Friday, 10 February 2017

YEAR IN REVIEW: 2016


In many ways 2016 was a massive year in terms of Transformers collecting. Not only did the official Masterpiece line ramp up its release schedule to a level previously unseen, but I also personally believe the general quality of those releases to be at an absolute high currently. Elsewhere, the third party scene also kicked into overdrive, with more new companies emerging to give us their own take on beloved characters, as well as more established outfits all seeking to up the quality of their labours. I've heard many fellow Transfans repeatedly mention that they believe we really never have had it so good in terms of this hobby, and I'm enormously tempted to agree myself. These really are golden times.

For me personally, 2016 was also a big year as it was the first full year of running my blog, which started in the second half of 2015. Last January I took my first proper stab at compiling a list of my favourite releases from the previous year, and so always had in mind to do the same again come the start of 2017. Well, perhaps a little later than expected, but now here it is!

The three categories I will discuss are as follows:
- Best retrospective purchase (the best figure from pre-2016 that I picked up this year)
- Best 2016 repaint (the best repainted figure released this year)
- Top 6 figures 2016 (this list will be all original moulds released this year)

Before I begin, I should specify that this list is purely based on the figures that I have purchased in the twelve months of 2016. As many of you will know, I only really collect TakaraTomy Masterpiece and a selection of third party accompaniments to that line, and therefore won't be including figures from other Transformers lines. It's just my personal preference. Equally, the choices I have made here are my own based on my personal likes (and dislikes, I guess!). I don't expect anyone to agree with my choices - in fact, I absolutely anticipate that most will disagree, and that's fine! These are my own personal picks of which figures have delighted me the most in the last twelve months or so. In anything, I've tried to think less about which figures are objectively "the best", and more about which ones I that simply enjoy myself.

The other thing to maybe acknowledge here is how many figures I had to leave out! This was harder than ever, as there were many examples of brilliant releases, both official & non, that in any other year could have been a guaranteed lock on this list; such was the general quality of 2016, in my opinion. I also decided to leave off releases like TakaraTomy's Diaclone reboot line, as although I do love it, the majority of my focus is always Transformers.

All that said, let's get to it!

BEST RETROSPECTIVE PURCHASE
So, we begin with the best purchases that I made in 2016 of figures from previous years. This was actually something of an eventful year in that I ticked off the final remaining slots that were outstanding in my official Masterpiece collection from years gone by!

RUNNER UP - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-10A Convoy (BAPE ver.)


For a long time this was the most desired missing piece pf my Masterpiece collection. The original Masterpiece BAPE release is well-known for being hard to find, especially at a decent price, and I had never previously found the right opportunity to pull the trigger. But, as they say, the best things come to those who wait, and I'm now incredibly pleased to see this milestone ticked off my list. Just look at this thing.

I know that some more casual collectors may still be a little confused as to the premise of these BAPE releases. With the release of the third & final in the series, the black version, I've had quite a few people ask what it's all about and what the logo on the shoulder represents. They're quite simply special versions of the original Masterpiece Convoy mould released in partnership with A Bathing Ape, which is a Japanese clothing brand. Random? Very, but that doesn't stop these figures being an absolute joy.

There's the fun factor of seeing the MP-10 mould decked out in a rather unusual green, the beautiful paint application including the gorgeous camouflage highlights on the arms, and then there's the fact that all three of these figures seem to be produced to a slight but noticeably higher standard than some of the more mainstream releases. It all adds up to the feel of a worthy purchase.

Perhaps my one regret with the BAPE releases is the distinct lack of trailers; a real shame considering that the equivalent G1 versions all came with them. Still, that doesn't stop this figure being a real pleasure to have in hand, and one of the retrospective purchases in 2016 that I am most proud of. What could top it, eh?










#1 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-10 Convoy Mode "EVA"


This figure... honestly, if you asked me what the prettiest figure I own might be, there's at least a good chance it would be EVA Convoy. I mean, just look at it.

So, what's the story with this one then? Well again, maybe it's a bit random, but still no less fun. It's a mash-up release of MP-10 Convoy in the colours of Evangelion, which is a robot from a popular Japanese anime series of the same name. The packaging with this release attempts to give a bit of fictional backstory about how all of this came to be, but in reality it's just a very cool, extremely quirky and certainly unique deco' on a well-established mould. I've no doubt that some collectors might look at this and think it's just bizarre, and that's fine. For me, this is just the most wonderful rendition of that is still probably my favourite Transformers mould of all time, and I'm overjoyed to add it to my collection at last. It hasn't disappointed.

