Wednesday, 8 February 2017

REVIEW: KFC E.A.V.I. METAL Phase Seven: A Ditka

There was a time, not so long ago, when third party companies stuck to relatively safe bets in the Masterpiece-styled Transformers arena. If TakaraTomy was likely to do it, they seemed to steer relatively clear, and rarely did one company take a poke at a character that had previously been covered by another. Oh, how innocent we were.

Of course, those days are well and truly gone, and here we are about to examine the second of three (at current count) attempts at Blitzwing to make it to market. Some of you may know that I previously took a gander at Gewalt, DX9’s take on the character, and found him to be fun but a bit lacking overall for my taste (though that opinion wasn’t very popular!). Let’s see if Keith’s Fantasy Club can take the lead here.

As for KFC themselves, they’ve been on something of an upward stroke recently. Despite a residual bad reputation from some corners of the fandom, there are those of us who rave about some of their more recent releases, with highlights including Transistor v2, Crash Hog & Dumpyard, and the absolutely-excellent-but-severely-overlooked Simba. Does Ditka continue this trend? Let’s find out.

Final note before we begin, this is a test shot, and apparently a very early one at that. I’m told that there will be a few differences between this and the final production version, which I will try to highlight as we go through everything.

This being a test shot, I didn’t receive all of the final packaging and instructions, but I did receive a whole ton of accessories!

Ditka comes packaged with two guns, one of which is similar to his hand rifle from the cartoon and the other a missile-launcher-type-weapon, as well as a sword. Additionally, he comes with a football to represent the character’s antics in the season 2 episode Triple Takeover. It's a fun if relatively novelty inclusion!

There is also a spare head, which is clearly intended to represent the character’s monocular appearance in the Transformers: Animated cartoon. Again, it's a fun addition, even if I must admit it’s not one I would use myself (despite being a fan of that particular cartoon).

I’m reliably informed that KFC will also be including a more animation-accurate silver version of the stock face with the final production release as well. I asked the question and was told this would definitely be done. Good thing, too! If there’s one question I have been asked more than any other since posting pictures of this chap on social media, it’s about the colour of the face, with a lot of people not being satisfied with the toy-accurate purple. I do think silver will look better, too.

Finally, there is also a sheet of small white plastic missiles & other pieces included here. I will admit that I’m a little bit baffled by this, as without instructions it’s difficult to know exactly what its purpose is, but it seems to be pieces that can be attached to the figure’s tank mode.

Kicking things off right away in tank mode, one can’t help but be quite impressed! Firstly, the size and weight of this guy is something to behold. He definitely makes a first impression, feeling really very sturdy and chunky; pretty much exactly what you’d want from a tank mode. Secondly, he looks the absolute business!

Impressive stuff. I’ve already documented that the tank mode was the real weak spot on DX9’s Blitzwing offering, and so it’s remarkably refreshing to be blown away by KFC’s take. Everything about this mode feels pretty good, and it’s not just down to the size and weight. It’s incredibly detailed and really looks very striking, with some beautifully moulding all over.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some evidence of kibble hanging over from the other two modes, most notably the purple jets on the rear and the folded-under wings just peaking out at the front, but overall it’s a relatively clean mode and certainly looks like a real-world vehicle, in a way that DX9’s attempt did not.

I’d say it also does a decent enough job at resembling Blitzwing’s appearance in the G1 cartoon, and certainly to the point of being in no doubt about which character this is intended to be.

Blitzwing's animation model

The treads themselves are just moulded plastic of course, but that doesn’t stop Ditka rolling on small wheels on the bottom of the tank. The turret also has a decent range of motion, and the barrel itself can be retracted slightly as well, although that’s for transformation really. The turret does also feature several little fold-up hatches which, whilst mostly for show, do at least create the feeling of a bit of play value here. Some of the smaller guns can also be moved slightly, which is neat.

With Masterpiece MP-10 Spike

Ditka lines up pretty well for comparisons in this mode too, being large enough to create a real presence next to the likes of the Masterpiece cars.

