Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Diminutive Superfortress

As I stated in the last post, I've recently acquired Voyager-class Decepticon Lugnut. Lugnut is an interesting toy for many reasons, one of which is all the different "source" transformers which he seems to draw from. I won't use the popular term "homage" here, as I don't think that there's any one past transformer that Lugnut is an update of. Indeed, Lugnut is one of the few characters in Transformers: Animated that is not directly based on a preexisting transformer, G1 or otherwise; Bulkhead and Oil Slick are the only other two characters I can think of at the moment that share Lugnut's "newness."

So, if Lugnut isn't an out-and-out update or homage, who does he draw from? Perhaps, at least in a toy sense, the most obvious is Movie Blackout. Like Lugnut, Blackout was intensely loyal to Megatron, to the point of having the nickname "the Hound of Megatron" (this, along with the capability to carry the smaller transformer Scorponok and soe other facts, lead to many linking Blackout with the G1 incarnation of Soundwave). As a toy, Lugnut is very similar to Blackout. Their transformations parallel each other:

1. the head automorphs up due to the tail section being pulled down.
2. the central torso is flanked by halves of the cockpit.
3. the arms and shoulders are derived from the wings and engines.
4. the tail section can be removed to become a large weapon
5. the legs form from the fuselage

Both, of course, are also patterned after large vehicles. Blackout transforms into a MH-53 (one of the largest helicopters in existance) and Lugnut becomes a bomber whose design echoes the B-29 of WWII, which was the largest bomber of that war. Blackout was also a Voyager-class Decepticon toy that was meant to represent the huge, heavy-hitter of the 2007 film's Decepticon team. Unfortunately, the Voyager size class can't exactly protray these characters' huge size because of their designs. Both Blackout and Lugnut are either matched or exceeded in height by a number of theoretically smaller Deluxe size transformers, much to the chagrin of collectors who enjoy correct scale. Many had called for a larger Leader-class Blackout and are calling for a similarly sized Lugnut, but thus far neither call has been answered by Hasbro.

Lugnut has ties to a few other transformers, though. As suggested earlier, his loyalty to Megatron echoes G1 Soundwave, even if he was never as zealous as Lugnut is. His largely purple color scheme and large primary eye bring G1 Shockwave to mind. Interestingly, both of these characters are also getting updates for the Animated line. Anothe influence seems to me to be Beast Machines Tankor, a vehicon commander who also had claw hands, a massive frame, and an elongated head/face. His blue and silver colors weren't far removed from Lugnut's (slightly different from the toy) show colors, either. His bomber mode and wing/arm transformation also reflect Cybertron Jetfire/Skyshadow in some ways. Lastly, both his color scheme and alt mode theme (i.e. WWII aircraft) are similar to G2 Ransack.

