Thursday, 24 October 2013

KFC Micro Robo (Magnificus)

Trigger lickin' good. /KFC jokes

I'm not supposed to like stuff like this. An unofficial, unlicensed Generations/Classics-style figure that not only impedes on the intellectual property of Takara under the Transformers banner, but also makes obvious reference to the holiest of the holy, pre-Transformers! It's a mould that has been pencilled in for repeated use (see Mugan Scope and Mugan Vox) and is Keith's Fantasy Club's first humanoid figure. "Micro Robo MC20" is, in the simplest recognisable terms, a 3rd Party version of a black Perceptor. 

The MC20 in the name refers to the 1980s Takara Micro Change Series MC-20 Micro Scope, a black, grey and red toy that would later become the Transformers G1 Perceptor, except in red and blue. E-Hobby released an exclusive G1 homage to the MC-20 in 2005, a Decepticon called "Magnificus" who was able to enlarge items through his own scope and was seeking revenge for past wrongs. Since then "Magnificus" has had another E-Hobby release as a repaint of Reveal The Shield Perceptor. 

That's the largest warning label I've ever seen on a TF-related toy

KFC's Micro Robo has a very interesting backstory printed on the rear of the box that references not only the Japanese Micro Change heritage, but also the E-Hobby Magnificus tech spec. Highlights include "released at the tail end of a cancelled Japanese toyline" and "literally pulled himself through his own matter-enlarging scope", but despite the nods, the character is spun as being a neglected toy in an aisle that adds other toys to his army of full-size robots. That characterisation, along with the tongue-in-cheek nods to the figure's history and the hilarious KFC company logo keeps one from taking the whole thing too seriously.

There's no question though, it comes in an attractive package. The contents include a giant IDW-inspired sniper rifle, two handguns, the most ridiculously hard to read instruction sheet I've ever seen, a decent enough collector's card, a nifty gold collector's coin & case with a distinctly All Hail Megatron #15 feel to it and a number of empty spaces in the plastic insert - maybe for accessories that come with future uses of this mould.

Darkness incarnate

All Hail Magnificus?

First impressions of the actual robot were that it was a little on the small and fragile side. This was a slightly biased view though as I am becoming increasingly caught up in the Masterpiece scaled Transformers revolution. The whole Classics/Generations explosion passed me by. Proportions are excellent and the light-piping for the eyes is, frankly, astonishingly good. The amount of darkness this figure exudes is palpable, and the slightly indistinguishable facial features thanks to colours chosen add to this effect. Compare with the reissue exclusive G1 Magnificus toy:

E-Hobby Magnificus and Microman-style partner Ga'Mede - pic courtesy of HighPrime

Excellent poseability a real plus

Ah yes, the gun...

The poseability of the robot mode is by far and away the greatest quality of the KFC Micro Robo. There seem to be an endless amount of stances and poses one can squeeze out of the figure. The legs are pretty solid, as are the shoulders, and Micro Robo can hold poses with relative ease. I found the most tricky part was getting the scope to stay in position, adjusting it often led to it popping out of its ball and socket joint on the figure's lower back.

See "Spotlight: Drift" and "All Hail Megatron" issue 15

Handgun holsters another classy touch

Micro Robo's weapons are another definite plus point. The idea for the gigantic sniper rifle that he comes with originates in the IDW comics where Perceptor has a near death experience in Spotlight: Drift, and the mini-arc comes to a conclusion in the fantastic All Hail Megatron issue #15. The short version is that Perceptor ends up with a rocking great sniper rifle, which maybe makes more sense released with the later Mugan Scope, but hey I'm not complaining about its inclusion here. The handguns are very stylish too, their inclusion augmented by the excellent holsters on Micro Robo's thighs. I can't ever remember owning another Transformer with this feature - but then I've been very insular in my collecting for years.

You lookin' at me?

How to make Perceptor look mean

The addition of these weapons and the generally excellent poseability of Micro Robo add enormously to the play value and displayability options. Morgan wasn't joking in his Mugan Scope review when he said the figure is truly difficult to leave alone, it's a real grower.

Many famous movie poses possible
What does he even need that scope for any more?

Yes, there are a fair amount of positives to this figure, and it can honestly be called a success in many areas. It would be dishonest of me to say that it's perfect though, and without flaws. On the particular specimen that I have reviewed, the chest plate/tray does not sit flush against the chest in robot mode and evokes nerves when moved. The scope piece is very tricky to keep attached when posing and the whole back-flap area is quite delicate.

Will they make a Blaster out of this mould too?

