The Masterpiece Society

Transformers toys. They are fun little bits of kit, and I’ve been a massive fan of them, and the media surrounding them, since I was 5 years old. The original toys were often simplistic, flew in the face of licensing (it was the 80’s…) and lacked meaningful articulation. They also didn’t look a great deal like the cartoon renditions of the characters that appeared on the telly every Saturday morning, but we were kids, we didn’t care, we had imaginations!

The original Optimus Prime toy, from 1984. (image from tfwiki.net)

The original Optimus Prime toy, from 1984. (image from tfwiki.net)

As you can see from the toy image and model sheet images to the left and below, there was usually a fair bit of difference between the toys and the show. To be fair, Optimus Prime was one of the toy characters who looked quite similar to his on-screen appearance – many more were not so lucky!

Most fans just went on enjoying the toys and the shows and for a while that was that. Over the years the young fans grew up into adult collectors, or out of the franchise completely. Toy design, engineering and production techniques also matured, until 20 years after the debut of the original cartoon, Takara and Hasbro decided to make something a little special.

The original Optimus Prime animation model, from 1984. (image from tfwiki.net)

The original Optimus Prime animation model, from 1984. (image from TFWiki.net)

They decided to produce the first Masterpiece Transformer figure – a figure of the iconic Optimus Prime character (known as Convoy in Japan), that paid homage to both the original toy, AND the original cartoon. Nothing of this kind had been produced in the franchise before, and the collective sounds of jaws hitting floors was heard across the fandom.

The Hasbro version of Masterpiece Optimus Prime (or Convoy, as he was known in Japan), The Hasbro version contained additional 'battle dmage' paint applications. Image from TFWiki.net

The Hasbro version of Masterpiece Optimus Prime (or Convoy, as he was known in Japan), The Hasbro version contained additional ‘battle damage paint applications. (image from tfwiki.net)

Designed by Hironori Kobayashi and his team, the toy was a revelation. Featuring liberal use of chrome, rubber and die-cast metal like the original toy, the proportions of the new figure were far closer to the cartoon incarnation, hiding the wheels on the torso, and featuring an opening chest with a Matrix of Leadership prop as seen in the cartoon movie from 1986. Other features taken from the cartoon included flip up communicators on the arms, and a moving mouthplate. Even the comics got a look-in, with a mouthplate grill molded behind the faceplate. Further extras such as wheel suspension, feet suspension and moving pistons all added to the quality feel of the toy, and it was packaged with numerous accessories such as an Energon Axe, and a small gun-mode Megatron. The box even folded up into a cardboard representation of Prime’s trailer – an actual plastic version would follow in due course.

Kobayashi, on MP01: “It took us about 3 years from prototype to final product for this masterpiece, and of course in addition to the liberal use of die cast, we had to make 23 molds just for the structural parts. Normally you wouldn’t go this far. (wry smile) But we wanted to make something worthy of the 20th anniversary, “the greatest monument”…

Also what I’d like people to notice is the proportions that match the anime, and the realistic vehicle mode. The design of the front grill differs for the vehicle and robot mode, there are moving cylinders and pistons for the arms and legs, parts that normally would be hollow were filled, the clicking joints, we paid attention to all the minor details in reproducing the ultimate robot.”

All in all, the first Masterpiece Transformer showed that it was now possible to create highly cartoon-accurate toys of the classic characters, and for a while it seemed that this glorious bit of toy engineering (which ended up being voted as the greatest toy of all time in Toyfare Magazine at that time), would be a one-off treat.

The Masterpiece line starts…

Takara and Hasbro were never companies to turn their noses up at a blindingly obvious money-spinning opportunity. About 15 months later, the toy would be repainted into Ultra Magnus, another popular G1 character, whose toy used a white repaint of the Optimus Prime cab as the core of the larger Ultra Magnus robot. Ultra Magnus had never appeared in this form in the cartoon, but had appeared in his purely white, smaller form in the Dreamwave comics of the time. Fans were pleased to see the continuation of the Masterpiece line – but less pleased at it being a perceived ‘lazy’ repaint. We had Prime – where was his evil Decepticon counterpart, Megatron? Why didn’t Ultra Magnus come with a combining trailer? Fans waited to see what would happen next.

