Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. FansToys have ensured that Masterpiece-style collectors have an option other than just MakeToys Gundog or TFC’s effort when it comes to the chirpy green heroic jeep Transformer who was once meant to be the main human-loving TF liaison before Bumblebee. Criticisms of prior 3rd party efforts to nail this character in the expected aesthetic led to much excitement when FansToys revealed they were stepping into the Car Robot arena. With ongoing doubts about FT’s ability to sculpt a screen accurate head for their figures, FT-15 Willis was no different during its pre-production reveal. How did the almost final thing turn out?
Maintaining FansToys’ reputation for use of die cast and screen accuracy, Willis here does a very fine job of reproducing the cartoon’s animation model better than any of its current competitors. The primary competition for Willis is of course MakeToys MTRM-2N/Y Gundog which we will refer to throughout the review. The proportions of this robot are nowhere near as hench or beefed out as Gundog, and the initially worrisome head sculpt has seemingly been remedied and his silver face seen above is very good indeed. Proper rubber tyres add a touch of the past that some collectors really appreciate. The name “Willis” comes from the original vehicle used for the toy this figure homages, a Mitsubishi J59 Willys Astron jeep (not to be confused with the Jeep brand – in some countries they call any similar 4×4 vehicle a ‘jeep’).
Willis looks the part, absolutely no question about it. This is the cartoon-accurate heroic scout that will look more in tune with your Transformers Masterpiece bots. From the ‘correct’ waist, overall shape, legs and proportions to the accessories. He comes with hologram gun, rocket launcher, classic handgun, a more real-life accurate mounted gun for jeep mode as well as an adaptor for the handgun. Willis also features something Gundog didn’t, the underwater shield for his face seen in More Than Meets The Eye/Arrival From Cybertron. Gas tank and spare tyre are of course included too.
You might have noticed Willis can strike a pose or two, including some of my favourites. Importantly, he strikes them in a natural manner that’s totally believable and still puts you completely in mind of the original screen representation for the auto robot sniffer. The specific shade of green used by FansToys is neither a completely flat screen green nor a dark sparkly toy green, but rather somewhere in-between Gundog 2Y and 2N. There are definitely sparkles there. Despite the extensive ankle tilt and quite flat feet, he’s not actually as stable with a bit of lean as I would have imagined. Anyway, the waist swivel makes up for that, but another disappointment involves elbows that cannot go beyond 90 degrees, no double-jointed elbows here. Weapon grip is solid enough, but you do have to fold the black adaptor up against the underside of his wrist with the main hand gun. There’s a very good range of neck movement as well.
Here we can have a look at how relatively neat the whole thing looks from the side. There has been some talk of the ‘drinks tray’ front bumper that sticks so far out in robot mode. You can also see a close up of the silver face and the extra white-faced head that features standard FansToys lips. The attachment of the face mask isn’t completely secure, but it does the job for display and I love that they included such a piece. Head replacement involves just pulling the head off its peg and replacing with the other, no actual face transplanting. I do also like how secure the connection of the shoulder rocket is, even though the connection is with a small tab that plugs into the shoulder. You can get a good angle on that rocket too.
Here we see Willis executing a convincing kneel that accentuates how good his overall proportions are. We can also see how the wheels are hidden in the calf cavities to help recreate the animation model’s simple appearance. If you insist on recreating the toy look, those wheels can be folded around to sit on the outside of the leg, like Gundog. Now about this kneel, notice how far out I have had to rotate Willis’ right thigh, because that’s the only time he can actually get such a extreme bend on the leg. The crotch piece has no flaps so it hinders the bending of the thighs at the hip when the legs are forward facing. I should mention that when moving the legs, arms, hands, waist and head, I feel as though the figure is strong and well made. The problem is the flimsy bits that surround the robot mode and the limbs. More on those in due course.
There’s so much to say about the above, but your eyes have already done most of the discovering. Willis really does help highlight how Gundog’s thighs and overall appearance have been stylised and more closely resemble the 1980s toy these figures hail from. Thighs and lower legs are especially different and have been cause for much debate regarding preference. When Gundog was the only choice, as a Gundog owner I certainly had no issue overlooking the difference in width of those legs compared to, say, a Masterpiece Prowl or Lambor. Placing Willis with Gundog and then with MP cars, the mismatch is much more immediately evident and hard to ignore. If I want to recreate cartoon scenes and group shots, Willis certainly fits the ‘look’ better, of this I am certain.
Another thing that I am certain of is just how excellent a figure Gundog is, despite not being as cartoon accurate as Willis. There is more of a luxury polished feel to Gundog than Willis, and that is not exclusively down to the fact that I am comparing a finished production Gundog to a pre-release test shot Willis. The particular die cast parts used on Willis and their movement, the clearances and nature of transformation and design of certain bits make me think that Willis was designed specifically to look a certain way in both modes, at the cost of other things that can make a figure great. Considering many collectors of MP and 3PMP want to recreate the cartoon and its very unique look, I’m simply not surprised that swathes of them held out for Willis and will be extremely happy with it. He looks excellent, really exactly what FT wanted to achieve, that particular aesthetic appeal that seals its success with a certain collector preference. Beyond the cartoon looks (which are actually quite important for me), the appeal of Willis goes no further for me, and here’s why.
