Wednesday, 14 December 2016

We Need to Talk About Fansproject

- Dorian MacQuarrie

Once they were arguably the king of the Third Party (3P) scene but these days I doubt Fansproject even maintain a seat at court. Never one to follow the trend, they seem to have struggled through a transition period the past few years as the world of 3P moved away from the Classics scale (Generations, CHUG etc, use whichever at your discretion) and exploded with releases aimed at filling out your Masterpiece shelf.

In the beginning there was City Commander

The majority of 3P companies are currently engaged in an arms race for the biggest and best representations of the Generation 1 cast of Transformers characters but here we have Fansproject releasing Diaclone inspired robots and a combiner so obscure it required a TFwiki search on my part when the announcement of Ryu-Oh was first released. More power to them for giving consumers more options when it comes to our preferred plastic but when numerous companies were previewing their versions of Masterpiece Hoist and Trailbreaker earlier in the year, Fansproject were showing a teaser for their Axelerator inspired line of toys and they were certainly not MP scaled. And who outside of Euro G1.5 fans can summon their likenesses to the mind?

Clear progression from City Commander to Protector

If Masterpiece is currently the name of the game in the 3P scene and a company makes the decision to not jump on that particular bandwagon then it can seem as if said company is out of touch with the market and is falling behind, doomed to dwindle until they are but a footnote in the history of 3P toys alongside the likes of Impossible Toys and iGear. This it seems, is how a number of collectors view Fansproject, sticking to their guns and refusing to adapt to the changes that have dictated the focus of many 3P companies. 

Severo, keeping it Classics in 2016

Fansproject's fall from prominence isn't purely down to their fixation on obscure characters though. A focus on Masterpiece toys isn't necessary to remain popular, just look at the wildly successful War in Pocket line from DX9. What has tarnished their reputation are a number of questionable design choices and some outright manufacturing snafus. These include a lack of clarity between marketing and the final product (all versions of Severo released with a chromed chest rather than the option for matte gold), inconsistencies within the Lost Exo Realm line (a lack of wrist swivels across the board, securing shoulders on Cubrar but not Severo) and incorrect construction of their toys (Dinosan's combiner connectors are backwards, something very few people have even realised).

Ninja Insecticons, definitley not MP

A more recent offender comes in the form of Function X Browning II. Normally you would expect cross compatibility with headmaster toys, able to switch and swap heads and bodies, well not with this guy! The would-be-Gort doesn't fit into other bodies from the Function X line as the little head is too large. This is the sixth headmaster released by Fansproject with the previous five all successfully taking part in the exchange of heads so I have to does this happen!? And let us not forget the waist shattering flaw with Trianix Alpha, one which required replacement parts to be sent to consumers. Think of those poor souls experiencing a brand new toy only to have it snap in half during transformation. The nonconformist design ethos which marks Fansproject out from the crowd may be their undoing if they aren't able to regain and maintain their traditionally high levels of design and engineering.

Our would-be-Gort letting the side down

As a fan and as a supporter of Fansproject I feel duty bound to defend them wherever I can but that doesn't make me blind to their recent mistakes. These are not the growing pains of a fresh young company, hell, City Commander saw release eight years ago! For Fansproject to make such rookie mistakes is galling. These problems might not be so grievous in isolation but string them together and each one feels like another resounding nail in Fansproject's coffin.

Quadruple U, still relevant in the days of Titans Return?

Now to be fair, Fansproject did announce they were have some issues with their factory which may have held up releases and resulted in the myriad QC issues listed above but this doesn't change the fact that the Gods damned primogenitor of the Third Party scene is off their game. Maybe things are hunky dory at headquarters and they're actually following a master plan but Fansproject have never been one for open communication unlike say Mastermind Creations or Maketoys who are terrific at keeping consumers informed about future projects. With Fansproject you're likely to see some renders of upcoming releases shown off at a convention and then silence until the toy is finally released months years later. 

Sigma L, relevant or not, much better than TR Mindwipe

Look, I'm not crying doom, the sky is not falling but it takes a measure of faith to stick with a company who acts in this way and keep pouring your money into their insatiable gullet. Do I believe Fansproject will right the ship and get back to business? I hope so. It looks like they are back on track with regular releases, wrapping up their Lost Exo Realm and Ryu-Oh lines and the eventual completion of Function X is on the horizon. Maybe Fansproject will be able to kick off 2017 with some new exciting lines but if you want to go against the grain, especially in this Masterpiece dominated market, then you better have something pretty special. Maketoys have done this successfully with their tremendous Cross Dimension line. In fact Maketoys can be seen as what Fansproject may have become if they had balanced their own interests with that of the market, releasing toys in their own style but based on characters with a greater level of investment and likely returns. 

'I-can't-believe-it's-not-Maketoys' M3 aka Intimidator

For those who pay attention there are obvious connections between Fansproject and the early days of Maketoys but it's clear that at some point a designer (or team of designers) left Fansproject and started Maketoys, applying what they had learned but also aiming for a wider appealing product while maintaining their distinct style. 

Some may say that Fansproject have fallen behind but they were never about keeping up. At the beginning they may have seemed to have their finger on the pulse as City Commander and Defender were both releases that had a massive appeal to the Classics and Universe 2.0 collectors but it wasn't long before Fansproject showed their true intentions of releasing toys that were not intended to cash in on a popular trend or take part in the ongoing wars between 3P companies (Dinobots notwithstanding).

Defender, a primitive but pivotal release

Revolver had broad appeal but it had been an age since we saw a Roadbuster toy. Riftshot and Recoiler may have hinted at what was to come but the release of unique characters such as Steelcore and the Retro-Future Glacialord (a bold statement in itself) took things to the design space we now know Fansproject to inhabit, that of seemingly doing whatever the hell they want. 

The myth,the legend, Steelcore

I imagine Fansproject will continue their trend of releasing toys based on more niche and obscure characters if these upcoming Axelerators are anything to go by, but unless that is met with the design intensity and high quality construction they were once known for that won't be enough to keep them afloat.

Until next time, keep it #Refined. 

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath


  1. I find that Fans project's offerings are also filled with a lot of tiny flaws. I love Dinobots I have all the Planet X ones and the 4 so far released of FP and honestly by comparison their is a world of difference in their design, transformation and general look.

    To me I think FP has fallen simply due to them not being able to keep up with others due to stale design and engineering.


    1. I totally agree here..
      It's a shame because FP used to be the pinnacle, and every release of theirs was worth owning compared to the competition.. But times have changed and FP has rested on their laurels and I guess thought people couldn't out 3p them!