The fan-favourite Decepticon schemer, Starscream, happened next. The third Masterpiece release further muddied the waters on what the line was meant to represent. If MP-01 was the definitive take on G1 Optimus Prime (mixing toy, cartoon and comic elements), and MP-02 was a more contemporary comic take on Ultra Magnus, this Starscream take was a slave to vehicle mode accuracy above all else.

Original Starscream MP-03 prototype, with image of Shōji Kawamori

Original Starscream MP-03 prototype, with image of Shōji Kawamori

Converting into an F-15 fighter jet like his original G1 toy, this Starscream was originally designed to be a fairly cartoon accurate version of the character, as the early prototype pictures showed. Acclaimed mecha designer Shōji Kawamori later came on to the project, and re-designed the toy with a much greater focus on jet mode accuracy, making this Masterpiece figure the one least like any of it’s earlier sources. Furthermore, compared to MP01 and MP02, MP03 was significantly smaller, and contained very little diecast metal in it’s build.

Starscream - cartoon version.

Starscream – cartoon version.

Several elements of the figure were totally new to this version, including a bizarre grey-green colour scheme replacing most of Starscream’s usual red, white and blue.  The mold was later at least coloured more accurately to the traditional Starscream colours for the US market, and also repainted into the other Decepticon jets Skywarp and Thundercracker, but the odd mold changes (scabbard style hip hangs, and fuel tanks on the forearms) remained.

 

The final MP-03. (image from T=tfwiki.net)

The final MP-03. (image from tfwiki.net)

MP04 loomed into view at the same time, this time being the third release of the MP01 toy – only now including the large semi-truck trailer fans had been clamouring for since the release of MP01. Right now it seemed that the Masterpiece was a very expensive offering with little variety.

About six months later MP05 introduced the next big-hitter to complement Optimus Prime – his arch-enemy Megatron. Now back in a larger scale to match Prime, but featuring only MP03 levels of diecast metal, this version of Megatron converted into a highly accurate (yet comically over-sized) Walther P-38 handgun. The hand-gun alt mode caused plenty of purchasing headaches for overseas fans in dealing with customs…

MP05 Megatron. (image from tfwiki.net)

MP05 Megatron. (image from tfwiki.net)

 

Designed under a crippling deadline by Takara designer Hisashi Yuki, this version of Megatron is best described as being a large update of the original toy, with some cartoon accurate trimmings. The high level of complicated engineering involved make this Masterpiece figure one of the least articulated of the line, and one of the most delicate.

Megatron - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Megatron – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

That said, for many years, this version of Megatron was the most cartoon accurate transforming version of the character available.

At this point it was still hard to see where the direction of the line was going – was it a definitive mix of the media and toy to represent a character? A general update of the original toy? A focus on a G1 styled robot with an overly realistic alt-mode, such as the lower-priced Alternator line? MP03 was wildly out of scale with it’s line mates, and included display stand accessories that they lacked. It was starting to feel a bit disjointed. MP06 and 07 followed in 2007 and 2008, and fans began to wonder if another new mold Masterpiece was in the works.

MP08 Grimlock (image from tfwiki.net)

MP08 Grimlock (image from tfwiki.net)

2009 brought fans the debut of Grimlock into the Masterpiece line. As with MP01 before him, MP08 seemed to be the definitive approach to the character, incorporating aspects from the toy, cartoon and comics. The toy featured the option of toy or cartoon coloured eyes in both robot and T-Rex modes, while several elements of the 80’s and 00’s comics were molded into the figure.

Grimlock - cartoon version (image from tfwiki)

Grimlock – cartoon version (image from tfwiki)

It contained more die-cast than previous MP entries, and came with several cartoon and comic based accessories. It also featured electronics, as MP01, 02 and 05 had before it. This toy also featured gimmicks such as turning head and jaw-snapping, adding playability to a line usually more intent on posing and display. However, where the materials and design owed more to MP01, the size was definitely more in line with MP03, somewhat ill-befitting a character as over-blown as Grimlock.

