He finally arrived, on the very final day of 2013 for me having been pre-ordered in March of the same year. Delayed beyond his Masterpiece Datsun stablemates on account of his re-tooled shoulder design and for reasons of recreational Takara Tomy fan torture, MP-19 Masterpiece Smokescreen has landed to a tremendously mixed reception. MP-17 Prowl and MP-18 Streak set the bar immeasurably high for this mould in quick succession over a short period of time, so Smokescreen had to be exceptional to justify lasting awe and effect. Was he?
It would have been an almighty achievement for MP-19 Smokescreen to overshadow the release of Prowl and Streak, such was their allure, magnificent presentation and execution by Takara Tomy. But if anyone could stand out even more, it would surely be the unbelievably attractive Autobot Diversionary Tactician “Smokescreen” with his timeless red, white and blue colour scheme, echoing the 1982 Electramotive Datsun 280ZX Turbo #38 from the Fuji 6 hour, piloted by Don Devendorf and Tony Adamowicz.
Well there’s not a lot wrong with the vehicle mode! Front splitter, rear wing, sponsorship decals, T-Bar roof, mirrors, a brilliantly faithful reproduction of the original Electramotive racer brought to life as a Masterpiece Transformer! Or wait, is it a spot-on homage to the original G1 or Diaclone toy? Nope, not quite, so it must be an animation accurate model. How about none of the above?
We can see it’s not a precise rendition of the Fuji 1982 model – the only one to sport #38 instead of the more common #83 – as the photographs above show the racecar had no external mirrors, no T-Bar roof, flared rear wheel-arches and intake and slightly different air vents on the hood. Understandably Takara Tomy could not be expected to include all the original sponsorship logos like “Valvoline”, “Bosch”, “Electramotive”, “BM”, “Goodyear” and so on, but I was surprised at the omission of “Datsun” and “Nissan”, could we have had those for stickers?
However, cartoon Smokescreen and G1 Transformers Smokescreen never had those labels, so why should the Masterpiece? I must admit I am disappointed that they left the Streak/Prowl mould details like the T-Bar roof and mirrors on Smokescreen. I’m no whining fanboy though, I can justify the lack of alteration of such details from an economic and grand-scheme-of-things standpoint. I probably expected too much seeing the pains TT went to in order to create such accurate Lamborghini Countaches.
I am conscious of complaining or nitpicking too much, because a great deal about MP Smokescreen makes me feel as though we ought to be thankful for what we have gotten. While a 3rd repaint with a well-established persona was always on the cards to improve financial viability of a new Masterpiece mould and manufacturer licence, nothing in the world of Transformers is guaranteed. Smokescreen could have been overlooked.
We have him, though, and clever references to his diversionary tactician function and the G1 episode “The Gambler” where Smokescreen features heavily – his toy spotlight episode if you will – through the altered sponsorship details “Devcon Oil” (formerly Don Devendorf), “Slot Fever”(Goodyear), “Disturbance”(Valvoline) and “Smoke Tactics” (Electramotive) are greatly appreciated and an acceptable substitute. For the first time I would consider placing reproduction stickers on a Masterpiece toy, though, to recreate the racecar’s original appearance.
As with all the previous Autobot cars from the Masterpiece line, Smokescreen can have his accessories attached in vehicle mode. This attack mode is something I am quite undecided about, it seems rather over the top but as I have mentioned in previous Masterpiece articles, when lined up alongside his friends, it makes some sort of sense. I just did not feel inspired enough to photograph it on this occasion. That does say a lot in this instance. The above photograph gives us our first glimpse of Smokescreen’s unique launchers and the hood-mounted position as opposed to Streak and Prowl’s Amazon exclusive launchers that attach to the rear bumper sides.
The mould is virtually flawless, we saw that clearly with MP-17 Prowl and MP-18 Streak. Posability and playability are immense, and the transformation is enjoyable, although with time I have decided that I marginally prefer that of Lambor, Alert and Tigertrack. I do however still appreciate the ingenuity of the Datsun design. Is Smokescreen animation accurate? Yes, he is. Is that a good thing? Read on.
He is stunning, those colours are simply infallible, he looks precisely as we would have hoped and imagined…right up until you reach the robot’s head. What’s wrong with the head, you say? Well nothing’s wrong…and that’s what’s wrong!
We know that the new Masterpiece direction is heavily animation-based, and we also know that the G1 animation models are not exactly industry exemplars when it comes to detail, consistency or even beauty.
In a way, Takara Tomy have built themselves into a corner where they are almost obligated to produce Masterpiece Transformers as close to the cartoon model as possible in robot mode but at the same time, try to maintain as much vehicle accuracy (in the case of these Autobots) as possible, in keeping with the high-end pitching of the line. In the case of Prowl, Lambor and Streak – and by extension Soundwave, Starscream and Convoy – it was a revelation and an unrivaled success. With the season 2 designs being a little more blocky and seemingly less refined or detailed, this spelled potential trouble for Smokescreen.
Having said all of that, you know what? I absolutely adore G1 Smokescreen’s animation model. That face is about as classic Autobot as it gets. It’s so reminiscent of another favourite G1 head and face of mine; Mirage. Look at those launchers, Takara Tomy have recreated them absolutely perfectly. His above appearance in Megatron’s Master Plan is a series highlight for me because the G1 Smokescreen toy is by far and away my favourite of the Datsuns, and one of my all-time favourite G1 toys. Hell, it was my first Autobot car as a child. This one runs deep for me, I should have had absolutely no problem with either toy or cartoon accuracy being employed generously by Takara Tomy.
