knight - along with the suspicion I'd not be seeing them in person, and I was ready to write off the Studio Series in favour of the stronger wealth of Power of The Primes. But what happened was quite the reverse.

First off, cost is still an issue, I'm not as liquid as I was this time last year. I will never stop chafing under the thought of spending Voyager money on a Deluxe but the reality is oil is going up and I've been paying nigh on £20 for Deluxes for years now. Price can be seen as the largest negative factor around this line especially when many of its figures are shockingly below average size for their pricepoint, but we'll get to that... I want to make it plain, yes these figures are expensive, but leave the talk of cost at the door because there's a lot more going on here. 

In lieu of Power of The Primes' now seemingly stunted offerings and abysmal distribution, I've very much hopped on to Studio Series as the Hot New Thing. I can visit a local store, pick up one more of the figures I'm after (admittedly just one at a time due to their cost but there's a positive to that) and have that real satisfaction of a new purchase without waiting for the postman. All this and I can get the hit of nostalgia Power of The Primes can't provide too. It's irritating to think in this way we've skipped all the lines between G1 and the Movie that would have done that trick a little better, but I've gotta take what I can get. man. I can't understate that nostalgic effect as after just getting Blackout I was rushing to dig out all my 07 guys and even go buy more. 

That being said, while the comparison game with the original movie figures is fun, there is a strange disconnect at work for me. Taking Blackout as an example, you've got a Leader figure of this guy who's only ever been a small Voyager. It works to current more complex levels of engineering, with the slightly less solid build that accompanies that. It... feels weird. Not bad at all but like, surreal. Is this what Geewunners feel at every new Generations release? Looking back, it's how I felt about Thrilling 30 Waspinator. While most of the time 2007 doesn't feel that long ago, this really reinforces that a decade of design progression has happened and honestly it's incredibly interesting to see.

While the line lacks a play pattern or gimmick beyond the card backdrops for each figure, it does employ something new to unify the selection as a collection. I mentioned how some figures are appallingly tiny for their price, well some are conversely way more massive than you would have expected from the box they come in. This shows the overarching design goal of screen accurate scale, and while I'm someone who can take the concept as negligible to my enjoyment of the figures, it's something worth pointing out. I'm not aware of any line that's ever gone to such lengths for the sake of scale. Sure, your bigger guys are usually Voyagers and Deluxes are the average but look at Animated Lugnut and Lockdown. Just putting individual characters into arbitrary size classes hasn't always worked. Here, it seems to be the main aim of the entire line. Jazz is smaller than Bee who's smaller than Ratchet but they're all Deluxes. Voyager Starscream stands as tall as Blackout who is dwarfed by fellow Leader Grimlock. While this is undoubtedly a risky move that provokes the largest argument against their high prices, this really feels like something innovative and revolutionary with great potential for employment in future lines. 

So far every figure I've picked up is without a doubt not just a huge improvement over their original (or even their last rendition) but definitely something that feels definitive. It's kind of sad to say, but they don't need to do another figure of Blackout now. Or old Camaro Bee, or Jazz or Ratchet, or tatless F-22 Starscream (cos you know I want that F-4 Bumblebee movie version bad). Studio Series has accomplished its brief. It is giving you the best figures of these designs. They may be small, they may be fiddly, or they may be enormous and perfectly solid, but what the designers (at Takara it seems?) have done is pay real attention to what works best for each character. Sure some are just reworkings of previous conversion schemes, but A) if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and B) this shows the team has picked up on which versions from the past were most well received to use as strong bases for even better versions. Once Studio Series is done, whether you like the idea or not, all of these designs can finally be put to bed. 

All in all, I'm really enjoying Studio Series despite the more bang for your buck nature of Power of The Primes. The line seems to pack in real quality along with that higher pricetag. It delivers on that semi high-end level that Generations is made for and feels like a real collector line even as the successor to The Last Knight's Premiere Edition which really didn't. I find myself really excited to see what comes next as Studio Series is confirmed to carry on into 2019 - the same cannot be said for Power of The Primes. Is this the power of nostalgia or am I just getting bored of endless G1 rehashing? I do want an Abominus, but I'll tell you what, if the rumours of a Voyager Bonecrusher are true, I'd gladly take that over a fistful of Terrorcons. 

