Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Test, test, this a test...shot

Transformers animated deluxe arcee rare prototype

Today we are looking at something a bit special, with three quite unique pieces.

We have a test shot of the recent Gold version of Masterpiece MP-O5 Megatron.

Following that is grey test shot of Age of Extinction Leader class Grimlock.

Last up, and probably the pick of the bunch for most people, is a test shot of the deluxe Transformers Animated Arcee figure, which was used for the packaging photography,

So an electic bunch of toys from a wide variety of lines and all are figures I have never handled before. Yay to new experiences!

transformers Masterpiece Megatron grey test shot

Masterpiece Megatron was the third Masterpiece toy in the line, and as such is intended to scale with the large MP 01 Optimus Prime. Forever the Black Sheep of the Masterpiece family, the figure that usually provokes the reaction of "we need a replacement". From cosmic rust, to strange proportions and obscenely fragile parts - it does not hold the greatest of reputations and is the only one that struggles to hold its place in the Masterpiece line.

The story goes that Masterpiece designer Hisashi Yuki designed Masterpiece Megatron in just 12 short days. Less time than it takes to...okay I am drawing a blank on that. Such a rushed schedule clearly lead to many compromises, and so Megatron came to exist as the ugly duckling of the Masterpiece line - despite many quite ingenious engineering tricks

masterpiece megatron face

Here we have an unpainted test shot of the recent Gold re-release of the figure, so nothing is different mold wise from the previous releases. However we get to see the figure in its rawest form, as a stark, grey prototype.

Artwork frequently used throughout G1, particularly on his toys box art, depicts Megatron with a Gold chest and there is is also the cartoon episode the Golden Lagoon, which sees Megatron go for a swim in a puddle and emerge encased in Gold and invulnerable. I wonder if these were the inspiration for the otherwise random shiny Gold deco this Megatron's offspring were destined to be covered in.

But maybe, it is just Hasbro Asia being a bit fancy to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Transformers - I suspect that is the case.

transformers masterpiece megatron prototype

Megatron is one of only two Masterpiece molds I have never held before (the other being Rodimus which is rapidly turning into something of holy grail of mine) and handling this didn't make want to run out and change that.

Whilst the test shot can transform into a replica Walther P.38 I did not manage to do so as some of the joints scared me with their tightness and a couple of pieces popped out without me knowing how or why they felt inclined to do so. The legend that is Morg said to go ahead and try anyway, but I did not want to break someone elses toy - which would have been just my luck at the minute.

masterpiece megatron gun mode

The rougher edges on the engraved "P.38" give it an almost eerie quality which make this feel like it has not just fallen off a production line.

Using flat, brutal looking Gray plastic makes Megatron look closer to how he appeared in the cartoon, and the colours dress him more like the Microman concept model which Megatron's animation design and colours spring from.

So it feels like the most accurate of the Masterpiece Megatron releases so far, which is quite amusing. The colours are much better on this without the bling gold, or shiny silver.

It feels a bit more subdued, and that works to give him a bit more gravitas as a character toy.

Megatron's proportions have always been this toys downfall, because they are a complete mess. As mentioned before the designer only had two weeks to design this figure, and it is a rare example of a misstep from Takara with them rushing to force a toy out in a ludicrous timescale.

Perhaps it is responsible now for Takara enforcing a much longer production time on its Masterpieces, and why they are often delayed (like Tracks is right now).

This figure though is...aesthetically challenged. The head looks massive on that body, the face shrinks into a giant helmet which is too squared off for its own good. The head and chest look enormous in comparison to the spindly arms and legs which themselves look really long.

All of the details are there, but it is like it has gone through a fun house mirror filter first to make it look like it does.

Adding his fusion cannon to his arm only serves to compound the problem as it looks comically over sized.

megatrons accessories as they come with the test shot

The test shot comes with some of the accessories the final toy did, but in different colours. Instead of a bright Purple translucent plastic or yellow for Kremzeek, they are all produced in clear plastic for this prototype phase.

Lacking colour, it is a bit tougher to discern the details on these pieces, especially Kremzeek's facial expression because they just blend in but they do look a bit nicer. I adore the shade of light shade of Purple used on the flails chain, which did make it through to the production figures.

His little pistol that he uses to shoot Optimus Prime to death in Transformers the Movie is also present, and it is easily the best choice of weapon for him as it is the only one that does not look a bit awkward.

masterpiece mp05 takara

As a test shot, I find myself liking this far more than any other iteration of Masterpiece Megatron. The toning down of all of the colours makes it look far more like Megatron and pulls him back from otherwise looking a little gaudy as the retail and Gold versions ended up.

I may not like Masterpiece Megatron, but this version easily appeals to me the most and feels closer to the source material than any of the actual released products did. What the designer did in just two weeks is actually quite incredible, but then balanced against it being an actual released figure...it needed far more time and refinement.

Tight joints may have prevented me from transforming it, but as a new experience it was both fun and frightening. When things pop off and you don't know why, it is the toy equivalent of something going bump in the night. You know something is wrong, but you have no idea where or what the source of it is and you start to panic.

Generation 1 Megatron is a strange looking robot, which zany proportions and a crotch that would make Ron Jeremey blush, so it makes sense that his Masterpiece toy suffers a similar fate. Strange proportions are G1 accurate, even though where that toy was squat and strange, this one goes completely the other way by being lanky and spindly.

To this day we are still awaiting the perfect G1 Megatron, No one seems to be able to get it quite right which may be purely down to the struggle of trying to convert an animation model from 30 years ago into a three dimensional model that can then fold in upon itself and turn into a realistically sized hand gun. If you thought it was tough idea to swallow in fiction, it has proven immeasurably tougher for toy makers in real life.

Leader class AOE Grimlock

Anyone who reads my blog regularly (and if you aren't you should be - feed my ego)  will know that I do not like the live action movies (except the first one) and the toys even less so.

My eyes see them as a mess, and my brain agrees and chastises me every time I force them to watch one of the movies.

So of all the things that were in the box of delights that Morgan kindly sent me to look at, I am stunned that this was my favourite and caused me to consider actually handing over money for some movie figures, in the form of those Platinum Dinobots that are coming along soon (yes, I know the Grimlock is a different mold but it's a much more palatable first step).

