If Transformers Animated wasn’t subject enough to the varying opinions within the collecting community, for those who have surrendered their hearts to it there are plenty of wildly differing views on what ranks as the best and worst aspects of the line and concept in general. Last week I offered up my choices for best Animated legends, activator, deluxe and voyager class toy, knowing full well I’d struggle to find anyone in complete agreement. I think this week’s categories of best ‘main line’ repaint/remould, best leader, and best Japanese market release are going to be even more controversial – or just plain unpopular. I certainly expected to find this a lot easier…
~ Leader Class ~
And I thought the deluxes were the hardest category, at least there were weak links and toys I could easily discard from the running there. With leader class Transformers Animated toys, every single one is a magnificent success. In my eyes at least. What makes it doubly hard is that of 5 available leaders, 2 are repaints. Not just any old repaint though, they’re actually brilliant and contenders themselves based solely on the colours they have been produced in, and that frustratingly blurs the lines between this category and the next. But, starting with leader Bulkhead, this is a toy I adore. He has the size that Bulkhead’s character deserves, a superb voice chip that becomes even more absurd/awesome with the addition of the pink Headmaster accessory and a transformation that is as pick-up-and-play enjoyable as any Animated deluxe. Show inaccuracy on the accessory front is made up for by the lovely head sculpt and totally Bulkhead proportions. The lack of head articulation and lower body posability is what lets him down and stops him winning the category. I do sincerely love this toy, though. Excellent vehicle mode.
Animated Leader Ultra Magnus improves on Bulkhead’s show accuracy, posability and can even house the Headmaster himself, albeit with no difference to his demoralising “Don’t be a hero…” voice chip. The hammer is gorgeous and with all of his weapons exposed, both Magnus modes are a sight to behold. This toy screams “Leader” at the top of its deep-throated lungs with weight and glamour aplenty. The arm transformation can become annoying thanks to its regular resistance to movement, but who cares when something as angular and military as that vehicle mode turns into an Animated-aesthetic leader bot with perfect mecha shoulders, yet curved muscular forearms and bulky cartoon hands. I find it hard to get a stable and perfect-looking idle stance out of him, but bend the knees a bit and suddenly he’s oozing dynamic posability. The hammer accessory aids the whole Norse thunder-god theme, it comes through beautifully on Magnus. The Roadbuster repaint is an odd one, because I think it is quite stunningly beautiful, even moreso in hand. The reason his head is still blue is because the designers wanted him to still be Ultra Magnus, and not Roadbuster. The blue waist flaps, I’d need more convincing.
What could possibly follow or trump that leader Ultra Magnus? Well, how about the best Megatron figure we’ve had since the original Generation 1 toy? With all due respect to history, the TF Animated Megatron is about the only incarnation of this toy that portrays the sheer natural power, menace, stature and gravity of the single most recognisable villain in Transformers lore, so I’d go so far as to say it actually trumps the vintage Megatron. This is not a perfect toy, goodness not at all, have you tried getting those legs to do exactly what you want? Like Magnus, idle poses are the least convincing, but the dynamic action poses he can strike are terrific. The alternate mode is also not a strength, it’s a weird double bladed helicopter that he basically wears on his back with the cannon mounted underneath. The transformation simply involves folding the canopy over to hide his robot head, folding up the arms and hiding the fists, and rotating the leg panels a bit. I’m not selling this, am I?
But that’s the key, that’s where the brilliance of Animated leader Megatron lies! He’s not the best toy in the line, he’s probably not even the best leader toy, but he has what so many other Megatrons before and after him have lacked. Animated leader Megatron has presence. He doesn’t even need to be a transformer, the way he dominates a group of toys or a shelf, the way that expression on his face and his upper body bulk dictate the mood and that arm cannon with the silly missile launch gimmick, that epic epic voice chip, those are what have guaranteed this toy a place in the pantheon. He stands there, he laughs that laugh at you, and you wither. The excellent ankle articulation helps too. Now, more blurred lines, because the Shadow Blade repaint is probably my absolute pick of the leader bunch, I’ve rarely seen a more beautiful robot with such a killer colour scheme. This despite the regular leader recreating perfectly what a G1 Megatron’s colours should be on a modern toy. Needless to say, my choice of best Animated leader is the Megatron mould, because of just how much Megatron there is in him. The Shadow Blade release just makes you believe that black and purple were what all Megatrons should have been released in (and the first pre- G1 Megatron was black!). I’ll not make too much of a deal of the missing paint on the nose, though.
~ Repaints/Remoulds ~
First, a definition of what this category entails in my opinion. The toys in the repaint/remould category are what I consider to be ‘main line’ moulds repainted into different decos, or remoulded slightly as a new character, but they cannot be limited exclusives like BotCon, Shanghai Con, or Japanese market/store exclusives or promotional figures. And yet, I have included a figure or two that were US store exclusives, but they fit in to what I wanted this category to look like. If I was being harsh, I would call them the “Inessentials”, because their cartoon appearances would have been small to nil in most cases. If I was being positive, and I am a massive fan of repaints (especially Animated), I would call them second chances to get figures in better/newer/smarter colours with moulding corrections that may have plagued the first releases. Certainly in the case of Elite Guard Bumblebee, the stingers now fold away perfectly (even though later regular ‘Bees in Ratchet 2-pack were also corrected). Shockwave in purple to most would be seen as the proper colour, but he spent more time in grey in Animated and that was what I consider to be the primary release, so the beautiful purple version is the repaint and a real contender. It’s still Animated Shockwave though, and two of the four moulds don’t appeal to me.
