Sunday, April 22, 2012

Transformers MP-11 – Takara Masterpiece Coronation Starscream


Hey look, it’s something not Avengers-related.  Just arrived from BBTS, my new Takara Masterpiece Starscream.  I was originally going to title this post "Reason # 813 Why Japanese Transformers Beat the Snot out of Their US Counterparts", but I figured that went without saying.  If you count the Hasbro Walmart-exclusive release in the US, MP-11 here is the fifth version of the Decepticon villain in the Masterpiece line.  So why should you care about buying this one?  Because, he comes with a new hat.  Duh.  Plus, a bunch more reasons after the jump.




First, a little history lesson:  In the beginning, Takara gave us (and by “us”, I mean Japan, and people not in Japan but willing to plunk down some cash) MP-03 Starscream.  This guy was a weird sort of greenish-gray color, not particularly G1-accurate, and the design of the figure in both bot and alt modes wasn’t entirely accurate to the character either.  The jet had these long, thin “conformal fuel tank” pieces under the body that covered the robot parts (This made the jet mode an F-15E, instead of the original F-15C that Starscream was based on), and in bot mode, these pieces hung from the waste and changed the look of the figure substantially.  It also impacted poseability and articulation.  The saddest part about this unfortunate design choice is, the original figure design didn’t include these extra fuel tank pieces, and looked much more accurate to the character’s cartoon design.  Fans were disappointed, but apparently not too disappointed; despite all this, the figure was actually a pretty damn impressive feat of Transformers engineering and sold well enough that Takara released countless more versions based on this mold.

We next got MP-06 Skywarp, MP-07 Thundercracker, MP-03G Ghost Starscream, and even Hasbro finally jumped on the bandwagon, releasing this sculpt as a Walmart exclusive in the US, featuring a more G1-accurate deco for Starscream.  Takara also released this same figure in identical packaging overseas, without any “MP” designation, and Hasbro released another repaint as Skywarp in the US the following year.  I’m not even going to try and count the numerous third-party and knock-off releases based heavily on this mold.

So why release yet ANOTHER Masterpiece Starscream?  To make money, of course.  Also, they finally improved on the mold.  Let’s examine…

Packaging

Takara's packaging alone is nicer than Hasbro's entire product


MP-11 comes in pretty standard Takara Masterpiece packaging.  That is to say, it’s much nicer than anything you’ll find on the store shelf here in the states.  The box is a nice matte, black, sturdy cardboard, embossed with shiny foil lettering, lots of color, graphics, and a ton of Japanese print that I won’t even begin to attempt to translate.  The back of the box gives you a great look at the figure in various poses featuring the different accessories included.  This is important, because there are no windows anywhere on this box.  The box is sealed, so you have no way of knowing exactly what it looks like until you buy it and slice the tape to open it.  If this were a Hasbro product, I would have serious concerns about buying something this expensive without first being able to inspect the actual figure for paint quality.  But this is Takara, and their track record with quality-control, especially in the Masterpiece line, is far cleaner than Hasbro’s.




Once you slice the tape sealing the box and open the flap, you’ll find all of the contents secured in a form-fitting plastic clamshell.  Slicing about a dozen more pieces of tape will reward you with your prize:  Starscream in robot mode, his crown and coronation gear, his holographic pilot (Tupac, is that you?), and his card, booklet and advertisement in a plastic sleeve.




If you are the type of collector that leaves things “mint in box”, you’re really missing out with this figure.

Bot Mode

Developing an insidious plan to usurp your toy shelf at this very moment.



In bot mode, the mold changes to Starscream are pretty apparent right off the bat.  The fuel tank/hip pieces are gone, making room for thicker, more accurate looking lower legs (with the stabilizer fins attached, as they should be).  Starscream’s tiny pinhead from previous releases has been re-done as well, and is now appropriately larger and wider.  Several pieces in the torso and arms have also been re-done, and the result of these changes is a much more proportionate and iconic looking bot mode, with enhanced poseability and articulation.  This also makes him much easier to stand, without worry of him toppling over like MP-03 often did.



One unfortunate loss, compared to the previous releases:  the new head sculpt does not include the alternating “smirk” face.  This is a shame, since the smirk was a pretty signature look for ‘Screamer, but the new head looks great regardless.



The deco looks great in this mode.  The blue parts are metallic, and the body itself is molded in a light gray plastic, instead of the off-white of more recent releases.  Starscream has often been depicted both ways, but I prefer the grey over the white.  And I think this is technically the color that’s more accurate to the G1 cartoon.

MP-11 with Takara Movie Masterpiece Starscream, which was also better than the Hasbro version
As for size, MP-11, like the rest of the Masterpiece Seekers, comes in slightly smaller than most "Leader Class" figures.

"This cape really brings out the color of my eyes."



The coronation gear is a nice add-on to the bot mode, but for me, it wasn’t the real draw of this figure.  The shoulder pads peg securely into place and don’t hinder shoulder articulation, thanks to some well designed hinges in the shoulders, the cape attaches securely to the back (and makes the figure just a little back heavy, but not too bad), and the gold chrome crown fits nicely atop the new head sculpt.






