Wednesday, 25 November 2015

REVIEW: FansToys FT-11 Spotter

NOTE: This review was originally published on 25th November 2015 on my Facebook page.


INTRODUCTION
Not so long ago, building a Masterpiece collection with the occasional third party addition was a relatively simple affair. TakaraTomy seemed to be working to a relatively slow burn of only a couple of new moulds every year, and these were typically fairly easy to predict as the majority of releases were G1 season 1 Autobots, an intent which was pretty much confirmed by communication from the designers themselves alongside the release of MP-12 Sideswipe.

This gave the handful of 3P companies that were attempting to craft figures that could potentially sit alongside the official line at the time a relatively clear idea of which characters were 'safe' - basically anything from season 2 onwards, and especially if it wasn't a car. In turn there was certainly a period when the various 3P releases on offer seemed to 'sync' with each other and indeed with the official line, and for the longest period there was no real 'doubling up' with two different companies attempting to make different versions of the same character. Sure there was some evidence of it, and FansToys themselves even abandoned what would have been their first significant release prior to Quakewave, the much publicised FT-02 Acoustic Wave, once news of MP-13 Soundwave dropped. However, for the most part at least, the fates seemed to align incredibly well as each release from the various companies seemed to bring us a take on a character thus far untouched.

Then it all changed, and very suddenly. Fast forward slightly and we now have at least three different versions of faux-Masterpiece Insecticons, three potential Hounds, Grapples, Infernos, Galvatrons, and at least four stabs at both Ironhide & Ratchet, including the official versions. In fact, now it seems almost inevitable that as soon as one company reveals their design, at least one or two others will pop up with an alternative.

And so that brings us to Reflector. I will admit to being quite surprised when FansToys first unveiled their prototype design for Spotter in January 2015, as at the time it seemed unlikely that anyone else would attempt a Masterpiece-esque Reflector, of all characters. Fast forward just eleven months and Spotter, several months delayed, has already been pipped to the post by Maketoys Visualizers (surely one of the fastest reveal to release records ever!), with KFC's own Reflectrons not far off either. Who would have predicated three takes on Reflector?

Many fans are already happy with Maketoys’ version of the character, but now that the production sample of Spotter is here, how does it fare in the 'Reflector wars'? Let's find out.

PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES
For the purposes of this review, the figure I have in hand is a final production sample, and thus came without any packaging. I do not even know which mode the figure will be packaged in, although from the test instructions I was sent it appears to be robot mode. However, I have chosen to start with camera mode for the rest of the review, especially as I generally prefer Transformers to be packaged in their alternate forms, allowing for the almost ceremonial reveal of the robot upon first transformation.


It's fair to say that Spotter is positively loaded with accessories, most of which do a great job at featuring in both modes. He features a removable flash and lens, both of which come apart into smaller pieces and then transform into an array of guns and other weapons (more on that later). He also comes with three smaller identical hand-held blasters, more reminiscent of a traditional G1-style gun.

Additionally, there is included a mini-version of Spotter's own camera mode, intended for use & display with other Masterpiece-styled figures. Although not unexpected, this is still a really nice touch, and really adds to the intended play value. The mini-camera even comes with its own mini-flash to replicate the main figure's version!


CAMERA MODE
Perhaps the first thing that struck me with this mode upon holding it in hand was how well-proportioned it is. Despite being quite boxy and rectangular, it's roughly the right shape and size in order to pass as a 'real world' camera, even if not in overall appearance. It's also very tidy for the most part and is certainly quite visually striking.



Appearance-wise, there's a lot to like here, at least purely from an aesthetic point of view. The colours are a lot less muted in hand than I thought they would be from pictures, and really complement the figure. Whilst still quite subtle in tone, the purple is a very pleasing shade. I am someone who believes that mostly purple Transformers can often look a little... overdone, and so I was happy to see that Spotter does not suffer from this, despite the overall predominance of the colour. The warm grey is also very nice and works well in contrast.