That face, that head-sculpt for MP Smokescreen has caused a noticeable dichotomy in the fandom. Unfortunately, I find myself in the camp that just cannot get comfortable with it. If I were to describe its precise details to you, you could say I have accurately described the animation model, but something’s just off. Maybe it’s the toy’s permapout, the bruiser’s nose, the slightly-too-long and jutting chin…I cannot place it, I just know they neither recreated the look of the toy nor the look of the cartoon.
The result brings my appreciation of this release crashing down, and I hate myself for it. I was very much hoping that having him in the flesh, I’d see what I had seen many times before, that online photographs just didn’t do his face justice, and even though occasionally the light hits it in a way that brings out the cartoon likeness, it just wasn’t the case.
Then again, it could be worse…
Seriously though, I do not think it is as simple as saying the cartoon head-sculpt was ugly, or too simple or without character or distinctive features, and therefore the toy has a dud head. The two shots from Megatron’s Master Plan and the two images below show that he did have a unique look.
His blue helmet was wider and more like a hood with, actually, really nice facial proportions. He had a good robot head, and and in my opinion Takara Tomy just failed to capture his essence. So I do not accept that because of Takara Tomy’s decision to go primarily with ‘toon accuracy, fundamentally Smokescreen was always going to be less impressive than other Masterpiece toys. Where does that leave Smokescreen in relation to his bandmates?
I expected to like Smokescreen more than the other two Datsuns, I did in Generation 1, I did in Binaltech and were I to ever collect Classics, the Smokescreen would be my first choice. With regards to the Masterpiece version, I am still far too impressed with the incredible execution of Streak in both modes to give the crown to anyone else, and Prowl is exactly as you would want him to be, nailed in every respect considering the source material. My actual top 3 is the exact reverse of what I predicted.
Here are some community feelings on the MP-19 Smokescreen to demonstrate the spread of opinion:
“I prefer Smokescreen to Streak. While Bluestreak looks really good – he’s almost too good in some respects, I don’t think there’s much that makes him stand out compared to Prowl’s high contrast or Smokescreen’s ‘Best of the 80s’ scheme.”
“He looks like an arthritic old man who’s trying to chase down the young whippersnappers who nicked his Zimmer.”
“I have to say, I think the only reason Smokescreen doesn’t get as much love is because he came after Streak. That headsculpt/alt mode/paint job just pissed on Smokey’s fire before it got lit. Can almost hear Smokescreen whispering to Streak across the shelf : ‘You stole my thunder you flash bastard!’“
“Smokescreen has taken a while to grow on me. I do like him. I just don’t love him. I think the slavish efforts to have him as animation accurate as possible make him come across as more toy like than the other two Datsuns. That shouldn’t even be a criticism as making toys out of the animation models is the MO of the line. It’s an odd one as the mold itself is superb, but third time round the block I’m nitpicking with it.“
“I must be in the minority with him being my fave of the three. I honestly think Smokescreen will really shine when Reprolabels/Eness release an 80’s sponsor set for him. With the big DATSUN across his front etc he’ll look awesome…..er………..and the focus will be moved away from his accurate head.”
But how does Smokescreen hold up against other Smokescreens we’ve had? Surely he will claim the Best Smokescreen Transformers Toy Ever crown with ease?
It is genuinely not as straightforward as that. While his proportions and posability, technology and the nature of the accomplishment that is the Masterpiece Datsun 280Z-T are beyond reproach, I feel the G1 Smokescreen and the Binaltech Smokescreen (especially BT-07 GT) do more justice to their era, aesthetic and raison d’être than MP-19 does to his.
The G1 toy has a simple, repeatable and timeless transformation and is a diamond of his era. The Binaltech from 10 years ago was sponsor-laden, a credit to the world of licensed racecar Transformers that may never be surpassed in terms of significance, vision and impact upon release. It also has a most irritating transformation, especially back to vehicle mode, but it can be forgiven that. There is no doubt which Smokescreen stands out for me the most as the definitive representation that this character deserved as a racecar Transformer when kitted out and placed on my desk for display, and I can tell you he doesn’t wear the number 38.
If I take the Binaltech out of the equation, and drop my highly unreasonable expectations of what I wanted from a Masterpiece Smokescreen – accepting the compromises in an accurate racecar context which is personal baggage – and then place him next to Diaclone and Mexican G1 variants…
…he is everything he needs to be. A modern, updated and improved version of the G1 Smokescreen with noticeable nods to the cartoon version of the character. Looking at this final quote…
“It’s totally accurate to the car but it makes a pretty car look like it’s got joke-teeth and braces on them…Same for his “special” face and head sculpt. Accurate to a tee, but not very glamorous.”
…the fact that those two underlined statements are actually – in my opinion – not 100% true, is the crux of my personal lack of fulfillment when it comes to this release. But it’s Smokescreen, and I suspect he will grow on me. I just wanted him to knock me dead out of the box.
Many thanks to Rich Tysoe for the link to the Electramotve Datsun on a2zracer.com, and to UK TFW community members TigerBlade, PandaGash, motorthing, Brum Bot, Jonny Napalm and Rork for contributions.
All the best