 

MP09 Rodimus Prime (image from tfwiki.net)

MP09 Rodimus Prime (image from tfwiki.net)

Almost two years later, in 2011, the final Masterpiece toy (of what can now be considered it’s “first phase”) was released. MP09 was Rodimus Prime, the future Autobot leader. MP09 was also Hot Rod, Rodimus’s original ‘younger’ form, achieved by shortening the legs, adjusting the spoiler, and using the face-swap capability. Both characters debuted in the animated Transformers movie, and this new toy took direct inspiration from it.

Rodimus Prime - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Rodimus Prime – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

The size of the figure was more akin to MP3 and MP8, and again contained very little die-cast in comparison to MP01 and MP02, but contained a wealth of cartoon-based accessories, and toy-homage trailer weapon. What was remarkable about this figure was just how accurate it was to the cartoon in terms of styling and proportions, but this accuracy came at a price, leaving the figure very fragile and fiddly to transform. In spite of it’s flaws, MP09 turned out to be the main influence in setting the Masterpiece lines focus for MP10 onward.

The Masterpiece line changes…

The Masterpiece design team changed slightly after MP09, now being headed up by Shogo Hasui – and he brought with him a more consistent line-wide vision.

Shogo Hasui, on his Masterpiece line philosophy: “I created them in the hope that they would supplement the memories. The toys in the 80s are not even close to the modern toys in terms of refinement, but I think the fans who followed Transformers back then used information obtained through various media such as magazines or the cartoon to supplement the image in their mind. I believe Masterpieces are meant to be the embodiment of that image. Neither making the cartoon version into a three dimensional form nor making it as realistic as possible is a good idea. The important thing for me has been to create a MP product through which you can meet yourself from the past, in which you can find a toy you have been dreaming of. It was certainly a difficult and harsh challenge.”

Masterpiece scale chart display (image from tfwiki.net0

Masterpiece scale chart display (image from tfwiki.net0

MP10 was his first Masterpiece design, and was to be a ‘reboot’ of the original Optimus Prime Masterpiece figure. This was to give the Rodimus figure an in-scale Optimus toy to be displayed alongside, and Hasui decided to adopt this approach for the MP line ongoing – the figures would be in-scale with other in robot mode, in line with how they were presented in the original cartoon, usually using the animation model sheet scale charts as an inexact guide. The model sheets also appeared to be the main guides for colour layouts and colour palates of the later Masterpiece toys (in particular for 2016’s Shockwave, whose lavender colouring was closer to his model sheet than his in-show colours).

MP10. (image from tfwiki.net)8 months after the release of MP09, MP10 thus emerged as the new standard for Masterpiece – and despite being smaller and lacking the die-cast metal of it’s predecessor, the new Optimus Prime maintained the design ethos of being the definitive combination of media in a toy. The approximate dimensions and proportions of the cartoon, with elements from the comics (gun storage in the backpack) and toy (wheels optionally visible on the legs, combat deck trailer design). Finally, of course, it was in scale with MP09.  The new Prime was a success, but Hasui would still need to win the Takara management over to the line’s new direction.

Comparison of original G1 Starscream, MP03, and the retooled, repainted MP11. (image from digtahtbox.com)

Comparison of original G1 Starscream, MP03, and the retooled, repainted MP11. (image from digthatbox.com)

Six months later at the end of March 2012, the next Masterpiece figure would play it safe – using the original MP03 mold of Starscream, but retooling it and repainting it to better follow consistency with Rodimus Prime and Optimus Prime. Luckily, the scale between the characters robot forms seemed to match well, and the retooled sections were far closer to the original cartoon-accurate prototype. MP11’s revision of the toy was much more warmly received, and fans expected the release of MP12 would bring an updated Megatron mold to match the new scale.