The paint is absolutely phenomenal. Seriously, I wish every release was this well done. The applications are so sharp and so well defined, and there's a whole host of little additional touches that just makes this a feast for the eyes. Those colours are something else, too! Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the rather astonishing trailer that comes with this release (yes, this one has a trailer!). It's just unbelievably good. Look at those paint applications!

Like the BAPE Convoy, this was a big tick on an increasingly diminishing list of missed releases that I am glad to have now corrected. What a joy.










BEST 2016 REPAINT
Now onto the best repainted figures released in 2016.

RUNNER UP - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-25L Loudpedal


Those of you who read my 2015 review will know that I put Masterpiece Tracks in the top spot of my new moulds for last year. It wasn't necessarily a popular decision (I liked that release a lot more than many, it seems), but I stand by it, as I really do think it's an absolute killer design, and I haven't been disappointed in either of the repaints that have come since either. Which brings us to Loudpedal.

Anyone who collects the Masterpiece line's Diaclone-themed repaints was surely hoping for TakaraTomy to put out a black version of the Tracks mould, but I don't think many people could have assumed it would come out quite as well as this... WOW. It's just so beautiful.

The black is stunning, but it's the addition of all of the other colours at play that really works for me here. Based on an exceedingly rare and for a long time forgotten Diaclone deco', the MP line has given it a respectful update, adding in purple windshields and a few other small touches whilst still paying a worthy homage to the original. It works well.

Add in that this release sees the first use of a remoulded faceplate, something that people assumed might happen with its sister release, Road Rage, and this just becomes unmissable in my eyes. In fact, I really can't think of a bad thing to say about it! You can read more on my thoughts on Loudpedal in my original review, here.










#1 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-14+ Alert Anime Colour Edition


I debated about whether this or Loudpedal had earned the right to be top repaint this year, but in the end I awarded it to this chap on account of two things. First, this release is absolutely stunning, and has made me fall in love all over again with a much-appreciated but very familiar mould. Second, the possibilities that this + release opens up.

So, what's the deal? Well, the original MP-14 Red Alert was good, but not exactly cartoon-faithful. Bits like red thighs and blue accents were a clear nod to the original G1 toy more than anything, and fans have often pined for something a little closer to the animation. Do bear in mind that the original Alert was of course a repaint of the very first carbot release in the 'rebooted' Masterpiece line, and so even being given what we were was certainly appreciated.

Still, TakaraTomy have now seen fit to go back and give us something a little more animation accurate, even if it does stop short of re-tooling the arms for absolute faithfulness. But why? If I had to guess, I'd say it's no coincidence that this was released in the same year as the new MP Inferno mould, and it must be said that the two of them lined up together is nothing short of masterful.

But is this really that essential? Certainly the initial online reaction to its announcement was severaly muted, and I doubt that pictures can really do it justice to be honest. However, I will never forget the first time I laid eyes upon it in hand - it was in the pub, actually! I was just absolutely blown away by how crisp and fresh the paint is, and what a great job they have done with bits like the headsculpt and chest detailing. Marvellous.

It's not perfect, admittedly. In fact, it still bugs me that this release cannot hold his gun properly, much like the original version, and I'm a little aghast at the poor panel alignment in vehicle mode. However, none of that stops this being an overall wonderful repaint, that gives new life to a well-worn mould. Will we see more + releases? I'm actually excited to see if we will now.










TOP SIX FIGURES 2015
So, onto the main event! What were my top six purchases from the last year...

#6 - FansToys FT-07 Stomp


People who know me will perhaps already appreciate that I loved the FansToys Iron Dibots. These releases have been a joy of the 3P scene from start to finish, with the Grinder test shot just recently rounding out proceedings in a worthy fashion. Both Soar & Sever made it onto my top six of 2015 list. Yet, speaking candidly, Stomp is better than all of them.

Anticipation for Stomp was feverishly high, but the final release did not disappoint. It's no doubt one of FansToys' most accomplished designs, especially as you can actually see all of the little touches incorporated here that they have picked up along the journey that began with Scoria in 2014. So many design nuances that really make this the best of the bunch.