I have to make a separate comment on the lens, which is really rather lovely! Quite eye-catching from every angle, with its striking red stripe and sharply-defined detail, although my absolute favourite aspect has to be the use of translucent green plastic in place of the glass. This is a simply beautiful touch that catches even the subtlest light to shine decoratively, and really adds something special to this mode.


I'm also quite a big fan of the flash accessory. It's nicely shiny and quite decorative, and does definitely add something to the look of this mode, despite not necessarily being an essential component for those seeking a cartoon-accurate look. I will say that it doesn't seem to connect onto the camera very well though, and has a tendency to fall off if you're not careful, in my experience. 


Despite the pleasing colours and generally tidy design, it's sadly not all good news. Although Spotter is very 'solid', compact and generally tidy in this mode, no-one could honestly say that he looks good from every angle. Whilst the front, sides, top and even the underneath are mostly very clean despite a few obvious transformation panels, it's the back which suffers the most. It's quite clearly a combination of robot chests, torsos and legs which have been folded into a rectangular shape, which is rather unfortunate and not very convincing as a camera. I am relatively forgiving of this myself, and of course there will be some who are completely happy to overlook this one dodgy rear view angle if they're only intending to use this mode for display purposes. However, given the relatively realistic size and shape of this mode, it was clearly intended for some use as an imitation camera, and the suspension of disbelief is rather diminished as soon as you pick it up in the way you normally would with your face towards the rear side.





There's also the matter of the two robot mode heads poking up on either side of this mode. Now, personally this doesn't bother me at all, although I have seen quite a few comments about it already. I will say that they're actually a lot less prominent than one might expect in hand, the faces both being hidden by small covers that fold up from the back of the robot mode legs. It is also relatively accurate to the original G1 cartoon appearance, which, if you're like me, is enough to make you quite forgiving for some relatively odd design choices!


Speaking of a cartoon-accurate appearance, this is also something of a mixed bag in this mode. Despite generally being the right shape and some of the main details being present and correct, there's a lot that deviates from the source material here. The colours are mostly as they should be, although inverse - bits that are grey should be purple, and vice versa - and even that delightful translucent green plastic is a bit of a deviation. Now, despite the fact that I generally prefer a healthy dose of cartoon accuracy, I have to say that the colour choices here do actually look really good as I mentioned, so it doesn't bother me personally. I suppose my only real disappointment is the inability to place Decepticon logos in the proper places on the front of the camera, as this part actually becomes the robot mode shins. It's not a major problem by any means although I suspect some will be disappointed, especially as this is something other companies seem to have incorporated into their design plans.



Where I think the camera mode does work well is when sitting next to the likes of MP-13 Soundwave in his tape deck mode. There's something about seeing the two of them lined up that is immensely satisfying, and I give credit to FansToys for making them practically the same shape and size, whether by design or happy accident, as for whatever reason this works especially well. 




Since having this figure in hand, numerous people have asked me about the weight and how much diecast is featured, with expectations perhaps high after much was made about the weighty heft of FansToys' last figure, Grenadier. I will admit that I am someone who thinks that diecast is often overused in many figures, and FansToys themselves have been guilty of this in the past, most notably with Scoria. Here though, Spotter's individual figures are actually much lighter than you might expect, with only a very minimal trace of diecast under the surface, I suspect. However, whilst the individual figures themselves are relatively light (at least in comparison to the likes of Grenadier), I personally think this was a smart decision from FansToys' and shows good restraint on their part, as the combined camera mode is actually quite heavy! You certainly wouldn't want to drop it on your foot, put it that way.


Whilst not directly related to this mode, this seems like a good time as any to comment on the mini-camera accessory, and I have to say that I really like it! It’s a surprisingly detailed little thing, which quite accurately reflects (ha!) Spotter's appearance in his larger camera mode, even down to the removable flash. I have to comment that I much prefer this mini-camera to the one included with Maketoys' Visualizers, which looks much more like a toy accessory by comparison. This version also fits perfectly with larger Masterpiece-styled figures - just the ticket for those wishing to recreate classic scenes from the original animation.




So, mini-camera aside, let's move onto the inevitable comparison with Maketoys' Visualizers for the camera mode itself. I'm going to start by saying that both figures have their plusses and minuses overall, and it's fair to say that they both do different things well.



