YEAR IN REVIEW: Counting down the top 10 toys of 2020 – part one!

It’s become a bit of a staple for Transformers fans to assemble their “best of” lists at the end of every year, and in many ways it’s one of my favourite traditions in the toy collecting calendar. The unbridled enthusiasm and sheer positivity at the heart of such an activity is not lost on me, especially as it can feel like a bit of a tonic from the usual business of critiquing such toys when they are first released.

However, it always proves to be a fun and useful activity in terms of my own collection, too. A chance to reassess all of the various ‘bots that made their way onto my shelves over the prior twelve months, and an opportunity to celebrate those which truly delighted me the most.

I’ve been compiling such lists for years now (in fact you can find them all here), although for some reason the task of doing so is also one that always seems a bit daunting to begin with. After all, there are simply so many great toys out there at the moment, and every year it feels like the stakes are raised just that bit higher! How to choose the very best when there’s so much good stuff to begin with?

My brain immediately starts considering all manner of criteria, not least of which are design, engineering, articulation, creativity, execution, quality… there really are so many factors that can go into making us appreciate these lumps of plastic, after all. Ultimately though, I always come back to one thing that, for me anyway, is most important of all – fun. Quite simply, which toys gave me the most enjoyment?

After all, this is a personal list, and so in many ways I feel able to eschew some of the considerations I might make when reviewing a toy in the usual manner. After all, sometimes our appreciation of a particular figure is more than just a tick box of logic criteria, isn’t it? You might even say it’s more than meets the eye.

In that regard, the choices I’ve made are based on my personal tastes, typically in terms of which toys delighted me the most as opposed to which are objectively “the best”. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my choices – that’s not what this is about, after all! Inevitably, there are also plenty of toys I would have loved to include but couldn’t – such is the nature of these lists.

Naturally, it’s also worth acknowledging that this list is made up only of toys that I have personally picked up during 2020, most of which were Masterpiece and third party equivalents. I did have my hands on a few Generations toys during this time, but if I didn’t collect it, it won’t feature here. Equally I’ve only included new moulds that were actually released within 2020, and have discounted anything I picked up retrospectively from a previous year. I plan on doing a separate list of any vintage purchases as well, mind.

So here’s the plan – I’ll be discussing two categories of toys. First up is a look at the best repaints from 2020 (based on moulds first released in previous years), and then it’s the main event – the top ten figures of 2020, based on all new moulds from the last twelve months. Simple!

Oh, and this year I’ve taken the decision to split my list into three parts, so be sure to check back later this week for part 2! Right then, here we go…

 

2020 REPAINTS

SPECIAL MENTION: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-49 Black Convoy

Kicking us off with a look at some of the best repaints from last year, we have a couple of ‘special mentions’. You see, there were some truly excellent new takes on pre-existing designs released during 2020, and whilst they can’t all be crowned with the top spot, they do at the very least deserve a quick nod on this list in one form or another. I mean, just take MP-49 here, for example.

Full disclosure, I was surprisingly underwhelmed about this guy prior to him actually landing in my hands, as the official promotional pics hadn’t exactly whet my appetite and whilst I do like the new MP OP design quite a bit, I wasn’t necessarily feeling the need for another stab at it quite so soon after the more traditional red and blue variety.

Then he arrived, and needless to say, he won me over. And the weirdest part? A lot of the enjoyment has been derived from being able to handle the thing a little more robustly on account of that non-painted finish! True, it might look a little less premium on account of the bare plastic, but it does mean that I finally got to appreciate *that transformation* without any kind of fear of paint chipping, and that’s certainly been an experience to treasure.

If anything it’s strengthened a long-held belief of mine, that “complicated” transformations can still be a lot of fun, as long as they’re well-engineered and designed with a bit of grace in mind. MP-49 is highly intricate, yes, but it handles in a way that far more simple toys can only dream of, and so in that regard it definitely earns a nod here.

Check out the original video and review on this toy here.

