The long-awaited MP-25 Masterpiece Tracks from Takara Tomy finally saw release in early November. With various retailers filling orders throughout the world and opinion quite generally divided among collectors as to whether or not the Kobayashi-designed Tracks is up to the same standard as the previous Autobot cars, I decided to feature the new kid on the block this week and give my own opinion on his Masterpiece credentials. The sparkly blue Corvette Stingray, boasting three modes true to his Diaclone and G1 Transformers history, has come in for a fair amount of criticism as well as plenty of adoration. Do collectors have cause to worry about the perceived new direction of the Masterpiece Transformers brand? Is this Kobayashi-designed Car Robot a match for the Hasui-designed predecessors?
What is a modern Masterpiece Transformer?
This, I feel, is probably the most subjective question in this article, but it’s also one of the most important in deciding whether or not MP-25 Masterpiece Tracks fits the criteria or not. While it’s accepted that fundamentally all collectors will have a differing definition, it is my feeling that the modern post MP-9 era Masterpiece Transformer has to have a number of significant features to qualify. The criteria is even more specific based on the character sub-group they belong to.
We’ve had enough Autobot car releases now that I feel this sub-group deserves its own criteria, chief among those being real life vehicle modes that the G1 toys represented, with greatly improved real world accuracy to the manufacturer’s designs for Masterpiece. In addition to that, the robot mode on the character – rightly or wrongly – should show significant deference to the on-screen G1 cartoon animation model over that of the original Diaclone/G1 toy. The size of the figure should also be primarily scaled to robot mode accuracy as opposed to relative alt mode size accuracy. In the minds of some, Masterpiece equals words such as ‘definitive’ and ‘perfect’, so inclusion of distinctive, associated and historically significant accessories has become part of the framework for Masterpiece toys. In some cases this includes more than just cartoon-related parts. Occasionally, toy-related accessories that alter the appearance in some significant way (think Prowl launchers or Bumblebee battle mask) are available as exclusives to cater for those who have more prominent toy nostalgia rather than toon.
It almost goes without saying now, such is our entitlement when it comes to this toy line, that the MP figures should have amazing and expressive posability completely in line with modern toy technology, and multiple points of articulation allowing for a range of balanced and – again – signature poses/dioramas, all of which I agree with. I would also add that the transformations should be interesting, more than just functional, and have just a touch of genius and/or the unexpected to really make that Masterpiece package complete and standout. It’s a ‘Masterpiece’ Transformers toy, not a statue or a model car, the transformation is the key gimmick and primary selling point of the brand, and that part of it should be ‘Masterpiece’ too I’d argue.
It is also accepted that despite the drive for the perfect G1 character representation, a compromise or two along the way will exist as part of the package. Even the most celebrated Masterpiece Transformers post MP-9 have sacrificed one thing or another to have a perfect alt mode, an accurate robot mode or to accommodate a feature that simply could not be left out. Durability, build quality, attractive finish and solid QC are also expected, but have not always been delivered.
Does MP-25 Masterpiece Tracks look the part?
There can be no question that MP-25 does everything visually that one can expect from a modern post MP-9 Masterpiece Transformer. The vehicle mode is a real world accurate Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C3 finished mostly in delectable sparkly blue paint with curves in places that other cars don’t have places. In the first signature G1 season 2 episode for this character “Make Tracks”, an accurate alt mode model was not used by the animators, but the presentation was much improved for “Auto Bop”. Tracks also comes with attachable mirrors on a sprue (and an extra set) just like Wheeljack and Bumblebee for further vehicle accuracy, maintaining that excellent trend of the Masterpiece line. Many would prefer for them to be moulded on like the Prowl/Bluestreak mould, though.
The flying attack mode is perfectly accurate to the on-screen animation model for that episode (and others such as Megatron’s Master Plan), right down to the two tiny tailfins. The tyres are plastic and not rubber, but that hardly singles Tracks out at this modern Masterpiece size and price point.
The proportions of Tracks in robot mode are suitably heroic if slightly stretched, he is of the same size in robot mode as his Autobot brethren (at the slight cost of a slightly under-sized vehicle mode) and features all the cartoon animators’ interpretations of his original ornamentation from the hood flames, yellow forearms and yellow backed Autobot symbol on the chest/roof to the white sections on his crotch plate and knees. He even comes with a screen accurate hand gun, the toy accurate hand gun being reserved for release with MP-26 Road Rage (red repaint of MP Tracks, in a nutshell).