Read an older article here

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Monday, 28 May 2018

Bin Your Boxes

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Space is always a concern for us collectors. Shelf space, cupboard space... mental space.
Recently I have been going through the process of making more of such space by selling toys, packing some away and generally taking control of my collection before it takes control of me. One of the biggest moves I have found which helps in this endeavour is binning my boxes and I encourage everyone to do the same.

Let's slow down, I'm not talking about binning all your boxes. Some are worth keeping, as pieces of design or in those rare cases, as real contributions to the value of a toy. Outside of vintage (G1, G2, maybe early Beast Wars at this point) or some exclusive/special releases, the value of a toy complete with packaging isn't substantially more than without these days. By and large, boxes don't add considerable value to a toy, regardless of how wonderful they might look. Even most Third Party toys can still hold their value loose as compared to a pre-owned boxed piece. Throw in the fact that many toys aren't appreciating in value these days at all and I find myself wondering, why are we keeping these boxes? Why do we insist on having mountains of packaging stored away, taking up more space than they're worth?

I can understand, that for some people it's part of the whole package; toy, box and corresponding paperwork are all part of the whole. I admit that when I started binning boxes there were more than a few moments of apprehension. There's a certain finality in the process. Once that boxed is binned, it's gone, the 'whole package' as it were is no longer complete. I can never again own this particular toy complete, with box. This wouldn't necessarily be about a future resale, the day in which I sell the bulk of my collection will be the day I'm done with this hobby and will therefore just want rid of them, no, this is that little bit of collector-mania that lies within us all and this I understand all too well. 

 I'll admit, the initial purge did sting a little but the pay off of seeing how much space I had created was more than worth those moments of doubt. 

So where did I start? Mainline toys have never been so lucky as to keep their packaging for more than a few seconds after tearing through the plastic prison to reach the treasure within. With that in mind, I had kept a few pieces of packaging from Takara's Henkei releases. Takara releases often make a bigger show and dance of their packaging as a sales pitch and even as a display piece, more than Hasbro have ever deemed necessary for Western releases since the halcyon days of Generation 1. Those were the first to go. It seemed silly to keep some card backed blister packaging for what amounted to a few deluxe and voyager toys. Yes they were a fun novelty to have from the point of view of a Western collector but they were run of the mill, general release products. Nothing inherently special outside of their original sales territory. Once I had started this packaging purge it became easier and easier to move onto the next set of boxes. Masterpiece were next to go, starting with the largest and most space-intensive. I had initially thought I'd just hold onto the smaller Autobot Cars boxes, no particular reason, just a sign that I wasn't ready to rid myself of it all in one go, but even they were eventually disposed of. 

It was only when I started to approach the majority of my Third Party toys' boxes that I gave myself pause. A lot of these were well designed, sturdy boxes, replete with display windows, fantastic artwork, magnetic seals and filled with a character of their own depending on which line they came from. I'm sure a small percentage of the retail cost of some toys has come from such luxuriant packaging, making them seem all the more 'valuable'. MMC's Reformatted boxes bring a level of cohesion to their releases by their aesthetic and particular numbering system but they are also famously huge for the toys contained within (less so these days, admittedly). The Function X boxes from Fansproject would make a great background display for their respective releases with their colour-coded boxes overlaid with fantastic technical drawing details. But did I have the cupboard or even shelf space to display them in such a way? No, of course not and there is little chance I would in the future so into the bin they went.

In a silly and possibly childish way, I found it easier to dispose of the more attractive boxes by damaging them in some way. 'Oh this corner has ripped? I guess I'll need to bin it now'. And of course, if one of my Function X boxes was now gone, then it was okay to get rid of the others as there was no point in only owning some of them. It's either all or none so I manufactured ways of taking a full set down to just a 'some' that I wouldn't want to keep hold of. 

This might all sound a bit mad but it's the sort of Doublethink I find myself indulging in for self justification in a number of areas. From buying to selling and now to binning, it helps to make me feel secure in my decisions. Nothing worse than binning or selling something then wanting it back next month because you regret your decision. With a bit of self-convincing, that's not the case. 

There are of course a few I'm still holding onto. The Fansproject Retro-future boxes are a marvel of design and very much part of the line's charm. The same goes for their Lost Exo Realm convention exclusive releases and all their Diaclone-esque glory. Those are likely to stay as I place real value in them as pieces of design and find them more pleasing than most other examples. There are also a few which hold too much emotional value to let go. Again, looking at Fansproject, the City Commander and first Crossfire boxes will stay, the former for being part of such an historic release, the latter being my first Third Party purchase (back in the dusty days of upgrades and add-ons). 

