Sunday 22 November 2015

REVIEW: X-Transbots MX-II Andras

NOTE: This review was originally published on 22nd November 2015 on my Facebook page.

X-Transbots have an interesting history as producer of so-called third party Transformers figures. Originally kicking off proceedings with their Powerglide homage, Glider, and subsequent repaints in 2012, they then spent the next few years producing a couple of upgrade kits for G1 combiners before eventually coming to everyone's attention in 2014 with releases like Krank and Ollie, representations of Huffer and Wheelie respectively. Despite a relatively slow burn in terms of schedule, a number of these releases were met with reports of variable quality control (or QC), with many even going as far as to say that they were simply not up to snuff, and like their apparent sister company KFC, they earned a decidedly mixed reputation.

However, the company maintained a loyal following, and promised big things with their first 2015 release in the form of Apollyon - their attempt at a Masterpiece-styled Megatron. This was a bold move by XTB, as many fans had clamoured for an updated Megatron in the official line for years, and the release was highly anticipated. Reports on release were still mixed, however, although it's fair to say that if you ask two different people then they will either tell you that Apollyon is one of the best figures in their collection, or a bitter disappointment. Transfans are not known to hold back on their opinions, after all.

And so we come to Andras, touted as XTB's big attempt to up their game and produce a figure with truly trustworthy QC. There is much excitement building about this release, but it's fair to say that many are still hanging on before pulling the trigger, waiting to see if XTB can truly deliver... let's have a look at a final production sample of Andras and find out if they have.

For the purposes of this review, the figure I have in hand is a final production sample, and thus came without the complete packaging, just the internal blister tray. I can confirm that Andras comes packaged in vehicle mode though.

In terms of accessories, he has a clear plastic flight stand, a blue blaster very reminiscent of the one from the G1 cartoon, and of course he comes packaged with (the unfortunately named) Rimfire, himself a homage to Fracas, Scourge's Targetmaster companion, who also transforms into a gun. It's difficult to know whether to comment on Rimfire as an accessory or not, although for the purposes of this review I will go into more detail on him later.

The inclusion of the flight stand is a nice touch, especially as you can also mount the two guns (including Rimfire) on small peg holes at the base. Maybe it's just me, but there's something vaguely Star Trek-esque about the flight stand, and although it's not something I have ever noticed before it even makes me think that Scourge's vehicle mode design is in itself quite reminiscent of The Next Generation-era starships, with their smooth and sleek hulls and protruding aft nacelles.

Scourge has a rather notorious vehicle mode in Transformers-lore. It's certainly a completely unique design, with many nicknaming it a 'space boat', or even a soap dish! Add to this that the entire thing is different shades of blue spare the odd red highlight, and it was always going to be a challenge to create a Masterpiece-level design of this mode that looked suitably imposing enough to be taken seriously. Fortunately, Andras does not disappoint.

I must admit that from the moment I first held Andras in hand, I was impressed by the sheer size and presence of his vehicle mode. He's a lot bigger in this mode than I had perhaps expected, and evokes a similar reaction to the one I recall from first handling a Masterpiece Seeker. The joy that comes from seeing a form so familiar from fiction (and often previously only known through a comparatively very small G1 figure) suddenly realised as an exact likeness of the image you hold of that character in your mind's eye is truly something that is an acute joy of the Masterpiece line, and seeing Scourge's so distinctly individual vehicle mode come to life in this fashion is truly in the same league, for me personally.

It helps that this mode is, at least for the most part, incredibly sleek and tidy, and whilst it's clear that he is in essence a so-called 'shellformer', with a transformation made up of a shell encasing a hidden inner robot, the seams & lines in the hull mostly blend in quite well. The only slightly noticeable break in the smooth form is a series of hinges on either side, themselves only really prominent to a scrutinising eye. Other than than that, Andras really does look good from just about every angle.

For me, the colours in this mode also work well, and despite the sheer predominance of Scourge's signature blue without anything to break it up, it never feels like too much. Of course, this particular deco' is a homage to his G1 cartoon appearance, and not that of the original 1986 figure - again in keeping with the official Masterpiece line, even if I'm sure there are one or two fans who might prefer otherwise. There has been at least some debate about the specific shade of blue that X-Transbots have used for this figure and whether or not it is accurate to particular scenes from the original animation. As I say, for me, at least, it works, and the colour really is very striking, especially in the right light. I have also read a couple of comments from people who are not keen on the two lighter blue panels that are relatively evident on the top of the hull, although again, this is accurate to the source material that Andras seeks to emulate, even if not to all tastes. Ultimately whether this deco' is for you or not is something only you can decide, although I have to say I think it's fantastic.

At this point, I will also comment on the apparent plastic quality of this figure. As I mentioned previously, X-Transbots have a bit of a mixed reputation in this department, and so I'm sure many will be nervous about what they can expect with Andras. Fortunately, nothing on the vehicle mode gives any reason to be worried. Everything feels sturdy and well put together, the plastic quality is good, and nothing feels like it is about to break. So far, so good...

For what could have easily been a relatively static vehicle mode, there's a surprising amount of play value and interaction to be had here. The most obvious aspect is the ability to mount either of his two guns (the one of them being Rimfire, of course!) on top of his main hull via a simple peg. You can't mount both at once, although it is possible to store his blue blaster on the inside of his 'shell' by opening up a couple of panels. I will say that this is perhaps not as simple a maneuver as one might like for simple weapons storage, as the panels themselves can be a bit fiddly to put back into place, but it's a nice and considered touch nonetheless. There is also some landing gear that can be folded down on the bottom, should you not wish to display him on the stand.

Another incredibly inventive inclusion is the ability to pop up Andras' robot mode head at the rear of the vehicle form, in a nod to a classic scene from the 1986 Transformers movie and the cartoon itself. I'm sure that fans not familiar with the original canon might find this particular feature a little odd - my wife certainly thought it was absolutely ridiculous! - but for those of us lucky enough to have grown up on a healthy diet of animated Transformers action, this is nothing short of an essential feature of this figure, which immediately recalls to mind the attack on an already incapacitated Autobot City. I would like to stress though, for the record, that the "gut Ultra Magnus" line was definitely Cyclonus', and not Scourge's. ;)

Of course, another feature of this figure is the light-up gimmick that can be used on the three nacelles. The gimmick itself is simple enough in premise - flick a switch on each nacelle and a red LED inside will turn on. Great! The only real problem here is how complicated it seems to be to insert the batteries. Now, I will admit that I haven't given this a go myself, purely because the sample of this figure that I received did not come with the batteries! However, there are other on-line resources which can help show you what is involved for this process and, frankly, it probably is more intricate than it should be. Personally I'm not a big fan of light-up gimmicks for the most part anyway, so I doubt this is something I will ever be likely to use. Fortunately, it doesn't detract from the look of this mode at all should you not choose to use it.

I will add here what is perhaps my only real grumble of any kind with this mode, and that is that the blue 'spikes' at the back of each nacelle have a habit of popping out if you're not careful or happen to knock them slightly. It's necessary for them to come off due to the battery installation, so that probably counts as another reason why I would personally have just preferred to not have the light-up feature altogether. However, it's not a huge problem, and they don't by any means fall out on their own, so that’s something.

So, overall, this is an absolutely cracking vehicle mode, and one that really does justice to the bizarre design of the original character. Great stuff! It's almost a shame that we don't yet have X-Transbots already-revealed Eligos (their rendition of Cyclonus) to compare him to, although I can imagine that seeing them lined up next to each other will be a sight to behold indeed. As it is, he looks fantastic next to the Masterpiece Seekers for now, giving us at least a hint of what we can expect later.

I will admit that I was a little nervous about how Andras' transformation would pan out. I didn't much enjoy transforming Apollyon myself, although to be fair that was much less to do with the design (I actually like complicated transformations!) and more to do with the fact that I was nervous about breaking him at times. Add to that the aforementioned 'shellformer' nature of this figure, and I wasn't sure this was going to be a fun experience. Fortunately, Andras surpassed my expectations, as the transformation here is really quite simple for the most part, and actually very inventive as times.

Essentially, panels unfold, peel back and reveal hidden robot parts underneath. Everything is more or less where you would expect it to be, although I will say that I was particularly impressed with how the shell of the vehicle mode very neatly forms the robot mode cape. A particularly nice touch is the way in which the cowl is formed, with panels flipping in a manner that I didn't expect. Very creative.

Perhaps the only part of the transformation that I didn't enjoy is the legs, or more particularly the feet. The instructions encourage you to push your fingers inside a part that features quite stiff hinges to push out the feet - if you're like me and have suffered broken fingers in your time, you get quite nervous about things like this! I will say though that although this bit was a little frustrating at first, multiple transformations teach you a few tricks to doing it much more smoothly and without incident.

So, onto the main event! Like his vehicle mode, Scourge's robot mode appearance has always been one that is somewhat 'out there' in terms of Transformers fiction. The facial hair alone is enough to set him apart from most of the crowd, not to mention the ominous cape & cowl, pink spiky fingers and overwhelming amount of blue! So it was always going to be a challenge for any Masterpiece-esque figure to try and pull off the look of this very individual character. I'm pleased to say that Andras absolutely nails it though - this is Scourge, in all his glory! In fact, it's hard to think of many figures, official or not, that are quite as accurate to the intended source material.

The first thing I want to mention, right off the bat, is how impressed I am with X-Transbots for upping their game considerably on the quality front here. I am very impressed. Tight joints, nice ratchets, plastic feels good, figure is nice and sturdy, paints apps are flawless... check, check, check. If I was already assured from the vehicle mode, the robot mode convinced me wholeheartedly, and anyone worried that Andras was going to be a dud in the quality stakes should really not be, from the evidence of the figure I hold in hand. I cannot tell you how excited this makes me for Eligos and other future releases!

As to the design of the figure, I am equally impressed, as it looks great from every angle. Considering the sheer amount of panels carrying over from his vehicle mode, this is really quite the achievement, to say the least! The cape folds up and sits in place so neatly that it looks very natural and gives Andras a striking silhouette.

You can also tilt the cape up just behind the shoulders, or even fold it in slightly at the sides as though he was wrapping it around himself - all decent display options.

The face sculpt is perfectly realised, and an instantly recognisable rendition of the character. I will say that I might have preferred for him to have his mouth shut, or even an option for alternate faces, so standard among many releases now, but this really works and the facial hair looks great!

Sadly, the face is slightly marred by the inclusion of the light-up gimmick yet again, as the eyes appear very dead and almost black without it being turned on. Add to this the rather ugly screws in the side of the head's 'crest', and I'm sure I won't be alone in wishing that this guy just had painted red eyes and no lights. However, this one point aside, the head is a great achievement.

Elsewhere, it's all good news. The figure has lovely details such as the rivets on his arms and belly, superb detailing on the inside of his cape, and, where appropriate, a satisfyingly smooth and non-detailed finish that befits the character well. Detail-wise, this is spot on. Not too much, nor too little - just right. The blue plastic also has a nice sparkle to it, with looks great to the eye.

I feel I have to make mention of the hands. I have often said before that I am not always a fan of overly articulated hands. Whilst I generally appreciate the expressiveness that they can give you, I often much prefer the simpler and easier hands on the likes of MP-10 and MP-13, as opposed to X-Transbots' own Apollyon, for example. However, I must admit that Andras' hands are a triumph. Although they are highly articulated (each finger alone features three points, and the thumb two), it doesn't feel like too much here, and the fantastically garish pink nails add to the articulation to allow for many expressive and incredibly eye-catching poses. Lots of fun.

The articulated hands don't stop Andras from wielding his weapons securely. With the use of the ever-familiar tab holes in the palms, both his regular blue blaster and Rimfire sit very securely with his fingers wrapped round them. He also looks rather imposing when wielding them both at once!

