Friday, April 16, 2021

The Best Of 2021: First Quarter Part 1

Well it's a new year and time to get cracking at another series of “Top Ten” installments for 2021. Unlike last year, which started out pretty slow, this year has been more business as usual with quite a lot of new stuff coming in these past few months. So we're gonna go back to the four quarter format.  Anyway, let’s get started on the first quarter list for 2021.

In comparison to last year's first installment. This time around, Transformers has come out of the gate guns blazing with two new really strong toy lines in Kingdom and Studio Series 86, based on the original 80's animated movie. On the flipside, Marvel Legends has been mostly absent...for now. But I fully expect that to change towards the end of the year.

So without any further ado, lets get started with a few honorable mentions.

Kingdom & Netflix Siege Megatron

I know these are 2 completely different characters but they share the same name so I decided to just lump them in together. When the original version Siege Megatron was released a few years back, he was basically outshined by his wave mate Siege Optimus Prime and viewed as the inferior toy. On my part though, I liked him quite a bit and the longer I had him, the more he grew on me. In my opinion, he’s definitely better than the newer Earthrise version and his new gunmetal paint deco just makes this guy even more impressive.

Kingdom Megatron himself is quite a beast. I simply love his purple T-rex mode. The face has so much personality and I love the engineering used that allows the dino legs to articulate. My main problem with this guy is his robot mode. It’s...fine I guess, but something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. I know that a big part is mainly due to his actual character design but his overall posture just seems off. And it’s a little thing but it bugs me to high heavens that he cannot look down. And while it's commendable of Hasbro to incorporate a more pliable rubbery plastic for the dino skin, the jury is still out on its longevity over time. At the end of the day though, it's still a great toy.

Earthrise Elita 1 / Double Dealer

If there’s one major highlight of the fairly mediocre (in my opinion) War for Cybertron trilogy on Netflix, it's that they really fleshed out the Autobot Elita One. Prior to this she was basically Prime’s partner who was left behind on Cybertron in the original cartoons with not much of a unique personality. This new trilogy gave us a real character we could get behind and appreciate, with ideals and priorities that didn't always mesh with Prime's. Which is why it was a bit of a disappointment that her new toy was just a repaint/remold of the fairly average Earthrise Arcee toy. This was the initial reason why I decided to skip this one. But in the end, a good character is just too hard to ignore so I bit the bullet. Fortunately, despite the negative reviews on Arcee, I found Elita One to be more solid. And being a store exclusive, they gave her more paint that made a big difference. It was quite a pleasant surprise.

And speaking of pleasant surprises, I give you Double Dealer. I never really had any nostalgic connection to this guy, which is why originally I opted to pass on this toy. Again negative reviews of this toy had me feeling that I dodged a bullet on this one. But when the opportunity presented itself to get one for less than half the going SRP, I figured why not? And again I was quite surprised by what I got. Maybe it was the lowered expectations but I find Double Dealer to be quite the fun toy. And his alt modes, which I originally found clunky turned out to be rather good, especially his Decepticon falcon mode. Add to the fact that I already had his minions, Skar and Knok from a previous purchase I really ended up enjoying this guy quite a bit.

Kingdom Black Arachnia / Cyclonus

I decided to group these two together since they were both Kingdom releases. Aside from that though, these two finally gave me satisfying representations of these characters that I am quite happy with after previously having less than perfect versions in my collection.

For Black Arachnia I originally had the repainted/remolded version of the Transformers Animated version released by Takara a few years back. While it was an admirable effort it definitely fell short. I thought I got my definitive version in the Masterpiece version, but it just felt too finicky and fragile. I opened it, transformed it and basically had no further desire to mess with it. So after watching reviews on this new Kingdom version, I decided to dial back my Masterpiece Beast Wars collection and go all in on their Kingdom versions instead...starting with Black Arachnia. While the MP version is the better toy in many ways, I much prefer this simpler version. It’s quite impressive in both modes given its size and unlike the MP version is quite fun to transform back and forth. And it just doesn’t feel as fragile.