With Masterpiece Bumblebee

With Masterpiece Tracks

With Masterpiece Ironhide & Maketoys Downbeat

With Masterpiece Optimus Prime (Convoy)

With Badcube Wardog

However, I’m sure the comparison that everyone is looking to make here is against DX9’s Gewalt, and as I have already hinted, to me it’s no contest about which figure sports the better tank mode. I’m simply going to let the pictures below be the evidence as to why I believe KFC’s attempt to be significantly superior in this part of the contest. First round, Ditka.

With DX9 Gewalt

One thing I will credit DX9 Gewalt for is an inventive transformation, though I did make mention in my review of that figure that it was a shame it needed to be partially transformed to robot mode in order to then almost go back a few steps to make it from tank to jet mode directly. The process never felt as simple to me as I would have liked. Not so with Ditka.

Yes, the process here is a lot smoother, and basically involves flipping the tank over, folding the front two corner corners back to make the rear jet halves, and then flipping out the nosecone and other jet paraphernalia. OK, so there’s a little more fiddling than just that, perhaps, but it’s still pretty simple overall, and if anything surprisingly reminiscent of the G1 toy in this regard. I must admit I do like the relative simplicity employed here, and it’s not long before your left with a very distinctive looking jet form.

One thing I should note here before I continue is that the flap at the rear of the turret on the underside of the plane can actually be folded further in than shown in many of my pics below - this was a realisation that was made after much photography was complete! However, it can look tidier than presented here.

I recently shared a picture of this mode on social media and received a comment in response which I think is probably the best way to describe it: “That’s so ridiculously Blitzwing!” Indeed it is.

Yes, there’s little doubt that KFC have in many ways captured the sheer ridiculousness of Blitzwing’s G1 jet mode here – daft, non-aerodynamic proportions and all! What’s also funny though is that I have read quite a lot of chatter from people who don’t like this mode, based on pictures. Some of that is for reasons we will come to in a second, but some of it is definitely from people who wished this looked more like a real jet. I will be honest and say that I’m glad that they didn’t go this route, personally, as to me Blitzwing’s bizarre jet form is one of the things that makes the character quite iconic. I remember reading similar comments about Masterpiece Ultra Magnus, with people saying that it didn’t look like a realistic car carrier, all the while overlooking that it’s a direct homage of the original animation. Simply in this regard, I think KFC have done a pretty good job here.

There’s a couple of small deviations from the source material, sure – mostly in the shape of the intakes either side of the nosecone, but overall you have to admit that it comes close to capturing at least the spirit of the character model.

Blitzwing's animation model

Where this mode has fallen short, in many people’s estimations, is the presence of the tank turret on the underneath of the jet. Indeed, it is pretty noticeable. A lot of people are saying that they would have expected a much better way of camouflaging such an obvious piece of kibble, and I can only say that I agree it is quite unfortunate, even if the animation model does also have a little bulk down there.

The good news? It is possible to remove the turret completely, as it simply pegs on, so there’s a simple fix to this problem that allows for an arguably more elegant jet form (at least, depending on how you feel about a little partsforming). The bad news? The turret houses the landing gear, so removing it will mean that you can’t display Blitzwing in the correct fashion. There are a couple of small flaps that can be folded down though, which will at least hold him in a standing position, but it does look a little odd. The better alternative of course is to use a flight stand; it does make the whole thing look a little more aerodynamic, and I suspect will offer a possible solution for a lot of people!

With the turret removed - those small flaps can be used to stabilise without the landing gear present

I have to admit though that the turret kibble doesn’t make this mode a complete write-off for me. Whilst it would have been preferable to at least have some landing gear on the jet itself, it certainly doesn’t ruin what is otherwise quite a fun and mostly quite faithful jet form.

Is it perfect? Certainly not, but it does “feel like” Blitzwing, and it’s so purely G1 in its styling that it is sure to satisfy at least those collectors who felt that DX9’s updated jet form was not quite what they’re after. A straight-up comparison between the two shows what I mean. There’s no doubt that Gewalt has the sleeker, more “believable” jet mode of the two. However, for me personally Ditka (with all his faults) represents the character in the way that I am looking for, G1-ridiculousness and all. I guess it ultimately boils down to what you want from your version of Blitzwing, and it’s certainly not for me to tell you which is the “correct” option in terms of aesthetic.

