Having found myself lurching back into the Beast era of vintage Transformers collecting over the last few years, one thing I’ve really enjoyed is embracing some of the franchise’s outright weirdest moments.
Take Fuzors for an obvious example. Robots in disguise don’t come more unusual than this. The line’s whole premise is hybrid beast forms compromised of two distinct animals mashed into one quite horrifying result, but somehow, the robot modes are just as distinctive. You get the sense that toy designers from the time have been let loose and encouraged to embrace their most unusual inspirations.
Anyway, I’ve recently gone full pelt on this small but peculiar roster of toys from 1998 and have been itching to share the results ever since. Buckle in for some beastly business.
First, let’s look at the Maximals, beginning with Air Hammer. This little lad is a Basic class toy and is one I remember quite fondly from when he was released. His name might sound like something Thor would wield on the battlefield, but he’s actually a reasonably sleek combo of a hawk with a hammerhead shark. You might not imagine that as a natural fit in any way, and, well, that’s because it really isn’t, and yet somehow, it works! I’m a big fan of the shiny blue paint used on the shark head and tail, and although the wings are one solid statically-moulded piece, they look pretty impressive all the same. True, the whole affair is best left to a top-down view as the undercarriage carries a fair dose of kibble-related compromise, but still, for such a small design, I think this one’s pretty neat.
That’s even more true in his robot mode, mainly thanks to a killer head sculpt. It’s about as classic a Transformers face as Beast Wars gets, with some popping yellow eyes and a simple yet clever design that has nods to both his animal forms. I also appreciate the bright red on the shins (even if this does look strange in beast mode), which brings a welcome zing to the otherwise grey and off-white tones of the main body. You’ll no doubt clock that the strangest bit of Air Hammer’s humanoid form is his hands, which consist of a shark’s mouth on one and a tail on the other. How does he get anything done? Who can say, but at least it looks kind of cool. Besides, this might actually be about as accessible as Fuzors get.
Next, we have Bantor. Yes, his name is Bantor; you read that right, which may be apt as he looks like he could probably be at least a little cheeky. Anyway, we have here the frankly ridiculous combination of a tiger and a mandrill, although I confess I had to double-check to make sure that’s exactly what was supposed to be in the mix. The result is very oddly-proportioned, with teeny (and quite ineffectual) rear legs and massive front ones. This may not be a unique problem amongst Beast Wars designs, but it’s arguably one of the most egregious examples. Still, the tiger stripes and the mandrill head design are truly excellent, rocking some gorgeous paint applications that bring out the moulded detail with aplomb, all set off by those gorgeous green eyes. There may be a slightly obvious fist hanging off his chin, and the undercarriage may again be a bit gnarly, but overall, I dig this one.
Things get stranger on the way to robot mode, as Bantor’s transformation is fairly unique in itself, with various bits twisting and turning in ways I’ve never seen on any other Transformers toy. It leads to an equally offbeat robot form boasting a ton of asymmetry, a feature which would only become apparent in Beast Wars’ subsequent year. The arms on this chap are perhaps the weakest element overall, with one of them sporting the entirety of the beast’s head as shoulder decoration and suffering a lack of articulation as a result and the other with an animal’s backside just hanging off the underneath. Still, I can’t deny Bantor has his own innate charm, best exemplified by that face sculpt and those eyebrows. Again, nothing else in Transformers has ever prepared you for this.
Despite their inherent oddity, I’d still say that some of the choices for mixed beast forms make some sort of twisted sense when you consider them. That’s certainly not the case with Noctorro, as this animal amalgamation is downright freakish on paper and in practice. Yes, he’s a bat and a bull, a combo that I can’t even begin to explain, yet there’s still something surprisingly eye-catching about it all. A large part of that is the stylish dark blue and gold finish, a somewhat unusual colour scheme in the world of Transformers and one that serves this peculiar beast rather well.
If the alternate form is strange, that’s only magnified on the route to robot mode, with some of the most oddball arms I can think of, even from a toy of this era. That’s thanks to how the (outlandishly oversized) hands sit at a right angle with the forearms, making anything approaching a ‘natural’ pose a bit of a challenge for Noctorro. It’s perhaps not the solution I would have opted for, but at least it’s one rather singular quirk on an otherwise enjoyable humanoid form. Of particular delight is the head sculpt, which is about as feral and ferocious as they come, even in Beast Wars. That it looks more like a mutant mask from the first year of the line says it all, but the red paint and green eyes make it work exceptionally well.
Now we move into more familiar territory for anyone who has seen the 1990s Beast Wars cartoon, as it’s time for ol’ bird-dog himself. Yep, heroic horns at the ready; it’s Silverbolt! It’s not hard to see why this was one of the designs chosen for the show, as the whole premise of a winged wolf is a lot easier to swallow than much of the rest of the line. In this case, it’s the 1999 Takara Metals version which graces my shelves, meaning that the toy has been given a slightly lighter shade of grey all over the body and a set of more realistic painted eyes, as opposed to the block yellow peepers of the Kenner release. It’s a beautiful mould, made all the better by those lavish gold highlights, but to my eye, these minor tweaks elevate it quite a bit.
Silverbolt’s beast mode gives way to a rather ingenious transformation that immediately puts a new spin on the classic ‘animals legs become robot limbs’ formula found on many Beast Wars designs. I particularly enjoy how the wolf head folds away and brings the back of the neck with it to function as a kind of skirt, and the way the shoulders spring forward from the rear is terrific. The outcome is at once rather handsome but quite strikingly cartoon-accurate, at least on a par with any of the Transmetal toys from the same year. I will admit to wishing the wings could fold away even slightly, but otherwise, there’s really not much to quibble here. Perhaps some of what’s going on seems more normal purely because of how familiar we are with the character in animation, but either way, I can’t help but love him.
To say I’ve saved the best till last depends on your point of view, but at the very least, we can agree it’s one of the most unorthodox. Yes, we have a killer whale crossed with an elephant here, which I suppose essentially looks how you might imagine such a thing would. That Torca has become infamous for being the stuff of nightmares instead of just the gold plastic syndrome this toy so frequently suffers from says everything about what a deviant design it really is. However, as with the rest of the line, I can’t help but marvel at how well it works against all odds! Firstly, the paint job is glorious, expertly blending the blue orca top section with the bare gold plastic towards the lower half. Secondly, the highlights are rather rocking, including some wonderful work on the mouth and teeth and a welcome pop of vivid green for the eyes. Yet it’s the moulded detail which is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here, with an insane amount going on all over the figure. Truly a beast of the line.
Given that so much of the toy is made from the type of plastic that could quite literally shatter at any moment, transforming Torca is an exercise in extreme caution and a fair dose of patience. The main area to watch out for is the tail hinge (which I might suggest is best just left as is, even if it creates a rather unfortunate, ahem, appendage for the robot form), but even besides, this is one to take extra care with. It’s worth it in the end, though, as although the result is slightly cumbersome in places, the look of it is just spellbinding. I’m often struck by how magnificent the paint applications are from this era of toys, but the finish on this head sculpt seriously takes the cake even then. It all equals a design that is every bit as beautiful as it is fragile, although I’m sure that just adds to the mystery of the thing in a weird way.
So, that’s the Maximal roster covered. Be sure to join us next time for more freakish delights as we move on to the equally-irregular Predacons!