It’s on to my second of the “top toys of 2015” lists, and perhaps the most difficult one for me to compile – the top 5 (plus one) of non Hasbro/TakaraTomy transforming toys that I acquired in 2015, or as they’re colloquially (but incorrectly) labelled online, “third party Transformers”.
It’s honestly a testament to how FANTASTIC the offerings have been this year that I had as much trouble as I did whittling down this list – there’s several toys that are NOT on here that were in fact VERY good toys that I’ve quite enjoyed. I especially feel upset that nothing made by FansToys this year ended up on my list – I quite liked how Soar and Grenadier turned out, for instance (Grenadier is AMAZING) but a bunch of late-in-the-year releases ended up drowning them out in awesomeness.
In fact, given how end-of-the-year-release centric my list is I feel kinda apologetic for neglecting those earlier toys and giving them shorter shrift, but they were just really really good.
Anyway, make like the Jumpman and race a gokart after the break!
Honorable mention: Saurus Ryu-oh Tricerabot
As soon as I started compiling my lists, I knew without a doubt that this sucker absolutely HAD to be on there in some capacity due to how gosh darn unique/crazy of a concept it was.
FansProject admittedly has kinda faded into the background to a good extent this year; while I’ve enjoyed their Function(x) stuff a lot and while their Dinoking has been decent enough so far, there hasn’t been that WOW factor that their releases used to have in the past.
So when they do something as balls-to-the-wall insane as a giant Dinoking Pretender shell, I sit up and listen.
This figure is HUGE. Like, “the size of FansToys Scoria/Slag” huge. Made of two solid pieces of vinyl plastic (plus an ABS piece for mounting the Dinoichi gun) and complete with decent paint and applicable stickers, these shells were explicitly sized such that, like in TF Victory, the Dinoforce would be able to actually ride the backs of their Pretender shells (thus why they’re so gosh darn massive). It’s quite simply something that you can’t properly appreciate until you get it in person.
I’m so-so on the Dinoking dudes as a whole, but THOSE PRETENDER SHELLS. Quite honestly, they’re the bit that’s exciting me on getting more of this combiner, even if they cost an arm and a leg on their own. Pricey, especially with Canadian currency where it is, but so worth it.
5 – Reformatted Anarchus (IDW Kaon)
Mastermind Creations has had a banner year as far as unofficial transforming toy companies go, with a number of high profile releases. As a company, they’ve come a LONG way since the poor QC on their original figure based off the “Hearts of Steel” Optimus Prime and the overdesigned tab-filled behemoth that was their HoS Shockwave. And so it is that their list features multiple toys that they’ve produced this year, somewhat arbitrarily ranked because of how hard it actually WAS to rank anything that came out this year.
One of the things that MMC has consistently done very well that I love has to be their Reformatted series, which of late has increasingly focused on producing toys based on designs featured in the IDW comics. While Hasbro often draws from these for inspiration and adapts aspects of them (see: Nick Roche’s Springer and Ultra Magnus robot mode designs), MMC has been going even further by making toys that attempt to make the concept art designs actually work.
And so we come to the Decepticon Justice Division – a particularly brutal faction from the MTMTE comics of enforcers who torture/execute all traitors to the Decepticon cause. All designed by the fantastic Alex Milne, who is among the Transformers artists who tries to make designs which have some transformation logic to how they work in both modes, and which would never be made by Hasbro on account of how a) they’re niche, b) not child friendly, and c) have altmodes like sniper rifles and electric chairs.
Which, of course, happens to be the two altmodes of the DJD members Mastermind has produced in their Reformatting line – the second of which being the one I want to talk about here. Anarchus, nee Kaon in the IDW books, turns into a torture chair, and is directly based off Alex Milne’s concept art for both modes. Bang on in robot mode, and fantastic looking in chair mode with a straightforward transformation, he uses some very impressive mass compression techniques where his compacted backpack unaccordions into the bulk of the chair. Upscaled slightly during development, his chair mode is large enough to accomodate most 1/12 scale figures, which lends itself very well to toy photography (and finds new applications for the secondary faces on Queens Blade SHFs and even more creepy uses of Revoltech Woody).
But the icing on the cake is that in working out his transformation, they managed to design in a THIRD mode – Anarchus also transforms into a pretty decent looking mechanical scorpion with some clever part rearrangement – legs become scorpion arms with claws formed from toes and heel spurs, the accordionning chair backpack becomes a convincing scorpion tail, and even the headpiece on the chair plays a purpose in acting as a single menacing eye of doom.