Witness how good Willis looks in vehicle mode. The feel of rubber tyres on a surface and cold die cast heft to the touch, occasionally these things help a good figure appear even more premium and special. These things matter, we pay a lot for these figures and we want them to fulfil our high-end collectible expectations. We don’t want compromise, we want premium. For me, premium does not end at looks, especially when something claims to be a transforming, functional robot and vehicle. The transformation on Willis is a tale of two halves, with the lower part of the robot changing to the rear of the vehicle in a most acceptable and easy to manage fashion. There’s even the fun step of rotating the rear wheels into and out of the calves, I like that.
Transforming the top half of the body into the front of the vehicle is a completely different affair, and one filled with frustration at creating appropriate clearances, managing multiple moving sections and alignments, occasionally having to take steps back in order to advance again. I know the correct order now after multiple transformations – when to pull out the rear of the vehicle and when to align the central vehicle shaft perpendicular to the hood, when to rotate the shoulders in and when to stop so that I can flip the front wheels in or out. I’ve even gotten good at correctly folding up/down the front grille and rotating the head plate, while at the same time keeping track of where the shoulder panels are at and what’s causing an obstruction in that highly crowded premium real estate that is the space under the hood. The arms eventually end up in there, tucked around the robot head. It is, in my opinion, a joyless exercise in getting things to where they have to be. There are a fair few bits hanging down when all is said and done, too. None of this will matter, though, if you prefer the smaller headlights, daintier wing mirrors, thinner profile and overall appearance of Willis in vehicle mode, compared to Gundog, or just generally.
If reviews and photos of Gundog were plagued by comments about how out of scale he was in vehicle mode with the other Masterpiece cars, then surely FansToys Willis is due the same treatment? It’s true that the Mitsubishi J59 is a large vehicle, but we’re mostly brainwashed by how small the on-screen and original toy vehicle modes were. It does not bother me with Willis, just as it did not bother me with Gundog. What bothers me is that Willis’ rear wheels are pinned on so tight that he simply does not roll. At all. I pray this is remedied for final release. I’m also not too enamoured with the fact that in vehicle mode his rocket launcher (attached via a separate plug-in adapter) only just clears the windshield and cannot be angled up very high at all. I do like the realistic black vehicle mounted gun, though, as well as the orange indicator lights FT have included.
You might have noticed a slightly wonky looking wing mirror in some of the above Willis photos. That’s because it started to detach and eventually fell off without much provocation. It had broken at the base of the mirror stem. I had seen images of another test shot owner’s FT Willis missing a wing mirror too and I knew from the moment I unpacked it, those would be susceptible to damage before anything else. I love that Willis has a more minimalistic unfurnished military look and feel in both modes compared to Gundog, but those mirrors are just too delicately connected. Can you also see that the connecting part of the wheel arch closest to us (2nd picture) is not quite flush against the main body of the vehicle? It was like that from the get go, and is another thing I hope FansToys can put right for final production. They fixed similar fit and alignment issues on Sever so I have faith, I just hope the solution isn’t to tighten everything to the nth degree, consequently savaging playability.
I feel that I have to qualify my opinions and judgments with disclaimers, such is the way of the community these days that battle lines are drawn when two companies release competing figures. I own every single FansToys mould released so far, and I happily chose their FT-11 Spotter over MakeToys Visualizers, as well as their Insecticon analogues over any of the competition. I also couldn’t care less if we never get official Dinobots or if MP Laserwave is cancelled tomorrow, such is my admiration for FT’s work. I will own Willis and Gundog together.
But, as a personal preference, I’d still choose Gundog over Willis for reasons of functionality, durability (unless you count the 2Y version’s shattering shoulders), playability, polish, transformation and fun. Willis has a transformation I have no desire to revisit, and not due to difficulty, not due to length, just because it has no attractive elements, it’s just work. He is a good looking door stop in vehicle mode if he’s not going to roll, and there are limits in the limb articulation. There are parts like those wheel arch connectors and definitely the mirrors that properly concern me long term (or short term as far as the mirrors are concerned), and I’m not all that sure of the front grille in terms of the flex involved when rotating it, clipping it onto the forearms etc. I should also mention the front of the wheel arches which slide down for transformation as the right sided one was pretty loose. All of these features created a slight distance between Willis and I, and I would not have accepted these issues even if there was no alternative to be had. But that’s me, and my preferences, priorities and pet peeves. What about you?
If you want a Masterpiece-scaled goodie-green-jeep that fits in aesthetically with the other MP bots seamlessly and looks like the cartoon, something you will put in a display and use to fill out the Ark crew choc-a-block with significant accessories then Willis is definitely the right choice. I can’t get over how from certain angles I’m certain I hear the distinct tone of his original voice actor’s words coming from this figure. I can’t get over how beautifully and naturally he can be posed, not a bad angle in sight. I love how MP-10’s Spike figure can fit into the driver’s seat and reach the steering wheel. I love how the fuel cap on the side of the jeep is detailed and painted and how snugly the ‘doors’ connect the two halves of the vehicle. I do miss the star on the spare tyre, mind. I love that we have the choice, and that it’s such a distinct one allowing the collector to decide their priorities and know they’ll be happy with the result. As always, there’s a 3rd choice, neither Gundog nor Willis. If you’re that person who wants all the playability and enjoyment of an MP-27 Ironhide in the body of FansToys’ screen-derived Willis, then you may just have to hang on for TakaraTomy’s eventual efforts. What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
All the best