Friday, August 29, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Animated Prowl

I've managed to do this weekly feature for more than half a year now without featuring a specimen from the current line of toys: Transformers Animated. Mostly, this is because I have more of an interest in detailing the history of the Transformers line than I do in advertising for currently available toys. However, having spent the past two weeks detailing some of Hasbro's attempts at motorcycle Transformers, Animated Prowl deserves some attention.

The Animated line has taken a distinctively more stylized approach to designs than other lines in the past. More angles and curves, kind of a pseudo-Japanese-anime approach. In some ways, this makes things easier on the designer, since there's less pressure to make the character look somehow "realistic." The bar for suspension-of-disbelief is placed in another atmosphere entirely. It certainly allows for some of the most cartoon-accurate toys to come along in quite a while, although there are still a few toys that fail to match their cartoon counterpart all that well. Prowl is definitely one of the "winners," though. Not only in terms of cartoon-accuracy, but just in terms of being a decent robot despite the motorcycle alternate mode. In fact, I'd say a person would be hard-pressed to find a motorcycle Transformer with a better robot mode. One does wonder at the inclusion of the traffic light/weapon, though, since it never appears in the cartoon. I've heard it said that it was originally intended to, but I haven't seen the evidence.

But, in keeping with the other motorcycle reviews thus far, it's time to pull out Cobra Commander again to ask "how well scaled is this motorcycle to allow an existing action figure to ride it?" In my personal opinion, it's not too bad a fit. Not quite right, but passable. Of course, since Cobra Commander is the leader of a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world, it's probably safe to assume that this scene could never actually happen unless Cobra Commander had somehow incapacitated Prowl, a member of the heroic Autobots, to bring him under Cobra control.

And, although I consider such issues of scale to be an exercise in insanity when it comes to Transformers, we also need to have the figure-to-robot comparison one last time. Prowl's pretty tall. Cobra Commander probably hopes that Prowl is under his control if ever the two of them should meet! But the scale issue is brought into question even by that traffic light. Of course, I don't usually stand close enough to traffic lights to really know how closely I'd measure up to them, so I won't make too firm a judgment on that one. But if the traffic light Mister Rogers used to have in his "neighborhood" home is any indication, this scale's probably not too bad....

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Energon High Wire with Kicker

Energon High Wire Vehicle with KickerLast week, I mentioned that Hasbro has had a rather mixed record of success (or lack thereof) when it comes to Transformers that turn into motorcycles. This week, we'll look at Energon High Wire. This is a larger version of the same character that was sold as a Mini-Con as part of Energon Perceptor. Included with High Wire is Kicker, a human who played an important part in the Energon cartoon. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only time in the entire history of American Transformers toys that a non-transforming humanoid action figure was sold in a main line (Nebulans, included with the Headmasters and Targetmasters, could of course transform. Also, there have been a few figurines, but these don't really qualify as "action figures," and a couple of Japanese exceptions, as well*).

Kicker and Cobra CommanderSince the human action figure is specifically included with a Transformer it's intended to "ride," one would assume that the two would be in scale to each other, but I think the motorcycle is a bit too large. In fact, I'd argue that Axer's motorcycle mode was a much better scale match for Cobra Commander (shown here to demonstrate that the two figures are the same size), and that wasn't even intentional!

Energon High Wire Robot with KickerHigh Wire has essentially the same transformation as his Mini-Con counterpart, with a couple of tweaks available due to the larger size. The right fist is an actual fist now, although the left arm still ends uselessly with the wheel on the end. In fact, it's really one of the most pathetic-looking excuses for a robot mode I've ever seen, especially in a toy of this size. I picked this one off of eBay pretty much exclusively for the Kicker figure, since Kicker is a unique oddity in the history of the line. But apparently my High Wire specimen is a bit unusual, in that most High Wires have an Autobot symbol on the gas tank that mine lacks. The seller told me that this was because it was either a prototype or a production sample, although I think a lot of eBay sellers throw those terms around anytime they have something unusual, and don't make any guesses as to the veracity of that claim. I certainly have no idea if the lack of an Autobot symbol makes my toy any more valuable. That's generally not why I buy these things, anyway!

