Monday, 27 March 2017

A Review of Saban's Power Rangers (2017), Without Spoilers

Against all rational expectation, this film does not suck. I don't wish to oversell it. There's legitimate reasons to dislike the movie, like product placement, and it hovers around competency rather than greatness, but it does not suck. We certainly had every reason to think it would suck in the run up to its release. It seemed to be aping the Michael Bay Transformers films, which suck. It seemed to be a dark and gritty reboot of children's TV show, which tend to suck. Its another movie that assumes a sequel, which is cheeky and usually sucks. It was was gonna be an origin story, which don't automatically suck, are so over done as a concept it often results in suck anyway. And its source material, while I would not say it sucks, its not exactly starting from a position of high art. The Power Rangers brand, long-story-short, is a toy advert cobbled together from Japanese stock footage, which equates to suck in most formal review styles. There was no reason to assume that the result would be tolerable, and despite the content of this blog, I have no nostalgia goggles to apply. However, the film ends up working, to the point where I was honestly surprised at the amount of fun I was having with it.

I say again, Power Rangers, somehow, does not suck.

It has a shaky start. There's some obnoxious camera-work, and a red flag in the form of a“bull milking” joke. Fortunately this is brief, as the film moves into teen drama territory. It does not rush into morphing time, and a majority of the movie is characterisation first. This bears unexpected yet admirable fruit in that one ranger is autistic and another of the LGBT persuasion, facts which are treated as just part of life with little fanfare. Its not the earth-shattering leap forward that some have made this out to be, but diversity matters, so have a brownie point. The tone is initially serious, but lightens into a sense of wonder and fun by the films end when the rangers armour up and start promoting toys. While the design aesthetic is butt ugly, seeing the Zords in action is an undeniable high point, with a sprinkling of fan service and being easy to follow. Even the alien designs for Zordon and Alpha 5 grow on you, something undoubtedly help by a subplot involving Zordon's actual existence, and Bill Hader's vocal performance. The plot has its contrivances, and its influences are worn on its sleeve, but Power Rangers earns its high points and doesn't make any overt mistakes. That's faint praise I know, but the film does seem to have been made by people whom took pride in their work and weren't embarrassed by what they were adapting. As long as Batman V Superman exists, and Michael Bay keeps doing Transformers films(1), that's something.

Perhaps the nicest thing about the film however is Elisabeth Bank's depiction of Rita Replusa. While another visual departure from the TV series in that she looks like something Elven out of Warcraft, Rita matches the changing tone of this film. After being made a definite threat by killing people personally, not being at full power and scrabbling for resources, she becomes increasingly flamboyant as the story progresses in her favour. The result is an actress wallowing in the ham a role provides her, going full panto by the end of it, chewing the scenery like she hasn't ate in days. Whatever you feel about the film, you will remember this performance. Especially, if you have a phobia about teeth.

All-in-all, Saban's Power Rangers is not a film that will stand out in the crowd, but one that as a pleasant surprise. Low expectations probably play a big part with this, but its nice to be wrong about something. Its not great, but it doesn't mess things up either. It is what it is. If you end up watching this with your kids, you won't have a bad time.

As mentioned, it does not suck.

Foot notes
1) The creators seem to have been of a similar mind, there's a joke/FU in this film worth the price of entry.

Image Copyright Saban, used under fair use provisions.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Review of Logan (2017), With Many Spoilers

Logan represents the latest instalment in Fox's long running X-Men franchise. Using Marvel characters, while not actually being part of the MCU, this franchise can be best described as patchy. Most are OK, some have aged poorly, several are dire, but with the notable exception of Deadpool, they've yet to completely nail it. One thing they did however get right first time was Logan A.K.A Wolverine A.K.A James Howlett, A.K.A Mutant McStabbyhands, the antisocial berserker of an ensemble cast. Logan the character is probably only just below Batman in terms of recognisability, but most of the films about him are meh at best. Logan the film, what we are talking about today, exists mainly because actor Hugh Jackman wishes to retire from the role after sixteen odd years. And fortunately, it isn't meh. In fact, its probably gonna be on a lot of people's shortlists for best Superhero film, 2017.

The main reason is its conceit. This film has an unusually bleak premise with subtle themes of dystopia, which honestly put me in mind of one of those non-canon/elseworlds/what-if stories. Its NOT directly based on the Old Man Logan comic series, with the only real similarity being Logan happening to be an old man in a crappy world. Mutants are dying out, not at the hands of killer robots, but due to the mysterious lack of mutant births. The X-Men are gone, with seemingly the only survivors being Wolverine, and Professor X A.K.A Charles. Neither is ageing well, with Charles having a brain disease and Wolverine working as chauffeur to support both of them, now needing glasses to read. Into this comes Laura A.K.A X-23 a new mutant of about 10, and a team of cyborg mercenaries chasing her. With extreme reluctance, and the promise of money, Wolverine drives her to safety. Unfortunately for him, and those he must protect, Wolverine is dying, his mutant healing factor all but spent. He does not survive the trip, and at one point discusses suicide.

As I say, bleak. Wolverine, the embodiment of male bloodlust and endurance, hobbles around covered in scars, drinking his regrets, and finding even his claws are failing him. But more than that is the sense of regret. The X-Men failed. Mutants look to be going out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Professor X is not only in mad grampa territory, but did something Wolverine won't discuss. And Wolverine himself has killed more men than cancer, and has nothing to show for it than guilt and a broken body held together with painkillers and booze. The world they live in is not overtly hostile, but one of faded glory, run-down tourist traps, and corporations. With the film having scenes in Mexico, its easy to draw comparisons with Trump's America, but that's not the point. The point is legacy, as evidenced by the X-Men comics Laura adores, but Wolverine decries as false. And blood. Lots of blood, and how it marks a person. Logan invokes the classic Western Shane, both featuring scenes and dialog from it to hammer home this point. And the result is a powerful drama that owes more to the Western genre than superheroes, with some unapologetically brutal fight scenes. And make no mistake, this isn't the “GRIMDARK” or “edgy neon” favoured by the DC stable so far. This bleakness is earned, not an affectation.  

That said, Logan's flaws manifest in the third act, where some time-honoured superhero cliches, and Fox's general incompetence, come home to roost. One of the monsters chasing Laura which Wolverine must defeat, proves to be an evil clone of himself in black, something so chronically unimaginative as to ruin my first viewing. While not without symbolic meaning, its symbolism wielded like a cosh, and feels much dumber than everything before it. A better way? Make it someone more intimately involved with Wolverine, such as his male offspring Daken, or Sabretooth. You add lots more drama that way, this just feels like a cost saving. On a similar note, the fate of mutant kind and the machinations of Xander Rice feel as trite as any previous X-Men film that tried similar. Perhaps these plot elements should have been left unexplained. Then there's the matter of basic continuity, which is broken in ways both big and small. This is best evidenced by the casting of Stephen Merchant as Caliban, but this character was also played by Tómas Lemarquis last year in Apocalypse, and while not to dimish either actor, the perfomances are also incompatible with eachother. It seems nobody at Fox realised thecharacter was in both films, which is face-to-palm stupid. The film does not match up with Days of Future Past either, with neither timeline fitting this narative.Given that this movie is sold on Jackman's retirement following an unusually long tenre, that lack of continuity is shameful. While these errors are easily ignored in the experience of watching, this contracts sharply with the care taken with characterisation and direction. Paradoxically, its best viewed as a separate enity from the previous films, while being reliant on the broad strokes for most of its impact.

While all of the above disqualifies from true greatness, Logan is undoubtedly the best of the "serious" X-Men films. Part of this undoubtedly is a matter of timing and context. We've finally got Wolverine in a film with an age rating that fits, at a time there's a market for darker Superhero films. So, yes, if you wanted to see Wolverine in a production where the studio allowed for buckets of blood, it does that. What makes the film worth watching is the characterisation work, admittedly benefiting from Jackman's career choices, but let's not diminish the talent on display. Jackman, Stewart and Dafne Keen all own their roles. The narrative, despite nitpicks, works fabulously.

Its a good film. Fox might finally be getting their act together.

Image Copyright Fox, used under fair use provisions.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

So, I started modelling again.....Part 5: Ships and forum

Well, things continue onwards. I signed up for dakkadakka, and ended up posting there, rather than here.  Basically, I've painted 20 ramships, started painting a terror ship, and some onslaughts.

I ended up stripping down the wings off the terror ship, as it was too big.

Also started on a hammer class. Please excuse the glare. Gonna put a big jaw on it.

I did however find this extremely interesting item at a charity shop though.

The story behind this is too fecking long to explain within the context of this post. I may write about it. I will be building it here.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Remembering Transformers: The Power Core Combiners

It was the year 2010, and still no hover cars. I'd begun collecting Transformers again by this point. Not to a great extent, but Transformers Animated had brought me back into the fold by being such a good show, so I could say I was a Transformers fan again without a qualifier. It was a good time for the brand. The movies, as overtly terrible as they were, brought a lot of money into the brand and prompted a lot of toys. Transformers were very easily found, at all prices and sizes. And what's more, after a couple of years of sharp changes, the original Transformers style was coming back, and they weren't relying on the movie cast. While the Revenge of the Fallen line is infamous for its complexity, but it did a lot of fan pleasing things in later waves. This evolved into the TF2010 toyline between movies, a wider celebration of the brand, which ran concurrently with the collector-focused Generations line and Reveal the Shield sublines. Fans were basically getting all they wanted, and then Hasbro threw in another line to fill in the gaps, Power Core Combiners. These looked to be both inexpensive, and really fun to mess with. The basic idea was to have a small transformer, a commander, combine with 4 drone vehicles, whom would automatically transform into a limb. This “Power Up Mode”, would have shades of the old scramble city gimmick in that you could swap limbs, although a drone could only be an arm or a leg, not both. If not sold with drones, the commander would have a 4 mode Mini-Con partner instead, whom functioned as a multi-purpose accessory. Visually, these toys would lean towards classical transformer designs, rather than the movie aesthetic, although the combined forms tend towards bayverse with a lack of actual hands. In terms of fiction, things were a bit vague, but also leaned towards the bayverse.

These looked to be everything I wanted as a collector at that time.

I'd developed a mild fixation on the scout class, so I was on board, and this would see the return of another favourite of mine, Mini-Cons. The scout class had hit a level of quality that it honestly rivalled the deluxe price point around ROTF, and there had been a renaissance of toy-first, more conventionally designed characters. Plus, combination is always fun.. Play value should have been great. And yet the Power Core Combiners hit discount like a straight-to-video sequel. Starring a less famous Baldwin brother.

Bombshock & Combaticons, a first wave highlight

The PCC toys versus Objectivity and Subjectivity: a discussion
Back when I was writing reviews proper, I would always aim for objectivity. What do I mean by this? Well, my opinion, your opinion, everyone's opinion, is dictated by personal taste and context, its entirely subjective. It is not the same as the truth, and striving for objectivity is the acknowledgement of this. The fandom does not view Transformers like actual children do, and the fandom itself does not have a unified view on most things, including what makes a good toy. The best you can do is try to acknowledge your own biases, and accept that a commonly held opinion can just easily be wrong as right. Power Core Combiners got hit very hard with subjective complaints. That is to say, it wasn't designed in a way that immediately pleased collectors. But, as this worked so well for Armada, why didn't this line take off? Well, because there's some objectively bad things about them.

Crankcase and the Destrons, a sucessful repaint

On the more subjective end of the complaint spectrum, there is the entire gimmick, and the engineering decisions that resulted. Some fans took against the fact these toys didn't have a traditional five member combination, the spring-loaded conversion also hampering articulation. The fact that a toy is easily transformed and doesn't prioritise articulation isn't automatically the same thing as being a bad toy, see Armada again, but for many it is. Part of this is undoubtedly the somewhat curious choice to cast the power core connectors in blue. If they'd been black, people probably wouldn't have minded as much, but would that really have made the toys better? The connectors themselves seem to a result of the sheer challenge in doing a three mode transformer at this size, a compromise, but Hasbro deliberately didn't hide them. 

They put them in the fricking logo.

I kinda respect that. On that theme, many also took issue with the combined forms, in that they often weren't fully humanoid, routinely lacking hands and having odd proportions. This is a complaint which I'm not gonna dismiss out of hand, as Transformers are people, but we are talking about a mode that is purely about blowing stuff up, so.....OK? I also find myself wondering if the old “its not G1, so I don't like it” mindset may be at play here. A lot of these toys invoke classical characters, but stop just short of actually being them. Would it have made a difference to the public perception of these toys, if, say, Bombshock was named Onslaught? Well, people would have been far more forgiving if the PCCs if they were named legacy characters, at least at first.

 Presenting the infamous Doubleclutch and Rallybots

As for objective flaws, they were there, and I can't pretend otherwise. They honestly mucked things up with startling regularity, varying from tolerance issues, to mis-assembly and flat-out bad design. Doing a triple changer at this size is a very considerable challenge. Double Clutch is pretty notorious for having 4 corrective retools, Bombshock has his legs mixed up, and Mudslinger has fragile thighs, to name three big offenders. Surprisingly, the Mini-Cons themselves don't come up often in the same conversation. Sure, they are made from translucent plastic, which tends to cause breakages a few years down the line, but the only mould called on it by the wiki for it is Beacon, whom isn't translucent. What did however come up during my research was an oversight in the design of the line. You see, the moulds intended to be sold with Mini-Cons had a port on the chest for armour mode, but the moulds for the five packs largely didn't. The toys weren't as interactive and interchangeable as they looked, with some lacking proper fist holes. Wave three did a mix and match, and produced sets that just didn't work as well as the originals, including a Protectobot team with three military drones in it, and a Decepticon whom can't hold his axe(1).All this certainly contributed to the bad reception of the line, which resulted in later waves not getting a full release, which had of course featured new moulds without those issues. I had largely avoided these problems, the worst I encountered being a stress mark and an enthusiastic spring. Then this happened.


Ahem, thanks to @copplex for selling me a replacement, as Sledge is that nice of a toy.

What the PCC line did well
Right, we've spent a few paragraphs acknowledging the weaknesses of the line. Why should you pay any attention to it? And why do I even remember them?

They did a Dinobot Combiner. There you go, case closed. Checkmate. Humanity fulfils its destiny. Toyline completely justified.

Oh, you want a serious answer?

Remember how I mentioned that the Power Core Combiners came from a good period in the brand? When toy budgets were high, oil prices were a bit lower, and they got creative? When they made notably good scouts, with many joints, and frequent accessories? Yeah, PCCs do still benefit from that trend. These were toys that were over-ambitious and quirky, not ones where corners were cut, and I've got a lot of time for stuff like that. More specifically, the PCCs tended towards notably good head sculpts, uncommon altmodes, and tended to have play value coming out of their ears. No hover cars, unfortunately, when it worked, it proper worked. And when it didn't? Well, these toys were and are inexpensive. Here's list of toys that are either curious or superior examples of the line.

Huffer & Caliburst: A good all-rounder paired with another good all-rounder.

Smoulder & Chopster: An evil fire truck with a flaming axe.

Sledge & Throttler: A nicely articulated robot, whose altmode and mini-con has the functions of at least 3 Constructicons.

Icepick & Chainclaw: An evil snowplough, whom can look like Jack Frost.

Undertow & Waterlog: An evil speedboat. Speedboats in general are pretty rare. Like once a leap year rare.

Heavytread & Groundspike: A rare Autobot tank that isn't Warpath(2), Heavytread has arguably the best torso mode in the line.

Bombshock & the Combaticons: Lotsa guns.

Grimstone & the Dinobots: See above.

Steamhammer & the Constructicons: 4 unique altmodes, pleasing combined form, and knives.

 Steamhammer, from my personal collection.

A financial failure, the Power Core Combiners quickly dropped into obscurity. The line would would in effect be replaced by the Human Alliance basic figures in Dark Of The Moon, which enjoyed much greater success. Combination would return in the Fall of Cybertron line, but would also prove to be something of a failure in execution, a much worse one due to budget cuts. A little later, there would be a Japanese release of these toys under the United Ex banner, where they were tied into the G1 continuity as pre-existing characters, and given nicer paint jobs. Such is the way of things, although information on the actual toys is a bit thin on the ground. The fandom largely ignored these repaints after the PCCs had finished, so its not clear if any of the faults were replicated there. The PCCs did however get a level of support from two different third party companies, an oddity given that these weren't a G1 property. Maketoys made a set of modular weapons that could partsform into limbs, and a completely new commander mould to make their version of The Fallen. TFC Toys meanwhile would go a different route, creating 4 transforming robots closely based on WW2 vehicles and their crew. I don't normally go in for such things, but those Iron Army sets remain in my glass case. A completely successful combiner would not appear until Combiner Wars. At no point would hover cars appear, real or otherwise, although you could make the case for some of the Fall Cybertron stuff.

The Maketoys Missile Launcher, jungle colours variant. Note Heavytread is featured prominently.

The TFC Toys Iron Army set combined. Again, note Heavytread being used as example.

The Power Core Combiners was an exceptionally ambitious line, that didn't fulfil that ambition. It definitely wasn't for the want of trying, as the toys were very creative, but it just didn't quite work out well, and writing this article took the shine off the nostalgia for me. Having a toy break was probably what did it, but I can't deny the line had some nasty problems around wave 3 or so. That said, if you want to call the line a failure, you must acknowledge that it was an interesting one, and there were some legitimately good toys in there. The PCCs had a lot of unusual concepts, rare altmodes, and a basically good play pattern once the bugs were worked out. So check 'em out.

In the meantime, its 2017, where's my damn hover car?

Foot notes
  1. Oh, and there was the famous “Spastic” incident, later on.
  2. Or Guzzle.

Images not by myself are variously copyright of Hasbro, Make Toys and TFC Toys, used under fair use provisions.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

So, I started modelling again.....Part 5: The 2nd Generation Ships

Well, slightly more progress this time. Based on the experience I gained from the still un-named Terrorship, here's the nearly complete 2nd ship.

I found myself toning down the guns slightly, and I need to think about if I should put some more on. The first was made with an eye towards having torpedo tubes if I wanted, this one kind of needs the same......

Then there's the escort prototype. It proved to startlingly easy to make from the bits I had, being a hoarder helps at times, buuuuut, it needs further orkying.

The short term plan just now is to complete the terror ship and a 3 strong escort squadron, to get a 500 point fleet together.  This is based on the limited selection of tactics articles that still exist, oh, and,


More soon.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

So, I started modelling again.....Part 4: Slacked off a bit

January hasn't been too productive to be honest. Real life in the form of a cold, the day job, a sudden compulsion to write, and my landlord put a dent in my progress. That said, that doesn't mean I haven't done anything since my last update here. Presenting the currently unnamed Terrorship.

Butt shot

I'm quite pleased with it, and here's the next, although its still a good distance from completion.

I've also got some ideal bits for the Ravager class torpedo caddy. (And yes, the box is important.)

More to come. I'm hoping to attend the Robin convention in February, to get some bits, if time allows.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Remembering Transformers: Armada

This article has its roots on twitter, mainly collecting articles by @inkybauds, but also thoughts that have been bubbling away in the back of my head. While I am old enough to have experienced Generation 1 first hand, the first Transformers toys and media, I'm not wedded to the concept as many fans, and TakaraTomy, seem to be. I'm more than happy to enjoy the new iterations of the brand, the new spin of things, without immediately comparing it to a toyline or cartoon only slightly younger than I am. This leads me to the seemingly very unpopular opinion I wish to discuss, I like Transformers Armada. I liked it at the time of release. I like it now. I like those Armada toys I still have better than the G1 toys I still have. While I am enjoying Titans Return, probably more than you are, I am more interested in those infrequent Armada homages and remakes, than revamping everybody from the 80's. The latest cartoon accurate Masterpiece release? Not my thing. Combiner Wars Armada Megatron? My thing. The only thing more my thing than that thing would be a continuation of Transformers: Animated. Today, I will ramble about why.

Unpopular with fans at a time when Hasbro had money trouble, Beast Machines marked the end of the beast era proper. And, by extension, the original Transformers continuity. The planned sequel, Transtech, was dumped and while its replacement was worked on, a stop-gap measure was needed. This was quickly provided by Takara, whom had their own problems with the brand in the late 90's. For the new millennium, they produced “Car Robots”, a new continuity(1), featuring a mixture of new toys and toys previously unreleased in Japan. This did feature beast modes, but in a purely antagonistic manner, and the proportion of beastformers declined over time. Hasbro rebranded it as “Robots in Disguise”, and played up the references to the original continuity in the redubbed cartoon. It worked very well. Unfortunately, while Robots In Disguise proved to be a far greater success in the West than in Japan, one aspect that was less popular was complexity. Those few original designs featured where often shellformers of an infamous kind, or needlessly complex, and parents complained. It seems this filtered through to the design studios at some point, and ended up influencing what was being worked on. Like RID, the new series would be another new continuity, paying tribute to the Generation 1 concepts and reusing names, but was doing its own thing. It would also have a Japanese cartoon that would be redubbed. But more importantly, it would favour simple, colourful and blocky designs for kids to enjoy. Intricate transformations and balljoints basically disappeared, replaced by unique play features, again, for kids. This would be activated by tiny transformers called Mini-Cons, paired with each full size toy, or sold in teams like the old Micromasters. This is what was called Transformers: Armada.

It didn't go down well with people, but it also so sold so well they couldn't make toys fast enough.

 Demolishor & Blackout, a typical 1st wave Armada set. Not pictured: everything they do.

This design approach was of course the complete antithesis of what much of the older fandom wanted, and in those early days of the internet, boy did we hear about it. Beast Wars kids, having been raised on complexity and balljoints, were less than impressed with the simplifications being made, and the absence of beast modes. G1 purists, initially cocky that vehicles were back in fashion, were less than impressed at another new continuity that reused names but was otherwise indifferent to 80's homages. Later releases would help placate both groups, but a series that favoured new kids over old collectors? This always gonna annoy people, and actual children LOVED it. All the while this was going on, the internet was slowly breaking down barriers between east and west, while anime was the new hotness, so another aspect of the fandom was acting up. Not only was there derogatory comparisons to Pokemon, there would prove to recognisable differences in both toys and the cartoon, nothing significant, but enough for people to feel superior about imports and fansubs. Some of my first experiences of the fandom as an alleged adult was viewing endless moaning about bricks, bad dubbing and missing paint apps. I didn't necessarily agree with the tone of these discussions.

 A comic from 2005, its audience older collectors, published by Fun Publications.