Michael Bay famously said that he didn't like the Dinobots, in fact he said he hated them, so with that man's record of daft statements it was inevitable they would one day show up. Sure, show no respect for things your audience like, it's cool man.

Why do we keep putting money in this mans pocket?

No, this is not a Black repaint, what you are looking at is a test shot of Age of Extinction Leader Class Grimlock. Completely unpainted, it is produced in a lovely to the touch feeling dark grey plastic. It does not feel soft, but it does not feel the same as Hasbro production plastic.

When designing Grimlock for the movie, the designers opted to bolt on the Knight of Cybertron stuff from the comics, and gave each of the designers a warrior style appearance.

They seemed to take the actual concepts of ye olde Knights and fashion it into something that could turn into robotic Dinosaurs. This is actually a really cool idea, and here he comes across as possibly an undead shadow barbarian.

So if you look at the figure, you can pick details that are clearly there to evoke a savage looking suit of armour. There's lots of detail to be found, and there are also a lot of gaps and holes- but they are more a result of the design aesthetic than Hasbro's cost cutting.

Grimlock comes with a rib cage on a stick (a mace?) and an arm mountable bone saw that has a toothbrush on the top.

I kid, I kid, I believe it is supposed to be a shield but it has too many gaps to be effective as that, and it is also covered in spikes which suggests instead of a defensive weapon - Grimlock uses this to hurt people.
But then everything is covered in spikes.


I mean look at those spiky shoes - is he a demonic Aladdin?

People evidently go for this sort of thing, otherwise the movies would not be as obscenely successful as they have been and Bay's at least pulled back a little from the hyper detail and mass of parts that plagued the first 3 movies and made it really difficult to focus on the actual robots. There's no bits just hanging off, nor does the robot look animal like - he has a fairly spot on humanoid figure which is all I want Mike.

Grimlock feels toned down in that sense, and it makes a massive difference. I didn't care for his colour scheme as it was painted on to the actual mass released figure, but here the dark Grey helps to smooth over the detailing and makes it feel more focused.

For a test shot, all of the joints are really nice and tight, and he has a nice balanced weight. He is really fun to pose with clickey ratchets, and articulation that lets you get some really good poses out of him.

transformers age of extinction grimlock prototype

I am a huge fan of the blocky G1 Dinobot's - so it stands to reason that Bay gave us a horny Skeletal nightmare T-Rex.

Yes, apparently it is a T-Rex, but with horns. Even though the odds are impossibly stacked against it, I quite like it. It is big, weighty and it was not tough to transform at all, bar some weirdness with rotating things multiple times, in multiple places to create the stomach. There was some rubbery stuff around the robots neck that I had no idea where that was supposed to do, so hopefully it went...somewhere....during the transformation.

He is definitely Skeletal, but looks seriously mean and definitely metal \m/

I could happily just have him in this mode for life, and I imagine like me you are hearing the roar of the Jurassic Park T-Rex now. That sound makes me like this more, even though it is not coming from it...

Whilst the joints have all been great so far, the test shots Dino feet are a little loose  so he tends to rock forward and took some delicate balancing to prevent a face plant.

Fortunately, the joint is just a screw, so tightening that should completely solve the problem if needs be..

Age of extinction leader grimlock test shot

I think being a test shot, the lack of colour works for it, because it automatically tones down the details, gaps and all of that stuff. It makes it look like a more cohesive mass of spikes and parts.

As I mentioned at the start, I scoffed at the idea of a movie toy originally but as I handled it I grew to really quite like it as a toy or more specifically as a test shot. Everything feels solid and the plastic is lovely and fun to handle.

Now I am going to be shelling out money for the upcoming Platinum release in G1 Dinobot colours and with new G1 style heads.

Who am I? I don't know anymore.

transformers animated arcee action figure

Animated Arcee is a figure I have always wanted to own, even though Transformers Animated did nothing for me as a toy line or a show.

This was the first Arcee figure that was specifically homaging the Generation One character who up to that point had never gotten her own toy. Collectors were picking up this figure to fill that void on their shelves, even more than for it being an Animated toy, and so it became quite valuable - even more so as one of the last Animated toys which saw a more limited release, plus it was shifted to being a Toys R Us exclusive.

I did not just want it because it was a great looking G1 Arcee toy, noooooo, it just looked like a fantastic toy to play with in a line of toys that had not grabbed me.

arcees kibble or lack thereof

So what is this then? Well Morg reliably informs me it is a coloured test shot that was used for toy photography by Takara (TFW2005's coverage of the unveiling and the complaints about the colour can be read here).

Cool, so why should that mean anything? Ha, many figures are still undergoing their final colour layouts at this point so you often see minor or major changes to the final product. Toys very often vary from their packaging - just take a look at G1 Bluestreak's stock photography for an early example. Animated Arcee's stock photos show her in a sparkly pink colour and with a different spoiler design.

Whilst there is nothing quite as egregious here, there are a handful of subtle differences that make this unique and probably quite desirable amongst collectors.

transformers animated prototype used for packaging photography

Arcee's face on this test shot is painted in red, and stands out strongly. During the manufacturing process, this was switched out for a much pleasanter pink.

Her abdomen, upper arms, wheels and  upper thighs are painted in brown, but when the figure was released black had replaced it on the US version while Takara's still had brown forearms and abdomen but the other parts were switched to black, apart from her feet which Takara changed to pink.

I am not sure why they used brown on the test shot, as the animation model featured black.

A retro feeling shines through with the brown though, because I can't look at it without thinking of Chromedome, and brown is a very 80's colour anyway. Oddly G1 Arcee was planned for release as a Headmaster, who would have been a repainted Chromedome with a new head.

I am only going by pictures, but I think the pink plastic on this test shot is a few shades darker than the final release which seems to be much lighter.

transformers animated arcee deluxe figure

I could not tell you if the test shot has tighter or looser joints compared to the released figure, as I have never handled one, but this is a very fun to pose but sturdy bot. Animated's aesthetic never appealed to me, but with Arcee it seems to click. 