The head sculpt is clearly an homage to cartoon Tracks, such is the core direction of this line currently, and therefore very removed from the masked toy face which many of us would have loved the option of recreating. I would argue that Tracks’s face sculpt is the best of the Masterpiece cars since Prowl and Streak. It’s a perfect recreation of the cartoon model and I have always liked the strong human features of the cartoon faces. I’ve heard people cite his face as a weakness, but I’ve heard far more people champion it as a strength. Beautiful, that’s my opinion.
So since the intention is to recreate a cartoon accurate Tracks with accurate real world alt mode, MP-25 is right on the money. That flippable yellow-backed Autobot symbol on his chest can be used to even further recreate cartoon Tracks in car mode by having it visible for all 3 configurations. The smaller rockets on his backpack are probably a shade too tiny, I would definitely have liked them bigger but I respect that they wanted to integrate it into the design and possibly avoid further detachable accessories. I guess we can dream of a future exclusive toy pack where a toy accurate head and rockets would come separately.
Is he well articulated and posable?
MP-25 Masterpiece Tracks has all the points of articulation we have come to expect and enjoy when it comes to this line of premium figures (can we call something premium at a price point of around $60 Japanese retail?). There are ankle tilts, including an outward element to the tilt allowing for my favourite running pose. There’s waist articulation, a head on a ball joint that allows for full upward glance and even some downward looks.
Excuse the mis-transformed shin in the last picture above, if you can. The design and proportions of Tracks are such that he actually encourages and inspires me to put him in more dynamic and imaginative poses than a Datsun or a Countach MP car, even the Lancias actually. The elbows are not double-jointed so he is inexplicably limited in what he can do with his forearms, and the shoulders can become obstructed by those wings. This has frustrated a number of collectors thoroughly, but I have found myself undeterred, and have gotten some really satisfying stances out of this mould. The crotch flap does lift, like with Sideswipe and Alert
What about extras?
With every recent Masterpiece release, there have been appreciated nods to various historical moments of a character’s appearances in the cartoon, the animated movie or possibly the comic. Maybe even a toy-related reference. The Decepticon jets had flight stands once upon a time (Hasbro’s still do), alternate faces are becoming the norm, human companions are not unusual and in that respect MP-25 Tracks totally delivers. You get a small non-transforming Blaster referencing the scene in “Make Tracks” where they capture a bunch of car thieves, you get a flight stand mainly for the third mode, there’s a one-time car thief Raoul figurine that is not articulated (a definite shame) and Tracks has an opening hood revealing his Cybertronian tech, something Raoul marveled at in “Make Tracks”. That little Blaster really is brilliant.
Tracks also comes with the little “Front Lazer” that pops out in flight mode during “Megatron’s Master Plan” and allows him to “Throw a little dark on the subject”, blinding Dirge, as well as in car mode for blasting the windows of Decepticon night club Dancitron when chasing Starscream in “Autop Bop”. This was an essential extra for me from one of my favourite ever episodes. Surely there’s not a collector among us who does not appreciate the inclusion of these extras? The flight stand has articulation enough to allow one to achieve all manner of display options, Blaster is a great size and can fit in Tracks’s hands (although he cannot hook his fingers through). This is almost a nod back to the first days of Masterpiece where the toys like MP-1 and MP-3 were brimming with integrated extras. The best part about MP-25 is that they are included in the package, they are not exclusive extras. This is no MP-1, make no mistake, but for the price you get a great deal to add to the Masterpiece Tracks experience.
Is MP-25 screen accurate?
Yes. Very. Almost to a fault, as the decoration on the crotch plate and knees look so simplified, but Tracks doesn’t suffer anywhere near as much as Smokescreen’s face does. You can see that TakaraTomy went a little bit more toy-than-toon on the hood flames, which is a good thing as the animation model just had simple red flames. You can also see the simplified nature of the rockets on his backpack, which have been replicated on MP-25 with a little bit of the toy moulds evident in their sculpting. It’s a feature of MP-25 that he can hold his gun two-handed with ease in many poses, and that’s pretty much how Tracks wields it in the cartoon regularly. In support of those who say the wings are huge on MP-25, in a lot of the screen caps they appear more stubby, but in the second one above they seem quite a lot like the MP-25 proportions. The cartoon was inconsistent, but I’m glad the wings are the size they are, it affords the flying car mode a better silhouette.