But what about the toy itself; how well does it stand on its own? First, I'll look at what I think is the strongest aspect of the toy, and that is the vehicle mode. As the title of this post suggests, Lugnut is a bomber with strong similarities to the Boeing B-29 Superfortess, a very effective bomber that was developed in the midst of World War II and helped end it by delivering nuclear payloads to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. And simply put, this is one of the most gorgeous airplane modes ever devised in the 24-year-old Transformers history. Now, while it is based on the B-29, the Transformers: Animated show takes place in the future and thus the plane has a few design choices that place it in the aesthetic category of retro-futuristic, as opposed to a stricit WWII replica like G2 Ransack. Some stand-out features of the bomber mode (obviously) include the bombs. Slung under the (very modern-looking) engines, these huge bombs have two guiding fins and hazard striping, and bear no small resemblance to the "Fat Man" bomb that was detonated in Nagasaki, even though the real B-29 carried bombs inside its bomb bay. Panels that turn out to be the robot's claws can automorph open (by pushing the fins forward) to reveal turbolasers, as Hasbro calls them. However, this sort of clutters up the bomber mode, which already has three twin-barreled gun turrets (another throwback to WWII bomber design). Perhaps the most obvious B-29 feature is the cockpit area, which is totally unlike anything you'd see on more contemporary B-1B or B-2 aircraft. There is a central window at the nose, surrounded by smaller rectangular/trapezoidal windows that extend to the top of the fuselage. It's something never seen on a transformer before, and really solidifies the retro-futuristic look. At (literally) the other end of the spectrum, the tail looks very futuristic, something that you probably wouldn't find even on an experimental aircraft today. The four tail fins are arranged in a sort of X-shape, like the S-foils of an X-wing. Each pair of fins is attached to what appear to be supplemental engines, with red intakes and molded nozzles on the rear. This is similar to Cybertron Jetfire, but like most real aircraft. The only aircraft with a tail-mounted jet engine I can think of at the moment is the Lockheed L-1011 airliner. The central portion of the tail also appears to have molded vents in front and rear, but they;re unpainted and it's not clear if it also intended to house turbojets. Which brings me back to the wings, on which are mounted the main engines. The intakes for these engines look great, but they have neither painted nor molded details toe represent the exhaust nozzles! This is probably a minor thing to anyone who's not an airplane nut like me, but for myself this is the worst aspect of the bomber mode. Another minor complaint is that the staff of the mace weapon pretty obviously sits on top of the rear fuselage; I thin it could have been possible to have it blend in better. On the plus side, Lugnut has some of the best "robot kibble" incorporation seen on an aircraft TF: his legs rather seamlessly blend in with the rear fuselage, with the only thing to tip you off being the teal-colored toes. The only TF that comes to mind that incorporates robot parts better into its plane mode would be the Cybertron Thundercracker mold (and Cybertron Evac andMovie Blackout, I suppose, but they're not strictly airplanes). Again, this is a wonderful alt mode, such that I'd by the mold at least once more because of it. It' d be nice to see it repainted in the B-29's characteristic silver, maybe as Animated Strika.

Ok, robot mode. This is where most fans have their complaints, and again it's mostly directed as Lugnut's short height. And he truly is small; like Blackout before him, Lugnut fits in better amongst deluxes rather than Voyagers. Also like Blackout, part of the reason for this is because a pretty big chunk of the alt mode does not become part of the robot mode proper, but rather becomes "backpack", part of which is removed to become a proportionally large weapon. So, because a decent chunk of the bomber's mass doesn't turn into the robot proper, the robot is pretty short. Another Voyager-class Decepticon, Starscream, is a good three head taller.

Even so, Lugnut is a pretty cool robot. Since his alt mode is so retro-futuristic, it's appropriate that his robot mode is too. From the exaggerated proportions of the limbs to the cyclopean (sort of) eye, this guy would not look out of place in an old Sci-fi film or cartoon from the '40s. It's overall a great look and really helps set him apart from the other Animated Decepticons, not to mention most of you transformers from other toylines.

Articulation is pretty good, especially with the arms. There's a lot more movement there than I expected. However, there is no waist or head/neck movement, which is a bit disappointing. The waist joint I could live without (although it looks like there was room for one), but the head is a separate piece from the rotating panel it sits on, and I'm not sure why it couldn't be made to rotate. After all, the turret that is on the opposite side of the panel rotates; why couldn't they share the same joint? It seems that Lugnut can get by just fine without moving his head, however; he's got a pair of small eyes on either side of his head, so he could conceivably be looking at three things at once. Also unfortunate to note is that Lugnut's jaw does not move, nor does his lightpiping work (would have looked great if it did).

So, if Lugnut had his height sacrificed for a weapon, it better be a good weapon, right? As the box states, the plane's tail becomes a "power mace" and actually does a pretty good job at it. In fact, the mace has quickly become my favorite weapon in the line so far, beating out some pretty great armaments like Grimlock's sword, Megatron's cannon, and Lockdown's hook/EMP. When converted to mace mode (accomplished by plugging the mace's handle into one of Lugnut's turbolasers and then pressing a small trigger at the handle's base), the angle of the tail fins becomes more severe, making it much more menacing and more convincing as a mace and not just a Airplane Tail in My Hand. There is no way to activate the weapon in plane mode, by the way. Also, more hazard stripes are revealed, thematically tying the weapon closer to the main figure. Overall, it's an imposing weapon, and if not for its relatively small size could rival Cybertron Metroplex's Sparkdrinker weapon for quantified "epicness."

