Friday, January 10, 2014

Thirteen Too

Last year I predicted that Uranos would easily place at the top or near the top of my 2013 list. So it’s quite a surprise to me that as great as he was, he didn’t end up even cracking the top 5. That’s just a testament to how much great stuff came out in 2013. So what could actually be bigger that Uranos? Well actually in the case of #5, bigger doesn’t always equate to better….

5. Minimates
If 2012 was the year I discovered Lego Minifigures, 2013 was the year I discovered Minimates. Now I’d seen minimates around in the past but I just couldn’t understand what was so appealing about them. Then I decided to take a chance and get my first set of minimates. Alpha Flight has always been one of my favourite team of superheroes. Unfortunately because they aren’t as popular as the X-Men or Avengers, any version of Alpha Flight in toy form is quite rare. So I just had to bite when I saw 2 minimates sets of Alpha Flight on sale (essentially 100 pesos per figure) and almost immediately, I was completely hooked.

There are many reasons why Minimates rock over most minifigures out there. Let me give you a few of them:

Excellent articulation: A basic minifigure body base boasts 14 points of articulation.

Attention to detail: Don’t let the basic minifigure status fool you. These guys are loaded with detail, from semi realistic (ok cartoonish) faces, accurate and stylized costume details to unnecessary but ultimately cool little things like webbed fingers for aquatic people etc.

Accessories: These guys have tons of them, from weapons, flight stands and even alternate body parts to give you multiple options for display.
Variety: Google minimates and you will see that they have an astounding number of toy property licences under their belt. Marvel, DC, 80’s cartoons, movies, tv shows and so on. And the best part is that within each property, their character selection is amazing. Take Marvel for example. Aside from completing my much loved Alpha Flight, I was also able to complete my set of original New Mutants (I’m currently working at completing my 90’s X-Force). I also have my complete lineup of Thundercats and real Ghostbusters. 

Price: While this doesn’t apply to all, most minimates are reasonably priced compared to let’s say…Lego. Considering what you get (everything I mentioned above), it really is one of the sweetest toy deals you will ever find.
I swear if I wasn’t already knee deep in Marvel Universe figures…I would’ve been buried in minimates!

4. Knight Morpher Airborne Squad
Yet ANOTHER seeker set! This time my favorite trio is based off designs from the Transformers Hearts of Steel comic miniseries. This series was set in an alternate universe wherein the Transformers awakened on Earth in the 1800’s during the industrial revolution. So instead of transforming into sleek sports cars and streamlined jets, they took on the forms of whatever vehicles that were around at the time…which were mostly steam powered trains & ships and propeller powered flying contraptions.

So instead of F-15 Eagles, we got seekers that transformed into very evil looking flying monstrosities that were supposedly loosely based on design sketches of Leonardo da Vinci. They don’t look like the most aerodynamically designed planes but they still look wicked. Their robot modes are also well designed with slight variations in their facial sculpts and arm cannons as well as numerous ways to display their wings turned bladed weapons. All these give you 3 very unique seekers for your toy shelf.

3. Masterpiece Soundwave
2013 was a BIG year for Masterpiece Transformers. It started with a bang with a release of this guy. Now when I first heard of Masterpiece Soundwave, a part of me thought that this was a bit of a waste. For me, part of the charm of the Masterpiece line is that it produced cartoon accurate robots that through some ingeniously planned transformation scheme, turned into a real world accurate alternate mold. The original Soundwave toy had probably one the best articulated and proportioned robot form for its time, and it transformed into a rather realistic tape player so I thought, just how could the Masterpiece guys make this more interesting?

The answer came soon enough. Masterpiece Soundwave is excellent. It’s everything you would ever want in a masterpiece figure. The true gems and selling point of the set however though turned out to be his cassette minions. Although quite small (in fact they transform into cassettes that fit in the original Soundwave) these guys are the TRUE masterpieces of this set, with Masterpiece Laserbeak/Buzzsaw being the stars. From a simple tiny cassette, you get a completely cartoon accurate bird of prey complete with back mounted lasers that were originally separate pieces popped on to the transformed bird. As an added feature they even have *tiny* surveillance cameras that pop out of their foreheads! The others are no slouches either. Where the original Ravage was rather flat when viewed head on, the new one is an almost properly filled out 3 dimensional jaguar. And finally Frenzy and Rumble are both fully articulated little dudes and are equipped with their signature pile drivers.