Beyond those narrow specifications of good design, emotional weight and possible real value (G1 exclusively for my current collection), everything goes. If there is ever the question of devaluing certain toys by ridding myself of their boxes, then it is quickly quelled by the knowledge I have still enjoyed them immensely and any money made off of future sales is just a bonus on top of that. When I have a brief moment of doubt as I look upon the mounds of cardboard and plastic headed for the [recycling, we hope!] bin, I focus on the relief and mental breathing space I feel over my myriad storage spaces slowly being emptied, cleared and unburdened as I feel the same towards my own strange relationship with material goods. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Fallen Kingdom

-Drew Merkel

The engines rumbled, and the mid-sized cargo plane jostled with each current of tropical air that pounded its wings. It was loud.

     “Are we there yet?” Bluestreak shouted over the noise for the fourteenth time.

     “NO!” Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, Bumblebee, and Tracks all shook their heads while pondering over their hands of oversized playing cards. Swipe returned to whistling “Poker Face.”

     “A few more hours.” Sunny eventually replied, hoping maybe this time Blue would relax and maybe let him think about what needed to happen once they landed at Isla Nublar. They had joined the Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG) because it was a good thing to do and an even better thing for publicity. Sunny was also pretty hyped to break out his oversized Australian bushman’s hat and start herding some of those “three horns”. There was more turbulence.

     “Okay that one was pretty bad,” Bee stated with a quiver in his voice. Sideswipe patted his shoulder, his metal fingertips making a tink tink sound.

     “It’s gonna be fine little guy” Swipe’s chiseled jaw was juxtaposed to his to warm smile. His smile faded as he checked the hand of cards Sunny had just finished dealing him. Bee flashed back with a crooked grin feeling slightly safer, remembering who he was with; Founders of Jet Judo, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker; Bluestreak, the best shot in all of Praxis; and Tracks, whose flying Corvette mode could save them all if the plane and/or parachutes failed. “Yes, safe as houses.” he thought. Then he thought about that phrase and how many houses he’d unintentionally demolished during the Great War... he shook off a cold chill.

     Tracks had worked his way from the porthole window to the front of the cargo hold where it met the cockpit. He sat on the floor and leaned his head back toward the pilot seat. “What’s the scoop, Kid?”

     “If the turbulence doesn’t knock us out of the sky the ash might” Raoul replied, tucking a lock of salt and pepper chin-length hair behind his ear.  “It’s as thick as a Prince bass line up ahead.” The years of riding around in Tracks’ flying car mode had prompted Raoul to learn to fly solo. He was now in his mid-forties with crow’s feet at his eyes, and despite this, he hadn’t lost his tough street kid charm.

     “You got this,” Tracks told his best friend, “and if for some reason you don’t have it, I’ve got you.”  He leaned back towards the cargo area to hear the conversation.

     The guys were talking about the song they were going to write about this trip when they all heard Raoul cry out.

    “Swoops!” Raoul shrieked. “Hundreds of them!”

     The pterodactyls dived territorially at the cargo plane. Raoul banked hard to try and miss them but it was no use. The engines were out and they were going down.

     “ABANDON SHIP!” Bluestreak yelled as he hit a big red button, causing the cargo bay door to explode away from the fuselage with a massive kaboom! He grabbed a nearby railing and motioned for the others to head his way. Sunny and Swipe did a quick fist bump, transformed into their Countach alt-modes, and burned rubber towards the gaping hole now in the back of the plane.

Bee somersaulted out of the plane like a gymnast.

Tracks waved Bluestreak on as he turned to help Raoul into the cargo bay. Blue stuck his thumb out of the hole pantomiming checking the air velocity. Then, turned his back to the exit, closed his eyes, and threw up a peace sign as he fell backwards like one does in a trust exercise.

“Baaaan Zaaaai!”


Tracks smiled at this and briefly pondered his jump cry. Then he immediately realized he had wings and facepalmed. He transformed into flying car mode, and just like so many years ago he said to Raoul, “Don’t just stand there slack jawed, get in!

   When Swipe came to, he was hanging from a large tree. Straight in front of him about 20 meters away, his twin Sunny was in exactly the same predicament.

     “I guess our cargo plane escaping needs a little work.” Sunny yelled across the distance.