A few more observations about the mace accessory: If you leave it unactivated (fins in regular configuration), the "mace" looks quite a bit like a '50s style sci-fi rocket, with the "nose" somewhat resembling a gun barrel. Because of this, I've decided that the mace can also be a small remote control/drone interceptor for Lugnut. And with the fins either in "plane" mode or "mace" mode, Lugnut can hold it so that the gun barrel of the drone is facing forward, as if he's fining it or about to throw it into flight. Conversely, you can mount the weapon in his hand upside down and position it the same way, so that the jet nozzles look like gun barrels (this looks better with the fins in mace mode). Lastly, with the fins again in mace mode, you can position the weapon (by itself) horizontally and rotate the base of the handle up at an angle, and it makes a pretty decent scorpion impression, with the fins as claws and the handle as a stinger (no legs, though). More shades of Blackout and Scorponok, if you will.

One more note about the toy as a whole: if you are transforming him from bot mode to plane mode, leave the cockpit halves deployed and you get a not-too-bad impression of Depth Charge's manta ray mode.

In conclusion, this is a great toy from a great line. Not the best of what's available so far (largely for scale issues), but a very good toy on its own merits. I'd especially recommend it, however, for those who have bought Voyager class Bulkhead; they seem to be made in the same scale and should display well together.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Battle Begins...

Ok, I've got a few more additions to the Animated collection now, namely Optimus Prime and Megatron from the Battle Begins 2-pack, Blackarachnia, and Lugnut, the Decepticon muscle.

I'll say first that I'm a little more impressed with the 2-pack figures that I thought I'd be. Now, I was going to buy this set regardless, if only to keep up the Prime/Megatron collections, but it turns out the figures in it are actually pretty darn cool. Both are deluxe scale toys, meaning that this is now my second Animated deluxe Prime, after the Cybertronian version I got over a week ago. The two Primes are similar; many speculated online that the 2-pack version might be a simple remold of the Cybertronian version. The opposite is true; while remarkably alike in appearance and transformation, the two Primes don't seem to share a single part. There are differences in color as well - Cybertronian Prime uses much brighter blue and red than his Terran counterpart. Earth-mode Prime also has his faceplate molded in place, and has black battle damage paint apps strewn here and there.

Lastly, Earth-mode Prime's axe weapon is very different; it doesn't feature any moving parts, is very large, and can't convert into a double-bladed mode or a trailer hitch disguise. However, it is much closer to the axe's show appearance; the only other Animated Prime toy with a more accurate axe will be the Supreme-class Optimus, whose axe will have a retracting energy blade, rocket flame and sounds (and maybe lights).

Suffice to say, there are enough differences between the two deluxe Primes to make them both worthwhile purchases. Some won't like Earth-mode Prime's battle damage, but he does have a strong G1 Prime vibe going for him, what with his smoke stacks and silver cab stripe.

Deluxe Megatron is also quite a treat. Unlike Prime, his toy counterpart is much larger, in the Voyager size class, and there are other marked differences beyond size. Probably the most obvious difference is in color: Deluxe Megatron is cast in a much darker grey than Voyager Megatron, which seems to be more consistent with both his show appearance and the larger Leader class Megatron toy. Like Prime, he's sporting some battle damage, but Megatron's is in a strange metallic off-white color (almost rose pink) instead of Prime's black. They look a bit like flash burns from flares or something.

The transformation is also different. Not too different, as everything (arms and legs) ends up in pretty much the same configuration as the Voyager toy, but the differences are there. The end result is a slightly more compact and solid vehicle mode. A few unique touches include having the cannon being removed and replace as part of the transformation and a torso joint that inadvertantly gives him better posture in robot mode.

