I keep thinking this series of articles have been put to bed, and that newer Masterpiece or 3rd Party toys can go under a new banner. However, in order to keep these posts more article and less review, I’ve had to come up with a common theme, and the Meeting Expectations series is as appropriate as any to place Mastermind Creations Reformatted R-04 Squadron Commander Leo Dux (MMC Not-Razorclaw) and Mech iDeas Techno Toon Titans TTT-01G Bluster and Trench (Mi Not-Huffer and Not-Pipes in Mario/Luigi colours) into.
In the case of Leo Dux, he came and went and collectors are now expecting and receiving MMC’s fourth Feralcon release Reformatted R-02 Talon (Not Divebomb), so Leo Dux’s success is already a thing of documented history, but it took me longer than most to finally add him to my collection. Did he meet my expectations and live up to everyone else’s hype? The Mech iDeas Techno Toon Titans Bluster and Trench TFCon and AA exclusive Mario/Luigi colour scheme has also been an item of great anticipation. We looked in detail at the test shots a few weeks ago, so how do the production toys measure up?
Ever since the success of Bovis, releasing Fortis as the next Feralcon meant that collectors had to wait even longer for a new MMC Feralcon mould, and just that little bit longer to see if Bovis was a one-off or if MMC could apply their genius to the integral bot, the largest figure in the set and something worthy of the higher price. Watching reviews of samples and promotional images, Leo Dux seemed overly bulky and did not have the style of the first two leg-formers Bovis and Fortis. Seeing the figure In The Flesh changed my opinion on that significantly, but I was still yet to spend serious time with it as an owner. Until now.
Having a toy at home as the owner or reviewer as opposed to a cursory once over at a pub means I can look at the individual modes and features in greater depth. The above photos show what can be done in terms of slightly extreme poses with the figure out the box. Leo is packaged in robot mode and the gigantic swords catch the eye immediately. The Feral Rex waist piece can be transformed to suit different modes and purposes, and here Leo can use it as a shield. The strength in the joints and ratchets is such that with a little bit of balancing, he can hold virtually any pose. There is so much support for the feet and legs, a real joy to pose. He surpasses Bovis/Fortis in this regard.
The thing about expectations is that they evolve, increase and become more refined based on how far the bar is raised by every product that comes out. And there are a lot of products that came out between Bovis and Leo Dux that raised the bar. Due to the fact that 3rd Party products cost so much – Leo Dux is approx $125 – and there is so much competition, collectors expect their purchases to bring them instant gratification, lasting appeal and quality that shines through as if the product was an official release. One would be mistaken in thinking Leo Dux is a utility bot, there to make up the numbers, and more importantly, the Feral Rex nexus (Feral Nexus?). The toy immediately banishes any concerns about quality or construction, it’s tough as nails and packed to the teeth with features. The pictures above show just how heavily he can be weaponised using Bovis and Fortis weapons in addition to his own.
Maybe it’s not even enough now for a figure of this quality and presentation to stand alone as a purchase, maybe there has to be justification in context. Perfect Effect’s Warden was pretty standalone and a success by any measure, but it had the weight of IDW-style Fortress Maximus behind it. Thus, we measure Leo Dux by his contemporaries and stablemates, in this case the previous two MMC Feralcon releases. As their leader, he needed to stand at the head of the pack and outshine them in terms of menace, engineering, appeal and sheer ferocious visuals. Well, the gigantic lion’s head on his chest was always going to get him most of the way there, his height, swords and beefy proportions do the rest. Leo Dux looks amazing with Fortis and Bovis, so much so that once again a collector is left with a hard decision regarding the best display option. It is by no means a no-brainer to slap the figures together and enjoy armless Not-Predaking for a few months.
When we talk about choosing between display options, Bovis was one of the most special toys ever released because one could actually leave him displayed as a solitary Feral Rex leg, such was the visual appeal and how much he was feeding imagination and anticipation. For today’s collector, a successful figure of the highest order must have more than just the one strong mode. In all honesty I do not believe many people have their Bovis/Fortis displayed in beast mode, the majority surely display them as Not-Predaking limbs or as glorious robots. With Leo Dux, not only have MMC continued to nail the more-techno-less-organic nature of the original Predacons in their creation, but you can see how well he slots into the team.
But what if two (or three!) strong modes, compatibility with other relevant contemporary releases and top quality/presentation isn’t enough, where else can our expectations escape to? How about that most sensitive and fundamental of features that define the entire category, legend and history of the brand and its inevitable unofficial offshoots? Yes, the transformation between modes, in the age of complaints where cheat faux-chests and ‘parts-forming’ are frowned upon, does Leo Dux deliver? You won’t be surprised to hear that he does (because you’ve had this toy about 3 months longer than I have). Everything is pretty intuitive, nothing should scare you on first transformation and all that needs adding is the shield on the back and the tail.