Up to this point, Masterpiece toys had focused on heavy-hitter, fan-favourite legacy characters for it’s line up (barring the ‘easy repaint’ releases). So it was a great surprise to many that MP12 was revealed as being a lesser known character from the show – Sideswipe (or Lambor, as he was known in Japan). Converting from robot to a fully licensed Lamborghini Countach, the toy did an excellent job of conveying the character from the cartoon, with enough detail flourishes to reference the toy (and a later black repaint would massively reference Sideswipe’s Generation 2 comic appearance).

MP12 Sideswipe (image from tfwiki.net)

MP12 Sideswipe (image from tfwiki.net)

By being in robot-mode scale with MP09, 10 and 11, Sideswipe was now the smallest Masterpiece toy released to date, by a significant margin. While this made him one of the more affordable toys in the line, fan opinion was split. Many people were unhappy with the size of the toy, and the character choice. However, sales were strong enough that Hasui’s new direction for the line was now undoubtedly a success.

Sideswipe – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Hasui, on the lower cost of Sideswipe:I can list various reasons, but the biggest one was the need to change the mindset about the vehicle theme and the price point. It was necessary when releasing a product on which the future of the MP series was depending.  All the hardships were worthwhile in the end as (MP-12 was) close to the sold out on the first release day. I was happy to know that my intention was accepted by the others.”

MP14 Red Alert (image from tfwiki.net)

MP14 Red Alert (image from tfwiki.net)

With the direction of Masterpiece now firmly established, MP12 was swiftly followed two months later by… MP14. MP13 was delayed, and MP14 was Red Alert – a straightforward repaint (and minimal retool) of Sideswipe. Red Alert was a bit of an anomaly early on for the rebooted line. His proportions didn’t match his cartoon or comics version (that would have required too much expensive remolding), but the remolded pieces and accessories he was given did reference his cartoon model. His colour scheme however, matched his original toy.

 

Red Alert - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Red Alert – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Red Alert also heralded for the first time, a blistering monthly release schedule for Masterpiece – MP14, MP13, MP15 and MP16 were all released from Dec 2012 through March 2013.

Part of the reason for this is the fact that MP’s 13, 15 & 16 were so closely linked in terms of characters and playability – namely, fan-favourite Decepticon Soundwave and his cassettes.

MP13 comprised of Soundwave and his standard companion Laserbeak (Condor, in Japan). The largest Soundwave toy ever built, this version of the character was built to hold three cassettes, which were to follow with subsequent releases. While maintaining a headsculpt and proportions akin to his cartoon form, this Masterpiece figure took a strong influence from it’s original toy.

Masterpiece Soundwave and his minions, as released in the US by Hasbro. (image from tfwiki.net)

Masterpiece Soundwave and his minions, as released in the US by Hasbro. A rare instance of good value for money for the US Masterpiece releases! (image from tfwiki.net)

Laserbeak in particular combined the best of the toy and it’s cartoon equivalent, and featured some particularly genius engineering to incorporate once previously separately-attached accessories into it’s actual transformation. Standing slightly shorter than MP10, this would be the closest the Decepticon Masterpiece toys would get to having a leader for a while. Takara then pushed it’s luck somewhat with it’s pricing for the next two releases. MP15 introduced more cassette Decepticons to Soundwave’s arsenal – the diminutive Rumble and Ravage (Jaguar, in Japan). Frenzy and Buzzsaw followed in MP16.

Soundwave - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Soundwave – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

These two-packs of Masterpiece toys not only served to reference the original toy releases in Generation 1, but also helped give buyers an increased sense of value for money, given the small size of the toys. They did fall slightly out-of-scale with the other recent Masterpiece toys, compared to their cartoon sizes. This was to allow them to fit inside Soundwave’s chest compartment, and it wouldn’t be the last time the line’s new scale constant would be sacrificed for toy playability.

mp17-19

MP17 Prowl, MP18 Bluestreak, MP19 Smokescreen (images from tfwiki.net)

MP17, Mp18 and Mp19 were released in quick monthly succession from Sept 2013, and would end being a testament to how effectively Takara could retool and repaint their moldings.  All three toys were Masterpiece versions of the ‘Datsun brothers’ – three Autobots all based around the Datsun Fairlady Z. Prowl, Bluestreak and Smokescreen all combined aspects of their toys and cartoon appearance excellently, all with a realistic licensed vehicle mode – truly the best of all worlds. Smokescreen’s vehicle mode lacked the truly authentic race car deco, using false sponsors instead of the actual livery, instead skewing much closer to his cartoon counterpart.

Prowl, Bluestreak and Smokescreen - cartoon versions (images from tfwiki.net)

Prowl, Bluestreak and Smokescreen – cartoon versions (images from tfwiki.net)

The three all used the same core engineering for their figures but with some small remolding here and there to better show off the differences in their animation models. Again, they all scaled very well in robot mode with the previous Masterpiece’s from MP09 onward, and Transformer collectors could now amass enough of the new-era MP toys to build excellent combined displays, in a much more pleasing and cohesive manner than at the start of the line.

The ‘Real Cars’ theme continued unabashed with MP’s 20 and 21 – Wheeljack and Bumblebee respectively. Wheeljack maintained cartoon character proportions, but unlike fellow racer Smokescreen, his deco skewed much closer to the Lancia Stratos rally car he transformed into.

MP20 Wheeljack (image from tfwiki.net)

MP20 Wheeljack (image from tfwiki.net)

Other iconic parts of Wheeljack’s cartoon design (namely the panels under his hands) were heavily re-imagined for his Masterpiece figure for the sake of his transformation scheme.

Wheeljack - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Wheeljack – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

 

 

Bumblebee debuted as the smallest ‘Real Car’ figure to date, sacrificing vehicle mode scale dramatically so that his robot form would be in scale with his linemates.

Once again, Takara would ‘sweeten the deal’ with this smaller toy by packing it with another – the exo-suited Daniel or Spike from the animated movie.

MP21 Bumblee and Spike/Daniel (image from tfwiki.net)

MP21 Bumblebee and Spike/Daniel (image from tfwiki.net)

Bumblebee - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Bumblebee – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Notably, Bumblebee came with two alternate faces, which could be swapped out depending on display preference. This feature had debuted in a slightly different fashion way back with the original MP03 Starscream, and was used to represent two different characters in Mp09. It’s re-introduction here would see the feature pop-up much more often in the line, to help give cartoon accuracy and display options.

Capping off 2014, MP22 signified the next change within the line, as Hasui was re-assigned by Takara to work on the Transformers live-action movie toylines. Kobayashi returned to the Masterpiece line, but both designers were involved in the design of MP22 – a new version of Ultra Magnus. Unlike MP02, this Magnus wouldn’t be a straight repaint of Optimus Prime – it would be an all-new mold, this time including the character’s cab and trailer both combining to form a highly cartoon-accurate figure, incorporating many details of the original toy. The toy was also capable of carrying four MP cars in it’s trailer, albeit by very slightly sacrificing the robot mode scale. In one of the line’s more bizarre design decisions, the roof of the cab formed a ‘butt-flap’ at the back of the figure –  a design oddity that could have been be easily solved by the addition of one hinge.

MP22 Ultra Magnus (image from tfwiki.net)

MP22 Ultra Magnus (image from tfwiki.net)

Larger than MP10, Ultra Magnus was one of the larger new Masterpieces, even featuring the return of a decent amount of die-cast metal in it’s build. Stood next to Bumblebee or the Cassette Decepticons, the size contrast was spectacular.

Hasui: “Ultra Magnus, who was selected to be MP-22, was a character I was dreaming of making into a product since the time of MP-10 development. I was happy to be finally able to work on him. As there had already been several real car MP figures and Ultra Magnus is a car carrier that can carry them, I considered Magnus as a certain milestone in the new MP series.  I wanted the car carrier to have a capacity of at least 4 real car MPs while in robot mode his height needed to be as close as seen in the cartoon. The transformation process was expected to require lots of folding of the parts to achieve it, and solving that problem became a very important task. Upon agreeing on that point, Kobayashi took over to work on the transformation mechanism and (Ultra Magnus is) finished as he is now.”

