Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Mystery Revealed

After more than a year of waiting for the Official Transformers Club to reveal their first club exclusive (not counting the ones you get free with your membership), a name and pictures have finally been announced. Click here to see a picture and brief description of the new Astrotrain.

For those who haven't followed Transformers since the 1980's, it's worth noting that the original Astrotrain was one of the very first "triple changers." A triple changer is, as the name might suggest, a Transformer with three modes instead of the conventional two. In this case, the original Astrotrain was a robot, a locomotive, and a space shuttle.

So, what's the verdict on the new exclusive? I want to like it. I really do. Members of the club have waited for a very long time for this. And if the note saying this won't actually be in our hands until the Fall is to be believed, that makes for a full year and a half of club membership before the toy is finally obtained. One can certainly hope that future exclusives come out on a now regular basis (the rumor is two per year).

The toy is a repaint (and slight remold for the head and faction symbol) of Armada Jetfire. The toy is sufficiently different from Jetfire that one can believe this toy is a different character. Also, the colors unmistakably work as an homage to the classic character, while not a slavish reproduction of the original. These are good things. Oddly enough, this color scheme seems not to have been selected with Astrotrain in mind. Click here to see pictures of the proposed Transformers: Universe toy "Spacewarp," which never made it to full production. While Spacewarp did not have the new head that will be made for Astrotrain, it otherwise appears to be the same toy we're now getting. A lot of fans who wanted this toy as "Spacewarp" will no doubt be pleased.

But this is a mold that, frankly, never impressed me when it first came out, and the idea of a toy named "Astrotrain" that doesn't turn into a train is somewhat off-putting. (Yeah, yeah... A train is a connected series of vehicles, and therefore the original Astrotrain wasn't a train either. Just a locomotive. You know what I mean...) Also, as a larger Transformers mold, and accounting for the usual need to price such limited exclusives higher than one would pay for the same mold on a store shelf, I'm afraid that the price will be astronomical.

Ultimately, I want to give Fun Publications credit where it's due. It's clear that a lot of time and effort went into this, and I hope that they are successful. A lot of the early buzz is quite positive, if admittedly not universally so. Also, we've been led to understand that this figure will also come with a Mini-Con figure (presumably a recolor of Commetor, the Mini-Con that came with Armada Jetfire), which could be cool. For myself, I'll be waiting for further information on price and looking for final pictures (including the recolored Mini-Con and Astrotrain's robot mode with the new head) before deciding whether or not I'll be buying this one myself. I'd be curious to hear other comments.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Latest Rare Transformers Auction: G2 Streetwise

The latest G2 Protectobot ("G2" = "Generation Two," for the uninitiated. These are the early 1990's era Transformers, as opposed to the original Transformers of the 1980's, which are retroactively referred to as "G1") to be auctioned is G2 Streetwise. As of this posting, the bid for Streetwise is at $910. Last week, I predicted the final value for this toy would probably be a little lower than the $1825 that G2 Groove went for, but that future auctions would probably stabilize around Streetwise's price. We'll see if I was right....

For those of you who've been looking closely at the packaging for these toys, you'll have noticed that each one makes some claim toward "realistic styling." Now, an all-black police car such as Streetwise isn't by any means common, but it isn't too bad. Nor would an ambulance such as First Aid seem terribly out of place. But check that link for G2 Groove once again. Have you ever seen a bright orange motorcycle like that (with green trim, no less)?

This is a fairly common trend in G2 marketing. A great many of the G2 toys made some claim to "realistic" something or other. Before I criticize Hasbro for absolute bold-faced lying about the G2 Protectobots, I might theorize that the way that the letters, numbers, and "emergency vehicle" style insignias appear on these toys is at least mildly realistic, and certainly represents an effort beyond what was done for the original G1 Protectobots of 8 years earlier (see the SWAT logo on G2 Blades, presumably two weeks away from being auctioned himself, for example). Still, I'd hardly call the new designs "realistic," and I think this advertising is misleading.

But the Protectobots were hardly the worst case of misleading "realism" in Generation Two. Check out this example of one of the Combaticons, a group of military vehicles that also combined into a super-robot. Can anyone tell me what a space shuttle needs with camouflage? Yet, there it is on the packaging: "realistic camouflage graphics." (You'll have to click on the graphic of the front of the package to see it properly.) Some of the other G2 Combaticons weren't much better. A "realistic" camouflage pattern won't do much good against some of those eye-searing colors!

Unlike the G2 Protectobots, the G2 Combaticons were indeed widely released by Hasbro. Should anyone want one, there are plenty of deals to be had on eBay.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Rare Transformer Auction Update: Final Price for G2 Groove

As promised, today's update brings the final value of the latest G2 Protectobot auction from the Hartman collection: $1825. This is considerably less than the previous auction's final value of $3050, which isn't terribly surprising. If I had to make a guess, I'd say that we can expect the next figure to be auctioned will take in a somewhat smaller price, but that the value will more or less stabilize there for the remaining 5 auctions to follow. Time will tell.