The bot mode itself is pretty great; it's very posable and kibble-free. One nice aspect of the transformation being different is that the diamond-shaped knee pads actually end up where the knees actually are, instead of floating in front of the thighs like the Voyager version's do. There are also fewer clear red parts, which will make some collectors happy. The thighs, feet, shoulders, hands, and lower torso are all now solid and opaque.

I also appreciate how the cannon is a bit better proportioned to the bot mode, at least in comparison to the Voyager mold's cannon. The "sword" mode of the cannon also looks a bit nicer in comparison. Instead of the fore-blade automorphing out, the rear part of the cannon simply lifts up, and you manually swing out the blade into place. And the fore-blade does actually extend past the nose of the cannon, so Megatron can get some stabbing action in, as opposed to the chopping capability of the Voyager's cannon. Lastly, the cannon can also be stored on deluxe Megatron's back, in the same place it goes for vehicle mode, and it looks pretty cool back there. Sort of gives him a place to out it if he just want to wail on you with his fists.

Overall, the deluxe Cybertronian Megatron doesn't have the height or mass to properly go up against his Optimus counterpart, but he's a more well-rounded figure with better balance and playability. While I'm glad I have my Voyager Megatron, I think the deluxe version is a better toy. I'd very easily pick this mold up a second time, if Hasbro repaints it and ships it singly (which they likely will).

Friday, June 13, 2008

More Animated!

I managed to find a decent pile of Animated toys at the local walmart yesterday, which luckily included some of my "priority" purchases I mentioned in the previous post. Specifically, I found Voyager class ($20) version of Megatron and Starscream. Also there were Blackarachnia, Bulkhead, and the 2-pack of Optimus Prime and Megatron. I passed on those, however.

When I arrived home, I opened Starscream first. His transformation was both impressive and surprising; all the automated parts work well together fluidly, but it makes the transformation process a little simpler than you'd expect for a 20 TF. Once in bot mode, though, I noticed that Starscream was missing something; one of the arm panels that pops out to become additional weaponry.

Megatron was next, and I found the transformation here to me more involved, but not overly so. The cybertronian alt mode is also much better looking than I had expected from online images, especially if you consider the "pointy" end to be the front, which is backwards from what the packaging and directions say (the actual animation model is very different and its front end has elements from both ends of the toy; the toy's "cockpit" is present, but the cannon is also facing forwards). However, I noticed that one of the two connector tabs in his torso, made from the clear red plastic, was broken. Everything held together well enough, but it was still sort of bothersome.

So I did something that I'd never really had to to before: return "defective" transformers. Actually, I haven't returned them yet, but I did buy duplicates since I messed up the original copies' packaging. Luckily, the replacements were just fine. I was also fortunate to find a few more deluxe ($10) TFs my second time at walmart: Bumblebee, Prowl, and Lockdown. Since I already have Ratchet, I decided to get Lockdown, as Ratchet can use Lockdown's engine/EMP weapon as per the episode "Thrill of the Hunt."

So, now I've got 4 total TF: Animated toys, and it' s not going to grow much larger for now. The next one that I plan on picking up, when I see it, is the deluxe Cybertronian Optimus Prime to spar off with my Megatron.

Even so, I'd like to have most of the TF:A toys that are currently available. The only ones that don't really look like they're worth adding to the collection are deluxe Bumblebee (transformation is overly cheaty and he's a bit big) and Voyager Bulkhead, who I'll think I'll pass on for the larger Leader class version.

Anyway, here's hoping that I can find Prime tomorrow.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Finally found Transformers: Animated!

I went to visit my friend Doug yesterday (remember him from the first post?) and went by a walmart in his town. I've been hoping to find Transformers: Animated toys for about a week now, and when I first got there I saw nothing but older Transformers Movies toys, much to my dismay. I kept looking, though, at at the back of one of the pegs was a lone Animated toy hiding out: Ratchet.

