”I remember running to the sea, I remember falling to my knees”.
Mastermind Creations have released a Masterpiece-scaled homage to the Generation 1 Autobot Spy Mirage, and they have done it in the style of celebrated Japanese animation gurus Studio Ox, responsible for so many beautiful illustrations in Television Magazine. Under their Ocular Max (read: Ox) guise, the ”Perfection Series” pulls no punches in registering what its intentions are. PS-01 Sphinx, their Mirage, is the inaugural release. It is perfection indeed, and I surely did fall to my knees.
“The timing was perfect, like water on glass”.
Make no mistake, this is a clear shot at Masterpiece Mirage, a figure many of us have been dreaming about since he rescued the universe in the Transformers cartoon pilot back in 1984. DX9 had a superb stab at filling that hole with Invisible, a figure I still adore, but Sphinx is on a different level. The packaging virtually loses its own head with all the nods it gives to various bits of Transformers history. For a start, the “Perfection Series” logo at the top is clearly meant to resemble the original Takara “Fight! Super Robot Life Form Transformers” lettering. The Generation 1 style tech spec on the back is as brazen a reproduction of original Transformers packaging that has ever been attempted on a 3rd party item, and the fact that a second run will feature Diaclone-style packaging says a lot about how much MMC have paid respect to the history of this character and figure.
“This will be my monument, this will be the beacon when I’m gone”.
The advertised inclusion of die cast metal, the attention to detail with the accurate Equipe Gitanes livery on this 1979 Ligier JS11 F1 car – with appropriately mis-spelled sponsors – together with rubber tyres, and toon-styled robot mode aesthetic, accessories and proportions incorporated into one package all scream one word: Perfect. That is what Ocular Max and MMC were going for, a simply perfect Mirage that is beyond reproach in terms of what it tries to accomplish, leaving the owner with no need to look further afield to complete the picture. At least, that was the original intention. I know how seriously MMC looked into the use of logos, and then the most entertaining/classy rendition of said logos they could get away with. They also investigated the correct dimensions of the vehicle Mirage was based on, all of it speaking very highly of the efforts made for this project.
“These days of candy, live in your mind, those violet lines”.
The result is a spellbinding vehicle mode that faithfully reproduces the F1 car that Mirage was based on. From branded tyres to accurate red-striped livery, even the Gitanes gypsy woman logo near the engine makes an appearance. The grooves at the front of the car where the wheels sit allow for the front wheels to be turned, and due to the nature of the transformation, motorsport geeks like me can even replicate a bit of camber and toe for the wheels. You can see the clip-in holographic driver as well, it is designed to be effective only as a cockpit accessory, take him out and he’s not quite all there! Other accessories include an extra smiling face (no thanks), a blank back-of-head (not for me, I like the logos), non-firing missile launcher and hand gun. This first run comes with an extra little package, the iconic Mirage parachute from the pilot as well as an extra blank replacement face.
The robot mode weaponry can be attached to the rear wing endplates for an attack mode configuration, but nobody wants that! Removing the holo-driver reveals a quite nice cockpit interior with an essential moving part sculpted to resemble the driver’s seat belts. This is a stunning vehicle mode, the best any version of Mirage has ever enjoyed, and the added sprinkling of die cast gives it good heft. The vehicle rolls perfectly. Hours could be lost just staring at it.
Non-litigious sponsor use include gems such as “Gooo-year”, “ell”, the more subtle “Liger” and classic “Citanes”. Comparing Sphinx to DX9’s Invisible leaves us in absolutely no doubt who got closer to the original inspiration for Mirage’s magnificent vehicle mode:
I still love Invisible, and he’s not going anywhere, but I cannot deny how much better a job of that vehicle mode Ocular Max/MMC have done. Do I wish Sphinx had chrome on the front and rear wings like Invisible? Yes, actually I do. It wasn’t until I put them side by side that I started to care about it, though, and I’ve long since stopped caring about its omission.
“Like no other, you can’t be replaced”.
Transformation is lovely. That is the word for it. It is repeatable, intuitive, enjoyable, sub 5-minutes and not in any way heart-stopping. Obviously you can’t ham-fist it or rush it, there are thin parts and delicate parts, things that are easy to forget (small flaps on either side of the chest), just employ the same care you would with any $80 product. While there are a significant number of moving parts and painted surfaces, it’s not just the weight of Sphinx that gives you a sense of build quality. It feels mostly official to me and the transformation philosophy completely puts me in mind of other Masterpiece Transformers. I especially enjoyed the positioning of the wheels under the front wing and the unclipping/folding of the sidepods when forming the legs. The way in which OX/MMC have dealt with the filling of gaps in the forearms impressed me.
Posability is everything you’d want from a Masterpiece-style carbot. The ankle tilts are fierce but they don’t articulate outwards. That didn’t stop him pulling off ‘The Run’, though, did it? Sphinx has a moveable thumb, pointy finger, ball-jointed neck, rotating waist, double-jointed elbows and knees. The handgun (and parachute) grip are excellent, and the launcher clips on to a diecast bar next to his head. What I don’t like, and this is a genuine negative for me on an otherwise superb figure, is that the missile launcher cannot be angled up too far, and it interferes with the robot head. In addition to that, it can only be attached to the left of his head when viewed head-on. An accessory that is not integrated and that has no other real function should be far more user friendly than this. I was sure that I was doing something wrong for ages, but apparently this is it. The left shoulder on mine had a slight tendency to sag, especially when holding up the parachute, but it is nowhere near Scoria levels.