 

SPECIAL MENTION: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-19+ Smokescreen

TakaraTomy have been pumping out the so-called “plus” repaints for a good few years now, and whilst the title has sort of lost all meaning by this point (especially with Thundercracker somehow being a “plus” repaint of the new Starscream release!) , that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen some truly worthy examples along the way.

Smokescreen here is the last of the Hasui-era carbots to be re-released with a more cartoony-style paint job, of course, which in many people’s minds is still what the “plus” idea was all about to begin with. And whilst we’ve seen some interesting overhauls with the previous examples, it certainly feels like the best (and most extensive) was saved until last.

After all, this isn’t actually just a repaint, as MP-19+ features numerous newly-moulded parts, all designed to bring the figure closer to the look of Smokescreen’s animation model. That new face (and the chin!) may not have been to everyone’s tastes, but to my eye it works wonders, and definitely improves on the so-so original. I’m also a huge fan of the new shoulder-mounted guns, especially as the first design always looked way too large and cumbersome, for my tastes.

Then there’s fun stuff like those smoke cloud accessories, not to mention the sheer gloriousness of the new paint job itself! It may do away with just about any resemblance of real-world racing livery, but again, the clean and bold aesthetic really sings to me, making this my definitive favourite of the “plus” carbots overall.

Check out the original review on this toy here.

 

RUNNER UP: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-10DC Convoy (Atmos Safari DUCKCAMO Ver.)

Hard to believe that a full nine years after it was first released, we’re still regularly receiving repaints of MP-10. In many ways this toy has become the poster boy of the Masterpiece line, so perhaps it’s unsurprising to see it become synonymous with the practice, but to their credit, TakaraTomy are at least giving us some truly weird and wacky options along the way.

Just feast your eyeballs on this lad, for starters. That watermelon-esque colour scheme is something that rightfully has no business being used on an Optimus Prime toy of any kind, yet here we are and do you know what? It looks stunning in hand.

Now look, I’ve no doubt many will disagree with me, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m long past trying to convince anyone on toys like this, as ultimately their very nature is “love it or hate it” on sight. Yet if you do find yourself somewhat drawn to the entirely unorthodox stylings of such a thing, then the good news is that it also happens to be one of the best-finished and most premium iterations of the mould I’ve experienced in hand, and boasts a thick layer of durable paint that most toys can only dream of.

Along with his similarly trainer-inspired mould-mate, MP-10ASL “Lebronvoy”, “Duck” here is giving me serious hope that we may yet still see the rest of the Atmos Safari MP-10 brigade brought to life (with another four such potential repaints having been showcased at various conventions already). Whilst I acknowledge that the majority of collectors would happily see this design put to bed now, I’ll be here revelling in every single last gaudy use of it until it finally is.

Check out the original video on this toy here.

 

WINNER: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-38 Burning Convoy

Some pretty fabulous repaints this year all round, eh? So, what was better than all of that? Well, if you’d have told me at the start of the year that I was going to be giving the honour to this ridiculously red ape then I definitely would have raised my eyebrows in response! Just goes to show that just as you can never judge a book by its cover, so it is with a primate and its promotional photography.

See, here’s the thing – Burning Convoy looked to be all kinds of odd from the pics we saw prior to release, so much so that it was even kind of failing to convince a lot of fans who already had some knowledge of the original Beast Wars II mini-movie that this colour scheme briefly hails from (or indeed the previous toys to bear its crimson majesty!). Yet it’s another in a long line of examples that prove some toys just look way, way, better in hand than you would ever really expect.

OK, so a vibrantly-coloured translucent plastic re-do of a Beast Wars character in homage to an exceptionally niche nineties’ cartoon isn’t necessarily the kind of thing you pick up on a whim, but if you did decide to give this guy a go then hopefully you’ll have seen what I mean. Firstly, the red is just glorious in hand, and shines in an alluring way you don’t see on a lot of other clear toys. Then there’s the fact that even the more bizarre elements of this aesthetic – stuff like the gold hands and lips – manage to somehow work surprisingly well when viewed up close.