Arcee has a very playful feel to her, the sculpt is rendered in such a way that lends itself to all sorts of fun posing. She can pull off super ninja warrior poses, stroppy teenager poses and all sorts of others. The darker, muddier colour tones on this test shot make her feel a little edgier and angrier than the more perkier looking toy that made it to stores. Using red on the face suggests anger and rage, whereas the pink of the final products already young looking face makes her seem more playful. Oddly the stripes on the head are still pink.

Star Wars informed Floro Dery's designs for Transformers the Movie (as if the movie was not already borrowing heavily from Lucas's films), and Arcee's head is inspired by Princess Leia's bagel style hair do. Perhaps that's where the inspiration for the laser swords comes from?

Speaking of which, those swords add a lot to the posing potential, and are produced in a clear Blue plastic that matches the final version.

Animated Arcee does suffer from a design flaw where the swords being inserted into her hands almost always cause stress marks to the thumbs, and when I took her from the box I saw the stress marks were already there. A sinking feeling came over me, as this is one toy I was really keen to transform. The futuristic space car alt mode is one of the very few times I think Hasbro has perfectly captured what I would want from a futuristic Cybertronian vehicle since Generation One (oh those glorious Targetmasters, how I pine to own you once again).

I could have tried to transform it, and it would have probably been fine, but the way her hands peg in to create the alt mode I didn't want to take that kind of risk. Not only is it someone else's toy, but it is such a unique piece of history that I would prefer it be preserved rather than die at my hands.

Pictures of Arcee's alt mode are available online, so for now I will continue to gaze longingly at the them, whilst telling myself I can't really justify eBay prices.

So there we have it, we travelled through three 3 different Transformers lines, taking a look at some test shots, each has its own tale, and it was fun to learn where each piece fit into its line respective history. I don't collect curios like this, lord knows my wallet could not handle it, but it is nice to experience them and get a peek at how products evolve through the production process.

Thanks to Masterforce for providing me with the opportunity to inspect them.

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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Masterforce Interview: Maz

Masterforce owner, Morgan, had a chance to catch up with Maz recently and below is the resulting interview.

Maz is someone I've known now for about 15 years, meeting him as he started collecting again as an adult and currently I count him amongst my closest friends. Since we first met he has gone on to become known as an expert on Diaclones, Joustra Diaclones, Minibot variations, MB variations, non-English language variations, Transformers Animated and pretty much anything you can care to name. Having written some of the fandom's most comprehensive documents and regular articles, he can regularly be found on the TFW2005 boards answering the harder questions fans post...but just don't ask him about Swerve...

My intent was a 1,000 word interview but in all honesty, how do you cram so much into so few words? There are more famous names in the fandom but what isn't often appreciated is that before writing their books that then appear on Amazon, those more famous names have enlisted Maz's help for fact checking, filling in blanks or use of materials. Interviewing someone with encyclopaedic knowledge who has contributed so much to Transformers history in just 1,000 words is a bit of an insult. I also feel that splitting the interview into multiple parts would spoil the flow of it so grab your drink of choice and get comfortable.

Q. Thanks for doing the interview, please tell readers unfamiliar with you a bit about yourself.

A. My name is Maz, I'm 35 and I'm a UK Transformers collector and fan. I've been a member of the Transformers fan community since 1998 and soon after that started to contribute properly as a writer of articles and reviews online. I have written for a number of toy collecting websites and blogs in that time such as Masterforce and TFSource Blog, as well as for my own TF-1 site and Transformers Square One blog. I've also contributed photos of toys and artwork scans to a handful of official Transformers publications. 

Q. How did you first become aware of Transformers and what was your first toy?

A. I first encountered Transformers via the 3-part pilot cartoon episode Arrival From Cybertron VHS (More Than Meets The Eye in the US) and the bit-part episodes we got on UK terrestrial TV. 

On a trip to a large London Toys 'R' Us in what must have been 1986, I was staring at Teddy Ruxpin dolls when my mum told me that my brother had already found The Transformers. I saw the wall of Generation 1 toys, nothing was ever the same after that! The first Transformer bought for me that day was Starscream.

You even got Robot Points for the videos

Q. Unlike a lot of Transformers fans in the UK you never read the UK comic, did it not appeal to you?

A. For the most part I didn't even know it existed! I would see the odd cartoon and that was it. This was part of the reason VHS episodes in the UK were such gold dust in the 90s for me, they were a gateway to new unseen Transformers fiction. Downloading all the G1 episodes online in 1999/2000 was amazing. But back to Marvel UK, I just wasn't aware, and the few Marvel US issues I had bought in the 90s in and amongst my superhero comic titles did not inspire me to investigate further. The only UK comic I've ever owned as a child was the Headmasters era story I bought at the same time as my Headmaster Apeface. I was confused as to where all the cartoon characters I knew and loved had gone, I didn't recognise anyone. Never pursued it any further after that.

Most of us in the UK were traumatised by this in 1988. Maz experienced it in 2002.

Q. Did you stop collecting at any point or did your interest carry on into adulthood?

A. I stopped being interested in Transformers right around the start of Micromasters. I believe the last Transformers toy I received was Micromaster Skystalker. I didn't buy another Transformer again until 1998 and a boxed Mexican Snarl. 

Q. Were you ever interested in Beast Wars or the lines following on from G1 and G2?
A. I never did take an interest in Beast Wars (do remember being amused by the TV adverts and the names, and what Transformers had morphed into), 1990s G1 or G2. It's only in the last year or so that I've started to go back and discover everything I'd missed, things like the incredibly nice Turbomaster Rotorstorm. 

Q. So when you started collecting again as an adult what were your immediate goals?

A. Same as most collectors, get the significant G1 Transformers characters and toys I never managed to convince my parents to buy me as a child. The first goal was to pick up G1 Ramjet, the only seeker neither me nor my cousin had as a child. A collector's store in South London, and later Offworld and my first exposure to regular Internet in late 1998/99 really opened my eyes to what I could have. Toys like Devastator, Shockwave, Megatron, Swoop, all the Dinobots, stuff I had never seen as a child.

Maz would eventually own a production sample Ramjet.

Q. What led to your interest in Diaclone?

A. Actually Morg I think you are directly responsible for this one! You introduced me to the Yahoo Diaclone Group about 14/15 years ago after I met you through Skywarp.co.uk (archived at www.mywar.co.uk) for some trades, and I was immediately drawn to the rainbow colours of the pre-G1 Autobot cars, the Diaclone Car Robots. Seeing my favourites in 'new' colours caused me to abandon my aim of completing the G1 cast and focus on variants and pre-TFs, directly influenced by what the people on that group were buying and talking about. Their websites, which were very popular at the time, very much decided my direction. 