     “Oh?” Swipe yelled back. “What makes you say that?” He winked. “Now the fun part...” he quipped.

     “Getting down.” Sunny hated what that meant; scratches, and maybe dings too.

     Swipe released the straps from his shoulders by pulling a cord. He fell, landing with a dull thud.  Before he could get up and dust off he saw Sunny riding Tracks like a surfboard. Swipe rolled his optics. “Sure, take the easy way out.”

     Tracks replied to this with distaste “Sure, easy for him. I get all his weight and all the scratches.”

     Now at ground level they could see Bee sitting, dazed by the hit he took from a similar tree dismount procedure. They ran to check on him.

     “Now we gotta find Blue.” Swipe looked up at the smoke and lava spewing to the south. “Before that gets worse.” He pointed.

     Bluestreak had come prepared. Foot thrusters, wings and a rocket pack transformed out of him as he plummeted toward the surface. Looking like a “Rocketeer” movie poster, he pulled his arms in tight to his chassis then blasted up and to the north to survey the side of the island they had been tasked to evacuate.

     “Bluestreak to Close Countach.” He spoke into his coms, “Do you read me?” Silence. “Well that’s just Prime.”

As the group entered the clearing, Sunny caught sight of Bluestreak, the grey and red blob flying around above them. “Look” he laughed as he pointed to the sky. He retrieved a flare gun from a storage compartment in his leg.

“No, you look!” Swipe replied pointing at the herd of Ankylosaurs. Sunny shot the flare, then stopped and helped Raoul up on to his shoulder so he could see the animals better.

“Amazing.” He said, the awe very evident in his voice. Bluestreak landed behind them.

“That’s not the most amazing thing.” Blue stated excitedly pointing to the landscape around them.

“Oh wow!” Bee said focusing his optics and studying the skyline.

“Wait, what?” Tracks said looking quite confused.

With a hand flourish and a slight bow, Blue mustered up his best announcer’s voice.

“Welcome, to Dinobot Island.”

Swipe’s eyes got all wide and crazy. “Wow.” He stated, then again, “wow, mind blown!” He made a hand motion of something leaving the side of his head then flickering and expanding.

“Tiny Explosion.” Sunny said dryly.

“No, think about the level of this coincidence.” Swipe was talking with his hands vigorously and was starting to look like the “Aliens” meme guy. “Jurassic Park was built off the bones of Dinobot Island.” Swipe scratched his chin.

Blue chimed in, “Which might even mean Mr. DNA lied to us. There was no dinosaur DNA in a mosquito trapped in amber, because, and let's face it, that was kind of far-fetched and...” Sunny, Tracks, Bee, and Raoul stopped walking and left Blue and Swipe to conspiratorially ramble.

Sunny turned to the others. “This gives me an idea for a plan B, should the evacuation go south. We’ll need a scientist. Somebody get me Perceptor, Wheeljack, Jocelyn Burrnell, or Rodney McKay on the phone.”

“You know he’s fictional, right?” Bee asked sarcastically.

“It’s hard to keep up.” Sunny chuckled.

Sunny and Swipe had planned for the rugged terrain. They raised their suspensions and added some rally car tires. They had found an old service road from the original park and were running a flock of Gallimimus toward the shoreline. Amplifying a T-Rex roar through Close Countach practice speakers mounted to their hoods had proven a bit too effective. After about a half-mile, the chasers had become the chased! The T-Rex appeared to be rather angry at having been tricked.

“I can’t tell...” Swipe mused

“Tell what?” Sunny asked.

“Does it want to eat us or marry us?” There were a few seconds of speechlessness as Sunny contemplated this thought.

“Drive Faster!” he yelled.

A few hours later the gang had rounded up a few herds of herbivores, an Allosaur, and a mother and baby T-Rex to the beach. Energon holding pens they had salvaged from the downed plane were keeping the animals from stampeding

Time was definitely running out. Between the increasingly volatile volcano and having to keep the INGen ships and helicopters at bay, there was no way to get an airlift. Seaspray had been on call for a “beachside pick-up,” but he’d been barraged at every entry to the port and simply couldn’t get to shore.

Sunny opened his wrist communicator. On the screen were Wheeljack and Neil Degrasse Tyson.

“I know it’s not ideal Neil but it’s our only option!” Wheeljack was loud, but not angry.

