We’re back on track for the second part of our Masterpiece Shouki review, picking up from last time when we assessed that awesome alternate mode! Just have a look at this beauty.
Now it’s full steam ahead with the robot mode, which means going through the transformation process first. I’d read and heard a fair bit about this conversion online before undertaking it myself, with a lot of other collectors mentioning that it was pretty complicated and somewhat arduous in places. Still, I have to say that I really rather enjoyed it overall!
True, it’s certainly not without its challenging moments. Anyone who felt MP-53 Skids was a welcome shift back to the earlier days of more straightforward conversions might be disappointed to discover that Shouki feels more in line with other recent fares such as MP-52 Starscream. Perhaps what might be a big surprise to some is that all three of these toys were designed by the same lead person, the TakaraTomy legend, Kōjin Ōno. If you’re not familiar with such a name, then he’s the franchise titan who conceived the original toys for most of the franchise’s biggest names, including the likes of G1 Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Hound, Prowl, Mirage and the Dinobots, amongst many more.
What’s also intriguing is that he designed the original Trainbots back during the Diaclone days, so although this souped-up MPG re-do is dramatically more complex, perhaps it’s no great shock that it feels entirely in keeping with the vintage equivalent somehow. Yes, it’s a modern engineering marvel, but it also maintains the spirit of the classic Shouki toy in its way and results in a robot of similar aesthetic and proportions.
Besides, the whole thing is so butter-smooth that if you allow yourself to take your time with it, there are more than a few moments of sheer brilliance to sit back and admire. Everything clips together tightly and securely, leaving you with a stable and purposeful humanoid form, despite whatever kibble quibbles some fans may levy.
A legitimate cause for concern might be the abundance of transparent plastic used. Much of the ‘shell’ of the train mode is made up of the stuff, covered over in a layer of thick paint, which is already some cause for caution when you consider it converts to make up the bulk of the robot mode legs, for example. However, perhaps even more egregious is the presence of clear plastic joints on several parts of the toy, especially as there have been at least some reports of breakage already.
Ultimately, it might have been preferable for these parts to be solid plastic for added durability. However, this would have led to the (many) see-through windows on the train mode needing to be additional pieces that were individually inserted. Undoubtedly, it was a budgetary concern that pushed the design in this direction, which is understandable, although it does mean that Shouki is one to take some care with along the way. Touch wood, I’ve not had any problems so far, though!
Anyway, with the transformation done, I have to immediately commend this toy for being an outright stunner in this humanoid mode. I was already convinced of its aesthetic charms from the many photos I’d studied during the toy’s development time, but finally seeing it up close, this guy is working for me. I know not everyone has been so convinced, but it’s pretty much everything I would want from a modern Trainbot makeover.
Let’s address some of the points people have already grumbled about. Firstly, the proportions are quite wide and squat in their way, perhaps even making Shouki seem like he’s not as tall as he is, but again, I think it fits the character exceptionally well. It’s entirely in step with both the original toy and his portrayal in the corresponding Headmasters cartoon, where he was always a bit of a beefy boy.
In some ways, this new design feels like a true blend of those two influences, again much like the Masterpiece toys of yesteryear did. The general look and many obvious visual cues all harken back to Shouki’s animation portrayal, but it’s not a 1:1 ‘ripped off the screen’ attempt in the same vein as MP-52. Equally, there are areas such as the moulding on the chest which feel like a reference to the original figure, but beyond those details, it retains the same presence somehow, just on a grander scale.
Of course, ‘scale’ is another area that has caused some controversy with this release, not least because Shouki is significantly shorter than some fans were evidently expecting. Perhaps what’s compounded that is the third-party attempt from Moon Studios being so much larger in its robot mode, standing more in line with the likes of other Headmasters-inspired designs such as Maketoys Cupola and Iron Will, and some of FansToys’ line-up as well. Indeed, MPG-01 looks distinctly more squat by comparison.
In reality, this might be a simple case of those other toys being too large, as opposed to Shouki being too small. As it stands, he looks great next to releases such as MP-44 Convoy, in my opinion, and besides, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that TakaraTomy know what they’re doing in this regard. Yes, there are scale charts out there which show this is indeed the rough height that the Trainbots are supposed to be (regardless of any real-world logic about them being trains or whatever), and that’s to say nothing of the cartoon itself.
