Review by VF5SS
My love of airplanes that turns into robots is no secret to anyone. It is a passion that has been cultivated through numerous toys, TV series, and far too many video games. Almost every little boy wants to be a pilot at some point, so what would be better than being both a airplane and robot pilot? Take it one step further, imagine being the robot airplane!
In the original Transformers TV series, Megatron's main henchmen were a small army of these guys who all transformed into jets. There were all F-15s, or at least the Diaclone interpretation of an F-15 with many of the toy's details faithfully reproduced in the animation model. There was always the handsome Starscream and his fellow warriors black guy and blue guy, but do you remember all the various purple and lilac Decepticon jets that appeared in the first three episodes? I always thought it was a cool idea to bolster the Decepticon ranks with multiple robots who were nearly identical. It gives the Decepticons a feeling of being more like a military, with each warrior wearing a similar body type like a uniform. There were also extra Rumbles and Reflectors seen padding the ranks.
Too bad most of those extra guys on Earth disappeared by the end of the third episode.
Now the topic of show accuracy comes up a lot within many fandoms with Transformers being no exception. The iconic Generation 1 cast has the peculiar predicament of being at least three times removed from their original designs. As many Diaclone and Microman toys were created by then unknown artists like Shoji Kawamori and Shinji Aramaki, they were then adapted into toys by the experience staff of Takara. When Hasbro repurposed these toys as Transformers, artist Shohei Kohara adapted the toys into animation models to be used by Toei animators for the cartoon. Finally, Filipino artist Floro Dery further simplified things to make the recognized Marvel comic and final cartoon designs. When you take into account the numerous different art styles seen in the Marvel comics, It makes you wonder what really is the ideal version of a particular Transformers character.
The Transformers Masterpiece subline has always had a difficult position with regards to selling itself to the ever fickle fans. While promotional material often emphasizes the intricacy of the design coupled with the inclusion of many show derived gimmicks thrown in for flavor. As the Japanese market is no stranger to high-end, thoroughly engineered figures that seek to capture the spirit of an animated character. For whatever reason, the Masterpiece line has managed to keep sending mixed messages to the fans. Is it a line that emphasizes solid construction like Optimus Prime and Grimlock? Does it attempt to provide the utmost in show accuracy like with Rodimus and Grimlock? Or does it work within the confines of the character's alternate mode to create a modern rendition of the classic toy like with Megatron and Starscream and his armada? Whatever the case, it sure pisses a lot of people off.
The subject of this review is MP-07 Masterpiece Blue Guy. For my first review with a video, I did Masterpiece Black Guy, who was at the time a heavily marked down figure. Blue was even cheaper. With the promotion of the retooled MP-11 Masterpiece Starscream, I would like to take a look back at the previous iteration of the figure that both delighted and annoyed many a fan.
The Blue Guy, henceforth to be called Thundercracker, is an F-15 Eagle in his vehicle mode. For most of the 80's and 90's, the F-15 was a heavily promoted jet fighter that was the star of numerous video games such as F-15 Strike Eagle, F-15 City War, Jane's Defense F-15, and Super Strike Eagle (it's a bit of an egotist). The Masterpiece is an exemplary rendition of the F-15 (by Transformer standards) and is cast mostly in a sparkly blue plastic that is close enough to the shade of the original to irritate nitpicky fans. In this mode, Thundercracker sits atop a full set of retractable landing gear. His wheels even work!
After handling the various stands included with Bandai's original DX Chogokin VF-25 toys, I have come to appreciate the functional simplicity of Thundercracker's included stand. In fact, the mundane "gate guard" angle of the jet mode reminds me of an old F-15 model kit I built as a kid. Enigmatic mechanical designer Shoji Kawamori was brought on board the Masterpiece Starscream project in order to improve upon the initial design. In interviews he remarked that his overall goal was to smooth out the underside of the toy so that it might surpass a toy designed over twenty years ago. The resulting side profile is much cleaner than the initial prototype, with the only notably difference being the extra bulges near the back of the plane that form the feet and knee guards. Some criticized Kawamori's overall direction on this design, and Takara's insistence on going with more realistic monotone color schemes invited the ire of many. A line that had previously delivered a cartoon accurate Optimus Prime (and that white Prime from a terrible comic) abandoned its unstated goal seemingly to pull in airplane enthusiasts. While I am nowhere near the level of fellow reviewer Modcineaste, I must say as both a Transformers and amateur military aviation aficionado I'd prefer an F-15 to look the part for such a high end figure. Even the original Diaclone toy had its own minor nods to proper aircraft models.
