Tuesday, 1 January 2019

YEAR IN REVIEW: 2018


I seem to find myself saying the same thing every time, but it really has been an incredible year. One thing I certainly appreciate about reflecting over the previous twelve months' collecting is the opportunity to acknowledge how lucky we are as collectors to live in an age with so much incredible product on offer to us. The fact that we frequently have to use budget and space as goalposts for what we're able to collect shows you the absolute wealth of quality options on offer, and it was certainly evident to me in the calibre that I found myself considering for this list. However, I was determined to give it a go, especially as many of you have noted that I've been on something of a sabbatical from blog entries of late.

Masterpiece MPM-6 Ironhide

Actually the truth behind that is related more to things I don't mention too often in conversation about collecting, but the fact is that 2018 was an exceptionally busy year for me on a personal level. My son continues to grow and of course deserves more and more of my time, which I am equally eager to be generous with! I've also taken some big steps professionally, which are paying off nicely but have definitely taken my focus from other things. So all that said, it's a miracle I had much time for collecting at all, especially in the second half of the year! Yet, here we are.

FansToys Hydra

Another change I've made this last year has been moving my collecting to more of a vintage focus, with some landmark Generation 1 figures having been added to the ranks over the last twelve months. That's been a fascinating journey all unto itself, and one that I think probably deserves its own story another time. Hence, I have decided to keep this list firmly squared on modern toys and won't be focusing on vintage purchases here.

Unique Toys Challenger

This is actually the fourth time I've attempted a list like this (with last year's still being available here), and I think I can honestly say I've found it harder than ever to weigh up my choices. That's also something I say every year, I'm sure, but no doubt the number one spot this time was just an near-impossible challenge to decide! In fact I changed it several times during the preparation of this article, as I will mention again later...

Unique Toys Ragnaros

So, how does this work? Well, the two categories I will discuss are simply as follows:
- Best 2018 repaint (the best repainted figure released this year)
- Top 10 figures 2018 (this list will be all original moulds released this year)

Wei Jiang Hide Shadow

Before I begin, I should specify that this list is purely based on the figures that I have received in the twelve months of 2018. As many of you will know, I only collect specific lines from across Transformers and therefore won't be including much in the way of mainline figures such as Power of the Primes or Siege. That's not to say that I don't admire those toys (far from it), it's just my personal preference of where my collecting boundaries lie. 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 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.

FansToys Apache

Inevitably, I also had to leave out a lot of releases just because of the sheer volume of great product this year. There are no doubt figures that I have loved over the last twelve months that you won't see represented here just because they were bumped by something else - such is the nature of these lists! Equally you won't see some figures represented simply because I didn't have them in hand in time. Notable examples include the wonderful Hide Shadow from Wei Jiang, which arrived in my house on the 29th December, and so wasn't really given proper time for evaluation. Likewise FansToys Apache, who I (inexplicably) chose to wait on and didn't receive until the very end of 2018. Maybe for consideration next year then...

Unique Toys Peru Kill

All that said, let's get to it!


BEST 2018 REPAINT
Now onto the best repainted figures released in 2018, based on moulds from previous years.

RUNNER UP - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-34S Shadow Panther


The original MP-34 Cheetor mould came pretty high up in last year's top ten ranking, so it's perhaps no great surprise to see that this rather sleek black repaint has come out so well this year. In fact, not only does it boast a sexy new paint job, but there are a couple of bonus features that really tip it over the edge. From an engineering point of view, there are some notable improvements over the original design, including significantly better shoulder design and a general all round feeling of tightness that one hopes will carry over to the forthcoming reissue of MP-34. Additionally though, Shadow Panther features a chromed comms device accessory which is actually inspired by something Cheetor wore in the third episode of the Beast Wars cartoon (and that works in both robot and beast modes). Then of course, there's that stunning mutant mask alternate face, which just looks too good for words. The way it shines and catches the light is certainly something, and really elevates this chap beyond the status of being a "mere" repaint.



#1 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-29+ Laserwave


Sadly, MP-29 Laserwave (or Shockwave if you absolutely must) was met with a bit of a lukewarm reception. That's a shame really, as it's a cracking mould with plenty of great features which, at least in my own humble opinion, give it a superior status to any of the various third party attempts at a Masterpiece-inspired take on the character. However, the one thing that was almost universally agreed upon was that the lavender colour of the original was a little controversial, to say the least. I'll admit I kinda liked it, but there's no doubt in my mind that this year's G1 toy-inspired "plus" repaint absolutely slays it. Photos had my thinking that the new purple would be almost too dark, but in hand it's really very striking and is beautifully completed by that gaping single eye (which has neatly been resized from the previous version). If I had one small complaint, it's that the Decepticon logos on the arms are slightly redundant, but overall there's no denying that this was a welcome re-do, and king of the repaints for this year, in my book.

With MP-29 Laserwave


TOP TEN FIGURES 2018
So, onto the main event! What were my top ten new moulds from the last year...

#10 - Jui Jiang JJ-02 Jet Commander

With Hasbro Masterpiece Optimus Prime

Kicking off the list in a big way is this chap, who came out of nowhere to capture my attention at TFN 2017, when I first saw a prototype version on display in combined mode. To say that it took my breath away is nothing short of an understatement, and even now I really find myself totally captivated by his Superion form. But what is this, anyway? Is it just a mere oversized knock-off of the Combiner Wars Aerialbots? Well, yes and no, in that they've also undergone extensive remoulding, and the set features a lot of new engineering. Overall, it's an impressive lot, and one that really couldn't be sniffed at for the cheap price! So look, it's not like the individual robots are quite up there at Masterpiece level, and I've no doubt that some of the upcoming third party efforts will smash them in that regard, but for me this was always about the combined form, and I for one couldn't be happier. I have to say that I'm really getting into the idea of simpler combiner limbs anyway, if only so it doesn't take you three hours to put the whole thing together!







With MP-21 Bumblebee


#9 - FansToys FT-24 Rouge


OK, so this is going to be a controversial one, I'm sure. I actually didn't buy this figure, and certainly had no plans to own it after the frankly appalling pre-release marketing that went on. I was then randomly sent a copy by a retailer I work with, and found myself really enjoying it as a toy. I'll be honest and say I was surprised, as everything I had read about it online had prepared me for a cumbersome robot mode, a horrific transformation and a bit of an underwhelming vehicle mode. In reality, the robot mode is very striking and capable of pulling off some amazing poses despite some notable balance issues, and the transformation really isn't that bad at all. Even the car mode I think is probably the best of all the third party options I have seen so far. I considered leaving Rouge off this list altogether, but I can't deny that it is a good toy despite everything. Just a shame they had to ruin it with such absolutely crass judgement.





#8 - X-Transbots MX-XIII Crackup / TFCon G2 Crack-up


X-Transbots' attempt at bringing Menasor to life is, for my money, one of the most exciting things to watch happen in the third party world right now. Both this guy and Flipout have been definite home runs, and bode well for the final three figures which will hopefully be landing in 2019. Whilst both DX9 and FansToys are off bringing us larger versions of these characters, I couldn't be more thrilled with what XTB are attempting to achieve here - show-accurate Stunticons in perfect scale with the Masterpiece carbots. I've longed to see it happen, and now it's very close to reality! Ultimately I debated between Crackup and Flipout on this list, but for my money it's the original figure that shines slightly more, mostly because of how wonderfully repeatable that smooth transformation is! I've enjoyed getting to experience the mould a second time with the TFCon exclusive G2 version, and definitely think I'll be seeing that version of the line through to completion as well. Bravo!

My original review of this figure can be found here.





#7 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MPM-7 Bumblebee


You may not have been aware of it, but there was a new Transformers film in cinemas this year too! Oh, and let's not forget to also mention that it was an absolute delight, eh? To make it even more exciting, we all know that a new film means new toys, and this lad certainly did not disappoint when he popped up almost out of nowhere to be released with a relative sense of surprise. Now, the MPM line has been a bit hit and miss so far, so it was reassuring to see Bumblebee continue the winning streak after Barricade and prove to be a solid release. The Beetle mode is excellent, with a gorgeous paint scheme and eye-catching blue windows. The transformation is certainly creative and on the whole something I found to be quite good fun (though I know not everyone agrees!). Most of all, the robot mode is nuanced, striking, poseable and above all a great attempt at recreating the character from on-screen. That it's not quite a total dead-ringer perhaps speaks for how this toy was designed alongside the film being in production, which is a bit of an oddity, but that doesn't take away from the overall appeal on offer here. It's definitely one of my wife's favourite Transformers, let's leave it at that.





