REVIEW: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-45 Bumblebee

Prepare yourself – it’s time to take a look at another TakaraTomy Masterpiece release, which means opinions are incoming! As with every new toy in the line, MP-45 Bumblebee has been met with both delight and disgust, although perhaps not quite in the ratio we might normally expect. Whatever your personal take there’s no doubt that everyone has their own thoughts on this little guy – even me!

Yep, I picked up the yellow fellow just before the end of last year and shared a couple of my initial impressions online. Evidently some folks were slightly surprised that I wasn’t all that blown away by him, so I did promise that I would eventually get around to typing up a review proper, potentially once the dust had settled a bit and I’d had chance to weigh up his comparative merits a little more. Well, that time is now!

I guess it didn’t help that my copy had its fair share of issues, all of which I will detail below as I attempt to honestly put them in perspective against everything else and give a balanced opinion on this toy overall. One thing is for sure, there’s a lot to say! For starters, it’s been a bit of a controversial release right from the moment it was announced, with many questioning the need for another pass at Bumblebee in the MP line to begin with (after the generally well-received MP-21). Then the initial photos were released and boy, he did look kinda awkward, to say the least. Still, he’s here now so let’s take a look at the thing in hand and judge accordingly. Settle in.

Bumblebee comes packaged in his vehicle mode, which this time around is a “Penny Racer” Volkswagen Beetle, meaning that it features the same deformed proportions seen on the original G1 toy and in the original cartoon. It’s one of those weird throwbacks to that toy’s origins prior to Transformers even beginning, but has become so synonymous with the original iteration of the character that the first Masterpiece Bumblebee looked strange to some people for featuring a more realistic vehicle mode. Ultimately, whether you love or hate what you see before you will probably have a lot to do with your preferences on what the Masterpiece line is supposed to be representing more than anything, but for my money I do think this new take is kinda cool in design.

Here’s the thing – I love MP-21 and in many ways the more real world take is more my steam, but there’s no doubt that the squished look does kinda evoke the character a bit more. Plus it’s super cute and at least gives a bit of a reason for this new toy existing as an alternative to the original version, eh? Lining them up side-by-side you can see just how different they are.

Whilst MP-45 might eschew a fair amount of realistic detail to achieve its hyper-cartoon look, it’s not without its grounded touches. It’s still an officially-licensed toy and sports a number of elements that let you know it’s been modelled after an actual Volkswagen. It’s also quite a different colour to its predecessor, coming across as much more canary yellow this time around instead of the previous burnt orange (a choice that confounded a lot of people when MP-21 was released, incidentally).

Of course, the shift in direction with this alt’ mode does throw a bit of a curveball when it comes to Masterpiece collecting, and especially if you have a fair amount of 3PMP on your shelves. After all, stuff like X-Transbots Toro (or any “real world” attempt at characters such as Cliffjumper) arguably looks at odds with the Penny Racer-style of MP-45, and is likely even a little out of step with what a lot of official-only collectors had in mind for their line-up as recently as a year or two ago. As an individual piece the new Bumblebee makes a lot of sense, but it does bring with it a lot of questions for how well it fits alongside the collections we’ve all been amassing all this time.

Thing is though, as adorable as this mode is in many ways it’s kinda spoiled by the toy refusing to tab together properly. As in, it cannot be done. There’s no special tip I can give you to make it work, and even the result above is after a good long effort of trying to make it happen. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it was like this straight out of the box, so it’s not user error either. The seams and joints just become way too obvious and the whole thing just looks messy, sadly.

That isn’t my only gripe here, either. My copy features several noticeable scuff marks in the paint and even has some fairly obvious fingerprints going on! Some people might like getting their toys autographed but this one I was definitely not counting on. Ultimately it’s a very poor show for a Masterpiece release, and well below the quality control par we should be expecting for a toy of this kind.

Ultimately it all comes down to execution for me. There’s a potentially ace little alt’ mode to be had here, but it’s majorly let down by sloppy QC and a few bizarre choices. Lining him up against some of the more recent MP carbots shows you what I mean, as it immediately becomes obvious that this toy should really have tinted blue windows if indeed it’s going to fit in seamlessly alongside the rest of the line, no? So what made them change to clear windows instead?

Well I can answer that – it’s this guy. As with MP-44 Convoy this release comes with another Spike mini-figure (although he has no hat this time, in a reverse Malibu Stacy moment), with the big gimmick being that it’s supposed to be able to fit inside the car mode to look as if he’s driving – hence they sacrificed the tinted windows. But (and it’s bigger than your mum’s), Spike is damn near impossible to fit inside the car. I tried – oh, I tried! – but I simply could not make it happen sufficiently well to take a photograph of the thing. It’s a total pain in the wotsit too, as it involves untabbing and taking apart half the car mode which then means you have to try and retab everything again and…oh, well, you get me. Just a shame that TakTom decided to work so much of this design around a gimmick that really doesn’t bring a whole lot to the party, at the end of the day. There are some other little features too (such as an optional licence plate and some stickers, both of which are designed to represent different scenes from the cartoon), but honestly by this point I’d kinda lost interest in all of that. Let’s get the thing transformed.

