Sunday, April 2, 2017

In the End, the Collector Wins – 3rd Party Rundown part 3

Well this took longer than I originally thought, who knew there would be so much to write about? With so many options and toys of even the most obscure characters being produced, there really hasn’t been a better time to be a Transformer collector than now. Anyway enjoy the final part of my 3rd party rundown.

Ok so X-Transbots have been around since 2011 and since then have quietly built up a respectable masterpiece roster. I never realized how much they did until I started writing this. They were the first 3rd party company to come up with a decent Masterpiece Megatron called Apollyon. While reviews were mixed, it was definitely better than the first official Takara Megatron. That was an atrocity. Anyway due to those mixed reviews though I ended up passing on Apollyon. Instead I ended up getting myself Boost & Hatch, their versions of the minibots Windcharger and Tailgate.

Now remember the main criticism for the 3rd party company Badcube that made ridiculously overly complicated transformations? And I defended them saying that despite being complex, they were intuitive, fun and cleaned up nicely? Well X-Transbots is like that, except without the intuitive and fun part! For what were originally basic toys, Boost & Hatch are just a mess to transform! To make things worse, X-Transbots seems to be a notch lower than most 3rd party companies when it comes to QC. This seems to be the general feedback with regards to most of their products.

Still, no other company has done Windcharger and/or Tailgate and nightmare transformation aside, they do look good in either mode so I’m OK with them. But I will definitely be more hesitant to get anything else from these guys in the future.

Maketoy’s first release was their take on Devastator simply called Giant. Despite it looking very good and definitely much better aesthetically than TFC’s Hercules to which it was often compared to, I skipped this one due to 3rd party combiner fatigue.
Since then, they have released quite a number of products that have gotten a lot of positive reactions from collectors, so much so that in a short time they have earned the reputation of being one of the best 3rd party companies out there. But oddly enough, with every release I have always found a reason not to get it. The first one I was really interested in was their take on the combiner Computron, dubbed Quantron. Problem was that unlike other companies that would release combiner teams a member at a time thus making it a little easier on the wallet, Maketoys chose to release the whole team as one set in one go….just too much for me unfortunately.

Then they started something I would be interested in, their RE:Master Series, which would be their take on Masterpiece Transformers. The problem was that as good as I heard their product was, they seemed intent on blazing their own trail and produce “masterpiece style” Transformers that had a slightly different aesthetic than the existing official masterpiece Transformers from Takara, it wasn’t worse, it was just…different. And while it was fine for a lot of people, it bothered me enough to pass on their offerings of “Gundog” or masterpiece Hound, “Hellfire”, masterpiece Inferno, “Wrestle”, masterpiece Grapple and “Despotron”, masterpiece Megatron.

But just as I was resigned to not get anything from this company that I heard such great things about, they announced their take on a masterpiece Jazz called Downbeat. And maybe they started listening to the critique, but this guy looked different, less stylized and more in step with the official masterpiece aesthetic. Or maybe I just convinced myself that he was since I was so starved for any decent version of a masterpiece Jazz! So I finally bit the bullet on a Maketoys product and I was definitely not disappointed. In hand the product just felt polished and while the first transformation was awkward (when is it ever not?) it made sense the more times I went through it.

I really hope that this is going to mark a running change in their overall designs, if it is, then I will be looking forward to getting more stuff from Maketoys!

Now when it comes to Masterpiece Dinobots, for the longest time, 3rd party company Fans Toys, which I will be writing about later on, has been the only producer with their Iron Dibots. For many collectors, these have been the only option out there, up until a couple years ago when a new company, Gigapower released their first take on an MP Dinobot, the Stegosaurus Snarl, called Guttur. And since then, it has been one of the hotter 3rd party debates going on…which company has the better Masterpiece Dinobots?

Well the one thing going for Fans Toys is that as of this writing, they have completed all five Dinobots, including their own take on the Dinobot leader Grimlock called Grinder, despite there already being an existing official version. To date, Gigapower has just released two, the aforementioned Guttur, and their take on the Triceratops Slag, called Grassor. Which is reason enough for many to choose Fans Toys over Gigapower.

But despite being way behind on releases, I’ve decided to go all in on Gigapower’s offerings. Why? Simply put, they’re bigger, and in my opinion look better. And as an added bonus even cost less than Fans Toys!

