What if Hasbro don’t release the Lamborghini Countach moulds as part of their Masterpiece Transformers line? What if Takara Tomy don’t do a second production run of either toy and instead move along to the other Autobot cars beyond Prowl, Streak and Smokescreen? Prices will continue to rise, that’s what. There’s not currently a whole lot of concrete evidence to suggest any of that will come to pass, but hypothetically, where does that leave a collector who now wants to jump on board the new Masterpiece train and catch up?
I found myself in this precise position, delayed on pulling the trigger for Lambor, Soundwave and Alert in the belief that I could just ignore them and they’d go away, then Takara showed off the Datsun Fairlady Z Masterpieces and my resolve cracked. What followed was a series of hastily placed pre-orders and some very painful catching up on the aforementioned three Masterpiece figures as they had sold out everywhere and were appreciating daily on the second-hand market. Others find themselves in this exact position right now, so if we take on the hypothetical scenario set out above, what does that mean for those who are now feeling the urge, but whose timing was not good?
The first thing one must decide is what kind of Masterpiece collector they want to be. If it’s just a case of experiencing one of each of the different moulds and skipping inevitable repaints, then sometimes there are easy and inexpensive options for those who missed the pre-order and in-stock windows at popular retailers. In the case of the now-soaring MP-11 Starscream design, collectors are able to pick up the Hasbro Toys ‘R’ Us exclusive Thundercracker repaint and the upcoming Acid Storm for almost half the second-hand price of a Takara Tomy MP-11 Coronation Starscream.
Those in the UK have had an opportunity also to buy the Hasbro TRU exclusive Optimus Prime, a Western release of Takara Tomy’s MP-10 Convoy, the figure at the start of the popular new character scale for the Masterpiece toys. This has been harder for many North American collectors as there have been reports of less-than-optimum distribution. So while there are options for those that have shied away from hefty import prices and soaring second-hand values for sold-out Takara figures, there’s no guarantee that Hasbro releases will fill the void (some dislike the tampos on Thundercracker, some care not for Acid Storm), and even if they are as good as Hasbro Masterpiece Optimus Prime, one has to be able to find the thing first.
Of course, for those who weren’t able to secure the massively popular MP-13 Soundwave from Takara Tomy, Hasbro have announced their own version of Masterpiece Soundwave (albeit with yellow G1 toy-accurate eyes) packed alongside all the 5 cassettes released so far by Takara Tomy, quite an attractive prospect of the best value pack ever, but again, there’s no guarantee these will be simple to find or easy to afford. It’s got to be better than $250 – $300 for the TT version with one cassette though, right?
And there’s no reason why folks can’t hope for another production run of Soundwaves from TT, but if it’s anything like the hush hush second run of MP-10s that were trickled out at the same time the Hasbro MP-10 was hitting stores and not announced due to fear of price comparison backlash, best jump at the Hasbro release just to make sure.
So going back to our hypothetical scenario of no Hasbro release or further production runs, if a collector wants to pick up the Masterpiece Lamborghini Countach mould, what are their choices? Well, Sideswipe could easily be considered prohibitively expensive on the second-hand market, so “pay up or shut up” is not always an option. For those who are happy just to experience the mould, there is MP-14 Alert which is cheaper than Lambor but has now started to slowly climb in price as it sells out online. A number of collectors have even expressed a greater appreciation for Alert’s design and aesthetics than Lambor’s plain (but oh so glorious) uniform red appearance.
To Alert’s credit, he’s not just a straightforward repaint, he has a different headsculpt and cartoon accurate collarbone pegs (like the G1 toy) and visible wheels on the shoulders, a clear departure from the moulding on Lambor in those particular areas. This cartoon accuracy is something I will come back to in a little bit, because it is very important in defining the only route available for a different type of Masterpiece collector who wants more than just to experience each mould in some way.
Before we wrap up the Lambo situation, collectors also still have the opportunity to pre-order the 2013 Tokyo Toy Show exclusive MP-12T “Tigertrack” at a decent price, who based on its previous iteration will probably be a yellow repaint of the MP-12 Lambor (Sideswipe) mould. Tigertrack is of course a homage to the original Japanese Diaclone yellow Countach LP500S (‘Yellow Sideswipe’), but there’s no guarantee that the Masterpiece version will just be a straight up yellow Countach where Lambor was red, look at how Takara Tomy added some extra spice to MP-11S Sunstorm. There’s also the issue of a lack of significance to some collectors when it comes to a yellow Sideswipe, unless they want to see it as Sunstreaker.
So, what of a different type of Masterpiece collector?
The new Masterpiece line offers another opportunity to collectors and lovers of G1 Transformers. Releases like MP-10 Convoy, MP-13 Soundwave, MP-12 Lambor and MP-14 Alert are highly cartoon accurate as well as being very faithful to the original G1 toys of Micro Change Series and Diaclone descent and the real-life alternate modes of the Autobot cars. This beautifully struck middle-ground between all those ideals, coupled with the seeming intention of the designers to expand the line to include lesser characters has created a true buzz around where this series is going. To quote from an interview with Takara Tomy designer Shogo Hasui (Thanks to TFW2005 staff for the translation):
“MP is the most prestigious series and it is often seen as the series for the main characters, but we released those sub-characters last year. They did not appear in the cartoon very often and may not make the top 10 popular character list, but their vehicle mode is Lamborghini Countach and I thought it might appeal to the generations that Super Cars were the craze in their childhood. For MPs, the most important precondition is the faithful re-creation of cartoon robot and alternate modes…rather than concentrating on each character and releasing them at high price range, it was decided to have a fuller lineup including sub-characters”.
I began to see where Takara Tomy were going with the new Masterpiece line quite late in the day, when the Datsun Fairlady Z trio were announced and then partially revealed, I couldn’t hold back any longer. The possibility of an up-to-date and complete line of G1 Autobot cars, More Than Meets The Eye and Series 2 cast recreated in the original aesthetic with modern technology was simply irresistible. Seeing the effort that the designers have gone to in order to give Alert (Red Alert) his cartoon-specific traits compared to Lambor (Sideswipe), including the Auto-Berserk blue flashes on his ears, I had absolutely no choice but to pick up the sold out figures as soon as possible, minimising the wallet damage due to increasing demand and seemingly dwindling supply. At the same time, I pre-ordered everything upcoming as well. It hurt financially, it hurt a lot, to the point where for the foreseeable future I am out of the vintage collecting game.
If this is specifically what appeals to you as well, as a collector, as a G1 and MTMTE enthusiast, as a staunch valuer of show accuracy, as a fan of faithfully recreated 1980s alternate modes, then really there is no other option but to get on board the train, and get on board yesterday.
Enormous thanks to Bryce Rutledge for his amazing photography of MP-11 Starscream, MP-13 Soundwave and his cassettes and TRU Hasbro Masterpiece Thundercracker.
All the best