He can achieve about 90% of what I would call a perfect kneel, meaning that what he can do looks natural enough but I can’t explore every kneeling pose I want, not like an Azalea or a Cynicus can do. General stability in robot mode posing is great, though, I did not find myself ever getting frustrated with Sphinx during the photography. He can pull off the high side kicks with just the minimum of sensible weight distribution and balancing. Double-handed gun holding is also one of Sphinx’s many talents.
“Fell from the sky, heaven replied. Salvation in streams, silent and clean”.
Oh boy, that parachute accessory. Clear bendy plastic of some weight that means it can sag when held aloft. It’s no crappy extra, though, I love this thing. It’s accurate to the one Mirage used in MTMTE/Arrival From Cybertron, it fits snugly in his paws and if I had one of those Tamashii Act stands, there would be about 10 more photos of it! I did try and balance Sphinx on an FT Soar stand and then a Masterpiece Sunstorm stand with varying degrees of success, and what I found was that when trying to spread the legs to imitate a parachute landing, it became difficult due to the weight in the legs causing them to sag at the hip ball joint when not grounded. If it’s true and only the first run of Sphinx comes with this parachute, what are you waiting for? Owning Sphinx, I wouldn’t have been able to live without it.
“I spend the days of my vanity, I’m lost in heaven and I’m lost to Earth”.
Sphinx’s head sculpt, specifically his face, has come in for some criticism. The features have been called “soft” or even “derpy”, and no matter how much I endeavoured to bring out the nuances of what I believe to be a lovely face sculpt in photos, I was not able to do it. I’m an enormous Mirage fanboy, and all I can say is that in hand I am not in the slightest disappointed with what OX/MMC have produced for Sphinx. Just the tiniest amount more definition might have made it pop like it does in the screen cap above, but I love it. It is extremely Mirage to me. The name Sphinx is undoubtedly a reference to the sides of his helmet being lined similarly to that of the famous Egyptian monument. Sphinx. Adore that name. Adore that face. The replacement heads though, absolutely not for me. They seem much less defined than the one he comes packaged with. Despite all of the above, and as much as I would hope that in person everyone will see what I see, it won’t be the case. Chances are that if it’s repelling you that much in photos, in hand it may be to a lesser degree, but you still won’t like it.
I guess the exact same thing can be said for Sphinx’s overall proportions, his comparisons to DX9 Invisible (perceived big head vs small head) and how well he fits in with other Masterpiece figures. I think he fits in beautifully with the other Masterpiece figures because his alternate mode is real world accurate, and in robot mode his proportions and aesthetic – although aimed at Studio Ox – replicate the Sunbow cartoon depiction pretty damn well. It’s a remarkable achievement when you think about how perfect that F1 car looks, and how toon accurate a Mirage robot it makes.
Other than the vehicle mode being slightly longer than I imagine Takara Tomy’s Masterpiece Mirage will be (should they ever get around to it), I can’t fault how well he blends in with the Masterpiece Transformers. I think Sphinx does it much better than BadCube Brawny, Wardog and DX9 Invisible. When we talk about what Takara Tomy would do better with an official release, I can’t immediately answer that without just leaning on the assumption that it will be even more cartoon accurate with a head sculpt nobody could fault, but then Bumblebee and Smokescreen show that they are not infallible where my own tastes and preferences are concerned. Maybe the transformation would be simpler or more fun? I don’t think that’s a given, maybe there would be a genius step included, the likes of which grace the MP Ultra Magnus, Laserbeak and Bumblebee conversions, but I already enjoy transforming Sphinx more than I do the MP Datsuns, Seekers and Soundwave. Slide-out arms and legs, folding wheels, rotating waist, it’s just right. I would want Takara Tomy to sort that launcher out, though, and include a yellow invisibility frame to put around the figure, as well as an extra G1 toy-style head!
If 3rd Party companies are going to ape the Masterpiece style, they are going to experience every ounce of scrutiny and criticism they deserve. A lot of collectors have their very own intense beliefs and preferences when it comes to official Masterpiece product, never mind 3rd party stuff. MMC had a great thing going with their Reformatted line releasing characters others were not, or using scales and aesthetics that were not the hottest any more (read: not MP), so it’s brave of them to go this way. It’s lucky too that they have done such an amazing job with Sphinx, given what they have decided to call the sub-line that’s going to give us Inferno and the Insecticons next.
Sphinx is a dream come true, a Mirage that fits in with what could be called the definitive modern Transformers collectors’ toy line, a toy that looks sublime in both modes and features an enjoyable conversion and lots of engaging accessories, as well as packaging that deserves more than a second look. It’s made of the materials we wanted, and is of the quality we demand. It’s also Mirage, and Mirage saved the universe. Mirage is an F1 car, and he can turn invisible. Like Mirage, Sphinx is – as intended and named – perfection.
“So that when the moment comes, I can say I did it all with love”.
All the best