Both Cynicus (MMC’s toy of Vos) and Anarchus are strong toy versions of the Decepticon Justice Division, but with Anarchus having slightly better QC/construction and even more toy photography applications, he ends up being the DJD entry on this list. With an unofficial toy of DJD leader Tarn on the way for 2016, as well as the long-in-the-works MMC interpretation of Overlord, the display shelf will only get better.
(Also, as an aside that’s worth mentioning, props to MMC for going the extra mile in not purely relying on IDW fiction to sell the toy – like with their other Reformatted releases, included is a pack-in comic with their own fiction for the figure that’s honestly a decent enough standalone story.)
4 – Ocular Max Sphinx (G1 Mirage)
One of the things that’s become incredibly common in the unofficial toys market has been Masterpiece scale figures. EVERYBODY is doing them to the point that there’s a bit of “oh, joy, ANOTHER MP-scaled toy” going on, especially when typically there’s 2-3 companies making the same competing product (see FansProject’s Hound, for instance.) And so it’s always fantastic to see when a company does some sort of new twist, like with Mastermind Creations’ Ocular Max series – they’re MP scale toys, but specifically MP-scale toys based on the distinctive animation models used by Studio OX.
Sphinx is based off the animation model for G1 Mirage, and admittedly isn’t the first attempt at a Masterpiece-scale incarnation of the character – DX9 already made their own version, Invisible, which by all reports was pretty good. Mirage in fact was one of those characters I was prepared not to bother with getting an unofficial toy of, given he’s high-tier enough to inevitably get a TakaraTomy release down the road, but after seeing him in the display case at TFcon and reading the in-hand reviews/looking at photos, I had to jump on him (before the Canadian dollar made him even more expensive than it already has.)
The first thing worth talking about is the gorgeous altmode – MMC has put extensive attention to detail into this toy, recreating the sponsor labels on the original G1 figure that were in turn based off the original race car, while making some cheeky subtle changes here and there to cover their ass regarding trademarks. “Elf” becomes a very similar looking “Ell”, and in my favorite example, the Goodyear tires morph into tires manufactured by “Goooyear.”
In fact, the tires themselves are worth a brief writeup all to themselves, as it’s one thing that MMC put some manufacturing effort into – rather than actually being rubber tires, they are in fact a silicone-based material that supposedly will age far better than the rubber tires on Hasbro/Takara releases has.
Where this figure really stands out for me though is the transformation – it’s a Hasui-tier amazingly intuitive transformation that manages to be very straightforward but elegant, with lots of little satisfying touches here and there to put it into a great robot mode. Which, might I add, has some great articulation – shoulders are great, knees double-jointed, the wrists attached via a neat sliding mechanism that makes it possible for them to bend somewhat up and down like on actual human hands. The die-cast gives him some great heft that makes him feel super solid in one’s hands and he can pull off dynamic poses incredibly well.
If this toy has any glaring weaknesses, it would have to be joint tolerance. Some of the joints on mine are a bit looser than I’d like – it’s possible this could be adjusted with things like floor polish, but I haven’t really tried yet.
(Also, as a bonus, Sphinx on the first run ships with a parachute to homage the MTMTE 3 parter in the G1 cartoon. Which amazingly I haven’t opened yet so I can’t actually rate, but all indications are that it’s great for posing in photos.)
3 – Manga Mech Series Rear-End (IDW Tailgate)
That’s right – it’s a non-MMC product making it onto my list! After a strong initial entry into IDW-styled designs last year with their Trash Talk/Cogwheel 2 pack of IDW Swerve/Gears, MakeToys followed up with a new minibot – everyone’s favorite lovable mech, Tailgate!
There really isn’t a lot of fine points for me to gush on here about what makes this toy so very very good – I mean, get one in hand and you quickly see. Hyperposable, he’s a direct translation of the IDW design (unsure offhand if he’s a Nick Roche or Alex Milne, thus my lack of specificity), with a bang-on robot mode and an also accurate altmode. Like their Swerve, he also excels in having a super intuitive transformation – I can pick him up and transform him in no time at all, and feel satisfied in the process. With a great range of motion, Rear-End may not come with any accessories, but he doesn’t really feel like he needs any.
That said, he’s not without his add-on parts to pad out the box, and the most significant use thereof is a number of pieces that integrate onto the stellar Universe Cyclonus mold, replacing his head/hands and adding waist armor in order to evoke his design in MTMTE. Color matched to the Battle in Space variant of the mold (which best fits his IDW colors), the upgraded look is fantastic, and the figure even still transforms without the need to physically remove any parts! If there’s any negative to this, it’s that I wish they’d included a 2-horned head to reflect Cyclonus’ appearance from the end of S1 of MTMTE onward – the single horn is a neat touch, but now coming up on 2 years out of date.
