Sunday 21 January 2018

REVIEW: TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-39 Sunstreaker

Ever since MP-12 Lambor was released in 2012, it’s fair to say that the carbots have been a sort-of backbone for the Masterpiece line. Despite some detours along the way, there’s been a relatively steady stream of the fellas, and so much so that the roster of characters still available for the treatment is actually starting to thin out a little nowadays. That said, there’re still some very notable spots left to be filled, although perhaps at long last we can tick off one ambition with this release, as the ‘bot that started it all is finally able to stand side-by-side with his brother. Sunstreaker is here at last.

With Masterpiece MP-12+ Sideswipe

As simply enjoyable as it is to consider the Lambo twins back together again, comparing the two actually throws a lot of interesting considerations into the mix. After all, it’s been well over five years since Lambor (Or Sideswipe to you and me) was released, and a lot has changed in the line during that time. Even casual fans who may not be aware that there is a new chief designer at the helm will no doubt have noticed the fairly obvious shift in aesthetics that has been happening for a good while now. It started subtly with figures like Ironhide, but then definitely went up a notch with Inferno and Grapple, ultimately bringing us to the recent release of MP-36 Megatron, which felt in many ways like the culmination of this journey. Where once the line prided itself on a subtle blend of design aesthetics, taking inspiration from previous toys and comics as well as the G1 cartoon, now animation accuracy is distinctly at the forefront of the visual styling on offer.

Not that the evolution is just visual. Regular collectors will no doubt notice many physical design and engineering elements that have also evolved over this period, with arguably a tendency toward increasingly involved transformation schemes, also allowing for more nuanced articulation and the natural incorporation of more play points and gimmicks. Inferno was a great example of this, with stuff like his hand cannons folding away neatly instead of being separate, removal pieces, although again, it’s no doubt Megatron where this transformational change is most evident and feels at its peak. The newer figures are not just more cartoon accurate; they’re more involved in many aspects of design and play pattern, too.

So, the big question is what does a carbot look like in the post MP-36 world? Sunstreaker arrives as really the purest form of answer that I could imagine, in that he encapsulates everything that I think Megatron demonstrated the line has now incorporated into its mandate and proves that it wasn’t a one-time thing. It’s so very evident that these two figures come from the same house of ideas in that it’s not just one or two aspects that make it so - it’s really everything about the way that they’re designed and built. The look, feel, and very essence of them feels in common, somehow.

With Masterpiece MP-36 Megatron

But what does that mean in real terms? Well, let’s start with Sunstreaker’s absolutely banging vehicle mode. Firstly, it's beyond gorgeous; no doubt one of the absolute best-looking and lovingly finished car forms in the line thus far.

However, not only is it a veritable delight for the eyes, but there’s also an incredible amount of play value and interaction to be had here, and notably more so than on any other carbot thus far. The pop-up headlights are nothing short of an absolute delight, the kind of feature that immediately makes you realise that there’s a degree of functionality on offer here than arguably has more in common with the likes of the Masterpiece releases from days of yore, as opposed to much of the stuff we’ve seen since the MP-10 soft reboot. There may be no realistic details behind them, but pop-up doors as well as moveable boot and engine flaps all add to the feeling that this is an extremely well-thought-through vehicle mode indeed. Very, very impressive.

Then there’s what I believe to be this figures pièce de résistance. The rear engine piece unpegs and flips over in order to hide away the additional exhausts and the modified rear lights fold away neatly, all of which leaves you with a much more traditional looking Lamborghini Countach. That might sound very simple in black and white text, but believe me when I say that the actual execution of this feature is nothing short of incredible. Whether this was intended to placate a car manufacturer who may have preferred not to see the G1-accurate engines adoring their licensed vehicle mode, or simply just TakaraTomy showing off, it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that this particular transformation step is already my most enjoyed (and definitely most repeated) element of anything I have seen on a Transformer so far this year. Amazing.

It's actually a funny thing to say, but I can't really decide which version of the vehicle mode I prefer - they're both such a delight. Obviously I love the souped-up modified Countach mode as it's classic Sunstreaker, but there's something so deliciously clean about the more traditional style too. It's fortunate I love flipping between them so much.

With Masterpiece MP-12T Tigertrack

As if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s actually even more value to be had with additional elements such as the hidden rear weapon beneath the spoiler section, recalling a well-known scene from the G1 cartoon pilot episode, or the way in which the robot mode gun can be mounted. There really is so much interaction on offer here, I’m struggling to remember the last time I was so impressed with a vehicle mode.

Now for transformation to robot mode. If you needed any further evidence of the updated design philosophy at play, then it’s all right here in how this figure converts. You will hear much commentary online about how it looks complicated or what-have-you, but let me be clear - yes, it’s involved, and yes, maybe it seems a little complicated to begin with (the size of the instruction sheet is a little daunting if nothing else). But, it is also smooth, incredibly enjoyable and, dare I say, highly intuitive. I have repeated Sunstreaker’s conversion many times over since my first attempt and enjoy it more each time. Everything is so unbelievably fluid and pegs or tabs into place with such ease, it honesty never feels like a chore. Then there’s the fact that there’re at least four or five moments of genuine marvel at how this thing flips and folds into its robot mode. Aside from the engine section, particular mention needs to be made of the chest piece, the forearms, the legs, the way the head pops up, the way the windshield rotated into the backpack... this entire conversion is one giant Masterpiece moment from start to finish.