Better looking Dinobot aside though, one thing that cannot be denied is that this company is slow slow SLOW. It took them 2 years to release 2 products and for many that is just too damn long. A lot of collectors are afraid that they may not actually finish the 5 Dinobots. So far though they’ve announced that they plan to release at least 2 more this year….I really hope this is true cuz it would be a true shame if they don’t end up finishing the team. I’ve placed my money on Gigapower, and I’m optimistic that they won’t let me down….

OK so for many collectors, FansToys is considered to be THE standard when it comes to 3rd party masterpiece style Transformers. Interestingly enough, they had a bit of a rough start. Back in 2012, they announced what would be their first masterpiece style toy, “Acoustic Wave”, their take on a Masterpiece Soundwave. But when Takara announced their own official version, Fans Toys quicky scrapped their plans and moved on to another “wave”, more specifically, Shockwave. “Quakewave” came out in 2013 and got a lot of good reviews. I for one at that point was still skeptical of any company producing a high end figure and labeling it as a “masterpiece”, back then I was fully official Takara or bust. So I skipped on Quakewave and many more of FansToys initial releases.

Fast forward a few years later and FansToys has pretty much made it to the top of the 3rd party mountain with an impressive catalogue of over 10 unique characters/molds under their belt.

Since I softened my stance on 3rd party masterpieces, I have gotten quite a few products from FansToys. I have their version of Hound called “Willis”, which I chose over Maketoys own offering and the Autobot Scientist “Tesla”, their version of Perceptor. I also landed a bunch of Decepticons including “Spotter” (masterpiece Reflector), “Mercenary”, “Grenadier” and “Forager”, their version of the Insecticons Shrapnel, Bombshell and Kickback, and finally I got the evil Decepticon Galvatron whom FansToys named “Sovereign”.

Rather than talking about what I got from Fans Toys one by one I figured I’d talk about them in general since well basically they offer the same things. With the exception of Tesla, which was an earlier product and was made of a noticeably lower grade plastic, these are all high quality toys very worthy of the term “masterpiece”. From aesthetic, sculpt, design and quality, Fans Toys covers off all the bases. While I’m not too big of a fan of die-cast, I can appreciate how it is used by Fans Toys, making them feel higher in quality than many official Masterpiece products.

While not perfect, they are as close to perfection as you can get in my opinion and they are showing no signs of slowing with over 9 more products slated for release this year (supposedly). They’ve gone a long way from that little company that backed down to Takara when they announced Soundwave. Today, they are even taking Takara head on releasing their own masterpiece versions of characters who already have official representation from Takara such as the previously mentioned Grinder (Masterpiece Grimlock) and their upcoming Hoodlum (Masterpiece Hot Rod).

So there you go, a semi extensive rundown of Transformers 3rd party companies. Like I said there are quite a lot more but I chose to talk only about the ones I have had first hand experience with.

Now after all this, I guess the number one question everyone has on their mind is “How the hell do these companies get away with all this and not get sued or shut down by Hasbro/Takara. Truth is, I don’t really know. Some say is they get by on technicalities. These companies aren’t really producing Transformers per se, but transforming robots. They’re not making Optimus Prime or Megatron but instead are making “red truck robot” and “mightron”. Now I’m no expert in all the legal stuff behind copyright laws but technically, a robot that transforms into a red truck isn’t something that Hasbro really has a copyright on.

Some have said that maybe Hasbro/Takara find it pointless to go after all these companies since there are so many. Shut one down and two more will take their place. I have even heard, although they would never admit it, that Takara/Hasbro designers are even fans of many of these 3rd party products and look to them as well for inspiration etc. Delving into conspiracy theories, I have also heard that there are 3rd party insiders in the Hasbro/Takara machine who are knowledgeable on what they plan to produce next. There have been many instances where multiple 3rd party companies release toys of the same character within months of each other. When this happens they say it’s an indication on what Hasbro/Takara plan to release next, so all these 3rd party companies try to beat them to the punch.

Finally, there is another more logical explanation going around that instead of trying to shut these guys down, Hasbro/Takara is actually trying to drown them out by increasing their own Masterpiece production schedule. When it first started, Takara was churning out 1 or 2 masterpiece products a year, nowadays they release one almost every other month!

Well, whatever the reason, at the end of the day, like I said at the start of this post, the real winners have been the fans like myself. With so many options and choices out there, never has it been more fun and fulfilling to be a Transformers collector.

3rd Party Rundown : Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5