Deluxe Ironhide very nearly won this category, and he’s been in my possession all of a few days. He is everything a repaint or remould should be. By simply adding a different head sculpt to the Cybertronian Ratchet toy and painting him all red, they somehow managed to make him look every bit the beefy bruiser he should be and yet Ratchet (and Fisitron/Autotrooper) do not feel as muscular and strong as this version does. The head sculpt is tremendous, the colours are superb and the grey pads are just one more touch that elevate this repaint/remould above its original version. I genuinely cannot stop looking at this figure or put it down, unlike Freeway Jazz, Rescue Ratchet, Skywarp and Sunstorm whose novel charm as a beloved mould in a new colour has somewhat faded. Freeway Jazz also did not fix the panel fit issue, Rescue Ratchet still has the leg pop-off and instability issue, Skywarp and Sunstorm share all of Starscream’s flaws. This is not all about logic, though, I based my choice here on how the repaint made me feel when I held the toy in my hands and which figures I kept returning to. As a result, Shadow Blade leader Megatron and Roadbuster Ultra Magnus came very close to being the stars of this category as well – based purely on how excellent their new colours were on brilliant base figures. Credit must also be given to Atomic Lugnut that took a mould I couldn’t fall in love with and gave it a scheme that really made me appreciate the toy, regardless of how irrelevant it is. There’s even a case to be made for Activators Cliffjumper as it’s the only version of the character we got, and it has a lovely new headsculpt on an already excellent little figure.
Based on that ‘feeling’ criteria, I would have to elect Stealth Lockdown as my favourite repaint/remould in all of Animated (not counting limited exclusives). Blazing Lockdown is a lovely repaint too, an extremely attractive figure that adds the chainsaw accessory to a figure supposedly loaded with upgrades stolen from other ‘bots. So here we have the stealth version, mostly clear with Matrix-style green panel-line highlights that imply Lockdown’s robbed Mirage’s gift! What a sucker I am, eh? I’ve fallen head over heels in love with a figure that has not really been changed at all, and uses less colour than the original release. Clear figure brainwashing, I can’t help it, I hold Stealth Lockdown in my hands and am speechless, admiring it for ages before being able to return it to the display. If you are going to do a clear version of a toy, it needs to be smart and well executed, not just “make everything transparent!”, and Stealth Lockdown accomplishes that. Ironhide is probably the actual best remould/repaint available at mass release (relatively speaking) in terms of how much it improves on the original version, and Samurai Prowl adds a sidecar and show-accurate extras that make him an essential purchase, but for sheer thrills and swooning, Stealth Lockdown just edges out Ironhide and Shadow Blade Megatron, plus he still has that exceptionally good transformation. Also, he’s Lockdown. He needed to win a category.
~ Japanese Market Exclusive ~
As you can see from the above picture, this is an extremely small category. It refers to the Japanese Transformers Animated figures that were available at mass release, not store or show exclusives, that were not available in Europe or North America. Undoubtedly there are Chinese version releases of some of these as I’ve had a number of sealed Takara Tomy Animated figures arrive from China with both Japanese and Chinese insructions included. What it basically boils down to is Wingblade voyager Optimus prime, Jet Pack deluxe Bumblebee, voyager Blackout and Activators Soundblaster, the latter included purely because it is labelled as a new character, although in truth it’s just a new paint job on Soundwave. All other Takara Tomy colour schemes have been left out as they are essentially the same figures often with extra metallic paint application in various spots, so we’ll stick to the above figures.
Even though it’s a tiny category, and with the exception of Activators Soundblaster, all the figures here are completely essential. Voyager Blackout is something that non-Japanese markets should never have been made to miss out on. The appearance and design of the toy is about as representative of the Animated look as anything else I’ve seen. The cartoon proportions are as exaggerrated as you’d expect, and he has the grumpiest little head. The transformation is simple for a voyager although the removal of the tail is something that stops my heart every time. He’s similar to Lugnut in many ways (chest, legs, feet) and suffers the same lack of neck articulation and dimunitive size for a figure that should have been huge.
Blackout’s a killer toy though, and although his show appearance was painfully brief and featured a Cybertronian form instead of this Earth mode, I consider it a must-buy. Wingblade Prime is even more relevant, as it’s how Optimus Prime ended the series. He comes with a very God Ginrai-like set of wings, rocket launchers and arm-guards. In addition he has a mini-Magnus hammer and can hold leader Magnus’s hammer as well. On top of that, he is made of semi-transparent plastic that is as classy as I’ve seen on any toy. Most will argue Prime should have won the voyager category, all the Wingblade armour does is make that argument even more convincing. Outstanding release, appealing even to those who don’t like Animated.
The winner, though, has to be Jet Pack Bumblebee. A small category deserves a small winner. This is the size that he original deluxe needed to be in order to scale correctly with the Primes, Ratchets and Bulkheads of the line. His posability, transformation and general lack of kibble is a huge improvement over the standard deluxe – which is the last Animated toy I would sell for sentimental reasons anyway – although it’s not a perfect figure. The gold paint job that Takara Tomy gave all the Animated Bumblebees does not sit well with most collectors (I don’t mind it but I’m in the minority), and he is missing a few finishing touches like the black outline on the face that would make him pop.
The vehicle mode is also a little too angular, but the transformation is so much more enjoyable, plus you get the extra (and rather pointless) Jet Pack and hydro-diving gear that attaches to him in both modes. This above all should have made it to the Hasbro markets as well in a matte show-accurate yellow. Almost the perfect Animated Bumblebee we all wanted but not quite, yet close enough to be the best one in any collection.
A short break from Animated verdicts next week as we feature the highly anticipated FansToys FT-05 Soar with images and review of the in-hand test shot.
All the best