I’ve often said that simply buying, amassing and displaying toys is not enough to sustain my interest and passion for Transformers as a hobby. I’ve spent many years researching variants, writing articles, photographing toys and trying to unearth unknown facets of the global Transformers and pre-Transformers history since joining the community. Much of my writing in the last year or two has become geared towards new figure reviews, with vintage Transformer articles becoming rarer as my budget and priorities have shifted unpredictably. With my collection of toys seemingly resembling the converging direction of many others’, I felt like I needed to find further ways of keeping things interesting. I’m focusing on Masterpiece for this article because they’re probably a lot more removed from the idea of straightforward children’s toys than most of the other Transformers product we have today, in the minds of collectors.
As a result of the above, I’ve tried to become more creative with the photography, display and enjoyment of my Transformers and 3rd Party figures. With Generation 1 and pre-Transformers, this is not so much the case as my enjoyment for those lines comes from the showcasing of them as historical and vintage treasures. However, with new figures like Transformers Masterpiece, Robots In Disguise and 3rd Party releases, I can let my imagination loose and push myself to create more interesting images, try to connect them to their ancient history in ways maybe others have not yet explored, or just simply to do it my way.
The need to improve or diversify what I was doing has come primarily from my re-entering the Masterpiece collecting community, because what I saw of their photography inspired me and made me realise I was not doing anything particularly interesting or special beyond plastering my own opinion on the toys through long reviews. OK, I had the running robot shot, but no one likes a one trick pony. The cost of these TakaraTomy Masterpiece toys and 3rd Party MP-style toys, together with the amount of space and priority they have swallowed up (worse since the increased rate of release began), meant that I had to find more ways of extracting enjoyment from them and further justifying their purchase.
Posability has always been a major source of fuel for my imagination. Accessories are another. Seeing as how recently I have been buying more than just smaller-scale MP cars and jets, I’ve had the opportunity to explore base modes, re-create iconic cartoon scenes or just assemble silly group shots. 3rd Party MP-style toys are now coming with multiple facial attachments, interesting accessories that homage the cartoon or toys, human figurines and the like, so it is becoming easier to once again be creative.
It seems that other collectors respond much better to a bit of scene re-creation or natural-looking robot tomfoolery than just stock photographic poses and repetitive signature style images as well. The response I received to my “Bots/Cons At Work” and various group shots has been overwhelming. This kind of photography takes a really long time to set up, especially if precarious balancing of figures on accessories is required. The editing of multiple figures in one shot on white backgrounds can also be torturous. Ultimately, though, it has allowed me to once again find a way to enjoy these Transformers and 3rd Party toys in more ways, adding to their durability in my display and my ultimate enjoyment and justification of them. Setting myself the challenge of using only official figures for particular scenarios and dioramas has also been exciting. We’re often in need of reminding just how much excellent and varied official product we have, sometimes believing 3rd Party to have been the saviour of our collections.
Speaking to Dan Ghile (scubaboy31), I was reminded of a very important fact. If we take Japanese retail prices into account for Transformers Masterpiece figures, and even the locations where they are available (Toys ‘R’ Us etc), it is a very unpopular opinion to state that these are not exclusively adult-targeted high end toy products, but one I see wisdom in. How can a £45 Autobot car Masterpiece ever be considered that? There’s too much compromise from conception to manufacture with these figures to ever be considered truly perfect. They are just more sophisticated toys, but their strong association with children’s product is not lost on TakaraTomy either.
To quote Dan “The worst thing Takara could have done was to call them ‘Masterpiece'”, and that’s a very fair point because it raised people’s expectations beyond the facts that were right before them in the construction, pricing, design and distribution of the figures. Sure, children aren’t going to get a 3-figure large scale Masterpiece Optimus style toy every week or month the way they would a deluxe, leader or voyager, but for Christmas or birthdays, sure. Why not? I’ve seen parents hauling YOTH Optimus Primes off to the counter at TRU for their kids. You don’t get that with Hot Toys collectibles, do you?
Expanding this to the pre-MP-10 toys that are sometimes considered to have been true high-end ‘Masterpieces’, even MP-1 Convoy/20th Anniversary Optimus Prime who is often quoted as being the ultimate expression of going all out on a Transformers product, was released in Toys ‘R’ Us across the world and in WalMart in the US, designed in some part to be purchased and enjoyed by a significant portion of the consumer market as a toy. A sophisticated, fantastic, impressive and expensive toy, but still an item that mum and dad could buy Yasmin or Jonny as a birthday present.
The case for 3rd Party products is quite different. These items are not all subject to the same safety-testing, or at all available in stores where children and parents are expected to purchase such toys. The prices are also in a much higher bracket. I can’t really compare Generations Metroplex and MakeToys Utopia in a fair way regarding intended demographic and concept. They are however, increasingly, being designed and produced to interact and fit in with the Masterpiece Transformers toys. Different companies achieve success by addressing this challenge in unique ways. Some may seek to replicate the aesthetic and materials used by TakaraTomy, while others seek to nail the aesthetic and improve – or what they perceive to be such – on the materials employed by the official manufacturers.
Some companies may even go for alternative aesthetics at the same scale to provide variety and find a niche in a crowded marketplace. Regarding the final products, occasionally the tolerances, delicate nature and lack of durability of some 3P products at the prices they command means they can never truly be treated as toys or repeatedly interacted with (although some of the official releases could come under this heading too). Ultimately, that success of fitting in with MPs will depend on whether you want this style of ‘toy’ to be just that, interactive, easy and accessible to handle, versatile and durable, or simply to look the part.
So, if the official Masterpiece figures (and some 3P) can be considered toys, they ought to be played with and that’s exactly what I have been doing. It has added to my love for the Masterpiece toys and similar 3P figures I have. It started with the setting up of ever-growing season 1 and 2 group shots (re-created for every new review or release) in semi-circles reminiscent of the More Than Meets The Eye/Arrival From Cybertron roll calls, moving onto the use of base accessories/trailers and the incorporation of my daughter’s Lego Duplo for furniture! I recently decided to explore the alternate Diaclone-origin modes for MP-22 Ultra Magnus’s trailer in anticipation of the MP-31 Delta Magnus figure we will get in August, marrying my love of pre-G1 history to modern day figures, and that got a great response from collectors. It’s also the perfect scenario for me, the ultimate acknowledgement of where my collecting and interests have come from, and where they are right now. Old and new in perfect harmony.
A fair number of the restrictions we feel any line of Transformers toys impose on our enjoyment of them are often self-inflicted and tied to our expectations of them. Transformers Masterpiece suffers the most from this, I suspect. The fact that these items can be enjoyed as toys should not detract from their overall success as a perceived high end product. “Masterpiece” should not be seen as synonymous with perfection, and divorcing the items themselves from the title could help one see them as the actual masterpieces they’re aimed at being. That is, relatively affordable toys (compared to, say, Hot Toys) that are high in accuracy, high in displayability whilst also staying true to the founding concepts of the line’s initial appeal. In other words, being enjoyable, accessible toys with repeated and encouraged interactivity. Go one step further and allow yourself to play and display them with non-MP figures (like G1 Overlord!). The results could surprise you and lead to a more fulfilling experience overall.
All the best