Once in a while, spin-offs can be enjoyed more than the source. I prefer Stargate Atlantis to SG1, Deep Space 9 to TNG, Spawn: The Undead to Spawn and Ketchup to tomatoes. In late 2005, when the main Transformers Binaltech line by Takara in Japan began to wane in popularity, just before it was placed on indefinite gardening leave, Takara had one more shot at re-inventing the line. This adventure was called Binaltech Asterisk and was a final hurrah for this line under Takara before they merged with Tomy and Binaltech tumbled down the priority list. Some of us remember this episode very fondly. Asterisk, not afterthought!
The Binaltech Asterisk series saw only three releases before it too faced the axe, and by analysing the changes made to the presentation and content of these three toys compared to the regular Binaltech releases, it was highly evident how much Takara were trying to catch the eye of prospective buyers and collectors. The toys were packaged in robot mode, moving away slightly from the image of die-cast collectible vehicles, and they included PVC figures with them that tied into their stories. The character choices seemed to be partially aimed at filling gaping holes in the Binaltech cast too, so let’s give the Asterisk series the attention Takara desperately craved for it.
~ BTA-01 Alert meets Ai ~
Much like the original Binaltech series, the first release to see the light of day under Binaltech Asterisk featured a Subaru Impreza. The character chosen to launch this sub-line was Alert (Red Alert), looking suspiciously like the BT Prowl much of the fandom were crying out for, but more on that later. The packaging for these Asterisk toys tells you a lot about just how wide Takara were casting their net. The front of the package showed the toy in robot mode and the PVC companion fully visible through the window. It also featured a prominent vehicle mode image of the toy in appropriate civilian surroundings – not unlike the updated Binaltech series packaging seen with BT-15 Prowl and BT-16 Skids.
Further to that, the rear of the box was reserved solely for supremely attractive full length character and companion artwork, once more partnered with vehicle mode photography and a reminder that these toys are made to an industry-standard collectible die-cast vehicle 1:24 scale. So you have an appeal to the Japanese anime enthusiast, an appeal to the Transformers fan, an appeal to the die-cast vehicle collector and an appeal to those swayed by visually spectacular packaging, artwork and presentation. The sides of the box feature even more exclusive artwork of the figure and his companion. With regards to re-invention, the move away from typical Binaltech series packaging (robot mode vs vehicle mode) is probably the most obvious signal of intent.
It’s beautiful, no question. Please don’t misunderstand my listing of ultimately unsuccessful strategy calls by Takara for this line as something to shake your head at, the Binaltech Asterisk toys are works of art in my opinion, from the outer box to the toy inside. The booklet that comes with the toy features the box back artwork and the Asterisk toys featured stunning collector’s cards in keeping with the other Binaltech toys up to BT-16. There were even extra PVC character limbs that allowed – in this case – Ai to be posed driving Alert in vehicle mode.
And so we must address the inevitable question as to why this toy did not end up as Prowl, seeing as it shares a mould with Streak and Smokescreen and it’s a police car. It is said that he was intended for Prowl, which ended up being an Integra Type R, which in turn was slated for Alert. But that’s clearly not how it worked out, this Alert is not even a Fire Chief. That a Subaru Impreza police car has been used at all is due to the fact that they actually exist in Japan with this deco. Impreza Fire Chiefs, not so much. Let’s also remind ourselves that Binaltech is not Generation 1 Transformers, those suffocating constraints of established character traits and vehicular forms have been stretched on a number of occasions already thus far.
Police schemes have always looked good on Autobot cars, virtually any mould can pull it off, and the Impreza is no exception. The problem with Asterisk Alert was that the mould had started to show signs of deterioration and the panels, doors and sections no longer fit together snugly in vehicle mode. As a result, there is no seamless look to the black stripe around the base, and the door lines appear to visually disrupt the flow of the black paint across the bottom of the car. You should also be able to see that the flap on the hood doesn’t sit flush against the rest of that section. I do however love how the gold Impreza WRX rims look slapped on the black and white police car. General detailing is still of a high level with the Japanese lettering, police lights, painted features, interior and magnetic-axle steering mechanism, plus of course the die cast metal content.
Here we can see Alert with his companion Ai (based on T-Ai from Car Robots/Robots in Disguise), an addition I can understand and live with, but not something that personally adds a jot of value to this figure for me. The value here is added by the striking beauty of this mould in hyper-contrasting black and white, dotted with a perfect amount of red. This gives Binaltech Asterisk Alert enough G1 Red Alert resemblance while not trying painfully to be his old self, but something new entirely. A G1 anime-accurate red head means that this was the absolute first incarnation of an Alert toy to actually feature a red head. It’s a repainted Streak sculpt, but it is easily the best feature of the entire toy.