Ratchet was not one of my priority purchases for this line. Those would be Cybertronian Optimus Prime, Starscream, and Voyager-class Megatron. Even so, I couldn't pass up the chance to finally have one of these new TFs that we had been first shown online nearly a year ago by Hasbro at the SDCC. And I have to say that I'm glad I picked Ratchet up. From what I had seen online, he didn't look like he'd be that great, but he's actually a very good transformer. The ambulance mode is nice, clean and simple, and the robot mode has a good size, great articulation and a lot a character. Oh, and the transformation is fun too. The only drawback so far is that the left leg easily disconnects at the thigh joint. It would also be nice if his tool stored in ambulance mode, but it's not that big a deal.

So, while I still really want to find my priority purchases soon, Ratchet turns out to be a great first figure for this new line.

Also: I finally got some shelves put in the basement, along with a fan (with lights!). It makes the room look a bit nicer.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Upcoming repaints...

Saw this link to the Chinese board ACToys the other day: Springer & Ratbat.

These two transformers are part of the upcoming "Universe" line that Hasbro is unveiling/reintroducing this fall. The nice thing about these particular two TFs is that you get two for the price of one. Both of them will be packaged together and sold as a Target exclusive for only $20 - the normal cost of the mold used for Springer.

Both molds are not new - they were introduced in the Cybertron line in 2005 - but neither has yet to be repainted. The green guy (Springer) is a character first introduced in the original animated Transformers: the Movie in 1986, and the purple guy (Ratbat) is one of the old "cassetticons" - the minions of Soundwave that transformed into his cassette tapes. Springer's mold was originally released as Evac, and was pretty universally praised as being one of the best helicopter TFs ever, largely because of the transformation of the helicopter's tail into robot wings, as opposed to the robot mode simply having a helicopter tail hanging off its back like most helicopter TFs have.

Ratbat was originally released as Sideways - an agent of Unicron who somehow managed to trick both the Autbots and Decepticons to believing that he was on their sides (twice!). What makes the use of this mold for Ratbat inspired is not just that the spaceship alt mode looks like a bat - and it does - but that the toy's gimmick is that its faction sigil can change. In the now-slightly-dated Dreamwave TF comics, Ratbat formed his own subfaction of Decepticons after Megatron's disappearance, name the Ultracons. The new Ratbat toy will reportedly be able to switch his faction from Decepticon to Ultracon. Wonderful! This also marks one of the very few times that the TF toylines have received a character sporting a unique faction sigil - the only other that comes to mind is the Titanium Series Fallen toy (who incidentally appears in the same comic that is included with this set).

Anyway, it's going to be hard to resist a deal like this. Two great molds with great new color schemes, and one of them is free.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Yay, transformers

Welcome to Basement Invasion. The basement in question is mine and the aforementioned invasion refers to all the little plastic robots that have conquered it. One of the other people living with me has recently started a blog and my summer class professor has started a blog for our class, so I figured I'd jump on the bandwagon.

Recently, my little boy turned one year old! In the midst of his birthday festivities, one of my old friends who I haven't seen in months informed me that he was coming to the party at our house. Doug has known me for a long time, and he went with me on my very first (albeit fruitless) transformer "hunt" as an adult collector. He's been fairly interested in my collection over the years, but he was particularly excited that I'd have an entire room to display my transformers at my new house. However, before my son's birthday, he hadn't seen the house or my TF basement yet. It wasn't long after he arrived at the party that he asked to see the basement. After some very fun present opening and cake destroying activities, I showed Doug the basement.

"Oh my god."

That's what he said. Doug, being a Star Wars fan, was particularly fascinated by the relatively large Darth Vader transformer on top of the bookcase; he was even more impressed when I revealed to him that it transformed into the Death Star.

We didn't spend very much time down in the basement due to the party, but I could tell Doug was, at the least, surprised. He's seen me buy a lot of transformers, but I don't think he was quite prepared to see so many in one (relatively small) room.