What's a bit more surprising is to see that the same person won this auction as won the last one. While there is a certain feeling among some transfans that it would be nice to see these set remain together, it seems unlikely in the extreme. Especially given the winner's statements online that he's "not rich" (on two separate occasions, implying in this second one that although he'd like to get all the Hartman combiners, his lack of being "rich" would prevent this, although he does say later that this was his goal).

As I said this weekend (and actually said to the auction winner directly in the message board thread), rich is often a matter of perspective. We tend to think of people who have more than we do as "rich." That said, I wonder how this fan can make such a claim. He's already spent close to $5000 on two small toys! Toys that make up $2 worth of the $5 knock-off sets I mentioned earlier (arguably, even less, since the one figure of the five not to be auctioned is larger than the other four)! I just don't see how someone can drop that kind of money on something like this and not be considered "rich" by practically any reasonable definition.

Oh, well. If he has the money, and wants to spend it on this kind of thing, that's his right. I'll continue to enjoy my knock-off.

Bonus! There are a couple of other really rare auctions currently up. These are for almost-never-seen Japanese Headmaster heads. I won't be following these on the blog, but thought it worth posting the links here.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Latest Rare Transformers Auction: G2 Groove

Apparently I misspoke when I said that the Hartmans were going to post a new G2 Protectobot or G2 Stunticon every day or so. Turns out they're looking to post every other Sunday. So, for the next several months, it appears as though I will have updates every Monday on how these auctions are progressing. Some weeks with the new auction, other weeks with the results of the previous auction.

The latest G2 Protectobot to be placed on auction is G2 Groove. Like G2 First Aid* before it, this is a toy that the winning bidder would be well advised never to take out of its package. I say this not because to open such a rare item will reduce its resale value (although it will), but because of what has been called "Gold Plastic Syndrome."

"Gold Plastic Syndrome" (sometimes referred to as "GPS") is a phenomenon that, in Transformers, afflicts mostly late G1 and some G2 Transformers. Only, but apparently all, Transformers with gold-colored plastic are afflicted, hence the name. Most plastics are colored by adding pigments to the plastic as it is being mixed. For gold plastic, a pigment with gold-colored metal flakes was added. For some reason, this pigment did not mix thoroughly with the rest of the plastic, and the result is visible random weak spots that cut right across areas of the plastic, making the gold plastic brittle and prone to breaking along these lines of uneven mixing. In the case of G2 Groove, this will likely not be a huge problem, as the main area of visible gold plastic is right along the robot's chest (not a moving part). In the case of G2 First Aid, the problem is far more serious. Check out the bottom picture of the toy at the link above. The places where gold plastic is placed on this toy correspond to the robot's head and the robot's legs. Not only do these parts move frequently during transformation and regular play with the toy, but the robot's head is a crucial part of the transformation of the five Protectobots into the super robot Defensor. If/when this gold plastic breaks, the owner will be left with not only a decapitated robot, but one incapable of combining with the other toys. These are collectors items best left packaged.

At the time of this writing, G2 Groove is selling for $760. However, if G2 First Aid's final auction value of $3050 is any indication, expect Groove's price to shoot way up as the auction nears it's close at the end of the week. Updates to follow....

*Since eBay auction sites are ephemeral, and will be taken down a month or so after an auction is expired, all links to G2 Protectobots after a given figure's auction close will come from, one of the few places I know of with pictures of these toys in their packaging. I'm still looking for a source for non-eBay images of the G2 Stunticons for when the time comes.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Rare Transformer Auctions update

I was apparently mistaken when I said last week that a new G2 Protectobot or G2 Stunticon would be posted on eBay every day or so. It now appears that we'll be looking at a new item once a week (in fact, the second auction in this series has yet to appear as of 8:47 PDT). The first auction, for the G2 Protectobot First Aid, closed with a winning bid of $3050! (And, yes, shipping will be extra.)

For those who may be interested in these toys, but don't feel you can spend a month and a half's worth of your paycheck on them, I observe that knock-offs of the Protectobots can often be found at discount chains such as Big Lots for $5 for the entire set of 5 robots. If you like, go ahead and buy a set of paints and you can customize your own "G2" Protectobots for a miniscule fraction of the cost of these auctions. (Sorry, I do not know if knock-offs of the Stunticons are available. There used to be a set including 3 of the 5 Stunticons (and 2 molds from a completely different set) out there some time ago, but I haven't seen these in some time, nor have I ever seen knock-offs of the remaining two Stunticon molds.)
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