Q. How did becoming aware of the world of Diaclone, Microman, Microchange and international variants change your collecting habits and interest in the hobby?

A. It caused me to completely abandon my hunt for the standard G1 cast. As a result I have owned many rare variants and discovered never before seen international versions of Diaclones, MC toys, TFs etc but it also means I have never owned bread and butter TFs like Blaster, Octane, Sandstorm, Trypticon, Fort Max, Sludge, Abominus, Menasor, Superion, Deluxe Insecticons, Whirl, Roadbuster, Doubledealer etc

I wouldn't change it though as it allowed me to see a part of the hobby many collectors will never experience, allowed me to have some degree of identity in the online community, helped by the writing I have done in the Pre-TF field for years. 

Q. When we set up Autocon would it be safe to say that being away from the hostility of ATT gave you an opportunity to share your opinions and started you down the road to writing?

A. Yes, that's a very fair assessment. It also allowed you and I to try and recreate the feel of the Yahoo Diaclone group and avoid the animosity that was starting to build up there. Being the group co-founder allowed me the confidence to start as many conversations, discussions and polls as I wanted and this led to getting to know a lot of good people well. We did some great work in Autocon, work that we felt nobody outside the group really cared about at the time, but we all shared a mutual interest in. We busted that ring of fake reissue lucky draw Black God Ginrai sellers too. 

(Masterforce note: ATT - Alt.toys.transformers - a now defunct newsgroup which was, for a long time, the only way to communicate with other Transformers fans on a large scale. Forums didn't always exist kids!)

The love of racing is apparent

Q. You set up your website TF-1.com in 2005, was the name inspired by your not so secret love of Forumla 1 racing?

A. That was more of a happy coincidence! What was even more coincidental was the background colour for the website had the code F1F1F1! It was more a reference to being at square one, the first place, due to so much of my writing being pre-Transformers related, and could also be seen as a new start for me where I was completely in control of how my work was presented and catalogued. 

Q. What led to you drifting away from Transformers?

A. In 2003 I took a year away, although it was meant to be a permanent departure. I had grown very disillusioned with the people on our group and I found myself becoming more and more disenchanted with the direction the hobby was going, or rather my corner of it. The new toys weren't appealing to me and that combined with real life drama in personal relationships and work meant it was hard for me to sustain interest in the hobby. I sold off many many nice things, keeping only a reissue Tigertrack and White Astrotrain as souvenirs. I came back in 2004 thanks to you discovering that the legendary black Tracks was from Finland, this led to the creation of TF-1 and a rebirth of my collecting and involvement. After 2 BotCons, the first live movie and meeting my wife to be I drifted away again in 2008, selling much less this time, keeping my Ceji Joustra Diaclone which was rapidly becoming my signature interest and collection. Another Diaclone Tracks (Ceji Joustra) brought me back in 2011. 

Q. In the interim years you were one of the best competitive Gran Turismo players and started professionally writing about motor racing, how did that come about?

A. I've always loved Gran Turismo, since its inception in 1997, and since I was so active online after Transformers I was able to discover the GT community. I felt compelled to compete and compare myself to all the other players online (we all believed growing up we were the best GT player as we whipped  all our mates regularly) and I realised how far off the best I was. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue was the catalyst for my deep involvement in the GT community and competitions, racing online against other people for the first time. I bought a simulation driving wheel and pedal set as well as a stand, learned how to do what the best were doing and started to compete properly. Making the second UK GT Academy finals was a major achievement for me and having the odd world record lap time was enormously satisfying. My time in GT Academy led me to work with the organisers in being a link to the community, writing articles and interviews for GTPlanet initially and then officially for Sony and GT in a very small capacity. I also helped structure the national finals a number of times and was staff at the events, eventually supervising the running of the gaming part of the UK finals and other related events. 

Q. Is that still something you write about or would be interested in pursuing?

A. I would but I'm well out of touch. The racing gear has been sold as after having our daughter the time for gaming vanished. I don't think I've played any games regularly since 2012. I haven't bought a game since 2011. I briefly tried the 2013/14 academy and was so off the pace it was funny. Ultimately the work was amazing fun and the events I had the privilege to take part in, including a brilliant Red Bull and Mercedes event in Austria, were valuable but I've not been able to connect the dots and have it positively affect the direction of my career in that field. Motorsport journalism ended up being savagely difficult to break into even with the very best recommendations from people on the inside. 

(Note from Masterforce: Maz's published work was unavailble at this time but his old blog about Formula 1 can be read here)

GT-R Megatron

Q. Did you ever consider making the switch from video games to actual racing? Do you think it's something you could have been succesful at?

A. No haha, as much as I'd love to think I could have, at my age even in 2008 I was well past it. I've never been an athlete and despite the many many hundreds and thousands of hours I put into becoming one of the top gamers, I could always tell there were others with a natural ability that set them apart. Maybe if I'd started much younger and started driving earlier. 

Q. While Transformers were on the backburner, you still had a special relationship with Transformers because it ties into meeting your wife?

A. The 2007 movie was initially responsible for me meeting my wife in a way, as the premiere of that film at BotCon 2007 meant Paul Hitchens (The Spacebridge) and I decided to be at BotCon that year and then to NYC afterwards for a few days. That's where I met my wife. I remember watching Animated on the plane to and from Iceland a lot when I was not yet living with my wife-to-be and I did buy the odd thing in Icelandic stores. The first present I ever gave her was a Slumblebee that first time we met as she came to say bye when we were leaving NYC.

Maz's daughter: making the internet collectively 'awwwwww'.

Q. What brought you back to Transformers collecting?

A. In 2004 it was an email from you which went something along the lines of "Oi c*ntface, check this out" and it was evidence of the Diaclone Black Tracks being from Finland, and in 2011 it was Argus or Martin Lund showing me that someone had found a boxed Ceji Joustra Diaclone Red Tracks. 