So, lots to love. He's big, beautiful, fun, well-made and dynamic. He also has one of the absolute best 3P headsculpts I think I have ever seen! It's so expressive and characterful, and certainly gives a good rebuttal to those detractors who claim that FansToys "cannot do" faces.

This is a much-loved third party outfit on absolute top form, and I actually think Stomp is well worth adding to your collections even if you have no plans to collect the rest of the Iron Dibots. He's that good. You can read more on my thoughts on Stomp in my original review, here.










#5 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-27 Ironhide / MP-30 Ratchet


Before someone eagerly points out that this is two releases, not one, I will hastily add that I am ranking this on the basis of new moulds, as opposed to picking individual figures as such. There was certainly no way that Ironhide & Ratchet weren't going to make it onto this list - they're just brilliant.

Ironhide will probably go down in Transformers history though as one of the most berated and loathed initial reveals of all time. People really hated it, based on those initial pics! I remember that some corners of the internet were already proclaiming the downfall of the entire Masterpiece line, they thought this was that bad. Then it came time for release, and (most of) those comments melted away... in fact, I don't recall a design that went from zero to hero so fast, in many people's eyes.

So anyway, yes, there are tyres on the butt. And yes, there's some hip kibble versus the original animation. But no, none of that bothers me even one bit, for this is an absolute pleasure of a mould, with an incredibly fun and inventive transformation, the likes of which I don't believe I have seen before. Then there are the accessories! So many accessories with so many possibilities. Ironhide more than any other release is responsible for bringing back a whole dose of fun into the line, I think.

In reality, I have a tough time deciding which version of the mould I prefer overall. On the one hand, Ironhide looks absolutely superb in his rich red and with that perfect headsculpt. On the other, Ratchet arguably wears the "quirks" of the mould a little better, and I love that striking blue windshield against the pure, crisp white of his overall body. Either way, there's no doubt for me that these are the best G1-esque Ironhide & Ratchet toys we have ever received.











#4 - Badcube Old Timer Series OTS-08 Sunsurge / OTS-Special 01 Sentinel Blaze


I'm generally a big fan of Badcube's figures, although they didn't actually make it onto my 2015 list at all. This year, I was never in any doubt that Sunsurge was going to take a spot. I just absolutely love this figure.

I was super excited for Sunsurge prior to release, as I could see that Badcube had absolutely nailed the Lamborghini alt' mode from pictures. In hand though, I still marvel at what an absolute delight it really is, and how well it lines up next to Masterpiece Sideswipe. As more and more third parties take on attempts at Autobots cars, there are perhaps a handful of releases that I believe really nail the overall aesthetic of the vehicle mode such that they can stand wheel-to-wheel with an official carbot; Sunsurge is at the top of that pile for me.

Fortunately here, the robot mode is a sheer delight as well, and captures one of my favourite characters in a way that, should we never see an official version, I will remain happy to see this release in my ranks forevermore.

Admittedly, not everyone was a fan of the process involved with changing between the modes, however, with many fans criticising the intricate nature of the transformation. In truth, I kinda like it! Yes, it's more involved that your average TakaraTomy carbot, but it's still exceedingly clever and, with a bit of practice, really not that hard to pull off - especially from car to robot.

Of course, the even better thing here was seeing Badcube release this mould not just once, but twice, as Blaze unexpectedly dropped to deliver us a pretty-much-perfect rendition of the original Diaclone red Countach. Like Loudpedal, this was a must for Diaclone enthusiasts, and made a worthy compliment to the repainted releases of the official line. You can read more on my thoughts on Blaze in my original review, here.

So good is this mould, it has the honour of being the highest ranked third party release on this list... from here on out it's official only, such is the strength of the TakaraTomy line over the last twelve months, in my opinion.












#3 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-33 Inferno


I'm blown away by this figure, just blown away. For a while I even considered giving Inferno the top spot overall, and it was only though repeated consideration that I nudged him down a peg or two. However, that says more to me about how great the new releases from the Masterpiece line have been in 2016 more than anything - it was just a very hard process to decide which was better than others.

I was overjoyed when I saw that Inferno was going to be given the official line treatment, as he's always been one of my absolute favourite characters from the animation. Growing up in the UK, I was relegated to repeat watching of only a handful of episodes from the G1 cartoon on VHS tapes, and so I have a great affection for certain characters based on my narrow experience during childhood. Inferno was a character who certainly made an impression, and this figure absolutely lives up to and exceeds my expectations of that.

