Sunday 15 January 2017

REVIEW: FansToys FT-16 Sovereign

There are a handful of characters that, by their very nature, will always be more desirable to Transformers collectors than any others. Obvious names like Optimus Prime & Megatron are obvious examples, but for many the Autobots & Decepticons who made their debut in the 1986 animated movie are near the top of that list too, such is the impact of that particular piece of fiction on our collective childhood years. Galvatron is a character that many collectors have been hoping that TakaraTomy would tackle as part of the official Masterpiece line for some time, and remains a frequent namedrop in any conversation speculating future characters that will be released. Still, so far there's been no indication that this is about to happen, and so of course many of us are naturally turning towards third party efforts to fill the gap.

Thus far, only one contender has arguably come close to hitting the spot: DX9's Tyrant. Tyrant proved to be something of a divisive figure, with arguably as many ardent supporters as vehement detractors, though he still remains the bar to beat as far as crafting the ultimate Masterpiece-styled Galvatron goes. Naturally, many people were overjoyed when FansToys threw their hat in the ring and unveiled their design for Sovereign, but can he live up to the hype? Let's dig in and find out.

Final note before we begin - this is a test shot. There will no doubt be differences to the retail version, including things like tolerances etc.

This being a test shot, I don't have all of the final packaging included, but I am fairly certain the figure will come packaged in robot mode. As for what will be inside that box you have the following.

Sovereign comes with two different cannons, one with opaque orange plastic and the other with a more translucent effect, depending on your preference. The opaque version is arguably more cartoon accurate, whereas the clear one is likely intended to reference the G1 toy.

He also comes with an alternate face, sporting an angry grimace, and a matrix on a chain. I'll mention straight up that I really like the matrix! It's absolutely gorgeous, with shiny gold & silver outside a sparkly translucent blue interior. It catches the light rather well and really sparkles. I also give it props for being the first third party matrix to quite accurately resemble the equivalent version that comes with Masterpiece MP-10 Optimus Prime.

Matrices! (L-R): FansToys Sovereign, TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-10 Optimus Prime, MP-9 Rodimus Prime, DX9 Tyrant

We'll obviously be looking at a comparison with DX9's Tyrant throughout this review, but I have to say that Sovereign's matrix is infinitely superior, at least! I was never really a fan of the bizarre oversized version that came with Tyrant, and think FT have done a great job here.

Though he'll likely come packaged as a robot, let's kick off with looking at Sovereign's cannon mode first of all. A “space cannon” is always going to be a hard one to get right, in that it kinda looks a little ridiculous just by its very nature, but I think it’s fair to say that FT have taken a decent stab at it here. It’s certainly very eye-catching on first glance, and the colours really help to make it pop. There’s a lovely shade of deep purple, pleasingly complimented by a nice, warm grey, which overall create a good looking figure.

You’ll also note that Sovereign is pleasingly weighty. FansToys fans will often talk about “heft” as one of the key barometers of quality, and they’re unlikely to be disappointed here – he’s a heavy figure, for sure, with plenty of diecast loaded throughout. One thing I will say though is that I did have some trouble with stabilising Sovereign in his cannon mode, as whilst the tolerances are generally good, the ratchets holding the cannon legs in place will relatively easily give way under the comparative weight of the main section, and leave him flopping onto the ground. A little annoying.

I’d also add that those cannon legs are the main source of grievance when it comes to the look of this figure, in this mode. Whilst it is a fairly tidy overall, with mostly just the odd whiff of robot mode kibble here and there, it is quite obvious that those legs become the robot mode arms! It’s not a bad look, necessarily, but not the most elegant, either. You can also see pieces like the robot’s shin guards on the underside of the cannon’s belly.

Still, a few points aside, everything does looks pretty much as you might expect, with the overall result bearing at least a passing resemblance to Galvatron's cannon form in the 1986 movie and G1 cartoon. Again, it’s perhaps not quite as elegant, but it was always going to be a challenge to shrink Galvatron’s beefy robot mode down into something as sleek as how his cannon mode was represented on screen. Given how tricky this mode must be to pull off, I’d say FT have done a relatively good job here, even if there is still room for some improvements, in my opinion.

Again, the colours used are rather lovely, but it’s ably helped by the red highlights, and definitely by the attractive orange cannon itself. There’s also a translucent version, should you prefer, which looks absolutely great against the light. I’d struggle to tell you which one I like the most, to be honest!

So, overall it's a decent attempt at Galvatron's cannon mode. Maybe not perfect, but certainly good for the most part. But how does it stack up against its main current competitor, that being DX9 Tyrant? Well, if I am honest I think that DX9's attempt has the edge here, even if only slightly. Equally, I don't believe I'm alone in that opinion - when I asked the question of which people preferred on social media whilst posting a couple of these pictures, the overwhelming majority came back with the same conclusion.

DX9 Tyrant on the left, FansToys Sovereign on the right

I do think that some of it comes down to the clever mechanism Tyrant uses for the cannon legs, in order to avoid the obvious robot mode arms being on display as with Sovereign. That said, whilst they both have their merits, I can't help but feel that we're still yet to see the definitive "Masterpiece" Galvatron in this mode thus far. Perhaps one day TakaraTomy might have an attempt which will come closer to what I am imagining, but we'll see.

Towards the end of 2016, a fellow UK fan had DX9’s Tyrant out for show at a pub meet-up. Without any instructions to hand, it’s fair to say that a few people struggled to convert him between modes quite a bit, with one even describing it as being something of an arduous experience. In truth, I don’t find Tyrant to be that hard (once you know what you’re doing with the top half), but I do think that third party in general often has a habit of producing some rather unintuitive conversion schemes, especially in comparison to TakaraTomy’s own ingenuity in this department.

So how does Sovereign compare? Well, it’s a mixed bag, I think. On the one hand, it is relatively complex in parts, and again it’s most notably the top half of the robot that requires the most unravelling. However, there are moments of cleverness peppered in there, and even one or two that are genuinely quite surprising, such as the relative ease of how the legs collapse and unfold.

Still, I don’t know that I would say it’s a fun transformation though. Certainly not one that I have found myself with any particular desire to repeat over and over. It’s a bit easier once you know what you’re doing, but so much of the top half requires you to follow a very specific order of steps to get it right that it can be a bit frustrating at times. It’s nowhere near as bad as FansToys’ own Spotter in this regard, but it will have you going back a couple of points at times in order to correct something you previously forgot, let’s put it that way.

Still, once you’re done you’re left with a mighty looking robot mode, and no mistake!

I remember when this figure was first unveiled in prototype form, as beyond the general sense of elation that accompanies any FansToys’ reveal, there was a definite feeling from some quarters that Sovereign was way too bulky, looking more like a Galvatron on steroids! Fortunately, that’s not the case in hand, and whilst he certainly looks very imposing, he’s also a remarkably well-proportioned ‘bot. In fact, first impressions are that he looks great!

Yes, he’s a handsome chap, and no mistake. The attractive colours work particularly well in this mode, and the general sculpt is very striking indeed. Plus, there’s no denying who it’s meant to be – this is Galvatron to a tee! He lines up quite favourably to the animation model, I think, with everything looking pretty much how you’d expect. I have read some comments about the choice of purple used and how well it matches, but that seems to be par for the course with any figure of this colour, to be honest!

I particularly like the headsculpt. It’s really quite great! Menacing and quietly angry, it absolutely oozes character and should be more than enough to please even the naysayers who think FT cannot do faces well. The alternate angry face is also cool, and certainly does add something here, though it’s possibly not one I will use a lot. I’ve said it before but I always find the mechanisms for face swaps that some third parties utilise to be a little cumbersome, usually requiring removing screws and such, whereas I much prefer the simplicity of the methods that the official releases typically opt for, personally speaking. Still, I’ve no doubt many people will enjoy the alternate face here.

Of course, you also have the option of swapping out the cannon for the translucent version, and as before this looks really quite nice, even if the opaque one is arguably more cartoon-accurate. In a similar vein I also really like the translucent red plastic that’s used as highlights on various parts of Sovereign’s body, most notably his abs. It’s looks really cool, particularly when catching the light at the right angle.

