Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Long-Awaited Day Has Finally Arrived

For nearly two years now, Transformers fans have complained about the lack of any club exclusive toys (not counting the "freebie" exclusive you get just for joining, nor the BotCon convention exclusive toys, which are generally made available to club members if any remain after the convention). As of yesterday, this has finally changed. Club exclusives Astrotrain (with 4 Mini-Cons) and Airazor are finally available for pre-order. Each is being limited to 2000 figures, making these toys quite rare.

Here is the pertinent information from the e-mail sent to club members:
Astrotrain is $87 +shipping, Airazor is $42 +shipping. Shipping is $7 domestic for the first item and $1 for each additional item. Foreign shipping will vary by country. If you are placing a foreign order, we will calculate the airmail cost and add it to your order.

Example order: if you are domestic and order one Astrotrain and one Airazor the total cost will be $137.
Orders may be made via e-mail (if your credit card is already on file with the club) or by telephone (special arrangements are being made for non-US members to have Fun Publications call them if needed, so as to avoid prohibitive telephone costs).

Fun Publications is very clear that these will only be available to members of the official Transformers Club. Membership costs $40 (for people living in the US who don't choose the more expensive shipping option). That's expensive enough to be worth thinking over seriously, but that membership does include an additional "freebie" toy (probably will ship in the spring) and a 6-issue subscription to the bi-monthly Transformers club magazine (yeah, there's also 12 issues of Master Collector included, but that's just a bunch of classified ads which are pretty much worthless).

The Transformers club is finally getting up to speed. If you've been on the fence about joining up to now, this should at least give you something to add to that decision-making process.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Number 300

Keeping track of blog posts is admittedly a somewhat arbitrary practice. What makes the number "300" special? Why is the round number "300" any more special than say, "299"? These are fair questions, and I offer no particular answer than to say, "because I say so!" ;)

Looking for an appropriate way to celebrate my 300th Transforming Seminarian post, I'll post a few pictures I've got lying around that are worth sharing, but for which I really don't have enough to say about to dedicate full posts to.

This picture by no means represents my entire Transformer collection. It is, however, the single most prominent cluster of them in my home work space. Many of my Transformers sit on a shelf inside of a closet. Others are scattered on the tops of bookshelves and desk spaces around the room. Still others are stored in boxes. But this group, which changes fairly regularly as I gather new toys, or want to give old ones new prominence, sits on top of a filing cabinet in the middle of the wall area. Anyone who walks into the room can't help but see that huge Brave Maximus surrounded by various minions.

About a half a year ago, I did an article on repaints that featured two of these three figures. About a month ago, I was able to locate and purchase the bright yellow and orange one (Sunstorm). Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a good way to mention it on the blog, so I'll take the opportunity to use the picture now. Here it is!

And, finally, a quick picture from my recent vacation in Placerville for Thankgiving. Placerville is where my parents grew up, and most of my rather large extended family still lives there. One of my family's defining characteristics is that we like to play board games. "Family Feud" is always a favorite.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Custom Boxes

Over a year and a half ago, I put up some pictures of custom boxes I had created for Happy Meal Transformers. Since that time, I have made a few more boxes. None of these are of the quality or "G1-accuracy" as Mirage's Boxes, but I think they're pretty nice, and worth showing off once in a while.

One limitation I've always been under is that my printer can only handle regular 8-and-a-half-inch width paper, so I'll never be able to do these boxes for figures larger than the World's Smallest Thrust you see at the top. I also don't have access to facilities that would allow me to custom-mold clear plastic inserts (of course, neither does any other custom box maker that I'm aware of), which is why I've taken to using styrofoam. If you'll look at those Happy Meal boxes I made in 2005, you'll see that I tried to twisty-tie them to a colored paper backing. This is fine for display purposes, but does have the unfortunate effect of allowing the toys to slide around inside the box, which can be problematic for transport. Styrofoam has the advantage of being more stable, and is reasonably easy to shape, but it is rather messy. (You might even be able to see some lose bits of styrofoam trapped in that Thrust box.) Also it doesn't work as well for certain TFs (I have a couple more Happy Meal TFs I needed to stick with the twisty ties for).

