Wednesday, 4 November 2015

REVIEW: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-25 Tracks

NOTE: This review was originally published on 4th November 2015 on my Facebook page.

MP-25 in the TakaraTomy Masterpiece line was a highly anticipated reveal. Speculation was rife as to which Transformer would fill the spot, as many felt that the number 25 would be reserved for a popular or prominent character from the G1 canon, which led to rumours about it being coveted names such as Megatron version 2, or even Galvatron. So, when Tracks was revealed, it's fair to say that many were initially displeased, writing him off as (at best) a B-list character, who was 'undeserving' of being placed so far up the list of priority when it came to choosing potential Masterpiece figures. Add to this that the initial reveal of Tracks as MP-25 was a rather unfortunate & poor quality prototype photo, it's safe to say that this figure's journey to arrival has had its ups and downs. Further photos only compounded the dislike, as they often made the prototype look overly skinny, or not particularly well put together.

Fortunately, by the time proper painted pictures turned up, most people had been more than won over, and the more that's been revealed of MP-25 Tracks as the months have rolled on, the more he's become highly anticipated, and with good reason. Just one week away from release, expectation is now super high, and as always there's a danger that the final figure won't live up to the mounting hype.

So, how does he compare? Thanks to the lovely folk at Kapow Toys, let's find out.

Tracks comes packaged in the usual carbot-sized Masterpiece box. It's everything that you would expect from a release in this line, although it's perhaps impressive that the box is the same size as normal, considering all of the accessories that are inside. One thing I noticed on the box is that there is no photo of Tracks emerging from Prime's trailer, which is perhaps a first, although he definitely fits inside in case anyone was worried!

He comes packaged with his instructions and collector card, two sets of wing mirrors (which need to be installed the same as the likes of Bumblebee & Wheeljack), his pistol, a gun that fits onto the front of his flying car mode, Raoul (from the G1 cartoon episode Make Tracks) and a very small rendition of Blaster's tape deck mode. In addition, his has two large pieces which make up a flight stand for the flying car mode. Phew!

Mine also came with the usual collector coin, with the front being a very faithful rendition of the flame deco' from his car bonnet*. I must admit that I don't generally make a point of collecting the coins, but this one is very nicely done and attractive.
* NB - if you're not British, car bonnet means car hood!

Tracks' vehicle mode is of course a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, famous for it's large bonnet which, in Tracks' case at least, is beautifully adorned with a flaming crest surrounding an Autobot logo. It's a stunning car, and I think it's fair to say that MP-25 does an absolutely incredible job at recreating it. Excitement about seeing this car mode recreated in Masterpiece form was high, and this figure does not disappoint. From the moment I took it out of the box, I was amazed at how beautiful it is from every angle!

Stunning stuff indeed, and the impressive vehicle mode plus a healthy dose of pure '80s nostalgia definitely did a number on me the first time I handled this figure. I still regularly look at the Lambos and Datsuns and marvel at how amazing their vehicle modes are, but Tracks is something else entirely in this form... it really is beautiful.

I think a large part of my enjoyment of this mode, and Tracks in general, comes from a love of the character and the original G1 toy. Tracks was a mainstay of my own childhood collection, having survived (almost) intact to this day, despite consistently being one of my favourite figures and therefore being given a fair amount of attention over the years! I think there was something about a car like this, with such a distinct silhouette and the large bonnet that really made an impression on me - it certainly wasn't the kind of thing you saw on many British high streets when I growing up. When looking at this figure now versus the G1 toy, you realise how far we really have come from 1985 to 2015.

Despite the praise, there are compromises, as with every Masterpiece figure. Perhaps the most noticeable one here is the slight presence of kibble towards the back end, with a hint of the robot arms being visible. However, it's worth saying that this is actually more subtle than the similarly-placed kibble on MP-12 Sideswipe, and in itself really is the very definition of a nitpick. For me personally, it didn't bother me one bit, although I appreciate that it's the kind of thing that some may find fault with.

The only other real downside that I can think of is the visibility of the robot mode head on the inside of the car windscreen. I have seen a few fans comment on this already, although if I'm honest I will say that it really doesn't bother me that much, personally speaking. I suppose it would have been a lot less evident had they chosen to use dark tinted windows, and this would have also made it look a lot more consistent with other MP releases. What is slightly odd here is that the windows are inconsistent - the rear window has a nice blue tint, whereas the front windscreen and side windows are seemingly clear. One can't help but feel that even a consistent blue tint would have been preferable, although again, it really doesn't bother me that much, and if anything, the head is one of those things that you stop noticing pretty quickly. As some have speculated, it seems likely that the clear windshield in this case was a conscious decision on Takara's part, as it allows for visibility of the cars interior dashboard, where both Tracks' gun and the mini-Blaster figure can be stored in plain view. Personally, I prefer to store the gun there, as it's easy enough to do during transformation from robot mode back to vehicle mode, and is pretty handy weapons-storage.