The cape is a little weird, since it’s not actual cloth (unlike a certain third-party coronation set that came out for MP-03 a couple years back), but it works well and looks good.  Using a pair of ball joints and two hinges that run diagonally down the back of the cape, it can be closed, expanded, or posed for different looks.  Neat concept, but honestly, I’ll probably be leaving Starscream displayed without the coronation gear most of the time.  Even as a kid watching the movie in 1986, I thought the idea of an evil robot wearing a lavender cape and crown was a little silly.  Still, if the new robot parts alone aren’t enough to suck in repeat buyers for another purchase, these accessories are a nice bonus.




Transformation

Right out of the box, without looking at the instructions, transforming MP-11 will be pretty intuitive to anyone that has owned any previous versions of the Masterpiece Seekers.  In fact, transforming this version is faster and easier than previous versions, thanks to the reduced hip-kibble and other new parts.  Of note, when moving the head, you’ll actually need to press the sides of the head inward.  They are spring-loaded to allow for the new wider head to still fit through the original small frame to move it from bot to jet mode and back.  Take special care when transforming from jet mode to bot, if you're not paying attention, you will easily decapitate Starscream (though the head does pop easily back onto the ball joint).

Leg poses now include 83% less suck




If you scroll back and forth through the previous 8 photos, it's almost as cool as Jason's stop-motion Lego animation
Also new for the transformation, the null-rays are attached to the upper- arms via poseable …errr… arms.  This means you don’t have to detach and set them aside during transformation, you just maneuver them out of the way and then still plug them into the underside of the wing once in jet more.  This is a cool feature, but the one downside is Starscream no longer includes the sidewinder missiles that replaced the null-rays in jet mode in past releases.

Jet Mode


As mentioned above, the lack of fuel tanks on the side of the body in jet mode help Starscream to better resemble the F-15C fighter that he should.  This is a nice improvement on the overall appearance of the jet.  Beyond this, not much has changed.



 Jet mode still features deployable landing gear, moveable airbrake, flaps, thrusters, stabilizers, engine cover, and a nose cone that moves aside to reveal the metallic-painted radar unit.



The cockpit still opens, and seats the included holographic pilot.  I like that this release came with a generic holo-pilot this time around, rather than Dr. Arkeville from the prior release.  The holo-pilot just plain looks cool. 


The deco in this mode is impressive as well, with metallic blue and grey accents and three purple Decepticon badges, but there is one thing missing, compared to the most recent releases; the panel lines.  The lines themselves are all still there in the sculpt, but are no longer inked in.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it helps give the figure a more cartoonish appearance, but it is a detail I miss.  This could easily be remedied with a fine tipped paint marker (or Gundam marker) and an afternoon with nothing better to do, but I’m not sure yet whether I want to alter my MP-11.



Perhaps the most important change in this mode however, is the stability of the pieces.  All of the pieces feel very securely locked into place, there are no gaps between pieces, and nothing feels fragile.  Overall, this is a much more solidly built toy.  Even the quality of the plastic feels sturdier compared to prior releases.

Bottom Line

"What'd the five fingers say to the face?  SLAP!"


Overall, MP-11 is a very well designed, well executed, brilliantly engineered piece of plastic machinery.  It is many steps ahead of its predecessors both in quality and appearance.  I actually sold off my older Masterpiece Seekers to a friend last year, because I just didn’t like how much they differed from what I visualize in my mind as the iconic G1 design.  Now I’m really glad I did.  MP-11 blows them away in almost every regard.


The one and only real complaint I have with this figure:  It doesn’t include a stand.  I love the stand used on previous Masterpiece Seekers, as it allowed the figure to be displayed flying/hovering in either jet or robot mode.  MP-11 does not include any sort of stand, and while some might argue that it’s not needed here, since this figure can actually stand on its own, I still think it’s a miss on Takara’s part.  The stand would be the icing on the cake for this otherwise outstanding figure. 


MP-11 is currently in stock at Big Bag Toy Store, priced at $159.99.  If you don’t currently own any version of Masterpiece Starscream, don’t hesitate to pick it up for this price.  Right now.  If you do own a previous version, you should seriously consider selling that, then not hesitating to put that money toward buying this version.  Seriously.  This is my favorite Transformers figure in a long, long time.

Now, Takara, how long until I can have Skywarp and Thundercracker released on this new mold?

"Bottom line is, give all your money to Takara.  Right now.  Or the puppy gets null-rayed."




We now return you to your regularly scheduled month of Avengers programming...

1 comment:

  1. While I do like some of the improvements here, the trade off isn't worth it to be honest. The jet mode, while the same standard as a lot of other figures in the Masterpiece line, simple pales in comparison to the original. Even the larger head, while proportionally better, suffers since it doesn't have the nice faceswap gimmick as the original head.

    It is nice for those interested in accuracy to the 80's though, and I do covet those heelspurs for my own seekers.

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