Sophomore, a second effort. FansToys return to the 3rd Party Transformers scene after the universal success that was FT-03 Quakewave, a toy so revered that it is almost unanimously accepted as the Masterpiece Shockwave and an essential addition to any collection, official or otherwise. After delays and a long build-up, FansToys have released their answer to Masterpiece Dinobots, the FT-04 Scoria from the Iron Dibots series – 3rd Party MP Dinobot Slag to you and me. Just like Quakewave, “Scoria” has become an entity – almost a category – unto itself, for reasons positive and otherwise.
Ever since MP-10 Masterpiece Convoy redefined the direction and purpose of the Takara Tomy/Hasbro Masterpiece Transformers line, many a collection has also undergone redefining, streamlining and prioritisation. Collectors have given up on whole lines and categories to join in Takara Tomy’s vision of a scaled, Generation 1 cartoon accurate cast of Autobots and Decepticons manufactured to Masterpiece levels of engineering, design and finish. We’ve seen a number of Autobot cars, cassettes together with their players and Decepticon jets also released in line with this vision, no longer just a modern and complex re-interpretation of old favourites. Of course we already had Masterpiece Grimlock from before the ‘reboot’, a simply sublime figure of excellent accuracy to both screen and G1 toy, but a toy who now sat out of scale with the current generation of Masterpiece Transformers.
So, upon the new Masterpiece train we climbed, awaiting patiently every new release and reveal from Takara Tomy. As they took their time working through licensed G1 Lamborghini Countaches, Datsun Fairladies, F15s and their associated repaints – with notable omissions – FansToys stepped in to try and fill significant gaps. Their Acoustic Wave (Not-Soundwave) was announced and scrapped after TakTom introduced MP-13 Soundwave and his minions. Cut to FT-03 Quakewave (Not-Shockwave), widely regarded as the finest 3rd Party toy released up to the end of 2013 at least, and the company proved they could match the Masterpiece line and aesthetic, unconstrained by that which plagued Hasui, Kobayashi and crew. It was a huge success, enjoying three production runs, and although it didn’t suit everyone’s image of the official Masterpiece line, some collectors will never need an official Masterpiece Shockwave.
When FansToys unveiled their next project, Masterpiece scale Dinobots starting with Slag, because of the quality and success of Quakewave the anticipation blew through the roof and pre-orders flowed. Before anyone could blink, Dinobots were the centre of the universe, the fourth Transformers film Age of Extinction was going to bring them to the big screen, other third party companies like GigaPower – and now FansProject – announced their own Dinobot projects and MP-8 Grimlock was released again both by Takara Tomy and Hasbro.
That brings us nicely back to “Scoria”. The flamethrowing Dinobot warrior “Slag” as he was known throughout our childhoods has since undergone a few name changes, first “Snarl” in Animated where he was a hybrid of Slag and Snarl, and now “Slug” which is a more internationally friendly and inoffensive name. Anyone from the UK has had a good laugh at the expense of this month’s central Transformers community subject. FansToys have gone with “Scoria” – very similar to his original French Canadian G1 name “Scories” – which is defined as “the refuse, dross, or slag left after melting or smelting metal”. Very smart, he is indeed Slag.
With Soar (Not Swoop) and Sever (Not Snarl) on the horizon, and a stellar reputation built upon just a single figure, Scoria had an awful lot to live up to, and an awful lot riding on its success. Shockwave is a big character in Transformers history, but Dinobots are on a whole different level for a big group of fans and collectors, these are childhood-defining characters and must be handled with care. However, with so many different opinions, preferences and sources of influence, it was always going to be a tough ask. Shockwave is purple everywhere, he has one eye, he has a rocking great gun arm and hose. Slag is not quite so simple.
Here he is, FT-04 Scoria, the first Masterpiece-scaled Dinobot release from a 3rd Party company. My first reaction on seeing this toy was awe, pure and simple. I’ll come to the issues that some collectors have rightfully aired regarding the figure very soon, but maybe it was their complaints and disappointment that resulted in an overwhelming appreciation of what is – to me – the epitome of what a Masterpiece-style interpretation of a character I didn’t actually care about should be. I was sold beyond a reasonable doubt on first viewing.
There’s eye-popping gold and silver shiny chrome everywhere, there’s hefty die cast metal adding prodigious weight to the package and serious height. So much so, in fact, that in order to be displayable alongside MP-8 Grimlock, the only Masterpiece Dinobot toy on any sort of market, FansToys included a set of heels compatible with MP-8 to increase the latter’s height for favourable display alongside Scoria.
