Time for another one of these list things! This time, it being all of the various awesome unlicensed transforming toys made by companies that aren’t official by any means, but are (most of the time) of pre-existing characters. This list is honestly always one of the hardest ones to make, because of how many outstanding expensive entries there are in this field every year.
Interestingly, the hard part was once I got OUT of the top three. Those were pretty definitively set in stone as soon as I got those respective figures, which meant that it got HYPER competitive in all the other slots. I left out a lot of really good figures that I loved this year, like the X-Transbots G2 Stunticons and all of NewAge’s 2019 output, to name a few examples.
Like the official list, this one has ground rules too.
- Toy must have been purchased and received in the calendar year of 2019
- Toy does not have to have been released in 2019 to qualify – it can be something I only just got this year
- Five things plus an honorable mention of “something that’s not on the top 5 but deserves to be brought up all the same” are going to apply for each list.
And with those out of the way – onto the list proper.
Honorable Mention: Iron Factory IF-EX31 Dubhe
The pocket-scale figures DEMANDED an entry on this list no matter what. There’s so many fantastic offerings coming from Iron Factory and New Age that to NOT include them in some way, shape, or form would be unconscionable. The pocket scale has become one of the more space-conscious ways to be able to collect a large number of characters with fantastic transformation schemes, posability, and detail at a cheaper price than most 3P offerings.
And so it is that this representation of the leader of the Decepticon Justice Division, Tarn, made the list. Like MMC, Iron Factory decided to make the whole team – and unlike MMC, they were able to not only get them out within a year of each other, but also not have to worry about pesky problems like “how do you convince people to shell out several hundred dollars for a less prominent member of a team who needs to TOWER over his teammates for proper scale?”
In robot mode, he nails the look, much like MMC’s take on the character from a couple years ago did – just at a much smaller size. While MMC had a cleaner, better looking altmode, however, this one does not – not to say it’s not good! It’s just not AS good, because the Iron Factory designers got ambitious… and made the DJD team into an all new, original design combiner.
Now, here’s where this review gets tricky. As of when I’m writing this, I’ve since gotten the entire team and slapped them together into combined mode – but as of when my cutoff was, I was unable to do this because I only had 4/5 of the component robots. So I can’t really justifiably touch on that other than to say that it’s a really really solid “pocket scale” combiner that comes together surprisingly well for a quintet of designs that were NEVER intended to combine in the first place.
The biggest shortcoming that Dubhe had was his shoulder design – the quality control on his shoulders was NOT good. However, if you do indeed want to complete the team, there’s a fix for this – the subsequent 2pack release of their takes on Vos and Kaon includes replacement parts and directions for how to install them.
#5: Mastermind Creations Reformatted R-41 Ultio
It’s no secret Mastermind Creations remains my go-to “3P company that I want to shovel money towards.” And Reformatted had a banner year as usual, with a ton of great repaints and some cool new molds. DJD medic Nickel queuejumped ahead of her far more expensive remaining teammates to come out this year, and we got the second half of their very impressive Magna Inventa combiner – their take on Sky Lynx.
But the one that made the list was in fact a retool – and one that I’d been looking forward to since a past April 1 joke sparked enough interest to actually get consideration for a figure – that being, an extensive retool of their Aero Alpha (Wing) mold to turn it into the pre-war senatorial incarnation of the Decepticon Ratbat. This is in fact the SECOND toy that this particular iteration of the character has gotten – the previous one was an official retool of Generations Scourge released in Japan by TakaraTomy, and a quite effective repaint with a new head at that.
I just love the look of this toy. Senator Ratbat’s one of my favorite unique-to-IDW design concepts, and Ratbat’s up there on my favorites list thanks to his appearances in the Marvel comics as the accountant-with-too-much-power leader of the Decepticons (yes! a cassette! In charge!). Really a lot of credit with how GOOD this looks goes directly to Alex Milne and Josh Perez, without whom this toy would not exist as there’d be no design to inspire it.
#4: Mastermind Creations Ocular Max PS-15 Fraudo
While MMC’s Ocular Max subline of Masterpiece-scaled/styled releases had a number of figures I picked up this past year (and some I didn’t, though I kinda sorta want them still), their Assaultus project has had my eye since they first teased it a couple of years ago. The high concept of Alex Kubalsky’s “all-in-one” combiner design, where every combiner part is integrated into the transformation, is one that immediately piqued my interest, and as 2019 closed two of those team members had been released with another one soon to be on the way.
This was a genuinely tricky one to rank, because BOTH those toys – Impetus and Fraudo, their takes on Vortex and Swindle – are really good. In fact, I’d actually argue that Impetus is the more impressive of the two from an engineering standpoint, considering he has to hide a hand somewhere inside his body while Fraudo just has to turn into a block with an ankle tilt, thanks to the animation model for Bruticus having no separately defined boot feet. Not to mention Impetus has the var cooler (and VERY cleanly engineered) altmode.
But Fraudo wins out narrowly in my books because I love Swindle. It’s a good Swindle toy that has the animation body and altmode (which were not at all the same as that of the toy). And ultimately this is a list of toys that I personally loved, not which ones are objectively better toys.
