Monday, March 4, 2019

A Prime Choice

Around seven years ago, a then unknown 3rd party company called Fans Toys posted pictures of their upcoming project Acoustic Wave, which was their official attempt at a masterpiece styled Soundwave. A few months later Takara announced the release of their official MP-13 Soundwave and all of a sudden Acoustic Wave was nowhere to be seen. Fans Toys immediately scrapped their plans to release him.

Today, with such a robust and competitive 3rd party scene, more companies are getting more aggressive with their releases, with popular Transformer characters getting multiple interpretations from different companies. It's gotten to the point where in almost anything is fair game with even more 3rd parties no longer tip-toeing around Takara and instead taking them head on.

Late last year, Takara officially announced their plans to release in August 2019, a new masterpiece Optimus Prime, MP-44, their updated version of the heroic Autobot leader. Continuing with the current trend for more cartoon accurate robots, this new Prime would sport a cleaner and simpler look closer to his animated model.

While product shots showed off an amazing looking Prime, many collector’s hearts skipped a beat when his official selling price was also announced at around $400++! Now as amazing as the pictures made out this new Prime to be, the price tag turned off a lot of collectors including myself. I decided to skip out on any pre-orders for MP-44. And I figured that was that. As my wife would often say, if it was meant to be, the universe would find a way to get him into my hands at some point.

Anyway, a few months earlier, two rather new 3rd party companies made notable announcements of their own. At this point MP-44 was not yet an official thing but there were rumblings and teases by Takara that they indeed did have plans to release a new version of Optimus Prime. Despite the rumors, these two 3rd party companies went ahead and showed off prototype pictures of their new upcoming versions of a more cartoon accurate Optimus Prime as well.

First up was a company called Magic Square, who up to that point had been slowly making a name in the smaller legends scaled Transformers market. So them announcing a larger masterpiece sized Transformer was a bit of a head scratcher for many collectors. Their version was officially christened as MS-01 Light of Freedom.

Within a few weeks, another company, Transform Element showed off their new Prime, called TE-01 OP Leader. Now if Magic Square was a rather new company, until their official announcement, no one had even heard of Transform Element at all! While MS-01 would be Magic Square’s first attempt at a masterpiece sized figure, TE-01 OP Leader would be Transform Elements first attempt at a Transformer...period*.

Regardless of being new companies, what they showed off was quite impressive, including their supposed selling price which would be a little over $100 each.

So anyway, when MP-44 became official, collectors who found its price too much now had actual alternatives for a more cartoon based  or at least updated Prime, if they were willing to take a chance on either Magic Square or Transform Element. This was the road I decided to take over MP-44. Now the question was which Prime was I willing to place my money on? While both Primes definitely looked more cartoon accurate and improved over the current official Masterpiece Prime, MP-10, they also looked quite different from each other.

Magic Square’s Light of Freedom was the more stylized looking of the two. He had a little more detail and was definitely a lot more beefier in shape. Transform Element was more slavish to the leaner and blockier cartoon look. Initially I leaned closer to Magic Square’s Prime mainly because the company had at least done something before. While all their previous releases were all legends sized, they were getting rave reviews from those who collected them. Transform Element had nothing to their name so for me it felt like a bigger risk.

But as the months passed, the more I compared the two, MS-01’s beefiness started to look less appealing while TE-01’s more streamlined look started to grow on me. I eagerly waited for reviews to pop up on YouTube for these two Primes and when they did, they both actually got positive reactions. Good reviews aside, there were a lot more notable differences pointed out.

First was the construction. MS-01 was a lot lighter, made almost completely out of high quality plastic. TE-01 had more diecast in it, giving it a heavier more solid feel. In terms of transformation, MS-01 was more straightforward, switching from robot to truck and back in the way you would expect it too.  Very close to Takara's two previous Primes.  TE-01 on the other hand was an eyeopener. His transformation was different. It looked more involved but not crazy. More importantly, it looked innovative, switching between modes in a manner I never expected. TE-01 definitely got my attention.

As I started leaning towards TE-01, I noticed other things that made me like it more. Most notably was his chest area where the Matrix of Leadership was stored. Ever since the first masterpiece Prime, MP-01 was released, it was pretty much a given that any “masterpiece” version of Optimus Prime needed to have a chest opening gimmick to properly house the Matrix. While both MS-01 and TE-01 had their Matrix chambers. Only TE-01 had a properly detailed housing, pretty much accurate to the 86 Transformers movie, which was something even Takara had never done. With MS-01, you could actually SEE the matrix behind Prime’s translucent truck windows on his chest...which I didn’t particularly like.

And speaking of truck windows, TE-01 did something that wasn’t needed but much appreciated. They managed to give us a Prime with window wipers in truck mode that could be conveniently stashed away and hidden in robot mode which was even more accurate to the cartoon.

Now while it wouldn’t be fair to hold Magic Square to the same cartoon standard (since didn’t seem to be their intention to begin with), comparing it to Takara’s MP-44, TE-01 looked even cleaner, especially his back, which didn’t have the oversized backpack of the Takara Prime.

Another thing I preferred in the TE-01 design over Magic Square were the knees.  In my opinion, MS-01 Prime’s knees were….well ugly.  When bent they sort of disappeared or at least looked rather lacking.   On the flipside, TE-01 Primes knees actually looked like proper knees when bent.  I know it may seem like a little thing, but once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it and it really bugged me to the high heavens.

And finally, we get to the truck mode. Just like his beefy looking robot mode, the back portion of MS-01’s truck mode looked too big for me. And when viewed from the top, you could clearly see the legs including Prime’s crotch area which is intact, giving away that this wasn’t an ordinary truck but actually a “robot in disguise”. This was also something present in the previous official MP Prime offerings from Takara. As for TE-01, part of it’s unique transformation involved taking apart Prime’s crotch area so it was not visible at all in truck mode, giving a more streamlined vehicle. It’s even way more cleaner than MP-44, who’s rear looks like a mess when viewed from above!

To be fair, aesthetic preferences really boil down to personal taste.  Some collectors prefer a beefier Prime, and so for them, Magic Square works better.  And to be fair, looks aside, Magic Square is actually a better articulated toy and can pull off slightly more action poses.  While he’s no slouch in the articulation department either, TE-01 Prime lacks one crucial bit, which is a proper rotation joint on the hip, instead the rotation joint is located just above the knee.  And while this does the same job as a joint on the hip, in some poses, it actually looks pretty off.

Anyway, in the end, with regards to TE-01, the good far outweighed the bad for me so I decided to ultimately take a chance on Transform Element’s Prime. And I was definitely not disappointed.  While Magic Square’s Prime seemed like a quality release as well based on reviews, I am glad I went with Transform Element for my new Prime.

After all is said and done though, I honestly don’t think you can go wrong with the Prime you ultimately go with (well...the jury is still out on Takara’s MP-44). As collectors today we really are so lucky to have so many options available to us. Especially when it comes to the legendary and heroic Autobot Commander, you can have Prime any way you want him.

*So as it turns out, Transform Element may not be as “new” to the 3rd party scene as was initially thought. While nothing has been confirmed, it has been widely speculated that Transform Element is actually connected to another more established company called Black Mamba, who are best known for making over sized and often times improved versions of official Takara Transformers. IF true, this would explain the high quality of TE-01 for a supposed “first release”.