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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