Far better robot proportions than the original G1 mould

Do not under any circumstances push beyond the point of increased resistance without a care in the world. Excessive force does not solve anything on this toy, take a pause and try again or try a different approach if something isn't fitting/moving as it should. There have been stories of broken Micro Robos - at the shoulders and also the aforementioned back flap. Getting the robot head to sit in exactly the right position for transformation, allowing the back flap to close properly, can also be difficult. Remember, don't push if something isn't fitting, you'll regret it!

Slightly fiddly transformation...

...leads to a tidy enough scope mode...

...but it's a shame the treads don't work.

I like the scope mode, I think it's just about good enough to be called a second mode. Initially I felt both the scope and tank modes were something of an afterthought, maybe resulting in the KFC Micro Robo being classified as a poseable statue which had 2 passable alternate modes that looked mostly like a kneeling robot with a hidden head. Much like the figure as a whole, the alternate modes have grown on me and once you are used to the fiddly nature of the transformation (things don't seem to stay aligned particularly well requiring constant adjustment) it's not that bad at all. The arms and legs depend on a small tab/hole combination to keep them in place but it's easy to undo that while holding one part of the toy to align another, and with the temperamental scope attachment, it can all get a little tiresome. As mentioned before, the instructions require a microscope themselves to properly follow - another humorous nod to the nature of the toy by the designers?

Let's face it, without the scope/turret, this could be anything

If the scope mode is passable, this really is pushing it

Because of the size of the figure generally, I feel a lot of compromises have been made that affect both alternate modes adversely. The dials on the scope and arms don't do anything besides act as ornaments, and the tank treads on the arms and legs are purely decorational too. While the latter is no different from the original G1/pre-G1 mould, this makes the tank mode the least believable of the alternate configurations. The lack of any small wheels or rolling parts further adds to its relative redundancy.

Prove me wrong kids, prove me wrong

If ever an evil character was not in need of a Decepticon sigil, this is it

Because of everything I have mentioned about the alt modes, I'd be hugely surprised to hear that any collectors display their KFC Micro Robo in anything but the standout robot mode. I did wonder why KFC chose to release the lesser known black repaint of Perceptor as the launch character for this mould, but maybe they were counting on fans jumping on the first release, letting the promotional pictures do the talking. After capturing their imagination, KFC would move in for the kill with the far more recogniseable Mugan Scope (Autobot Perceptor) with its IDW-style eyepiece and then the eternally popular Mugan Vox (Soundwave) and Badbat (Ratbat). Maybe that was their thinking.

As I said at the start, this really is not the kind of figure I normally like or go for, and first impressions didn't do a huge amount to alter that perception. On repeated handling, and especially during photography, I started to get the appeal of it and understand the achievements of the design. That said, I would have wished for the figure to be slightly larger with less ornamental nods and more functional peripherals/parts, and to be a little more sturdy under manipulation. The current pricing of Micro Robo will also act as a turn off for some too, but there are enough nice touches and promising qualities to not only make this a toy worth keeping, but also to create suitable anticipation and interest in KFC's future figures, helping to establish them as a recognised player on the 3rd party scene whose products have a style of their own.

Can definitely see some Soundwave in this mould

All the best

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Review: KFC's Mugan Scope (Perceptor)

Banksy would be proud

The Good
Initially I was very apprehensive about this release but once I had the toy in hand and first saw the beautiful job that KFC had done with the packaging, I thought I had perhaps underestimated Mugan Scope. Once out of the box, there's no other way to put it, this is an incredibly fun toy.

His is the wallet that says "Bad Mother F**ker" on it
From the thigh holsters to it's incredible level of articulation, this is one of those rare toys that actually makes me want to play with it. As one of those adult collectors who usually opens a Transformer, poses it and then sticks it on a shelf it's very rare for me to actually want to handle a toy extensively, especially as Masterpieces and Third Party aren't particularly cheap. Plus I'm clumsy. Very clumsy. 

We came here to smoke Cy-Gars and kick ass and we're all out of...oh wait, there's still one left.
Alone, Mugan Scope is pretty impressive but it really comes to life when alongside other Wrecker characters. While the sniper rifle gives him his badass look, the pistols are where it's at for posing the toy and making it look great. 

Big honking robot with big honking gun

There are a couple of neat little touches, like two heads being included so you can either have badass Wrecker Perceptor or you can have the original intellectual scientist version and just like the original G1 toy, Mugan is a triple changer with both microscope and tank modes.  

Microscope mode. Does it hold up to a closer view?