Still, displaying some of these smaller TFs in this way does give the toys some visual character that they might not have if they were displayed loose. By placing small versions of the original Tech Specs on the back (or a custom, as in the case of toys like Tap-Out, which weren't originally created when Tech Specs were done this way. I've done a few custom Tech Specs myself, but the Tap-Out Tech Spec was done by James Byun), the feeling that these smaller toys could have been originally sold in boxes like this is reinforced.

I created the template for these boxes using Adobe Photoshop. The files are fairly large, but I'm willing to share them if anyone's interested, and can work with Photoshop files. Just send me an e-mail, and I'll send you an example. Feel free to ask for a specific character, although the odds are I won't have it. I can definitely give you something from the right faction, though. Just remember that this kind of template will only work for fairly small figures.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Created to Scale

To the best of my knowledge, there are only two classes of Transformers, in the entire history of the franchise, that have been explicitly created to be a specific scale when compared to the "real" vehicles the toys represent.

The first of these, the Alternators, are still fairly widely available in stores. These transform into 1:24 replicas of actual automobiles you might see on the street today (1:24 being a fairly common scale for model cars). In fact, Hasbro licenses the rights to these vehicle designs from the automobile manufacturers, so in the case of Alternators Wheeljack (center), who turns into a Ford Mustang, you'll see the Ford logo proudly displayed on the packaging.

For many fans, the Alternators represent the pinnacle of Transformers design. Not only are they realistic vehicles (truly "Robots in Disguise"), but their transformations are often intricate and complex. For me, this is the line's major downfall: they're too complex. And the instructions, simple line art drawings with few or no words, are often no help at all. I was reminded of this fact when trying to transform these toys for this photo. I actually tried to do Smokescreen (on the left) first, but couldn't get all the vehicle parts to line up properly when I was all done. I finally gave up on that one, put the toy back in robot mode, and tried my hands at Wheeljack. Wheeljack is also ridiculously complicated, and I actually had to pop several parts off of the toy to finish the transformation, although when all the parts were replaced, I at least had a vehicle that looked right. Although the roughly $20 price tag you'll find on these toys isn't too unrealistic for what you get, it's high enough that when coupled with the frustration factor I have on these things, I tend not to buy Alternators on my own. In fact, I think all but one of the four I have (including one that isn't pictured here) were gifts. This isn't to say that I'm upset to have been given these toys. It's just that the frustration gives me pause when it comes to buying them on my own. If you have the patience to deal with the transformations, though, these are still very worthwhile toys.

The other class of Transformers designed to a specific scale were originally released as the G2 Go-Bots. These toys have been repainted and reissued quite a few times over the years, and are more commonly referred to these days as "Spychangers" (a name they picked up in the "Robots in Disguise" line of 2001-2002). These toys are 1:64 scale, specifically designed to be compatible with "Hot Wheels"-style racing sets. (One of these days, I'm going to splurge for one of those loop-the-loop tracks and put these guys on it!)

In contrast with the Alternators, transformation for these toys is simplicity itself. Nearly every one transforms in the same way: pull the back of the car out, flip the hood down, and pull the arms out to the sides. A few other toys were released in the class as part of the "Robots in Disguise" line that have slightly different transformations, but these also weren't specifically designed to be in the 1:64 scale of the original vehicles on which they're based (although they still have the free-wheeling axles, so they'll still work on the race tracks).

It may be worth noting that both of these lines used scales that were chosen specifically because of some competitor's product. It may also be worth noting that there are one or two actual Transformers toys (in isolation, and not really as part of a classification of TFs) that transform into a play version of some actual item (1-to-1 scale, if you will), but that's really not the same thing. Even still, for all of the clamor out there in the Transformers fandom for toys that are "to scale," such toys really the exception, and not the rule.

Monday, November 13, 2006

An Unexpected Find

Last week, I commented on the difficulty of locating the Micromaster Superion set, having traveled all over Southern California to CVS Pharmacies in the area.

