Of all the many varied areas of historic Transformers collecting, the Unicron Trilogy has been a particular delight.
The mid-2000s trio of toy lines is positively packed with incredible robots, whether it’s your more obvious high-profile cartoon stars or the plethora of underrated bangers besides. There’s an exceptional amount to discover for people like me who, it’s only fair to say, gave this particular era of the franchise short shrift on initial release.
What’s been especially enjoyable is the amount of repaints! I’m a sucker for a good recolour of an already well-appreciated figure at the best of times, but even I’ve never seen anything like what we experienced throughout the years of Armada, Energon and Cybertron. Much of that is down to the Powerlinx concept, which is inherently a convenient way of signifying a particular character has been powered up by having them entirely change palette. Regardless of the in-universe explanation, the toy-makers of the time exploited it for all it was worth, allowing most moulds to have at least two releases in different decos without even needing to give them a new identity.
You and I may be well aware that this is a shamelessly transparent method of shifting more toys, of course. Still, it surely doesn’t matter when the results are as effective as they so frequently are throughout the trilogy, and today’s spotlight is crucial evidence of that. After all, just look at this thing!
Let’s start by asserting how few glow-ups are quite as pronounced as Cybertron Hot Shot (or Galaxy Force Exillion, as it’s the specific Takara release you see here). The Armada take on the character is well-documented for all its quirks (despite still boasting an inherent charm, I maintain!), whilst the Energon figure was all kinds of awkward on account of having to cram that line’s signature combination gimmick into the mix. In many ways, it leaves the third-year follow-up as the most accessible of the bunch and certainly the most immediately ‘classic’ in its way.
I’ve already made recent mention of the undeniable allure of the head sculpt, which is about as all-time straight-up handsome as robots in disguise get. Yet the more general merits of the figure should be obvious even from basic photography, not to mention quite definitively affirmed once you pick the thing up. It’s a surprisingly simple yet profoundly fun toy, standing up as one of the more essential offerings from the Cybertron or Galaxy Force lines.
So, what could be better than a hot rod-red repaint, eh? And yes, I use such a description accurately because, no surprise, the iconic 1986 Transformers character is very obviously a large part of the inspiration here, just as it was with the similarly-styled Powerlinx take on Armada Hot Shot before it. However, despite rocking such an ever-apparent homage, this guy still manages to be more than meets the eye.
Firstly, this was a limited release, with only 500 copies produced. The Unicron Trilogy is littered with such short-run special edition figures of various kinds, although fortunately, this example remains relatively accessible compared to some. It was packed with a DVD of the 2005 Galaxy Force cartoon and left space inside the box for further discs to be stored, although the package itself is very non-descript overall.
In my case, I found this guy for an exceptionally low sum, mostly because the DVD itself was absent. That’s no bother for me as it’s not like I would have watched it anyway – I don’t speak Japanese, and besides, I don’t actually own a DVD player! Instead, it’s the toy that is my priority, and here, the specimen in question is wonderfully mint and looking mighty fine indeed.
The car mode is lush beyond belief. I admit I had erroneously assumed this was a futuristically-styled Cybertronian vehicle of some sort, but a quick bit of research tells me it’s instead based on the real-world Chrysler ME Four-Twelve, albeit with some obvious modifications (I don’t see a slot for a Cyber Planet Key on the larger equivalent, for example). In any case, it’s the perfect look and feel for Hot Shot, and here cannot fail to catch the eye thanks to that blistering red and orange palette on offer.
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that the Hasbro equivalent of this release, 2006’s mass retail Cybertron Excellion (named after this very Takara toy but rather randomly intended as a different character), has a very distinct look despite largely going for the same vibe, mainly because of the more overt fire motif on the bonnet. The differences between them remind me of the same period’s Alternators vs. Kiss Players Rodimus, with Takara’s take again eschewing the flames and thus proving a little more understated and restrained.
