Ocular Max have had a very successful start to life as a Mastermind Creations sub-brand. The Masterpiece-style Perfection Series and the Remix line have been well received with figures PS-01 Sphinx and RMX-01 Jaguar taking plaudits for quality, design and aesthetics. While not everyone agrees with the apparent melding of cartoon, toy and Studio Ox vision that Ocular Max are going for, it’s fair to say they’re on a roll. The newest mould aimed at filling a (short-lived) Masterpiece gap is PS-03 Backdraft, based on the original heroic transforming fire truck. With competition already established in the form of MakeToys MTRM Hellfire, together with upcoming releases from TakaraTomy Transformers Masterpiece and KFC/XTB Dante, Backdraft’s got a lot of work to do in convincing people to go unofficial – specifically Ocular Max – with a confirmed official release on the horizon.
With MakeToys, TakaraTomy and Ocular Max all seemingly employing a slightly different philosophy in terms of aesthetics, it would seem that we are completely spoiled for choice and that everyone’s specific preference will be catered for across the many Masterpiece-style fire truck releases. Ocular Max have incorporated what seems to be a very real-world accurate vehicle mode and tried to appease both toy and toon crowds by including different robot heads (not just faces a la MakeToys). The inclusion of die cast and more lithe silhouette means that it has common features with MakeToys and TakaraTomy efforts, but still stands apart with a unique combination of properties. Are they the properties you want in a heroic transforming fire truck from a famous 80s toy brand made modern, though? Let’s investigate.
Ocular Max keep up their gorgeous and somewhat brazen Transformers-based packaging motif with Backdraft, featuring artwork, grid pattern background, plastic window, vehicle-mode storage, character tech spec and Japanese Takara Fight! Super Robot Lifeform Transformer-mimicking “Perfection Series” logo. Backdraft comes with the expected accessories for this character (handgun) as well as a cartoon accurate head which I really don’t like on account of the slightly creepy smile, and so did not attach to Backdraft for photography – especially as unscrewing of the head was required. There’s a red tech spec decoder (careful, guys), very well presented instruction sheet, a stickersheet allowing one to either make Backdraft take on a Portland fire truck livery, the original fire department logos or even the Japanese lettering on the pre-heroic Mitsubishi FUSO figure from which all of Backdraft’s kin are descended.
Picking up Backdraft in fire truck mode, I was struck by just how incredibly weighty it was and what a good-looking real life vehicle it seemed to be. Amazingly, he doesn’t weigh much more than MakeToys Hellfire at all, there’s like 10 grams in it, but my first impressions completely fooled me into thinking he was significantly heavier. Maybe it’s all just more evenly distributed across Hellfire than Backdraft. There’s lots of pretty chrome and painted detailing on Backdraft meaning that he appears more like an old school fire engine toy – metal, period-specific vehicle sculpting and all – than Hellfire.
Backdraft has a few engaging features too, the opening cab doors for example. In case you were wondering, the Dia-Battles V2 Dianauts fit in there just fine. Of course you get the original Mitsubishi FUSO Long ladder Type’s extending ladder but it doesn’t extend in a perfectly straight line, and so I’m not so keen to have it out all the way. It’s also not all that long. It does have the attractive chromed nozzles at the end, mind. You get the pull-out support legs that can be deployed to provide stability during ladder extension, those are strong and plenty stiff to enjoy handling. Finally, there’s the black piston arm that helps support the angled and extended ladder. Backdraft goes a step further than Generation 1 and MakeToys in that they dispense with the signature look of this fire truck having the robot arms exposed along the side of the vehicle.
Instead, Ocular Max have crafted pull out covers on either side that hide the robot arms. This has a knock-on effect of creating 2 more tabbing spots that must be aligned when transforming back to vehicle mode, giving a total of 6. This is easily the most challenging part of the transformation as it requires the very specific act of squeezing the back of the truck together, keeping the white wings compressed and straight, then moving your way forward – still gripping tightly – and trying to tab in every successive set of tabs. It makes a huge difference doing it this way, but on my specimen one tab always jumped out again and the cover on that side wouldn’t stay tabbed on. After going to the source and inquiring about this issue, I was asked if I had changed both robot hands back to the hose nozzles and pegged the ends of the hose onto two circular pegs in that section. I had not done this, and by doing it the whole section lines up and tabs much better. Essential step missed out! You may also notice in the picture above, one of the chromed bumper halves is attached at an angle, creating a slightly jarring image. I should also mention that for some reason, the front left wheel on my Backdraft is pinned on a bit more tightly and so does not roll freely in vehicle mode, as it sits too close to the upper thigh on that side.
