FansToys have created a problem for themselves, their first 3rd Party offering Quakewave was almost universally acknowledged as one of the best 3rd Party products ever to hit the Transformers collector market. After that, their decision to tackle Masterpiece-style Dinobots, or “Iron Dibots” led to their version of Dinobot Slag, FT-04 Scoria, and certainly I believed it to be every bit as good as Quakewave although well-documented issues with looseness and some QC niggles cast some doubt over their ability to maintain their mantle as the top 3rd Party guys in town. FansToys’s next offering, FT-05 Soar (Not Swoop), is absolutely key in helping the company to re-establish themselves as the go-to guys for filling Masterpiece-sized gaps in the official line-up. Available in both Diaclone/cartoon blue and toy/comic red, we’ve got a test shot of the blue version for review.
Stating the obvious and factual stuff first, the Transformers Dinobot Swoop was originally based on the Japanese Takara Diaclone Dinosaur Robo No.5 Pteranodon, or “Diaclone Swoop”. That figure had a blue chest, gold chrome lower beak, dino feet, missiles and sword. This colour scheme was what the Sunbow Transformers G1 cartoon rendition of Swoop was based on. When the toy was released by Hasbro in North America in what amounts to 1985, the toy had red plastic instead of gold chromed detailing and the blue chest was replaced with red. Safety features like a moulded bobble on the end of the beak and rounded wingtips were also introduced, plus the rolling wheels on the knees of the Diaclone were simply moulded static blobs on the Transformer, although it retained the landing gear hidden in the chest.
FansToys have decided to cover both types of collector preference and are releasing a blue version as well as a red version. Their name for this release “Soar” is an obvious euphemism for “Swoop”, and also homo-phonic with “Saur”, a term closely related to dinosaurs. What I can tell you 100% is that the blue version of Soar comes with a fully gold chrome beak, as well as a clear replacement top half of the beak for those that way inclined. He also has shiny chrome wings like the original Takara and Hasbro toys, but a replacement set of matte silver wings are included too. He has two missile launchers with gold missiles moulded in (not firing), and a clear red sword with electronic light-up feature like Scoria. He also comes with a clear display stand for flight poses in either mode (different attachment points), and the robot face can be rotated to reveal a second face.
First impressions of Soar on removal from his shipping box were basically unfiltered four-letter exclamations. The weight is prodigious, the gloss and sparkle of the finishing on him deeply impressive. If you come from a cartoon background as I do, there’s no mistaking it. This is the best Swoop figure you will ever see. I was utterly stunned into silence, just open-mouthed admiration. What good’s that, though? We like to play with our toys, pose them, transform them even. As you can see above, Soar has a varied range of motion and there’s neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger, knee, ankle, wing and waist articulation. In order to rotate the waist, one has to lift the beak up from the chest. Now before anyone gets funny about this, in order to create ample clearance, the beak would have had to be shorter and I think that would have adversely affected the dino mode, just as I feel a longer torso would have had implications for robot mode proportions – folks are already discussing the possibility that he’s too tall.
Dynamic posing is pretty easy with Soar, once I tightened up the screws in his ankles, I could plonk him on any hard surface and he would stand first time without dangerous lean due to significant die cast content. That’s not to say you will have to do that, this is after all a test shot that FT already admitted to having “issues that will be fixed for production”. You have to be sure to properly fold out the feet and adjust them so that the back of the heel sits flush with the back of the calf. The instructions outline this as paramount to ensuring robot mode stability. Additionally, I was instructed very clearly by FT to lift the waist flaps before bending the legs to avoid the flaps scratching the chrome on the gold thigh clips, more on those later. There is a lot of metal (shoulders, lower legs, chest, dino feet) so his weight can affect what you are able to achieve, for example I was unable to get Soar to hold a running pose balancing on one leg. Speaking of die cast sections, the paint on those bits is glorious, sparkly blue and sparkly silver harking back to the days of Diaclone. Very attractive up close, as I say the finishing is great on Soar.
Weapon grip is also hugely improved over Scoria. Soar’s fingers have such tight joints that even though the sword doesn’t tab in perfectly (launcher is much better), he can grip them with ease and you can place the thumb where it should be leading to a more natural grip than with Scoria where the hilt of the sword and gun handle made such posing difficult. The handles and tabs on Soar’s weapons are noticeably thinner and shorter than Scoria weapons, meaning Scoria can hold Soar’s weapons, but Soar can’t really hold Scoria’s. Holding the weapons up is no problem for Soar either, there is absolutely no hint of any looseness in the shoulders, but the forearms on my test shot were a little loose. I had no issues with posing arms on mine so it never presented an obstacle in that regard.
