Every line of Transformers has its toughies and special releases that create a headache for anyone hoping to complete the run, Takara’s Binaltech Transformers are no exception. In fact, it’s taken me a whole year and 2 months to address the sixth chapter of this article series that started all the way back with Binaltech BT-01 to BT-04. The main reason for that was the acquisition, price and rarity of 2007’s Wonderfest exclusive BT-17 Black Convoy. Once that was in hand and opened, alongside the e-Hobby exclusive BT-18 Rijie Electro Disrupter, we have Binaltech royalty, the exclusive cherries that top one of the best and most loved TF lines in history.
There was never any doubt that I would finish this series of articles, nor was there any doubt that I would open my BT-18 Rijie or the BT-17 Black Convoy when I once again added one to my collection. In fact, the opening of BT-17 was documented here on Square One Blog just a few days ago in anticipation of this article. Not only was this a necessary step to complete my collection, but also this article series which is equally as important and valuable to me, and the lack of fulfilment of both those ambitions has dogged me long enough. Having said that, I still don’t own BT-19 through 22 needed to bring this series to a close, but the back of it is broken with BT-17 in hand. The rest, one hopes, is formality.
~ BT-17 Black Convoy ~
So here it is, after 7 years, BT-17 Dark Commander Black Convoy featuring Dodge Ram SRT-10. Not counting the one-of-a-kind BT-08 Meister with a pink colour scheme designed by Japanese model Mayuko Iwasa for a charity looking after Asian children orphaned by road traffic accidents, auctioned on Yahoo Japan in 2004, Black Convoy is the greatest obstacle standing between collectors and a complete run of Binaltech toys. The reason for it being such a tough figure is that it was a 2007 winter Wonderfest exclusive toy in Japan, quite difficult and expensive to acquire in the first instance, never mind 7 years on. However, its value peaked a few years ago around 4 figures, these days it is possible to get them sealed for $700 or a smidgen less even. Binaltech is no longer seen as the pinnacle of car robot Transformer technology or appeal to most, having been usurped in many hearts by Masterpiece. Not the case here though, I might add.
Black Convoy was not released in standard Binaltech packaging, the proper Binaltech BT-22 Convoy wouldn’t be released until a year later in 2008 and the Kiss Players Convoy had a completely different packaging style. Takara ended up using packaging extremely similar to the Hasbro Alternators Optimus Prime bubble/base combo seen in 2006, something that makes an enormously expensive toy like this even more excruciating to free from his sealed packaging. But free him I did, and you can see that there are a number of differences between BT-17 and Alternators Nemesis Prime.
BT-17 has significant die cast metal sections in keeping with the Binaltech philosophy up to that point, he also had glossy black paint application, clear windows and chromed wheel hubs, waist and grill. It has a prodigious amount of weight and heft in vehicle mode, that sheer size and die cast content creating a monster of a Binaltech compared to the smaller road and sports cars. It gleams, it shines, it looks beastly and with so many of them sealed forever in vehicle mode within their packaging, I have to believe that his legend and infamy have only been helped by that shadowy vehicle mode in that featureless bubble, bereft of detail, colour and artwork. Dark Commander indeed.
The hood, doors and tailgate open on Black Convoy, the front wheel axle mechanism isn’t quite the same as the previous releases so poses featuring turned wheels are not so simple to achieve. The interior is as detailed as you would expect for this mould (which apparently was never intended to be Convoy/Optimus) including the third front seat in the middle. It’s a shame the packaging for BT-17 is so completely stupid, once it’s opened – however you choose to do it – it can never recapture that unopened appearance that all other BTs can. From masses of sellotape holding down clear plastic flaps under the cardboard base, buried beneath two clear plastic bubbles and a clear plastic tray, to a rotten twisty-tie that runs through the rear wheel hubs leaving gigantic dents in the rear rubber tyres, it was a laborious task to set him free.
There isn’t much in the way of pretty paperwork to lessen the blow either, BT-17 being the first Binaltech lacking a detailed booklet containing instructions, Binaltech story and “System Description”. That stuff is printed on the purple cardboard base of the toy – inaccessible to those who wish to keep their BT-17s preserved and collector-presentable. Something that, upon opening mine, a part of me wishes I had also done. That’s nothing to do with the value of the toy and my halving (or worse) of that – I did not pay anywhere near market value for BT-17 and my BTs aren’t going anywhere anyway – but more to do with the quality of the toy.
Let me qualify that statement, because for one of the biggest fans of Binaltech alive and a massive advocate of opening Transformers of any value, it’s a monumental admission. BT-17 Black Convoy is beautiful, no question. I prefer the lack of red window tint in vehicle mode because the purely black, chrome and clear look lends itself expertly to his shadowy character, a dark and evil clone of Convoy created by Dr Arkeville. After a very sensible transformation process that is reversable without much of the drama I have read about (but then I followed the one-way car to robot instructions indecipherable word for indecipherable word), you get an enormously bulky-looking, beefy evil Optimus Prime with a superb head sculpt, an incredibly good-looking colour scheme, turquoise highlights and chrome tinges working in perfect harmony.
Maybe it’s because BT-17 is my first hands-on experience of the Dodge RAM mould (never had the Alternator and sold my first BT-17 sealed), maybe it’s because I haven’t bought a Binaltech toy in 7 years, but BT-17 left me sincerely disappointed and unaffected in a way that absolutely none of his predecessors did. Truth be told, it’s none of those reasons, the fault lies squarely with the mould and its constitution. Looks aside, I found the figure – fresh out of its package – to be a floppy mess. Nothing tabs in robot mode, it all just hangs there and that’s very uncharacteristic for this line. Kibble isn’t, but looking like it has nowhere else to go is. The enormous mass of upper body die cast actually destroys the figure’s ability to hold poses (to say nothing of the limited leg articulation) and he folded back on himself more times than I care to recall.
