There’s good reason for everyone to be excited for Mastermind Creations’ Reformatted R-08 Azalea. MMC have an excellent recent track record with Terminus Hexatron, Bovis, Leo Dux and Talon all hailed as big successes with lasting appeal and quality befitting high end Transformers collections. It is also a chance for collectors to add an Arcee-inspired Transformer to their collections from a credible manufacturer, using the popular IDW Arcee styling. In fact, it’s the gateway to an army of Fembots coming from MMC. Finally, it’s another Transformer figure that presents a serious take on a Cybertronian alt mode, if you like that sort of thing.
To say that expectations for Azalea the Avenger were high is an understatement. It also had no shortage of competition with Hasbro announcing their Generations Arcee and getting it to market just a shade earlier than the proper G1-coloured MMC Azalea was available from online retailers. In fact, the Asian show exclusive Stealth Azalea was technically the first version of this mould to be available to the public. As with the previous Reformatted series MMC releases, you get a lovely comic/instruction book, a collector’s card and the bookflap-style packaging. My own expectation was that I could add a more G1-styled Arcee to my collection, more G1 than my Animated Arcee who fills that toy line out superbly and accomplishes the job of an Animated style Arcee to perfection.
Azalea had a different design brief. MMC clearly marketed her as the IDW killing machine, and the story included with Azalea does little to move away from that inspiration. I wanted this to be an Arcee free of Hasbro/Takara Generations Arcee back kibble, with an engaging transformation, superb posability and the same design cues and philosophies that made the Feralcons instant hits less than 5 minutes out of the packaging. That certainly was not the case with Azalea, and I suspect many collectors will attest to the same reaction on opening. That’s probably very little to do with the careful and delicate sculpt of the robot mode, and more to do with the alt mode, which is where I will start this article.
The first thing I noticed was how light and small the figure was out of the package. Delicate Warrior seems a much more fitting name for MMC’s offering. I’ll come back to the posability and various elements of the robot mode later, but my first experience of Azalea was not the toy you see in this feature, instead it was a friend’s show exclusive Stealth Azalea shown off at a UK pub meet-up. Any Transformers collector will have a tendency to transform the figure placed in their hands shortly after the initial inspection/amazement has subsided, and when I started manipulating Stealth Azalea, I found myself quite disappointed with the fiddly, delicate and somewhat messy nature of the operation. I got nowhere, and handed back a twisted mess to the owner which I’m sure he didn’t thank me for. Our joint conclusion was “this is not a Transformer, this is a highly posable figure”.
There’s a big difference between handling someone else’s brand new 3rd Party Transformer in a pub and sitting down to explore the same figure at home in comfortable solitude with focus and the instructions. After a couple of attempts using the instructions to try and get Azalea into her Cybertronian hovercraft mode, I admit I gave up, returned the figure to as close as default robot mode as I could and put it in the box and away. I think it was 2 days before I went back to it. After struggling to get anywhere with the instructions that told me I could do things that seemed physically impossible with the toy, like tabbing the feet to the forearms, or getting the hands to grip the peg inside the thighs, knowing roughly where I should be heading and using some 25+ years of experience handling Transformers I was able to achieve the above vehicle mode shots. There was no way I was going to transform it back until I’d gotten all the photographs I needed.
One of the hands was now gripping the inside-thigh peg for stability and both feet were now tabbed onto the forearms, so I was about 75% of the way to the advertised vehicle mode. About that, I have no trouble accepting Cybertronian alternate modes in my collection. Transformers Animated, via Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Ironhide, Shockwave and co together with Mech iDeas Bluster and Trench, has softened me to the aesthetic greatly. When I look at this hyper-compact and cute vehicle mode for Azalea I imagine Futurama-style hovercraft noises and I can totally see Arcee presented this way on Cybertron.
I love that there is an unofficial third mode where Azalea looks like a mini-plane or fighter. In fact, I think it resembles the racing craft from the Sony PlayStation Wipeout series very closely and that was always going to score highly with me. I lost years of my youth to Wipeout and its sequels. You may also be aware of my penchant for collecting racing cars, and since MMC are using Azalea as a gateway drug to an army of Fembots, a transforming Wipeout racing grid could be achieved. But nobody cares about that except me. Azalea comes with a small flight stand that pegs in underneath the vehicle and doubles up as a stability aid when posing in robot mode. It may have been better to use a clear plastic stand with some degree of articulation, but they could just as easily have left it out. Can’t complain, mustn’t grumble.
In both vehicle modes, Azalea’s diminutive frame is again evident, but then she is up against the bulky voyager Generations Springer. I expect many collectors to place her next to Springer, and the disparity between their vehicle sizes is small enough to be acceptable. As with other MMC toys, Azalea can accomodate all her accessories in vehicle mode, with the swords attached to the outer shins and the guns clipped to the backpack, not entirely unlike how Gen Springer appears with all his gubbins attached in alt mode. Sure, there’s a Cybertronian versus Earth mode discrepancy here, but it’s not enough of an issue for me that I’d have to buy a Generations Arcee. Not based on that criteria, anyway.
I don’t want to beat about the bush, though. Getting Azalea into vehicle mode was a complete chore and neither intuitive nor enjoyable those first few occasions. I found myself bending things in order to tab them correctly, and when one thing tabbed, another would un-clip, mis-align, come off or just plain resist. There was genuine frustration and it really is true to say that had I not needed to review the toy for this article, it may have been dismissed completely and permanently from my collection based on those early interactions. Some collectors – maybe rightfully – feel entitled to instant gratification, and do not feel justified in persevering with a figure to enjoy and appreciate it once they’ve worked out all the foibles and quirks.
