Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Super Counter Arrow

As I mentioned when discussing Go-Bot Bumblebee, Hasbro released a number of small toys created to scale with Hot Wheels-style cars and racetracks during the tail end of the Generation Two line in 1995. As Bumblebee itself attests, Hasbro was determined even then to get the most out of these molds by releasing them in new color schemes as other characters. But that's only the beginning of the story for these molds!

When the Japanese company that handles Transformers, Takara, decided to create the Car Robots line in 2000, they took the opportunity to re-use a number of old molds, such as the Go-Bot molds. These toys were then re-used in America as part of the (nearly) all-repaint Robots in Disguise line in 2001. The Indy racer Go-Bot, originally called Double Clutch and then repainted into a new version of Mirage in Generation Two, was called "Counter Arrow" in the Japanese Car Robots line, but Hasbro took the opportunity to re-lay claim to one of their old Generation One trademarks by calling the mold Mirage again for Robots in Disguise. This particular toy, however, was never released in the United States, and thus is not Mirage. But neither is it just "Counter Arrow." Let me explain.... The Car Robots/Robots in Disguise fiction started what has since become a trend in other Transformers franchises. Whereas it used to be that a recolored toy almost invariably represented a different character, Car Robots suggested that certain recolors represented a "powered up" version of the same character as the original color scheme. Although this was never demonstrated with the Counter Arrow/Mirage character in the cartoon, this was clearly the intention with the Japanese exclusive set of recolors that included this red version of the Indy racer mold, as each toy in this series was called "Super (insert the Japanese character's name here)." Hence, this toy is "Super Counter Arrow."

This toy wasn't actually released during the course of the main run of the Car Robots line, either, but actually came out a couple of years later, in 2003. Both Hasbro and Takara found that the "Spychangers" (as the Go-Bot molds were now commonly called) made for excellent recolor fodder. Hasbro released several clear and/or differently-colored versions of these molds mostly as exclusives through KB toy stores, and Takara released several entirely different clear and/or differently-colored versions of these same molds on their own. Each one of the ten (or more, depending on how you count them) distinct "Spychanger" molds were eventually released in multiple color schemes across various lines by the time the toy companies finally stopped.

Perhaps the molds were finally destroyed from so much use. But who knows? These smaller toys may well have been able to take more abuse than some of the larger ones (we've been definitively told that larger molds created specifically for the Car Robots era have since been used beyond capacity), and if Hasbro has proven anything, it's that they're more than happy to milk a few more recolors out of an existing mold if they think the new colors will sell. And there are always plenty of Hot Wheels-style racetracks out there....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Topspin

When the idea of transforming robots began to become popular in the early 1980's, it didn't take long for the toy designers to experiment with the concept of self-transforming toys. The Jumpstarters were released in 1985, part of the second year of the original Transformers line in the United States, but their origins go back a year or so earlier, to the Diaclone line in Japan, where these molds were released under the name "Baku-Ten Attack Robo." As best as I can tell, "Baku-ten" translates into "Blast Flip," which is an accurate enough description of how these toys work.

But first, the part you have to do yourself. As the first Transformers-related toys to be designed to change form on their own, it's no surprise that these toys are very simple. Topspin is featured here, but Twin Twist features exactly the same design and transformation. Fold the toy in half to create something that's basically a vehicle because the instruction booklet tells you that it is. That's all there is to it! Fold in half, and you're done.

Well, obviously that's not the big selling point of the toy. The big deal is that this thing's supposed to change forms on its own, right? To achieve this, pull back on the vehicle to trigger the spring-loaded wheels underneath, and let it go. The toy will roll forward on the floor until a catch (seen here on the toy's chest) is released, causing the legs to swing forward. Ideally, the legs should hit the ground with enough momentum to cause the robot to stand up and stay there in robot form, ready for battle. Well... almost. You do have to add the weapon yourself, of course.