Q. At what point did you start writing again?

A. TFSource approached me around April 2011, a month after I came back, and asked me if I'd be interested in doing weekly articles for their soon to launch TFSource Blog. I had a choice of what I wanted to write about initially and it seemed a good way to get involved in the hobby and get my work out there again. There was decent reward in it too, so win win! I think by September 2011 everything was in place and the Source Blog went weekly. 

Q. Was the fandom a different place when you came back to it?

A. Yes, very much so. Dishearteningly so, at first. I didn't know any of the Diaclone or variant big hitters any more and was out of touch with the budget required to be a part of the hobby. So much had happened in the community and the TF industry since I'd been away and a lot of my old mates had since left the hobby. Ironically my articles were better known than ever and this had the effect of getting more people interested in what I was writing about years ago, meaning competition for toys was higher than ever. I couldn't compete and initially had difficulty accepting that the toys I loved the most were the ones I could least afford. A lot of people had more impressive collections than I did which was fine as I was happy to rebuild, but availability and inflated prices soon instilled in me a sense of reality. I'd never be able to achieve my pre-TF goals. So it was a case of expanding my interests or being satisfied with what I had. It was also strange that the flavour of the month was not something I had any knowledge of or connection to.

A real Corvette Stingray would cost less than these two.

Q. You were known as the main source of information on variations, specifically Minibots. Have you ever been met with the same hostility about variants like Daniel Vink was?

A. I was never met with hostility as by the time I started to document and research variants and TF history, people like Daniel and yourself had laid foundations. The worst thing I had to contend with was apathy. Apathy towards my writing and my areas of interest. 

(Note from Masterforce: Daniel Vink was a Dutch collector known online as Devvi who discovered and publicised the first known examples of Marlboor Wheeljack, the MB red Tracks, Joustra Diaclones and many Minibot variants. Unfortunately he was met with vast amounts of hostility from mainly US collectors who felt that The Netherlands couldn't possibly have so many Transformer variants as the US was the 'home' of Transformers. Vink was regularly accused of bootlegging Transformers or trying to pass customs off as authentic but absolutely everything he ever found and documented is now accepted as legitimate. Sadly he stopped collecting around 2001, left the fandom and has never seen his work recognised for how essential it was.)
The Seaspray at the top was thought to be a prototype until Maz found the rest of the set pictured.

Q. Do you find it frustrating that by writing about these rare variations you inspired others to collect them and created competitors for rare pieces you still need?

A. The enlightened answer would be no, it's great that people are more educated and aware now, it's created a much more knowledgeable community that appreciates what you and I have contributed and we are getting far far more homages and nods to things like minibot variants and pre-Transformers in official lines than ever before. More discoveries are made because there are more eyes out there knowing what to look for. The history of the Transformers is now a much clearer image than it was a decade ago thanks to the work of collectors who did their homework and contributed their talent to the community.

The selfish answer is yes, get off my damn property! 

Of course folks were collecting Ceji Joustra and Japanese Diaclone before me, and I expect they won't thank me for shining a spotlight on it.

The most complete Joustra Diaclone collection in the world.

Q. With the exception of your Joustra collection, would it be fair to call you a collection rotator? What other lines have you collected since coming back?

A. Yes my collection does get rotated but it has never been intentional. If I had my way I would have kept every single thing I'd ever bought. I know how that dream collection would look today as well because I see it in the collections of my friends who I sold toys to or who never stopped buying what we were all interested in from back in the late 90s/early 00s. As it is though, various priorities and changes therein have meant I have always kept a very trim collection, and whenever I've gone off on a new tangent it's been selling of toys that has funded it so I'm not surprised that's how it looks! 

Just recently though as I've been buying cheaper and more accessible lines, my collection has ballooned. The sell off has started again, though, as I'm back buying G1 so I hope to return to a more skinny and focused collection again. 

Q. Most collectors probably know you now from your work for TFSource, how did that come about?

A. I first met the gentleman in charge of TFSource over a decade ago on the forums, he was a Japanese and U.S. Transformers collector so we spoke a lot about toys and collecting. I was just starting to write for others at the time that he started the store so eventually I submitted articles to him for the old incarnation of the site and it blossomed from there. 

Q. Your earlier articles focused on Diaclones and G1 but over the last year or so you've been doing more reviews, which do you prefer?

A. I love that I am exploring new lines and I love the feeling that my reviews are current, a bit more finger on the pulse and less archaic history that interests some and not others, but for sure an article on vintage Transformers and pre-Transformers flows out much more naturally for me. I've absolutely adored writing about the 1987 Headmasters (Decepticons and Autobots) and Targetmasters recently. 

The reviews I feel obligated to write honestly and so I feel a responsibility to fellow collectors along with a natural responsibility to those sending the samples to give every review item a fair whack. Everyone who sends me toys currently to review knows full well I review honestly, and the companies who were not comfortable with that I guess will not send me more samples. All of this is added responsibility for my writing, which makes it feel more like work than a vintage G1 article.

Q. Which of your articles has been best received and which, if any attracted the most criticism?

A. Well received is a tough one, because going by views and shares it would be "All Our Toys" which discussed what would happen to our toys when we die, and yet there were not many pages of online discussion about it on forums. Others do well on forums but the share numbers are lower. Also it varies over time, it used to be that any Masterpiece article automatically went stratospheric, before that the G1 articles would do well but that's changed a bit recently and I almost cannot predict what will do well and what will flop. I expected a lot more success for a couple of recent 3rd party reviews but they have not performed as expected in terms of shares. 

As for the most criticised, that depends on where I post the articles. Some forums are more harsh than others. For example on TFW the collector interviews are very well received, but on another forum they are met with apathy and ignored, and in one other place they are just flat out criticised. I found also if I did a list of what I thought were the standout releases of a particular year, I'd get a lot of stick for leaving out people's favourites. That's always going to happen for a topic where it's purely opinion based. 

Q. There's been a fair bit of backlash recently against certain reviewers who get testshots, positively review them and then the end product is dire. You've experienced a difference between test shots and final products haven't you?

A. Yes that's correct, on two occasions I have given a clean bill of health for the quality control on certain test shots only for production ones to have major issues. When the finger was being pointed at reviewers for under-reporting issues and worrying too much about what the company sending them free samples would think, I wasn't concerned because people realised I wasn't going the same way. However when I legitimately said a figure was top quality and issue free, then the final production version caused so much grief, that's out of my hands and yes I did find that frustrating. I have a habit of taking the samples to UK pub meets and shows though so there are plenty of witnesses to good quality samples that I have endorsed!