*Obviously, I wasn't considering Action Masters as "main line" when I wrote this. This is odd, since I typically do. Or maybe I didn't think of them as "humanoid." I don't remember.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Robots in Disguise Axer

I've already mentioned that the Robots in Disguise line contained quite a few repaints of toys that had previously been used in other lines. I don't think I've yet mentioned that the line, originally created in Japan as "Car Robots," wasn't originally intended for release in America at all, but was eventually brought to the states as something of a time-saving measure. When the Beast Machines line was ending, Hasbro was originally planning to continue the Transformers concept with a line they called "Transtech." Although a number of fans were excited about this line, which promised to return a few Generation One characters alongside Beast Era characters, all in new (arguably more science fiction-based) forms, Hasbro decided to scrap the concept altogether (having seen some of the sketches, I didn't shed any tears over this decision, but your mileage may vary...). Having spent so much time developing Transtech, Hasbro was unable to release a new line of toys in a timely manner, and wanted to make sure to do things right. Since Takara had already gone to the trouble of creating a whole line of toys that hadn't yet had an American release, including a cartoon series that would keep that Transformers concept in the American consciousness, it was a no-brainer to seek the rights to have those toys brought over here. Make a few modifications to the vehicles, dub the cartoon, and viola! "Robots in Disguise": a line of toys able to bridge the gap between Beast Machines and the line that Hasbro would design next (eventually to be called "Armada," which we've discussed a bit already)

However, the Japanese "Car Robots" line wasn't quite large enough to yield sufficient toys to keep customers happy for the whole eighteen months that Hasbro would need to get Armada ready, so Hasbro fleshed out the "Robots in Disguise" line by repainting other molds that they had available. Axer, seen here, was a 2002 repaint of a Generation Two "Laser Cycle" called "Road Pig." Axer was noteworthy as being the first time that one of the "new" Action Master characters of 1990 had a name reused on a transforming toy (in fact, I think it remains the only example of this phenomenon to this day!). And since Action Master Axer himself came with a motorcycle, actually having Robots in Disguise Axer turn into one seems an appropriate choice.

The main gimmick of the G2 "Laser Cycles" was that they had a weapon that would light up when a button was pushed. Axer retains this gimmick.

As previously established, Axer turns into a motorcycle. The Transformers line has had a rather mixed history of success (or lack thereof) with motorcycles, as we'll explore further over the next few weeks.

For now, it's worth noting that Axer is one of few Transformers that is actually just about the right size to accommodate a G.I. Joe figure. It's not a perfect fit, but it's certainly close enough that the Cobra Commander figure shown here (chosen because this is one of few figures I have in my limited Joe collection that wears a helmet! Besides, it's appropriate that the bad guys should be paired up.) doesn't look too ridiculous.

This also gives us a chance to see what at least this character would/should look like in robot mode when compared to a human being. Most Transformers media tend to vary pretty wildly (sometimes even between frames in the same story!), in their depictions of how large Transformers should be compared to humans (check out this picture of Optimus Prime's head for a particular bad example. Snake Eyes could never hope to drive a semi as big as what that Prime would turn into!). Axer doesn't look like he'd be all that tall, really....

Friday, August 8, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Alternators Shockblast

Over nearly 25 years of Transformers product, Hasbro has tried to maintain a balance between coming up with new characters and concepts, and giving homages to characters and concepts that have come before. The first few years of the original line (roughly from '84-'86) are homaged especially often. When the Alternators line came out, there were apparently at least three main goals: 1) Create a line of toys that is entirely within a particular scale (in this case 1:24, which is commonly used for model cars). 2) Create a line of toys that are licensed by the actual automakers themselves, and therefore accurately resemble the vehicles they purport to turn into. 3) Create new forms for well-loved characters from the Generation One era.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Skids (Reissue)

Skids Robot ModeIt's Generation One time again! Unlike the other times I've reviewed G1 figures in the past, this one isn't technically from the '80s, but rather is a more recent reissue of a figure from that period. This particular specimen, Skids, is a Japanese reissue, which is notable because Skids never actually got a "normal" release in Japan back in the '80s, having only ever been released as part of a multi-pack with two other figures (both which had also never been released in Japan previously, although one got another release in just another couple of years over there), so the "reissue" was actually the first time that Japanese fans could ever buy Skids on his own.

A lot of fans don't remember Skids. He barely ever appeared in the cartoon, and is arguably the rarest of all the Autobot cars released in the first two years of the toyline. He did, however, have a memorable run in a couple of issues of the Marvel comic. Indeed, he's one of very few Autobot cars to get an issue devoted almost entirely to him. Those fans who do remember Skids apparently only remember him on the basis of this scene, which somehow manages to get mentioned almost anytime the subject of Skids comes up.... (And people wonder why male comic book fans have such a bad reputation....)

Skids Vehicle ModeFans also tend to be confused about the actual size and nature of Skids' vehicle mode. The picture linked above clearly shows Skids as the size of a minivan. But Skids isn't intended to be a minivan, but rather is a Honda City Turbo, a vehicle that never saw wide release in the United States. It's far more comparable in size to a station wagon than to a minivan. But when one considers that scale always has been wildly variable in the Transformers line, it can perhaps be forgiven that Americans who (mostly) had never seen a City Turbo before would see Skids' general shape and assume that he turned into a larger vehicle.
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