Tread carefully...

While some people have been negative about the tank mode, I personally feel it's decent and works well with the idea that Perceptor has re-engineered himself to be more combat effective, as we saw in the All Hail Megatron comics. 

The Bad
It's nitpicky of me, but Mugan Scope's wide chin gives it a very animated appearance. So while the rest of the figure looks stylised (much like Fansproject's offerings) the chin perhaps detracts from the figure if placed with Hasbro or Takara Classic figures.  

Can you see a difference?
On the subject of the head, as above, it was great that two heads are included but perhaps the lense over the right eye could have been somewhat more prominent, because as you can see above, there really isn't that much of an obvious difference between the two. In fairness, KFC have done an amazing job with the light piping so there is a striking difference between the two if there is light coming through the eyes.

Finally, while the price is about standard for a deluxe figure from a third party company, you can't help but feel that the price is about $10/£10/10 Euros too high.  

Which do you prefer?

The Ugly
The joints are nice and sturdy, but the shoulders especially need care when handled as they move in a very specific way and simply moving the arm out to the side without carefully manipulating the joint could snap the arm off. Not so much an issue, as something to be aware of.

Hold your breath around the shoulder cannon

That aside, the only real problem in this department is the shoulder cannon/microscope lense part. It definitely requires care because it is such a thin part and looks like it'd snap if it were sneezed on. The tiny balljoint is a definite issue as once it pops out, it will pop back into the socket but then constantly drop out. There's a very good reason why the pictures I took for this article don't have the cannon attached. So whatever you do, don't remove the ball joint from the socket!

KFC's first humanoid figure is a winner! A slight tweak to quality would be nice but the figure would need to remain the same price which is a big ask of such a new and small company. For such a small company to release a figure this good is very impressive and hopefully means that KFC will be a contender amongst third party companies once they've got some more experience. Mugan Scope is a definite buy for CHUG scale collectors or those who aren't interested in scale.

There's nothing more to say on this wonderful figure, so I'll leave you with some pictures that illustrate exactly how poseable it is. Give yourself a pat on the back if you get the relevance of the poses ;)

Friday, 18 October 2013

Original G1 Transformers Script - Megatron's Master Plan

Megatron's Master Plan, parts 1 & 2 - 1st generation original script copies
Donald done good

For those of us who found our way into the world of Transformers via the Sunbow cartoon in the mid-eighties, those episodes we remember from childhood still hold a very special place in our hearts and will forever be recognised as the gateway to the hobby we cherish today. In the UK, many of the episodes were not easily accessible and it wasn't until the mid-to-late nineties that a number of fans were able to view seasons 1 to 3 in their entirety, until then VHS tapes were like gold dust. Then the DVDs came and the VHS tapes became worthless. However, as one collector recently said to me wisely, we tend to now enjoy the episodes that we had as children the most. My favourite childhood G1 episode was Megatron's Master Plan, and thanks to, I now have the original G1 script for that episode, from Marvel Productions Ltd and written by Donald F. Glut.

Parts 1, 2 and additional/deleted scenes sheet
Cast sheet for speaking parts

This article will focus on the Megatron's Master Plan script, both parts 1 and 2, as well as the additional/deleted scenes sheets that this treasure came with. Masterforce have a stack of other G1 episode scripts, but I'll be comparing some of the key differences between this original script first generation copy that used to belong to story editor Bryce Malek (sent to him by Hasbro for editing), and the final production episode that we all know and love intimately.

Different dialogue to final episode throughout

From the very first scenes in the script, there are differences in dialogue and even sequence of events, albeit nothing major. The amount of visual detail and scene-setting evident in the script is just what you'd expect from such a document, and there are pointers to character traits with references to real-life character examples where necessary. Shawn Berger, the main human protagonist in the episode, is referred to as a "hefty, middle-aged, commanding 'Edward Arnold' type" - a famous American screen actor from the early 20th century. It's also interesting to note that Autobots Warpath and Smokescreen were originally intended to have speaking parts in this episode, but the final production version never featured any lines from them.
Shawn Berger
Those meddlesome robots

Those opening scenes where Starscream and the coneheads attack the solar energy facility being opened by the mayor are a great example of how much the original script was altered to suit television. First of all it was edited to exclude the below outlining of how Optimus and the Autobots acknowledge the mayor's call for help, in the cartoon they just show up shortly after the mayor says "Get me the Autobots". You can see Warpath's axed lines in the image below as well, along with Ironhide, Spike, Bumblebee and Prime's lost lines:

Lots of unused lines here

One of the key things that makes this script such a special item for me, aside from the above, is just how different the dialogue was in the final production cartoon that aired compared to this first gen. copy that Bryce Malek received, and obviously thoroughly edited. You can see the comment above from Bumblebee about how important "teamwork" is, and that somewhat juvenile lack of sophistication in the script dialogue is present throughout the whole document. In the cartoon, none of those lines are spoken, the Autobots arrive, Prime orders them to transform, then Tracks takes to the sky in order to "throw a little dark on the subject" - one of my favourite lines in the episode, and incidentally that was in the script!

