- Dorian MacQuarrie
Recently Ben wrote about his thoughts on the Masterpiece line, largely revolving around just how special MP toys feel when you have whole shelves of them and some months ago I also wrote about the direction of the Masterpiece line and the focus on cartoon accuracy. It seems the line is going through yet another transition as Takara once again move the goal posts to keep the MP line fresh, taking it from the realms of a premium Transformers product, grounded in the expectations of that particular brand, to something much more akin with 'adult collectable' lines such as Soul of Chogokin, SH Figuarts and the like.
From it's relaunch with MP-10, Masterpiece toys were fairly priced, above mainline pricing sure, but still a reasonable purchase for your average collector. With the Hasui cars floating around the same price as a Leader class toy it was probably more a question of bang for your perceived buck than if one could afford an MP toy or not. I say perceived as even now collectors tend to assess price based on size first and other factors such as engineering and accessories later. What amounted to a more complex Voyager toy for around $60 can seem like a poor deal for some people. Regardless of the perception of cost vs content, most MP toys felt quite affordable and even MP 10 could still be achieved with a little saving and forethought. Today, that is definitely no longer the case. What MP Shockwave and Inferno started, Megatron, the upcoming Sunstreaker and the recently revealed Dinobot have continued. Price is going up and up, well beyond what the size of the toys would indicate, a poor measure to judge a toy as just mentioned but still an initial reaction for most collectors. When compared to their Third Party counterparts, Takara are now the more expensive option, an interesting flip on the previous narrative of 3P vs Official.
The increase in price does not come without a boon though, we have seen a dramatic increase in accessories, parts count, paint and quality of transformation. MP Prowl came with his gun and maybe missile launchers if you ordered from certain retailers and that's it. MP Inferno on the other hand has alternate heads, faces, alt mode parts, episode specific accessories and more. Whether you think these are worth your time or not doesn't change the fact that the higher price does get you more. While Takara are still yet to achieve the perfect paint job which can survive the transformation process, the finish these recent MP toys have is absolutely gorgeous. I never knew I wanted paint on my toys beyond a few details until I opened up MP Inferno and realised just how much difference a well done, vibrant and glossy finish makes. By comparison the early MP releases feel and look far more toy like, expensive toys sure but still toys - a coat of paint with an attractive finish elevates these releases to a much more 'adult collectable' niche. With the ever rising amounts of 3PMP which are themselves often seen as 'adult collectables', it seems that Takara are taking the Masterpiece line in a new direction no Third Party company has yet to successfully compete on: high levels of paint, parts and truly jaw dropping transformations, complete with that 'Masterpiece Moment'.
What exactly makes something an 'adult collectable' is up for debate, and it's not one I'll be taking part in today but what we can do is look at other toy lines, purely aimed at adult collectors with the extra spending power often associated. From the more run of the mill SH Figuarts and Figma toys to the top tier Soul of Chogokin and frankly ludicrous Macross releases from Yamato, there is plenty on offer for the discerning collector who wants the best. The best build, the best paint, the best accessories, the best toys. Until recently Masterpiece Transformers were not considered to be in this bracket. They were high end toys but only relative to the mainlines produced by Hasbro and Takara and certainly not 'adult collectables' the likes of which I previously mentioned. The most high flying MP collector, Third Party or otherwise could be considered chump change to those who would have a set of Yamato Valkyries. Takara are taking the MP line into new territory, to a place where $200+ is a common price point and not necessarily because it's a 12" transforming robot full of die-cast but rather because it's an 8", full plastic toy with an advanced transformation, requiring far more parts than what we have seen before and of course, covered in luscious paint applications. I have seen enough gnashing of teeth across the internet to know this is uncomfortable for a lot of collectors and it certainly has me putting more thought into future purchases but I do not see this as a bad decision.
To echo Ben's thoughts from his previous article, the MP line was at risk of being normalised, of becoming a mainline-plus of sorts for those who had the money to drop on what would amount to a $60 Voyager but with this new direction from Takara it has once again been elevated to the pinnacle of modern Transformers collecting and each purchase feels like a big deal, like it's something special. When I finally get my hands on MP Sunstreaker it won't just be another Autobot car, it will be a wondrous experience with what I hope is an inventive transformation and a lush presentation and that the higher price of nearly double that of his brother Sideswipe comes with all the advances and innovations Takara have developed since the release of the red Lambo.
Of course, all these advances, add ons and developments come at that extra price which has divided many collectors and when MP Dinobot will cost the same as Fanstoys Jetfire, you have to wonder if maybe someone at the pricing department made a mistake. From preview pictures we can already determine just how complex Dinobot is going to be to achieve that incredible bot mode and again, the toy will be covered in paint for the purpose of screen accuracy. This all costs money and you don't get better toys for the same price as their predecessors, be it due to time spent in further development or just more resources (tooling, build time, paint applications) put into the construction process. I imagine some people would rather pay less and get less overall, that extra faces and odd accessories which drive up the cost could happily be cast aside if it meant a reduction in price. Honestly, I'm one of them and I'd rather MP Inferno was a little cheaper and not come with all those damned accessories, you know "from that one time in that one episode". But it must be said that the developments we have seen in transformation, finish and presentation speak for themselves and have successfully drawn me right back into the Masterpiece line when in fact I felt my interest was waning due to the shift in aesthetic.
I do not think this change in the Masterpiece line is due to Third Party releases, rather I think it's just the natural evolution of a toyline that's pushing nearly a decade in it's current incarnation. I cannot say how much of a problem Hasbro and Takara view theThird Party scene but it does seem that rather than continue to produce a product which will invariably be aped by a range of companies, they are changing the scene altogether. They themselves will set the standard, they will decide what constitutes as a 'Masterpiece Transformer' and leave the Third Party scene to follow suit. This could invalidate some previous purchases as your earlier Autobot Cars look out of place next to the upcoming Sunstreaker but I doubt Hasbro and Takara would lose any sleep over the matter. It probably just means we'll be seeing a new, even more toon focused MP Prime in a few years to better match Megatron.
And on that note, keep it #Refined.
Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath