I admit that I often shrug in disbelief a little when I read on-line talk of the TakaraTomy Masterpiece line being in decline. I myself have been a Masterpiece collector since the line's inception in 2003, and as much as my enjoyment has been maintained throughout this time, I do also believe that in many ways we have never had it as good as now. Perhaps it's because I feel that I'm personally enjoying all current facets of the line to their full potential, whether it's Diaclone repaints or new Beast Wars moulds, where some collectors instead pick and choose their poison. However, I am also struck by the current general quality of the line overall (issues with dodgy chrome and floppy Coneheads aside), not to mention the increased frequency of releases! Last year alone gave us beloved G1 characters Shockwave, Ironhide, Ratchet, Hot Rod, Inferno and a second stab at Red Alert, and whilst I know that not all of those releases won absolutely everyone over, I find myself impressed by what I consider to be an astounding hit rate. All of those figures ended up on my "best of 2016" list bar one, and Shockwave's exclusion was more to do with the level of quality elsewhere rather than anything wrong with that figure; I still thought they nailed him too, ultimately.
Fortunately, 2017 shows no signs of failing to continue this trend, in my opinion, and it was with great excitement that I anticipated Grapple's release over the first few months of the year. Needless to say, I have not been disappointed upon his arrival. I don't know why but I was arguably even more excited for Grapple than I was for his mould-mate, Inferno (in truth, I use that term loosely; as it turns out they share remarkably few parts in common!). Despite a love for Inferno's character (and indeed for fire engines in general!), something about the colours and design of this guy just called to me. Straight out of the box I can see why. The orange is just absolutely glorious, and I fear really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Paint applications, moulded details, shiny chrome and other nifty little touches all combine to make Grapple's crane mode an absolute delight, not to mention how solid and sturdy it all feels. Anyone worried about TakaraTomy slacking on their standards need not fear this release, on first inspection. If you're familiar with Inferno in hand then I think there's still enough variance in this mode to be surprised here, with the crane itself being the most obvious point of difference. I really like the newly-moulded piston, and the hook section is a lot of fun. You can change things up a bit with not one, but two accessories that can be attached to the end of the crane, each bringing their own recollections of scenes from the original animation. It is also possible to add his robot mode rifle to the cab section for a spot of vehicle mode weaponry, something that’s been missing from more recent carbots, although it does look a little silly to my eye and so I prefer the option of just storing it away underneath the crane section.
I have read complaints about how obvious the robot mode arms are in this mode, and I guess it's fair to say that they're not as well-hidden as one might expect in a line that previously has been all about real world alt' modes. There's an argument to say that Inferno did represent a bit of an aesthetic shift in that regard, yet I have to confess that it's one I think this mould wears well, and perhaps even more so on Grapple. For me, it works, and certainly evokes a sense of this mode as it was represented in the animation.
|With Masterpiece Inferno|
Comparison-wise, I think Grapple lines up well against one of his main competitors, Maketoys Wrestle. In truth, they're a lot more similar than you might imagine, with a passing glimpse making it surprisingly hard to tell which is which, although the differences will become more obvious through transformation as we shall see. As for other comparisons, there's no doubt that he lines up nicely next to a plethora of other Masterpiece-styled figures, and especially Badcube's Lorry, ably standing in for the absence of a TakaraTomy Hoist. It's also fun to see him lined up with Inferno, of course, the many variations between the two making them arguably both as essential as each other. I do really love Grapple's vibrant orange though.
|With Maketoys Wrestle|
|With Badcube Lorry|
|With Masterpiece Red Alert, Smokescreen & Tracks|
|With Masterpiece Optimus Prime|
Yet it's not until we start to transform him that we can truly appreciate how unique Grapple really is. I had at first thought to attempt this conversion without instructions, but how pleased I am that I reconsidered this at the final moment! Halfway through, I distinctly remember a feeling of abject shock as to how different everything was, with only the most obvious parts unfolding in the same manner. It's also worth mentioning that if you were amazed by Inferno's ladder transformation, the way in which Grapple's crane contorts and tucks away is nothing short of mind-blowing. Seriously, I suspect if I was to sit and compile a list of ingenious transformation moments on figures I own, this would secure a spot no problem. Whilst it does take a bit of a leap of faith on first attempt, there's no arguing with the impressive results; the final robot form is so impressively clean and devoid of kibble, you could honesty trick someone into believing that the entire crane section had simply been detached and set aside. Amazing.
