Monday 19 June 2017

REVIEW: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-37 Artfire

Repaints, eh? Who needs them. I mean, it was only very recently that I typed up my thoughts on this figure's mould-mate, MP-35 Grapple (read it here), and even then I'd already done a bit of a write-up on his predecessor, MP-33 Inferno at the start of the year (and read that here). So why do we need another version of this design? Is it just TakaraTomy "milking" the mould for all its worth, in a cynical cash-grab attempt to extract as much money as possible from its gullible fans? I mean, just how much enjoyment can there be in a figure that we've essentially received twice already in the last twelve months? Eh? EH?! Well, as it turns out, there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye... in fact, in the hypothetical case against repaints, I would submit Artfire, and indeed all three versions of this design thus far as watertight evidence for the defence. Let me put it another way; if the repaints we're receiving are this good, then there's really not a lot to complain about!

I say that firmly in the knowledge that of course, repaints are not for everyone. I get that. Nor do I expect and much less want to change anyone's current collecting habits! I actually take a lot of pleasure in admiring some folks' cartoon-exclusive line-ups, or however they like to slice their own piece of cake; it would be very boring if we all collected the same thing, after all! However, what I would like to try and do is discourage the idea that releases like this are less "valid" than the primary cartoon homages of the Masterpiece line, or that they're in any way less beautifully done! I simply cannot look at figures like MP-25L Loudpedal, MP-23 Exhaust, MP-31 Delta Magnus or even stuff like MP-10 Convoy Mode "EVA" and think that there's any less love that's gone into them than there is to a cartoon-orientated figure. Not only are figures like this no doubt essential in terms of making the line a financial possibility, but they also have a dedicated fanbase all of their own, and rightly so. I mean, just look at Artfire as Exhibit A...

My word, that's a handsome 'bot, no? Again, for a design that I already own twice over, I have to comment on just how much new Artfire brings to this debate! He's just bloody glorious.

So who is Artfire anyway? Whereas I know a few people are thinking of this MP release as another Diaclone homage, this character actually has his origins firmly in the G1 Transformers line, having been originally released as a repaint of G1 Inferno in 1987. However, because he was only released in Japan and didn't feature in any of the cartoons or other main media, he's often forgotten about. Other than his rather unique deco', one of the things he's most famous for is being a Targetmaster! The original toy came packaged with a repaint of G1 Scourge's Targetmaster, Fracas, although renamed as Nightstick (which, confusingly, was also the name of Cyclonus' Targetmaster partner...). Anyway, what you see before you is that figure made modern, Targetmaster and all!

As with other iterations of this mould, Artfire is an absolute pleasure to pick up and pose! I really had so much fun cranking him through various stances and trying to push the envelope in terms of what was possible with articulating a transforming figure like this. The decent balance and clever joints all aid that pursuit, and it's also appreciated that his general tolerances are a lot more forgiving than on Grapple! As lovely as that figure was, certain bits like the arms felt very stiff in hand. No such worries on the butter-smooth Artfire, submitting for the consideration of how some repaints actually improve on the slight shortcomings of their forebears.

Straight out of the box, one can only be struck by several things. Firstly, the colours are lush and magnificent. The rich, ruby red is really quite something, noticeably quite a bit darker than Inferno's candy-coloured contours but no less eye-catching. That, coupled with a pleasing off-white on the body and feet sections makes for a truly sublime paint scheme. It's also beautifully finished, despite an errant but fortunately small paint chip on one of the wheel arches.

But of course the thing that everyone is talking about with this release is the patterned sections all over his body. They're really quite something, and deserve to be appreciated in all their glory. Now I have to make mention of how nervous I was that these sections would be on a sticker sheet for you to apply after unboxing, so I cannot tell you how happy I am that they proved to be factory-applied tampos! It really was a moment of relief! They look absolutely brilliant, and mix so well with the lovingly-painted details featured all over this guy. Not many figures can boast the distinct look that Artfire can, acting as further evidence of a mere repaint punching above its weight.

