Friday, February 25, 2011

Transformers Feature: Animated Ultra Magnus

Transformers fans definitely have Animated on their minds these days. Yesterday saw the reveal of Motormaster, the final figure of the five-figure "Stunticon" box set for BotCon 2011, a toy that even before the reveal was generating a huge amount of discussion. I don't actually have the Voyager Optimus Prime toy on which Motormaster is based (although I could grab it for about $12 at Tuesday Morning at the moment if I really wanted to), and I reviewed popular alternative mold-choice Wreck-Gar more than a year ago (ironically, a Twitter "repost" of that entry went live yesterday, entirely by coincidence. I set up that buffer weeks ago, before I knew that Motormaster would be revealed the same day), so I'm instead going to discuss one of the admitted "longshots" that some fans wanted to see made into Motormaster: Animated Ultra Magnus.

As I mentioned when I discussed the Optimus Prime/Megatron "Battle Begins" set, Prime's not the supreme leader of the Autobots in Animated. That honor goes to Ultra Magnus. This is actually quite ironic, because Generation One Ultra Magnus was the consummate soldier, more comfortable following orders than giving them. This is just one of the many ways in which the Animated version departs from the Generation One original that it nonetheless clearly homages. It really does amaze me how many fans complain about such divergences. It's by no means universal, and many, many fans appreciate both the homages and the differences for what they are, but people really can get uptight about this stuff!

One element of Ultra Magnus' design peculiar to the Animated character is the "Magnus hammer," apparently not only a powerful weapon, but also a symbol of his leadership of the Autobots. And this is by no means the only weapon at Ultra Magnus' disposal, although most of the others are admittedly concealed in the pictures shown here. For images of Ultra Magnus with weapons deployed and ready to go, click here for vehicle mode and here for robot mode.

There are at least two reasons why the suggestion of BotCon Animated Motormaster using this mold was always a longshot. The first is that Fun Publications (the folks who run both BotCon and the Official Transformers Collectors' Club) has never used a figure this large as an exclusive for BotCon (much less in the box set). It would therefore seem unlikely that they could do so now (and still keep prices remotely low enough that people would still pay for the set, which is already quite expensive). The other main reason is the fact that this mold has the "Elite Guard" Autobot logo squarely in the middle of the toy's chest (where it serves as a button that activates lights and voice effects). Although this button/logo could theoretically be remolded, doing so is by no means easy or inexpensive to do, and it simply stood to reason that Fun Publications would find a cheaper way of achieving their goals. Although the debate continues to rage about whether the mold they actually chose was in fact that best choice out of their available options, using the Animated Ultra Magnus mold was simply never a realistic possibility.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Transformers Feature: Animated Ratchet

Every once in a while, a character in Transformers: Animated, while definitely being an homage to the Generation One character for which it is named, shows signs of being at least as much an homage to another character entirely.  This is the case with Ratchet.  While Ratchet remains the doctor of the group, just as the original version was, the personality of Ratchet bears a stronger resemblance to Kup, the "crotchety old guy" character that originated in Transformers: The Movie back in 1986.

Like Kup, Animated Ratchet is a veteran of the seemingly endless war between the Autobots and the Decepticons (although, when Animated begins, there hadn't been any serious fighting for some time, as the Decepticons were in hiding).  The mold for Ratchet attempts to convey the sense of Ratchet's age in a couple of ways.  One is the intentional "beer belly" of Ratchet's robot mode.  Another is the broken crest on the right side of Ratchet's head, one of a couple of injuries from times gone by that this doctor has apparently never sought have healed for himself (the other will be covered when we get to Lockdown).  In keeping with being a doctor who's main patients are, in fact, machines, Ratchet comes with a number of tools that can either be held in his fists (actually, they clip on the inside, rather than actually being "held") or stored on clips in a compartment behind his back.  The toy also features a flip-out tool on each fist, apparently intended to represent electromagnets that Ratchet is often seen using in the cartoon, but they get only half the job done.  Even less, really.  Thankfully, third party groups have stepped up.

