I’ve mentioned before that I’m a major fan of a great head sculpt. Who isn’t?
After all, it’s the kind of thing that can truly make or break a Transformers toy (figuratively, not literally, you understand). Whereas a reasonably run-of-the-mill toy can be elevated to new heights by the presence of a captivating face design, so too can an otherwise exceptional figure be downgraded because of an unsightly noggin.
After making similar lists for Generation 1, Beast Wars and even third-party toys, we’re here to shine a spotlight on the Unicron Trilogy, one part at a time. We kick off today with Armada (or the Japanese equivalent, Micron Legend, given that’s what all the photos represent in this case!), showcasing some amazing examples from the 2002-3 line-up.
Let’s start with an example showcasing how much personality was evident in many of Armada’s head sculpts. Coming off of years of Beast Wars/ Machines and Car Robots toys, there’s no doubt the new line was a distinct aesthetic shift in many regards, but at least some of the designs retain a similar sensibility regarding distinctive facial features and the like. 2003’s Hoist is the perfect example of that, as he’s sporting a gurning, no-nonsense look that would not have looked out of place on a Beast Wars Dinobot figure (which ultimately came to pass as a 2006 Botcon exclusive!). The colours work well here, too, with a soft blue for the face of the Micron Legend version, contrasted by subtle but piercing green eyes. This toy is one of the more quirky offerings from the early part of the Unicron Trilogy, but there’s little denying how much personality is present in that face.
This next example should speak for itself. After all, it’s Starscream, isn’t it? To a tee, no less! The 2002 effort perfectly encapsulated the energy of the classic character, and all at a time when there wasn’t an overwhelming abundance of other toys harkening back to the old-school design era, making this feel extra special somehow. The iconic elements are all there, including the vent ears and overall shape, but let’s make no mistake about what really ties this one together – the smirk. Whereas Starscream could have simply sported a straightforward stoic expression, and this would still make for an A+ effort somehow, the casual upturned corner of the mouth is enough to make it one of the finest of the era. They don’t get much better than this.
At a time when there is *so much* discourse about a new character named Wheeljack that looks nothing like the ’80s original, it’s somewhat humorous to go back and remember that it’s far from the first time such a thing has happened with that very identity. The 2003 iteration was arguably even more out there, given he was an ex-Autobot with a distinctive shredded faction symbol on this chest (one of the finest bits of moulded detail on any toy from the early 2000s, but I digress), to say nothing of the altogether different head design. Looking considerably more like G1 Sideswipe, he even features the distinctive ‘horns’ and vents on either side (which again explains why this would become a 2008 Botcon iteration of that character). However, the white helmet with the shiny gold face helps to make this one stand out as its own thing entirely. It may not be classic Wheeljack, but it’s undeniably lovely all the same.
Although Mini-Cons were all the rage during Armada, that doesn’t mean some of the toys didn’t have fun with them in ways that almost revisited the classic concepts of yore. Sideways is a good example, as whilst it’s certainly not 1:1, the manner in which his two miniature partners can combine to form a distinctive duo of new noggins is somewhat reminiscent of Headmasters. The major difference here is that the main ‘bot also has an inherent head to begin with, and both additional options also reveal a separate side-swapping faction symbol on the chest (which itself feels like a nod to another of 1987’s fan-favourite line-up in Punch/ Counterpunch). It’s hard to choose between the three options here, but for my money, it’s the Decepticon-flavoured Crosswise that just about takes it. Really, it’s the whole concept that steals the show, especially as you can then have the little lads riding on Corsswise when he turns into motorbike mode. Now that’s using your head.
So much of Armada feels familiar to fans who grew up with Generation 1 in the ’80s, yet with a distinct new spin on proceedings. Scavenger is one of the most pertinent examples, given that he’s very obviously Constructicon-themed (that colour scheme is *unmistakable*!) and features the name of one of those classic lads to boot. Yet he’s an Autobot and boasts a unique ‘walking’ gimmick that is unlike anything we’ve seen in Transformers before or since. Moreover, the head design is also unmistakable, with a wide angular look and a lovely shiny metal finish. Whilst it may not be the most outlandish design imaginable, there’s still something so characteristic about it that I reckon you could easily identify this chap at a moment’s notice based on the face alone, despite this being the only toy of the character we’ve ever seen over the years.
And finally (for now at least), we come to one of my favourites. Megatron toys have never followed a particular formula since the earliest days (seemingly all spun out of a necessity to create alternatives to his original gun alternate form). Unlike Optimus Prime designs, which you can at least give good odds of being a red and blue truck of some kind, the franchise’s most notorious bad guy has mixed things up countless times over the years, and that’s true beyond just what he turns into. The Armada figure is the ultimate indication of that, with a fresh new take on the head as an undoubted homage towards G1 Scorponok. However, this is more than just a fancy set of antlers, with an incredible armoured helmet feel and a highly characterful face, making it stand out in a sea of already memorable Megatron figures from over the years. The Micron Legend release adds an extra dose of cartoon accuracy with a grey paint job, but either way, this is one for the ages.
So that’s our list! What are some of your favourite Armada head sculpts?