With DX9 Gewalt

As for how this jet mode shapes up against other MP-styled figures, I personally think it looks great alongside the likes of the MP-11 Seekers. Seeing him next to Thrust & Ramjet is a definite 1985 nostalgia kick!

With Masterpiece Thrust & Ramjet

As before, the transformation from jet to robot remains quite simple, with everything mostly ending up as you’d expect. Whilst I have become quite used to transforming third party robots without any instructions, I will admit that it does still cause some confusion at times, but I had genuinely no such trouble with Ditka given how straightforward everything is.

For the most part, everything tabs in well and holds quite secure. Perhaps the only slight difficulty I had was in stowing away the nosecone inside the chest; the whole piece is on a sliding mechanism to allow it to collapse down, but it doesn’t seem to quite fit as far as one might imagine and so leaves the ends of the hinges sticking out on either side of the robot mode head, somewhat inhibiting its movement. I genuinely cannot figure out if this is a mistake I am making or not, but it doesn’t appear to be at least.

Otherwise, the only other point to mention is something that I have seen a couple of people miss, based on other photographs, or perhaps just leave purposefully mistransformed to suit their taste. The large panels on either side of his backpack are intended to fold in behind his arms in order to give a sleeker appearance and also cover the gaps. However, I have noticed that several photographers have chosen to leave these panels folded out instead, which does actually have the benefit of giving you a touch more arm articulation whilst you’re at it. Still, whatever your choice it’s not long before everything comes together to give you a rather distinct robot mode!

Final note here before we get stuck in - I have purposefully folded the fins on the ankles in at a different angle to what is intended. If done how they're supposed to be, they stick out quite a bit and don't quite look right to my eye, so I decided to mistransform them slightly to give a better look!

Much like his jet mode, there’s something incredibly distinctive about Blitzwing’s robot mode. With the large backpack featuring both prominent wings & tank turret, he’s pretty recognisable to say the least. As before, I never quite felt that DX9’s offering completely captured the sheer G1-esque look of this character, and so I was tremendously excited when KFC revealed Ditka, as he appeared to be somewhat more faithful to the source material. In that regard, he certainly does not disappoint, and I think the look of this figure is really quite something!

First thing to note is how generally clean and tidy this robot mode is. He does feature something of a ma-hoo-sive backpack, but then that’s what I would have expected from Blitzwing. Considering the triple changer nature of the figure, I am impressed with how well hidden all of the kibble is.

The whole aesthetic is like a love letter to the 1980s. The uber-detailed moulding from the tank mode is mostly hidden here in favour of a much smoother and more cartoon-styled simplicity. For me, it absolutely apes the official Masterpiece-aesthetic and does a great job at representing the intended character from the animation.

Blitzwing's animation model

I have to say I’m also a massive fan of that headsculpt. I’ve often credited KFC with how well they capture the likeness of certain characters, and Ditka is no exception here – it’s pure Blitzwing. Again, so many people have commented to me about the fact that this test shot features a purple face, but it has been confirmed by KFC that a silver face will also be included with the final release. I can’t wait to see what it looks like myself.

Sadly, it’s not all good news. Whilst this figure certainly has the looks in my opinion, where it does fall down is on the poseability front. In fact, there are several factors that are actually quite annoying, and do severely dampen the enjoyment of the robot mode overall. I’ve already mentioned above that the movement of the head is slightly impeded by bits of the nosecone’s sliding mechanism sticking up either side of the neck, although again I hope this is either something that I am doing wrong or something that will be fixed for the retail version. More frustrating are the arms, which although they do feature a potentially wide range of motion by themselves, are blocked quite a bit by the backpack behind them. It’s even quite hard to leave Ditka standing in a relatively natural pose because of this, as the backpack almost forces them into a straight position at the shoulder, prohibiting any backward bend. It doesn’t help that the elbows are a little awkward too, and, aided by some slightly long forearms, can look a bit odd if not carefully posed.

Unfortunately I am also a bit frustrated with the legs. This is due to the white plastic on the thighs being somewhat too large in places, and also inhibiting movement from certain angles. It means you can only achieve a 45 degree angle forward at the hip, and also cannot twist the hips backwards too much for a slightly more natural standing pose. I am rather hoping that KFC make some slight modifications here, as trimming that white plastic even just a little would drastically help with the range of motion available.