Elsewhere the articulation is very good. Moving past the hands, the arms themselves have articulated wrists, double-jointed elbows and double-jointed shoulders, allowing for a great range of motion. The legs are similarly articulated, with a good range at the knees and hips, even if not quite a 90 degree bend, and an impressive ankle tilt. I was also very pleased with the range allowed by his head, which can convincingly look to all angles including up and down somewhat, although it is odd to say that it can actually do more when popped up in his vehicle mode than it can here.

At this point I feel I should mention my one main dislike of the robot mode - the elbows. Whilst it's great to have double-jointed elbows and they are in fact necessary for transformation, they do unfortunately leave a rather unsightly gap if not carefully posed. A bit of thought when positioning Andras does allow you to get round this, as does pushing the forearms back slightly to fill in the gap, but I still found it quite noticeable at times as it makes some stances look rather awkward. Still, one nitpick on an otherwise incredible robot mode.

There are some very creative and fun gimmicks included as part of this mode, not least the ability for him to store the Matrix of Leadership included with TakaraTomy’s MP-10 inside a compartment on his chest, reminiscent of the G1 cartoon episode The Burden Hardest to Bear. Fortunately, using this feature does not lead Andras to mutate quite like Scourge does in the episode, but it's a very fun feature all the same!

Additionally, push on the grey compartment on his abdomen and it pops open to reveal a small black object, clearly intended as an homage to the key to the plasma energy chamber from the three-part season 4 episode, The Rebirth, which is of course also the adventure that first introduced us to Scourge's Targetmaster partner, Fracas.

Speaking of Fracas, it's about time that we properly analysed Andras' companion, Rimfire. Despite his terrible name, he's actually a pretty neat figure, and quite impressive in both modes. His gun mode looks convincing enough as a Targetmaster weapon, if not a 'real' gun, although I will say that his robot mode head is perhaps a little too visible here for my taste.

His robot mode is fabulously expressive though, making him look like the menacing thug he's supposed to be. For me, it particularly recalls his appearance in the G1 UK Marvel comic, which I was quite pleased about! He's also nicely articulated - much more than I would have expected, and can pull off an array of great poses.

Perhaps my only real nitpick about Rimfire is his size - he's huge! Whilst I don't expect X-Transbots to scale their 'Masters' with the likes of Maketoys Cupola and their homage to Stylor, it would have been good for them to at least take a cue from TakaraTomy with their version of Offshoot (who will always be named Firebolt, to me!). However, Rimfire is considerably larger, and would have benefitted from being of a smaller stature, in my opinion. Still he is a very cool and certainly welcome inclusion here nonetheless.

So, all in all a fantastic robot mode, and easily one of the more visually striking figures related to the Masterpiece line and 3P extensions thereof. This guy is very hard not to notice on the shelf, and does an excellent job at capturing the likeness of the intended character. As for how well he fits in alongside other figures, again, I'm personally most excited for the day when I can stand him alongside his partner in crime Eligos, although X-Transbots are apparently still intending to also release this mould as a slightly modified range of Sweeps, which would be an enticing prospect for many, I'm sure. For now, he looks great when positioned next to many other Masterpiece-esque figures, both official or non.

So, to sum up, I have to again say how impressed I am with Andras, and indeed X-Transbots in general for their improved quality on this particular release. For those of us who have been hoping that this would finally be the case, it's a great reward to see one of their incredible designs realised with this level of quality, holding the figure in hand knowing that there are no worries about anything being fragile, delicate or worthy of caution. Here's hoping that this is a new trend for them, as I am really very excited about Eligos and, of course, Abaddon, their own interpretation of a Masterpiece-styled Galvatron.

Although others are set to try their hand at Scourge (FansToys have of course already teased a silhouette for their own version), I can confidently say that right now X-Transbots have brought us a figure that is in almost every sense a perfect representation of the character. Well done to them, indeed! Now, onto Cyclonus.

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