I must admit that upon un-boxing, I was quite bewildered at how anybody in the collective fandom could experience anything but unbridled joy and amazement at Scoria, the achievement, the grandiose presentation and the shock of what’s possible from a 3rd Party company compared to official product. It’s actually eclipsed Quakewave in my heart, and this from the Dinobots that I have absolutely zero attachment to, let alone Slag.
Having said that, I remember clearly how I felt when my Mastermind Creations Bovis suffered from the elbow-chewing issue that forced me to seek replacement parts to be able to transform it correctly, display it properly and sleep at night knowing it was perfect. When MMC supporters shouted down those who had the issue, claiming it was a non-issue, I experienced the same thing that Scoria buyers will now experience if I blanket disregard others’ opinion and experience with disappointing Scoria specimens. I cannot be responsible for making those collectors feel the same way as I did when my concerns with Bovis were disregarded as a non-event. So, it has to be said, improvements need to be actioned and those unhappy customers are justified in their disatisfaction.
The issues are two-fold, those that question the design choices in principle and those who bought in and were disappointed with the condition of the specimen they received. Design-wise, some come to Dinobot love from the cartoon and others come from the G1 toys or the Marvel comics, US and UK. From a G1 toy perspective, some collectors wanted a version with a black robot head and clear dino head etc. FansToys are releasing a toy version in the future, but it may not have those clear parts. It remains to be seen whether or not the toy will have black legs, red horns or any significant moulding differences.
My stance on the design is that Takara Tomy’s Masterpiece line has gone for almost slavish cartoon accuracy to the point where the presentation of some MP toys have been sacrificed. Smokescreen would be the example I’d cite, but it’s personal and so I do not expect others to agree with me. With that kind of specific remit, FansToys were always going to aim directly for cartoon accuracy accompanied by a considerable slice of MP-8 compatibility, hence the oceans of chrome where the screen-correct Slag would have had dull yellow and grey. With that kind of assignment brief, I would have to say that FT-04 Scoria does precisely what it set out to do.
Now, you may have noticed a number of my initial Scoria photographs show him holding his weapons in outstretched arms or with his shoulders raised generally, this is because a number of customers have received specimens with shoulders so loose that the figure cannot hold his arms at any considerable angle, and definitely cannot hold a weapon. Waist looseness has been reported, as well as glue in awkward places, missing alternate faces and generally things that may cause someone a great deal of heartache at a $200+ price point.
FansToys have reportedly announced that there will be a shoulder fix upcoming, and since there is no actual second production run (not to be confused with Asian market later release from same batch as initial release), this will have to serve as the only solution for collectors with faulty Scorias, mainly the shoulders. I have been swayed positively by the fact that the two MISB Scorias opened in front of me at a UK meetup recently were absolutely perfect, we even had one Scoria holding up another such was the strength and tightness in its arms. I also have received a damn good specimen myself that has allowed me to focus on the aesthetics and design instead of the functionality, and I consider myself lucky. I also feel terrible for those who cannot share in this euphoria as they await corrected issues, but corrected they will be. One imagines.
Scoria should contain the signature Slag handgun and sword with the split-curl hilt, both of which contain electronics – but only batteries for the Asian market thanks to new import/export laws. It also comes with the static silver robot face attached, and another silver face with an open mouth. In addition, you get a second head with an all red face (cartoon accurate) and a shouty version of that too. Some have said that they experienced real difficulty with the screws in the back of the robot head, ruining them in the process of trying to swap faces, but I had no such issues and was able to go between looks for photography with ease. That’s not to say that others didn’t, I suspect they have been able to source or at least get a promise of replacements through their retailer and FansToys. Not ideal, but fixable.
The accessories and extras are beautiful and plentiful, but my main issue with the figure’s design has been the attachment of the sword and gun. They require you to either bend the wrist forward to attach the sword (although the fact that this is possible is great) because somehow the orientation of the hilt moulding seems wrong meaning comfortable grip is impossible at normal hand angle, or the thumb has to be folded down to hold the gun because of the weapon grip.
All of that said, there’s a hell of a lot more I love and adore about Scoria than what bothers me, so it’s time to focus on that and share just why this is my top release of 2014 so far, official or otherwise – having not cared much for the concept when it was announced, worried that it would just further delay my beloved FansToys Skyfire from seeing the light of day.