Presently we’re on track for seeing the rest of the combiner in 2020 – their Onslaught is on the cusp of a pre-CNY release, and their Vortex is pretty close to being done in his test shot phase as far as I can tell. (And Brawl isn’t far behind; we’ve gotten early test shot images.) Once all together, he’s gonna look pretty incredible on a shelf.
#3: UniqueToys R-02 Challenger
Remember my whole speech in the Top 5 Transformers article where I went on about Studio Series serving up really good toys of movie designs I don’t like? This one’s similar to that. Except, mind, that I do genuinely like the design for AOE/TLK Optimus Prime. It’s not a particularly G1 design – there’s way more blue, and the chest did away with the iconic windows. But the proportions really pop, and it cleanly morphs into a robot that only vaguely suggests that it could feasibly turn into a truck.
Except, mind, the madmen at UniqueToys actually PULLED THAT TRICK OFF. It’s a hyperposable TLK Optimus that actually incredibly cleanly transforms into the truck mode with a VERY intuitive transformation in the movie Masterpiece scale. And the further icing on the top is his alternate face that’s got the sinister crimson eyes and facepaint of his corrupted “Nemesis Prime” incarnation where he very much embraces the unrepentant killer aspect of the movieverse Optimus (much to the clear chagrin of Peter Cullen, who was very much phoning in his performance for good reason.)
Both Vangelus and Jobby the Hong have highlighted this figure on their respective YouTube channels, and it’s definitely one to be messed with.
#2: FansHobby MB-06B Purple Power Baser
So you might remember how earlier in 2019, I got the MP-10 Shattered Glass Optimus Prime. Largely because I loved SSSS Gridman, which based a lot of its character designs off of the Shattered Glass cast (including Akane Shinjo, who was a clear SG Optimus homage thanks to the madmen at TRIGGER). It wasn’t the only Shattered Glass figure I picked up in 2019 – Iron Factory did an SG Optimus with an Apex Armor trailer, and the TFcon custom class was making an SG Megatron from Open and Play’s Big Cannon (which if you might recall made my 2018 list of top 3P figures). And as of writing this, I have an unbuilt FlameToys SG Optimus model kit…
And so anyway, I decided to buy this piece from FansHobby, which actually technically came out in December of 2018 as a SGC exclusive, but that I didn’t actually purchase until a few months ago. FansHobby being a company that’s had some really cool releases that up until 2019, I avoided spending money on (the other one being their 2018 Transmetal III Megatron homage). As a 3P they’re known for their toys being of high quality, and this Optimus is no exception.
It really is a gorgeous gorgeous toy when you get it out of the box and have it towing the Powermaster trailer. Then you transform the cab, and get a very clean MP-10 height Optimus Prime. Then you put it back into cab mode and start reconfiguring the trailer in order to give this SG Optimus some gorgeous and imposing Powermaster armor.
I still don’t know where this toy is going to live on my shelves. It’s been living on my kitchen table since I got it, more or less – it’s just so BIG. And it’s going to get even bigger, too – FansHobby’s take on Godbomber just came out, and unsurprisingly this also resulted in Nucleon Quest and Shattered Glass repaints of that to go with those respective releases, too.
I really need to find space for it.
#1: Jiang Xing MetalBeast-01 Winged Dragon
So I kinda teased this in the last article, when I mentioned that MP BW Megatron wasn’t the ONLY one to headline a Top X toys list.
This was the other one. I’ve been following this toy for awhile now – I believe it got announced back in 2017, and development has been VERY slow. There were points where I was wondering if it was still happening, and then they showed an update of the sculpt, or of the paint apps, and it very much all throughout was a “holy cow I can’t believe this is real, my shelves are NOT ready” feeling to it.
Anyway, that feeling is the same about the final toy. It is basically a PERFECT representation of Megatron’s final form in the Beast Wars – an animation accurate Transmetal II dragon with an insane wingspan and incredibly posable robot form. While Perfect Effect’s take on the TMII design was more of a reimagining/modernization, this just IS the CGI of the show copy-pasted into the physical world. Every inch of this toy is covered in paint and SO SHINY.
AND THE HEFT. UNF. The SHEER HEFT OF THIS THING because of all the diecast usage. As if the size wasn’t enough (40cm to the wingtips in robot mode IIRC), the WEIGHT is incredibly satisfying. It’s actually a little bit of a pain to transform him because of his heft, size, and wingspan getting in the way, but it’s not overly difficult or anything. Just cumbersome.
If this Megatron has a negative, it’s that it’s almost got TOO much paint for its own good. The manual even warns that some areas will have rubbing and the red paint can flake off to reveal a silver undercoat – however, on mine, after a couple of transformations, this is largely contained to tiny areas that are mostly not visible in robot mode anyway and not any of the key spots like the helmet or chest – if you’re mindful of how you mess with this, the flaking can be minimized. It won’t happen unless you transform the toy, really, and with a piece like this, you won’t be doing that much.
Also like Power Baser, I have NO IDEA where to display this guy. He is INCREDIBLY Detolf-unfriendly, between his weight and his wingspan. But so gorgeous… yesssss.
Next up on my listicles: My top 5 non-transforming toys! So figmas, Figuarts, Black Series… you name it!