“I can’t be a party to it, Wheels. It’s crazy. What if sending them back causes hybrids that survive to modern times, wiping out the human race?” Tyson, on the other hand, did sound upset.

“Can you do it though?” Sunny asked impatiently.

“Well of course.” Wheeljack replied. Humility was never in his wheelhouse. That’s part of why Sunny liked him so much. On his screen, he could see Tyson leaving the room and hear Wheeljack call after him.

“We’re still on for lunch next week right Doc?... right, RIGHT?” No reply.

Bluestreak’s dead-on shooting was successful at holding back the INGen amphibious troop carriers and boats. But that wasn’t going to last much longer.

Swipe and Tracks were building a device while looking at instructions on an AutoPad, a massive iPad with an Autobot symbol on the back. A few adjustments and the team ran toward the forest to be out of the device’s reach.

Bee didn’t seem happy about any of this. “You know we are still sending them to their deaths, right?”

Sunny grimaced, “We are sending them back 50 or so years before the event. They’ll die of old age, not cosmic ash. I’m having to call it a win.”

“Not a big win,” Swipe added ”but still a win.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Bee conceded reluctantly.

On the com, Wheeljack’s voice broke the awkward silence.

“Initiating, logging destination”

“Dynotherms engaged,” Blue added.

“Initiating time circuits.” Swipe chimed in.

Wheeljack cleared his vocal processor “ahem” and continued “and 5 4 3 2 1.”

The earth shook and hurricane-like winds blew, but only for a few moments. Then the temporal anomaly that created Dinobot Island had replaced some of the creatures it had stolen from time 30 years ago.

Sunny looked around. “Um, guys where’s Bee?”

Attached to a branch, where Bee had been standing, was a note which read:

*Sorry Guys, I couldn’t do it. The risk to the animals. The risk to the timeline. If I don’t die back there, I’ll see you around?

Fantastic Beats and where to drop them -Bee *

“Whoah” Swipe exclaimed

“That’s heavy, Doc” Added Blue in his best Micheal J. Fox impression.

“Nothing to do now but fight off these INGen goons and find our Bee.” Sunny stated as if simply saying it aloud would make it so. They wouldn’t get the chance to fight INGen.

Trypticon rose from the ocean with a mighty roar. His emergence caused a massive Tsunami type wave which beached most of the boats and armored amphibious vehicles. Trypticon batted down helicopters and picked the blades off some like flower petals. When he finished his snack he turned toward the beach. Sunny, Swipe, Blue, and Tracks prepared to fight.

The massive reptilian robot transformed as he stepped onto the beach, his city mode taking up 90% of the real estate. His ramp opened and out came Bee! He had rust and some dents, walked with a limp, and had a hand carved walking stick.

The INGen security officers Trypticon had “eaten” also emerged from the massive city’s ramp.

“D’Ya’ miss me?” Bee exclaimed cheerfully.

Everyone was aghast and speechless, so Bee set about telling the rest of the story.

“I went back with the dinosaurs and then I rode the time quake thing back to 1984. Trypticon has lived here since 2006 on and off. He tried to kill me at first, but I finally convinced him that the Great War would end in 2011.”

“And you’ve been here all those years?” Raoul asked.

“Yep,” Bee replied, still cheerful. “I had to be sure that the dinosaurs would be okay as well as the timeline.”

The ground rumbled, and the volcano erupted again.

“We’ve got to go.” Sunny stated. “Also, nice work little buddy, you’re the best of all of us.” The team boarded Trypticon and he blasted off leaving Isla Dinobot Nublar behind for good.

You can follow Drew on Twitter @DrewciferxXx

Thursday, 10 May 2018

MP-42 Cordon: The Grail Cometh

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Message boards and Social Media are humming with the reveal of MP-42 Cordon aka, Police Sunstreaker and to use an expression often heard by the kids these days, I am shook. 

c. TFW2005

The relaunched Masterpiece line has always leaned heavily on Diaclone repaints of the Autobot cars, less so in recent years but for a time, it was definitely needed to fill in the time between new mould releases. Personally, I think some are a good partner to their parent mould, such as Tigertracks and Roadrage, others though, can entirely eclipse their pre-paint and stand head and shoulders above the rabble. Exhaust, Bluestreak and the gem that is Loudpedal are some of the best looking Masterpiece cars to date. While I still lament the lack of a Diaclone inspired black Ironhide, I am thrilled, absolutely over the moon to see that Takara is finally releasing a modern day take on the Diaclone Countach LP500S Patrol Car Type aka Police Sunstreaker. 