So posing is a bit of a challenge, I’m afraid. I will add that he’s also not very stable, as the heels are not really sufficient to take the load of the large (and noticeably very heavy) backpack. I found it quite difficult to pose the test shot without it falling backwards. Fortunately, there’s good news here, and KFC have also confirmed that they will be modifying the heels to make the whole thing a lot more stable, so perhaps nothing to worry about. This does give me home that there are a couple of other tweaks yet to happen, as even a few small touches would drastically help poseability overall, I think.

I also don’t want to put you off, as although I have had my frustrations with the robot mode I am enjoying it overall, and as I said I do think it at least looks the part. It is possible to pose him in some dynamic stances, but it just takes a bit of doing. I suspect improved balance will help with this a lot.

So then, a flawed but nice-looking robot mode, but how does he compare to Gewalt? This is an interesting one for me, as I also didn’t enjoy Gewalt’s robot mode that much, to be honest. I did detail in my review of that figure that I found it to be rather cumbersome and also very difficult to pose, so to me both figures are on something of a par in that regard, at least. For my money, Ditka really shines in terms of nailing the G1 Blitzwing look that I just do not feel from Gewalt. I have read a couple of comments from people saying that they think DX9’s offering is more cartoon-accurate, and Ditka more toy-accurate, but I’m afraid I just don’t see how that is the case, to be honest. For me, Gewalt is a good looking figure, but it’s a much more modern or stylised interpretation of the character. Ditka, by comparison, is pure G1 Blitzwing.

With DX9 Gewalt

I will say though that when I have asked for opinions on social media, the response has been overwhelmingly in favour of Gewalt. I’m obviously a bit in the minority then, so feel free to take my personal opinions with as little regard as you’d like – it’s ultimately up to you. Yet further evidence that this sort of thing is really in the eye of the beholder, at the end of the day.

Of course, the real test of this is lining him up next to other Masterpiece-styled figures. I have to say that I think he works really well in that regard. As I say, I think KFC have definitely nailed the look, if nothing else.

With Masterpiece Starscream

With Masterpiece Soundwave

With DX9 Mightron

With FansToys Grenadier, Mercenary & Forager

Also with Masterpiece Ramjet & Thrust

When I first received this test shot, I hastily posted on social media that I thought it could be KFC’s best figure to date. It’s not. That honour is still reserved, in my humble opinion, for either Transistor or possibly Simba. However, whilst Ditka is not quite the slam dunk I was hoping for, it’s by no means a bad effort either. I will say that I debated the final rating here between a 2 and a 3, and in the end I decided to give a bit of the benefit of the doubt that some of the small niggles will be ironed out by production time. Fingers crossed.

I will say that of the three modes, all of them do something well, and overall they nail the intended look of the character as far as the animation goes. The tank mode especially is mostly all win, and will certainly be a big draw for collectors who were put off by DX9’s odd-looking effort. The jet has it’s turret-sized issues, but I actually think it does a generally good job at representing the G1-craziness of this mode in general, and the turret can be removed if you prefer it so.

As for the robot mode, it certainly has the look if not the moves, although I’m quietly hopeful that KFC will do enough re-engineering to fix some of these problems prior to release, as they have already confirmed they will with the heels.

As it is, this is a good (but not great) rendition of the character. For me personally I prefer it to DX9 Gewalt overall, but I think that depends on your whether you’re after a purely G1-esque rendition of the character, or a bigger, more-stylised robot. And for those of you who still don’t feel that their Blitzwing-itch has been scratched? FansToys are up next.

What's HOT?
Tank mode is brilliant and very imposing. Jet mode is a good rendition of the animation and captures the crazy G1 look. The ‘bot mode is very pretty and definitely looks like the intended character. Transformation is pleasingly simple for a triple changer.

What's NOT?
The turret on the jet mode is a big sin in a lot of people’s eyes, and though it can be removed this leaves it without proper landing gear. The robot mode is not very poseable, with some hindered articulation.

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  1. Excellent post and photography. May I know the stand you're using for the planes? Thanks in advance! :)

    1. Thank you! And yes, of course - it's these stands: