I am discovering and re-discovering Transformers Animated at the same time. Discovering that the toy line expanded so far beyond the amazing deluxes, voyagers and leaders from my original flirtation with the toy line, and re-discovering repaints and toys I had long forgotten about, and re-living the enjoyment of experiencing new moulds from the line. It’s been a while since deluxes have been so impressive and such complete, uncompromising toys. When the sub-deluxe toys are as good as the Activators and legends, it’s no surprise that everything from there upwards impressed so much. A shame that not everyone feels the same way though, to this day discussions about Animated bring out intense loyalty in some and palpable repulsion in others.
First time around, I focused on main cast and regular show characters like the original 5 Autobots and the initial Decepticon crew. Jazz, Soundwave and a Bumblebee repaint made it into my collection as well before I jumped off the TF train in late 2008. Lockdown was one of the figures I skipped, both the original deluxe and all the repaints thereafter. Having only watched season 1 and part of 2 at that stage, Lockdown was just a plot point in one or two episodes, as was Swindle, so neither of those got bought.
Years passed, I met new collectors and thanks to budget constraints, started to accept that I could find plenty to write about in areas like Car Robots, Animated and later Generation 1 stuff as opposed to Diaclone, Masterpiece and 3rd Party. Inevitably the enthusiasm of my closest collecting colleagues rubbed off on me and I was forced to look into Animated again, a journey that has been as rewarding as it has been surprising. I was shown the error of my ways in ignoring figures like Blurr (covered last week) and Lockdown. The way Lockdown goes from a standard sized deluxe car into a voyager-sized robot is quite amazing. He’s a single small head shorter than Animated leader Megatron!
So if I skipped Lockdown, I barely noticed Blazing Lockdown – the repaint with the chainsaw instead of the hook accessory – and Stealth Lockdown, the mostly clear repaint released with two Legends figures. I’m all for clear toys, but I guess Lockdown’s odd hands and gangly appearance didn’t appeal. In-hand, he’s impossible to put down and both modes are total quality, everything I could ever want from a deluxe. The mixture of clear plastic sections, matte grey panels and green painted lines on Stealth Lockdown make him quite irresistible in person. Matrix Lockdown! It – along with expert UK community enabling – forced me to track down a regular deluxe Lockdown.
Amazingly, it was the initially dismissed Blazing Lockdown repaint that impressed me the most. I realise that most bought him purely to have the chainsaw accessory for show accuracy, and I bought him for a sense of completion and because the equivalent of $11 sealed cannot be scoffed at, but he’s stunning. A uniformly classy paint scheme, gold detailing, the best colour contrast of the three Lockdowns released and even regular Lockdown’s yellow hood/hook section fits on without any sort of colour clash, allowing for a fully weaponised bounty hunter. This is an exceptional deluxe class toy, expertly engineered to increase profoundly in mass and overcome his inexplicably odd lack of wrist articulation.
I was even more clueless about the fact that in 2011, Transformers Animated received the BotCon exclusive treatment. I can’t comment on the StuntiCon-Job set as I’ve neither seen them in the flesh nor owned any of them, but I did recently come into possession of the 2011 exclusive, G2-coloured Sideswipe toy, a repaint of Animated Rodimus – yet another mould I missed. Rodimus is one of the most talked about and revered deluxes of the Animated line along with Blurr, Prowl and Lockdown, so its discovery has been another feature of this sojourn for me. He’s supremely classy in G2 colours, and while initially I couldn’t understand the appeal of those terribly human legs and boots, ole Robin Hood here has won me over with a beautifully involved transformation, gorgeous vehicle mode, bow and arrow weaponry and a smashing top half in robot mode. Down the rabbit hole we go.
The exclusives didn’t stop at BotCon, in fact they were already well into that category with Takara releases of Wingblade Optimus Prime, Jetpack Bumblebee with the all new smaller Bumblebee deluxe, the black repaints of Prime, the exclusive Ramjet and Skywarp Activators, the gold Lucky Draw Prime and Megatron, the silver chromed Bumblebee deluxe , the voyager Blackout that never made it to mass release in the western world, and then more recently the Transformers Collector’s Club exclusive “Jackpot” repaint of Jazz and “Cheetor” revamp of Blurr. Frankly, if you want to get serious about Animated, there are a lot of very expensive and painful avenues to wander down. It just goes to show that even the cheapest and most available of Transformers toy lines has its rarities, exclusives, elusives and total bastard figures that will cost the Earth.
