REVIEW: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-55 Nightbird (part 2)

We’re back for the second part of our look at the latest TakaraTomy Masterpiece offering – it’s Nightbird! Last time we got into it with the toy’s vehicle mode, something which remains a noteworthy inclusion for this particular character, yet also a very attractive one! 

Whilst it seems that not every collector out there is quite ready to embrace such a mode considering Nightbird’s non-transformable cartoon origin, the fact remains that she’s been given a significant overhaul since then, the results of which are hard to argue with! Still, now it’s time to get her contorted up to her more familiar robot form, a process that will be well-known to owners of MP-51 Arcee, of course.

I said as much in my review of that figure, but overall this conversion is nothing to challenge anyone already ofay with the Masterpiece line and arguably falls on the more straightforward side of things versus any of the third-party alternatives. Nightbird may add nothing new to the process, yet it remains as fluid and repeatable as ever, with really the only point of potential complication happening in the way the panels of the backpack fold up and lock together. There’s a touch of nuance to getting it all sitting flush, but it’s all easy-going once you know what to do.

All of which brings us to the main event – the robo-ninja assassin herself! To be honest, it’s a slightly surreal experience to see this toy in hand, given what an unusual character Nightbird is. She’s certainly not an example I ever imagined receiving the Masterpiece treatment, although I have to admit I’m happy she did now she’s here, as this toy is nothing shy of gorgeous.

There’s been (far too) much discussion about the various aesthetic choices on MP Arcee already, but even proponents of it like me are perhaps likely to admit that Nightbird wears this mould well, with several aspects of the design all intertwining to make it arguably a more natural fit somehow. Even though it is a bit of a departure from the character’s classic animation model, it works wonderfully somehow, capturing your eye right out of the box.

I’m sure it helps that Nightbird is still an altogether far more obscure character than Arcee, with a lot less expectation and pressure placed on getting all of the various details as accurate as possible. While there have been some naysayers who would clearly have preferred a wholly animation-faithful take, it feels like the general mood is happy to accept the idea that a transformable Masterpiece figure is going to need at least a little wiggle-room to operate.

Besides, even if you actually sit and compare this toy versus the character’s screen appearance, it’s surprising to see how many details it gets right, broadly speaking. It may not be to the same slavish degree as some of the more-recent Masterpiece output, but considering the very nature of this design and just how mad it is to see a Nightbird figure to begin with, I really think TakaraTomy have done a splendid job with capturing the general look of the character overall.

No doubt the most significant difference here is the backpack made necessary as a result of Arcee’s design but also because it houses the sheer majority of the car mode (yes, the design is a bit shellformery). Yet look beyond that and I think you’ll find MP-55 captures the real essence of Nightbird somehow, especially once you start posing her up. I look at this thing and it still feels like it stepped right out of Enter the Nightbird, despite being a clear evolution of the design seen in that episode.

Other factors may make this figure an easier prospect than Arcee, mind. Firstly, the colour scheme is naturally more flattering. The painted black finish allows the backpack to feel somewhat less noticeable, and the monotone vibe helps to visually minimise some of the more stylised elements of the mould overall.

Yet there are a noticeable number of newly-moulded elements here too, a lot of which add up to Nightbird appearing as perhaps a less offbeat interpretation of the character than Arcee. Where MP-51 was picked up for extreme proportions and some slightly unconventional design decisions, MP-55 seems to swoop in and almost feel like the more natural fit somehow.

And yes, I am talking about aspects such as the chest. It’s a subject now so synonymous with the original release that I’m surprised it doesn’t crop up more in online discussion regarding this retool. Still, perhaps that tells you everything you need about the point I’m trying to make; whereas the low-sitting chest plate on Arcee was a strange decision by anyone’s estimation, Nightbird’s general shape and head design suit it perfectly, to the point where you essentially don’t think about it at all. I’ve seen it suggested that this may have been a factor in the mould’s design to begin with, and, whilst I’d love to think that isn’t true, it’s hard to find credible arguments to suggest otherwise.

It’s not the only fresh bit of design here, though, with the waist and hips being created specifically for MP-55, along with the new head. That leaves the legs, arms and backpack as straightforward repainted parts, but it’s enough to make for a different vibe overall. If you were to pop Arcee out of sight for a bit whilst handling Nightbird, I doubt you’d be thinking of this as a mere repaint after much time with it.