Yes, compatibility is everything, and if you want a Dinobot Masterpiece Slag that fits scale-wise with the reboot generation as well as MP Grimlock, I’d love to know how Takara Tomy could improve upon Scoria. The detailing and presentation is flawless, he is heavily screen accurate and yet does not hand over the use of chrome and detailing to recreate the flat dull look of the Dinobots seen in episodes such as War Of The Dinobots. It’s hugely in keeping with the aesthetic and values seen in Masterpiece Grimlock. Use the screen captures above, compare Scoria’s look and design to the G1 Slag, what more could they have done apart from simplify it and dumb it down?
The dinosaur mode for Scoria came in for a heap of pre-release criticism, the body of the Triceratops mode being quoted as resembling a vegetable I refuse to name, but again I look at this dinosaur mode and compare it to the G1 cartoon, and I discount completely the Diaclone design of the original sculpt because that did not have to turn into the most glorious rendition of Slag as a robot one could imagine, then I find myself not at all understanding how it could be dismissed in such a way. Granted from the side it does seem as though the dino head has been attached awkwardly to the torso lacking an extensive dino neck – but from every other angle it’s Masterpiece Slag as a Triceratops. That chrome, that Triceratops head sculpt, that silver metal mane, the retractable/extendable gold tail, the posability of the head and limbs…I’m sold a million times over.
So stable, so posable, so beautiful and so SLAG. The transformation bears mentioning here because the way the dinosaur legs fold away into the robot calves is pure genius, an absolute joy. The retractable tail and fold-up mechanism of the backpack suits me down to the ground, although some commented that it should be cleaner upon storage in robot mode. The change between robot and dinosaur is simple, it’s repeatable and it is intuitive. Scoria is enjoyable to play with, no question for me, but if you have one with floppy parts I can imagine it becomes cumbersome.
Speaking of floppy, the one thing I’d complain about with my specimen – because I can truly live with the weapon attachment – is the slightly droopy dino mouth. If that does not deteriorate then I am happy as a pig in mud, but if it gets worse, I’ll have to seek a replacement or a fix. To summarise, I am thrilled with the Triceratops mode because he’s cartoon G1 Slag as a massive beast covered in quality presentation. Then you put him with MP-8 and your mind is blown…
There comes a point where one has to accept that after all positive comparisons (with a real triceratops, with a screen representation of Slag, with MP-8), some people will simply not like it, or feel the same way about it as I and many others do. If your Dinobot entry point was always G1 toys, there are itches that Scoria may not scratch. If your primary focus is Classics/Generations-scale Transformers, then this is far too big of a toy that even towers over MP-8 Grimlock sans stilettos. If you’ve gotten a specimen with defects, then the price paid and pleasure derived will be in the wrong balance and it affects appreciation, rightfully so. You simply cannot label those whose opinion differs, whose tastes this doesn’t cater to, as wrong.
Dinobots are a whole different arena compared to Shockwave, and Scoria could never have touched everyone the way Quakewave did for so many reasons. There was expectation beyond reason for FT’s second release whereas Quakewave was an immensely pleasant surprise from a new company, a feel-good purchase whose legend has spread through the community like wildfire. Where Quakewave was elegant and simple (Shockwave to a tee), Scoria had to be the opposite, meaning loud, aggressive, ambitious, bursting with unsubtle detail and basically outrageous. That’s not to say he can’t be elegant, and I think to the degree that it needs to be, Scoria is. Quakewave had the possibility of appealing to everyone without offending any sensibilities or long held beliefs about how someone should look as a Masterpiece. From the outset, the sheer scale of what FT set out to do with Slag/Scoria by definition was always going to divide, certainly with all the influences that could shape a Dinobot’s appearance and character.
I have to return to the original assignment FansToys set themselves: Design and execute a 3rd party Dinobot Slag-a-like which is screen accurate, of correct scale to the rebooted Masterpiece line, compares favourably with MP-8 aesthetically and mechanically and even brings Grimlock into scale with the reboot MPs, adheres to the same philosophy as the Masterpiece toys (Grimlock specifically), convinces as a complex mechanical dinosaur and – here is where it’s a reach beyond Quakewave – visually stuns and stops the heart at first sight. If Scoria didn’t win you over on that last point, the rest is meaningless. In my opinion Scoria accomplishes absolutely everything its designers wanted it to, but they must back up their vision with the correction of the issues that have soured what should have been an unforgettable toy collecting experience for the unfortunate souls who got a duff copy. From where I’m sitting with FT-04 by my side, it’s another home run. The scoreboard reads FansToys 2 Rest of the World 0.
All the best