Like his Generation One counterpart, Ratchet turns into an ambulance and a generally red-and-white color scheme.  Whereas most modern Transformers are designed so that all weapons and accessories can be stored in both modes, this is not possible for Ratchet, and all of those tools have to be stashed somewhere for safekeeping whenever Ratchet is in this mode.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Transformers Feature: Animated Bulkhead

Not every character that appears in Transformers: Animated is a Generation One homage.  In fact, there are a few characters in Animated that are entirely new to the Transformers canon.  Bulkhead is one of these.*

Actually, all things considered, it's probably a surprise that Bulkhead's character-type hasn't been seen more often.  One could safely sum Bulkhead up as "big, strong, not especially bright, but a well-meaning gentle spirit."  It's an archetype that's certainly been seen in various forms, especially in sitcoms, for years.  Animated certainly used Bulkhead to great comedic effect, causing destruction that might have even given Michael Bay pause if the show had been done in live-action, yet somehow always with the understanding that Bulkhead is unquestionably one of the good guys.

I actually have two Bulkhead toys, which is a bit unusual (and not something I expect to remain true for forever, depending on what kind of prices I can ultimately get for the smaller one on eBay), but I'll briefly note both here.  The "smaller" one isn't actually all that small, being at the roughly-$20 "Voyager" price point (although because most of the mass of the toy's goes to making it look... bulky, the Voyager does remain shorter than many $10-ish Deluxes!), while the larger one is a $40-ish "Leader" figure (I didn't pay that price, but got the "Leader" figure on a fairly significant discount, as is usually the case for such large figures if I get them at all).  In pictures that show both figures, the Voyager version will be on the left while the Leader version will be on the right.

Oddly enough, the Voyager figure is arguably closer to Bulkhead's animation model than the Leader figure, which is a bit unusual for characters having more than one size of toy, since the larger toy can almost always incorporate greater detail.  While this much remains true of the two Bulkhead toys, one of the main "issues" with the Leader figure is the amount of weaponry it includes, most of which never appears in the cartoon at all.  One rather surprising cartoon-accurate feature that only the Leader figure has, however, is that it is possible to recreate a scene in which Bulkhead transforms the kibble that usually hangs above his back into an actual chair that he then proceeds to sit on!  Here is Leader Bulkhead in this configuration.

The Leader version of Bulkhead also comes with a "Headmaster" accessory, based on a human character that showed up a few times on the cartoon.  Whereas the Headmaster in the cartoon (an obvious homage to the Generation One Headmasters) would replace the original head with the Headmaster's own mechanical "head" in order to control the larger robot's body, this toy is basically just a helmet that can fit over the head of the figure, which then activates a different voice for the Headmaster character, as well as changes the colors of the lights from yellow to red.  Actually, all Animated "Leader"-sized figures were made with tabs that lock this helmet accessory into place (although only Bulkhead has the alternate voice and lights included). It's a nifty little extra, perhaps not worth buying on its own, but worth knowing about.
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*I fully expect some know-it-all to try to tell me that there was another character named Bulkhead before the Animated version, so I'll point out right here that, yes, that's true.  However, that character is pretty much nothing like this one.  They just share a name.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Transformers Feature: Animated Starscream

If you're watching a Transformers cartoon, in pretty much any continuity, and you see a character named Starscream, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.  Starscream is just one of those character-types that has become a perennial part of any Transformers line.  Much like Optimus Prime and Megatron, you can be fairly certain these days that any new line will have a Starscream character, that he will probably turn into some kind of a jet, and that he will be a back-stabbing schemer seeking to replace Megatron as the Decepticon leader.  Animated Starscream is no exception.

Arguably, if the character of Animated Starscream is a closer homage to the Generation One version than Animated Jazz was to his counterpart, the physical design of Starscream, while still being clearly comparable to the Generation One version in many respects, is more of a departure.  It's a jet, but the style is quite different, with the forward-sweeping wings and darker colors.

