Hasbro and TakaraTomy – or even 3rd Party companies – do not always get around to meeting our collecting needs in a way that satisfies us. Generations, for example, had a marvellous Springer toy but I still wanted one for my Titans Return collection. Masterpiece collections have blossomed into having a respectable-sized season 1 Autobot car cast, but many of us would like Jazz, Hound, Mirage and more. Under these circumstances, and with the wide variety of manufacturers putting out Transformers-a-likes, as well as the official output, some collectors may purchase stand-ins. These placeholder figures are sometimes intended to fill a character gap in our collections in the meantime, until a better or official version comes along.
That is not to say that everyone who purchased MakeToys Gundog, Ocular Max Sphinx or FansToys Sovereign is looking to replace them, far from it. I look at figures like Sphinx, MakeToys Downbeat, FansToys Phoenix and Stomp, MMC Carnifex and Anarchus and I feel that if we never get official versions of those characters – within the context of Generation 1 or IDW – I would not be disappointed. All of those toys are first class, gorgeous, well made and worthy of being in my collection forever (I sold Carnifex and Anarchus, don’t shoot me). On occasion, collectors have even chosen 3rd Party versions over official releases, FansToys Quakewave over MP Laserwave is one such example. So, at the start of any such discussion, it is important to establish that ‘placeholder’ is not a by-word for 3rd Party.
Another tier of placeholder figures are the ones collectors do not find perfect, or of the kind of quality we could expect from the very best 3P or official releases. These figures are either aesthetically spot on, really fun to play with or very good quality…but not all of those things at once. Just looking at Hellfire and Backdraft above, you can see how differently each company has interpreted how that character could/should look and feel at Masterpiece scale. Some people prefer Hellfire, some prefer Backdraft. While neither are perfect and could very quickly be spotted and felt out of an official Masterpiece line up, they could easily be accepted as the best available option long term. We did eventually get MP Inferno, but of course there are aesthetic choices made by TakaraTomy there that don’t appeal to certain quarters of the community. At least they have two excellent alternatives to choose from.
Another category of placeholder may not be anywhere near the kind of quality, engineering or presentation one would want for a particular collection theme, be it Masterpiece, Classics, toy accurate or comic based. For the sake of having a certain character actually represented in a collection – especially when we may be so close to a complete cast/range – a placeholder purchase might be made where the toy in question does not meet our standards. Due to being the only representation of said character, that placeholder toy finds a temporary place in a collection, until a better alternative comes along. This could even be a viable option for some collectors when alternatives have already been announced, just depends on how strong that desire is to complete. We can sometimes be swayed by a great price or lack of alternative options into buying placeholders that don’t quite cut the mustard compared to their shelfmates.
There are, however, some collectors who will look at the available options and decide that a placeholder is not the way to go. Sometimes the best option is to not go with any of those currently available. I have begun to personally make peace with the fact that some character slots will never be filled in my collection. If I never have a suitable, enjoyable Masterpiece-scale Reflector, is it really going to affect me that deeply? I’ve come to the realisation that no, it won’t cast a negative light on my MP collection. I’ve said it in the past, but what you do not have does not diminish what you do have. I’m ok with not having a complete cartoon cast if it means only buying and keeping MP-class figures of a particular style or quality.
With all of the above taken into consideration, it is absolutely possible that something that once appeared to be nothing more than a placeholder – in hindsight – becomes a more definitive version should subsequent releases never match its quality. That is, if you’re not one of those who would rather go without than settle for something less than your standards or expectations. Again, I’d say the opposite is true as well, and it’s not as simple as official versus unofficial, for me at least. While I’ll always adore my Masterpiece MP-11, I feel that MakeToys Meteor is a better fit for that character in my Masterpiece style collection. With the quality of products from some unofficial sources improving, and that includes transformation and playability, sometimes it might be the official figure that ends up as the unintended placeholder. Companies may not automatically dismiss the idea of doing certain characters even when the official version was first to market, although potential customers will always be lower for something with an official or even unofficial equivalent already available and embedded into collections.
I think it’s important to also mention that the whole placeholder concept is not a shameful one. It should not be cause for ridicule when better versions come out from known, quality sources. It’s fine to admit to oneself that they bought something a few years ago that was a great option at the time, and now there’s something better. Is it not ridiculous and petty to point to someone who spent $100 four years ago and say “See, I KNEW waiting was the right thing to do!”? How can someone quantify four years of enjoyment out of a product, four years of pride in one’s collection and satisfaction at owning a representation of a character? You can’t put a number on good memories and experiences, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all concept, approach or outcome when it comes to placeholders and stand-ins.
In the words of so many featured collectors who we have interviewed, remember to do what makes you happy with your collection. There are no concrete rules, no accepted community etiquette for buying certain versions of characters, and there is no doctrine as to how you should assemble a collection of figures from your preferred era. There are just opinions, preferences and the means or circumstances under which our hobby fits into our lives. Enjoy it how you see fit.
All the best