This is the first Binaltech whose die cast content I personally wish would be reduced or removed entirely, and I have no doubt that the Kiss Players Convoy and Alternators Nemesis/Optimus Prime are far better toys for being free of it. I had heard it was the weakest mould of all Binaltechs, but I have never let others’ reviews and opinions help me decide on my own feelings, but it’s a fact, BT-17’s unsealing has not gone how I envisaged. With a fresh approach and some Future application on key joints, it may be rescuable, but crown jewel of the Binaltech line it is not.
~ BT-18 Rijie Electro Disrupter Mode ~
From the weakest to the strongest, the ridiculous to the sublime, a non-character to the character. The diametrical opposite to BT-17 Black Convoy is BT-18 Rijie Electro Disrupter Mode featuring Ford GT, an almost completely clear plastic version of the Alternators Mirage. He has the Takara Japanese name for Mirage, “Rijie” which comes from the original Diaclone use of a Ligier JS11 F1 car, and that carried through as Mirage’s name in G1 and beyond. While Alternators received this mould in the intended blue and white, and Kiss Players Rodimus was a re-tool of that (both in 2006), Binaltech had to wait until 2007 to see the actual Mirage character, and even then it was in all clear plastic as an e-Hobby exclusive. Limited numbers again, like Black Convoy, but altogether more obtainable.
“Electro Disrupter” is a reference to Mirage’s invisibility, shown off throughout his tenure as a G1 Autobot, and as the TFWiki suggests, a possible justification for BT-18 being clear instead of blue (as it would have had to be painted) is because it’s the only Binaltech in the entire series to have not been manufactured with die cast parts. Also, Alternators Mirage and KP Rodimus that came before it featured only plastic. Maybe there’s some mileage in the fact that as Binaltech was winding down in light of Masterpiece, Movie and other initiatives, Takara only wanted to keep the line alive through limited releases and a regular colour scheme in all plastic – an Alternator in other words – would not have attracted much in the way of orders, so they made it special.
And my goodness is he special. It always felt to me like Mirage deserved the most spectacular mould, and Takara/Hasbro reserved the tremendous Ford GT sculpt for what in my mind is still the standout performance in More Than Meets The Eye, the first TV appearance of the Transformers. From the mould’s first appearance at BotCon 2005 to the amazing Alternators and Kiss Players iterations, it was obvious that they pushed the boat out a little for this one, no longer just a repaint with a new head, but something genuinely new at a time when freshness was a scarce commodity for Binaltech and Alternators. BT-18 maintains that standard and if anything, tops Alt Mirage and KP Rodimus – not to mention the majority of the regular BTs. The box is not uniform Binaltech so again it presents the same display issue (the insert is the same though) but at least it can be displayed as if new even when opened and the box artwork is lovely. At least there IS artwork!
The transparent mass is broken up well by black plastic feet, innards and panels, the white signature Ford GT stripes, the coloured headlights, the chromed wheels and the blue hands and joints. I would have preferred clear hands but I’m hard pressed to complain about any design choice on what is to me the biggest wow moment of the line since BT-01/07 Smokescreen. The transformation is among the most repeatable, intuitive and enjoyable of the whole range, and the vehicle mode is breathtaking with a load of accurate opening parts. The head sculpt is my favourite in all of Binaltech/Alternators and even though it isn’t slavishly G1, it’s definitely Mirage. The vertical arm guards that act as vehicle doors, the trailing edges of the sidepods as thigh-guards are all hugely reminiscent of G1 Mirage.
Although I make it sound perfect – and it bloody nearly is – It’s not the case. There is one flaw in my specimen and that is a disfigured peg on the back end which means the rear section does not clip down flush with the lower half of the car. Maybe it’s all the transparent plastic, but it’s not hugely noticeable when on display. Specimens have been known to discolour too, even inside the packaging. It is also a shame that, like BT-17, there is no fancy booklet or collector’s card, because if there’s one Binaltech I would really have wanted a collector’s card for, it’s Rijie. I have always said it was the whole package that made Binaltech so much more appealing to me. However, the whole hood/chest assembly sits much more cleanly on the black chest flaps too compared to the Alternators version. BT-18 loses nothing because of a lack of die cast or blue paint, and because Alternators went ahead and released the mould in blue, it gave Takara Tomy (because they had merged at this point) even more licence and justification to go with this deco. The real question is, had there never been a blue version, would the clear one have sufficed? Absolutely, is my answer.
We really are reaching the end of Binaltech’s existence with these two quite special – for different reasons -exclusive and rarer, more costly releases. The Ford GT and Dodge RAM were the last two new moulds to be introduced for Binaltech despite Alternators having the Jaguar and the Civic moulds for Ravage and Rumble respectively. Had the whole thing ended at BT-18, I would have considered it to have gone out on the highest high despite the obvious transference of priority and funding elsewhere in the Transformers universe by the powers that be. There were, however, four more Binaltech releases but the sad fact is that Binaltech as we knew it and loved it ended at BT-16 Skids.
These two exclusives, BT-17 and 18, are must-haves for BT lovers. BT-18 is a must have for any Transformers lover. I’m so pleased I finally got BT-17, but my disappointment with the toy itself means I should probably have left it sealed, bought and opened a BT-22 Convoy to enjoy the mould, and bought a Nemesis Prime Alternator if I was desperate to see it as a black and blue Dodge RAM robot. To any BT-18 owners I would say unseal and enjoy that figure immediately, it is everything that is deeply and fundamentally right about the Binaltech Transformers concept. It is the appropriate bookend to Binaltech, and most definitely not the toy deserving of the description “invisible exclusive”.
You can read the previous Binaltech article series chapters here:
All the best