There’s no question to me that in fire truck mode, Backdraft is more attractive and visually interesting than MakeToys Hellfire, and has more interactive features. However it should be noted that Hellfire rolls better, holds together better (referring to the rear tabbing on Backdraft) and doesn’t have the slightly flimsy ladder of Backdraft despite extending much further. I do like the styling and chrome of Backdraft, plus the tinted windows on its prettier cab are more to my liking than the clear windows on Hellfire that expose the stored robot head. I don’t think either vehicle does a good enough job of storing or handling the wings, something that will become more evident in robot mode.
Hellfire is bigger than Backdraft, so when compared to the main Masterpiece vehicles, Backdraft is possibly even less in scale than its competition. Underneath Backdraft you have the folded up crotch flaps that are suspended between the thighs with nothing but friction at the main pinned pivot, and I wonder how that will fare over time. Now, the less said about the crotch piece/flaps of Hellfire the better, there’s frankly no way that Ocular Max could have chosen a solution that was less user-friendly than MakeToys. I want to make it clear again, though, that I really like Backdraft’s vehicle mode, it is very attractive indeed. I wish the paint on the indicators was better applied and I wish it rolled better.
There’s no question, despite scale or size, about how good Backdraft looks with other similarly-targeted unofficial products and the official Masterpiece toys. If you pick Backdraft over the official version or MakeToys Hellfire, you need never worry that you have opted for the least representative or worst-fitting interpretation of this character. In fact he almost sings when next to MakeToys Wrestle in a way he does not with Hellfire.
To robot mode, and the transformation. I am one of those who thoroughly enjoys the transformation of MakeToys Wrestle/Hellfire. It’s easy, tolerances are excellent and the end result in both directions is satisfying. If you can stay mindful of that eager-to-break crotch flap. Thankfully, Ocular Max Backdraft does not have a danger spot like that and also manages to pull off an enjoyable and straightforward conversion. I was a little nervous unclipping the covers from the middle top of truck mode to free the legs, because it seems like a step that if handled carelessly could cause damage, at the least it does seem to remove a tiny bit of black paint off what was originally moulded onto the vintage toy as the launching tab – but used on Backdraft as the locking peg. There are two upward-facing red clips between the legs that attach to the black spine of the figure, be careful not to stress those.
The legs are really nice and simple to transform, the basically drop down under their own heavy weight, fold up the feet and secure the flap behind them, then fold and clip the panels around the lower legs that previously concealed the robot arms in vehicle mode. I like the process, as it is very neat and tidy. However, the weight of the legs meant that they flopped about a lot on my specimen from the waist, this made it a very different and awkward proposition getting everything lined up again for vehicle mode. However, again inquiring about the looseness int he legs with Ocular Max themselves led them to advise me to tighten the 4 screws on the back of his waist. Suddenly this section tightened up brilliantly and the ratchets were more secure at the hip, no more floppy legs! Next you have the crotch plate that rotates out, around then unfolds, very clever but the tabbing into the waist is very weak. Quite often it pops back out again and especially during posing. I don’t normally associate this kind of weak tabbing with MMC product, and I suspect a later run may remedy the insecure waist tabbing. No good to me currently, of course.
The top half of Backdraft is very nice to transform. The cab, arms, spine and head are all really simple and logical, and show a good deal more quality in the tolerances and strength of parts involved, but it is all slightly interrupted by the waist popping out again. I love how the ladder and chromed pipes etc fold up and clip into the back of the cab, it’s really tidy indeed. The interchange of the hose/missile and hand is excellent, going a different route to MakeToys and the detaching missile. As a result, the MakeToys missile can afford to be more accurately and attractively sculpted, not necessitating the extending barrel as on Backdraft. You may notice I’ve not extended it in most pictures as I don’t prefer that look.
The wings don’t really clip in anywhere though, you rely on friction for them to stay where you want them. While this is handled much better than the silly stubby Hellfire wings on ball joints, I still don’t like it all that much. While they are not properly secured on Backdraft, there’s probably enough friction in the pinned joints to keep them roughly where you want them throughout. Getting the surrounding ‘helmet’ that clips onto the top of the cab around the robot head to tab in is pretty simple, I just hope the tabs don’t deform over time. Overall it is a simple, repeatable, enjoyable transformation that is done no favours by the lower body weight. Going back to vehicle mode is less enjoyable, but that’s the case for Hellfire too.
