Saturday, 26 November 2016

REVIEW: FansToys FT-18 Lupus

Ask most Transformers collectors what their favourite third party company might be and there's at least a relatively safe bet that they might mention FansToys in the list of names they give you. The company has achieved a level of reputation that most can only aspire to, and perhaps with good reason - they do put out pretty consistently good figures. Clearly their success has allowed them the confidence to experiment a little more, as we have seen them recently branch out into more and more unusual choices for the characters they've been recreating. And so we come to Lupus, which sees them attempting something outside of the arguably safer territory of the first three seasons of the G1 cartoon for the first time. Let's take a look at what is also the first "Masterpiece-styled" Weirdwolf on the market!

Final note before we begin - this is a test shot. There will no doubt be differences to the retail version, including things like tolerances etc.

This being a test shot, I don't have all of the final packaging included, but I think we all know what to expect from FansToys these days. Polystyrene inner casing, housed inside a black box with some badass artwork on the front. Can't wait. As for what will be inside that box you have the following.

Lupus comes with only a smattering of accessories, including a gun, a sword which doubles as the wolf's tail, and of course his head. That's not normally what would count as an accessory, but as I'm sure you know this chap is a Headmaster, so of course this is an exception! There is also an alternate face for the head, which we will look at a little later.

Lupus was originally supposed to also come with an alternate face for FansToys Tesla, although sadly this is now no longer going to be included.

I'll be frank - I wasn't all that excited about the wolf mode on this guy from pictures. I thought it looked fine, but I wasn't sure that it would be anything particularly special. In fact, I can honestly say I've been quite pleasantly surprised, and have found it really quite fun in reality!

I think he looks great! The first thing to note is how much personality I think shines through with a bit of proper posing. There's enough going on here to really give Lupus quite a lot of character, and I found myself really enjoying putting him through his paces.

Nice! OK, let's start with the obvious stuff. This is a surprisingly tidy animal mode, with relatively little robot kibble to be seen, but it also manages to pull off some decent proportions. Too often I find that animal modes have a habit of looking like robots that have bent over a little, but this is a fate that Lupus ably avoids, and I would say that he's really quite lithe. The wolf mode works from every angle.

It also helps that he's really quite poseable. The legs can all be moved to suitable positions to create a good feeling of movement and expression, and there's even a bit of welcome ankle tilt to allow you to pull off some convincing animal-esque stances. I find that with a bit of thought, it's very easy to have him show a range of emotions.

Of course, one of the emotions that he does best is looking angry!

I think a big strength here is also the neck and head, both of which are able to rotate and move in a subtle but effective way that adds to the poseability and display options. The more I played with Lupus, the more I found that I could manipulate the neck to greater effect.

So, he's got the moves, but does he have the touch? Well, no surprise here, FansToys have created a figure that both looks & feels fantastic. Lupus is noticeably weighty, featuring an almost unprecedented amount of diecast through most of the body, but is also covered for the most part in an attractive sparkly yellow & silver paint scheme. It's very eye-catching as it shines nicely in the light, and really serves to give this guy the premium feel that collectors have come to expect from this company. I have read one or two comments wishing that the silver parts were coloured white instead, with people feeling that this would somehow be more cartoon accurate, but I can't help but feel the silver was a better option personally. We've seen other companies attempt to use pure white to try and represent a character's on-screen appearance, and it almost never quite lands as expected. Instead, FT have adopted the MP-10 route of replacing white with silver, and it works like a charm to my eye, and really makes the wolf head look especially great.

Elsewhere, Lupus has some striking paint apps, and of course a rather noticeable translucent red hatch on his back. Flip this open to reveal a cockpit inside the wolf's body, complete with some nice detailing inside. Of course, the cockpit can house Lupus' Headmaster partner, modelled after Weirdwolf's companion Monzo. Frustratingly, the cockpit has a tendency to not stay in place inside the body correctly, and the whole mechanism is prone to flopping downwards as though for transformation. I would however chalk this up to this being a test shot and the tolerances for this particular piece not being quite right. Based on previous FansToys' test shots, I fully expect that they will have resolved the issue by the time of release, but it did cause some annoyance trying to take these photos!