Speaking of mini-Blaster, the inclusion of both him and Raoul is of course a homage to the G1 cartoon episode Make Tracks, in which Tracks is damaged and stuck in car mode, only to be repaired by Raoul who he later befriends. They both make for really nice additions to this release, and add to the 'play value' overall. Tracks' bonnet also lifts up to reveal a very un-Earthly-looking engine underneath. This is also a reference to that same episode, with the interior even mirroring its animation appearance, chock full of beautiful detail. It's worth mentioning that the bonnet lifts up in the same way as in the cartoon, with the hinge being nearest to the windshield and not at the front like on a real-life Corvette, but this is of course just an indication of Takara taking cues from the cartoon and not them making a factual error. I suppose my only real nitpick with all of this is that it's a shame Raoul is a static figure with absolutely no articulation, and not in keeping with other human figures in the Masterpiece line, that at least have some poseability. He's also a little shorter than the likes of Spike, making him seem a little odd by comparison. Still, a nice touch nonetheless, and one that works well in isolation with Tracks is nothing else. Mini-Blaster is nothing short of a mini-marvel, though!

It's worth highlighting how beautifully painted this mode is - it really is flawless! The blue itself has a lovely metallic flake to it that is very eye-catching, and even caught my wife's attention. I was also very pleased that the flame deco' on his bonnet is perfectly reproduced, and looks glorious; it's completely perfect in every way. He has an attractively-reproduced Autobot logo on top of his roof, exactly as in his animated appearance, although fans who prefer more of a real-world aesthetic will be pleased to note that this is on a flip panel similar to MP-21 Bumblebee, and so can be hidden during transformation back to car mode should you wish. He comes adorned with some very faithful and detailed Chevrolet logos - these might be the best looking yet on any Masterpiece car.

Of course, a large part of the fun is seeing Tracks alongside his Autobot brethren, and here there's no doubt that he really adds something to the ranks!

So, all in all, this is an incredible vehicle mode, and I have to say that it's definitely one of my favourties in the Masterpiece line thus far. I don't want to say it is my favourite just yet, for fear that it's just excitement-tinted glasses making that judgement, but time well may prove this to be the case. Of course, there's more to Tracks' vehicle mode than meets the eye...

One of the most unique things about Tracks is that he also has a flying car mode! Opinion is often divided as to whether this is a separate vehicle mode (effectively making Tracks a triple changer) or not, but whichever way you look at it there's no denying that a Masterpiece rendition of the character would not have been complete without it. Indeed, I always felt that the Binaltech Tracks was lacking without it. Fortunately, MP-25 does not disappoint, and this mode is every bit as amazing as it needs to be!

Whilst not complicated, the transformation from car to flying car is surprisingly involved (even featuring little fins that pop up on his rear end!), and also makes optional use of one of Tracks' other accessories - a small gun which can be slotted into the front of the car mode. Personally, I like it with this on, and I think it's a great addition. I will also give credit to this being the only piece of 'partsforming' required to make the flight mode. Unlike the G1 toy, all of the additional parts here are self-contained within the figure itself.

This mode also makes use of the flight stand that is included with this release. The stand is made up of two parts of black plastic, and has an Autobot logo on the base. It does an admirable job at propping up Tracks in his flight mode, and makes for an attractive display. Personally, I prefer clear flight stands for things like photography, but this is a very welcome inclusion, and it also means that you're able to make use of Tracks' 'third' mode without feeling that you have to run around the house making pretending that he's flying. Not that you would, of course. Never.

So, whilst not stunningly different from his main vehicle mode, this flight mode does everything right because it realises that it doesn't need to be. It's everything that you would want from a transforming car with wings!

”I'd rather stay in my stunning auto' mode... but then I couldn't do this!”

Another thing about being a Transformers fan growing up in the UK was that we didn't get to see a fair portion of the G1 cartoon series. Whilst it was sporadically shown on TV, most of us and myself included became accustomed with the cartoon through owning VHS tapes, and so we would often be overly familiar with specific episodes, giving us a rather distinct impression of the series. I credit this perhaps rather narrow view on the animated canon as being a large part of why certain characters ended up being favourites of mine - they were simply the ones who showed up in the episodes I was more familiar with. One of my favourite episodes growing up was the two-part season 2 adventure Dinobot Island, and for whatever reason Tracks' sole appearance and one line of dialogue here has always stuck with me. Perhaps it's not surprising; the chap turns up in flying car mode to take on a pirate ship that has just emerged through a time warp. First impressions don't come much better when you're five years old!

In any case, I've always been a fan of Tracks, and so I was personally very excited when he was announced as MP-25. I'm also pleased to report that his robot mode incarnation is not one that will disappoint members of his loyal following! It's a beautiful rendition worthy of one so vain!