Of course, all that assumes that everything works the way it's supposed to. Unfortunately, as often as not, the toy falls flat on its face rather than stand up like it should. Also, kids often had a tendency to try to change the toy back into robot mode without letting the wheels release that catch, causing the catch to be broken on many specimens. For this reason, Jumpstarters are easily mocked as Transformers toys. However, I really do think that any Transformers fan who appreciates the Generation One era ought to have at least one of these toys. There's the historical aspect, of course, being the first self-converting toys in the line. They're also incredibly cheap to get a hold of, because Hasbro apparently made a lot of them, and these toys aren't ones that most people have been holding on to all that tightly (just take a look on eBay, where Jumpstarters can be found for less than $10, even after shipping has been added). If nothing else, I think they just are good for a laugh, since even if watching the toy fall over doesn't amuse you, watching your cat chase after it is bound to be fun!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Cosmos (Generation One AND Universe)

This coming Monday is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. I'll have more to say about that on Monday, but for this week's Transformers feature, I thought it would be appropriate to focus on one of the more explicitly space-oriented characters. Having settled on Cosmos, the question then became "which Cosmos toy should I feature?" I finally decided that neither toy is especially complicated, so why not do both? Generation One Cosmos is represented by the images on the left, while Universe Cosmos is featured in the images on the right. As always, you can get a larger view by clicking on each individual image.

The original Cosmos was part of the same series of Mini Vehicles that gave us Seaspray in 1985. He transforms into a fairly stereotypical (if green) flying saucer. His Tech Specs indicate that Cosmos was primarily used as a communications satellite, and that he would have to remain in Earth orbit for long periods at a time, contributing to deep feelings of loneliness. I really don't remember that the old cartoon (nor the comics, really, but Cosmos didn't really show up much there) ever indicated either Cosmos' communications function nor his loneliness all that much. He certainly wasn't depicted as just "being in orbit all the time" like Robots in Disguise Movor was (I considered doing Movor this week, too, but didn't want to distract from the space-focus by having to deal with the other Ruination team figures, and Movor's pretty boring on his own). For the 2009 Universe updated version, Cosmos' flying saucer mode gets a tail fin in back (replacing the thrusters that you really can't see anyway in the picture on the left) and some strange alien lettering that we're told spells Cosmos' name in Cybertronian, but unlike Banzai-Tron, the lettering used here doesn't actually resemble any pre-existing Cybertronian alphabet yet designed.

Like most of the other 1985 Mini Vehicles, G1 Cosmos has a robot mode that kinda-sorta looks like he's got two legs, but really ends in a single "unifoot." The placement of the heat-sensitive rubsign only serves to highlight the fact that Cosmos's feet are forever bound together. Universe Cosmos corrects this issue by giving the toy two distinct feet, which are actually quite poseable, in theory, but it achieves this poseability by using ball-and-socket joints that are among the loosest I've ever seen on a Transformers toy. I have yet to successfully transform this toy without a leg (and often an arm, as well) popping off. I'm also not particularly thrilled by Universe Cosmos' arms, since the fists are eternally locked inside the casing, making them rather useless. G1 Cosmos may have had to do with eternally-straight thruster-fingers, but I find them quite a bit more believable that the new look, which reminds me of a person wearing a long-sleeved sweater that's really too long for their arms. Still, one has to respect the attempt, not to mention the apparent difficulty of getting us an updated Cosmos toy at all! (There was a previous attempt that didn't make it past the prototype stage) Good luck finding this toy, though. I've only seen it for sale once, myself, and that was at a Rite Aid that charged an exhorbitant $8.99 for toys of this size (roughly twice what I'd have paid if I could have found it at a Toys R Us or a Target). Even the dealers at BotCon didn't have the toys of this wave (except for one, and I don't recall seeing Cosmos even at that one). If dealers can't find a toy, you know they haven't been distributed very well!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Seaspray

When I started college in 1992, the Transformers toy line had been "dead" for nearly two years. I knew nothing, as of yet, about the fact that Generation Two would be hitting the shelves in just a few short months. So far as I knew, the very concept of "Transformers" only continued to exist in the minds of fans like me ("It never ends!" as Simon Furman infamously said at the end of the letter column of the Marvel comic book). I was therefore extremely surprised to find Seaspray sitting on the pegs of a local Woolworth's while in Asheville that Fall. Needless to say, I snatched the toy up immediately!