But hey, let’s not forget that this is an exceptionally enjoyable toy to begin with, right? Like, I understand if a heady mixture of incredible posability, good looks, impressively-intertwined gimmicks and just all-round fun factor aren’t your thing, but for my money this is a base design I don’t see myself being tired of any time soon. That all makes MP Burning Convoy not only my favourite repaint of the year, but also one of the biggest surprises of the year!

Check out the original video and review on this toy here.

TOP TEN FIGURES 2020

#10: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-48 Lio Convoy

Right then, onto the main list we go! And coming in at number 10 is another Masterpiece Beast Wars II homage, as if one in any given year wasn’t already enough to begin with. Yet a lot of collectors had dreamt about the very idea of an MP Lio Convoy for some time, although it’s perhaps fair to say the actual reception of the thing was decidedly mixed.

So, brutal honesty time, eh? This toy has a problem with paint wear and chipping that is beyond unfortunate. In fact, it’s just downright unacceptable, especially given that there is simply no way to avoid the red paint wearing off at the joints and other problem areas. You would have thought that TakaraTomy had enough knowledge and skills to avoid such issues by now, but sadly it’s still a pitfall that plagues some Masterpiece releases in the minds of many, and Lio Convoy here is one of the most prevalent examples in my own personal experience.

In fact, if I were to make a list of which toys I would unequivocally recommend to someone else without any kind of hesitation or qualification, I honestly doubt it would make the cut. That’s purely because I know the paint issues would be a real dealbreaker for many collectors, and rightly so. Despite that, I still found myself enjoying so much of what this release had to offer.

It’s not that the wear around the edges of the finish doesn’t bother me – of course it does, and needless to say I’d much rather it wasn’t a problem. Even with that though, I still had a great time with Lio Convoy and absolutely love both the look of the thing as well as the amount of inherent play value it brings.

I mean, let’s just acknowledge the sheer levels of smoulder emanating from that robot mode, shall we? It’s every bit as good as one could have hoped for and them some, and poses like an absolute dream to boot. And yes, the lion mode is a highly stylised affair, lacking a little bit of the more imposing side of the character’s depiction in the cartoon, but still it ticks the box well enough for my tastes and ends up being a decent-enough second fiddle to his astounding humanoid form.

Overall then, this is one release that I have little doubt most will disagree with me on, and that’s absolutely fair. All I can say is that despite its faults, there’s just still something I inherently like about this toy, which again, is really what this list is all about.

Check out the original video and review on this toy here.

#9: FansToys FT-42 Hunk

It’s pretty much a guarantee that FansToys are going to have at least one figure on this list in any given year, if only because the unofficial outfit now have such a steady stream of new product that chances are one of their releases will wind up having captured my imagination well enough to be included. Yet despite that, they have managed to maintain a surprisingly high hit rate too, with most of their designs managing to succeed on looks even if they just occasionally end up being a bit of an experience to transform!

Then, every so often, you get a toy like this from them, which manages to get the balance right. Hunk not only brings the goods in terms of aesthetics, but remains fun to handle and features a mostly quite fluid transformation to boot! Excellent stuff indeed.

It’s funny because this wasn’t even one of their new releases that had most caught my attention prior to production (it’s not a character I’m all too fussed about beyond his extremely memorable final scene in the 1986 movie!). Even first seeing the robot mode in hand really only led me to think that it was a handsome-enough affair but perhaps nothing truly standout as such. In fact what finally tipped the balance for me was actually that transformation of all things!

Put it this way, I like stuff that feels a bit unexpected or unique in some way, and the manner in which the legs split apart to reveal the sides of the vehicular mode is definitely something that immediately caught my attention (even if the reverse result is him having Ninja Turtle toes). I’ve since had fun converting him back and forth any number of times, and whilst getting the roof section into place remains a bit of a challenge at times, the whole process is one I’m really quite taken with.

The result then is a figure that looks pretty stunning in both modes and is surprisingly easy (and enjoyable) to move between them, which really is what we’re all looking for from these kinds of toys, right?

Ultimately, this isn’t the only FansToys product to make the list this year, but it is the one whose inclusion has most surprised me. More of this kind of thing, please!

Check out the original video on this toy here.

 

So, that’s part 1 of our list! Check back for part 2 very soon…

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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