Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Little Bit Of A Primer

When it comes to Transformers, Optimus Prime is undoubtedly the most iconic and recognizable character from the franchise. Which is why it was a no brainer that when Takara launched their Masterpiece line way back in 2003, he was the first one out of the gate to get that "masterpiece" treatment.

The first official Masterpiece figure, or MP-01 was a huge deal for Transformers collectors. Back then, the majority of Transformer toys available were mass market releases based on newer Transformer cartoons and aimed mostly towards a younger audience. Takara sought to produce a toy that catered more to the older collector, the ones who grew up on the original 80’s cartoon and who now had more disposable income to spend on more expensive toys.

MP-01 was a game changer in many ways. This was the first Transformer toy that gave us a robot and vehicle mode that were both pretty accurate to the Optimus Prime that we all knew and loved from the cartoon. Before MP-01, the only Prime toys we had were those from the original toy line and as great as those where they looked far from the Prime we all grew up watching on the TV screen.

Screen accuracy aside, MP-01 was meant to be the ultimate representation of Optimus Prime in other ways as well. Standing at almost a foot tall, he was big...and heavy, composed of high quality plastic and a lot of die cast parts, reminiscent of all those old Japanese robots toys from the late 70’s and early 80’s.

He was also very articulated with over 24 plus movable joints down to each individual fingertip, with his major joints even sporting working pistons! He also came with a slew of accessories from an energy axe that was only featured in one episode of the cartoon, a miniature version of Megatron as a gun that he could hold, and his Matrix of leadership that could light up when stored inside his chest.

Of course, for such a premium toy, came a premium price at well over $200++ which for a newbie collector like myself was quite a lot. Back then, I could never imagine spending that much on a matter how amazing he I didn’t. Instead, a few years later I opted to get this “smaller” version of Optimus Prime.

Now this “Hybrid Style” Prime (or T.H.S.-02), released in 2006 was quite a cool toy as well. He was also diecast, highly articulated and came with even more accessories than MP-01 and also cost about half the price. Unfortunately, he was also less than one third the size! And after a few weeks of fiddling with him, I started to get tired this purchase.

Fortunately, by this time, Hasbro had already released their version of MP-01 for the American retail market. While the US release sported some differences, like a lighter color palette, some battle damage deco and shorter smoke stacks on the arms (to pass stricter safety standards for retail toys), he was basically the same toy as the original Japanese release. And more importantly, at about $100++, he was significantly cheaper. Now this price tag was definitely more acceptable for me but still I hesitated, until I came upon an offer I just couldn’t refuse.

A very good friend of mine and fellow collector just happened to have two US MP Primes in his possession and he offered to me a straight up swap, his extra MP Prime for my Hybrid Style one. For good measure, he even offered to lend me his Prime so I could fiddle around with it first. I remember just staring at him as he stood in the middle of my room. I couldn’t grasp how such an amazing looking toy actually existed or why the hell I was even hesitant in the first place! So a deal was struck, and I finally got my hands on my very own Masterpiece Optimus Prime!

Fast-forward 8 years later. By this time, Takara’s Masterpiece line is in full swing, and after releasing masterpiece versions of 8 more iconic Transformers characters including Megatron, Starscream and Rodimus Prime to varying degrees of success, Takara decided the time was right to produce an updated and improved masterpiece version of Optimus Prime.

By this time, I too had grown as a collector having moved on to collecting more toy lines aside from Transformers. Despite all the new toys though, the original MP Prime still held a….. prime spot in my collection. So much so that when news and pictures came out for Takara’s new MP-10, Optimus Prime, I initially didn’t feel the need to get him.

A World Through Lenses
Now for the most part, MP-10 truly was an an improved version of Optimus Prime. While some would say that his proportions looked a little off, the biggest thing going for him was his size. Prior to MP-10, Takara treated their Masterpiece line as a series of one off releases. They didn’t seem to really view the line as an all encompassing line, and as such, side by side scaling wasn’t that big of a concern for them. So as a result, we got a real cool character like Grimlock who unfortunately was way smaller than MP-01.

Takara sought to remedy this by kind of rebooting the line starting with a smaller sized Prime that would scale better with most of the previous releases. And more importantly, moving forward, future MP releases would scale with this new Optimus Prime.

Still, I wasn’t convinced and I completely passed on the initial release of MP-10, much to my regret later on. As my masterpiece collection grew, as much as I loved MP-01, he started to really look more out of place. By this time however, both MP-10 and even the inevitable “cheaper” US retail version, had shot up in price. So for the longest time, MP-10 became the “white whale” of my collection. It took a good four years from the original release date for me to finally find a decently priced one in the wild. During a trip to Hong Kong, I found a single piece just hanging out on the display shelf of some random store in Mongkok. I didn't hesitate and purchased him immediately and even got a free can of Coca Cola out of it (special store promotion?). I remember hurriedly lugging that huge toy down the crowded streets of Hong Kong breathing heavily with excitement (hey it was a fairly heavy toy) all the way back to the hotel….to date one of my fondest toy collecting memories.

Anyway fast forward to 2018, almost another good 8 years since MP-10 was originally released and there were now rumblings of an imminent release of yet a third masterpiece version of Optimus Prime! By this time, the Masterpiece line has been evolving even more. When originally conceived, the Masterpiece line sought to find the perfect balance between the cartoon and toy aesthetic. However with each newer release, it seemed that Takara was moving more towards cartoon accuracy. This was really apparent with their version 2.0 of a masterpiece Megatron which was released in 2017. While size wise, he matched with MP-10 Prime, stylistically it was like night and day.  While Prime looked more like the original toy full of details, Megatron looked cleaner and closer to what he looked like in the cartoon.

A few months later, it was official, MP-44 or Masterpiece Optimus Prime version 3.0 was announced for release on August 2019 at a whopping $400!!! To be fair, he did look quite amazing and cartoon accurate (if that’s your thing) and came with quite a lot of accessories, even more than the prior 2 versions combined. But still….for a single toy, $400 is still a hard price to swallow. So at the risk of this turning to another MP10 situation of regret, I decided not to pre-order him and skip out on this initial release. For such an iconic character it’s pretty much inevitable that reissues will follow. So while I may feel differently later on down the line, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got right now.

MP-01 is still such an amazing toy that even if he really doesn’t fit in with the rest of my masterpiece Transformers collection, he has enough presence to stand on his own. Ok so he has a giant green giant to keep him company in our living room.

As for MP-10, while I do think his place will inevitably be taken by a more cartoon accurate Prime in the near future (more on that in my next post), I don’t really foresee me selling him either. It took me quite some time to find him in the first place, and although he doesn’t match up well with my official Masterpiece Megatron, he does look quite nice next to my DX9 Mightron, which is a 3rd party Megatron I got before Takara released their version 2.0. 

In this way, I got all my bases covered when it comes to a cartoon (tbd), toy (MP-10) and a good mix of both (MP-01) versions of Optimus Prime for my collection. As a Transformer collector, you really can’t have too many Primes.