Eesh. It’s not a fun process, I’ll say that. There are some very clever little touches in there, but the bulk of the conversion is awkward and nail-biting, compounded by my copy breaking slightly on my first (very careful) attempt. I’m not ham-handed in any way (I’m normally one of the folks who manages to avoid breaking their stuff), but that much painted clear plastic needing to be contorted and bent in such weird and wonderful ways was asking for trouble. It’s not a major break but one of the hinges in the backpack on mine is now forever compromised. I entirely lay the blame on how this was designed as, frankly, it’s not how toys like this should work. Anyway, moving on – let’s have a look at this little lad, eh?

From a front view I have to say that I actually have warmed to him quite a bit! I was not sold at all from those initial photos, but as with other examples MP-45 does his best to win you over in hand, and definitely benefits from a bit of proper posing too. There’s no denying who it’s meant to be, as he does do a great job at representing the character in many ways.

Sadly the much-publicised rear view is where it all falls apart, leaving us with a rather messy assemblage of kibble attempting to facsimile a cartoon-accurate backpack. That little circular section adorning the mess of car parts is the equivalent of a cherry atop a turd, meant to somehow be aesthetically pleasing despite everything else going on around it when really it’s hard to know what the point is.

That might sound harsh but really it’s very difficult to mount a sufficient defence of the backpack going on here – not to mention the weird door kibble on the rear of the feet – particularly as so much of it feels like a hangover from the alt’ mode being designed around the central gimmick of wanting Spike to fit inside the car. Without that feature, you can kinda imagine how differently all this could have worked. As it stands it looks messy and off-putting, compounded by a few panels never really sitting in secure position and with a side view showing how loosely it cobbles together.

It’s a shame as honestly I have come to quite like the look of him from the front. I was initially a bit unsure of the proportions of the body, but again a bit of posing helps with that no end. As it stands I do think that his arms are too short and stubby, but fortunately there are enough joints in the shoulders and elsewhere to help alleviate the visual effect somewhat. It’s certainly possible to articulate him in such a way that he looks pretty neat.

That said, poseability can be a bit of a mixed bag too. Despite some clever joints in some places, other articulation points are impeded or just plain ineffectual. For starters, whilst there is a sort-of waist swivel going on, it amounts to basically nothing of practical use. Likewise the joints on my copy are loose enough to make a decent ankle tilt a bit of a non-starter, and the hip joints don’t quite give the range of motion one might like either. As noted in the video I shared above, my copy also has a very loose hip joint, meaning that it flops around quite freely and makes stable posing a bit of a challenge. It is possible to crank him into a wicked kneel, though.

Perhaps even more annoying is the paint wear and chipping going on already. I can see it happening quite a bit on the hips, but even worse is the top of the chest and particularly around the shoulders where a lot of the clear plastic underneath is starting to show. Frankly, the decision to have so much of this toy be layers of paint atop fragile clear plastic, especially when that plastic is required to support hinges and joints being moved around during a complicated and fairly tight transformation, is a little baffling. This toy is simply not built to last, based on what I can see.

Accessories-wise, Bumblebee comes with his signature handheld blaster, although they’ve gone for something new with how this toy is supposed to hold his weapon. You have to fold the finger joint wide open and then carefully place the peg on the gun handle into a small slot before closing the fingers round it. Sounds simple enough, but it’s quite a precise movement that in my experience doesn’t work particularly well. I’ve been unable to get the gun into Bumblebee’s hands in what I would call a secure positioning, which leaves me wondering what was wrong with the now-standard peg solution of old.

Like MP-18+ Bluestreak, MP-45 also features an effects piece to simulate blaster fire, which can be simply popped on the end of his weapon. It looks pretty decent and gives the look intended, although at this point it’s kinda strange how some new MP releases are granted these pieces and many others (Hound, MP-19+ Smokescreen) are not. That might sounds unappreciative or nitpicking in some way, but unless you can have a whole line-up of these guys firing their weapons then it kinda becomes a bit puzzling.

Also included are three different faces. First up is the obviously smiling face (as opposed to another smiling face, below!). This one is definitely my favourite of the three, and to my eye does far and away the best job of bringing the character’s on-screen likeness to life. I was not keen on the face at all from the stock photography, but this one works pretty well for me.

Next up is the default, almost stoic face. He looks a little strange with pursed lips but I have to admit that this one has grown on me a lot now, and I really don’t mind it.

Finally there’s this one, which I think is meant to be another smile? I’m honestly not quite sure, but it’s not great. Unfortunately at least one of my faces has noticeable blemishes including a paint chip on the eye section, and I also found that the default face split into two pieces when I tried to remove it from the peg in the head – perhaps unsurprising given that they seem to also be made of painted clear plastic yet again. Hey-ho.

Of course there’s also Spike, Bumblebee’s faithful pal, who features all the same articulation (and limb-popping body horror consequences) as the previous MP-44 version. I’m not as keen on this guy as I am the old MP-10 Spike in all honesty, if only because I find him very fiddly indeed!