Of all the releases ever to appear under the extended banner of Diaclone/Transformers, this absolute marvel of a toy has sat atop my own personal collecting mountain. Back in the halcyon days of Universe 2.0 and the following Generations lines, I dearly hoped we would see some sort of repaint but alas, it was not to be. Then of course there was a spate of repaints shown off a few years ago, with the winners decided by fan vote. Among their ranks was indeed a Police Sunstreaker but again, it was not to be. 


Now, finally, after years of missed opportunities and the tantalizing release of Masterpiece Clampdown hinting at what might one day be, we are on the cusp of seeing a bona fide, genuine modern day Police Sunstreaker. Given the popular and highly successful focus on cartoon accuracy, I feel Diaclone repaints are the perfect opportunity to bring back to toy focused details, similar to what we have seen with MP Loudpedal and it appears this is exactly the route Takara have chosen. 

Details are still scant but from the one official image we have of MP Cordon, it is at least clear we are getting a new head sculpt and oh, by.the.Gods. It's gorgeous. Utterly wonderful. It fully encapsulates the style of the by-gone Hasui era where the focus was more on an iconic representation of the character, with a slant towards cartoon accuracy. 
The head on the current MP Sunstreaker looks great and is perfectly fitting for the current Masterpiece aesthetic but this is altogether more classic, car-robot inspired. Also, those red eyes just throw him right into the deep end of Diaclone repaints. Lovely. 

If this is all we see, it'll still be a winner in my books but while we're at it, I would love to see a G1 toy inspired missile hand, although given how the included rifle looks quite like said missiles, this seems unlikely. Also, I would love to see a return of a nice feature we saw with MP Loudpedal, Diaclone inspired stickers. Faction logos are all well and good but I also like to imagine these toys as Masterpiece Diaclone, free from any Hasbro mandated branding. Finally, from an engineering point of view, I'm keen to see how they work in the light bar. If it's just a partsforming piece I'll be a touch disappointed given the transformation wizardry already on display with the mould. 

One final note, completely at odds with my previous comment on faction logos, I wonder if we will just see a straight repaint, or maybe they'll add a dash of narrative. It's clear that this will be an Autobot but given how they handled Exhaust and Loudpedal, it would be interesting to see some options for a Decepticon logo instead, maybe as part of this magical sticker sheet I'm dreaming of. A Decepticon patrol car would be a nice parallel to the recently released MPM Barricade. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined

You can follow Dorian at:

Twitter @Vigadeath
Instagram @_Vigadeath

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

RRCo Review - POTP Optimus Prime

 - Ben Watson 

With a newly revealed Amazon exclusive Nemesis Prime coming from Power of The Primes, I felt it high time to finally throw the notes at the one figure that's been pushing my buttons more than any other in the line and... It's just another Optimus Prime...

Entering the Power of The Primes line in its first wave of Leader Class figures, (because what's a wave one without an Optimus?) Prime not only provides a suitably scaled Autobot leader to those looking for that sort of thing, he also figureheads the pricepoint's new gimmick. Your Leader money doesn't just get you a Big Optimus, but a not-exactly-small Orion Pax too! Behold the new "Evolution" feature! Arguably making more sense within the conceptual confines of the concurrent Rodimus Prime, this figure is at its core an illustration of a single story beat. That of the humble librarian/dock worker/cop Orion receiving the power of the Matrix, getting his swole on and stepping out of the subsequent light show as the most perfectly shaped G1 Optimus you've ever seen. But does all that work for the gimmick of a toy you'll be repeating ad infinitum? Hold on, things might get a bit meta in here today... 

Before attempting to begin untangling the very odd fictional knot this whole package represents, I can say I adore it. A perfectly sized, perfectly weighty, perfectly styled, perfectly articulated, perfect Optimus Prime. From the front. I won't try to make you think the faults this figure has impact on my love for it but in-keeping with the purpose of this exposition as a review, I will point them out. I couldn't care less that his arms are mostly grey, that his silver hands don't move or his back is a mess. The fact the alt mode is mostly a thin facade full of holes and bloated with extra robot mass is all up there with how his ankles are thin and his thighs are hollow. And there's stickers. Objectively, these are all glaring flaws that shout their presence at you from the screen no doubt. But in hand, it all melts away in the sheer radiance of the physicality of this figure. 