The Headmaster himself looks really cool for the most part. He's surprisingly detailed for such a little chap, and features a really nice paint job on areas such as the face. Unfortunately he doesn't look so great from the back... it's immediately obvious that he has Lupus' upside-down robot mode face just hanging there for all to see, which is a bit of a disappointment. Whilst not a dealbreaker for this release, it would have been nice (perhaps even a little expected) for FansToys to have implemented a simple mechanism to disguise this slightly. This was something that the original Weirdwolf figure managed, after all, and that was thirty years ago!

Still, that aside he's a fun little figure, no doubt, and aside from his arms being slightly hindered at certain angles, he's also remarkably articulated. He even features an ankle tilt!

Other than the back, I really like the Headmaster. He initially seemed very similar to the 1987 original design in my mind, although updated with more articulation. On inspection, he does deviate a little more than I thought, but you can see how he compares to various other "Master" designs and other mini-figures below.

With G1 Duros (from Hardhead) from 1987

With Maketoys' version of Duros (from Iron Will)

With Masterpiece Spike & Daniel (that accompany MP-22 Ultra Magnus)

Also with X-Transbots Truncheon, Masterpiece Offshoot, G1 Duros, Maketoys version of Stylor, and Masterpiece Spike

Of course, the other character he fits in really well with is Lupus, and it's fun to see the Headmaster interacting well with his partner in wolf mode.

I can't wait until FansToys (hopefully) unveils more Decepticon Headmasters such as Skullcruncher and Mindwipe, although for now we'll have to settle for some other comparisons.

With Maketoys Iron Will & Cupola

With FansToys Grinder (test shot)

The 1987 Headmasters were not particularly complicated when it came to their transformations, and so many people were surprised with Maketoys' attempt at a Masterpiece-styled homage when Cupola was first released, as he turned out to be much more intricate than everyone perhaps expected. Regardless of whether or not you think it's a good thing, there's no denying that FansToys Lupus does not feature that same level of complexity when it comes to how he transforms!

I'd actually go as far as saying that this is one of the simplest "Masterpiece" transformations I have come across in some time, especially for a relatively larger figure of this size. Not that I think that's a bad thing, mind you! I actually quite enjoyed the simplicity, and found that it provided something of a welcome break from the more overtly complicated transformations that other third party offerings can sometimes feature.

I'd say that this figure's biggest surprise is the manner in which the rear wolf legs fold away to become the robot mode feet, as everything else pretty much ends up where you might expect. I will say that I had some frustration first time around (converting him from robot to wolf, incidentally), as without the benefit of instructions it was not obvious that there are small panels stowed inside the forearms that must flip out to allow the hand to fold into place. I'll admit to being slightly reassured when a well-known TF video reviewer got in touch to ask how it was achieved... at least I know it wasn't just me that struggled first time around! ;)

All-in-all though, there's nothing to cause any frustration here - Lupus' transformation is an absolute breeze that can be completed in a matter of mere minutes. It does add something to the play value, as there's a real "fiddle factor" with being able to convert him between modes so quickly & easily. Anyway, transformation done, we're left with quite a striking looking robot mode!

The 1987 Headmasters & Targetmasters were well-known for ushering in something of a design change in the original line. Whilst the 1986 Transformers may have in part been relatively distinguishable from the previous two years of Diaclone & Micro Change repaints, the following year saw the real sea change with a much more "futuristic" aesthetic, including bolder, chunkier and more colourful designs. Even as a lad, I always remember thinking it was odd that the toys felt so different compared to how seamlessly the fictional characters blended with their earlier counterparts in fiction. Whilst the toys were worlds apart, the likes of the Autbot Headmasters could stand side-by-side with Optimus Prime in the cartoon and not feel jarring. So, it's quite exciting to see more and more Masterpiece-styled Headmasters popping up that don't feel so out-of-place when stood along with the rest of your collection, and Lupus is a great example of this.