The weird thing here is that I actually think the Spike who comes with Masterpiece Hound (or Bigger Spike, as I took to calling him in that review) is a much better fit for MP-45 in robot mode in terms of size. Bumblebee was such a tiny little lad in the cartoon that he didn’t tower over his human pal quite in the way he does versus the smaller toy here, and Bigger Spike hits the spot a little better for me. Again, it feels a bit like the smaller Spike was only made necessary in order to be able to fit inside the car mode – a gimmick that increasingly has more and more things to answer for.

Ultimately it’ll be up to you which you think works best, but if you have access to MP-47 Bigger Spike then I honestly think he fits way better. I know which one I’ll be putting in my display!

So, Mp-45 is a weird old package, all things considered, and it’s hard to not feel like there’s a significant degree of compromise going on. Yet there’s no doubt that he does nail the animation look rather well, which is made all the more evident by a straight-up comparison next to MP-21. I’ve always loved that older version, but the proportions and jutting-out belly do suddenly look a little bizarre next to the new toy! It will be your call which you think wins this one in terms of looks, although I will say that for my money MP-21 is far and away a better made and more fun toy.

As with the vehicle mode, MP-45 also throws up some conundrums in terms of how it fits into your existing collection, most notably when it comes to a lot of the 3PMP Minibots already on the market. He’s noticeably taller than MP-21, and a lot of those unofficial efforts have been made to scale next to the older version. Size matters, eh?

Of course where MP-45 really looks at home is next to the more recent crop of Masterpiece releases, most notably the likes of MP-44. For all this toy’s many faults, I can’t deny that the two of them work really well together.

In fact I have to also admit that I’ve had quite a bit of fun playing around with the new lad and putting him through his paces in front of the camera. I still have major problems with the thing, but he can certainly work it for the lens, which is a big appeal for me, personally.

That’s not going to be something that redeems him for everyone though, so your mileage with this guy will definitely depend how much you can look past the many faults and just try and enjoy him for what he is. Perhaps that would be an easier prospect if he wasn’t quite so pricey, but at $120 (the same price point as Masterpiece Sunstreaker, no less), it’s a tough pill.

Let’s be fair, for that kind of moolah you expect something that is top notch in terms of quality, or at the very least isn’t liable to break on you. The sheer number of faults I’ve experienced with this guy is completely unacceptable, even if the design itself wasn’t flawed.

Sadly though, there are problems with this guy so inherent that even if you did get yourself a superb quality copy to begin with, I feel like it’s kinda inevitable that there’ll be some damage along the way, no matter how careful you are. Mine broke on first handling, but that aside I can’t see that paint wearing too well on that clear plastic over time even if yours is perfect out of the box.

Then there are the other problems at the core of this toy, such as basing so much of the design around a central gimmick that really doesn’t add all that much value to begin with. We’ve seen elements of this in the MP line previously, but I can honestly say I think this is the first time that it’s resulted in such a compromised final product.

But hey, you know what? There’s still fun to be had with this lad. As I say, I can’t honestly sit here and tell you that I haven’t enjoyed messing around with him in robot mode, even despite the floppy leg and a few other problems. He certainly looks the part and he fits in alongside a number of other toys really well.

I guess it’s interesting that I went into examining this chap not expecting too much, only to have my estimation plummet due to some significant QC woes, but then he’s actually won me back a bit since then. That says something, right?

So, is he worth it? Well, no – not if you’re unsure, and especially at $120. I’d also be very wary if you plan on transforming him a great deal as I’m not sure how well he’ll stand the test of time.

Is he fun though? Yes, I can honestly say that everything taken into account, I have enjoyed fiddling around with him on the whole, once I was able to look past all those faults. It doesn’t make up for any of that, but at least I’m not tossing him out of a window or anything, I guess.

For what it’s worth, I’ll be hanging onto my copy and in many ways I can already feel that he’s replacing MP-21 as the go-to Bumblebee for any Masterpiece-styled photography on my agenda. That doesn’t make him a better toy but there’s no doubt that he definitely evokes the character nicely in a line-up.

Maybe one day we’ll get an MP Bumblebee version 3 that will put both previous attempts in the shade and finally deliver the ultimate representation of the character. Until then, you have a simple choice – stick with MP-21, keep waiting, or get ready to give this little lad a warm embrace, faults and all.

(I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to add a caveat and say that had I received a decent quality copy, I likely would’ve warmed enough to a score of 2 (fair). As it stands and with the quality as it is, there can be no other result).

WHAT’S HOT? He does a great job at bringing the character’s on-screen likeness to 3D form, at least from the front. Oh, and he looks pretty cute!

WHAT’S NOT? Gah. A lot. The design itself is flawed by relying so much on clear plastic covered in paint, but then my copy also has massive QC errors including loose joints, scuffed paint, fingerprint marks and finally a broken piece in the backpack. The kibble is also a right turn off.

SHOP FOR THIS TOY AT TFSOURCE

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers photographer & blogger from the UK with quite a well-known carpet. Collects both vintage G1/G2 and Masterpiece/3P.

WHAT HAVE TRANSFORMERS DONE FOR ME?


Don't miss out on the latest