Rear-End’s final bonus item is an alternate head that reflects Alex Milne’s amazing abilities to impart emotion on a visored and faceplated mech – his eyes flaring in a panic, it’s perfectly fitting for expressing the standard emotional range displayed by everyone’s favorite waste disposal expert.
(Not included with this toy, I should note, is the awesome hoverboard he acquires in season 2 – that accessory comes courtesy of Venksta’s TF accessory company, Renderform.)
2 – Reformatted Spartan (IDW Impactor)
The third MMC product on my list, I’ve been excited to get my hands on this mold since it got originally revealed. Impactor was a great character in both his Marvel UK appearances and in Last Stand of the Wreckers, so a toy based on his LSOTW appearance was a definite “awesome!” As a comic-only character though, this has meant a general short shrift on official Impactor toys – until the upcoming TFCC release in 2016 (a Combiner Wars Rook retool that looks pretty decent) the only toy he’d ever gotten was a mixed bag release in the Fall of Cybertron line. (Which was only mixed bag because while the sculpt was great it still had all the flaws of FOC Onslaught, plus an inverted color scheme that did more to invoke Mega-Octane from Car Robots/Robots in Disguise.
What I wasn’t expecting though was to enjoy it as much as I did when I threw it in my bag for the holidays. His compact little Metal Slugesque tank mode is a lot of fun to convert back and forth to what is an extremely accurate IDW robot mode, capable of a stellar range of motion with a killer headsculpt and bang-on colors. And from the accessories standpoint, he comes with a few neat ones – a replacement hand in case you don’t want his harpoon, a replacement drillhand to recreate his design in his pre-war mining days, and the very pistol with which he exterminated the Wreckers’ Decepticon counterparts, Squadron X, in cold blood.
Sure my notes on this guy are much shorter than some of the other toys, but the IDW accuracy + fun transformation makes for a good toy in my books. And when Wreckers writer/artist Nick Roche even has one of these, you know it’s gotta be good.
(As an aside, also probably deserving of this slot is MMC’s Commotus retool of the mold – with a similar transformation, the retooled parts/gunmetal deco make it instead into the splitting image of minor IDW Decepticon commander Turmoil. Which I would ( have had the CAD not decided to implode and force me to prioritize for the time being.
1 – Re:Master Series Visualisers (G1 Reflector)
One of the big things on my shortlist of Masterpiece-scaled toys I would LOVE to own has always been Reflector. The 3-in-1 concept and generic minion character design has always been one that I’ve loved, and because a) they’ve got a quirky design and b) they’re B-list Decepticon generics, it also makes them a candidate for “never actually getting an official Masterpiece-scaled toy anytime soon.”
Originally I was all hyped up for the one FansToys was working on, but then MakeToys decided to enter the Masterpiece-scale fray with this entry that did one key engineering trick that got my attention – making the camera lens disappear. On the FansToys design as well as the original toy, the camera lens came off as a separate piece – there was simply nowhere for it to go, after all, given it’s hard to get more generic robot than Reflector’s design. But Maketoys pulled it off by the awesome alchemy trick of having it split into three parts that then compressed and reformed onto the backs of the figures, allowing for some pretty great looking robot modes that each have slightly different transformations.
Quality control is great, the transformation is clever, and articulation is top notch on these guys – and the extra faces and camera flash rocket launcher make for great finishers on the overall package. Scale is dead-on to where it should be, and they look in place next to the rest of the crew on my increasingly packed Masterpiece shelf.
Only Shrapnel and Kickback to go before I’ve got the whole Season 1 Decepticon cast! (Though for people who dug the BadCube versions of them, that’s already a goal achieved.)
Anyway, in summation, 2015 was a fantastic year for unofficial transforming toys. Lots of strong entries came out this year, andI honestly feel awful that some stuff got cut from the list – for instance, MakeToys Cupola, which was not only a great MP-scaled Chromedome but available for a STEAL of a price at TFcon Toronto this year (seriously, I’m still astounded I got a toy that good for only $120 CAD with how the dollar was doing even then.) And 2016 looks to be great, with MMC’s anticipated Tarn, Overlord, Strika, and Nova Prime well on the way, more FansProject Headmasters coming, and who knows how many yet-to-be-unveiled projects.
And sadly, I’ll have to be even choosier next year with what I pick up, given how the dollar is faring…