Ultra Magnus - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Ultra Magnus – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Kobayashi:  “I observed how Hasui was envisioning Magnus project while working on (MP) real car series. While I thought (Magnus) was his, I also kept on thinking of the way as to how Magnus could be made into an actual form. I ended up taking it over from Hasui when the development of overseas “Lost Age (Age of Extinction)” products wrapped up…

… The problem was to conceive the way to allocate the mass of the truck. I settled with splitting it into the front and the back sections, putting the head between the chest parts and placed the remaining parts on the back. He is slightly taller and fits in quite well.  As a factor to express his character, the Matrix can be fitted in his chest. Additional face part like action figures have is included so that his expression can be changed as well.”

MP23 Exhaust (image from tfwiki,net)

MP23 Exhaust (image from tfwiki,net)

In an attempt to wring as much cash out of an existing mold, MP23 was Exhaust, a new Decepticon character based off a Wheeljack-style Diaclone toy that was never re-purposed into the Transformers line. Diaclone was the old Japanese transforming toyline that was repurposed by Hasbro as the basis for the original Transformers toyline. The Masterpiece line would now use Diaclone based repaints to maximize mold use of one-shot characters (such as Wheeljack, Tracks and Ultra Magnus).

Exhaust gained some notoriety for following the original toy’s Marlboro racing deco closely, and invoking a trademark dispute with Marlboro’s parent company, Philip Morris USA. The deco of the toy was altered enough to allow release, but Philip Morris USA still aggressively tried to prevent the release of the toy.

MP24 Star Saber (image from tfwiki.net)

MP24 Star Saber (image from tfwiki.net)

MP24 was another character who had not been released outside of Japan – Star Saber. Hailing from the cartoons made exclusively for Japan after the US cartoons ended, Star Saber combined all the interactive combining features of his original toy, alongside a high level of cartoon accuracy. Designed by Hisashi Yuki (who also designed the MP05 Megatron mold), the character was chosen in a competition and designed separately from the main Masterpiece line.

Starsaber - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Starsaber – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

MP23 and 24 were both released in March of 2015, and the line release slowed for the rest of the year until picking up once more in November.

Kobayashi was now back as the lead designer of the line, and acknowledging Hasui’s unified display approach from MP10 onward, Kobayashi also noted, “The factors of the current popularity are the re-creation of the cartoon characters and the use of real cars, of course, and I’d like to explore the next step up while keeping those important factors intact.”

The Masterpiece becomes even more cartoon-accurate…

MP25 Tracks (image from tfwiki.net)

MP25 Tracks (image from tfwiki.net)

Come December of 2015, Tracks was next out of the gate as MP25. Featuring an increased emphasis on cartoon accuracy (particularly with it’s paint applications), the figure maintained some nods to Tracks original toy and box artwork.

Tracks - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Tracks – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Tracks also came with a neat little flight stand to display his flight mode, and all Masterpiece figures designed after this point were also tooled with compatibility of the flight stand in mind. Tracks was followed rapidly by MP26 – Road Rage.

MP26 Road Rage (image from tfwiki.net)

MP26 Road Rage (image from tfwiki.net)

Another Diaclone inspired re-tool and repaint, Road Rage also marked the first (and to date, only) release of a female Masterpiece Transformer. The deco this time was obviously more skewed toward the original Diaclone toy as there was no cartoon character model to emulate. Road Rage’s hand-covering weaponry in particular could almost have been taken from the original toy, so accurate was it’s molding.

Ultra Magnus and Tracks had started to show some design shifts toward greater cartoon accuracy over anything else, but MP27 would take this approach further than any other Masterpiece toy to date.

Kicking off 2016 in curmudgeonly style, MP27 was the highly anticipated Ironhide.  The cartoon version of Ironhide was notorious for looking barely anything like his G1 toy counterpart, and this Masterpiece went to great pains to deliver a figure that was the most animation accurate incarnation of Ironhide yet.

Original G1 Ironhide - toy and cartoon (images from tfwiki.net)

Original G1 Ironhide – toy and cartoon (images from tfwiki.net)

The toy featured some clever engineering tricks to turn a very compact licensed Vanette vehicle mode into a much taller robot. Ironhide featured the same swappable face gimmick as Ultra Magnus and Bumblebee, featured a subtle nod to the toy on it’s vehicle mode windscreen, and came with a staggering array of cartoon-based accessories. These could all be stored on a storage base that was itself an homage to the original toy’s battle platform. The toy was received very well, the acclaim marred slightly by some fans unhappy with the figures hip panels and faulty chrome applications.

MP27 Ironhide (images from tfwiki.net)

MP27 Ironhide (images from tfwiki.net)

Of note on the design of Ironhide, were how featureless his waist and legs were in service of even more cartoon accuracy – but it was becoming apparent to see that this was the next evolution of the line.

MP28 gave fans a new version of Hot Rod. Although MP09 could indeed become Hot Rod as well as his Rodimus Prime counterpart, only Rodimus Prime was in scale with the Masterpiece figures that followed. The Hot Rod mode was much too large. MP28 gave fans a smaller, more robust and easier to transform robot, and opened up more display options.

MP28 Hot Rod (image from tfwiki.net)

MP28 Hot Rod (image from tfwiki.net)

This Hot Rod could actually store the Matrix accessory supplied with MP10 – something MP09 could not do, oddly enough. The cartoon proportions were adhered to as closely as the engineering of the toy would allow, but the complexity of transforming from an animation-accurate vehicle to animation-accurate robot was a little more than this toy could handle.

Hot Rod - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Hot Rod – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Like Ironhide before him, and the future MP30, Hot Rod too suffered issues with his chrome applications flaking off.

Late March of 2016 saw the release of Shockwave (or Laserwave, in it’s native Japan). The original G1 Shockwave was very similar to the cartoon model in the first place, so MP29 felt like more of an update to the G1 toy rather than a radical re-imagining. With a nice array of different hands and hand-guns to replicate the toy or cartoon to the owners preference, the toy also featured insignia stickers for owners to apply instead of tampographed logos. The perishable rubber hose of the original toy was replaced by a hardier tightly wound metal coil, which would last longer. They toy also featured electronics like it’s G1 forbearer.

MP29 Shockwave (image from tfwiki.et)

MP29 Shockwave (image from tfwiki.et)

The release of Shockwave finally gave fans another high ranking Decepticon  Masterpiece figure. With fans also hankering for a new version of Megatron, this toy crucially showed how Takara could craft a new Megatron toy that wouldn’t suffer from over-thin legs. Shockwave’s leg design was cleverly crafted to increase the legs mass in robot form while maintaining a thinner gun-mode handle.

Shockwave - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Shockwave – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Shockwave also featured one of the line’s minimal use of ‘parts-forming’ – where part of the robot figure isn’t directly part of the transformation from alt mode. Shockwave’s cartoon accurate backpack in this case can become a display stand to properly balance his gun-mode.

April of 2016 saw that year’s fourth consecutive Masterpiece release, with the somewhat inevitable Ironhide repaint – the Autobot medic, Ratchet. Featuring limited re-tooling from Ironhide (appropriately, given their resemblance in the cartoon), MP30 came with a raft of different accessories mostly used on the cartoon , and a set of insignia stickers for use on Ratchet’s shoulder.

MP30 Ratchet (image from tfwiki.net)

MP30 Ratchet (image from tfwiki.net)

Perhaps smarting from the legal troubles they had experienced with Exhaust, this was a shrewd move on Takara’s part.