Who doesn't love coneheads?
Warpath is speaking but we never get to hear it!

The unused mid-battle Autobot banter continues in the script page below, with Smokescreen giving Warpath some stick over his prediction of an easy fight after Thrust comes to Starscream's rescue. Again, no evidence of Thrust's eventual "Taste death, Autobots!" line in the original script. Optimus Prime was even supposed to chime in with an uncharacteristic "I'll bring that braggart down!" to which Thrust responds. Again, none of that made it to the final cut.

Prime spouting uncharacteristic stuff

This battle scene is probably one of the few I remember almost word-for-word and scene-by-scene from childhood because of how many times I watched it, and because I felt it was really well-constructed with an unforgettable soundtrack. The lines that were uttered during the fight were much fewer and far between than the script outlines, and I feel the final episode benefits greatly from the reduced volume of in-battle speech, and the higher quality of the dialogue used for the final cut. "Panic will defeat you, Dirge" is another of my favourites from the episode, spoken by Ramjet. That line was originally much simpler and far less memorable.

Typically submissive Starscream

While 80% of the dialogue spoken seems to be different to the final version of the episode, other differences can be more profound and interesting, such as a completely different character engaging in a scene or conversation in the script compared to the aired episode.

Hound and Spike, the love affair that never happened
Look! Masterpiece-accurate Bluestreak launchers!
One man and his bee.

When the Autobots are framed by Megatron and the public sees them as evil, during Sunstreaker's tirade the script portrays Hound as their main defender, implying a close relationship between him and Spike that we saw before in the More Than Meets The Eye pilot. By the time Megatron's Master Plan came to air, the relationship between Bumblebee and Spike was far more pronounced, and the final cut of the episode gives those lines to Bumblebee. Another indication of how decisions were made later that changed the direction of the show, and subsequently required further script editing.

Very serious

As mentioned before, in addition to the full scripts for parts 1 and 2 of Megatron's Master Plan, the set came with a few sheets detailing additional scenes, corrections and notes. These extra bits discuss the framing sequence where Decepticons dress up as Autobots to rob energy from an oil field. Hilariously, it goes to great pains to point out that since Starscream is wearing a disguise and acting as Optimus Prime, he should not be shown as one of the opposing Decepticons rescuing the humans...which of course in the episode final cut he is!

"WHAT REALLY IS HAPPENING IS..." that no one is paying attention
He was so fooled by the disguise that he turned up to fight himself

The "home movies" line from Dirge is also outlined in these additional notes, as well as a crossed out sequence where Optimus hurls a boulder at Megatron, knocking him backwards, whereas in the final cut Megatron is depicted as being more impervious to Prime's laser attacks. A delightful little nugget and insight into the thinking behind what was undoubtedly one of G1's classic episodes in my opinion.

Lost treasures
Notice Thrust wearing Dirge's bombs

One of the most amazing things about this script is the inclusion of a number of scenes involving the coneheads and Starscream which were completely omitted from the final aired cut of Megatron's Master Plan. These are not mentioned in the additional scenes and notes, they are in the script proper and were intended to be part of the story.

Saturday Night Starscream

After the Autobots are banished from Earth having been wrongly accused, the humans celebrate their new 'friends' the Decepticons with a parade and various special events around the city. There are a number of scenes involving Starscream, the coneheads, Soundwave and his cassettes mentioned in the script, of which only one featuring Soundwave and his minions survived the cutting room.

You are being deceived

The first is Starscream on a chat show with a "Slick Johnny Carson type" host asking him about a potential career in Hollywood and feature films, but the real standout omission for me is a scene describing Dirge, Ramjet and Thrust opening a supermarket and signing autographs for their adoring fans. The whole scene is an exercise in juvenile hilarity and I desperately wish we could have seen it animated in the actual aired episode had it survived the edits. "Autograph sounds too much like Autobot!". Brilliant stuff.

How about the time Optimus drove into your face?

