City Commander Set
Review by jRex
Fansproject’s TFX-01 City Commander set put the independent third-party toy producer on the map, and for good reason. Sure, you can say that this set is epic, well designed, and completely refined. You could say it’s the most successful third party mold ever produced. You could even say that the hefty price tag is entirely justified due to the sheer volume of quality and style poured into its glorious image.
One thing is absolutely certain. TFX-01 is a labor of love, and that is the true heart of toy collecting.
Ultra Magnus has always held a strong presence across the 25 plus years of the sprawling robotic epic that is the Transformers Multiverse, and as a result the powerful and friendly Autobot warrior is something of a fan favorite. Whether or not he’s a stalwart soldier, a jealous brother, or the hammer-wielding supreme commander of the Autobot forces (RIP Animated), one thing is for certain. Ultra Magnus is, as far as toys go, almost always a white and blue redeco of Optimus Prime. In fact, Ultra Magnus’ first incarnation as a toy was exactly that, but his accessory was another story.
Originally a Japanese power-up for Diaclone’s Battle Convoy (Optimus Prime’s predecessor), the Ultra Magnus trailer, which could carry a sizable cargo of G1 vehicles, had the ability to become battle armor for the smaller figure, which pulled it as a truck cab in its alternate mode. The smaller truck cab could transform into a figure identical to Optimus Prime, but the G1 show made sure to always have Ultra Magnus transformed in all of his armored glory. His exciting adventures as commander of Autobot City in the year 2005 earned him a special spot in every kid’s heart.
Let’s turn the clock about 20 years forward. The enormous PR storm of Transformers the movie is looming over the horizon and the Unicorn Trilogy has just had its curtain call. What does Hasbro give us in this intermediate time period? A filler line of redecos and retools? A slim picking of Cybertron cartoon toys? No. They give us the beginning of one of the most beloved and successful Transformers toylines ever released. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Transformers Classics. All of our favorite characters from good old G1 got a much needed and much lauded update. So when a Target exclusive two-pack was announced that would include the seeker Skywarp and city commander Ultra Magnus, transfans held their breath for a new Ultra Magnus trailer.
We never got one.
We did get a pleasingly affordable 2-pack with a very well done repaint of the Classics Starscream mold as Skywarp, as well as a passable Voyager Classics Prime painted up as Ultra Magnus. To fans, it just didn’t feel right having all of these amazing new toys to fill up their shelves as the new Autobot team just to have bland white Ultra Magnus sitting there looking a bit… sad. Where was our awesome red, white, and blue power up armor? Where were those glorious red-tipped shoulder mounted missile launchers? Where was the smokestack-flanked helmet that said “My first name is Ultra, and I am a robot wearing sunglasses!”?
Two years later, Fansproject quietly teased our fantasies. At first it seemed almost cryptic, unrealistic. Press photos leaked two at a time and weeks apart of the Ultra Magnus figure donning the unpainted grey prototypes of what looked like... could it be? Only time could tell. After a few weeks, the rumors were confirmed to be true. We were getting a third-party Ultra Magnus armor. By the time it was released in 2008, people everywhere were clamoring for the City Commander set. On the secondary market, the 20 dollar Target exclusive Ultra Magnus repaint was fetching quadruple its retail price. Why? Because the fanbase had not only accepted TFX-01 City Commander into their collections, but embraced it entirely.
Most third party Transformer products cater to a very specific audience and have an extremely limited production run. Add-ons like the Crossfire Superion upgrade kit or Cliffjumper weapon set pop up only to be available for five or six months before either being snatched up through preorders or simply selling out never to be seen again. Not the City Commander. The fact that it’s an expensive independent toy made to supplement a rare store exclusive only makes its story that much more impressive. The kit actually has a repaint for every retail version of the core figure (Optimus Prime, Ultra Magnus, Nemesis Prime). On top of that, it is the only add-on kit I know of that not only has one add-on kit to supplement it, but TWO add-on kits made for it, one of which is from ANOTHER third party company. That’s right people. This independent toy is so good that someone actually made an independent toy to add to it. That does not happen.
Despite being reissued two or three times, this toy continues to be produced and is always in high demand, fetching top dollar on eBay, and being on constant sell-out or pre-order status on online toy shops. I got mine for about ten dollars above the original price, but the awesome people at Big Bad Toy Store even included Fansproject’s add-on kit completely gratis, so, in my opinion, I got it for the best price possible.
From its stylish packaging and creative instruction medium to its brilliantly constructed components and smartly chosen supplementary material, I’m going to tell you (unless you haven’t pulled my love affair with this toy from the page and a half of nerdgasm you’ve just read) that this toy is a joy and a triumph. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fansproject’s TFX-01 City Commander set. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Packaging is an often overlooked facet of toy collecting. It can be either what turns the toy inside into the object of your greatest desire, or makes it seem cheap and gaudy. City Commander, being a collector’s toy, has only one mission: to be stylish and fresh while still portraying homage to the intended concept. Clad in blue and white, the box does exactly that. Tastefully understated and surprisingly compact, it sports a grid pattern reminiscent of G1-style toy packaging. It is very nicely done. The kit is held securely in snap-on clamshell packaging, and as such, taking it out will not damage the box or its contents, so if you choose to store it away you can do so without a hitch.