Spotter certainly has the better proportions in camera mode, being slightly taller but thinner than Visualizers, and therefore feeling more like a normal camera shape in hand. The larger lens helps here, too.



I also personally prefer the colours on Spotter, to be honest. Whilst the deep purple of Visualizers is perhaps a bolder colour, I really like the subtler bluish purple boasted by FansToys' effort, which is also arguably more cartoon accurate in tone if not in how the colours are actually applied. I'm also more of a fan of Spotter's warmer grey when compared to Visualizer's pale shade.

Whilst both figures perhaps suffer a little from the tidiness of their transformation panels from certain angles, I have to hand this part to Visualizers overall, as to my eye they achieve the cleanest look for the most part, and particularly from the back.


In terms of details, I would also say that Visualizers perhaps wins out here, for lots of little touches: the viewfinder is significantly nicer than Spotter's token silver circle effort; Maketoys' figure boasts an array of buttons, dials, knobs and other small details that help to add to a sense of realism that reminds you this is supposed to be a camera; whilst I am not personally bothered by Spotter's somewhat visible robot mode heads, Visualizers does have 'working' buttons to press; Maketoys have seen fit to add a small mount on the bottom of their figure, allowing it to be attached to a real camera tripod; and perhaps most significant for me at least, their transformation allows you to place a cartoon-accurate Decepticon logo or two, should you so wish (although writing this review reminds me that I still need to!).


All of which makes it sound like I am handing this round to Maketoys, especially after I have also rattled through several of Spotter's downfalls as part of this review. However, the reality is not as clean cut as that. In truth, I actually like both camera modes quite a bit, despite their differing flaws. I'd probably say that neither of them is particularly perfect, although there is something about Spotter's proportions that perhaps makes him more satisfying in this aspect at least. However, there's no clear victory here, just choices.


TRANSFORMATION
I am not going to lie when I say that my first attempt at transforming this figure was not much fun. This was actually from robot to camera mode, unlike the order of this review, but I found it to be a rather frustrating experience, to say the least. Fortunately, repeated efforts have made it much easier, to the point where I now find it to be quite fun, and not at all arduous.



To say that transforming Spotter is a matter of correctly and precisely lining up panels and tabs is an understatement. I was always impressed with Maketoys for how well Visualizers tabbed together, but that figure was nothing compared to this guy. Everything must be aligned and tabbed just so, otherwise the whole thing will not come together neatly and you will invariably have to go back and correct something. Once you know what you're doing though, it's not a problem. It's also interesting that here, all three robots have basically the same exact transformation, in contrast to Visualizers.



There's quite a specific order for how everything must be transformed. Panels need to be moved out of the way for legs, which in turn need to be moved before other panels, before arms, before more panels, and so on. Getting this order of steps right seems to be the secret recipe to perfecting this transformation, and once you have it down, it's all relatively simple.



I will say that it's still no fun how the legs must rotate at the hips though, especially as there are several panels which simply cannot be moved out of the way well enough, making the process a little awkward. Still, a small nitpick on what is overall quite an inventive transformation.



ROBOT MODE(S)
With three different versions of Reflector doing the rounds, many comparisons have been made between them, and also to the original G1 cartoon in terms of accuracy. Despite having pre-ordered Spotter straight off the bat after his January reveal, I will admit that there were things that I did not like initially. I was also later very impressed with both Maketoys' effort (enough to pick them up as well!) and subsequently KFC's attempt. Although I'm not sure that any one of them completely nails Reflector as a character to the nth degree enough to clearly be the definitive version above the others, especially as they all have their weaknesses as well as their strengths, I will also say that Spotter comes a lot closer to that goal than I thought he would based on the photos I had seen. Despite having come into reviewing this guy with relatively low expectations (particularly in comparison to other FansToys' products), I find myself becoming quite enamoured with him.



I found Spotter's robot mode to be much more striking in hand than in photos. Despite already owning another version of the same character, there was something quite special seeing the three robot forms lined up next to one another, whether all pulling off a uniform pose or all doing something random. Regardless of accuracy or detail, which we will get to later, I found that Spotter does a much better job at representing the intended character than I thought he would. There's no mistaking it for me - this feels like Reflector, through and through.



The first thing I noticed about Spotter in this mode is the nice finish. The warm grey and muted purple are obviously still there, but now they're coupled with a very attractive green chest featuring a sparkly metallic flake paint. The colour itself is really quite striking and not as dark as I had expected from photos - another area where this figure fares better in hand. The 'main' robot (known as Viewfinder on the G1 toy) also has a similar brushed metal effect on the shutter on his chest, making it quite eye-catching and looking very premium. Elsewhere, paint applications are all immaculately done, with a similar sparkly paint used on the shins and even the red bands on the forearms.





The proportions of the robot modes are also better than expected. A common complaint after the initial reveal of the prototype was that the proportions were too 'lanky' or skinny, with many fans wishing for a slight adjustment. One thing that I discovered whilst giving Spotter the full once over was that there is actually an option to cater to this taste, whether intended or not (although I suspect not, as it's not featured in the test instructions I was sent). You can very simply shorten Spotter's legs at the knees slightly, reducing the height of the robot modes and adjusting the proportions overall. It's a simple change, but one that arguably makes quite a difference, and I am pleased to say that it does not hinder articulation one bit - he can still achieve a 90 degree bend at the knee, even when it is shortened. Ultimately, it's completely up to you what looks better, but I was pleased to see a possible option for those who want it!




Speaking of articulation, it's all pretty good news here, with a decent range overall. The heads are terrifically articulated, with a full range of motion, and each 'bot has a waist swivel. The arms feature two points of articulation at the shoulders, double-jointed elbows, wrist swivel and one point of articulation for the combined fingers, the same as the likes of Grenadier. The legs have full range at the hips, only slightly impeded by the movable hip flaps, and 90 degrees at the knee as mentioned, as well as an impressive ankle tilt and 'toe' articulation due to transformation.


I have to also mention that all of the joints are incredibly tight and solid, especially to begin with - Spotter won't be moving from how you pose him, that's for sure. I have a slight grumble with the tabs that are on the back of their robot mode legs, used for transformation. These seemed to be the only pieces on the copies I was handling that weren't particularly tight, and had a habit of being rather floppy. Similarly, the backpacks, whilst not at all cumbersome or in the way, are not particularly secure and do have a habit of moving during normal use, though it's far from a big problem.


I should at this point mention the faces used on the various robot forms here. Although I only had one face per individual robot for the purposes of the review, FansToys will apparently be offering up to three for each, a total of nine overall (although presumably that's the same three faces I had in hand repeated on each robot). There is a regular stoic face, a smirking face, and a rather inane grinning face. Again, I will admit that I wasn't a fan from photos, especially of the grinning face, but I came to really like them in hand and especially the possibilities for posing that they allow. I do prefer the stoic face overall, which will likely be my default option for all three figures, but the other two are a lot of fun and create some fantastic display options, especially when you throw other characters into the mix!



People have also mentioned the prominent chins on the faces here. In truth, it doesn't bother me one bit. I think this might be a perfect example of when things are more noticeable in larger scale when blown up and focused on in photos compared to the relatively tiny figure in hand, although I guess it's all a matter of personal preference.




As mentioned earlier, Spotter comes loaded with accessories, including plenty of weapons options. Most of these are made up of parts of the camera, which is a neat touch. The lens breaks apart into three pieces, the main body of which becomes a rather large gun with the translucent green plastic forming an eye-catching shield. The flash also breaks apart, with the bulk of it combining with the other lens pieces to form a further two large guns, completing the set.






This trio of heavy weaponry looks mightily impressive, to say the least! Whilst not in any way accurate to the G1 cartoon, it is a lot of fun, and something I ended up liking a lot more than I thought I would. Something about the large guns and some of the goofy grins on Spotter's faces really works well!