If everything I have described for you thus far isn’t yet enough evidence of the enhancements one can expect from the modern Masterpiece experience, then it should finally become evident with even a cursory examination of that robot mode. Sunstreaker feels more like a nuanced and highly-poseable action figure than just about anything else from the line I could recall from recent memory. The intensely screen-accurate aesthetics will no doubt speak for themselves, regardless of your personal taste in that regard, but it’s the elements that can only really be deciphered and appreciated once you hold the figure in your hands that really speak volumes about how much the line has evolved. He’s a joy to handle.

Much of that is indeed articulation, in which category this figure is well-versed and extremely nuanced; little details like the shoulder crunch, waist joint, outward ankle tilt, hip design, poseable thumbs and moveable wrists all contribute to that, and leave you with an end result that is a great deal of fun to contort and pose for display.

Then there’s the amount of play value on offer here beyond that too. Several extra faces, an alien mask meant to recall a fun scene from the episode Hoist Goes Hollywood, and of course a mini-figure representation of Autobot companion, Chip Chase add to the enjoyment and indeed the close attention to cartoon detail. I will admit that I would have perhaps been happier with a slightly more “traditional” interpretation of the face, as opposed to the somewhat on-the-nose translation from the cartoon we have here, but there’s no denying this works well and I do think it looks good still.

Additionally the interaction available with his two guns, including the ability to store one on his back and the other inside his leg is a really lovely touch, and again shows a level of considered detail above what we’ve seen on many of the previous Masterpiece carbots.

However, Sunstreaker is almost impressive in ways that are more than just the sum of all these parts. There’s a distinct but intangible feel of character that this figure gives off that shouldn’t be underestimated. It oozes personality in a way that some toys can only really attempt, exuding so confidently a sense of cockiness and arrogance that the character himself would perhaps be truly proud of this representation. And that’s saying something!

Is he perfect? No, of course not, but then no toy is! That said, there’s really not a lot wrong here, and certainly no genuine complaints that really amount to much. For what it’s worth, I found one of the shoulders on my copy to be ever so slightly looser than the other, and I did note a small paint scratch on one of the hands already; I suspect the sealed paint is not a great idea on these particular parts. With those small points acknowledged, I do think it’s worth reframing what a step forward Sunstreaker is overall though, as the general level of quality production on offer here is excellent. He feels very solid, with tight but smooth joints, beautifully finished paint throughout, and he clicks together just wonderfully.

So, some high praise indeed, but of course the evolution present in MP-39 is perhaps most evident when comparing him side-by-side with MP-12. One almost cannot help but think of Darwin tracing back the origin of the species by cataloging fossils to demonstrate how they had adapted over time, so evident are the many continuous improvements that have culminated in the creation of Sunstreaker.

It does ultimately mean that there are some significant stylistic differences between the two that do set them apart a bit, so anyone hoping for a seamless match for the brothers might be somewhat disappointed, although the arrival of the recent MP-12+ does at least mitigate the effect to a degree. It’s definitely less jarring in vehicle mode, but even then the logos on the bonnets of the cars look quite different. In robot mode the variances are more obvious and arguably quite plentiful, although that’s not to say that it isn’t a joy to see these two characters together at last.

If anything, one can’t help but speculate what a Masterpiece Sideswipe would look like were it released today, especially as you almost can’t help but feel that it now seems a little basic by comparison (much as I continue to adore it, of course). No doubt it would include a lot of similar cues to Sunstreaker, and would presumably deliver a collapsing chest mechanism for maximum screen accuracy, something that collectors have often cited as a grumble. One thing that is certain is that it would be a lot more complex in its design. You will notice on first handle that MP-39 clearly features more parts (I would even speculate it could be as many as two to three times the parts count of MP-12) and certainly weighs quite a bit more as a result. All of that extra engineering is no doubt about what allows the additional functionality and play value I’ve been describing, as well as contributing to the higher price point collectors can expect with the new figure. Yes, Sunstreaker is notably more expensive than carbots from days gone by, although frankly if that extra money spent buys this level of quality, design, engineering and increased functionality, I for one would gladly pay it every time, though that’s just me.

The other interesting comparison that shines a light on how the official line has moved on somewhat is with Badcube Sunsurge, who was until now my own personal choice of a MP-styled version for this character. Whilst stylistically Sunsurge carries a lot of cues from the designs of the company that made him, as all unofficial toys tend to, there’s also an argument to say that he was created to fit with the former aesthetic of the Masterpiece line and be more in keeping with the likes of MP-12. As TakaraTomy moves their style on towards new territory, it will be interesting to see how the third party scene attempts to adapt to that, if indeed they do; I’d argue we can already see some sense of this with the likes of Maketoys Meteor. As for The comparison of these two figures, there’s no doubt that MP-39 is the better buy, for my money, and that’s saying something considering how much I continue to appreciate Sunsurge as a figure in his own right. I’ve always said that I would remain happy with him as my choice for the character should an official version never be realised, but as ever TakaraTomy have a way of showing us what we don’t even realise we’re missing at the time.