Beautifully realised with stunning colours, Tracks' robot mode is very dynamic and looks great to the eye from every angle, even the back. One criticism that was levied at this design shortly after the initial reveal was that it was too 'skinny', but in hand nothing could be further from the truth. He actually fills out very well, and is generally very well proportioned, despite the forearms being perhaps just a smidgen too long. He's also very solid, despite another worry being that he looked rather 'hollow' in pictures. In truth, the backpack, when positioned properly, does a very good job at sitting flush to his main body, meaning that you can't really notice any gaps at all. In fact, one thing that I was very surprised about is how the backpack actually clips into the sides of his body and sits on his back. In a lot of the official photography it seems that he has been posed with the backpack pulled further away or sitting lower down, making it appear much less flush but also lower behind his head when viewed from the front. When done correctly, it sits perfectly and looks great from every angle.

He's nicely poseable, and capable of carrying off a good range of motion, with all joints being tight. In regards the arms: the shoulders move side-to-side, forward and back; he has a bicep swivel; elbows are on soft ratchet joints; he has a wrist swivel and block finger articulation, and is capable of holding his gun very tightly! As for the legs: his hips move side-to-side, forward and back; knees are on soft ratchets; his ankles have two points of articulation also allowing for side-to-side and forward and back. He does have a waist swivel, which is great for various poses! Finally, his head is on a ball joint, and allows for a great range of motion although he can't look down (which is a bit of a shame, but neither can any of the other carbots, so all is forgiven!).

The only thing I would say about the head is than it's rather fiddly to get at it, as it requires putting your finger 'inside' his backpack hood, and then the head itself has a tendency of moving backwards due to transformation, so can be a little frustrating*. I'd also say that the articulation in his arms is a little disappointing, specifically that they can only bend at a 90 degree angle on the elbow. Whilst this is also true of other MP figures, most obviously the Lambos, it seems to be a bigger hindrance on Tracks for some reason, and means that certain poses are either difficult to achieve or not quite possible. That said, he is still very articulated overall, and can really capture some amazing and highly dynamic poses. I'd even say that there's the tiniest amount of ab crunch going on, which I know will keep at least one poster from TFW2005 happy.

*EDIT: I've since discovered that pulling the head forward sufficiently makes it 'click' into place, so this is not a problem. :)

One thing that I was personally worried about was the size of the wings, as whilst I could understand that they needed to be a certain size for flight mode, they seemed rather too large for his robot mode. Whilst this is perhaps still true, I will say that it's not nearly as pronounced as I might have suspected, and actually I have quickly gotten used to it. They're still too large (and especially so when sense-checked against the animation), but it works and does actually benefit certain poses.

Tracks' head sculpt is nothing short of fantastic, and captures the character perfectly, in my opinion. I look at it and instantly get a feel for his animation persona. My copy features perhaps the only distinguishable blemish on the whole figure, with a tiny bit of sloppy red paint above the eye line. It looks worse in photos than to the naked eye though, and I have already stopped noticing it. Overall,Tracks is covered in beautiful decorative moudling and gorgeous paint apps - he really does look very striking and impressive.

I was initially going to make a grumble about Tracks' chest not staying pegged in properly, as when I first transformed him it seemed like every time I moved his arms it would pop out and require me to almost reassemble his entire top half. Fortunately, a second transformation has shown me that I must have not pegged it in properly, as he now holds together beautifully! So, no gripes at all here, just human error on my part, it seems!

Prior to his release, there were certain photos of Tracks that made it seem that he was going to be taller than the other carbots, which many people both delighted and horrified by this news. In truth, he's actually the same height when transformed 'correctly', although it is possible to make him slightly taller by modifying the ankles somewhat. I will say that doing this to any large degree will look a little odd though, and to be fair I think he looks absolutely stunning at his 'correct' height, stood eye-to-eye with the other carbots.

Of course, one of the major joys of the Masterpiece line is not just the individual figures themselves, but seeing them lined up next to their comrades, and in this area Tracks certainly does not disappoint! Many were worried that with a new lead designer on the line, Tracks would somehow look or feel very different to the carbots of the Hasui-era. Well, worry not, as he fits in seamlessly. I would actually go so far as to say that if people didn't know there was a different designer then they wouldn't be able to tell just from the figures alone, although I'm sure some will still try to disagree. In any case, Tracks looks breathtaking when stood with his comrades, and forms another integral part of the Autobot ranks thus far.

So, what else is there to say? Tracks is another stunning chapter in the continuing Masterpiece line, and is one that I am sure a lot of fans will come to love. He's by no means perfect, but then, what figure (even a so-called Masterpiece) is? In any case, he's certainly one of the best looking figures currently taking residence in my collection, and he really is visually striking in any of his modes.

One thing that I have been wondering is what 1980s me would have made of MP-25 at the time. It's strange to look at G1 Tracks and think that back then, there was every likelihood that this was the absolute best figure of that character that I would ever know. Fast forward 30 years and we have a new figure that by every right probably shouldn't even exist - a high end rendition of a B-list character from an animated children's cartoon series about alien robots from three decades prior. That's not even taking into account that even though the Masterpiece line exists to begin with, no-one would have pegged Tracks as an obvious candidate for the treatment. Yet here he is, and I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. If I could I'd go back and reassure 1980s me that there's plenty to look forward to.

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