Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Best Of 2021: Part 2

And so here we are at the main event, the best of 2021. Aside from the ongoing pandemic, quite a lot happened toy-wise during the last quarter of the year; from a failed Haslab campaign to a number of last minute releases that directly affected the outcome of my top ten list. So let's get started.

While you could definitely call on a bit of recency bias, half the entries in my final list are all from the last quarter of 2021. But I stand by my choices. So let’s say goodbye to last quarter’s previous entrees that have been displaced.

10) The Max Rebo Band

Thanks to the Book of Boba Fett, we now know that the bounty hunter wasn’t the only one to survive the destruction of Jabba’s sail barge! Just like he survived the events of Return of the Jedi, Max Rebo survives the last top ten purge for 2021 along with his bandmates Sy Snootles and Droopy McCool in tow! Even if Hasbro ends up doing an official version of these guys in the near future, this set is cool enough to stand on their own as a solitary display piece. Now the question is whether to add more members to the band in 2022.

9) Kingdom Rodimus Prime

Despite his intended purpose as the brand new leader of the Autobots, Rodimus Prime has never managed to come close to Optimus Prime in terms of love from the fandom. Some would say he’s even been outshined popularity wise by his previous incarnation of Hotrod. But in 2021, Rodimus Prime finally takes center stage with a modern toy that we have been waiting for for years! Some may disagree with his higher Commander Class price point, but I think he’s worth it. I think you get your full money’s worth with this guy.

8) Siege Jetfire

Jetfire/Skyfire will always have a special place in my robots in disguise loving heart, as he was one of the first official Transformers that I ever got. More importantly though was that I got him when none of my friends (including myself) even knew he existed! So for the next few months, I was the keeper of the coolest Transformer toy on the block. This latest modern version of Jetfire is probably the best one Hasbro has ever produced yet and so it’s no surprise that he makes the final cut for 2021 as the only entry left standing from the first quarter.

7) Skybreaker Megatron

While most Bayverse fans have been filling up on the Studio Series line for the past few years, in 2021, I went the other way with Movie Masterpiece. What started out as “I’ll only complete the main Decepticons from the first live action movie in 2020…turned into I’ll get Megatron’s Crew from the Last Knight…and every other possible MPM-ish release in between in 2021. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I have a problem. Don’t judge me. Anyway, of all the MPMs I got last year, Skybreaker Megatron from the Last Knight tops them all. And it’s not even close. This guy possesses the trifecta of what makes the perfect MPM: Zero kibble robot mode, accurate alternate mode, and most importantly a fairly involved but intuitive and fun Transformation process. This guy is a unicorn.

6) SH Figuarts Avengers Assemble

After completing the Endgame lineup, I was itching to get a nice display of the original six Avengers from the first movie, where it all began. Unfortunately after over 10 years of producing Marvel Cinematic Universe figures, the only versions of Captain AMerica, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye from the first movie were the ones first released around 2012, and most of these just look sorely outdated.

Fortunately, Japanese company SH Figuarts came to the rescue with their “Avengers Assemble” collection. Now while I have dipped heavily into SHF stuff for my Star Wars shelf, when it comes to MCU, it has been a complete pass since their stuff is at a noticeably smaller scale than Legends. So while you really can’t mix in MCU SHFs with your Legends, I made an exception for these guys because they could basically stand on their own display shelf.

Before I got into Legends, I collected the smaller 3.75” Marvel Universe line, and the crown jewel of that collection was my Avengers team from the first movie. Eventually I ended up selling them along with the entire Universe collection, so having this more premium set makes up for that loss…big time.