MMC themselves are aware that Azalea is a difficult transformer, but they are relying on her strength as a hyper-posable and expressive robot, her identity as an IDW-inspired Arcee, to sell it. In fact, they go so far as to include a blurb in the instructions that the manufacturer will not be held responsible for damage caused to the hood panels/flaps if inexperienced owners transform the toy with them attached and cause damage. They are clearly expecting some kind of damage to be incurred due to the claustrophobic nature of the panel arrangement in that area, and are possibly tired of having to issue replacement parts. What was not immediately apparent to me about that region was how the robot head and back assembly can be rotated (specifically where the pivot was) to face downwards as detailed in the instructions. MMC recommend removal of those aforementioned panels to prevent obstruction during the rotation of said assembly.
And so to Azalea, the Avenger. The IDW Arcee whose posability and display value are the key to the success of this product. Once I was certain that I wouldn’t need any more vehicle photographs, I dared to transform her back to a robot, a task that is infinitely easier than the reverse operation. There are obstacles, like clipping the neck into the correct point on the chest to ensure a perfect join where everything stays connected, and despite what I said earlier the only word for describing the hanging back panel below the back is kibble. It can be raised though to sit just under the wings. Above you can see Azalea sporting her fold-out sword accessories, and with the articulated forearms, rotating wrists and ball-jointed shoulders, she can do a great deal with them.
The packaging certainly promotes the badass Arcee from IDW’s Furman-lead vision of a cold killer, twisted into being an unfeeling weapon for eventual use by Prowl in the early pages of Robots In Disguise. I’ve seen so many online galleries of Azalea in impossible poses wielding those lethal swords, poses I actually took quite a bit of enjoyment in recreating. It’s true that the protruding piece behind her neck stops Azalea’s head from looking directly upwards – and that’s annoying – but any angle on that and she can look upwards with ease. What you can do with the legs, knees, ankles, torso, arms and head mean that she is extremely expressive. The more dynamic and outlandish poses can be supported with the flight stand attached to either ankle.
Posing Azalea with her handguns is just as impressive and expressive. It is certainly one of those figures that could be posed for hours on end and begs to be messed with in that respect. Maybe that’s not enough for all collectors, though. The option of the alt mode is hugely important, and just knowing that picking a toy up to transform and then return to your favourite display stance is possible means a lot. With Azalea, like Warden, sometimes that effort can be off-putting. This means you are effectively paying for a highly posable robot. That was my stance on Azalea up to a couple of days ago.
I grabbed Azalea out of the packaging again last night and said to myself “if you can transform her to vehicle mode with no difficulty, with nothing popping off and no confusion or frustration, then she’s a keeper”. Sure enough I managed it, and I enjoyed it. I even clipped/tabbed 100% of the instructed parts together and it took me less time than my movie Human Alliance figures. I learned, I adapted, I gave it more of a chance than maybe it deserved, but I was rewarded. The result being I have since ordered Zinnia from TFSource.
An acceptably tricky but ultimately satisfying transformation and high posability are not enough to sell me a figure or I’d have a great deal more diversity in my collection. The addition of a Wipeout-style alternate mode certainly helps but in order for me to accept this as Arcee, who I believe Arcee to be to me, there was one more ingredient that Azalea had to demonstrate that she contained: the ability to look and hold herself like the 1986 Movie Arcee. I believe she does this extremely well evidenced by the below pictures where her savage warrior side is not as evident, where her IDW styling cannot completely cover that female Autobot who was running to grab Springer’s hand on the shuttle or shooting Unicron’s intestinal claws.
With that ingredient evident from very early on, once the enigma of the transformation had been confidently solved and I had made friends with the compromises made in alt mode to accommodate that highly articulated robot mode. and despite the fact that I don’t collect Classics or similarly scaled figures to Azalea, I can say that this figure has found a place in my collection and I can appreciate it for what it is and how it is meant to work. That does not by any means imply that I am suddenly not aware of Azalea’s drawbacks, but it does mean I know Azalea better and I love her for what she is. Somewhere between these two:
Another criticism that was levelled at the figure was that the face, shown initially as silver, was changed to pink. Apparently the silver face created unwelcome reflections from the rest of the pink deco and so MMC opted for the pink face which is clearly more accurate to the source material anyway, just see the above images for confirmation. Disclaimer: I may have dreamt all of this. The robot helmet seems to have struck middle ground between the face-invading sides of the IDW helmet but colour and shape of the G1 Arcee head at the top. I don’t really mind the lack of implied lipstick on Azalea.
If I had to sum up my feelings on Azalea, to give a verdict, I’d say anyone on the fence would need to know precisely why they were buying into this figure and concept. If it’s an IDW Arcee loaded with weaponry and posability dripping off every surface in robot mode, then yes this is for you. If you want a transforming Arcee with elements of IDW and G1, then you’d better make damn sure you are happy with both modes, robot and alt, because that transformation process is going to test your limits and tolerance for fiddly manipulation and frustration. True, I no longer feel the immediate discouragement from picking the figure up because I think I can handle it now, but for some collectors the reality is that first impressions could taint opinion of Azalea and her sisters permanently.
That would be a shame, but the direction that MMC have gone with the Fembots will undoubtedly polarise. I still feel like I am handling a quality collector’s piece, I have not felt as though I was going to break anything and for 3rd party figures that can still be considered a serious achievement – not a glowing endorsement of the scene, I know, but it’s a fact. It’s a brave figure, and folks will be holding MMC’s recent form against them if it doesn’t meet their needs. I’m glad they took the risk though, they didn’t just go for likeness, they went for everything. Alt mode(s), robot mode, hyper-posability and an amalgamation of features from the most popular forms of the source material. Azalea meets my needs, and she’s much more than just a figure I now like with flaws because I had to adjust myself to her and I don’t see them as flaws now, rather features. But I really had to work for it.
All the best