In robot mode there are also signs of QC issues, the right shoulder on my BTA Alert is noticeably weak and cannot hold every pose, it tends to droop. This is particularly disappointing because apart from Smokescreen, I feel this is the nicest of the Binaltech Subaru decos. If I knew that someone out there had an issue-free Binaltech Asterisk Alert, I’d be onto them tomorrow with cash in hand. Issues aside, this was an eye-catching, striking and powerful way to launch this spin-off series. The mould degradation is almost symbolic of how Takara were literally clawing at everything, trying to hold a crumbling situation together and moving forward.
~ BTA-02 Sunstreaker meets Junko ~
Released simultaneously in September 2005 with BTA-01 Alert, BTA-02 Sunstreaker filled another chasm in the Binaltech Cybertron (Autobot) line-up. With BT-05 Dead End pinching the original body meant for Sunstreaker (both in the story and in the Binaltech release order), collectors and fans finally received a yellow Dodge Viper Competition Coupe to place alongside BT-02 Lambor, completing the Binaltech Autobot twins set. The presentation of the packaging, both front and back, is again superb and quite standout. The background shows a race circuit, once more placing the item’s accurate sports vehicle alternate mode in a real life context. The PVC race queen figure “Junko” is also there to be seen.
This was the first Viper to officially be released as Sunstreaker, with the Hasbro Alternators version sporting racing stripes hitting the market just shortly after. Sunstreaker is a powerful name in Transformers circles, a lot of collectors have an affinity for this character and its incarnations in various Transformers eras and lines, so Asterisk had a ‘big name’ on board to co-launch the series.
Collector’s card: present. Extra driving-mode PVC limbs and stand: present. Beautiful artwork on instruction booklet: present. Stripy display stand: present. Takara really could not have done a whole lot more to make these toys aesthetically pleasing when sitting on a shelf or packaged. I remember being quite excited for this release, Sunstreaker was always a core character for me despite low-level feature in the original G1 series, and his inclusion in Binaltech Asterisk brought a lot of gravitas to this short-lived adventure. Something about the way these Asterisk figures were created gave them a real deluxe feeling. They seemed far less basic than the regular Binaltech offerings.
Well you’re not going to miss it in a crowd of other toys, are you? As tremendous and ‘right’ as the Viper CC looks in yellow, you cannot but help feeling Binaltech Dead End kinda stole his thunder earlier in the series by rocking this sculpt in black, silver and gold so very well. That said, Sunstreaker had to happen, and unlike the Dead End-clone Alternators version with stripes (which actually looks quite sublime itself), Asterisk Sunstreaker is generally monochromatic throughout in vehicle mode. The silver skirts and detailing are a nice touch. Panel fit is not quite as flush as the earlier BT-05 Dead End, and the rear wing on mine has a vicious droop on the left side. Sadly, looking at old photos, I realise I have done this to the toy myself somehow as it was fine on purchase – but good news for QC!
There’s something about his paint job, it’s highly alluring and yet bordering on the plain…but it never quite qualifies as plain because there are just enough subtle painted details like the red Viper crest and silver skirts/lettering to break up that sea of yellow. It has an obvious sheen and gloss, something that the Alternators version certainly does not have. You might also have noticed that the rear section does not clip into the hole above the side exhaust as well as earlier iterations of the mould. So yes, there are issues creeping into the QC even with BTA-02.
Now, do you see any paint chips destroying its displayability? No, because there aren’t any. By this point we’d had 3 Binaltech Vipers and each of us who had followed the line closely had learned how to transform them without rubbing die cast panels together in a way that would cause chips. The whole Binaltech paint chipping issue has been so badly overblown by the community, let us not forget that some of the toys in this series are approaching 10 years of age, and they still display (in my collection, anyway) as beautifully and immaculately as they did the day they came out of their plastic bubbles. Go back through the articles in this series and view the pictures for proof, do NOT be put off buying die cast Binaltechs over Alternators for fear of leprous robots, it can and has been avoided by many. If you prefer the Alternators black stripes breaking up the yellow, that’s a different story, and I can understand that choice fully. In robot mode though, I feel there is no contest…
This is absolutely where I feel this toy is sold, specifically because of the way the paint application seems to cover every inch of the figure. From the face-framing black paint on the head to the yellow ankles, and only the tiniest, subtlest hint of red on the waist. There is a lack of grey plastic sections on the forearms and thighs as we have with Alternators Sunstreaker, and the upper arms are not red in the way that the Alternators Sunstreaker harks back to G1 Sunstreaker. I see no need for those red upper arms though, they were only red on the original G1 Sunstreaker because the red Diaclone Sunstreaker stickers were never altered, just carried over to the Transformers toy.