5) Super 7 Slithe

This has been a long time coming, ever since the original Club Third Earth Thundercats line by Mattel was canceled back in 2017 without them even completing the classic Thundercats roster. We got a glimmer of hope of the line continuing under Super 7, but even that was initially denied. But Super 7 didn’t stop trying and a few years later, they finally got the license to continue the line. It was big news, but even with the license in hand, it still took them over two years to finally get Slithe in our hands! And what can I say? This giant reptile mutant is everything I ever wanted and more! But aside from being a great figure, what he represents is what makes him more significant. Slithe is the first “new” character that I got since the Mattel releases and for me real physical proof that this line is alive and kicking. Keep them coming Super 7!

4) Studio Cell Pumpkin (Masterpiece Unicron)

One of the best ongoing Transformers “sublines” Hasbro has got rolling out now is their Studio Series 86 line. And as 2021 rolled along, my Transformers movie display grew significantly to the point that I felt that it needed the ultimate centerpiece….the Chaos Bringer…Unicron.

I had already missed the boat on the whole Haslab Unicron release and was not willing to spend insane secondary market prices to get one. Instead I opted for the 3rd party version with Studio Cell’s “Pumpkin”. Now while this version is about half the size of the official one, I think it’s big enough for what I need him to do. Which is to stand menacingly over my Studio Series 86 collection.

Size aside though, I think he is far superior to the official one when it comes to the actual look of the toy. The way Studio Cell managed to make a perfect sphere transform to a zero kibble robot is an engineering marvel in itself. Of course, in order to get from one mode to the other is extremely involved. But it isn’t as nightmarish as many online reviewers made it up to be. In any case, this isn’t the type of toy that was meant to be flipped back and forth between modes regularly.

Bottomline, all faults aside, this is a seriously impressive toy, one that is sure to stand out in any display. The moment I pulled him out of his box I knew, there was no doubt that he was a shoe in for the top ten.

3) Rancor

So A LOT has happened Rancor-wise in the Star Wars collecting community since my third quarter top ten post in October. At the time, speculation was high (actually it was mistakenly leaked during an online fan Q&A) that the next HasLab project would be a Rancor for the 6” Black Series line. I told myself that even if I already had my custom 3D printed beauty that I would still go all in on this official one since I figured it would be a better figure and the stretch goals would have made it worth the high price tag. Well, a few weeks later, it was official and the fandom was given a little over a month to fund the project with 9000 backers….and it failed.

Just type in “Haslab Rancor” on Youtube and you will find numerous videos of collectors ranting (or celebrating) on why this project failed; overpricing, a lackluster marketing campaign, lousy stretch goals or bad timing (right before Christmas), take your pick. The point is that it failed and nobody will be getting a new Rancor next year.

And this makes my decision to go ahead with my 3D printed custom this year all the more significant and worthwhile. So it looks like my big boy will remain the sole Rancor in my collection for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for him though, he doesn’t manage to ultimately hold on to the top spot on my list.

2) Robot Paradise Acoustic Wave (Masterpiece Soundwave)

Way back in 2006, during the “baby years” of 3rd party Transformers, an obscure company called Fans Toys announced their first ever attempt at a Masterpiece styled Transformer with a series prototype pictures posted online. Dubbed Acoustic Wave, this was to be their version of the Decepticon communications commander Soundwave. Not long after, Takara Tomy announced the imminent release of their official version. And possibly fearing weak sales or worse yet a lawsuit, Fans Toys immediately scrapped their plans for Acoustic Wave and he became a mere footnote in the history of 3rd Party Transformers.

Fast forward 13 years later. By this time Fans Toys has firmly established itself as one of the top (if not the number one) 3rd Party companies for Masterpiece styled G1 Transformers and they surprise everyone by announcing their plans to finally release an updated version of their Acoustic Wave. And in 2021, it finally became a reality with Acoustic Wave finally shipping out to collectors hands. Curiously, the toy is released under a “new” company, Robot Paradise. But the new name (possibly meant to protect the main Fans Toys brand safe from Takara/Hasbro) doesn’t fool anyone, this is a FansToys release through and through.