You might have noticed that Backdraft scores rather strongly in the posability column. His thighs may seem short in some pictures, but he has two points of articulation there, one at the traditional knee cap and another halfway up the thigh. There’s a good range of movement in the feet but not much of an outward tilt, so that, combined with the less-than-optimal weight distribution mean that I couldn’t get a convincing, good-looking natural run out of Backdraft. The kneel above isn’t totally convincing either, it’s more of a slide, but his articulated fingers and good range of neck movement mean that he’s still very expressive and varied in what he can pull off. Double jointed elbows, fold up toe-section and a great waist swivel add to the robot mode enjoyment, certainly.
I’ve got to talk about Backdraft’s robot mode looks. He’s really well-proportioned, heroic and supremely easy on the eye. The level of sculpting on the legs and across the rest of the body is just right, not detracting or interfering with the chromed sections that ought to pop and provide visual anchors. The head sculpt is plenty nice with the fold-out horns on this toy-accurate head, but the facial features themselves are a little vague, kind of like what Sphinx was accused of. It’s like a mixed concept head; toy accurate helmet but cartoon-style flat grey face.
There are some drawbacks to this mode, though. One is that the gun grip is terrible. It won’t stay pegged into the hand well enough at all. Because of what I felt was unwise weight distribution, if I leaned him back two clicks from the waist he was susceptible to doubling over backwards at the waist like some of the top-heavy 3rd party combiners. Again, this was fixed by tightening the screws at the back of his waist. I’ve not had him slip out of stances so far, though.
Amazing how you can put Backdraft and Hellfire together, and different people will see completely different things. I love MakeToys Wrestle, I know he’s a shade on the tubby side but it suits him very well, and next to the official figures he seems fine to me. Hellfire – to my surprise – does not wear that MakeToys truck mould as well as Wrestle at all, and as a result I think he withers a bit visually and proportionally next to the lithe and tall Backdraft. At the same time, in the above picture Hellfire makes Backdraft look spindly and slightly insubstantial. I like the chrome and proportions on Backdraft but I prefer the long ladder down the back of Hellfire, I think it stays very true to the original signature features of the vintage fire truck robot. He’s more stable to pose, too. The two do not complement each other at all in a side by side comparison.
Stick Backdraft next to Wrestle, however, and wow what a difference. Suddenly all the differences do work harmoniously and it’s as if they belong together. Maybe it’s because Wrestle’s colours, character and non-M-Bison-headsculpt allow that mould to shine and support the more heroic stature of Backdraft. For the sake of variety, experience and visual impact I would not be surprised if a lot of people went with Backdraft and Wrestle as their display duo. Until the official ones roll around later in the year, of course. And, Backdraft’s more attractive price point compared to Hellfire/Wrestle aside, I think that is what this review and this fire truck war boils down to.
As much as Hellfire and Backdraft have their own qualities, are earlier to the market than TakaraTomy and employ die cast metal, paint and more toy-centric styling as opposed to series 2 featureless cartoon accurate panels in key places, both figures leave enough on the table for TakaraTomy to come in and win over the masses. Backdraft has the insecure crotch tab and slight issue with tab alignment in vehicle mode, Hellfire has that waist piece that could snap at any time and the chunky proportions. Neither deals with the wings particularly elegantly in my opinion either. The official figure will come with a plethora of accessories and parts, will be odds on to get the transformation aspect just right if the previous 2016 Masterpiece releases are anything to go by, and will fit very well into an established display.
In terms of looks, I think in both modes I’d choose Backdraft over Hellfire without too much of a second thought, so well done to Ocular Max there. There are aspects of the visuals on Backdraft I’d choose over the official release too, so in a way they’ve done a superb job here. In terms of handling a figure, I’d actually side with Hellfire as the more polished, fun figure to handle because of just slightly better tolerances, weight distribution and solidity. If MakeToys ever issue a fix for the waist, he’d be perfect as a toy. If Backdraft has a later run correcting the insecure crotch tab and admittedly minor misalignment issues at the vehicle back, then we’ve got the real deal going on there too. However, by that stage the official figure will be upon us, and although that’s not a guarantee of satisfaction, they have left the door open for TakaraTomy (or XTB) to trump them both. In this case, with the looks of MP-33 not appealing to all, there was a proper opportunity for Ocular Max to pull off Sphinx-levels of excellence in the face of future competition. As it stands, there are things I still prefer on the vintage fire truck over both these 3rd party offerings. So, a solid and definitely fun release for Ocular Max that stays true to their concept and ethos, but which needs polishing in certain areas to stand up to prolonged use, enjoyment and comparison. At least I know whoever out of MakeToys or Ocular Max gets a Hauler repaint to market first, I’ll be a happy camper!
Many kind thanks to TFW UK member OptimushedPrune who came through for me in a big way with Hellfire this week!
All the best