Cast your mind back to a decade ago.
In many ways, it was a simpler time, especially in terms of Transformers collecting. The Masterpiece line was certainly nothing new by this point, but it wasn’t quite yet the juggernaut we know it to be today, either.
In 2012, though, that all changed. That’s when, alongside the release of MP-12 Lambor (or Sideswipe, should you prefer), the team behind the line unveiled their intent to release a complete scaled line-up of characters from the original Transformers Sunbow cartoon, all decked out in animation style but with suitably accurate alternate modes. It’s perhaps hard to capture now just what a revelation this was at the time, or indeed the levels of fever-pitch excitement that followed.
Whilst that idea is still ongoing in many ways, for a good while, it seemed like all our dreams were about to come true. Imagine any random background character from Generation 1, and there would be some speculation about how they might approach them in Masterpiece-style or when the (surely inevitable) toy might see fruition. It honestly felt like nothing was really off the table.
Spare a thought, then, for Skids, the oft-forgotten second-stringer of the original good guy carbot line-up, who has long been overlooked since the very first days of the franchise. In some ways, it’s almost tradition not to give him his proper due. Still, it’s fair to say that precisely no one was clamouring for the character to be given the Masterpiece treatment during those initial few years following MP-12.
Of course, this stems from his origins as far back as 1984. Technically, the G1 toy was a first-year release, but it was added so late to the rest of the assortment that it missed on all the promotional buzz that catapulted characters like Ironhide, Prowl and Wheeljack to being fan-favourite franchise mainstays. As a double-whammy, he was then short-packed for the 1985 assortment alongside all other toys from ’84, making him a rare prospect in both years.
This in-between status meant that he was also missing in a lot of the promotional material from the time and that he wasn’t initially put forward for inclusion in the accompanying cartoon, only eventually appearing as a mere cameo in just two episodes. True, he did receive a little more focus in the Marvel comic. Still, even that culminated in his being relegated to “limbo”, a featureless black pocket dimension where characters typically go to be forgotten, after he was quite literally shunted aside in favour of bigger names being given the spotlight. It’s entirely accurate to say he simply fell through the cracks and thus out of the minds of many kids of the era.
Fast forward to the present day, and look at how things have changed! Skids’ star has been dramatically on the rise of late, largely due to his popular turn in the IDW comics, and the Autobot now boasts a new Generations toy to his name. Not only that, but he is finally receiving the Masterpiece treatment, some ten years after the announcement of that character roster.
However, what’s especially interesting about MP-53 is how much it feels like a throwback to that halcyon period of the Masterpiece line, commonly thought of as “the Hasui years” after famed designer Shogo Hasui. Whilst the aesthetic and engineering of the line have significantly evolved over the last decade, typically pushing the toys to a place of extreme animation slavishness, Skids eschews much of this to feel like a ‘simpler’ take on the character, more in line with those earlier toys seen in the years following 2012.
For example, stack him up next to something like MP-17+ Prowl, and it’s not hard to think they have a lot in common regarding design philosophy. No doubt it helps that they both sing from the familiar car-bonnet-chest-with-door-wings hymn book that defines the early years of classic Transformers. Still, even beyond that, there’s a fluidity and style with MP-53 that could almost have you believing they brought Hasui back for this release.
As it turns out, they didn’t, but there may be another reason this toy feels so immediately classic. Skids is the brainchild of franchise legend Kōjin Ōno, the man who oversaw the designs of the vast majority of iconic G1 Transformers toys back in the days of Diaclone. That includes the likes of Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, Hound, Prowl, Jazz, Mirage and yep, you guessed it, the original Skids! Seriously, the man’s resume is a who’s who of your favourite characters.
Interestingly, Ōno also worked on the far-more anime-styled MP-52 Starscream (and the upcoming MP-57 Skyfire), so it’s not like this is a sudden shift in direction for the Masterpiece line or anything. At least a few fans hoped this release was a return to the days of more ‘balanced’ design inspiration, where various references were cherry-picked to create the ‘ultimate’ interpretation of each particular character. Instead, Ōno and the team still have plenty of cartoon influence at play, yet they have made MP-53 (and the accompanying MP-54 Reboost) a special case in collaboration with Honda.
You see, Skids here has been trotted out to mark the 40th anniversary of the Honda City, first produced in Japan in 1981. That the toy features a licensed Honda City Turbo alternate mode is of little surprise (it’s been a hallmark of Masterpiece toys since 2012), but it does feel like particular time and care has been applied in this case to make MP-53 a little *extra* special. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a love letter to this classic car design.
First, it’s spectacular from all angles, with an exceptionally faithful and amazingly compact design. There’s almost a feel of Binaltech-era attention-to-detail going on, with the ever-so-slight presence of the red robot feet hanging underneath the chassis the only slight compromise to an otherwise perfect realisation. You can see some scant evidence of the ability to transform through the slightly translucent windows, but otherwise, I would honestly say you could be forgiven for thinking this was a scale model of some kind.
Secondly, the finish is second to none. Masterpiece releases are often judged on their presentation and paint applications, but I doubt even the harshest critics could find fault with MP-53. An unusual amount of moulded detail has been picked out with painted highlights here, all adding to make Skids a visual treat. Furthermore, everything from the eye-catching stripes down the sides to the splashes of yellow, orange and red all over the front bumper are superbly realised, allowing the vehicle form to stand up to a considerable amount of scrutiny, even at close quarters. TL;DR – it’s flippin’ gorgeous.
There’s more to admire once you pop open the bonnet, with a moulded engine and a significant amount of paint, making me think that this is simply the designers showing off at this point. They clearly had a great time making this thing, and these little touches are purely there to let you know about it. I’m not complaining, mind, and especially given how fabulous it all looks.
There’s more functionality to come, as, despite Skids’ comparatively tiny folded-up frame, the design is clean and tidy enough to allow the doors to open. True, you could argue this is a necessary result of the required transformation sequence given where they end up in robot mode, but still, it’s impressive to witness. Besides, the designers have gone one step further, allowing you to plonk MP-44’s Spike minifigure into the approximation of an interior. It’s definitely a bit of a fiddle, but again, a transforming toy this tiny packing in these features is an engineering marvel.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the boot! That also opens to reveal a surprisingly roomy interior, enough to allow you to store away Skids’ two weapons accessories in a neat touch. Of the two, the blue and black liquid nitrogen rifle doesn’t actually tab at all, but still, this is a very welcome feature. No doubt some collectors will be disappointed not to see the celebrated Honda Motocompo scooter realised here, especially as it is found packaged with MP-54 Reboost. I guess its absence is maybe a nod towards the G1 Skids toy dropping the equivalent accessory from its Diaclone release, but either way, it’s not the end of the world, in my opinion.
After all, when you have a toy that crams in this much into such a small body whilst also featuring some of the best-looking paint we’ve seen in some time, who’s complaining, eh? It may have been an awfully long time coming, but this is already shaping up to be Skid’s finest hour yet.
Join us for part 2 when we’ll be taking a look at the robot mode in detail!