It’s fairly evident when watching the series that Shouki and the gang are far from hulking behemoths standing head and shoulders above their comrades. Instead, they’re presented as not that much taller than Wheelie, and certainly smaller than Chromedome and the Headmasters in various scenes. Shouki is about a whole head taller than your average Masterpiece carbot, and that works pretty well for my money. True, it does likely mean the overall combined Raiden form won’t be as big as the unofficial rival, but I think it’s a trade-off that works in this case.
Another complaint I’ve read about this figure relates to the obvious kibble found on areas such as his rear, with a sizeable backpack made up of the front portion of his train mode, not to mention the ‘wings’ sticking out to the sides. Again, the latter of these is something not found on the Moon Studios design, which I’m sure has made this all the more a contentious issue, although honestly, I feel like it’s being rather over-egged in this case.
For one thing, the backpack is reasonably tidy overall, and in terms of size, it’s very much in line with that original toy design yet again (not to mention it’s no more significant than the 3P alternative). As backpacks go, I’ve seen way worse on other designs, even some from the Masterpiece line itself, and given it fits the character, it’s not something I would be inclined to grumble about.
The wings will form a notable part of the combined mode once this team is fully assembled. They end up just above Raiden’s shoulders to resemble the grey sections that were additional accessories on the vintage design. In Shouki’s case, I like how you can fan them out to the sides for a bit of visual interest, especially as I think it adds something unique to his silhouette. Besides, you can fold them down and tuck them away quite neatly into the sides of the backpack if you prefer, which also has the benefit of looking very close to his cartoon model.
So, with those points addressed, what about the positives? Well, put simply, he’s an absolute beauty to behold and handle, by my estimation, and represents a remarkable beginning to this entire Trainbot endeavour from TakaraTomy. He feels every inch a quality, well-designed and well-crafted product with a gorgeous presentation and a strong level of play value and articulation. I’ve had great fun giving him the once over already, not to mention manipulating him into all kinds of poses for these photos.
You can also tell that there’s a huge amount of love poured in here, whether directly from Kōjin Ōno as he makes over his own classic design or generally from TakaraTomy as they look to recreate the Trainbots in suitably high-end form. Every inch of it feels like it was given thought, whether the overall outstanding presentation or less subtle aspects, such as the way you can store Shouki’s shield and blaster away inside his backpack should you wish.
Oh, and did I mention his good looks? Because it bears repeating, especially with a face sculpt so expertly realised as this. The details are crisp, the colours are magnificent, and the whole thing feels so beautifully presented that it’s impossible to look at this toy up close and not be wowed by its presence. If the entire team ends up as stunning as this, we’re in for a real treat.
In that way, it feels unfair to compare to the Moon Studios rival, if only because Moon Shone is objectively the least impressive design in the unofficial crew by some mile. It has some serious flaws (including a transformation that will likely have you shouting the odd profanity or two) and at least a few QC quibbles. The official MP figure can’t help but feel like the more polished offering of the two by default. Moon Shine’s design being taller and ‘cleaner’ (debatable, in my opinion) may be an advantage in the eyes of some. Still, once you stand these two side-by-side, no part of me sees it as the superior figure, whether visually or in terms of handling.
Of course, we’ll have to see how the rest of the set shakes out to fully determine the MPG team’s overall merit, and besides, it’s not like Shouki is perfect all the same. For as much as I am bowled over by what I’m seeing here, no part of me will ever think it’s a good idea to have painted panels from the sides of the train mode as the underneath of his feet, for example. It’s a recipe for wear and tear, and has already resulted in a slight but noticeable scuff on my copy.
Yet what Shouki delivers overall far outweighs any potential moans I might have and leaves me very excited for the direction of not just this Trainbot line-up but Masterpiece as a whole. It really does feel like the line is branching out to ever-more fascinating horizons, so who knows what TakaraTomy has up its sleeves once Raiden is finally complete.
We have a long journey ahead of us before that though, but that’s OK, as Shouki is good enough to occupy my one-track mind in the meantime.
WHAT’S HOT? Beautiful in both modes and with a complex but still enjoyable transformation. This is a sterling start to the MPG line.