Fortunately, this beautiful deco' carries on nicely through to his vehicle mode, which looks equally as stunning. As with previous versions, this transformation really is something that has to be experienced to be believed, particularly the way in which the ladder folds up and stores away inside his back section, seemingly disappearing completely! It's really quite incredible, and is no less impressive even having seen it before. For me, I always enjoy how transforming a repaint figure can feel at once lovingly familiar, yet still fresh and exciting - like owning a new, clean version of your favourite old, worn-in jumper.

Whatever criticisms anyone may have about how good a job this mould does at approximating a real world fire engine, to me they melt away as soon as I see Artfire in that amazing red & white colour scheme. There's just something so bizarrely mismatch about it than it can't help but be eye-catching and unusual in a way that Inferno is almost to-be-expected.

I absolutely love how this mode comes together, including all of the glorious little details like the striking blue windshield and crazy tampo bumpers. Amazing.

And yes, stuff like the ladder section is no less fun that it was the first time around!

Speaking of play-value, there's plenty more to write home about here. Whereas previous iterations of this mould all featured their character's own specific accessories to recall various snippets of cartoon stories and the like, Artfire has no such backstory to draw upon. However, that doesn't leave him short-changed, as he features two chromed hand-cannons (both of which can be stored away inside his forearm sections when not in use, which still blows my mind on this mould!), the same hand-blaster as came with Inferno (Grapple's was a bit different), and an alternate shouty face. In a change to Inferno and Grapple, he only comes with the one helmet, and just the chrome bumper (no cartoony version). Of course, he really doesn't need anything more than this, but even so I don't think you can use the inclusion of fewer accessories here as a sign of diminishing returns.

That's for one main reason - Nightstick. Wow. What to say about this little fella? I've absolutely no doubt that a lot of folks will be picking up this release just to own this guy, just as they did with MP-13B Soundblaster in order to own Ratbat, and I honestly can't say that I blame them! That's not to take anything away from Artfire at all (he's amazing!), but Nightstick proves to be such a worthy part of this package that he elevates the ensemble to being entirely essential, in my opinion. In terms of G1 characters being given a Masterpiece-styled makeover, few have exceed expectations as much as this!

Does that sound like complete and utter hyperbole? Perhaps, but I stand by it. Nightstick is fun, poseable, lovingly-designed and ingenious to transform. I can honestly say that he puts every previous attempt at a Targetmaster or Headmaster figure from any company firmly in the shade, including the like of X-Transbots Rimfire (still a funny name!) who is of course based on Fracas, Nightstick's original mould-mate. . Although I am also astounded that he ended up being perfectly in scale with Hasbro Masterpiece Rodimus Prime's Targetmaster companion, Offshoot! Very cool touch.

With X-Transbots Rimfire

With Masterpiece Offshoot

Nightstick is now the new benchmark for me in terms of these mini-figures. Just look at the way he interacts with Artfire - there's a lot of fun to be had! I also love that you can attach him to Artfire's wrist directly if you so wish, in a manner that recalls the Japanese Headmasters cartoon.

The other cool thing is how well all of these accessories fit with the vehicle mode. Not only can you position Nightstick in gun mode on both the cab and ladder sections, but you can also do the same with the regular blaster, or indeed just store it away under the ladder itself.

Oh, and none of the above is even commenting on how much extra fun Nightstick playing along with Artfire in vehicle mode. Honestly, it could keep me occupied for weeks!

Thinking in general of the accessories on display here, I would use that as further evidence of TakaraTomy really going the extra mile here, and not just with this particular version of the mould. Yes, Nightstick is something special, but all three figures have come with an incredible array of extra bits & bobs, and when you add it all up it begins to look even more impressive. They may be simple things, but just looking at these three releases holistically makes me realise even more how much there is to be celebrated in the Masterpiece line. Repaints are such a big part of that joy, for me.