One aspect that Animated Starscream does have in common with his Generation One namesake is that he shares a mold (err... "body style..." in the fiction itself?) with several other characters, who all just use other colors.  One could find toys for "Thundercracker," "Skywarp," and others (in various sizes, but still this basic concept) on the shelves, but the relationship of these other characters to Starscream is radically different than in Generation One.  While the Generation One Seekers were each unique individuals, the Animated versions were all "clones" of Starscream, each one apparently representing some portion of Starscream's own personality, taken in isolation.  These clones weren't even given names within the cartoon itself.  "Thundercracker" (as the toy calls him) places Starscream's ego-maniacal nature on full display, while "Skywarp" is more accurately called "the coward clone."  Other clones include one that is incapable of telling the truth and one who sucks up to everyone around him among still others.  But only Starscream contains all of these personality traits in one robot, a character archetype I'm sure that we haven't seen the last of.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Transformers Feature: Animated Jazz

Many fans of Animated seem to like the line because it has an arguably higher number of explicit Generation One homages than other lines of the recent past.  However, Animated does take enough liberties with the homages to ensure that it remains its own distinct line.  Often, an homaged character may closely resemble the Generation One version on the surface, while introducing new wrinkles to make the Animated version unique.  Jazz is a good example.

Animated Jazz's vehicle mode is very similar to the Generation One version, if obviously stripped of any of the trademarked logos the original toy possessed.  One can see the resemblance better in this image showing the two toys side-by-side.

Jazz's robot mode demonstrates the unique twist given to the Animated version.  By taking exhaust pipes and turning them into nunchucks, Animated Jazz becomes unlike any other version of Jazz ever made.  While Animated Jazz retains the G1 version's love of Earth culture, the Animated version takes on a "ninja" edge.

Fans of this mold attending BotCon in June will have a chance to see what this toy can look like with a totally different color scheme and character, as it has already been revealed that it is being used to represent an Animated version of the Stunticon Dead End (you can see a preview by clicking the link).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Transformers Feature: Animated Optimus Prime vs. Megatron: The Battle Begins 2-Pack

Every Transformers franchise these days needs an Optimus Prime and a Megatron.  It's all but unthinkable that Hasbro would attempt a new line that lacked leader characters with these names.  The Animated line is certainly no exception, and Hasbro made sure to get these characters in kids' hands quickly by releasing this two-pack right at the beginning of the line.

The figures aren't exactly analogous to each other, however.  For some reason, the pack includes an Earth-mode Optimus Prime alongside a Cybertron-mode Megatron, thus creating a "battle situation" that never actually existed at any point in the cartoon timeline.  Why did they do this?  Although it seems evident that the designers had Megatron's eventual osprey-like Earth-mode in mind already by the time these toys were made (let's face it, Cybertron-mode Megatron doesn't look like much of anything, but it's hard to imagine looking like this unless the parallel was intentional), I can only assume that this was done because they weren't ready to release Megatron in full Earth-mode until a little bit later in the line (Megatron sits out most of the first season of the series and doesn't get his Earth-mode until the season finale).

A while back, I mentioned that I'm not a fan of battle-damage on Transformers toys, so at least I'm glad that it's not done very often.  I'm especially mystified as to why they made such an aesthetic choice with these two figures at the very beginning of the line, and perhaps even more importantly, why they decided that the peculiar patterns they gave these figures were supposed to look like "battle damage."  These guys look more like they have some alien fungal infection, if you ask me (perhaps breaking out with a case of "Cosmic Rust"?).

In addition to the figures themselves, this set came with a DVD that features the first episode of the cartoon, alongside some teaser features intended to spark interest in the Animated franchise.  This DVD is perhaps notable for including a longer version of theme song, with additional lyrics that were never used on the actual broadcasts.  I actually wish that Hasbro would include little pack-ins like these more often.  I can only assume that they don't think it's worth the time and effort it takes to include them more than once in a blue moon, but at least we do get these bonuses once in a while.
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