Whilst Weirdwolf wasn't the most prominent character in any G1 fiction, there's no mistaking who this is meant to be! There's also no doubt that for anyone who loves the Headmasters concept as much as I do, this is an absolute treat to behold, seeing a character like this done such justice. Yes, Lupus is rather lovely in robot mode.

Everything works really well, from the attractive sparkly paint to the eye-catching clash of the primary colours used. Lupus is certainly a bit of a looker, sporting a remarkably clean and well-proportioned robot mode. The heavy use of diecast is well-employed in robot mode, meaning that he balances well and feels incredibly stable & sturdy to the touch. He's also pleasingly poseable.

Nice! Admittedly there are some limitations with the articulation, with the most notable point being that the elbows can only achieve a little better than a simple 90 degree bend. I'd also add that the hip skirt does also hinder more extreme upper leg movement to some degree, and I would also have preferred a more pronounced ankle tilt to what we have here. However, none of this stops you from putting Lupus into some quite dynamic poses - he's such a handsome chap than it's easy to make him look great!

Where Lupus really comes into his own is when being posed with his weapons. Firstly, I really like his gun, and it looks great whether being held in one or two hands.

Can you tell that I really enjoyed taking pictures of Lupus yet? It's difficult to put across how much fun I had with posing him with his weapons, but I just found that every pose I tried worked like a charm. I also really like the sword!

Man, I had such a lot of fun with this guy. It's funny because it's come to my attention that other reviewers have been a little bit less excited by him, but honestly I can't really say enough nice things. He just looks great! Just check out that head.

Lupus does of course come with an alternate face. It's a simple matter of popping out the main bit of the face, which is held on by two pegs. Fortunately no need to unscrew anything! Whilst it's nice to have options, I must confess that I'm not a big fan of the second face, as I think it looks kind of odd with the more pronounced chin. I'll stick with the regular one, myself.

With the head in place, Headmaster fans will no doubt know that this allowed the G1 toys to reveal their tech specs information in a hidden compartment on their chest. Lupus carries over this trend, although here the stats are simply painted on as opposed to being activated by plugging the head in, in much the same way as the Maketoys Headmasters. It looks really nicely done, though I have no doubt that some fans may be a little disappointed that this wasn't an interactive gimmick as it was on the original toy. Personally I have to say that I'm happy without the gimmick myself though - even having the painted stats is a "nice-to-have" in my book, and they do look good. I don't recall Weirdwolf being so intelligent though!

So, there's a lot to like about this robot mode overall. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's just about everything one could hope for from a Masterpiece-styled Weirdwolf. But how well does he line up next to other figures, both old & new? I'll let you judge for yourselves, although it's definitely good enough for my collection. What particularly impresses me is how well he stands side-by-side with the Headmasters & Targetmasters being produced by other third party companies - pretty seamless!

With FansToys Sovereign (test shot)

With Masterpiece MP-13 Soundwave

With Maketoys Iron Will

Also with Maketoys Cupola

With X-Transbots Andras & Eligos

With FansToys Sever (featuring replacement head that comes with Grinder)

FansToys Lupus is the kind of release that I wish we'd see more of. He came out of nowhere as a surprising but welcome reveal, has gone from production to release relatively quickly, and turned out to be a fun figure that perfectly captures the character. What's not to like?

As I said, I'm aware that other reviewers have been slightly less enamoured with this guy, with the general feeling being that he's good but not anything particularly special. Maybe some of that is because he's not a representation of a very prominent character, but for me, he's just about everything I could want from a Masterpiece Weirdwolf.

What's HOT?
Both modes look great and are a lot of fun with plenty of personality. The figure is sturdy & well-built, with plenty of diecast covered in a nice sparkly paint job. The Headmaster gimmick remains as fun as ever!

What's NOT?
Right now, my biggest two dislikes for this figure are that the cockpit doesn't stay in place in robot mode (which I am quietly confident is just a problem with the test shot that will be fixed for release) and that Lupus' robot mode face is not covered on the back of the Headmaster. Other than that, he could use a bit of extra elbow bend & ankle tilt.

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