I’ve said it before, and I’ll doubtless say it again: the Beast Wars releases in the TakaraTomy Masterpiece line are some of the best.
It’s strange, then, that the reaction to 2020’s MP-48 Lio Convoy was quite muted overall, at least on this side of the planet. Perhaps it’s partly down to the character not being so well-known outside of his native Japan (at least until his more recent turn as “Leo Prime” in the main Legacy line), having not featured as part of the 1990s Kenner series of toys or in the popular corresponding Mainframe cartoon.
Yet for fans in the know, Lio Convoy is a franchise mainstay, the kind of heavyweight character that needs to be represented on your shelf and absolutely deserves repeated toy attempts. Besides, the idea of a Masterpiece figure was initially greeted with a fair dose of enthusiasm, meaning it can’t all be a lack of familiarity. So what happened?
If I were to hazard a guess, the problem was two-fold. First, the lion mode was far from what anyone had in mind for the figure. Where Lio is often captured looking suitably ferocious in artwork and cartoon stills, the toy instead opted to mix in a fair dollop of the goofy tone that the show actually exhibits once you sit down and watch it. The result had its charms, but it wasn’t exactly what you could call imposing.
Secondly, and more importantly, the figure had a rather fatal paint-chipping flaw, which will surely put off any collectors fearful of making a dud purchase, especially considering the Masterpiece price tag. It looked stunning out of the box, but the red coat was pretty much guaranteed to scratch or scuff at some point, especially in the corners around the joints, a fate I have noticed on my own copy, too.
Step forward the black repaint at long last, which, I’m pleased to say, quickly solves at least one of those issues (and mitigates the other, at least to some extent). The only surprise here is that it took so long! With Legacy already hopping on the idea mere months after the initial colour scheme made it to retail, Masterpiece collectors have had to wait three years for the privilege. Was it worth it?
The first impression would say so, yes, as the lion mode looks swish as soon as you get your hands on it. Black repaints often tend to impress, and MP-48+ is no exception; it’s gorgeous.
It also does an excellent job of downplaying the sense of absurdity inherent in the white release somehow, perhaps just by the nature of its sombre tones. I doubt it’s unlikely to entirely win over the previous version’s harshest detractors, but the black and grey palette still suits the mould well.
Some striking teal highlights help break up the monochrome and provide a whiff of visual interest. The face sculpt is still something that takes a bit of getting used to, and the grey ears are a strange choice considering the rest of the lion’s body is black, but hey, it all works well enough for my tastes.
It’s strange to see the specific colour choices on offer here, however, as the black face and grey mane combo seems like an obvious callback to the 1998 original figure instead of the palette-swapped Beast Wars II cartoon interpretation, where the character was known as ‘Copy Convoy’. Given that Masterpiece toys tend to err on the animation-accurate side of things, this is a definite surprise, but then this isn’t specifically ‘Black Lio Convoy’ at all. Instead, it’s the significantly wordier ‘Dark Amber Leo Prime’, so perhaps it doesn’t matter.
The beast mode remains fairly articulated, with movement in each leg and some poseability in the head. It’s not the most dynamic lion figure ever, but it gets the job done and presents nicely on a shelf or in photography, so that’s good.
Besides, it’s loaded with play value, featuring numerous nods to the vintage figure and the corresponding cartoon. As far as the animal form goes, flip-out firearms are found hidden within the mane, all of which house small missile and cannon accessories that look great, even if they don’t actually fire as on the original toy.
The great news here, though, is that the matte unpainted finish allows you to transform MP-48+ easily and without worry, much like MP-49 Black Convoy felt like a breeze compared to the nerve-fest of MP-44 Convoy. A beautifully painted figure is always a treat to behold, but if sacrificing that means you can better manipulate them without causing damage, many of us would say that’s a welcome trade-off.
Besides, it’s not like MP-48+ is a slouch in the looks department; it’s just that you can appreciate all the clever engineering packed into that conversion all the better now. It’s no surprise that I’ve already transformed this take on the toy more times than I ever did its predecessor, which, again, is also true of MP-49 vs MP-44. It’s intricate, sure, but there’s some very fluid and fun stuff going on that is great to finally appreciate stress-free.
Once you’re done, take a minute or two to drink in the majesty of this thing’s robot form, for it is stunning beyond belief. If there’s one aspect of the MP-48 design that I think was almost uniformly well-received, it’s this, and a sultry black makeover doesn’t hurt it any. It’s an astonishingly pretty toy, now well-served with a sleek new look.