I make that assertion because, honestly, there’s very little to grumble about once you start putting the toy through its paces. Yes, it’s a familiar design at its core, but my word, does it feel fresh and new somehow. It’s one of those instances where it’s amazing what a lick of paint and a few new bells and whistles can achieve.

It naturally doesn’t hurt that it’s a fun design, to begin with. I made much of the joy I found in posing Arcee during that review’s photography session, so I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear it was just as enjoyable this time around. Releases like this were made to be articulated in all kinds of dynamic ways, after all.

It feels like this is one of the more considered and thoughtful designs in the Masterpiece line when it comes to poseability. Whilst solutions such as butterfly joints for shoulders and ab crunches have become standard fare by this point, MP-55 takes it all to a place far beyond expectation, handling with the kind of grace and nuance I wish we could see more often.

Every joint seems to move dynamically but somehow with a result that feels natural, meaning that it’s almost impossible to give Nightbird a good going over without finding some decent ways to pose her. It helps that the general look of the figure is so fantastic, making her just a delight when it comes to play and display.

It’s the one aspect of MP-55 I was most excited about, especially given the character’s ninja stylings in the cartoon. Despite this not being a wholly slavish realisation, you get a real sense of the character in how she moves and fights, making the toy feel a suitable overall representation.

Oh, and yes, she can still pull off the crazy handstands and impressive fly kicks that I demonstrated with MP-51! The balance on offer is superb, allowing for some outstanding results indeed.

It makes some of the Masterpiece carbots look incredibly blocky and static by comparison!

I will say that I found some of the joints not as stable as on my copy of Arcee, though, with some slight give in the knees being the most obvious point of difference in the relative tolerances. It’s not enough to really affect posing too much, but it made balancing one or two more extreme examples tricky.

Anyway, You’re still left with an incredible range of how best to display Nightbird, primarily as she features an impressive arsenal. This toy has a veritable myriad of accessories, most of which are weapons. First up, we have her standard black hand blaster, a repainted version of Arcee’s gun that fits snugly in either palm.

There’s then a second, smaller pistol, again taken from the MP-51 release. It’s black with some orange highlights and only fits into the right hand, although you can still have Nightbird dual-wield her firearms, should you wish.

Next, you have three blast effect pieces. Again, these are all repainted from Arcee but look entirely different now with a new bright translucent purple finish. I find they catch the eye way more than MP-51’s orange equivalents and suit this character perfectly.

The final piece carried over and repainted here is the holster for the larger gun, which pegs onto Nightbird’s hip and looks really decent when in place.

Next, we come to some of the original accessories here, many of which are geared around recreating Nightbird’s animation portrayal. Firstly, she features a pair of lightsabers, for want of a better term! In fact, it’s tough to look at them and not immediately imagine an adventure from a galaxy far, far away… although you may be surprised to hear they’re actually a nod in the direction of the cartoon too.

There, Nightbird was shown to wield one such weapon, although the blade was a white and blue colour instead, so it seems TakaraTomy has opted for something a touch more dramatic here. There was also a second hilt visible in the character’s backpack in the cartoon, and whilst you can’t recreate that here, I suspect it explains why you get two swords in the box. Either way, they look amazing, in my opinion.

Should you prefer, you can remove the blade from the hilt of the lightsabers, allowing Nightbird to hold the weapons as though they were retracted. Alternatively, the handle will also hold one of the blast effect pieces, making for a different-looking weapon!

Of course, that leaves you to use the spare lightsaber blade as a blast effect accessory for the gun instead! Options.

If the lightsabers are not your bag, Nightbird also features a pair of alternative swords. Bizarrely, these are carried over and repainted from the character’s 2015 Legends figure, although they look significantly more impressive now, with a noticeably more premium finish.

They don’t fit perfectly in MP-55’s palms as I did find her fingers were hard to fit flush around the handles. I also noted that the handle on one of the swords feels a little loose, meaning it has a tendency to flop forward a bit during posing. Overall I’d say they’re the least polished bit of this entire release, which is a shame considering how fantastic they look when in place.