The funny thing about this release was its timing, revealed hot on the heels of two third party companies releasing their own attempts at the character, and with the third on the way (though things have rather expectedly been quiet on that front, of late). Now, I loved Maketoys Hellfire and gave it a glowing review in early 2016, yet there's no doubt in my mind that MP Inferno is a superior figure in so many respects. In fact, this release just shows that when TakaraTomy really want to pull it out of the bag, they absolutely cannot be touched in terms of design, innovation and creativity.

Take that ladder transformation. The way the whole thing folds up and sneaks away into the main body is just beyond imagination to me, not to mention other simple touches like having the hand cannon rotate into the forearm instead of being a separate piece. I'm also simply amazed with how sleek and poseable the robot mode is here. Of course, it does also usher in a much stronger cartoon aesthetic than we have seen with previous releases, which is not to everyone's tastes, but I think it works well.

The accessories also make Inferno so much fun. I can't believe that TakaraTomy included two different versions of the front grill and hand cannon, should you prefer a chrome or more cartoony look, and especially not a third which is just a "seat" for MP Red Alert in order to recreate one specific scene from the cartoon. Mad.

There's so much about this release that I just absolutely love, I could honestly bang on about it all day. One thing's for certain, I cannot wait for Grapple in 2017!













#2 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-32 Convoy (Beast Wars)


Talk about your controversial additions to the Masterpiece line, eh? It seems that history really does repeat itself, as twenty years after G1 fans were first shouting "Truck not monkey!" in protest at the original Beast Wars line, so too were some Masterpiece collectors upset at the prospect of an Optimus Primal figure taking up a precious release spot. For me, I am absolutely overjoyed.

In truth, I would have been happier too had TakaraTomy seen fit to give this and any future Beast Wars releases a slightly separate numbering system of some kind, but I can only guess that including it as part of the main line will help with sales, and so I can't really argue with that. Besides, it's not like the line's release schedule has slowed down any, and I now certainly waiting in hope at the prospect of follow ups to this and the upcoming Cheetor release.

So, yes, I loved Beast Wars, and I'm certainly happy to see this figure get its much-deserved release. It also helps that it just so happens to be one of the best figures of the year! It's absolutely amazing.

There's a lot about this figure that sets it apart from the G1 releases in the MP line, even down to the choices of finish that are used to give it an incredibly unique texture to the beast mode. Then there's the fact that the design itself is a near-perfect rendition of the character's animation model. I often hear the phrase "stepped off the screen" applied to G1 characters with liberal abandon, but in this case it really does fit. Perhaps because the cartoon was CGI animated we have a much more concrete definition of how the character should look, but it genuinely is like seeing the on-screen model come to life, even down to the transformation.

Then there's the playability factor, which this figure has in spades. The pop-up arms cannons are a particular delight for me, but that's not to forget the shoulder cannons, flight boosters, stow-away swords and four separate face plates. All this amazing stuff and then I even love the diecast mace that comes as an exclusive companion with this release.

If I had to nitpick, it does slightly irk me that the shoulder pads don't fit down over the white of the robot mode arms a little better, as they seem that they should, but overall I'm really low on anything to complain about here. Plus, the prospect of this kicking off more Beast Wars releases is just too tantalising! Overall, this is an absolutely killer release, and very, very nearly hit the top spot for me this year.

So, we're nearly there, and with just one figure left you have to assume it's something special, right? It certainly is... in fact, you could say it's smoking hot.














#1 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-28 Hot Rodimus


Ooh, boy this is going to be a controversial one. Look, let me start by saying that I know you probably disagree with me here, and that's fine. As I said earlier, I gave it a lot of thought and decided to go with which figures have ultimately brought me personally the most joy over this last year, as opposed to those that I thought would be objectively regarded as the best figures in terms of design or any other metric. Anyway, needless to say that, for me, Masterpiece Hot Rod is the absolute best figure of 2016.

I'm sure some of you are still surprised by this. I had a similar reaction to putting Tracks at the top of my list last year, but I am of course aware that Hot Rod hasn't lived up to everyone's expectations in whatever way. I know that some people take real fault with this release, but I have just found it to be nothing short of a joy since I have received it.

Let's start with the obvious points. Firstly, that vehicle mode. I mean, c'mon, it's just sublime! I really think TakaraTomy have absolutely nailed it, and I find that I cannot leave this figure sat on the side in car mode without my eyes being constantly drawn to it. The hot pink, the blue of the windshield, the detail on the flames, the yellow spoiler... it's just lovely.