Is the transformation ‘Masterpiece’ good?
Just about every post MP-9 Masterpiece Transformers figure has had a step in the transformation that I have described previously as a ‘Masterpiece Moment’, something that stands out as a particularly elegant, surprising or out-of-the-box in terms of a solution for accomplishing accuracy, maintaining proportions or just for hiding kibble. Bumblebee has the divine diagonal belly flap storage, Magnus has those genius arms, Lambor/Alert have the hollow shin construction, the Datsuns have a few nice touches like the fold-in wing mirrors and leg compression etc. Tracks is no exception, the transformation of the legs and shins incorporating some quite unexpected twisting, rotating and securing.
The genius step for me with Tracks, though, is how you rotate the vents that are visible on the ends of the arms in flying car mode into the forearms and reveal the hands. So simple, so elegant, almost poetic. A beautiful solution and officially Tracks’s ‘Masterpiece Moment’. The transformation is the most interesting and repeatable, for me, of all the Car Robot MPs apart from Bumblebee. There have been a number of reported difficulties, though, and they all bear mentioning.
It hasn’t been clear to all on initial conversion, for example, that the feet are on small grey arms that actually lock and tab into the inner leg. The thing is, that leaves the feet a little distance from the rest of the leg and can appear gappy, so I never tab them in and swing them back a bit, exposing less of the foot but making it sit more flush with the shins. This does not affect stability or posability for me at all. In addition, steps get missed out like the rotating up of the front bumper halves on the shin. My following picture is a prime example of this easy to miss step:
The backpack transformation can also produce different results across different collectors. When positioned and tabbed securely into the car doors above the hinge (that in itself has been missed by some), there is an L-shaped hinge that connects the pack to the torso. The more obtuse the angle of this connection, the further away from the torso the backpack sits, but then it gives the shoulders more clearance for a range of movement. This has led to a gappy look, so you can compress that connection to be more perpendicular, but that restricts the shoulders. The overall silhouette is probably more attractive this way and the top of the backpack sits closer to the robot head. When tabbed in correctly, you can hold the backpack and shake MP-25 Tracks and it will remain securely tabbed. A customised appearance – like the feet – is possible if you un-tab it and the backpack ‘floats’.
Further mis-transformation occurs with the robot head. When MP-25 was fresh in collector hands, there were complaints that the head would not stay in place and would repeatedly sink back into the cavity. It was soon discovered that by pushing up on the worryingly thin stork that the head sat on, it would let out an audible click and remain suspended in place. It means Tracks does not have a clearly defined neck, but it affords him greater range of head movement with less restriction. It isn’t a great deal of fun clicking the ‘neck’ into place and then un-clicking it for transformation back to vehicle mode(s). Separating the hood halves on first transformation is also heart-stoppingly difficult and tight. Once you’ve run through the proper complete transformation a few times, it becomes easier and establishes itself – for me at least – as one of the strongest of the Autobot cars so far. I would much rather transform Tracks all day long than mess with one of the Datsuns.
In robot mode, MP-25 Tracks has the added bonus of allowing you to store the Black Beam Gun, Front Lazer and Blaster! Those same spots can be used to store Blaster and Tracks’s hand gun in vehicle mode, and the clear un-tinted window allow them to be in plain sight on the dashboard. Very nice touches indeed.
So, the transformation takes some effort to fully appreciate and perfect, it’s different to what has come before with a few unexpected and one outstanding step. There’s also plenty of room for customisation of appearance with the feet, wings and backpack.
Are there any issues?
Yes, there are issues, but their significance is down to your tolerance of them and your answer to the first question in this article. The wing mirrors have caused problems for some in that they fell out with little provocation, or snapped off entirely. They may not give an audible and satisfying click for all of us, but they do need some convincing to go in all the way and sit flush against the bodywork. But sit flush and secure they can, so this becomes a non issue straight away if done right, but that’s not to say if it broke on you that the fault is yours. Another issue is how much of the robot/flight parts are visible under the rear of the car when viewed side-on. This is not unique to Tracks, Lambor and Alert have this as well and if it didn’t bother you then, why should it now? Had Tracks hidden those parts completely, one would have to elevate MP-25 to the very top of the MP pile.
