Wednesday, February 24, 2021

All That Jazz

Of all the Autobots and Decepticons introduced in the 1984 Transformers cartoon, Jazz was one of the more memorable ones. Simply put, he was just so easy to like. Everything about him was He transformed into a Martini Porsche 935 turbo, which was probably one of the most visually interesting cars in the Autobot fleet. And he had a uniquely distinct voice, done by actor and musician Scatman Crothers.

Jazz is best known for being the right hand bot to Optimus Prime and doing the Autobot transforming roll call. His easy going freestyle nature served as the perfect compliment to Prime’s chief military strategist Prowl. Jazz and Prowl were like the right and left side of Prime’s brain respectively.

Despite his popularity though, growing up I never had his toy, in fact I’m not really sure if I’ve actually handled it since I didn’t even know any friends who had him. So I never really developed too much of a nostalgic attachment to the guy. He was kinda like the “cool” bot that I just admired from afar.

Since that original toy though, there have been many other newer toys of Jazz made. Most of them were pretty good, others not so. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites that I have gotten through the years.

I actually got my very first Jazz toy years later as an adult. It was released under the collector oriented Transformers line called Alternators. This line featured many of the familiar G1 Autobots from the 80’s transforming into updated realistic and officially licensed cars. Jazz was supposed to be one of the first characters in the line but unfortunately Hasbro hit a couple of crucial snags before it could be finally released.

Since one of the main selling points of this line was the legit and official alternate modes, Hasbro had to get the approval from German motor company Volkswagen, to get the Porsche license. They went as far as the prototype stage with Jazz sporting an updated Porsche 986 alt mode. Unfortunately, Volkswagen wasn’t interested in having their cars associated with anything that had to do with combat, war, violence, you name it, so they didn’t grant Hasbro the permission to reproduce a Porsche car.

So plan B was to give Jazz an “alternate” alt mode and they went with a Mazda RX8 instead. While it wasn’t a Porsche it was still a cool looking car. Unfortunately they also couldn’t give the car Jazz’s characteristic red and blue race stripes as I imagine that design was also tied in with the Porsche design so he came in plain white instead.

The next and in my opinion more crucial snag they hit though was that Hasbro couldn’t even call the toy “Jazz” as they had lost the trademark to Honda who used the name “Jazz” for their own hatchback car. So the alternator toy was released under Jazz’s traditional Japanese name “Meister”, which is the German word for "master" or "someone who excels in his craft".

Despite being a different car and called by a different name though, we all knew that this guy was Jazz, especially since he still sported his iconic blue visor on his face. And just to drive home the point, some entrepreneurial fans even produced stickers of his red and blue race stripes that could be applied to Meister to make him look more...Jazzy.

When 2007 rolled along with the first live action Transformers movie, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Jazz was on the shortlist of Autobots to be featured. This time around he transformed into a Pontiac Solstice. This was the result of real world business, as General Motors, the owner of the Pontiac brand paid the studio a huge sum of money to have their vehicles heavily featured in the movie. As a result, Jazz went through another slight cosmetic change, now sporting a shiny silver look. But just to keep fans happy, he still sported his visor. Unfortunately, Jazz didn’t last long in the Transformer movie-verse as he was literally ripped in half by Megatron during the last battle of the movie.

Despite his rather short life in the franchise, I actually have a strong nostalgic connection to this specific Jazz. It was around this time that I had started really getting back into collecting toys. So this new movie and the accompanying toy line was a BIG thing for me. Here in Manila, there was an official toy launch that was held in one of our biggest malls in the city. Unfortunately I came a little late for the grand opening and when I got there, all the main characters had already been sold out. I was about to give up and go home, when I spied a little bit of silver in a sea of tan Bonecrushers. There tucked in the back was one single Jazz which I quickly scooped up and so he was my first official movie Transformer toy (well, him and Bonecrusher).

To be honest, the original movie Jazz toy wasn’t the best, but I really loved it. I thought that his transformation was pretty cool for what it was. And the only reason I ended up selling him was because I wanted to upgrade to the later released Studio Series version years later. I did hold onto a G1 based redeco of the original movie Jazz toy.

In the end though I ended up getting the movie masterpiece version which is pretty much the best representation of the movie Jazz out there in my opinion. Ok ok, so I didn’t get the official version but instead got the KO one which was cheaper, but surprisingly better built and painted.

The next Jazz toy worth mentioning was the Transformers Animated version released in 2008. This guy was interesting because he had an extremely stylized and cartoony look, which was the trademark of the show that he was from. It was a far cry from the typical blockiness of the original toy, or even the hyper detailed realism of the movie line...but it worked so well. While initially he wasn’t a major character in the show, he was featured more in the later episodes and was set to join the main team before the show was unfortunately cancelled. One cool feature about this toy was that instead of the usual gun or rifle, his main weapons were a pair of nunchucks that formed his side exhaust pipes in vehicle mode. Yeah just in case you thought Jazz wasn’t cool enough, they turned him into some sort of robot martial arts fighter as well.

With that in mind, on an interesting sidenote, another animated character that Scatman Crothers was well known for voicing was the Hannah Barbera martial arts “expert” dog Hong Kong Phooey.

It took a few more years for Hasbro to finally produce a more “classic” looking Jazz for their “Reveal the Shield” line. While not officially licensed, he finally transformed into a “Porche-ish” looking car and basically looked like his G1 character in robot mode. He even came with a couple of speakers that could be deployed in both modes. This basically served as almost everybody’s go-to Jazz for 10 years until he was finally dethroned by the Studio Series 86 Jazz in 2021.

Unlike many of his fellow G1 Autobots that made an appearance in the 1986 Animated movie, Jazz actually managed to survive despite being swallowed up by Unicron. After spending almost the entirety of the movie inside the planet sized Transformer’s belly, he was rescued and made his great escape through Unicron’s eye with Rodimus Prime and company. He even had a non speaking cameo in the third season of the G1 cartoon.

Anyway despite barely being featured, Hasbro figured that he would make a great inclusion with their new Studio Series 86 line. And I have to say, this is a really solid toy. To date I think that this is the best mainline and official iteration of the classic G1 Jazz available out there.

Of course, if you want to go with truly the best version, you’d have to look at the “masterpiece” line of Transformers. Unfortunately, despite numerous rumors, Hasbro/Takara have yet to announce an official MP Jazz. Although I think Volkswagen has since softened its stance against “war related toys”, I mean we did get two MP Bumblebees, I suspect this would be the main reason for the delay as it seems like a no brainer to have a MP Jazz by now.

Fortunately, third party companies have come to the rescue with at least three decent options for a masterpiece Jazz. First is Toyworld with their offering, Coolsville, which was actually Jazz’s working name when his original bio was first being written. This version was based more on the original toy so it’s more detailed and sports a busier car deco. On the other side we got Maketoy’s Downbeat which was more like the cartoon with simpler stylings. And somewhere in between we got Transform and Rollout’s Agent Meister.

I opted to get Maketoy’s Downbeat since I preferred the cleaner look. I also loved how they engineered the front of the car to compress during transformation for a slimmer robot chest. But really I don’t think you can go wrong with any option.

I think it’s worth noting too that another popular 3rd party company Fans Toys also announced their own MP Jazz to be released sometime in the near future (whenever that may be), and although there have been no actual prototypes yet, their renders look really good.

Anyway, like I said in the start, Jazz is just one of those Transformers characters who is easy to like. Even many casual fans are most likely aware of his existence. My wife also has him as her favorite Transformer. Even though Jazz may not be MY favorite, I do think he’s an essential piece to any decent Transformers collection.