Running Scoria at a pub meet

Q. Were you worried that you'd get the same backlash of being accused of deliberately glossing over problems and have you had any?

A. Only my association with TFSource has caused people (some of whom didn't think I'd read their comments) to assume I wrote biased reviews to sell TFsource products, but on many occasions I had reviewed things that TFSource did not stock, were sold out of or were not going to have again soon. I think I'm lucky I've been writing for so long because I've established some integrity and a reputation for honesty, I'm hoping I have, and that will always help in such situations. I'm far too concerned about what people think of me to jeopardise what good credit I have. 

Q. Do you feel that there is some dishonesty when it comes to some of the reviews we see out there?

A. I'd be lying if I said I could answer this comprehensively as many of the reviews I just haven't seen in full. I could probably recall occasions where the community has singled out gloss-overs or - conversely - unfair criticism of a review sample/3rd party product. It'd be naive to say there wasn't some agenda involved somewhere, but I couldn't tell you who and where. 

Maz's test shot reviews gave us the running pose which is now copied by 3P companies and other reviewers

Q. Out of the third party companies you've interacted with, which ones do you find the most professional and which one's products do you enjoy the most?

A. In terms of toys that I collect myself, MMC, FansToys and more recently Unique Toys/DX9 have impressed me. I've just got myself Utopia, Visualizers, Axle and Cupola from MakeToys and frankly they are brilliant, so they're a new favourite. I've enjoyed BadCube products too but tended not to keep them for various reasons. I like everything I've seen from Mech iDeas and although production didn't match my test shot, I thought that test shot Guttur from GigaPower was pretty good for a first figure. 

MMC are the most pleasant for me to deal with on all fronts, FansToys always get back to me quickly and have supported my work from the first email I sent them, with MakeToys I just realised recently one of their contacts I've known for years and they are communicating with me well just now as a reviewer and also separately as a customer. 

Q. Are there any companies out there that you think are underrated by the Transformers community?

A. Mech iDeas for a start. Any toy of theirs I've experienced has been very nice. DX9 are doing some exceptionally nice things and because they're not precisely ticking every single official Masterpiece box, I think beautiful toys like Invisible, Chigurh and Carry are not rated as universally highly as they should be. I can't comment on Toyworld as I've never experienced one of their products.

DX9's Invisible with Masterpiece Wheeljack

Q. Have you had any opportunities to work with Hasbro or Takara on reviews or other projects?

A. Not on reviews, no opportunities, but I have contributed to a number of IDW projects and publications which has been very enjoyable and satisfying. 

Q. Do you have a goal for your writing and reviewing? Have you ever considered having a You Tube channel?

A. My dream would be to be able to write, review, do books and reference material for a living. If I could earn enough to support my family comfortably on reviewing toys, writing paid articles regularly, producing books and published material, doing video reviews etc full time I think I would. Maybe I haven't pursued it seriously enough with proper ambition beyond social media because I don't have the courage or faith to believe the brand popularity would sustain a long term income for me doing that. 

I have considered a YouTube channel and video reviews primarily because they seem to be much more popular, more viewed, more talked about and more suited to today's online culture than my written and photographic material, regardless of which stands the test of time better or has better content. I'm more naturally drawn to writing and photography because I just think it's more beautiful, more accessible over a long period of time and a better format of reference material. It's not disposable (I don't mean physically). I wouldn't consider video reviews if they weren't so hot right now and gaining so much exposure and recognition for those responsible compared to written reviews and articles. In short, I'd rather not, but I will if I have to. 

Q. You're a big fan of IDW's More Than Meets the Eye series, who is your favourite character and why do you hate Swerve so much?

A. I was late to the series but once I got into it in August 2013 I found myself drawn to Rodimus and Drift the most. I think these days I enjoy the stories that involve the season 1 cast prominently, especially Ratchet, Brainstorm and Chromedome. Anything that takes place pre-war is wonderful. 

Swerve, jeez, can't stand the bugger. Attention-seeking trouble-making selfish little...I think Cyclonus's speech about why he was not popular said it all in issue 43.

(Masterforce note: Cyclonus' speech was:

"Your humor is cruel and usually at other people's expense. You're a passive-aggressive rumormonger who avoids meaningful work, and your "pranks" are foolish and often dangerous
and yet you clearly have something going for you, because here we are, we came looking for you.
No. You don't realize what I'm saying. Everyone came looking for you. All of us. Everyone on the (sic) board the Lost Light. Ultra Magnus...Chromedome...Rewind...and two hundred more. Even though it hurts them to project this far - even though it means putting their lives at ricks...they're all out there, spread out across the city, across the world, desperate to find you.")



Q. Come on, he's not that bad.

A. You, sir, are a baboon. 

Q. Have you ever considered writing Transformers fan fiction much like More Than Meets the Eye writer Justin Roberts did?

A. Not at all, I can't write fiction. Plus I prefer being told the story and enjoying the ride that someone has crafted, I'd not want to influence what in my mind is a beautiful created tapestry that's being revealed one issue at a time. 

Q. In your years of collecting what are the rarest or most unusual items you have found?

A. Rarest items would have to be the wave 2 1985 Ceji Joustra Diaclones of which less than 5 of each figure have ever been found, in some cases none have been found. Finnish Diaclone and Micro Change Series toys are extremely rare, we are talking single figure finds in decades. Oddities that really got my attention were the mad variety of Minibots and although I've become immune to the vast array of variants now, and they don't excite me as much, seeing carded Optimus vs Malignus minibots from Brazil always blows my mind. The Panasonic Ă…ngrom Micro Change pre-Frenzy is crazy rare too and quite a mystery still. In Transformers, things like the GiG Predaking giftset and GiG Star Saber remain mythical and I've yet to see pictures. Also Milton Bradley Starscream boxes with Thundercrackers inside are enormously rare and bizarre. 

Beyond production stuff, just about every early stage G1 prototype has wowed me, especially when you see concepts that didn't quite make it to the production stage. 