Ratchet - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Ratchet – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Ratchet’s shoulder had used a red cross design that (unsurprisingly) was copyrighted by the Red Cross organisation. While this wasn’t a problem in 1984, it absolutely was an issue 32 years later. Takara’s re-designed shoulder stickers could conveniently be trimmed down to match the original cartoon design… it’s almost like they planned it…

MP31 Delta Magnus (image from tfwiki.net)

MP31 Delta Magnus (image from tfwiki.net)

The line took a few months break until August of 2016, when a repainted Diaclone-style version of Ultra Magnus (now christened Delta Magnus) hit retail. Although not strictly cartoon-accurate (as this character never appeared in the cartoon), it nevertheless followed the initial colour scheme that Ultra Magnus used in promotional animation for 1986’s animated movie.

Delta Magnus - promo footage (image from tfwiki.net)

Delta Magnus – promo footage (image from tfwiki.net)

The accessories were slightly amended for MP31 – Spike and Daniel were replaced with Marissa Fairbourne, and remolded Magnus faces with comic-styled larger visors were also included.

Late 2016 brought the first Beast Wars Masterpiece figure, in the shape of the Maximal Leader Optimus Primal. Beast Wars was the 1990’s CGI  TV series that eventually tied into the Generation 1 cartoon as both a sequel AND a prequel. Based on a reasonably un-complicated computer generated character model, the Beast Wars-based MP32 was unsurprisingly the most animation accurate Masterpiece figure yet.

MP32 Optimus Primal (image from tfwiki.net)

MP32 Optimus Primal (image from tfwiki.net)

While the figure still contained homages to the original toy, it was unquestionably ‘aping’ it’s cartoon source perfectly. It also happily threw a wrench into the works as far as robot-mode scale was concerened in this era of the Masterpiece line – where post-MP09 Transformers where all almost exactly in robot mode scale with each other, Optimus Primal most certainly was not.

Optimus Primal - CGI model (image from tfwiki.net)

Optimus Primal – CGI model (image from tfwiki.net)

The assumption by fans was that future Beast Wars toys would be in scale with MP32, while future G1 characters would remain in scale with each other as before.

That brings us up to most current Masterpiece at time of writing, and another example of the more extreme cartoon accuracy trend of the line.

MP33 Inferno (image from tfwiki.net)

MP33 Inferno (image from tfwiki.net)

MP33, Inferno, follows Ironhide and Ratchet’s lead in sacrificing molded details on the legs to match the cartoon character model. The toy also performs some spectacular engineering tricks to completely hide the fire engine ladder inside the robots chest compartment – while the ladder was hugely prominent on the back of Inferno’s original toy, it was glaringly absent from the cartoon character.

Inferno - cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

Inferno – cartoon version (image from tfwiki.net)

MP33 also gave buyers the option to customize the cartoon accuracy with swappable parts – a licensed vehicle front chestplate, a cartoon accurate chestplate, and a third cartoon-based chestplate that featured mounts to hold the Red Alert figure, to complete a representation of a scene in the cartoon where Inferno carried his comrade. Inferno’s helmet, face and gun-hand also featured swappable pieces to increase the accuracy as much as desired. As with Shockwave, cartoon styled insignia were also supplied as stickers.

So for the time being at least, it seems that cartoon accuracy is increasingly the focus of the Masterpiece line, but augmented with other toy and comic parts options that vary from figure to figure.

Note – this blog only refers to the main Masterpiece line, and not the various eHobby repaints or additional versions and re-issues. Cos I’m lazy.

An interview with Hironori Kobayashi can be read here: http://toyboxdx.com/phorum/read.php?3,97799,97800

Another interview with Kobayashi: http://news.tfw2005.com/2014/08/01/takaratomy-staff-interview-hironori-kobayashi-on-masterpiece-180869

An interview with Shogo Hasui can be read here: http://news.tfw2005.com/2014/08/03/takaratomy-staff-interview-shogo-hasui-on-masterpiece-180877

An interview with Hisashi Yuki can be read here: http://www.tfw2005.com/transformers-news/transformers-masterpiece-47/takaratomy-staff-interview-hisashi-yuki-on-masterpiece-180888/

 

 

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