So, imagine my suprise when I found this at Big Lots yesterday!
This is the only Aerialbot I found, and a trip to another Big Lots yielded nothing, so this may be just a fluke. I left this one on the shelf, although I definitely left wishing I'd found this a week ago. Silverbolt was the last Aerialbot I needed, and this is less than half the price I ended up paying per Aerialbot at CVS!

A side note: I've just switched over to the new version of Blogger. There may be a few glitches while I get used to the new system.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Tracking Down Micromaster Superion

For the past few years, Hasbro has been reissuing collections of "Micromaster combiners" that were originally released in Japan way back in the early '90s. The basic pattern for these sets is that there are six Transformers who follow a common theme (trains, construction vehicles, airplanes, etc.) who can be configured together into a larger robot with the help of some accessory parts (unlike most other combiners from over the years, none of the Micromaster combiner members actually connect directly with any other members. They only connect via the extra parts).

All four of the teams Hasbro has reissued have been released as exclusives through KB toys, which has made some of these teams increasingly difficult to find, as KB is, at best, a struggling sales chain. Rumors had surfaced about the latest set, the Micromaster Aerialbots, as far back as a year ago, but they were not actually released until rather recently. In fact, European Transformers fans actually were able to find these toys before fans in the US, an occurrence which is very rare indeed!

And when word finally started coming out that the Aerialbots had finally reached American stores, I still was unable to find any in KB which, it must be said, is terrible about restocking their shelves. Presumably, they want to clear out product they already have, but given that their prices average out to about 25% higher than most other chains, KB doesn't tend to sell things very quickly.

I finally heard that the Aerialbots were showing up in CVS pharmacies, which I thought was odd. I had already known that the Railbots (the previous Micromaster exclusives) were showing up in CVS, but since those toys had already been at KB for several months by that time, I just assumed that KB had given up on selling the Railbots, and were getting rid of their overstock, and that CVS has opted to give the toys a try.

I later learned that CVS and KB were owned by the same company, although it appears that this is no longer the case (although KB was once owned by the company that currently goes by the name CVS, KB is currently privately owned). I do not know to what extent this former relationship plays into CVS's acquisition of what was originally understood to be KB exclusive merchandise, however.

To this day, I have still not found any of these toys at KB, although I have been assured that some KBs out there are carrying them. I did manage to track the toys down at CVS after an extensive search. I must have traveled to just under a dozen different CVS stores in Southern California over the past week, picking up the 6 toys at 5 different stores. (Drug stores are notorious for only having one or two of a particular type of toy on hand!)

Anyway, I was finally able to track down the complete set. Here is the combined Micromaster "Superion" for your viewing pleasure.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

It Couldn't Last Forever

If you follow game shows at all, then you've probably already heard by now that Bob Barker has announced that he will retire as the host of The Price is Right at the end of the current season.

This doesn't come as too much of a surprise. There's been speculation each year for several years now that each season would be Barker's last. Yesterday's announcement merely happened to be when he finally said, "now's the time."

I've had the honor of being in the audience for several Price is Right tapings in the years following my arrival in Southern California almost a decade ago, and I actually did get to speak with Bob during one of the taping breaks (not that he'd remember it at all; he's had literally thousands of such encounters in his 50-year career on television). As I recall, I congratulated him on the Lifetime Achievement Award he had received during the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1999 (this must have been within a few months of that honor). Nothing hugely original or profound, I know, but it was my chance to interact with one of the last remaining "greats" of the game show world in person.

All indications are that The Price is Right will continue after Barker's retirement, although for how long depends entirely on how well the host chosen to be Barker's successor can fill the enormous shoes Barker will leave behind. But don't count the as-yet-unnamed new host out too quickly. Barker himself had to fill some rather large shoes when he first became host of what was then called The New Price is Right back in 1972: Bill Cullen had hosted the original version of the show from 1956-65 to great acclaim and popularity. At the time, few could see anyone replacing Bill Cullen. The fact that few people today are even aware that an earlier version of The Price is Right ever existed is a testimony to Barker's hosting ability.

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