My first Cyclonus was the old Universe deluxe version released back in 2008. While it was good for its time, as a deluxe, it was definitely too small. To address this, I upgraded later on to the Combiner Wars voyager sized one. But the problem with that version was it was just a remold of the previously released Aerialbot Silverbolt so it didn’t truly feel like Cyclonus. Which brings us to this new Kingdom version. It’s perfectly sized, solid and it’s own unique mold. The ONLY thing I’m not quite a fan of is his face, which I find to be too long with an oversized square jaw. But it’s a super tiny drawback to an otherwise great Cyclonus.

Marvel Legends Cull Obsidian / Proxima Midnight / Ebony Maw

It was quite the adventure trying to complete the Children of Thanos a few years back. Unfortunately most of the original toys were based on concept art that didn’t quite match their final appearances in the Infinity War. The biggest offender was the giant Cull Obsidian. So you can’t really blame Hasbro for wanting to get things right (and obviously make more money) by re-releasing a more screen accurate box set of the Children of Thanos. Getting myself this updated version was another adventure in itself that I will save for another post. Long story short though I finally got my screen accurate Cull Obsidian as well as Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw. And for now all things are good!

Now with all the honorable mentions out of the way, on to the main top 10 list.

10) Metal Deformation Starscream and Ratchet

I know a lot of people don’t like the whole “Bay-verse” live action Transformers movies….and for good reason. The movies got progressively worse and unwatchable as Michael Bay became less interested in the franchise as a whole. Given all that, I still love the first movie. It’s definitely not perfect, but I think it was good enough for a live action debut of my favorite robots. And talking about robots, I do appreciate most of the overcomplicated movie designs.

A couple of years ago I decided to upgrade my whole movie collection and sell off my existing Bay-verse bots and switch to the Masterpiece versions of the main robot cast from the first movie. I also went a step further and opted for KOs of the official MPMs when they were available. Regardless of what others feel about the evil nature of “knock offs”, I myself prioritize the most value for my money. And whether it's due better painted details, materials or slight design modifications, most of these MPM “knock offs” are simply superior toys than the originals. And with most of these usually costing significantly less than the official product, it’s really a no brainer in my book.

The case is true for both Metal Deformation’s Starscream and Rescue Pioneer aka Ratchet. Again I decided to lump these two together since they’re both knocked off by the same company.

Starscream is a more straightforward copy of the original with just overall better paint and materials. The toy itself is quite magnificent. It’s pretty huge and has a really strong presence on the shelf. He also completes my Decepticon lineup for now.

Rescue Pioneer on the other hand actually improves the original design by adding some articulation to allow you to more neatly fold up his rollcage on his back. The official one had bits sticking out on top which made for a bit of an eyesore in my opinion.

I have more work to do for completing Autobots, but this is a good start.

9) Kingdom Dinobot and Optimus Primal

As I mentioned earlier, I decided to “downgrade” my Beast Wars collection by selling off my Masterpiece collection and go for these cheaper alternatives. While the MP versions, especially Optimus Primal were very impressive toys, they were getting up there in price with each new release. And not being a huge Beast Wars fan, I just couldn’t justify continuing with the line.

These new Kingdom versions are great alternative options for casual Beast Wars fans like myself. It’s obvious that Hasbro put a little bit more love and effort on these guys, especially Optimus Primal and Dinobot. I really appreciate how they don’t use overly complicated engineering to switch between robot and beast modes, without seemingly sacrificing any major aesthetics. Both modes look fantastic with the right balance between the original CGI models (which look quite crude, goofy and outdated by today's standards) and a more modern and realistic look.

OK so I know this will be rather abrupt, but this post has gone on quite long. So I’ve decided to continue the rest of my list in a second post. So stay tuned!