As if two sets of swords weren’t enough, you also get a pair of Nightbird’s trademark sai weapons. I say they’re a trademark, despite the fact she never actually uses them in the cartoon! Instead, she simply wears them on her forearms, a feature that can be recreated here.

Alternatively, if you prefer to equip her with them, they can be pegged in her palms. They have the same translucent green effect as the lightsabers, which is a bit of a strange choice in some ways but also looks neat (and isn’t a million miles from the yellow of the cartoon). I might have preferred a nice metal-looking set, though.

Anyway, the final weapon accessory is a set of shuriken (or throwing stars) which can be pegged into one another and then held in the palm of Nightbird’s hand. It’s a simple solution, but I think it works really well and looks surprisingly authentic. Neat touch.

We’re not done, though, as there are some swappable face options are to speak about. Firstly, the default face is fantastic; another home run by TakaraTomy in this line. They’ve ably captured the grimace of the character from the cartoon whilst also managing to make it look well-defined and somehow not ridiculous in toy form.

Again, I’m also a fan of the general head shape, particularly how they’ve interpreted the more extended panel coming down the neck (which is a fixed piece on the animation model). It allows Nightbird more movement and poseability whilst also feeling reminiscent of the cartoon.

Should you prefer, you can remove the purple mask portion of the sculpt to reveal a more humanoid face design underneath. It’s a look that I’m sure won’t be to everyone’s tastes (particularly those interested in this toy on the back of the original cartoon episode), but it’s a fun feature nonetheless.

Similarly, you can also swap the face out entirely for… this. It’s a nod towards the comic strip that featured the 2015 Legends toy, in case you’re wondering. I don’t believe I’ll ever get much use out of it beyond featuring it here, for the sake of being thorough!

I like the rather natty design found under the swappable faces, though, especially as it reminds me of the equivalent design on MP-36 Megatron.

Anyway, all of the faces and various weapons give Nightbird an absolute ton of play value, allowing her to easily rival Arcee in terms of fun factor. A lot of the offering may be a departure from her portrayal in the cartoon, sure, but there are enough nods to hopefully keep diehard fans happy whilst also rounding off the figure in an exciting new way.

One thing’s for sure, you’re never stuck for options with how you pose or display her, especially with such an arsenal at her command. It leaves MP-51 feeling very much like the definitive Nightbird toy so far (official or otherwise) and the standard to beat for any new attempts moving forward.

Again, I know the fact that this toy has an alternate mode doesn’t sit right with everyone, although I’m left wondering why it’s even a problem, to be honest. The chances of TakaraTomy making a new non-transformable Masterpiece mould just for this character are non-existent, I expect, so given the choice, I’d say we got a good deal here.

Besides, she may be a repaint, but she feels distinct enough from Arcee to stand on her own two feet, representing a genuine alternative for people who weren’t entirely convinced enough on the MP-51 use of the mould to go in on it. Despite its quirks, it remains a terrific design, in my opinion, so if you prefer the look of Nightbird, I’d say give it a go.

I’m sure some will also still be put off by the size of the backpack or whatever other problems you might perceive from photos, but honestly, I don’t rate any of it as a legitimate gripe in hand. All you get is tons of fun posing an awesome toy.

As for how she fits in the rest of your collection, she definitely shapes up well in a Masterpiece Decepticon line-up, looking every bit the part next to the likes of MP-36 Megatron and his gang. She may not be entirely cartoon-slavish, but the design style works well enough to make it gel.

Alternatively, she also does a fine job slotting in next to any other black repaints we’ve had in the line thus far. I mentioned in part 1 how I found her car mode to be an excellent accompaniment to MP-25L Loudpedal, and seeing them together in robot form is no less thrilling.

It’s another slam dunk from TakaraTomy with this one then. Enter the Nightbird; long may she reign.

WHAT’S HOT? Outstanding robot mode which arguably ‘wears’ the mould even better than MP-51. Incredibly poseable with tons of accessories. Stunning car mode too.

WHAT’S NOT? I wish the knees on my copy were just a smidge tighter and the hands don’t quite grip the repainted swords properly. The handle on one of those is a smidge floppy too.

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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