Now that Grapple has been fully revealed in all his glory we can really appreciate the lengths that TakaraTomy have gone to in order to make this release feel distinct from Inferno. I had already read that the two share a mere 50% of parts in common, and that becomes all the more evident on further inspection. In fact, there's no question that this requires handling of both figures to fully appreciate, but if Inferno was responsible for showing how the Masterpiece line could blow its unofficial competition out of the water when it really wanted to, then Grapple is the killing blow. I haven't seen a 3P attempt on either of these characters that can touch these two, in my opinion. That might sound like hyperbole, but honestly just look at this thing. It's so neat and tidy, and so entirely evocative of the intended character. I do often think the epithet that certain figures look like they have "stepped off the screen" is somewhat overused, but it certainly applies in this case. This is Grapple made real.
|With Masterpiece Inferno|
Again, I have to marvel at how kibble free this robot form is. Where is the evidence of that crane? If I hadn't transformed this thing myself I wouldn't believe it was possible, especially considering how wonderfully poseable the end result is. It feels like it shouldn't all be achievable in one package, and yet Grapple is here to spoil us. For such a bulky ‘bot, he’s surprisingly lithe, with perhaps my only complaint in this arena being how easy it is to pop his shoulders out of position when moving his somewhat tight joints. Still, I’m certainly not complaining!
The marvellous paint scheme is of course carried over nicely here, with this robot mode definitely being handsome enough to steal more than just the odd passing glance when on display. The headsculpt is a big part of this, in my opinion, and so wonderfully realises the obtuse artist that we all know and love. Sadly my copy is impaired with a slight blemish on one of the ears, which despite being tiny is somewhat distracting on a figure that otherwise soars so high. I have also read some reports of paint chipping on other people’s copies, so that’s something I shall definitely be watching out for on mine.
As with Inferno, there is an alternate head and three spare faces to make use of here, all of which are truly appreciated. I know that some fans will remain a little disappointed that he doesn't sport a head more reminiscent of the G1 toy, though it is actually possible to borrow Inferno's version and install this on Grapple instead should you wish!
|With Inferno's head installed|
Other accessories also bring more joy. As with Inferno there's a spare bumper section that features grey plastic instead of chrome, to give a more cartoonish appearance, as well as an alternative arm hose depending on which look you prefer. The fact that the arm hose can be simply rotated round and stowed inside the forearm when swapping out for the hand still amazes me, even after Inferno pulled off the same trick. Touches like these are why I maintain that TakaraTomy are on top form, currently. There is of course also his blaster, and a small handheld laser tool, which can be tucked inside his other forearm when not in use.
|Also with Badcube Lorry|
However, perhaps two of the most fun accessories on offer are particularly unique to this release, especially as they're both homages to the season 2 episode The Master Builders, with both the miniature model and design plans for Grapple’s solar tower lovingly recreated here. Very cool and lots of fun. I was initially a bit confused with how the tower accessory itself is supposed to fit into his hand, as though it features a peg that looks like it should tab in securely to his palm this doesn’t seem possible. Still, it balances securely enough, so it’s no problem either way.
Perhaps considering how well this guy apes the cartoon persona, it's no surprise that he slots it remarkably well next to other Masterpiece-styled figures. As someone who grew up on a healthy diet of season 2 cartoon VHS tapes, I'm really pleased to see so many of the characters from that year being given a fair shake in this line. In many ways these characters are more evocative of my childhood memories that some of the season 1 ‘bots, so it’s an absolute thrill to see them recreated in Masterpiece form.
|Also with Unite Warriors Devastator|
|With Masterpiece Optimus Prime|
|Also with a test shot of X-Transbots Paean|
|Season 2 line-up|
As for the final comparison, let's have a look at him versus Maketoys Wrestle, who was my personal choice for a 3P Grapple. I really like that figure, but as I said earlier there is no doubt in my mind here that TakaraTomy have ably demonstrated what they're capable of achieving versus the competition when they really set their mind to it. If anything, all this comparison does is serve to remind us that every time someone says that they cannot imagine how the official line would improve on the design of a particular third party figure, they'll find something special to pull out of the bag and prove you wrong.
|With Maketoys Wrestle|
At least, that's certainly my opinion. As I said earlier, I'm well aware that others feel different, but I for one couldn't be happier with how things are shaping up in the MP line just now. Grapple is further evidence of a company that shows they're the master of the game when they truly want to be, and how they can still surprise and delight even fans like me who have been collecting the same line for so many years. Long may it continue.
From the moment this guy comes out of the box, he's simply breath-taking. The orange needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, both modes are fantastic, the transformation is mind-blowing, and he's loaded with fun accessories. Absolute masterpiece.
The shoulders have a habit of popping out a bit too easily because of tight joints, and there have been reports of some paint flaking.
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