It’s been a year of unprecedented quality in official and unofficial transforming robot releases! Last week I ran down the first half of my top ten purchases of 2016, and I will conclude that list here. I want to re-iterate that this is just my own list of purchases I am grading, and I didn’t buy everything that was released, so many apologies if your winners from 2016 don’t appear in this rundown. Having spent money on Hasbro’s Titans Return, Robots In Disguise, TakaraTomy’s Masterpiece, Legends and Diaclone lines, as well as 3rd Party figures, there was a significant amount for me to choose from, and I’ve never found it harder (or more enjoyable) to distil my preferences into a list.
It was almost painful to look at the toys I had to leave out of the reckoning this year. It wouldn’t have been enough to formulate a top 20 I was fully happy with, let alone a top 10. So, inevitably, some absolute corkers were left out. Toys that could easily have challenged for the top spot in recent years past. MakeToys Wrestle had a gorgeously G1 transformation but a dodgy waist plate while TF Legends Blaster made us believe that he could fly in the face of tradition by being a Headmaster and a base. Titans Return Fortress Maximus gave collectors like myself a chance to own this character on the kind of scale he was renowned for originally, and opened up a world of playability that’s key to the line’s success.
Robots In Disguise 3-Step Bisk was at one point a contender for toy of the year, because the immediately accessible and phenomenally enjoyable transformation made this one of the most fun experiences I’ve had with a figure. He mesmerised veteran collectors with his simplicity and fabulous engineering, a lesson to all toy designers. Wei Jiang M-01 Commander is the most breathtaking figure I’ll ever leave off such a list and is more 3rd Party upscaled retool than KO, if you see one you’ll want one. Legends Wheelie is a marvel of a fiddleformer and finally does that character some justice, while MakeToys Pandinus stands as the biggest event figure of the year, unrivalled in its sheer magnitude (even if he is dwarfed by Fort Max!)
So that’s it for the honourable mentions, now it’s time to pick up where Masterpiece Loudpedal (#10), Masterpiece Laserwave (#9), MMC Carnifex (#8), FansToys Stomp (#7) and Masterpiece Inferno (#6) left off last week.
How does a modern, hollow, price-inflated deluxe-class Transformers figure from the mainline outscore FT Stomp and MMC Carnifex, not to mention 3 Masterpieces? By being one of the most fluid, enjoyable, beautiful, accurate and visually arresting figures for years. Titans Return Blurr was a very fun figure but the colours made him appear as though underwater. TakaraTomy blew Hasbro’s effort clean out of the water with a spectacular paint job. Now of course he doesn’t come as standard with a G1 Targetmaster Haywire, I’ve added that because I can! 5mm pegs make this line a dream, and Blurr delivers enormously in both modes.
The headsculpt is superb and even has a crest you can raise for further accuracy! People say Brainstorm owns this mould, but it’s fully Blurr’s in my opinion. This is a Masterpiece on a smaller scale, such is his posability, available expression, play value and appearance. Did I mention he’s a delight to transform? His stunning looks are not exclusively a result of paint, the robot is perfectly proportioned and exudes the kind of velocity you’d associate with Blurr. Blurr was arguably the first of the TR/LG figures to convincingly sell the concept of transforming, removable Headmasters on traditionally non-Headmaster figures, and he did it by being damn near perfect.
The highest placed 3rd Party figure on this year’s list is MakeToys Re:Master Ironwill, the toy that followed Cupola in terms of the Headmasters Masterpiece-style offerings from MakeToys. With gigantic shoes to fill (Cupola was #2 last year), Ironwill was a total knockout. From the amazing rolling rubber treads in tank mode – also bloody hell what a tank mode – to the choice between toy or screen accurate faces, MakeToys reminded us again just what they’re capable of. The Headmaster figure is really well done too, but MT did inexplicably shear off the tabs on the side of his body that assisted in keeping the thing together more cleanly in head mode.
The wow-factor is off the scale with this figure, something the alt mode is hugely responsible for. Prodigiously weighty and dripping good looks, Ironwill also delivers a simpler transformation than Cupola, making him more user friendly and less of a shelf-bot. He did have issues with the humanoid face coming unglued and a slightly scary brown shoulder cannon attachment out the box, so that’s why he’s not in the top 3. Some took issue with the seeming visual disconnect at the knees and elbows, but I cannot repeat enough how little a concern that was in hand. The quality MakeToys are injecting into this series just causes me pain, because I worry we’ll all be too old to care by the time they’ve given us all the Headmasters and Targetmasters. What they have given us, though, are two comprehensive belters. Must be seen to be believed.