Just as my preference has always been for the Japanese spin on the Ford GT figure, so do I prefer the initial release in this case. As fun as the flames are, I can’t help but think this thing is loud and proud enough already. I also get the nature of this homage without needing to have it so inordinately demonstrated, although that’s not me denying the charm of the Cybertron release at all (nor, indeed, the 2007 Alternators figure).
Paint scheme aside, the toy is mostly identical to the more common blue equivalent and boasts the same action features. You can mount the clear plastic handheld missile launcher weapon on the roof, and slipping the included Cyber Planet Key into the modified read engine block will result in a pair of translucent blue fins popping out at the sides. I have no concept of the real-world aerodynamic benefits this would create but hey, it looks super cool and is a bit of fun at least!
Moving to robot mode is a breeze, as this may even rank as the overall simplest Hot Shot transformation of the trilogy. We noted in a recent Triple Takeover chat about this mould’s 2008 Allspark Power Breakaway how the design seems to purposefully restrain itself from being too over-complicated. One could easily imagine at least several additional steps that might have been included to help streamline the humanoid form (such as moving the car doors off the forearms to prevent them from obstructing the hands). Yet, it was all evidently deemed unnecessary and the figure retains an inherent sense of prioritised fun as a result. It’s one of those moments when you have to balance your adult collector sensibilities and remind yourself these are, first and foremost, children’s toys and should naturally be designed with that sensibility in mind.
That’s not to say there aren’t some enjoyable twists and turns along the way, and quite literally with how the roof section flips round to become the backpack in a fashion all-too-familiar to fans of the aforementioned 1986 Hot Rod toy. To me, this works on a much more visceral level than flashy bonnet flames could ever achieve, as every time I undertake the process, it brings me right back to repeated childhood attempts on the classic figure in a flashback manner similar to a restaurant critic in a cartoon about a culinary-minded rat.
It leaves us with a stunning silhouette, too, as those pop-out fins now end up in perfect place for the homage to reach its zenith. If the intention was not already clear from the colour scheme, then it is undeniable at this stage. Even beyond that, the robot mode boasts a similar, almost-instantly classic quality to the vintage design, making this a spiritual descendant in more ways than just a lick of paint can communicate. It’s about as immediately perfect a Transformers toy as one cares to imagine, even based purely on its looks and shelf presence alone.
The updated colour scheme is a joy to behold up close, with every inch of the lavish finish doing its job to great effect. Another recurring theme of our Triple Takeover Unicron Trilogy chats is sheer disbelief at how much paint was applied to mainline toys of the time, not to mention flourishes such as the separately moulded clear plastic head crest and the like. It may be largely conjecture on my part, but you can see the more extensive mid-2000s toy budget being well-applied throughout this entire period, and this Takara release is no exception.
It gives an altogether different look and feel from the original blue and red take, although the commonalities in paint operations and, in particular, the yellow highlights serve to make them still connected somehow. It would almost be a stretch to even consider them as different characters, the varying palettes working as the perfect power-up in much the same way the 2000 Car Robots Super Speedbreaker did for its equally blue equivalent.
All of which is to say that this limited release is well worth a look if ever you can get your paws on it. Tolerance for repaints may vary somewhat across the fandom (even though I will forever insist such examples are a crucial staple of the franchise and always have been). Still, I suspect even the most hardened cynics would struggle to deny the obvious aesthetic merits in this instance! The vivid hues on offer are a strong statement versus many of the more common greens and blues of the Galaxy Force line-up.
Ultimately, most will likely opt for and be entirely happy with the subsequent year’s Cybertron alternative, especially given its a similarly striking specimen and is far more readily available on today’s aftermarket versus this limited Takara release. As it happens, I’m currently debating whether to hold onto my still-sealed copy as we speak, given it was acquired shortly before the listing for the Galaxy Force version became available. Really though, when a toy is this gorgeous to behold, what’s the harm in owning it twice?
Whatever I ultimately decide, I’m happy to have added such a stunning figure to my burgeoning Unicron Trilogy line-up. Given how many fantastic repaints exist from this era, it’s in great company, after all.