A very interesting decision because the final episode edit seems to feature the coneheads wherever possible in favour of older characters, even Starscream (we'll see later), but this whole scene was taken out, undoubtedly due its slightly childish and comical nature. As a whole, I think the tone of Megatron's Master Plan is less silly than some of the removed scenes would imply.

Watch this scene. Now try to get the song out of your head.
More examples of speaking lines being axed or changed can be seen below, where Bluestreak's lines were removed from the shuttle scene with the Autobots heading into the Sun. Eventually, all conversation on the shuttle ended up being between Prime, Ironhide, Hound, Cosmos and Cliffjumper - with one or two things uttered by Bumblebee and Huffer.

Bluestreak has always been underused
Hound's last stint as travel agent

The script outlines how the camera should linger on Trailbreaker - the eventual hero of the piece thanks to his forcefield - but the final edit never gives the game away so obviously. Maybe another example of how the slightly immature first draft of the script was improved?

Welcome to D.C., Decepticon City!

Generally, part 2 of Megatron's Master Plan is where the differences are more pronounced, not just in dialogue but in actual events and scenes being changed, removed or added between the script and the final aired episode. For once, in the above/below scene, the script seems to have a slightly more believable approach to the dialogue, with Dirge christening the conquered city as "D.C.: Decepticon City" as opposed to the cartoon where Megatron names his prize "Megatronia 1".

No spoken lines by Dirge here

It's amazing how just a few seconds of visual scene-setting when animated can equate to almost two whole pages of descriptive text. The below sequence detailing the enslaving of the humans for energy mining is a great example in this epsiode:

2 Pages of descriptive text...
...a mere 10 seconds of footage.

Up until now we've only discussed scenes from the script that didn't make it to the screen, but there is one example of a whole sequence of scenes being added to the episode that were not ever present in the first script or even the additional notes!

Added for cartoon, never in script

The whole chain of events where Chip Chase decides he needs to get to Teletraan 1 - by first getting Spike to incapacitate Rumble as a diversion and then rolling on out of the power station - does not exist in this iteration of the script. One wonders if the scenes featuring Starscream on TV and the coneheads opening a supermarket were cut to accommodate Thrust's chase of Chip.

A burnt out wreck
Reject parts

It makes sense that the editors/writers would include these scenes with Thrust chasing down Chip to Teletraan, only to destroy it and give power back top Cosmos, thereby facilitating the return of the Autobots, because in the script their recovery is all a little too simple. Introducing Thrust and Chip's segment into the story allowed the writers to maintain suspense and danger for the Autobots even after Trailbreaker's heroics, as well as link the destruction of the shuttle and the return of the Autobots in a more staged way, rather than the rapid depiction outlined in the script. It also put more spotlight on Thrust and the coneheads, fulfilling season 2's role of selling more Transformers toys. Worked on me, I was a huge Thrust fan and lapped up every second of dialogue he was given in G1.

The return of Optimus Prime
Vintage Megatron

The final battle between the Autobots and Decepticons progresses on screen much as it does in the script, and that shouldn't be too surprising as it's the defining battle of the whole 2-part story arc. Much of the dialogue is similar too.

The gang's all here
Seaspray and Gears, turning the tide

One last alteration to the episode reminds us what the focus of the whole piece was yet again, the script describing the Decepticons' retreat in detail but saying that the camera should linger on Starscream. The final cut shows the camera focusing on Thrust as he is the last to transform and join the retreating horde, making reference to the newer toys requiring advertisement and also to his enormous part in the outcome of the story -  a part written in at a later stage than this original script.

Buy me!

The concluding page of the script concentrates on how Shawn Berger should be spared heavy punishment because at one point he tried to save Spike from Ravage and Laserbeak, and it is referred to more than once in part 2 of the episode. This is quite representative of the values and morals that the writers were trying to embed within episodes and the public service announcements (remember "teamwork"?). Yet again, the animated version does away with this a little bit and instead portrays Berger as a man repentant but ultimately having to face justice.

"From now on we'll always trust our friends..."

So there it is, a comparison of the original Megatron's Master Plan 2-part script and the final edit that made it to animation. We've had deleted scenes, added scenes, characters that never spoke with long-forgotten lines and even bizarre comic relief that may never have come to light were it not for the discovery of these absolutely historic and significant masterpieces. Reading these documents from cover to cover and watching over my favourite episodes has been a great experience, one akin to holding your cherished childhood G1 toy next to a prototype. A reminder of what could have been and how what we have come to adore so much was built up layer by layer.

Roll for home
Who says the cartoon models don't resemble the toys?
All the best