Is it perfect? No, I can’t say that about any toy on the market. The ball joint that holds the lion head needs to be disconnected if you want the lion to look up and not permanently downwards. The lion mode is very large and elongated, although that’s not a bad thing. It only helps Leo Dux be even more imposing. Considering just how much had to go into the mixture to make Leo Dux succeed as the Feral Rex central bot, and then in all the other categories we’ve touched on, how can anyone claim he doesn’t meet expectations? To surpass a figure like Bovis with so much more riding on it as a release and a deal-maker/breaker, Leo Dux is categorically a masterpiece. I may still like the look of Bovis as a stylised robot and updated Predacon (because really he had such a longer way to go from G1 Tantrum), but Leo Dux is undoubtedly a better toy.
On the subject of expectations, the Mech iDeas Techno Toon Titans duo of Bluster and Trench certainly had a lot to live up to. Despite reports that the project was officially dead, we now not only have the TFCon and Auto Assembly exclusive repaints of Transformers Animated style 3rd party Not-Huffer and Not-Pipes in Mario and Luigi colours, but the ‘Screen Version’ set is also shipping out. The test shots for this set were analysed on this blog in our article here and the above convention exclusive set was reviewed on Square One blog here. Transformers Animated fans are a serious bunch, and the aesthetic and appeal should have been very hard to nail, and delays would not have done the prospects of this set any favours.
These toys have come along at a time when I have delved back into Transformers Animated with some gusto, so I felt I was in a perfect position to judge just how well they fit into a comprehensive Animated collection. The test shots were coloured in such a way that discussion continued about how the designers and manufacturers would have to revise them to hit the nail on the head, but that’s exactly what Mech iDeas have done, giving us a lovely Mario and Luigi homage while landing the convention exclusive set bang in the middle of a contextualised and significant Animated backdrop.
Anyone who has followed the evolution of this set pre-release and knows anything about the team behind it will not be surprised to find the retro Nintendo console packaging oozes the kind of class you would want a cross-property homage like this to exhibit, and it should appeal to collectors beyond a Transformers horizon. The toys themselves are beautifully faithful to the Huffer and Pipes models seen in official Transformers Animated literature. They are small, very well articulated, easy to transform and scale perfectly with toys already in the range. So as far as meeting Transformers Animated expectations – a toy line that took the small Transformer class and made it the star – Bluster and Trench have delivered. The figures are big fun, dripping with character and a very certain style of presentation and proportions that gives them that all-important context we discussed during Leo Dux’s statement. You can explore the ins and outs of the toys more in the above linked articles.
For those with something invested in the success of Techno Toon Titans, the popularity and sales of this set would have been of the utmost importance to ensure that the designers could continue filling gaps in the Animated universe, gaps more pressing than Animated Huffer who had two cameo appearances and Pipes who was never in the cartoon but shown off by Derrick J. Wyatt on his blog and also seen in the Animated Almanacs and glimpsed in official comics. OK, a set of Super Mario Bros transforming toys will appeal to many beyond hardcore Animated lovers, so the fact that they sold out rapidly at TFCon and will inevitably do the same at Auto Assembly does not ensure the continuation of the concept.
Character choice aside, convention repaints-before-TF colours aside, the expectation must have been that these would be obtainable and actually I think most are now finding that if they hadn’t pre-ordered from the appropriate outlet or secured convention exclusives on the day, they could be left disappointed. I certainly did not expect the sets to be so hard to procure but I am under no illusion about how lucky I’ve been to get TTT-01G and soon the screen versions of Not-Animated Huffer and Not-Animated Pipes, but I really had to haul ass and get in there quick. With regards to revisions, evolution and the final product, I find it hard to imagine any of the enthusiasts will feel that expectations haven’t been met. The toys do exactly what they set out to do, but the biggest expectation for this set is what comes after. Many of us are expecting and praying for Mech iDeas to use Bluster and Trench’s success as a springboard to finally getting the Animated characters left unproduced by the show and toy line’s untimely cancellation.
I’ve had it said that I am easy to please and I can gush over anything Transformers – after all I am someone who loves my vintage pre-TF stuff unconditionally, while at the same time embracing new lines like Animated and 3rd Party initiatives (although I’m massively selective), and I can allow my love of G1 to co-exist with an adoration for modern IDW TF comics and still go to the cinema for repeat viewings of the Bay movies. Anyone who knows me knows how much I worship the Binaltech line, but last week I was sincere in my damning of BT-17, the most valuable Binaltech toy out there. My personal expectations of Leo Dux and the Techno toon Titans Bluster and Trench were as high as anyone else’s, I damn near gave up the ghost with Feral Rex because of the expense and pre-release media on Leo Dux, but they’ve both scored immensely well. Expectations met and surprassed, but new ones have formed in their place for subsequent Feralcon and TTT releases. Go on, impress me.
All the best