I’m also pleased to report that Sovereign is quite pleasingly poseable for the most part. I had little trouble contorting him into any number of dynamic poses, especially as he’s geared up with all of the usual points of articulation that you’ve come to expect of a figure of this kind, and then some.

Still, it’s not all good, sadly, and there’s a couple of downsides even when trying to get him to pose properly. Perhaps the most obvious one, which many people picked on when some of the first pics of this figure were unveiled, is the rather obvious gap that forms when you tilt the legs at the ankles. It is a bit unsightly, though not really a dealbreaker, I guess. I also found the treads on the back of his robot mode arms to be quite frustrating, as they continually need to be moved out of the way depending on what pose you’re going for, and they’re often just a bit too noticeable, rather dampening the feeling of this being an elegant robot mode.

Then there’s one of my biggest gripes – the stability. Firstly, he has a habit of tipping backwards without too much effort, especially as most of the diecast is loaded in the upper half making him rather top heavy. Secondly, his legs have several joints at the knee required for transformation, but it means that they’re also susceptible to giving way and having Sovereign collapsing under his own weight, almost forcing him to do the splits. It won’t happen on its own when he’s already on the shelf, don’t worry, but it can make putting him into a pose a bit of a frustrating experience, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s a test shot thing.

Still, overall there’s a lot to like in this mode, and I can’t deny that I have enjoyed handling him overall. I do think that there’s still plenty of room for a competitor (perhaps TakaraTomy) to yet further improve on, but I have no doubt that FansToys’ fans are going to be very happy with their chosen lot here. He certainly does look very cool, that’s for sure, and there’s no better evidence for this than seeing him displayed with the rather gorgeous matrix accessory chained around his neck! It looks absolutely spot on. Definitely one of my favourite aspects of this release.

So, how does he compare with other Masterpiece-styled figures? I’d say really quite well, and I found him to be a good companion to X-Transbots’ recent Cyclonus & Scourge offerings especially. He does feel rater different to the touch, but there’s no denying they look good together on a shelf.

With X-Transbots Eligos (test shot) & Andras

Also with X-Transbots Wrath, Curse & Bane

With Hasbro Masterpiece Optimus Prime

With Masterpiece MP-22 Ultra Magnus

With Masterpiece MP-9 Rodimus Prime

With Masterpiece MP-28 Hot Rod

With Masterpiece MP-11 Starscream

With Masterpiece MP-13 Soundwave

With X-Transbots Apollyon

With Maketoys Despotron

With DX9 Mightron

He's also quite good fun when recreating a few well-known scenes from the cartoon and the 1986 movie!

"Megatron? Is that you?!"

"Here's a hint!"

"Will anyone else attempt to fill his shoes?"

"Not today, Galvatron!"

"It's a pity you Autobots die so easily or I might have a sense of satisfaction now..."

Of course, many people will want to know how he compares to DX9’s Tyrant in this mode, even if some have already made up their minds. Where I know I said Tyrant had the edge in cannon mode, I do think that Sovereign wins out here. I will say that it’s surprising how similar they are, actually – it’s not necessarily the complete home run that many FansToys advocates might assume, but there are enough small touches to put him across the finish line, at least until someone else has a go.

FansToys Sovereign on the left, DX9 Tyrant on the right

Plenty of third party collectors will tell you that they believe FansToys to frequently offer the ‘definitive’ take on a particular character, and I see no real evidence to suggest that many of them won’t feel similarly about Sovereign. However, it’s perhaps not quite the perfect figure that maybe some where suspecting, with some elements certainly allowing enough scope for another attempt to usurp it one day. However, if you’re in the market for a well-made and certainly great-looking Masterpiece-styled Galvatron, there’s absolutely no doubt that this will get you there.

What's HOT?
Robot mode looks awesome, and he certainly feels quality to the touch. The matrix accessory is really nice, the face sculpt is one of the best from FT, and overall he’s a decent figure.

What's NOT?
He’s perhaps not the absolute corker that I know some people will have assumed him to be, with a couple of annoying flaws that make posing him in robot mode a little arduous at times. The transformation is OK if a little annoying in parts, and the cannon mode is perhaps ever so slightly underwhelming.

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