The instruction manual is also worth noting. In a magnificent touch of brilliance, the instructions are actually in comic book form, chronicling the adventures of Optimus Prime and his use of the Powered Commander armor (a variant of City Commander) against the evil Pharotron (a wickedly cool mummy-type mech). It is extremely well done and a very cool way to introduce you to the toy.
By the time you actually remove the product from the package and put it on your Ultra Magnus in trailer mode, you get a feeling that you really got what you paid for. Hefty, solid, and complex, trailer mode is a brick in the best sense of the term. Sitting securely on the makeshift hitch of Magnus’ cab mode, the trailer rolls freely on four wheels located in the rear. They are matched perfectly with the original’s wheels, right down to the bronze hubcaps and spokes. The swooping white and silver pinlines are very crisp paint apps, matching the detailing on the cab’s windvane and really tying the two pieces together as one cohesive pair. The blue plastic used perfectly replicates the color of the core figure and detailing is sparse but smartly placed, reserved conservatively for key points on the trailer, such as the divots that run alongside the length of the product. Sadly, the trailer cannot actually hold any cars, but for what it is, it does a great job. The way it is designed gives it a robust aura of utility and functionality. There are peg holes located on the front corners which can accommodate G1 Ultra Magnus’ missile launchers, or, if you have them, the missile launchers included in the City Commander add-on pack (which came with mine as part of a promotional sale on BBTS).
Transformation, if you can call it that, to armor mode is very intriguing and well-engineered. The seamless trailer unplugs and deconstructs like a puzzle, with each component folding into place with the grace and purposefulness of an origami creation. The upper structure splits into the torso, shoulder, and ars armor, while the back end forms the legs and waist piece. The middle section does come apart, and does transform, although not into a component of the actually robot, but I’ll get to that later.
Putting on the armor is a daunting task at first. Fears of scraping the paint of the original toy or breaking the plastic of the add on kit instantly come to mind. But with a little practice, you get used to putting the armor on Ultra Magnus. Perhaps the most difficult part is attaching the leg armor to the shins. To put it simply, you have to literally wedge the foot into the piece until it snaps securely into place. It is a very snug fit and the slight stressing of plastic is inevitable. This part is just plain scary. There are points in the sequence that you feel as if the armor might break or (God forbid) the bending of plastic could result in a dreaded white stress mark on your expensive collector’s item. Thankfully, it seems these fears are unfounded, as the plastic used is of the best quality and utmost strength. Everything else clips on nicely, and despite being an entirely friction-based system, everything is solid and secure. The resulting toy is the personification of awesome.
Chunky, angular, colorful, and with a heavy tinge of G1 cleanliness and sheen, the figure stands about half an inch taller in height, but infinitely larger in depth of character and design. With hints of his original body underneath the armor, the set manages to not hide the detail of the core figure, but accentuate it. The way the core figure’s arm shields lock in perfect synchronization with the set’s forearm blocks are a perfect example of this. The armor manages to look clunky without looking cumbersome, and evokes a sense of power and presence. The leg pieces lock beautifully with the shin, and the red sculpted ridge-like detail is a perfect update of the original’s G1 stickers. The waist piece also takes heavy notes from its G1 namesake, as do the blocky shoulders and even the vented chest piece. Keeping with the G1 aesthetic, technological detail is almost nostalgically designed, with vents and lined sculpting accenting broad geometric polygons reminiscent in popular 80’s robot cartoons. The head sculpt is a fresh take on the original look, with a powerful chin block and the helmet done almost regally.
As I mentioned before there is one other element to this set, made up of the middle section of the trailer. It is the City Commander’s built-in weapon, the gigantic rocket launcher/laser beam gun that I have henceforth christened the Ultra Magnum. The paint apps are crisp and bold, and as far as weaponry goes, it just looks powerful and menacing. It’s a very cool accessory, but in my opinion it’s the weakest part of the set. I don’t display my City Commander with this weapon for the simple fact that I’m afraid holding it too long would loosen his shoulder joint. Although I wish that Fansproject could have thought of something better to do with the middle section, I can’t really complain. It’s a grenade launcher that turns into a laser cannon that’s half as big as the robot that’s supposed to carry it. You could say it’s cool just for the sake of being cool, but it’s heavy, cumbersome, and no matter how you try to display Ultra Magnus with it, it never looks quite right. It does, however, look very cool on its own when displayed on a desk or something (easily the most badass paperweight I’ve ever owned).
An Autobot should never be without a weapon though. Modeled after his original G1 shoulder missile launchers, the update makes them chunky double barreled cannons. Along with the missile launchers included in the set, you also get a transforming rifle which is the definition of updating a classic. G1 Ultra Magnus had a gun that, depending whether or not it was upside down, could be a rifle or a heavy blaster. The gun does this with grace and style, transforming with ease and functionality. As well as getting the weapons, you also have the option of one of two faces you can put onto your figure. One is an emotive “yelling” face with an open mouth, and the other is a masked faceplate reminiscent of the Optimus Prime face hiding underneath.
As a side note, all the Autobot decals you see are stickers which I had purchased separately from the set. Although it does come with a sticker sheet, this, being a third party toy, does not actually have the Autobrand anywhere.
In closing, my words, although numerous and detailed, do not do this toy justice. Holding it in your hands is feeling everything there is good to feel in a toy. The poetic justice of completing a figure you own with a rare and quality accessory is something you don’t get every day.
This is Ultra Magnus, Autobot City Commander.
And he CAN deal with it.
|Posted 5 August, 2010 - 18:03 by jRex|