Seeing all these guys next to their original counterparts shows just how far toy designers have progressed over the years! It’s quite amazing actually. This Soundwave and crew are definitely superior.

2. Masterpiece Prowl/Blue Streak/Smoke Screen
When Masterpiece Sideswipe was released last year; it opened the door to new possibilities for the Transformers Masterpiece line. Prior to Sideswipe, it seemed that only major characters were within the line’s radar.

Sideswipe changed all that and now anything seemed fair game for a Masterpiece treatment. When the trio of Masterpiece Prowl, Bluestreak & Smokescreen was announced, it wasn’t really too much of a surprise since it made perfect sense. All three characters shared the same basic toy design so it really wouldn’t cost much to produce all three characters and maximize the usage of the mold.

Now while for most people Soundwave and company would be the cooler pick, my reason for putting these guys ahead is a purely nostalgic one. Bluestreak was my first official Transformer as a kid so to get him in Masterpiece form is truly special. A few years later, when my Bluestreak was unfortunately worn out (broken), I was delighted to see a new Transformer using the same Bluestreak mold in brighter colors and I immediately scooped up Smokescreen. And while I never had his original toy, over the years, Prowl’s character has slowly grown into one of my favorites in the line. So finally getting the perfect Prowl toy is just icing on the cake.

With the car from serving as the chest and the front doors serving as “wings” on the back, this mold for me is like the classic Autobot body/transformation in the same way as the seeker mold is for me serves as the classic Decepticon. And you know how much I LOVE my seekers. So it really was a no-brainer to get all three of them. Just like Sideswipe/Red Alert before them, these guys are just PERFECT. And I am eagerly waiting for the next announced characters of Wheeljack and Bumblebee to be released this year. While I am seriously planning to cut down even more on my toy purchases this year, one thing I am certain is the Transformers Masterpiece line in my collection will continue to grow. As long as TakaraTomy keeps producing them, I will be there to buy them.

1. Castle Grayskull
Of all the lines I collect, Masters of the Universe Classics has quickly risen to be my favorite of them all…yup even more than Transformers. You can tell that for the people involved in producing this line it truly is a passion project and it shows in the variety fantastic figures they produce each year. And there is no greater proof of just how much love goes into this line than this baby…Castle Grayskull.

Let’s face it, the age of the toy play set is over. Nowadays, it’s getting even harder and harder to sell action figures to a generation raised on video games. Play sets are just too expensive to produce and take up too much space on retail shelves. So given this present situation, it really is amazing how Mattel managed to get this one done.

From inception to actual release, this “experiment” is really one for the books. To start with, as much as the creators of this line love the property, the reality is, Masters of the Universe really is a niche line. Unlike its heyday in the 80’s, today the profits brought in by the Masters is basically a pin prick compared to Mattels other moneymaking giants, namely Barbie & Hotwheels. So in terms of financial resources allotted, Masters Classics basically is a low priority for the powers-that-be in Mattel. So just convincing them to green light a pre-order for such a gigantic playset, no matter how iconic was quite a feat in itself. Even more challenging however was trying to convince fans and collectors to actually pre-order the castle without seeing any sort of prototype. All we got was a project b-sheet of what they planned to do, a hefty price tag and a 1 year production period (IF the order quota was reached). Luckily, the fans responded, the target order quota was reached. And the rest was history.

Thanks to me unknowingly choosing express shipping (I really should read the fine print more), castle arrived in my home the first week of December, just in time to make the cut-off for this best of list and basically obliterate every other toy purchase I made in 2013. Yup not even the near perfect Masterpiece Transformers could compete with the pure awesomeness of this castle.

So there you have it….2013 is in the bag and now off to see what 2014 has to offer. Could a Snake Mountain possibly rule next year’s list?