About as common as rocking horse manure

Q. The community, like any cross section of society, has good and bad to it. Can you share some of your best and worst experiences and some of the best and worst things you've heard of?

A. Best experiences include going to conventions and seeing people in real life that I've spent a decade or more speaking to online, actually making genuinely good friends who have been there for me at tough times or just people I can now call close mates - all from this shared interest of Transformers. Most recently, we have formed a lovely group of UK based collectors and enthusiasts who meet up in London at pubs - with the occasional TF celebrity attending - that has completely reaffirmed my faith and enjoyment in the hobby and community. The amount of knowledge, wisdom and kindness of the people in this group never fails to surprise me. I consider these guys very good friends, and because the topic of conversation is rarely only Transformers, it's become a legitimate circle of friends that I look forward to spending time with regularly. 

I'm lucky in that I haven't had any seriously negative experiences, but I do hate it when I find out attendees have stolen toys from dealer tables at shows (I've had stuff nicked as well). It's also a little sad when at a convention you do see people sitting by themselves, I heard someone say in the bar at Auto Assembly "If only he had a shared interest with the people around him..", and while that was a joke, it does highlight the fact that there can still be highly cliquey exclusive pockets of a relatively local community that do not welcome people. General bickering and taking opinions of others to be declarations of war on the Internet does grow tiresome. Seeing how many people in the community happily accept deliberate counterfeits of official product over the real thing bothers me endlessly. It may be fundamentally hypocritical to support 3rd party products and then condemn counterfeits, but you know what you are getting with 3P, it's not trying to fool people into buying something they think is official. 

Q. You recently wrote an article on grail pieces, other than the Joustra items and Finnish Diaclones listed on your website wants list do you have any other grail pieces?

A. In the last few years I've had the pleasure of speaking with the Ceji Joustra Diaclone artists responsible for the comic and box artwork for that series, so a major treasure for me would be the original artwork for issue 1 of the Joustra "War on Diaclona" comic as it would feature the Ceji Joustra Diaclone Mirage box artwork. I would also love to get my hands on the Takara C-325 Greatshot box artwork. I know where both these pieces of artwork are, but the 4 figure sums required to purchase them are prohibitive. I have also just added a UK boxed G1 Fortress Maximus to my wants list. 

When the day comes that I can spend with abandon and have nothing left to discover, I'd very much love to re-buy my childhood G1 in sealed condition, starting with Starscream, Hubcap and Smokescreen. UK price tags on boxes would be necessary!

Q. A few weeks ago Hasbro rolled out a survey for it's UK buyers which got a huge amount of coverage in TF circles. What were your thoughts on the survey, how detailed it was and what do you read into it?

A. I enjoyed it very much as it showed me someone with community and hobby knowledge had been hired to produce the survey for them. The questions were limited in some sections and required some serious thought from me in others. I doubt anyone's answers to annual spend made for particularly comfortable reading!

I did feel some concern about divulging my interests in unofficial products and some of my answers would give away my identity to anyone who's ever known me, but there's far more valuable things Hasbro could do with that info than victimise people for their spending preferences.  

Q. Do you think we'll see a Hasbro clamp down on third party products and are 3P starting to burn out anyway?

A. I do hear from sources - and have done for over 2 years - that there will be a massive clamp down and that the 3P scene will eat itself. While I'm not convinced this will happen overnight in a show of fireworks, I can see that retailers are seeing less and less profit on items from particular companies, especially when said companies want retailers to drop their retail prices below what they've bought the stock in at originally.  I also see how much the companies are placing themselves in direct competition with each other - and occasionally HasTak - to win over what they believe to be the most lucrative slice of collector interest. That's ultimately going to cost some companies dear. I've never been someone who was good at seeing the big picture, so I will undoubtedly be surprised by the outcome of this whole situation.

Q. Where do you see Transformers going in future?

A. More movies, more current lines that collectors enjoy being put on hold or dropped in favour or associated movie toys, more focus on Generation 1 in various media, peripherals, toy inspiration (but maybe not for the movies) - which is all fine by me, but as long as there's still room for new initiatives that take the brand to new places I'm happy with that. I did enjoy the movies and subsequent toys, I loved Animated and I really like RID2015, so I'm all for new characters and imaginings of Transformers. 

I'm hoping that Masterpiece continues and picks up speed, and that they don't irritate us all with another reboot that renders our current MPs no longer compatible with a new direction, I hope we continue to get reissues, well written and drawn comics, movies and collector-focused products. I do genuinely believe we have it very bloody good at the moment. 

Q. If you were put in charge of the Transformers brand, including all media, what would you do?

A. I have no idea. I'd probably have all these expansive plans to bring back more history into the toyline and do a lot of collector centric stuff while at the same time get in as much top talent to design toys and write more comic titles, write more cartoons, continue Animated, do more reference books and art books, take full control of the conventions, make sure the movies are handled expertly by the right people, have more new characters and put a bigger budget on the mainstream lines to make sure we don't forget about the kids...and then be made aware of the budget and time constraints and end up making the same decisions that Hasbro do now. 

Q. So what's next for you?

A. I'd love to find a way to make my writing, photography and involvement in the hobby and brand become a full time paid endeavour, whether it's through ads, YouTube channels, books, monetised articles, being employed in some capacity... I don't know how to join the dots or if there are indeed any to join, but that would be my dream as far as what I'd like to do in the hobby. It's never just been a hobby to me. 

As far as collecting goes, at the moment I'm still chasing those last 9 Ceji Joustra Diaclones, I'd love to have a set of 1987 Transformers in UK boxes where possible and then explore 1988 and so on, basically all the vintage years I neglected when I set off down the Pre-TF path. 

Q. Thank you for your time, anything you'd like to say in closing?

A. Thank you for taking an interest in what I have to say and what I've spent a significant portion of my life enjoying, sharing and contributing to. Thank you also for the major positive part you've played in it personally, I'll never forget it or you.

L-R: Morgan, Argus and Maz.

A huge thanks to Maz for taking the time for a longer-than-intended interview.

For regular pictorals and short reviews, check out Maz's TF-Square One blog.

More in depth articles and reviews by Maz can be found on the TFSource Blog.

If you want to read Maz's much more detailed articles about Transformers history then have a look at TF-1. The most comprehensive document on Joustra Diaclone is on the site and can be read here. It's long but is a serious part of Transformers history.

