I’ve read a lot of recent discourse about the state of the official Masterpiece line.
It felt at one point like various collectors were looking to write it off, as though the golden era of Masterpiece was somehow behind us. One person even said to me that Masterpiece was “dead”.
Ultimately, it’s all very dramatic for a series of toys fast approaching its twentieth year and going strong, but arguably also branching out more than ever into unknown territories. Throughout all that, though, there always seemed to be one milestone left untouched, one landmark still to reach. Well, now, here we are.
I am, of course, referring to combiners. True, there have been many attempts at such teams in Masterpiece-style by third-party companies for years now. In many ways, they’ve become the bread and butter of the unofficial scene, a seemingly safe territory to operate in away from the purview of the TakaraTomy line itself. There have been countless attempts at Aerialbots, Stunticons, Combaticons, Protectobots, Predacons and the like, and yes, even a recent take on the Japanese Trainbot team that form the giant robot known as Raiden.
It seems that TakaraTomy is now on the same track. Although no one saw it coming, today’s offering marks the first in a spin-off series known as MPG, or ‘Masterpiece Gattai’ (a Japanese term used to denote separate entities combining). Yep, that means official Masterpiece combiners for the first time ever, and rather excitingly, it all begins with Shouki here.
The initial reveal raised all kinds of questions, and even though we’ve yet to see the full Raiden mode in finished form, it’s still a case of full steam ahead as the individual toys start rolling out of the station. Yet I’m sure there are still plenty of Western fans who are unfamiliar with the Trainbots, whether that’s due to never having seen the Japanese Headmasters cartoon or that the vintage Raiden toy is relatively off-limits to a lot of collectors these days.
On the plus side, there’s enough to be excited about here even if Shouki and the gang are a new prospect for you, and especially if you’re even remotely into the idea of trains that turn into giant robots (which, why wouldn’t you be?). Shouki himself turns into a Type 0 Shinkansen, colloquially known as a Bullet Train, which is a signature of Japan’s high-speed rail network, and this figure recreates it in absolutely stunning detail.
Everything about it looks and feels entirely faithful to the real thing, except shrunk down to the model train scale known as HO gauge. The detail on the toy is remarkable, bringing the kind of intricacy we’ve come to expect from Masterpiece, except to the level where you could almost be forgiven for mistaking this as a real model train.
I’ve seen a few people quibbling about the colour scheme, primarily because of the off-white, almost nicotine-stained finish on offer. Still, again, this is entirely faithful to the real thing (and certainly not a result of yellowed plastic, as one person posed to me!). The blue is very dark, but it makes for an attractive complement, giving Shouki a very classy feel once in hand.
You’ll also find a lot of translucent plastic running through this figure (something which has caused a lot of comments regarding the robot mode, but more on that next time). This is used to give the train form a gorgeous look to the many windows seen all down the sides and on the front section, again adding to the scale model feel somehow. It really reminds of the Japanese Car Robots release of the JRX/ Rail Racer design from 2000 in terms of presentation, albeit dialled up to the nines.
Elsewhere, the paint on offer is flawless from what I can see, with every application looking crisp and on-point. Unfortunately, I did find that my copy doesn’t sit entirely flush in train mode, with a few panels not quite compacting together quite as neatly as perhaps they should. Still, it’s a minor hiccup on an otherwise faultless presentation, so I’m not going to get too sidetracked by it.
This being a scaled alternate form, Shouki can actually ride on top of HO gauge model track, which is a lot of fun to see! The wheels are a pretty good fit too, and the toy can glide along the rails with a decent amount of grace, although sadly only in straight lines! Yes, it seems corners are one of this Trainbot’s major known weaknesses.
If you don’t have any suitable track lying around (or you don’t fancy picking some up on the cheap as I did!), then TakaraTomy has you covered, as they’ve included two pieces of their own version right in the box here. It will ultimately combine with similar pieces from the remaining five Trainbots, and the entire set is designed to work alongside the company’s own Tomytec Geocolle range of model scenery and train set pieces, should that be an area you want to get into!
You can also mount Shouki on a small adapter and pose him using some articulated display arms packaged with figures such as MP-52 Starscream and the like. This enables you to display the train mode as though it were flying through the air in a nod towards the character’s appearance in the Headmasters cartoon. I suppose some may say it’s a shame to not see those pieces included in the box here, but given how it would have driven up the cost of an already expensive item, I’m honestly ok with it.
Shouki’s train mode includes a fair few features besides this, not least of which is the ability to store his robot mode rifle neatly away on the train mode’s undercarriage. Equally, you can stow the Raiden combined mode chest piece (which also makes a shield for Shouki’s robot form) inside the train should you really want to, although in my case, I found it a lot easier to simply leave it to one side!
Finally, you can split open the front cabin section and add a pair of small seats, which are the perfect size to equip Shouki with some drivers. You can just about fit one of the Masterpiece human minifigures in there if you really fiddle with it, but it works far better with TakaraTomy’s own Diaclone Dia-Nauts, in a bit of a cross-brand twist. Whilst they’re a bit too large to maintain the illusion of this being a HO scale set-up, the gimmick is a ton of fun, nonetheless, and is one of the standout features on offer here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Shouki is hilariously out of scale with many of his Masterpiece brethren, presenting as hugely undersized versus the likes of the Carbots. However, it’s not like the sizes of vehicle modes have ever been ‘correct’ in this line before now, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise! It’s just one of those things that we need to accept and roll along with.
Besides, when the alternate mode looks as stunning as this, who’s complaining? It’s undoubtedly the most beautifully-presented train form we’ve seen on a Transformers toy to date and, not for nothing, easily wins the day over the third-party equivalent offering (which looks a bit like a bloated shoe by comparison).
More on that next time, however, as we’ll be getting Shouki transformed up into robot mode and seeing if it’s quite as knockout as the vehicle form!