Speaking of exclusives, one that I simply couldn’t live without was the Japanese Tokyo Toy Show exclusive Elite Guard Prowl, the normal deluxe toy repainted white. White and gold has always made for a sexy robot, just ask Berserker Micromaster Sixwing. I was definitely disappointed to find out that none of the Elite Guard repaints of Prime, Prowl and Bumblebee ever actually featured in the cartoon, they were just hypothetical repaints based on where events were seemingly heading. Heck, I didn’t even know there was an Elite Guard Prime until 2 weeks ago, or that the Japanese Elite Guard Bumblebee had a mostly different paint scheme to the Hasbro version. Still, for someone like me who lives for repaints and recognisable toys in unusual colours, this is crack. My Transformers Animated show-inaccurate main cast is coming along nicely.
And who better to lead the show-inaccurate Elite Guard Autobots than the Roadbuster Ultra Magnus? I gushed on endlessly about this masterpiece of a leader class figure last week in his Takara standard colour scheme, but as I’m beginning to delve deeper into the wider Animated universe and non-show colours for popular characters, this inevitably came across my radar. I love it, it makes zero sense, it’s not actually Roadbuster, his head and waist flaps are not orange or green but it works. It works in a big way and seemingly, one can never have enough leader class Animated Magnuses (Magnii?). I can’t believe how many times I bypassed this figure in stores when I saw him because I wanted the show accurate versions. My how things change.
If Roadbuster Magnus is the repaint face of the Autobots, then Shadow Blade Megatron is the repaint Decepticon equivalent. My goodness this thing is beautiful in the flesh. Another pointless repaint I thought at the time, summarily ignored and dismissed as Hasbro milking collectors, kids and anyone who cared to continue buying Animated. There’s a reason this got released though, it completely blows the standard colour Megatron out of the water, although its irrelevance to the show is the elephant in the room. It really doesn’t matter when a Transformers toy looks quite this good, he’s as dark and imposing as any Megatron figure that’s ever been released. He’s actually scary. Discovering these repaints is bringing so much freshness to toy collecting for me currently, and every single one I don’t have is another beautiful Animated discovery waiting to be made.
It didn’t stop there. Freeway Jazz, Rescue Ratchet, both repaints of prominent show characters and based on the Michael Bay universe colours for the movie equivalents of Jazz and Ratchet. Rescue Ratchet was originally meant to be more green and movie-accurate, but the designers had to tone down the resemblance and use yellow instead of green to avoid the possibility of being stung having to pay royalties. I’m sure I remember the announcement of these repaints towards the tail end of my 2008 collecting spell and just laughing at how repaints were killing off Binaltech, Alternators and Animated – things that were once so fresh.
Going back now years later, knowing that the line’s finite life span is one of the tragedies of the history of the Transformers toy line, things like Freeway Jazz and Rescue Ratchet are precious, and every single Animated repaint is a treasured experience. These two toys are superb alongside other repaints like the Roadbuster Magnus, they’re a whole new team and bring even more poignancy to the unreleased Mudbuster Bulkhead and Vortex Blurr Animated figures.
Other unreleased figures that pain collectors to this day include deluxe Mercenary Swindle, Fugitive Waspinator, voyager Thundercracker, Toxic Oil Slick, Electromagnetic Activators Soundwave and Hasbro versions of Blackout and hydro-drive Bumblebee. I do wonder what the general consensus is towards repaints like Atomic Lugnut in lieu of the above mentioned unreleased schemes, especially when toys like Fugitive Waspinator and Thundercracker were actually in the show and arguably more significant than an Ironhide or a Blackout.
The tragedy is, if rumour is to be believed, that Transformers Animated figures were offered to North American retailers for release in 2014 (proposal initiated in early 2013) to coincide with the Animated cartoon re-runs being shown on the hub, but there was zero interest from retailers and the project never came to fruition. Allegedly, two main concepts were put forward, an ‘all star’ line up of show characters that focused on the best toys that represented the most prominent characters, and the other was a collector-oriented line that included most of the unreleased moulds and decos. The plans are rumoured to have only gotten as far as a few printouts showing possible figures, but no further. To this day we have only the few production sample Thundercrackers, Mudbuster Bulkheads, Hasbro Blackouts and Electromagnetic Soundwaves to show for what was coming when the line was cancelled.
A line up of nine Activators were also rumoured to have been proposed and offered to cheaper outlets like dollar stores, but that too was shot down before it could blossom into any sort of Animated revival. That seemingly was not to contain any unreleased figures though. All of those repaints I have shown above, and my appreciation for them now compared to when Animated was available, alive and everywhere, really put the unreleased stuff and future plans for season 4 of the animated show into perspective. Some say the legend of Animated is better served by having not continued, and some – myself included – would give anything to see it all revisited one day. I want my Animated Mirage, dammit.
All the best