#6 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MPM-5 Barricade


After MPM-3 Bumblebee and MPM-4 Optimus Prime, I don't think anyone had particularly sky high expectations for Barricade in the Masterpiece Movie line. The previous two had been beset with quality control issues that made them a bit of a lottery, which is a real shame when you consider some of the great things both those toys were trying to achieve. Fortunately though, this lad surprised everyone and proved to be a total knockout. Two amazing modes, a wickedly-fluid transformation, and best of all nary a QC complaint in sight. This is how it should be done! Now, if only they could get it right every time (and yes, sadly, I'm looking at you, too, Ironhide!). Say what you will about the Michael Bay designs, but I always thought that the concept of a Decepticon police car was very creative, and nothing about Barricade lets you down. If I were to make a list of underrated toys of the year, he'd no doubt be near the top.





#5 - FansToys FT-23 Dracula


I so very nearly didn't get this chap. For whatever reason I found myself feeling in a bit of a slump, almost experiencing FansToys fatigue, around the middle of last year. Stuff like Cesium had certainly not helped that, and for the first time I decided I was going to pass on a couple of releases, including both this and Apache (also since corrected). In fact, it wasn't until the very end of the last day of TFN as the lovely chaps on the Kapow stall were almost packing up that I that I finally conceded. But boy, am I glad I did, as Dracula hugely surprised me to be one of the best third party purchases from the whole year. If Lupus was decent but maybe lacking something a little special, Dracula totally brings that in spades. The wings are one of the most remarkable aspects, and feature some very clever engineering indeed, adding a range of poseability and play value that really make the whole package feel special. It's good news elsewhere too though, with a cracking robot mode, a beautiful bat mode and a pleasingly simple transformation all making this a sleeper hit. More like this, please, FansToys.









#4 - Hasbro Power of the Primes Predaking

With FansToys Sovereign

The second big man on my list is one of only a handful of mainline releases that, to my eye, fit really well alongside a Masterpiece-styled collection. I'm sure not everyone will agree with me on that, but something about Power of the Primes Predaking is just so superbly evocative of the character's cartoon appearance that I think it works really well. Like Devastator before him, Predaking stands out as being an attempt by the designers to do something more slavishly G1 than the rest of the line, and so for my money he crosses over just well enough to make him relevant for my collecting tastes. Then there's the fact that this is one hell of a fun toy. Like, really ridiculously fun.

So look, we can all agree that the individual modes have some compromises going on, but as with the Contructicons it's really not as bad as a lot of what you will read online (although admittedly I don't say that quite as definitively as I would have done with the former set). Even taking those compromises into account though, these chaps work well enough to get a thumbs up from me, and besides, there's no denying that it's all about that combined mode really, isn't it? Say what you will, but I think it looks absolutely a-may-zing, and puts Predaking as another member in the ever-growing line-up of Masterpiece-scale combiners in my collection.









#3 - Perfect Beast PE-DX09 Mega Dragon


Now this chap I had designs to purchase almost from the moment I first saw it teased, and a big part of that was how impressed I had been with Beast Gorira, Perfect Effect's attempt at an Optimal Optimus. And let's be fair, dragons are like really cool. Anyway, I pounced excitedly as soon as he was released, but even then nothing prepared me for what an absolute knockout Mega Doragon was going to be once he arrived. Those wings. That neck. That colour scheme. The details. The sculpt. He's just jaw-droppingly beautiful to behold in hand, with the kind of intricate attention to detail that some third party companies just don't achieve.

Both modes are just so stupendous that it's actually hard for me to say which I prefer, and I think this is perhaps the first Transmetal 2 Megatron toy to really pull off the dragon neck to work in both too. I've read reports from some quarters saying that their copy has issues, but all I can tell you is that mine is a completely wonderful thing that very comfortably ranks as the top third party toy of my year. Spectacular.







With Perfect Effect Beast Gorira


#2 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-41 Dinobot


Never have I ever been so unsure about a toy's ranking on a list as this. In fact, even as I sit here typing I am debating why I haven't given this chap the number one slot. In fact, maybe I will... oh, I still can't decide!

Now look, as clich├ęd as it may be, I really don't think you can get a much more perfect Transformers character than Dinobot from the Beast Wars cartoon, so for me the idea of a Masterpiece rendition of him was always going to be something to be very excited about. The fact that MP-41 has totally, completely and utterly smashed it tells you just how good this toy really is. There's just so much to love! The robot mode is practically perfect, with a likeness to the character than is almost unbelievable. The transformation is the stuff of sorcery, as panels fold and unfold to create a second mode which bears no likeness to the first, in surprisingly fun and repeatable ways. And that beast mode... it's actually hard to say which of the two head sculpts I think is more perfect! Not to mention the ludicrous amount of play value on offer here. In fact I would wager than anyone complaining about the price point for this release has yet to actually experience it in hand.

That this toy ultimately hasn't stolen the top spot says more about the next entry than it does about this one...









And so, we come to the absolute best new mould of 2018, in my humble opinion...

#1 - TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-39 Sunstreaker / MP-42 Cordon


This toy.

I reviewed Sunstreaker on the 21st January. I knew then that it was practically going to be a lock for toy of the year, barring any major surprises. Of everything, Dinobot gave serious grounds for debate on the subject, but ultimately I awarded it to Sunstreaker for the simple fact that I haven't really put this thing down for the better part of twelve months now. It's just so much fun!

In all honesty, I'm not sure what I can really tell you about why I love this toy that I didn't cover in my original review - my enthusiasm for him hasn't dulled one bit. The vehicle mode is breathtakingly good, and contains one of my definite favourite gimmicks of any MP toy in that rear engine flip. The robot mode is sheer poetry-in-motion, and possibly for the first time truly transcends the line of being a transformable toy into an poseable action figure proper. That transformation is so complex and intricate and yet somehow so repeatable and enjoyable. Then there're all the small little touches such as the flip-up doors, the lights, the gun storage... It's just a practically flawless package that is, in my humble opinion, worth every penny I paid for it. That it stands out next to other MP carbots and makes them seem somehow less special is just perfect Sunstreaker, too!

Of course, Cordon also being released was just the icing on the cake really, especially as he brings some added interest with his retro toy headsculpt, hand cannon, and sexy Japanese police deco' writing. Ultimately though, this is Sunstreaker's show, and he's all too happy to revel in every minute of it. This was my favourite toy to photograph and review in years, and a deserving winner of this year's top spot.

My original review of this figure can be found here.
















And so there you have my top figures from 2018! Thanks for reading, and here's to an absolutely cracking 2019! Happy new year!



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8 comments:

  1. Very nice list and spectacular photographs as always. You know, the general consensus tends to be that this was a bit of a quiet year for third party, but looking at this list, you wouldn't be able to tell.

    Megadoragon is one of my favorite releases this year. He's big, he's beautiful and he is spectacular. I see you haven't mentioned his third mode, though, such as it is. I dub it 'The Dragon Wagon'.

    Also, I have to say I'm very impressed with X-transbots this year. There's been such an improvement in their quality and design. The stunticons are amazing and Skids is the crowning glory this year.

    And Arcee, ah, arcee, poor backheavy barely posable arcee... though I have to admit I am tempted to buy that squishy breast addon on a lark so I can put it right up front of my display case to see if my mum notices when she comes round.

    Don't judge me. :) At least I'll be having a different conversation with her about my collection than that tiresome conversation how I'm always spending too much money on 'useless plastic'.

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    1. Thank you!

      I think it's a strange year for 3P in many ways, as some outfits are so established now that there's almost a hugely increased expectation of the whole thing. I still remember when FansToys unveiled Scoria and everyone absolutely lost their minds - a Masterpiece-styled Slag? Now they're ten-a-penny and everyone is chucking out Menasors!

      But yes, there have been some great options still, and I wholeheartedly agree about X-Transbots; they continue to get better and better.

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  2. Great summary. My collection is more mainstream, so I can't really comment on your rankings, but an excellent read. Of the ones we have in common, I totally agree with your assessment.

    Your photos are amazing. There were times scrolling through (particularly with Predaking) where I was thinking, "Wow, that toy looks so good. I should get that one. Hang on, I do have that one, it just doesn't look like those photos."

    Thanks for putting all that together.

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    1. Thanks so much for the lovely comment, and glad you enjoyed the photos! :)

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  3. Nice list mate. I've missed your posts! I agree with Joel, you make the same toys I have look incredible with your photography... Happy 2019!

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    1. Thanks so much, Nick! I have another couple of posts in the works... happy 2019 to you too!

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  4. Glad to have you back, Sixo! Your TF MP photos are second-to-none, and your site is a great collector's resource.

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    1. Hi Mike, thanks so much! Forgive the slow response, but I really appreciate the comment. :)

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