The PVC figure “Junko” who acts as Sunstreaker’s race driver comes with extra limbs that allow her to be seated in the cockpit and holding the steering wheel. She also comes with a small flat plastic piece to assist her in free-standing if her umbrella doesn’t do the trick well enough. It’s a novel inclusion in the set, but I am more than happy to see this as a straight-up Transformers toy with no need for further embellishment, BTA-02 Sunstreaker is very true to the spirit of Binaltech and it’s a meaningful character in the grand scheme of the series too. So far, Alert and Sunstreaker, both gorgeous, well-known Autobot car characters, and totally worthy of their inclusion. BTA-03 was equally worthy, but something rather different…
~ BTA-03 Broadblast meets Lumina ~
For the third – and ultimately final – Binaltech Asterisk toy, Takara released a silver repaint of BT-16 Skids as BTA-03 Broadblast in November 2005. Broad-what? Well, in Japan, the Autobot communications character “Blaster” was known as “Broadcast”, so this character appears to have an amalgamation of those two names. What had started out as a series filling in missing Autobot car characters from the main Binaltech line had suddenly taken a significant left turn and started exploring other prominent non-car characters, just as Binaltech had done with BT-10 Grimlock, BT-11 Ravage and BT-13 Laserwave. It may have been a signal of intent for just how experimental Takara were willing to be in order to draw attention and support for this excursion.
But, hold on a minute, are we really so sure that’s all there is to it? This toy is, after all, a silver Skids with a red robot head. Where have we seen that before? Takara’s line of 1980s Diaclone car robots featured a silver Honda City S, a mould that was re-tooled and released in blue who would eventually become the Generation 1 Autobot car “Skids”. The silver Diaclone Honda City is often referred to as “Silver Skids”, and even saw a reissue exclusive E-hobby release as “Crosscut”, so there is precedent for this character to be a silver Skids in recent Transformers history. We’d had a red and black version of the Tracks mould in Binaltech/Alternators, we’d later see a blue Bluestreak…so while this toy is obviously pitched as a Binaltech Blaster, there is some Diaclone homage in there too in my opinion.
Any hint of this being a Crosscut reference disappears when you see the head sculpt and shades of yellow around the neck area, but we’ll return to his robot mode soon enough. The colourful and attractive extras are still evident with BTA-03, and just serve to remind me how bitterly disappointed I was that the Asterisk line never made it past 3 releases. The sticker sheet that accompanies Broadblast features the same flames seen with BT-16 Skids, and the Japanese ‘new leaf’ learner driver stickers too, as well as some exclusive “TBN” yellow stickers too that the TFWiki postulates could stand for “Transformers Broadcast Network”. The holes on the instruction booklet make me wonder if they planned to release a folder or binder for these Asterisk toys had the series continued. Broadblast’s reporter partner “Lumina” comes with extra ‘driving’ limbs designed for display in vehicle mode.
Broadblast has one of the most subtle vehicle modes of all the Binaltech toys released, looking the most like a normal civilian road vehicle than any of his peers. That is a really nice quality to have when you consider how hard Takara were trying to have these releases scream out to consumers from the shelves with PVC figures, admittedly delightful and welcomed artwork and colourful cardboard. The licence plate is also a nice touch, “bRBL” making reference to the character name and also the fact that the vehicle is a Toyota bB. Despite the neat stickers available, I wouldn’t want to spoil its serene appearance with them.
The Toyota bB mould is quite the late-series gem, in both modes. There is great vehicle functionality in the steering and opening doors, hood and trunk, and he actually has a very nice fit in vehicle mode unlike BTA-01 and 02. With such great presentation and execution, and choice of redeco, things were looking positive for Asterisk until it was canned. Yes, there are slight differences in the silver shade between various panels but as a collector of vintage Transformers and Diaclone, this has never been something that has caused bother for me when it comes to displaying toys. To focus on that is to deny yourself the ability to appreciate what is a beautiful toy.
The robot mode for Broadblast is every bit as impressive as it was for Skids, if not moreso due to the superb choice of colours. The yellow shoulders mixed with what is probably the first cartoon-accurate style Blaster head sculpt we ever received cement this character’s identity, and that’s really some achievement considering how much silver is on show. Compared to the dark blue sections on Skids, Broadblast’s silver leg and shin sections really bring out the detail that has been sculpted into those parts so lovingly, giving a real feeling of mechanical bulk and machinery. Poseability is divine but the ankle joints struggle to hold up the weight of the die cast body the same way that BT-16 Skids’s ankles do.
Binaltech Asterisk is often considered to be the afterthought to the main Binaltech line, and the pre-cursor to the Kiss Players line thanks to the inclusion of PVC partners and seemingly standalone stories. Takara didn’t help erase this perception of it being an addendum to the main series by calling it “Asterisk”. But regardless of its chronological placement and name, I took an enormous amount of pleasure in owning and reviewing these Asterisk toys, BTA-01 to 03 standing head and shoulders above some of the regular Binaltech releases and all but Kiss Players Rodimus for me. It is true that what makes Asterisk stand out – the art, the PVCs, the different packaging – stands in contrast to the fact that all 3 toys were direct repaints. Well, if you’re going to do repaints, they don’t come better than Alert, Sunstreaker and Broadblast. Binaltech Asterisk deserves to be noticed, remembered, and it deserved to continue. With rumblings that BTA-04 would have been Black Convoy, surely a BTA-05 could have been an equally gloriously feature-laden Mirage, covering what Kiss Players did instead. Forget what went before and what came after, forget afterthought or pre-cursor, this is Asterisk. And it is brilliant.
All the best