The clear 2-piece stand that comes with Soar is a lovely touch, quite effective in allowing very Swoop-like flying poses in both modes. It’s strong enough to hold him at a significant angle but you must be mindful of weight distribution as it can topple with the wrong amount of bulk on the wrong side of the base. The legs on this Soar test shot were tight enough to not flop or wobble when suspended or when held and shaken. That’s quite a good sign for something with as much die cast content as this. The wings are also double jointed at each point of articulation and they are equally as tight, so no unwanted flapping about there, they are in fact a complete joy to pose. Unlike the G1/Diaclone Swoop where each wing had one fold, Soar has two (technically three) fold points on each wing that makes things a little neater at the back.
The wings can also be posed slightly upwards too from where they attach to the body, but much less so than on something like MMC Talon. In addition to that, the wings can also be pushed back to allow more clearance in robot mode for the elbows. Soar has a very impressive wingspan as we will see in dino mode a little later. While some have been commenting that they prefer the look of the matte silver wings, all who have seen this test shot in hand so far have opted for the shiny chrome wings, and that would definitely be my choice too. Here’s Soar sporting the matte silver wings:
So far the figure seems a delightful hybrid between the class of the Diaclone release, a relic of shiny chrome and sharp extremities, and the dynamism, proportions and aesthetic of G1 cartoon Swoop. Add to that the finishing quality of the best Scoria and Quakewave specimens, FansToys’ ability to replicate the Masterpiece feel and…that word again, aesthetic…and you have something on your hands that could conceivably elevate FT straight back to the top of the league. So far.
Added chin aside, I have to say FT have nailed Swoop’s animation face sculpt. You never know, they may have created early designs without the new chin and decided it just didn’t look good, maybe too plain. Some have commented on the wide mouth, in hand it’s a non-issue and you’ll find it’s quite integral to the overall expression and character that FT were trying to imbue this figure with. There’s great neck articulation here and the movement of the head is instrumental in giving Soar those dynamic poses and display options.
Scale wise, if we accept that FT pitched their Non-Slag as taller than MP Grimlock, and rightfully so considering he’s shorter than MP-10 Convoy in robot mode, then Soar is absolutely the right height. The boots on Grimlock were always meant to be a temporary measure designed to give relevance to the existing figure alongside FT’s Iron Dibots, so let’s wait for FT Not-Grimlock before we pass final judgement on the size and height of these releases. On a purely visual level, who can deny that the three figures look exceptionally good together? Everything about Soar, alongside the two brutes, describes the relatively delicate nature of the character, not unlike how Talon looks next to the other MMC Feralcons.
It’s just not enough for a 3rd Party figure to do the business in robot mode so that it can stand alongside Masterpiece Transformers with ease, demands are higher these days and one could legitimately argue that with Quakewave and Scoria, as good as they are to some of us, there’s some room for improvement in certain areas. Soar, I’d say, has the strongest alternate mode of all three FansToys releases and the one figure most likely to be displayed in that alternate mode compared to the aforementioned FT figures. That’s not any slight against the robot mode – because that’s marvellous – just a compliment to FT about how good Soar’s dinosaur mode is. It seems bizarre to compliment something modern and open to new engineering solutions that is based on an animation model that in turn was based on an early 1980s figure, especially when the arms are so visible in dino mode, but it’s screen accurate and that’s what the vocal majority (minority?) have been pleading for.
Transforming Soar first time out was difficult. Storage of the hands and feet is simple and effective, the joining together of chest halves is easy enough, and even though the instructions direct the user to fold the halves out diagonally and then realign them after pushing the shoulders in, you can just shove the whole assembly in from the sides like the G1 toy. Folding the beak up and hiding the robot face inside is very cool as well, you then attach the two red pegs to the side of the robot head to secure that section, pegs that normally fold into the beak and are hidden from view in robot mode. That’s the end of the easy stuff.
In the above picture you can see the robot thighs, doubling up here as the dino shins, are made up of a large lower piece, smaller top piece and a connecting gold chrome clip. This clip – a direct homage to the design of the original Diaclone/G1 Swoop where the wheels would have been – is shown in the instructions as engineered to pop clean out of the top piece when the knees are bent backwards, or the legs folded back. This works well on mine but another test shot’s clips were stuck in place and bending the leg caused them to snap. Be sure to deal with this clip first before any significant leg movement in either mode. Yes it’s supposed to move by itself, but don’t take the risk with a $200 figure. These are the same chromed clips that the instructions advise you to be wary of when moving the legs, hence the lifting of the waist flap to avoid chrome wear via scratching. In the same picture you can also see a hook-shaped clip that slots into the gold dino feet in robot mode. Be sure to engage all 4 clips in robot mode (one on the outside and one on the inside of each leg), not to aid stability, but to stop all the thigh panels shown above separating from each other when the knees are bent for posing.