TF-Square One is also on Facebook.

For more of Maz's stunning photography there's the TF-Square One Instagram.

Feel free to stalk follow Maz on Twitter as well.

Another important work by Maz can be found on this blog, it is his review of the pre-production Megatron's Master Plan script.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Maketoys - RM-07 Visualizers Review

Maketoys Re:master MTRM-07 Visualizer Masterpiece Reflector
Maketoys Visualizers - hangin tough

Maketoys Visualizers - who are they? (that was my best impression of the old 1980's Milk advert)

Well, they are Reflector, or more specifically Maketoys crack at a Masterpiece Relfector. In case you don't recall, Reflector was a character in the original Transformers cartoon who merged from 3 robots into one handily sized camera.
A character largely ignored by everyone for the last 30 years, it seems third party outfits have cast their lovelorn eyes in his direction and intend to make it a summer of Reflector love.

Maketoys RE:Master line continues with its follow up to the incredible Cupola, but can Visualizers live up to the high standards that toy set?

Hit the button below to see the review.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Preorders: Why we dropped them and delays explained

Mother's Basement, GAME, Comic Toys, Gamestation, HMV, Acestoys, Phones4u, Ratchet's Clinic and Blockbuster.

Forbidden Planet, Zavvi.

Preorders are a convenient way of budgeting and being able to ensure we have what we want booked in and guaranteed at a point when we can afford it. In collecting circles this also means that we don't miss out on rare items and end up paying a lot more on Ebay afterwards, or that's the theory at least.

Preorders are definitely a way of paying for items when we have the money rather than having to quickly find cash on release and often there are incentives for preordering - in collecting it's the 'early bird' pricing, in gaming it's usually a piece of DLC.

Current shows us how many of him were made in this colourscheme

Also one the positives of preordering is that small projects can get off the ground because they know what their sales are in advance and can collect the money upfront before they have to pay out themselves. That way they don't need to fund the project themselves which in toy manufacturing can be in excess of $100,000 just to get a testshot of one figure.

Probably wouldn't have been made without preorder money

But that's also a downside.

Ever bought a third party figure and the quality has been awful? Ever given that company a second chance after they promised improvements only to find that their products are still dire? Again that's the power of preorders because companies can get funding in advance based on promises they don't need to deliver on.

I get to pay again for all these parts which were removed from the toys I've already paid for? Excellent.

If eventually the fandom gives up on a company then they can easily rename themselves and start again - they put up a preorder under a new name, it looks great and everyone pays up on the promise of something good only to be let down again. They know that they can get preorders based on a line drawing or a render so after that they can take as long as they like to release it or just not bother putting much effort into it.

Also the incentives aren't really incentives. Do the early bird prices actually end? Was preordering a game ever worth the one or two weapons you get early access to?

Phew, so glad I paid 8 months in advance to get a gold battlepack to go with my other 32 unopened ones.

There's also something else to think about - how safe is your money?

The names at the beginning of this article are separated into two groups. Zavvi and Forbidden Planet are two companies who list preorders for everything in their field but quite often cancel or deliver them months late. Forbidden Planet listed Brainstorm as being a September release last year while we listed it as October as we tend to be a little behind on things. Our customers received theirs in October, FP's received theirs in January. If you preordered those ultra cheap Star Wars figures from Zavvi then you're possibly amongst the 50% still waiting to get theirs...

Fugly and probably not worth waiting indefinitely for to save £4

The first list of names though are companies who went under while owing people a lot of money thanks to preorders. It took a while but after being bought out GAME and HMV honoured preorders and gift cards again but if you shopped with any of the others then your money was gone for good. Sure some people got their money back through Paypal but the vast majority didn't. Mother's Basement owed around £35,000 to a fairly small number of customers, around 250, because so many had placed multiple preorders of expensive items.

A problem for many businesses is what's called 'Robbing Peter to Pay Paul', which is when you're taking money from one source to pay off another - instead of keeping your preorder money to one side and paying for your preorder, it's used for stock due out now but then by the time the preorder needs paying there's no money so more preorders get listed to pay for the existing preorders that are now due. It's a downward spiral.

Preorders are a great way to for businesses to gauge how many of an item need ordering in but they often lead to a business' demise. Or worse.

Recently we added new suppliers for third party products, we scouted a few and settled on four. One of those stopped responding to our emails quite quickly (a competitor had a word), one was great but then vanished and reappeared after a month or so, the third wanted a bank transfer of $2,000 up front (how about no?) and the fourth are thankfully solid as a rock.

That distributor who vanished is a pretty major one and it affected customers of other retailers as they had to cancel customers' orders. They seem to be back up and running again and hopefully everything is resolved but it's a still a worry that they'll vanish again. Either way relationships need to be rebuilt and they are rebuilt with trust and money, but whose money?

With the Chinese economy in chaos recently there are concerns over the factories who produce some third party products as they have to increase production costs. In any financial crash some businesses will fold under the strain but thankfully the crisis seems to be nearing its end as the stock market starts to level out.

So why does our stock take longer to get here?

Most retailers don't buy directly from companies even the third party ones. Sure some do, but most use distributors. You don't have to order in crazy quantities of a product from a distributor like you have to when buying directly.

We buy from four of the most reliable and reputable distributors in the businesses and when you deal with the best you pay more and/or you get product later because there's a middleman involved. Sure we can't offer you deep discounts like other retailers do but then we pay every bit of tax we're supposed to and while some of our stock is late arriving here, it will get here. We could get it here quicker but then that means paying for FedEx shipping and then we really can't compete with the tax dodgers.

£3 profit per unit after fees, postage subsidising and tax? Pass.

From here on in our Hasbro and Takara products will get here on time. Hot Toys and Sideshow products are fine and so we still accept preorders. However, about half our third party and all of our Hasbro Asia/TT exclusives will arrive about 3-4 weeks after release as they always have done. Realistically will there be a huge issue where the factories or third party companies run off with everyone's money? Probably not. Is your retailer about to run off with your money? Doubtful. However there is some instability in the market and we're not gambling your money. We may be a little slow and it may be frustrating to not be able to preorder from us but ask yourselves how many businesses genuinely put you first...