Even if you are unfamiliar with any version of Lio Convoy before now, surely you can only be won over by this thing’s rather obvious aesthetic charms, as that signature asymmetric aesthetic is hard not to surrender to. In many ways, the Masterpiece design was the zenith of that and achieved so many wonderful things in its robot form that it was easy to forgive any potential grumbles about the beast mode.
The proportions are lean and incredibly heroic (almost exaggeratedly so), the sculpt is clean yet pleasing in terms of the finer details, and there are enough visual touches to keep you interested despite the largely uniform black and grey colour scheme. This is the kind of toy you cannot take your eyes off, especially if you like these kinds of black repaints.
Perhaps that’s primarily because this is a souped-up, high-end take on the toy that set the template for such a thing, given that the vintage figure was the first in a long line of ‘Black Convoys’ over the decades. Still, all the typical tropes are present and correct, including some wonderfully welcome splashes of teal.
If he’s enjoyable to look at, wait until you start handling him because this is how toys should pose. The legs make full use of those beast mode joints and then some, cranking to the kind of angles other designs can barely dream of, whilst the waist and abdomen sections are practically a masterclass all of their own.
The upper body is also well articulated but only slightly hindered by the obvious kibble on show, all intentional due to Lio Convoy’s inherent design. Still, there’s no way you can have a whopping big lion head on your shoulder and not have it present a slight logistical challenge to moving around.
It also means that the toy cannot look to the right in any convincing fashion because, again, massive beast is noggin in the way, innit. Still, such practical concerns barely register when the figure in question looks as good as this, so I’m not inclined to make a nitpick out of it.
In any case, there are gimmicks aplenty to be had, the first of which is a blaster weapon formed using the smaller cannons and missiles we previously saw clipped inside the mane section. It looks good enough, though I was somewhat disappointed to discover the absence of the larger rifle weapon that accompanied MP-48 itself. A strange omission.
Alternatively, you can re-equip the top of the main with the pair of black cannons for a spot of firepower before fanning out the sides of the mane for protection. I always thought this worked well, as it looked like the character had equipped himself with a built-in riot shield.
The other cannons from the mane now reside on the forearms, which, you guessed it, make for a wicked pair of pop-out blasters! I can never say no to this kind of feature on any given robot mode, so it’s little surprise to confirm what a delight it is here. A simple gimmick, but one done well.
But wait, there’s more because this cat has claws! Although it looks a teeny bit goofy to have the beast-mode legs draping off the arms in robot form, the design makes up for it by simultaneously allowing for a spot of concealed armament. In truth, you can deploy these in his lion form, but it works better here.
Lastly, the chest boasts a pop-open panel on one side, revealing a hidden Matrix chamber beneath it. In the case of Dark Amber Leo Prime, this is coloured green, presumably to indicate his nefarious nature.
It all adds up to a fantastic overall package, with gimmicks aplenty, a handsome humanoid mode and plenty of intriguing elements when it comes to transformation. I was also a fan of the original release, but I’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed the excuse for a reexamination here, as MP-48+ more than holds its own.
Besides, with this new take being free from its predecessor’s paint-chipping woes, it’s far easier to pick it up and enjoy it without worrying about accidentally damaging it. Even if you were to prefer the more traditional red, white & blues from a visual perspective, there’s a lot to be said for that.
Again, it cannot help but remind me of MP-49 in that regard, as it’s another black repaint that removes an unnecessary barrier to enjoyment and succeeds in the play value stakes by keeping things simple. A fully-painted finish is a delight to behold, true, but no one wants such a thing if it’s likely to end up being ruined anyway.
All of this means that MP-48+ is a worthy successor to the 1998 original of this design, even if it is now known under a different name. I’ll never stop loving the vintage figure, especially given how important it is in terms of Transformers history, but this updated Masterpiece take certainly does it justice.
They say a black cat crossing your path is lucky. In this case, they might just be right.
WHAT’S HOT? Beautiful robot mode, gimmicks aplenty and a creative transformation that you can now achieve without worries of damaging the finish. Did I mention it’s gorgeous?
WHAT’S NOT? The lion mode still takes a moment to get used to and the blaster weapon from MP-48 is missing! Boo.