With Badcube Sunsurge

What else is there to say then? I’m sure I have gushed enough about how generally wonderful this figure is, and whilst I’m sure a lot of people will have made up their minds about whether or not to purchase him based on the photographs they may have seen, I do think it’s important to acknowledge how important the in-hand experience is when assessing Sunstreaker, given that there is a lot of functionality going on underneath the skin. Ultimately though, a lot of your decision will no doubt be based on how you feel about the ongoing evolution of the Masterpiece line as a whole. Is this new direction a horrific misstep away from the delicate balance of influences seen in years gone by, or is it a bold and striking way to reestablish Masterpiece as a top tier toyline providing us with the absolute best interpretation of a figure that one could imagine? I know which I believe, and I can’t wait for more.

Also with FansToys Willis

With Hasbro Masterpiece Optimus Prime

Also with Masterpiece MP-17 Prowl, MP-20 Wheeljack & MP-30 Ratchet

What's HOT?
SO much. That vehicle mode. That robot mode. That transformation. That engine flip. That poseability. Those accessories. That play value. That aesthetic. That quality finish. Just... everything really.

What's NOT?
Some folks may not like the new aesthetic but that's a choice for you personally. The price is more than previous figures (though I'd argue still value-for-money). Mine has an ever-so-slightly loose shoulder and a tiny paint chip on the one hand.

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  1. It's not just "oh, the aesthetic changed." The main reason Sunstreaker is more complex, weighs more and has a higher parts and transformation step count is that, like Megatron, Ironhide and Ratchet, his animation model is a much bigger Dery-ization departure from his original toy than the likes of Sideswipe and Optimus Prime, who, while smoothed out, didn't represent huge shifts in physics. While we would expect Takara Tomy's Hound, for example, to be elegant and capture the Hound-ness of Hound, he would undoubtedly be far less complicated than Sunstreaker, or even Inferno/Grapple. As always, they'll be as complicated - or not - as they need to be to capture and represent both modes of the character -- while also satisfying the licensor.

    1. I agree that's no doubt part of it, of course, but I don't think I implied that the complexity was there just for the sake of it, either. In fact, I do believe that older figures like MP-12 likely would be more complex if they were made today under the same design parameters. As I mentioned, I would at least expect more to be going on with the chest, and likely more intricate legs in order to take account of filling out the gaps etc. and whatever else they threw into the mix. Then there are older figures like MP-14 Red Alert, who's a great example of the more simplistic approach that the budget of the day allowed, whereas I think he would be more likely to get a larger overhaul now.

      I have no doubt that the increased parts count is partly there to support the more complicated conversion required for this particular character as you say, but there's definitely also a larger budget at play per figure than there used to be (backed up by previous comments from the designers as well) allowing for more to be achieved than previous. I suspect if Sunstreaker had been released in 2012 he wouldn't be quite as intricate as he is today, despite being more so than Sideswipe. Just my opinion though! :)

  2. That backpack tho, such a pity they couldn't work the same magic they did with inferno, and no 'its a jet pack' is not an acceptable excuse. Gotta agree having both in hand I think TT is the better buy than BC's, tho I think the latter still edges the car mode (except at the back). This may well be the last official release I get tho, the escalating cost for the toon aesthetic I dont appreciate may well leave me with 3Ps. Stunning photos as usual Sixo, truly outstanding.

    1. Thanks dude, although sorry to hear you're not enjoying the new direction so much. It does seem to be a bit of a divisive approach, it's fair to say. I find the comparison with Sunsurge a weird one, as previously I couldn't have found much wrong with that figure, but for my money MP-39 trounces him in many ways. Still, always a positive to have plenty of options at every turn.

  3. I honestly did some soul-searching. I've owned badcube's Sunsurge since its first release and was always quite impressed with it. I absolutely feel it holds up and while a case could be made that TT's Sunstreaker is the better figure, ultimately I've decided to hold on to my Sunsurge and pass on MP-39. The improvement is undeniably there, but for me it's not enough improvement to invest in MP-39. I think I'd rather invest that money in an entirely new figure/character. Just my opinion, though.

    What reading your review did make me realize is that, compared to the wonderful toys TT and 3rd parties have produced over the past 2-3 year, the older MPs, specifically MP-12 and the Datsuns (and maybe the MP-11 jet variants as well), are really starting to show their age compared to newer figures. There's this continuous evolution in design at play to give us better and more impressive figures. It's not completely a general rule, though. In my opinion, MP-10 holds up effortlessly and I still see MP-10 as the quintessential Transformer.

    Man, this really is a golden age for MP collectors, isn't it? I think we'll all look back at these years fondly in half a decade or so.

    1. Completely agree - it is indeed a golden age in many respects. We shouldn't really have it this good!

      And fair enough on Sunsurge - he is a great figure too, no doubt. I was very happy with him before, so I don't think he's a bad option by any means!

      Oh, and let's wait and see if those rumours of a new MP Optimus are true...