Takara Tomy and Transformers Masterpiece have been knocking it out of the park recently, actually, for quite some time. Despite 3rd party companies beginning to converge aggressively on the Masterpiece scale and aesthetic, filling apparent holes in our collections that TT supposedly will not get to for years, the official stuff is as popular as ever and arguably getting better. From back in early 2014 with G2 Lambor, Silverstreak and Soundblaster & Ratbat, conceding that most of the popular stuff was focused towards the end of 2014, Wheeljack, Bumblebee, Ultra Magnus and Skywarp have sent Masterpiece stratospheric. With Star Saber, Exhaust and Tracks around the proverbial corner, it seems set to continue in the same vein.
Starting with something that was summarily dismissed by too many as a giant repaint standing in the way of everyone getting their Masterpiece Ratbats, MP-13B Soundblaster is a beautiful figure and a completely legitimate – albeit predictable – release. Based on the Headmasters character of New Soundwave / Soundblaster, it made perfect Japanese sense to dedicate a release slot to, and as smart as Takara Tomy’s marketing of his companion Ratbat was, plenty of collectors cried foul that they were not able to get Ratbat individually without having to fork out for another Soundwave figure.
I’ve seen plenty of Bat-free Soundblasters on eBay and the trend continues. The recent bootleg MP Ratbat is almost immediately identifiable as such because it just doesn’t have that lush fit of the authentic release, and the gold paint is quite different. One actually disintegrated in my hands. I knew I would never be able to be satisfied with that, and I generally have a massive hatred of the counterfeit market with zero interest in supporting it. MP-13B is something I have picked up very recently, almost a year after release, and even though I have Soundwave, Soundblaster has been an essential purchase. Ratbat is divine, every bit as clever as Laserbeak, and the black/silver/red contrast of Soundblaster pops more than Soundwave’s deco does.
The explosion started here, with MP-20 Wheeljack. From the prototype images it was clear that Takara Tomy had every intention of recreating as accurate a Lancia Stratos Turbo vehicle mode as possible in no way enormously compromised by the requirements of a toon-accurate robot mode. When coloured images appeared, the Alitalia livery was revealed in full, TT not going the route of simplistic red and white paint on the chest. Right down to the red hubs and sprued wing mirrors, the faithful re-creation of Wheeljack and the Stratos it was based on shone. Reprolabels accounted for the other missing logos and sponsors, but Ocean also provided an “official” set.
Masterpiece Wheeljack provided something I had not yet experienced in the Autobot car lineup from this sub-line, and that was a joyous transformation, something I couldn’t wait to do again and again. After a year and more of articles based on MP Lambor and Prowl, the Countach and Datsun transformations are not something I look forward to, specifically the robot-to-car conversions. Are they hard? No. I find them laborious, especially having to do them en masse for a group photoshoot. That apprehension of picking a figure up to transform doesn’t exist with Wheeljack. The whole lower section of the robot is a joy, extending legs and everything, so G1!
I don’t normally go in for Reprolabels as I like the stock look for new Transformers figures, I even managed to resist making MP-19 Smokescreen fully race accurate. For Wheeljack, however, the amazing $0.01 price on this Reprolabel set and the wonderful effect the sponsor decals had on him made it irresistible. Every single jot of difficulty and effort in ensuring everything was applied according to the real life Stratos was worth it. So much so that the standard unadorned MP-20 looks enormously plain to me now. If you’re going to do a real life racing car, it has to be done right. What makes them doubly impressive is just how little they encroach on the robot mode when transformed.
There was definitely a feeling to me when I had Wheeljack in hand that something special had happened, that Takara had upped their game and injected MP-20 with the same magic that Masterpiece ought to exude from every release. Seemingly, the definition of a current post-MP-10 Masterpiece is that it should be the very best representation of the G1 character’s cartoon portrayal with as realistic an alt mode as possible, where it is real life-based. Wheeljack – on top of adding a TF Animated nod under the face mask – completely nails that definition, with the best car-bot transformation to date. That is, until MP-21 came along.
What can I say that I did not already cover adequately in the Top Purchases of 2014 article for Source Blog? Masterpiece Bumblebee remains the standout ‘smaller’ Masterpiece figure in this illustrious chain of releases. Let us put aside the glaring inconsistency in the size of his vehicle mode compared to a Lancia Stratos like Wheeljack, which is in fact smaller in real life than a VW Beetle, and instead focus on the delicious Volkswagen licensing victory that has allowed us to have this beautiful Beetle, single wing mirror and all. Bumblebee comes with Spike in his exo-suit that remarkably takes up more space in the insert than the main event! The arms pop off Spike. A lot. But it still manages to be a fun transformer in its own right, something I discovered too long after receiving the figure, so engaging was Bumblebee on his own.
Bumblebee isn’t perfect, during transformation that beautiful toy-accurate battle mask is very easy to scratch and boy does it stand out if you should manage it. The standard cartoon-face is one of the weakest since Smokescreen in my opinion and I just could not get on with it, so the Amazon exclusive battle mask was a no-brainer. Even when I scratched mine, I had to go out and buy another, so essential was it to Bumblebee’s look. The number of badass notches the battle mask increases MP Bee by is phenomenal. Posability, as you can see, is off the scale and the transformation is one of the true marvels and achievements of the modern Transformers era. Its genius is in its simplicity, repeatability and that one moment where the hood section slides diagonally into the central cavity for robot mode. That is an official Masterpiece Moment (TM).
I was surprised by Bumblebee, enormously. Even in a period of collecting for me where I have branched out into all sorts of areas previously ignored and like to think that I have opened my mind considerably, I did not expect to like Masterpiece Bumblebee more than Wheeljack. Despite that revelation, there was little about MP-22 Ultra Magnus that I was excited about, so much so that I didn’t even pre-order the big guy.
All the best