As opposed to the original 2006 design, this final release went with the currently more popular cartoon accurate aesthetic. But Fans Toys has thoughtfully included a number of swappable parts for those who prefer the more detailed toy look. And while some might argue that the transformation isn’t as smooth as the official one, it’s still not terrible and I do think it’s perfectly fine. I mean you’re basically folding up a robot into a rectangular box. How can you over engineer that?

Now the official MP Soundwave is still to this day considered one of the best official MPs ever released, but it is over a decade old and standing next to Acoustic Wave, I think his age really shows. Ultimately, judging by the overall look to the build and materials used, for me, Acoustic Wave is clearly the superior Soundwave.

Deformation Space Crimson Wings (Masterpiece Starscream)

So if you know me and what I like to collect, you know that I am a Decepticon Seeker whore. I LOVE the seekers and have tried to get as many iterations of Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp that I can get my collector hands on. Given that, one would wonder why my Masterpiece styled seekers are still the almost decade old “2.0” versions. Well simply put, there just haven’t been any real notable updated MP Seeker releases, official or 3rd party, since then.

Yes many may argue that 2017’s Howling Meteor by Maketoys is a worthy upgrade, but for some reason I just didn’t like it. Admittedly there were times I was tempted, but ultimately I was holding out for an official seeker update from Takara. And this finally happened when they announced their new 3.0 version in 2020. By this time, Takara had shifted their focus to more slavishly accurate cartoon looking designs and selling their bots at a more premium price point. And this would have been OK with me except that he just didn’t look very good in my opinion. For starters, he looked too dark colorwise. But it was his proportions that were the worst offender in my book. He looked extremely top heavy, high waisted with really skinny upper legs. And I felt that he was too short. So it was looking like another pass for me.

Then out of nowhere, an unknown company called Deformation Space started showing pictures of their own new MP styled Starscream. And he looked really good! Of course, since this was an unknown company*, I took the wait and see approach. So in 2021, both Starscreams were released within months of each other. The official came out first…to lukewarm reviews. Apparently, many of them came with a number of QC issues, most notably weak knees and ankles that gave him trouble standing! This understandably made collectors irate given it’s high price. A few months later, Deformation Space’s version finally came out and the majority of the fan’s had nothing but praise for this guy. So it was a no-brainer for me to go with Deformation Space. And I was definitely not disappointed.

Deformation Space Crimson Wings is the ultimate MP seeker that I have waited on for years. While I don’t have the official MP to directly compare, based on feedback online, Crimson Wings is clearly the better seeker for me. Everything I found off with the official is just perfect here. He’s taller with the right shade of gray/off white and more importantly, his proportions are so much better in my book. And he is built of quality materials, he’s solid and stable. And the kicker is he cost under half the price of the official one!

The biggest knock on Crimson WIngs is that he has a rather involved and somewhat difficult transformation. But I don’t mind it. I’ve experienced worse. It’s just very methodical with steps that need to be done a specific way and in the correct sequence. And once you get the hang of it, it really is a breeze.

It took awhile, but now I finally have my perfect seeker in Deformation Space Crimson Wings (Starscream) and I can’t wait for Thundercracker and Skywarp to finally arrive in a month or two to finally complete my updated Seeker triumvirate.

*So it turns out that Deformation Space may be connected with (or possibly the same company as) Transform Element, the company that gave us TE-01 Op Leader, one of my top toys of 2019. And the plot thickens with both companies being linked to Black Mamba, another company known for their improved oversized versions of official Transformers products. Apparently, it is common practice for 3rd party companies to work under different “identities” to help them avoid legal issues with Hasbro/Takara. Take one company down, then they move on to release stuff under another name. Just like Fans Toys and Robot Paradise. Comparing Crimson Wing and Op Leader, it seems mighty plausible since they both have similar solid material and builds and interestingly unique but involved Transformations. Anyway, if this is true then it would explain the excellent quality of this supposed “first release” from a “brand new” company.