I also have a slight issue on my specimen where the hood does not sit perfectly flush, I have to angle the back of it up towards the windshield in order for the front to remain perfectly flat against the rest of the front end, maintaining the delicious uninterrupted Vette curves and lines. I also noticed that those perfect lines were slightly interrupted at the rear of the car where the red and white of the tail fins can be seen poking up slightly from the trunk. One further issue encountered by some is the snapping of the peg that connects the flight stand to Tracks’s underside. This is the most worrying issue for me, and one that I have immediately become wary of. Paint defects have not been as widespread an issue for Tracks as with previous releases in my experience.
For the sake of completeness, another thing that has, I admit, bothered me too is how the shoulders can come un-plugged from main torso with a relatively small amount of effort during posing. I do wish that mechanism for connecting the arms to the body was better. Those small pegs just won’t do the trick indefinitely. They remind me a bit of Robots In Disguise 2015 warrior class Sideswipe. Some have complained about the soft ratchets in the knee joints, but I love them. The left knee on mine has more give between ratcheted steps but the right one snaps between them confidently. The friction-only joints on my older MP cars are starting to loosen, especially the Datsun knees and Countach elbows, so this is a welcome change in my opinion.
So is MP-25 Tracks a proper Masterpiece?
Let’s look at the evidence, or rather my evidence. OK, fine, my opinion. In terms of appearance, he comprehensively nails the cartoon aesthetic and accuracy in robot mode, flight mode and is superbly true to a real world Corvette Stingray in vehicle mode. In addition to nailing the looks in terms of being faithful, he also does it with style and boasts arguably the most attractive vehicle mode and finish of all the Autobot cars so far. Tracks comes with extras and accessories that are completely relevant to his cartoon appearances in significant episodes, as well as the totally extra (cost) flight stand – and none of it is exclusive, it’s all included as standard.
For a figure with huge limitations in terms of elbow articulation and obstructed shoulders that can pop out, he can throw some enormously dynamic and inspiring shapes. Not many of the official Masterpiece Transformers can actually manage my favourite running pose balanced on one foot, but Tracks does it with ease. There is much expressive posability, but it isn’t perfect I agree. Certainly enough to wear a Masterpiece badge for it, though.
When looking at the issues and compromises, they do not stand out for me any more painfully than they do with the other Masterpiece cars because just like those others, they do not obstruct the enjoyment of this figure for me. Tracks looks perfect, transforms more enjoyably than all the other cars of this size, has a plethora of cool extras and accessories, poses beautifully, delivers arguably more show and real life accuracy than any other car so far. It may be Kobayashi’s first Autobot car, but it’s not his first trip around the block. His other MP contributions like MP-11 Starscream and MP-22 Ultra Magnus stand as some of my favourite Transformers of all time. In fact Tracks seems to hit an amazingly perfect balance of modern Masterpiece characteristics, with a slight nod to the original MP toys with the inclusion of the flight stand and standard inclusion of significant cartoon-relevant accessories – and he even has the capacity to nod to the original G1 toy with the more detailed and ornate hood flame pattern and ability to hide the yellow-backed Autobot symbol on the chest/roof.
All of the above, all this evidence of MP-25 fulfilling and maybe surpassing Masterpiece criteria and credentials, all of this is worthless if as a collector you hold this figure in your hands and just simply do not like it. And that has happened to a surprisingly large number of collectors. The division among Masterpiece buyers over Tracks has surprised me greatly, I’m not sure I recall such divergent opinions on any other MP car so far. For what has been a generally upward trend – Datsuns improving on Countaches (not necessarily my opinion), Lancias improving on Datsuns, Bumblebee improving on everything – maybe expectations for Tracks were wholly unrealistic? I had such expectations of Smokescreen and he sits as my least favourite MP so far because he didn’t meet those expectations. Unlike Smokey, I think Tracks is a grower because there is actually more to him, transformation and all, than the others on initial viewing and handling.
Personally, he started right at the top from the get-go, so I look forward to falling even further in love with him. MP-25, is it a Masterpiece? Yes, profoundly so, and on top of that transitory definition which does not speak exclusively of inherent quality or success as a toy, he’s also a brilliant figure and a superb G1 Tracks.
All the best