Secondly, I love the transformation. It's simple, intuitive and fun. It's a nice update of the original G1 toy with some added quirks and unexpected factors thrown in. I find I can repeat it time and again and never grow bored, which is good as I love both modes that much.

Thirdly, I really think the robot mode captures the character nicely. The headsculpt is perfect, in my opinion, and even if the overall proportions are not exactly bang on to the animation model, I still feel that overall it feels enough like Hot Rod to really invoke the intended sense of character that a Masterpiece release should. It also helps that it's wonderfully poseable, and looks really quite dynamic if done well. I find that I have such fun cycling through various poses, that I almost can't put Hot Rod down. Indeed, he will often be the figure that I will almost subconsciously reach to pick up, given a choice.

I also love little touches like the matrix chamber, which is funny as I have read all the complaints of why this is necessary on this release. I'm glad they included it, and the fishing rod. It just adds a little something extra to me.

So yes, I doubt that many people would have expected for me to put Hot Rod at the top, and even I have to acknowledge that it's certainly not a perfect release in some ways. However, even though my head could give examples of other figures that do various things better, my heart just knows that it absolutely adores this figure, as something about it just invokes in me that sense of excitement that only certain Transformers releases can. It's wonderful.















And so there you have my top six figures from 2016! I must say it was quite a tough job, and one that I debated a lot even as I was writing this article. I ultimately had to leave out so many other figures that I absolutely loved this year, which was no easy thing, but just goes to show you how good we have it at the moment, like I say.

Thanks for reading, and here's to even more exciting figures in 2017! What a time to be a collector!



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13 comments:

  1. Personally, MP Inferno is the best 2016 Masterpiece realise. I don't have Primal and Stomp so I can't judge. I like Ratchet and Ironhide but they give me a sense of clumsiness, so they are good but not perfect. Just purchased but not opened Sunsurge. It's a work for the next week :-) . Hot Rod? I got it, but I think is a not necessary figure. I have to say I really enjoyed the Gigapower Dinobot, but probably they come out in 2015. Thank you for the pics and review!

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I love Inferno too, as you probably realised, and I did debate putting him at the top of my list too - it was a very close thing between the top three.

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  2. You realise stomp is at the wrong end of the list right mate? Some sort of clerical error I'm sure. But so much to talk about here.
    Ironhide/ratchet and inferno all share some incredible engineering, and this is where TT are still king of the hill when they want to be. They also feel amazing in hand and they are super fun to transform. IR/R hip kibble does bother me, but if the shadow Fisher set works they will be nigh on perfect looking. Inferno tho takes the toon accurate lack of detail too far, his alt mode looks like a lego brick and it's a real shame as he is great.
    I got an amine red alert cheap and that deco is superb, totally agree there. And it's still a good mould even today.
    But hotrod! The only list he tops for me is most disappointing MP (with mp Shockwave in 2nd). There are so many things that are compromises or downright not right I can't love him. Alt mode is nice tho.
    A great read as always tho man, thanks.

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    1. Ha, thanks! As I say, I by no means expected anyone to agree with me, though I stand by my choice for Hot Rod - I absolutely love him. Glad you enjoyed the read though.

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  4. Glad to see EVA Prime getting some love, Optimus on acid! Repaint of the decade IMO

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    1. Yeah, I absolutely love that figure. Definitely one of the best repaints, I agree.

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  5. Good on you for going with what you like, not what's popular. I agree, Hot Rod is a great figure. Personally, I prefer Ironhide/Ratchet (and I'm yet to get Primal and Inferno) but I definitely see where you're coming from.

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    1. Thanks for the note, appreciate that. Ultimately I had to go with my gut on what felt right. Hope you enjoy Primal and Inferno as and when!

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    2. Sorry for posting anonymously before. Okay, now that I've got Primal and Inferno as well, Primal wins for me. The majority of the Masterpieces are just so amazing and Primal's close to the best of a star-studded list.

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    3. Totally agree, Joel - Primal is an incredible figure. I've been really enjoying the anime repaint too.

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  6. Rodimus and Primal are great figures. Primal in particular is pretty awesome. It's a great toy and feels great in my hand; robust and unique. I'm really curious about how Ironhide and Stomp will feel in my hand.

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