Finding Seaspray at a retail (not second-hand) store in 1992 was doubly surprising, since Seaspray was released as part of the second wave of Mini Vehicles in 1985. By all rights, this toy should have been bought years before! It's almost as though the toy was just waiting for me to find it.

I've said a number of times before how scale is a bit inconsistent with Transformers toys most of the time. If you look closely at the vehicle mode here, you'll notice a door in the very back of the white portion. If that door is considered large enough to fit a human being, and if Seaspray is supposed to transform without any size-changing involved, he'd have to rival Omega Surpreme in height! As it is, he's pretty consistently depicted as being one of the shorter Autobots.

Although the 1985 Mini Vehicles are a welcome departure from just being "car" modes, most of them (all except for Beachcomber) have one "deficiency" in common. None of them have separate feet in robot mode! The robot mode more or less looks humanoid, as if two separate legs are present, and this is borne out by the package art (as seen above), but the feet are eternally fused together in a single piece of plastic. Ah, well, this is before posability was considered quite as important as it is today, and I really can't complain.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Energon Arcee

As I mentioned back when I reviewed BotCon Elita-1, "female Autobots" are a bit of a rarity. Of course, being robots, the very concept of Transformers as even having gender is a bit of an oddity, but whether it makes sense or not, most continuities suggest that there are male Transformers and female Transformers, with female ones being quite rare (there are female Decepticons, but they're even more rare!). Perhaps the most prominent female Autobot in Generation One was Arcee. But, to this day, G1 Arcee has still never been given a mainstream transforming toy (there was an exclusive made for BotCon 2001, although quite frankly this toy bears little resemblance to the character she's supposed to represent). In fact, if you only count mainstream retail releases, it took even longer for Hasbro to make any transforming Arcee toy than it did for them to make a Unicron!

The first transformable Arcee available at retail was made for the Energon line in 2004. Arcee turns into a motorcycle, a mode that has since been used for other Arcee toys, and it seems that these toys get repainted to represent other "female" characters quite a bit. In fact, including the BotCon 2005 toys, this particular mold has been reused no fewer than six more times! I'm not at all clear on why a motorcycle is particularly "feminine," but there you go.

Although Energon Arcee is not actually intended to be the same character as Generation One Arcee, the homage is clear enough. Both Arcees have a predominately pink color scheme, and clearly "feminine" curves, including an... *ahem* enhanced chest. Energon Arcee has some of the wimpiest hands I've ever seen on a Transformer (at least, among those that actually have dedicated hands). They almost seem put on there as an afterthought, and aren't really any good for much anything. All in all, this toy is most definitely not what I would consider a movement toward gender equality.

Energon Arcee is a member (in at least some accounts, the leader, perhaps to offset that gender inequity problem) of a subgroup called the "Omnicons." Unlike Generation One, where a "-cons" suffix was a clear indication of being allied with the Decepticons, "Omnicons" are Autobots (there were rumors before Energon started up of this group being called "Omnibots" — no clear relation to these guys — but that name apparently didn't clear legal). "Omnicons" were intended to be unique among Autobots for their ability to work with and shape Energon into tools and weapons. The transparent red star and other similarly colored parts with Arcee are intended to represent such Energon. The stars (called "Energon Chips") could be attached to other Energon Transformers to represent being given a power-up, which the other parts could be rearranged in various ways. Arcee's Energon parts are intended to form a kind of crossbow, but the design of the figure is such that the only way Arcee can actually hold it is to hold it way out to the side and take a wide stance with her legs. Even then, she's rather liable to falling over, so I feel fortunate that this shot turned out so well!

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