Sunday 23 April 2017

REVIEW: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-34 Cheetor

When the Beast Wars line first began some twenty years ago, many G1 fans were in uproar. The idea of Transformers that converted into flesh-and-fur-covered animal modes instead of jets and cars was simply too much of a departure for some, although of course the new direction would eventually prove to be the franchise’s saviour, spurring the way for vehicular alt' modes to eventually return to prominence. Two decades later and Beast Wars retains a much-deserved fan base of its own, although arguably it has also better established itself with more of a mainstream audience over time, becoming a more accepted part of Transformers lore with each passing year. That's not to say that there aren't some ardent detractors still out there though, as was clearly evidenced when it was revealed that the main TakaraTomy Masterpiece line, previously a love letter almost solely to those in the G1 (and G2) community, was going to start producing the occasional Beast Wars character. Suddenly the on-line arguments of two decades prior where brought to prominence once more.

And yet things are also remarkably different this time around. Firstly, and most importantly in my mind, the inclusion of Beast Wars characters is likely as a result of the overall line's success, not because of its failure. In the 1990s, Transformers needed a reinvention to help re-establish itself after the cancellation of both the G1 and G2 toylines, whereas the Masterpiece has arguably never been stronger. We are through the wilderness years of only receiving one release ever year or two, as longer-term collectors of the line will ably recall, and in fact these days we seem to be receiving more new moulds per year than ever before. Whatever your thoughts on the line's overall direction, it's hard to argue that the increased release schedule isn't a welcome sign, and means that we are currently being well catered for in terms of new G1 figures being revealed and released.

So I must admit that I struggle when I see people argue that Beast Wars releases will be "taking up" a spot on the roster of new moulds being worked on, as not only are we seeing more designs being unveiled than before, but all the available evidence suggests that the continued success of the line will create more opportunity for further characters to be worked on. I would have never imagined a Masterpiece Grapple a few years back, yet here he is, being released at exactly the same time as Cheetor, no less. That doesn't strike me as a sudden swing of direction, but rather the confidence of a line that is so well established on its current path that it can now afford to branch out a little at the same time. In short, if the Beast wars figures are a hit, then it will surely be of great benefit to the line as a whole. And besides, if it means quality releases of beloved characters like Optimus Primal and Cheetor, then I for one couldn't be happier.

Ok, so that's probably enough of me babbling about the line in general, but what about the figure itself? Well, fortunately you're in for a treat, as Cheetor turns out to be one of the most unique and interesting Masterpiece releases in some time! We will get to all the many reasons that qualify that statement in good time, but let's start with the basics. The cheetah mode looks the business. It's a lovingly-recreated homage to the character and really feels like this particular pussy cat has been ripped out of the animation and replicated in 3D form. Optimus Primal already established that the aim for BW MPs was to look and feel as much like their cartoon personas as possible, as opposed to real world animals, and in that regard Cheetor is nothing short of incredible. Just looking at him I can hear the character's churlish voice ringing in my ears!

Despite being heavily based on the animation, Cheetor still feels lithe and animal-esque, and does a great job at imitating the sleek, athletic and powerful proportions of a real cheetah. A large part of that is the figure's ability to pose in different cat-like poses, all the time recalling the cartoonish exploits of its onscreen counterpart. The articulation really helps here, although I will admit that one or two additional points might have been welcome. I can't help but fee that the range in the "ankles" is a touch limited, and a decent attempt at neck movement can only really be achieved by pulling out the head slightly off its peg, which takes a bit of getting used to. I also found that he's not very flat-footed, particularly the front two paws, so it often feels like something is in the way. Ultimately I did find it a bit more tricky to pose Cheetor in this mode than I had hoped, but when you get it right it's really something. There’s no denying he looks pretty fantastic overall.

A large part of the posing and play-value here comes from the beast mode head, which is absolutely exquisite in its detailing. There are actually three different heads, each with a different expression, which can be swapped out with ease using the aforementioned peg mechanism. The mouth moves on each, but perhaps even more impressive is the fact that you can also swap out the eyes so as to move them from side-to-side, giving Cheetor an almost unprecedented range of emotive ability. It's really something, and is certainly one of the ways that makes this figure feel completely unique in the Masterpiece realm. I'm also a huge fan of the soft, pliable whiskers, which I was certainly not expecting, even if they do become a little flattened during transformation.

Elsewhere this figure remains on fine form, with a beautiful deco' and quirky spotted pattern over much of its body. It's really something to look at, with only the rear view betraying the suspension of disbelief that this is a robot in disguise. Yes, the kibble on the rear legs is a little unfortunate, although to be fair it's difficult to imagine what more could have been achieved. I think the reality of beast modes like this is that there will likely always be some element of kibble required somewhere, and in particular when the design also needs to ape the transformation and robot mode as dictated by the cartoon. For what it's worth, I do think that Optimus Primal did a better job at handling this element, but from a front view at least Cheetor looks nothing short of almost perfect. I have also found that some of the panels can come unclipped rather easily during posing, which can be a bit of a pain, and it can be tricky to make sure that the beast mode remains securely put together overall. If I was feeling critical, I might even describe it as a bit fiddly.

Overall though it's a well done beast mode, despite a few flaws. However, it's perhaps not until you start transforming Cheetor that you begin to realise just what a magnificent specimen this really is. Maybe it's a sign of the times, but I have found myself more and more writing about transformation schemes on new figures that are in some way creative or inventive, but Cheetor is certainly near the front of the pack. The manner in which this guy twists and unfolds is quite something. I'm a particular fan of how both the weapons unpack and subtly transform in their own right, and how the front cat legs flip behind and secure onto the robot mode back, a move that perfectly recalls the animation. Mostly though, I still marvel at the way in which the beast mode head snugly tucks inside the robot mode chest, behind a fake alternate version that forms the breast-plate. Let me stress that this is the absolute extra mile in terms of the designers trying to achieve animation accuracy, and it's hugely appreciated. The actual beast head would simply not look right in prominent position on the robot form, and I'm just awe struck with the lengths taken to achieve this, even if it is one of the tricker parts of the conversion scheme itself.

I would suggest to urge a little caution when transforming Cheetor overall though. He's by no means badly made, but there are some thin panels and sections that feel a little delicate, and not to mention some tight joints that require a bit of force to be applied. As ingenious a step as it is, lodging the beast mode head into the chest requires a bit of force in particular, which did make me at least a touch nervous the first time around. The end result is worth getting to, but perhaps just take your time on the way! I did also find returning him to beast mode to be a tricky prospect, and one that requires a bit of further practice still.

Once you're done though, you can sit back and marvel at what must be one of the best examples of character likeness in toy form I have ever seen. Wow. I have mentioned before that I frequently think the epithet that certain figures look like they have stepped off the screen is widely overused, but it wholeheartedly applies to Cheetor. Every angle of this guy feels like the computer-animation model made real in your hands. Had this figure existed twenty years ago, it would certainly have been to the delight of my younger self!

I actually think Cheetor may actually be one of the most attractive-looking robot modes in my collection. Honestly, that’s not hyperbole of any kind - he’s really that stunning. The rich yellow and gorgeous spotted deco’ of the beast mode combine with a striking metallic blue and flecked gold to really make this guy steal your every gaze. Closer inspection also reveals an almost unprecedented level of detail and some amazing paint applications. No matter which angle you look at him from it’s hard to argue with this guy’s good looks. I’ve heard a couple of people grumble that the back feels a little kibble-heavy, although I absolutely dispute this myself. Not only is it animation-accurate, but I think the beast legs look great positioned as they are.

Talking again about amazing detail, just look at that robot mode head. It’s absolutely perfect, the character brought to life with incredible likeness. The smirk, the eyes, the freckles, the impossibly-tiny Maximal symbol on his head crest… I’m actually lost for words. He also sports a couple of additional faces in this mode, all of which help to bring the toy yet further to life and recall the animation.

Articulation-wise, there’s more than enough going on here to ensure that Cheetor is loads of fun to play around with. He’s lithe and versatile, looking nothing shy of fantastic in either a stoic stance or a creatively-contorted pose. The feet are especially clever, with several points of articulation to bend pretty much as you need and the heels providing suitable balance throughout. I really can’t get over how great the whole thing looks, to be honest!

There’s two weapons on offer here, both of which are superb recreations of his cartoon arsenal. My favourite is no doubt the infamous “gut gun”, so called as it actually forms part of his abdomen in beast mode. It looks fantastic, the detailed pink really adding something to the appearance of the figure overall, and clips in securely to Cheetor’s palms. The other gun is made out of the tail section and also looks very cool, although it is a bit more fiddly and doesn’t hold quite so securely. It can be a little bit of a pain to get into his hand, and does tend to wobble around a bit if you’re not careful, but it does still look great once you have achieved it.

Overall though, I have no complaints about this robot mode. In fact, I’ll go beyond that and say it’s one of my favourite representations of any character in this line for a good while, and comes dangerously close to being absolutely perfect.

As stunning as Cheetor is in his own right, it’s perhaps even more of a joy to see him side-by-side with Optimus Primal. This is something that Beast Wars fans have waited twenty years for, and the sight of the two animation-accurate figures together certainly does not disappoint. They do also look great alongside the Takara Legends LGEX versions of both Rattrap & Rhinox, even if the latter is sadly too small to fit perfectly. In truth though, one can only hope at what future delights the Beast Wars releases in the Masterpiece line will bring. We know that Dinobot is on the horizon, and I’m truly excited to see if they can capture him as well as they have Cheetor and Optimus so far.

With Masterpiece Optimus Primal

Also with Legends LGEX Rattrap & Rhinox

With Legends LGEX Waspinator

For now though, we’re two-for-two, with Cheetor being another astonishing entry into this newfound chapter of the line. The beast mode may have a few quirks but it’s still great overall, and I won’t hear a bad mode said about the robot mode. Overall this release knocks it out of the park to the point where, despite what some more-hardened G1 fans may think, it is every bit as worthy as the more traditional releases and more than deserving of its title, Masterpiece.

What's HOT?
One of the most stunning and animation-accurate robots modes in recent memory. It's just absolutely gorgeous in every respect! The cheetah mode is also really lovely for the most part, and contains some amazingly-fun features such as the multiple heads & swap-out eyes.

What's NOT?
The beast mode does feel a bit fiddly, and the rear-leg robot mode kibble is not so attractive.

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  1. Great review and AMAZING shots

    1. Thank you so much! Appreciate that. :)

    2. You're welcome :)
      Just a quick tip: you can extended Cheetor's neck in beast mode for a better looking and more posable cheeta head. It's a bit hard to do the first time though (I had to use my teeth, it was almost impossible to do with my fingers lol)

    3. Thanks very much! Yeah, I'm aware of it, but as you say it's a pain to do. Don't fancy using my teeth! :D

  2. Awesome review. Some reviewers forget that it's okay to just appreciate the figure without trying to look for faults. As you point out, it's hard to find any.
    Just got mine and it's seriously amazing. Cheetor and Primal are close to my favourite Masterpieces.

    1. Thank you! If there's something wrong I will always try to point it out, but I do think it's nice to celebrate the positives too! Glad you're enjoying yours - that robot mode is hard to beat!