Apparently engineered by the designer of the original Star Saber(!), a certain pedigree of experience is instantly noticeable upon handling this Prime. It's sublimely efficient in everything it does, from range of motion in joints, to how each half transforms, to - especially - how the Prime mode comes together. This moment of (I hesitate to say "combination") completion screams "Star Saber". It veritably drips with the ink of that blueprint and somehow feels like an implementation of what the designer may have wanted to accomplish on that historic piece, but also all the refinements to his skills since that day. At its most basic, this figure is a smaller base form which curls up into a cuboid to be slotted into the chest of a larger body made from the surplus alt mode section. Sounds a bit Star Saber, no? 

While the action of pushing Optimus' pecs and head into place is supremely satisfying (a spring loaded catch secures the block in place, which is released by a switch on his backside), it's this motion that activates my over-analysis mode. Beyond a conceptual illustration of a single moment in the character's history rendered in a toyetic form, what's going on here? Are we meant to believe Optimus is just a super mode Orion regularly powers up into? Is this where the trailer disappeared to all along? Did we just never see Optimus' base form when he transformed like we never saw Ultra Magnus'? A very cool spin on the design to differentiate an nth Generations Optimus Prime quickly becomes a meta-textual minefield. 

It's much more easy to reconcile the fictional portrayal of this dynamic with Rodimus, because really, how long did Hot Rod stay that way? But when considering the cartoon play out of Orion's ultimate fate - a route I'm picking specifically based on the figure's incredibly Floro Dery Sunbow design look - every inch of him was rebuilt into Optimus Prime. Orion Pax essentially died, never to return. Yet here he is every time you want to make Optimus a truck. I dunno man, it's one of those things you can easily think too hard about and that's our modus operandi here at the Refined Robot Co. I'm trying to unpack my deeper confusion at this feature but really it's best to just sit back and enjoy playing with this figure because above all, it is fun in a way that makes me feel incredibly... serene. 

Punching straight to the heart of it, this is the only Optimus Prime I own with this particular set of iconic details. To me, it glows with the rightness of Don Figueroa's Dreamwave design. The only thing that comes close is MP-10, which I do own in the Year of The Horse version but y'know, it's gold and that... For a lot of people I can see this figure representing a kind of budget MP-10, a regular retail mass market Masterpiece Optimus. It's undeniable that it sings from the same hymn sheet as that figure but honestly, I think it improves upon its styling. That headsculpt is thrillingly perfect. The proportions are the exact kind of Action Hero fit. The fists, while immobile are sculpted in that power stance curl. Elbows and knees bend beyond ninety degrees. Ankles are afforded insane range to keep any pose stable. The whole figure feels more fluid than MP-10 or any of Hasui's recent designs. A hole in his back even allows the core of the Matrix to pipe light while in his chest! And that's just the Optimus mode. 

Disemboweling Prime leaves you with his entire body minus head and Matrix cavity and Orion in some kind of robot fetal position. It's this chunk that forms the truck's cab, eschewing giving Orion an alt mode we never actually saw in the cartoon. As a robot he is particularly toon smooth, bearing a look that  - quite honestly - I detest on screen. But here the robot feels really cool? Excellently articulated and full of presence he's certainly a hero robot. I especially love how his hip skirt pieces rotate with his hips rather than just folding upwards like on so many figures. A rote piece of Masterpiece level design we've seen many times that feels incredibly cumbersome in light of this piece of engineering. Overall, Orion Pax is a triumph simply due to the fact that by all rights, he should be one of the lamest Transformers figures ever, but he most certainly is not. 

All in all, Power of The Primes Optimus Prime feels like a truly definitive stab at the character in the Generations line-up. It may not make the killing strike but you've got to be made of stone to not have it draw blood. The most G1 feeling robot mode the line has ever produced at the perfect scale with a Matrix, an alt mode made up of cab and trailer and a bonus Orion Pax mode. Of course tiny points along the way allow Optimus to interact with the line's wider gimmickry but all this is truly negligible compared to the execution of the gimmick that sits at the core of this figure. Like some singularity it pulls you in past the event horizon where you could put it down and won't let you go. ...Or maybe this analogy would better suit the dark heart of the coming Nemesis repaint which I can already say without a shadow of a doubt will be one of the best mainline releases of the year. This Optimus is just... Prime. 

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23