If anything, the colors may have been part of an agreement between Hasbro and Takara to stop the dreaded reverse importation to Japanese markets when then cheaper American version was released.
By default, Thundercracker lacks his characteristic red and white wing stripes and large Decepticon symbols. Instead, the jet mode is adorned with a more subtle white Decepticon symbol wrapped inside a faux USAF insignia. He also has plenty of them NO STEP markings to let everyone know that nobody gets a free ride on his back. There is an included sticker sheet with the proper Generation 1 toy-inspired decals. Thundercracker is absolutely covered in surface detail, which is a testament to the mold. These toys have always had issues with parts fitting in fighter mode, however. As Thundercracker is a later repaint of the initial toy, he suffers from the effects of mold degradation due the sheer number of figures produced. Certain things are just a little less tight as, say, on Starscream or Skywarp.
For a basic jet mode gimmick, Thundercracker has a working canopy with a tiny seat. The included pilot was some blue dude in a lab coat so I brought in a substitute for fun. Also note the writing under the cockpit that reads, "The deadliest weapon is terror" next to the image of the original alien fighter mode from the first episode of the cartoon. The quote itself is from his original Tech Spec, which was Hasbro ingenious way of imbuing each toy with sense of character. Doing so created fans who love certain Transformers no matter how brief their screen time. In the show, Thundercracker had a cool raspy voice and that's all that mattered.
So I noticed that the dimension of Thundercracker in jet is roughly one-sixtieth that of an actual F-15. You know what that means!
I digress. We're here to talk about robots in disguise. After torturing the disguise part, let's focus on the robot behind the airplane. As I alluded to before, the different iterations of the basic design conveyed a lot of fluidity with the appearance of the character. I will limit this discussion to designs intended for and subsequently based off of the animation design.
From left to right we have the original Shohei Kohara design that retains many toy details, the finalized Floro Dery design, and the Shoji Kawamori design. It's interesting to see the subtraction and addition of details over time.
Check out the video for details on the transformation. I personally find it to be at the right balance between intricacy and simplicity. I see it as a logical extension of the original toy scaled to a larger figure.
So here we have Masterpiece Thundercracker and his infamous pantaloons. In an effort to clean up the look of the figure's legs, Kawamori moved the tail fins and an entire chunk of the airplane sides (beefed up by the addition of the F-15's conformal FAST Pack fuel tanks ) to a hip mount. Now anyone who follows Kawamori's work knows that he has a fetish for hip mounted mechanisms. From Macross's VF-19 Excalibur to Armored Core's White Glint, the man likes stuff on a robot's fine hips. If the original color scheme of Masterpiece Starscream wasn't enough, this massive intrusion into an iconic character set the internet ablaze.
As an odd gimmick, the manual proudly shows off this "stabilizer mode" that simply employs all the other gimmicks from fighter mode. Flip up the flaps, open up the engine covers, and extend the air brake and you've got a silly way to pad your instruction manual.
One of the things that vexed buyers of this toy was its rather precarious sense of balance. Oddly enough, the wings can be swept back just as a nod to the Generation 1 toy. Doing so requires the use of the hip thingies as counterweight in order to keep the figure standing unaided.
Now I'm about to do something that may offend the disciples of perfect transformation. They are a powerful group whose influence strikes fear into the hearts of the CAD wizards.
I'm just gonna pop those hip thingies off the figure. I mean they're only connected with ball-joints. What did you think you were supposed to do with them?
Now that the most offensive things in all of creation have been set aside, we can begin to appreciate all the good things about the figure. While the overall color scheme of Masterpiece Thundercracker differs from both the cartoon and toy renditions, I still feel it captures his memorable character trait of being the blue guy. The extra joints on the wings coupled with the ability of the flaps and ailerons to fold away gives Thundercracker a distinctly animation styled silhouette. His clean legs and fully articulated arms can give the Blue Guy a very expressive stance.
In addition to Thundercracker's multifunction arm cannons (and those awful Sidewinders nobody uses), this toy retains the extremely memorable breast missile launchers used by Starscream in one episode.