Key to ensuring stability in dino mode of stood on his feet, Soar has gold heels that must be folded down all the way. Even then, you need to angle him forwards to avoid a backwards topple. That in turned can cause the gold thigh clips to bend, and they do have some give in them, but every bend may lead closer to a snap. Once you’ve handled the figure a few times, you will automatically look out for those clips and figure their maintenance into your enjoyment of Soar. The most difficult part of the transformation involves properly aligning the robot legs along the dinosaur’s back to ensure a secure and snug clip-in. On first transformation the the knees do not completely compress and you can still see the silver pistons in dino mode. So you really have to push down hard on the legs when folded over the back to ensure the whole knee assembly moves and allows the legs to sit flush along the back. Look at the H-shaped silver parts folded up against the black ratcheting part of Soar’s knees in the following pictures to see what you are aiming for:
Soar is unmistakably Swoop in dino mode. Every nod and wink you’d wish for is present, from the replaceable gold/clear beak half to the shape of his beak, head, eyes and wings. He’s so compact, dense and weighty in dino mode and begs to be placed on that stand which supports the pose most of the time. The pteranodon’s beak/head can be moved up or down, and the hinge on the neck allows you to move the head from side to side as well, but only when in proper horizontal flight configuration. When Soar is standing on his gold dino feet, the range of movement is slightly lessened by the nature of the joint, although you can cock his head to one side for comic posing. The legs clip in securely enough along his back that even holding him upside down and shaking vigorously does not cause them to come loose. Type in “FT Soar legs” into YouTube and watch the ridiculous videos I made for proof. The fold-out silver tail is a nice touch as well.
It’s interesting, I always thought the need for a clear stand would take something away from a joint display of Dinobots, official or otherwise. Somehow buying into the suspension of disbelief – because toys can fly, right – meant that I dismissed stands for Transformers as completely unnecessary and over the top. Then I took the above and below photographs of Soar on his stand with Scoria and Grimlock. I’m sure you’ll agree, these qualify as the money shots every bit as anything else in this article. The stand may interfere when the figures are in very close proximity, but visually it becomes part of the background very quickly. Its inclusion is completely essential.
You may have noticed that the gold chrome on Soar is a deeper, richer variety than that used on Scoria and Grimlock. While some collectors may be very keen for FansToys to colour-match the chrome with Scoria and Grimlock leading to a more uniform appearance across the Iron Dibots/Dinobots, you really need to see this new shade of gold chrome on Soar in-hand to appreciate its beauty. Maybe we could argue that seeing as how Swoop and Snarl were constructed by Wheeljack after Grimlock, Slag and Sludge, they could have exhibited differences in colour. For me personally, this is no deal-breaker, the three of them look spectacular together and not in the slightest diminished by a little diversity. Interestingly, FT didn’t colour match the chrome to the original Diaclone Pteranodon either as a means to achieving this new colour, the former looks much more similar to Scoria in its chrome colouring:
I grew up on a very limited cocktail of Transformers episodes and the 1986 movie, any UK collector and fan will tell you that VHS copies of episodes were absolute gold dust in the 1990s, and only with the release of DVDs and online downloads was I able to see all the G1 episodes. Megatron’s Master Plan, More Than Meets The Eye (Arrival From Cybertron) and especially Desertion Of The Dinobots and The Movie were where my imagination for Transformers was born. So, with that in mind, Swoop is hugely important to me and FansToys have captured everything about the character I wanted in this figure, then married it to the kind of construction quality and aesthetic that I desire.
I was already deeply in love with Scoria despite its flaws and massively fond of Grimlock despite never being a Dinobot collector or enthusiast because I appreciated the achievement and screen accuracy. Swoop is more than just a Dinobot to me, though, and Soar is more than a 3rd Party offering. The head sculpt, the finish, the accuracy and homages, the transformation once you figure out all the tricks – and it is nowhere near as complicated as the instructions or warnings above make it seem – all contribute to what qualifies as another resounding success.
Do I care that the missiles don’t fire? Not a jot, why would I want them to be unleashed and potentially lost? I’m not actually going to play with this thing beyond transforming it. On that topic, I do not own a single other 3rd Party Masterpiece-style figure or official Masterpiece item that I enjoy transforming more than Soar. He’s not easy to the point of being dull or simple, it’s absolutely just right. There is no hesitation in picking him up and changing between robot and pteranodon because it’s well thought out, easily executable but with the need to pay attention to detail. I would have advocated a little less die cast content to help achieve extreme robot poses, but that aside, I find Soar to be a clear step above Scoria in quality and the successful capture of the Dinobot and Masterpiece look in both modes. Swoop was beautiful as a dinosaur and a robot, and Soar is Swoop, so it should come as no surprise that Soar is beautiful. Soar is Swoop, say it again, because that’s all the endorsement this figure needs. Three nil? Three nil.
Many kind thanks to Ben Hazard for the use of his Diaclone and WST Swoop.
All the best