The best mainline deluxe class Transformer of the last 10 years? Maybe. Titans Return Triggerhappy came out of nowhere and reminded everyone of just what the boys and girls at the official offices can conjure up when the stars align. It’s not just that they’ve rebirthed a 1987 Decepticon Targetmaster jet with glorious fidelity, or that they made him a Headmaster and nobody cared, it’s the fact that they gave him one of the all-time best transformations in the history of the brand.
I didn’t get the immediate “WOW” that online hype suggested, but with every subsequent transformation back and forth – and I did just do it repeatedly back and forth from the package – it dawned on me just what Hasbro and Takara had achieved. This is possibly the most fluid conversion I’ve ever experienced, and in the middle of it there’s a moment of pure magic. It feels as if HasTak have created something different, just the angle of the waist plate in jet mode and how the legs are placed around it impressed me in that regard. Triggerhappy is no slouch in the looks department either, great paint on him and such perfectly recreated copper-coloured boosters. Of course the vintage Blowpipe Targetmaster is my own addition, but again, 5mm pegs make this line of toys a delight. Phenomenal toy, completely essential, and – similarly to Blurr – Takara flight stand compatibility is the icing on the cake.
You weren’t expecting this to be amazing, but it was. If TR Triggerhappy has a moment of magic in the middle of his conversion, Masterpiece Ironhide’s transformation is a chain of Masterpiece Moments from start to finish, given as a gift from the celestial heavens. It’s the one-dimensional red van character from the cartoon with one of the most hated vintage toys in the history of the brand, and this toy has made me adore him above virtually every other toy I own. All those accessories? He could stand as high as he does on my all time list without a single one of them, but their addition ensures you never put Ironhide down.
His engineering is a work of art, I still exclaim and sigh at the wonder of it almost a year on from his release. He’s heroic enough for all the other Autobot Masterpieces, he does mass-shifting in a way I feel no 3rd Party company could ever match and he utterly nails the on-screen aesthetic at the same time, an effortless extra the designers probably threw in to show off their talent. The side skirts and the wheels on his bottom, I thought I’d care, and it wasn’t until I saw the recent fixes for it that I realised I didn’t want Ironhide to look any other way than he does. You may want to protect that chrome though, as it does wear, and some have snapped his finger off trying to get him to hold that gun of his. MP-27 is what Masterpiece is about for me, absolute perfection. Nailed on for #1 in 2016 until the arrival of the robo-deity himself…
TakaraTomy Diaclone Dia-Battles V2. Without a shadow of a doubt my favourite purchase of the year, of the last 2, 3 and 4 years. Un-fucking-believably good. From the moment he’s unboxed and you create the first combination of vehicles, then the next, the next and you realise an hour has passed without the full robot having been assembled yet because you’re having too much fun with the magnetic Dia-nauts, endless configurations and weapon parts. I ended up with six Dia-Battles figures. Six. Not just because I wanted the same thing over and over, but because each subsequent purchase gave me more Dia-nauts to add to the diorama, more Dia-Battles V2 parts to create bigger vehicles and unique combinations. The modular nature and inter-connectivity of these sets is mind-blowing.
It is not technically a Transformers toy, but neither are 3rd Party figures which are not wholesale rip-offs of Transformers intellectual property. This is the immediate ancestor of the Transformers and an official release by the same people, the genetics of Transformers – and especially Headmasters/Titans Return – can be traced back to the Diaclone play pattern (not that Takara were the first, mind). Dia-Battles’ play pattern is what allowed me to eventually enjoy Titans Return for what it is, and boy do they go well together. The quality of the set is fantastic as well, the high price tag showing what Takara can do with a higher ceiling. The detail on the figures, the intricacy of the articulated Dia-nauts and their proper face sculpts making a mockery of what we get for Transformers Masterpiece.
Never ever has a toy inspired me more than Dia-Battles V2. Just passing within close proximity of him on my shelf makes my heart race, and I’ve lost count of how many sci-fi encounters (and a whole TV series) I’ve dreamt up in my head, solely as a result of time spent with this figure. Dia-Battles is responsible for my best photography and best writing this year. It even inspired me to set up my photo gear at 10PM and take one more picture for this article! Above all, the figure is ludicrous fun, and it can stand up to whatever you throw at it. Posability is crazy, expressive and addictive. The combinations are endless and I’m not sure there are many better headsculpts available anywhere. Did I mention he’s got motorised parts and a tiny futuristic bike for Dia-nauts to ride?! Top to bottom, this is a tour de force, a quite simply phenomenal hybrid of standout aesthetics, functionality, playability, quality and imagination. One for the ages.
What a toy. What a year.
All the best