While Thundercracker does have fully functioning knees and hips with a good range of motion, his center of gravity is still quite high. When you actually break down just what parts of the F-15 go where during transformation, you start to realize that well over half of the jet mode is above the waist. Just think about it, the whole nose section folds into the body, while the front half of the fuselage become the arms. Moreover, the F-15's recognizable huge wings fold up on the back of the toy with the thickest part of them concentrated above the shoulders. The classic Decepticon jet is just an inherently top heavy robot, and any attempts to add articulation can lead to precarious posing. The original toy stood ramrod straight and had its tail fins to provide stability. A toy twice the size of the classic Decepticon jet will suffer the wrath of the inverse-square law. I've heard some say that the addition of precious diecast metal to the legs may alleviate this problem, but the toy in its current form has almost no room for such materials. The legs must contain a sliding mechanism which would push potential metal content to the outer shins. Even then, the shins need to be made of plastic for appropriate color matching to the rest of the toy. All that's left is the two piece feet, and even then the addition of metal would probably have a minimal effect on balance. Despite MP-11's boasting of additional heel struts for stability, even the promotional photos can't hide the fact all that weight is on the hip joints. Maybe the new one won't topple backwards as much, but it'll still lean back.
Despite some balance issues, Black Guy and Blue Guy are still quite a pair of guys. Note Thundercracker's breasts are swapped around. The slanted portion of the intakes are supposed to be near the arms and not the canopy. This is a common issue on Skywarps and Thundercrackers.
One of the odder changes between released of this figure is the subtle differences between the default face. All three major release have different neutral facial features. The variations are so slight it's a wonder why Takara even bothered. The different alternate faces, however, were a neat addition. Even if Skywarp's second face was a look of absolute disgust, or mild incontinence.
So let's take a loot at Thundercracker's-
Oh my goodness!
I know this looks bad but please let me explain. In early issues of the Marvel comic, Transformers would often have some strange mechanical detailing inside their mouths in lieu of whatever nightmares Andrew Wildman drew on his Transformers. This weird speaker thing is kind of like what we saw in the comics. I must applaud the designer for digging deep for inspiration.
Once again I must praise the functionality of the stand. By simply slotting the clear support arm into a different place, the stand instantly transforms to support Thundercracker in flight via a peg on his keister. Such an elegant design makes me dread my eventual coverage of the DX VF-25S Renewal Version.
So, barring any of Transformer's infamous sizing issues, here's a picture of Thundercracker with a similarly scaled transforming jet robot. Despite their different backgrounds, these two share many interests such as skydiving and quilt knitting.
Masterpiece Starscream generated a flurry of mixed emotions from fans who eagerly awaited a modernized take on the iconic cowardly schemer. What was eventually released after a shift in designers ended up being a bitter pill for some fans to swallow. In the end though, people still bought Masterpiece Starscream in the hopes of getting the other two jet guys. While the subsequent were more conventionally colored, interest in these toys waned and Black and Blue became part of the red that affected Takara (soon to be TakaraTomy) and any hopes of the cult classic "season 2 jetting trio" were soon dashed. A group of high-end bootleggers threw their hat into the ring with no less than nine planned variants of the Masterpiece Starscream mold with a number of modifications that would allow for both the season 2 guys and the integration of the hip thingies into the toy's shins. Having experience one of these toys in a previous review, I don't have high hopes for the subsequent figures. Then again, who am I to tell people how to spend their money?
Now nobody can sure what exactly prompted TakaraTomy to revisit Masterpiece Starscream with a seemingly de-Kawamorified sculpt. Of course, that won't stop thousands of fans from speculating wildly for the cause of this action. I never did acquire any iteration of Masterpiece Starscream because the Japanese version commands high prices and the American version's tiny changes and awful weathering job made me hesitant to buy it. Let's not even mention the domestic release's proper blue nosecone that was spray painted black for some unknown reason. The fact that the new version is just the same toy with some modified bits has me slightly intrigued. It does cost a little more, but some of that is due to inflation, and the inclusion of new accessories to replicate the kingly Starscream from Transformers The Movie. The original toy always had unused mounting points for the crown and shoulder pads which led to some enterprising fans to profit from unlicensed accessory packs. I find some of the changes to MP-11 to be irksome, as they expose the unkempt sides of the robot in fighter mode. While the FAST packs did beef up the arms and created the unholy hip thingies, they at least made Starscream and his posse look proper in jet mode. Some argue the vehicle mode should be secondary to the robot mode, but as MP-10 Convoy proves, taking care on the vehicle mode can make a world of difference. Time will tell if fans will buy into this new and improved Starscream, which will doubtlessly be recolored into the other guys. Transformers has always been a license to print money even if the land of the rising Yen has slowed the flow of import Transformers. Still, the domestic Japanese market is always a loyal customer. As for myself? Well right now I am happy with what I've got. I think the soon to be labeled "V.1" Masterpiece jets are still up to par-
|Posted 29 November, 2011 - 12:51 by VF5SS