The other parts of the flash break into small holsters than can be tabbed onto two of the three figure's left legs, and reveal hidden knives. There is also a third knife hidden in the last remaining piece of the flash, the base, although sadly this particular element is not utilised itself. As for the knives, I was much less fussed about these personally. Whilst the holsters are a really nice touch, the knives overall do not add a great deal of value and unfortunately do not fit into the robot palms particularly well. Try as I might, I simply could not get them to pop into the hands as one supposes they should. Still, a nice inclusion nonetheless, along with the arguably more G1-accurate blasters.



So, onto the oft-talked about subject of cartoon accuracy, a test of any Masterpiece-styled figure. This is another area where Spotter performs much better than I suspected he might. Though there are several details which are not by themselves 100% accurate, the overall look of all three figures is more than sufficient enough to create a suitable impression of the character as he appeared in the original canon. I suppose my point is that this figure 'feels' much more like Reflector than I imagined he would, and now when I look at him I found myself noticing more and more little touches than make this so.



There are probably a few too many small details and greebles for Spotter to be considered truly cartoon-accurate, despite his feeling true to the character overall, although this does arguably lend itself toward the much-debated 'Masterpiece aesthetic'. Other details are sometimes added to a character's cartoon appearance in order to help them appear more 'realistic' when realised in 3D form, as evidenced on figures such as MP-10, and FansToys have always been good at approximating this style of design to produce figures that many consider quite seamless when placed alongside the official line. Whether they have achieved it or not is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, although certainly the beholder in this case found that Spotter made a much more convincing effort at fitting into the Masterpiece Decepticon ranks that might have been expected; another way in which this figure was perhaps underestimated. Spotter lines up nicely with other figures, both official or non.



But what of the other great comparison that must be made? In the so-called Reflector wars, how does Spotter fare when squaring up to Maketoys Visualizers? Well, as with their camera modes, a lot of it is perhaps down to personal opinion, although one thing that immediately strikes me is how much similar detail they have if you look closely. Although perhaps what also strikes me is how despite their similarities, the overall result can feel very different!


As before, both have plus and minus points here. Arguably Spotter has the nicer finish overall, particularly those muted colours and brushed metal. However, I am a massive fan of the translucent green chests on Visualizers, so eye-catching and striking in the right light, especially with the robotic detailing.



Visualizers could be considered somewhat more cartoon-accurate overall too, especially with small details like the square panels on the top of the feet (even if they did rather inexplicably make it the wrong colour!).

Ultimately though, it's all down to you, as I say. For my own part, I frankly cannot decide which I prefer more overall. Whilst that might sound like a bit of a cop out, I'm becoming more and more used to the idea of having multiple versions of the same character in my collection, and I am even beginning to see it as a good thing in many cases. In this example, they're both great figures, and so I personally am happy to have them both in hand and not force myself to choose between two good things. For your money, it ultimately comes down to which you like the look of more - there is no wrong choice to be had here.


CONCLUSION
I've mentioned it many times in the course of this review, but I confess - I went into handling Spotter with quite low expectations. A figure I was already uncertain about from photos being compared to another version of the same character that I already owned and really liked. What I found was that although Spotter had a tough job, he more than won me over, and in many ways at least has the potential to be the definitive Reflector in my collection, even if I cannot conclusively commit to that being the case.

That said, he's by no means perfect and there are some compromises here, most notably in camera mode, but the package as a whole is very well thought through and fun in a way that I was not expecting.

As far as the 'Reflector wars' go, there are several good options, and no doubt more on the way that we haven't seen yet. Whether Spotter is the choice for you or not is a question that only you can answer, but I can tell you one thing - he's definitely not a bad choice, by any means.


6 comments:

  1. Fantastic review, very thorough. I wasn't sure which "Reflector" to get for my Masterpiece collection but you've sold me on Spotter, thanks Sixo!

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    1. Thanks very much, and no problem! Glad you enjoyed the review and sure you won't be disappointed.

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  2. Great review Sixto. I think Fanstoys Spotter looks like it's the best Reflector now.

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    1. Thanks a lot! He's certainly a good choice.

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  3. Thank you for a great review Sixo! I'll be getting Spotter because of your write up. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thanks for the nice comment! Glad it was useful after all this time. Do check out the rest of the blog if you get the time. :)

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