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

Friday, 23 February 2018

Community Commentary: All Are One

Hello world, I’m Becka. I’m 28 years young, I’m British, and I’ve been a Transformers fan since 2009 when I watched the first Michael Bay film on an impulse-purchased DVD when I was bored one weekend. Since that time I’ve spent a lot of money on toys and a lot of hours on media, but more importantly I’m here today to tell you why...

...Transformers is the best fandom on the planet.

It’s a bold statement, and considering you’re reading this on a Transformers-centric website then I’m not really expecting you to disagree with me. But as someone who has been heavily engaged with various fandoms since she was 13 on LiveJournal (ah, those halcyon days of designing custom mood themes, good times) I feel that it’s an argument I’m qualified to make, and damn it, this is my article to make it in.

Okay, so let’s dispense with the obvious: we’ve got our fair share of prejudiced people, as evidenced whenever a new female character is unveiled (a female gestalt?? it will never work) or there are more robots canoodling than usual in the current IDW run (gay robots?? preposterous) or the franchise is rebooted (why isn’t this exactly like 1984?? mah childhood!). But the same is true of any group, and if you’re looking for Transformers-centric criticism then you’ll be pleased to discover that our main gripes are whether robots based on animals are realistic, or the colour of a certain cassette tape character, or whether a robot with bunny ears evolved from an insect robot or a purple and black plane robot. Or whether the car with the flame decals was implicit in the murder of the robot messiah.

Truly, these are questions for the ages.

The real beauty of Transformers is that it has many forms and has been going for so long that it’s picked up a pretty diverse group of fans. You’ve got the original Geewunners, you’ve got your Munkky types, you’ve got your anything goes peeps, you’ve got your comics fans, you’ve got your moviegoers, you’ve got your fans who will watch anything that isn’t the comics, you’ve got your diehard collectors, you’ve got your pure Rescue Bots crew, you’ve got your Japanese-fiction-only club – it’s a right plethora, and quite unique on this side of the pond. The only comparable fandom I can think of is Super Sentai with its nine million series and crossovers, but even then I’d argue that Transformers is different because of its total lack of continuity. You can like Transformers: Prime without acknowledging Robots In Disguise (2015), and you can read More than Meets the Eye/Lost Light without having touched any IDW stuff that preceded it. Even in Hasbro’s “Aligned Continuity” there is a complete lack of any sort of sensible consensus.

Transformers as a whole is like a box of Celebrations: there’s something for everyone to love - even the Bountys. (Look, someone out there must like Kiss Players. There are TFWiki articles about it!)

So how does this translate to Transformers being the best fandom?

There are two reasons.

The first is that it’s our differences that keep us the tight community that we are. Last year I attended TF Nation for the first time and was blown away by the spirit of sharing, not shaming. People were so eager to tell you all about their love for something that it didn’t matter to them if you hadn’t read or watched it, and I came away with a list of new things to try. There was no sniffy hand-waving of Bayformer fans, there was no G1 elitism, there were no fisticuffs over my “The GoBots Were Better” teeshirt . It’s easy to forget in the internet age that people who hide behind avatars on social media platforms or forums aren’t who they are in the flesh, and that in mixed company opinions are spoken, not argued.

And the second, more vital factor are the toys - the reason the franchise even exists in the first place. A guest on the recent “The Toys That Made Us” Netflix show theorised that people collect physical manifestations of the intangible thing they love, and that is certainly true of Transformers. Visiting the bar at TF Nation and seeing a sea of people from all ages and backgrounds playing - sorry, fiddling and examining - with the toys they had just bought in the Dealer Room was a unifying experience. But more than that, the figures are an excellent fallback for our community: if two fans can’t agree on the lore, they can at least bond over their shared love of the plastic crack we’re all here for.

To conclude I want to call on our lord and saviour Optimus Prime, and arguably his best known quote from all of the franchises. Whenever he declares “Till All Are One”, he’s not saying we all have to be one homogeneous unit of fans who all think the same and like the same things. Heck, Hasbro wouldn’t survive if we all blindly adored one particular character/continuity to the exclusion of others! What I believe Optimus meant is a coming together of all types of folks working towards a common goal, and that’s what the Transformers community does. We may sometimes not see eye-to-eye on things, but for the most part we share our love of little plastic robots with people from all different walks of life from all around the world, and it’s that love that brings us together each year at conventions like TF Nation to meet old friends and make new ones.

And I for one am glad to have met you all, no matter how fleetingly.

You can follow Becka on Twitter @tainkirrahe

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