All of the various accessories from Masterpiece Inferno, Grapple & Artfire

But the appreciation doesn't stop there, and looking at Artfire next to his "brothers" should tell you all you need to know about how much he brings to the table. Whilst Inferno and Grapple shared a mere 50% of parts in common (a statistic I will never not take the opportunity to quote!), there's no doubt that Artfire is almost a direct replica of the former when it comes to moulded detail. However, he does still take at least a couple of small touches from Grapple too, such as the shoulder sections, which is interesting. Still, there's no doubt for me that his rather unique paint scheme and deco' makes him feel just as different again, and coupled with Nightstick should be all the evidence you'll hopefully need for him being just as worthy a release. I've even read a few comments from people who plan to skip Inferno in favour of Artfire!

With Masterpiece Inferno & Grapple

Even seeing them all lined up in vehicle mode is a sight to behold. If we never get another version of this mould (for example, in the form as a Masterpiece "Hauler") then I'm so happy that TakaraTomy saw fit to give it another pass with Artfire. He just adds something on top of the other two, in my eyes, and I for one would have felt rather short-changed with his absence on my shelf.

With Masterpiece Inferno

Also with Masterpiece Grapple

Of course, you may be wondering where exactly to position Artfire and Nightstick in your collection. The original G1 version at least had Stepper (a repaint of Jazz) as a comrade in arms, but who knows when TakaraTomy might be able to approach that particular threshold. Fortunately, he also fits amazingly well with a plethora of other figures, including many of the Diaclone & Microchange homages we've had from both the Masterpiece line and some third party companies. He also makes a great companion to the original MP-14 Red Alert, to my eye! Just look at all that red and white on display - that's a beautiful display unto itself!

With Maketoys Contact Shot

With Masterpiece Hot Rod

With Masterpiece Red Alert (version 1)

Also with Masterpiece Clampdown

Also with Ocular Max Ligier, Masterpiece Road Rage, Masterpiece Bumble (red body), Masterpiece Exhaust & Badcube Blaze

So, there you have it. Maybe you're reading this still thinking that this isn't something that you need in your collection, and maybe you still don't quite understand the particular joy that collectors like me can take from repaint figures such as this. And that's fine. All I perhaps ask is that next time it comes up for debate, you don't dismiss such releases as cynical cash-grabs where some of us regard them as absolute masterpieces in their own right. And if you are thinking about jumping on board? Well then, this guy is an absolute no-brainer, in my opinion. It's an amazing mould anyway, and even if you have one or both of the previous versions then there's enough spectacular goodness going on here to make it worth another dip. Even if it is just for Nightstick.

What's HOT?
What to say? It's already a fantastic mould, now made new with a spanking new deco' and glorious tampos. The transformation remains every bit as wondrous as before, and this time the figure is accompanied by the absolute mini-marvel that is Masterpiece Nightstick.

What's NOT?
Mine has a very slight paint chip on the one wheel arch. And... um...

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  1. That's beautiful, even before you take your lens to it. Bravo sir. I admit I'm unlikely to pick this up now, even with that gorgeous paint job (I'm a sucker for paint) just as I have no connection to the character. If i didn't have an inferno already tho I'd be tempted to go for that as a super version. Makes me wonder how much better inferno could have looked with a few tampo paint details, especially on the hip panels.
    There is an obvious amount of love and pride in that figure, so all as it should be for me when it comes to redecos. Makes me think there is still hope for the official mp line yet.
    Thanks Sixo.

    1. Yeah, he's really something. I think a lot of people are in the same boat where they maybe don't want to double dip if they have Inferno or don't feel a connection with Artfire as a character (I read that a lot), but that doesn't stop him looking magnificent. I've also seen quite a few people saying that they will get this over Inferno!

  2. Very good read. Your pictures showing off Nightstick were especially fun. Thank you.

  3. very awesome photos! thanks for your review.