Do official Masterpiece Transformers get judged by the same criteria and with the same considerations as 3rd Party Masterpiece-style releases? Does the official stuff sometimes get a free pass for certain features or failings, where unofficial figures get a roasting or vice versa? This is a topic that could easily command thousands upon thousands of words, so I’m only going to focus on a few key areas and examples in tonight’s article.
Masterpiece MP-28 Hot Rodimus was a great release for many reasons. He gave those of us without MP-9 Rodimus Convoy a chance to own the character at Masterpiece scale without having to pay $200+ on the secondary market, and a chance to enjoy the character with the updated scale, aesthetic and engineering philosophy. As predicted, the transformation was fun, simple and the alt mode was beautiful, but robot mode proportions weren’t to everyone’s liking. I still firmly believe MP-9 to be the definitive version of this character. My main issues with MP-28, though, lie in the awful chrome on the toy that starts to flake off from day 1. There were similar issues with MP-27 Ironhide and MP-30 Ratchet. That level of poor chrome on official figures was unacceptable and was rightfully criticised by collectors.
A majority of chrome-featuring ‘3PMP’ figures do it well, a few scratches on FansToys Iron Dibot figures aside. The fact that I don’t even remember the topic of 3P chrome coming up beyond its colour on the Dibots tells me they’re doing a good job of it. So when it comes to chrome, overall the official stuff has given me greater cause for concern, and they got the panning they deserved, so no free pass here. However, I wonder had a major 3PMP figure like BadCube Sunsurge, Ocular Max Sphinx or MakeToys Downbeat suffered from flaky chrome, would it have been a dealbreaker for most? It certainly never stopped people picking up MP-27,28 or 30 en masse.
A complex transformation pleases some and perplexes others. 3PMP figures tend to be more intricate in their engineering and conversion than a majority of official Masterpiece figures that tend to hit the absolute sweet spot between difficulty and challenge, simplicity and pleasure. It has not always been this way, though. Masterpiece MP-5 Megatron is absolutely notorious for its infuriating transformation, a reputation it has not managed to shake since release. It stands as a defining and enduring feature of that toy in the mind of the fandom. 3P figures like BadCube Wardog took this to the next level, often being transformed a handful of times by most collectors before being left to stand in the preferred display mode for all time.
X-Transbots Apollyon was a hugely popular toy, but its transformation regularly gets horrible press too. Some people still enjoy those kinds of challenges, but I know I didn’t. The 3PMP figures with such complicated or unpleasant transformations get tarred pretty quickly and it can easily lead to potential customers cooling their interest in said figures, especially if the transformation is linked to toy breakage or damage. I think, though, that should the aesthetics be spot on in both modes, people tend to forgive the toy. A character like Wardog doesn’t stand in the same league as Apollyon, so the latter’s reputation appears to not have affected sales much (but now there are other options), but I know a lot of collectors who stay away from MP-9 Rodimus Convoy for the same reasons. In this case, I’d say 3PMP get more of a pass than official stuff would for complicated and potentially damaging transformations.
BadCube Sunsurge is another interesting case. I don’t believe the transformation to be among the hardest, but it sits in a really tricky place between the accessible official Masterpiece and the dive into the hyper-intricate 3PMP world. The class of toy – Autobot car – implies a straightforward affair like the Lambors, Prowls and Wheeljacks of this world, but there’s a good deal more to it, and that’s turned some people off. It is more posable, though, than the above. It also has the faux chest cheat that some collectors just don’t like. The rear end of the car is show accurate, not real car accurate, but it is not pretty and has therefore come in for some stick. Sure, the transformation lacks the timeless elegance of MP-12 Lambor, but it increases the posability and comes with a ton more accessories (albeit of lower quality, I’m looking at you “Fry”).
Speaking of rear ends, MP Lambor and faux parts, there are few worse offenders than MakeToys Downbeat. This toy is possibly the closest of all 3PMP efforts in all aspects of fitting in with the official line, but it has some features that simply cannot escape note. The low-hanging rear bumper has rightly been highlighted as an eyesore and a design failing, but let’s not forget the whupping that MP-12 – and to a lesser degree, MP-25 Tracks – received for visible rear undercarriage in vehicle mode. Downbeat, however, was not particularly criticized for its plain vehicle mode, a symbol of how show accuracy is now almost ruling the priority list for these figures. MP-14+ Alert was almost ridiculed for the lengths TakaraTomy went to in order to make his car mode appear screen accurate, but the in-hand success of that release may have allowed the community to be more open-minded, desensetised or generally more forgiving of such a thing. As for Downbeat’s false rear wheel arches, maybe people just don’t care as much any more. As a vehicle and motorsport enthusiast, I found this part of him annoying, but have forgiven him it because overall the toy is superb. MP-10 Convoy rarely gets called out on his false grille, so this could just be descending into the realms of the non issue.
I mentioned posability, and this is a huge part of how well a 3PMP figure comes off in a review. We do tend to make a big deal of 3PMP toys not having many points of articulation. How can they justify those price tags when a figure can’t even do The Run, kneel or bend 18 ways at the ankle? Let’s hang on here a second and consider some of the most recent, and expensive, Masterpiece Transformers. I absolutely adore Masterpiece Ultra Magnus, Tracks and Ironhide, and would choose them over any of the unofficial additions to the Ark crew, including my beloved Sphinx, but they are limited. Tracks and Ironhide cannot bend their elbows more than 90 degrees and Magnus is even more limited overall. Tracks and Ironhide don’t have rubber tyres either, or much in the way of die cast metal. Sphinx and Downbeat show them up in that respect.
Why do we forgive them for such things? Is it just because they are official, or because their modes are so bang onto the cartoon with utterly wonderful transformations? Do we forgive them because the prices are better than what we pay for 3PMP toys? Well, as of recently, the prices are not that far apart. Masterpiece Inferno was an eye-watering £120 or so in the UK and the trend for more expensive official figures shows no sign of abating. I actually don’t think the official stuff gets a blanket free pass for the above issues any more. With 3PMP figures like FansToys Grinder, Fans Hobby Megatooth, Archenemy and MakeToys Downbeat all from 2017 showing a clear move towards better, simpler transformations, there’s a convergence happening on the official vs unofficial Masterpiece front. Both sets of figures now regularly come with additional faces, aesthetic-specific parts, many accessories, 3-figure price tags and quality headsculpts of high accuracy.
Quality across the figures is not that simple to distinguish either, MakeToys produce some bloody solid stuff and FansToys have demonstrated some serious improvements in these areas with Lupus, Sovereign and Grinder. So, as it should be, both official and unofficial figures are now scrutinised accordingly with a seemingly equal split of issues raised vocally by the fandom about particular deal-breaking traits. I’ll be very interested to see how TakaraTomy address the characters that already have strong 3PMP representation, if they react to the reduction in the quality/accessory/aesthetics/price gap by returning to rubber tyres and die cast on smaller MP toys, or if they steer the line towards another reboot where they set the rules again from an enforced reset.
All the best