Having missed the beast saga entirely, this aggro passed over my head. Those Armada toys I did get seemed light years ahead of the G1 toys I had in the attic, and while that's probably a sampling error, let's think about why that was. Your average 80's Transformer could only move its arms up and down; in Armada that was the entry level for Mini-Cons. G1 toys, especially the early ones, had lots of easily lost bits that were vital to the experience; in Armada that was limited to missiles and guns. G1 toys were sometimes held up to be more realistic and less kiddy; I was around for the Micromasters and Pretenders. Armada toys were regarded as “Play Skool”, I was amazed they sculpted detail now, rather than using stickers. It would be Transformers Animated before I truly started collecting again, six years later, but it was Armada that got me buying the occasional toy and paying attention to the fanbase. If I'm thankful for the series for anything, its that. 

 The Space Mini-Con Team, a notable set of Mini-Cons. Not pictured: their combined gun mode.

Being Fair
There were of course good reasons to dislike Armada though, and it would be intellectually dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. The supporting cartoon was pretty poor, and the western version only made it worse. Animation mistakes and “gotta catch em all” plot lines abound, although its generally accepted things picked up in later arcs(2). The comic fared better, and featured some G1 pandering, but it was a Dreamwave production, so your mileage may vary. As for the bits that matter, the actual toys, some were not well-received at the time or aged well. This was reinforced by Armada being in the habit of releasing recolours with a frequency not previously seen, and as the same character, rather than a seeker style new personality. And, even accounting for the marmite factor, its hard to disagree with much of the criticism for the toys. For an example, I refer you to noted youtubist TJOmega and his Plastic Addict series, where Armada toys did tend to turn up. Here's his harsh-but-fair analysis of the infamous Side Swipe toy. This probably ruins my argument.

Yeah, he's less likely to do caustic/comedic reviews these days. Check out the Random Reviews.

Anyway, having some bad toys and weak media is not the same as having a bad line though. Other Transformer lines have done similar and worse. Armada's play pattern was a good one, and while not everything worked, the colour and variety made up for weaknesses. The undoubted reason for this was the tiny Mini-Cons themselves. Not only did they make great pocket money toys, they basically turned larger toys into playsets. You can see shades of this in the modern Titans Return line, where having a small partner robot has made the vehicle mode more fun. Mini-cons could and would trigger just about anything, in either mode, so there was always something to do. These tiny dudes were also very visually varied, not always being humanoid, and they've aged very gracefully too. Compared to modern toys of a similar size, they hold their own, these toys introducing level of complexity and articulation, yes, the same traits the larger toys lack, which has yet to be truly bettered. Some were also headmasters, some were targetmasters, some combined, some had gears, some had missiles, one was AN ACTUAL BICYCLE, the list goes on. Mini-Cons proved to be so good, the concept not only persisted in Armada's two sequels, but in completely new moulds for Classics, Universe, Power Core Combiners, the Japanese version of Prime, and the Thrilling 30 bit of Generations. Basically, Mini-Cons rock, and haven't stopped rocking since 2002.

Also, Armada has a notably good video game adaptation. I just wanted to work that in somewhere.

The Big Things
Are the larger toys as good? That's less clear cut. If you are on board with playing with your Transformers as opposed to merely posing them, there's plenty to recommend. Armada toys always do as much as they can, as uniquely as they can, and they pre-date modern cost cutting trends. There's no end of missiles, spring-loaded mechanisms, geared mechanisms and electronic gimmickry, if that's your sort of thing. Treadheads got Megatron and Demolishor. The seekers were back, with this iteration of Starscream having enduring popularity. Cool cars abounded. There was a faction switching toy that was also a double headmaster. Optimus Prime got two different power-up partners. Megatron even got one, the generally awesome Tidal Wave, a massive toy based around three different combining ships. Play value can easily match a tranformer from any other line. Articulation is not a strong point, but many toys feel only a joint away from being fine. That having been said, three toys do stand up above all others as examples as both of the Armada ethos and answering the articulation complaints. 

 Tidal Wave & Ramjet, an impressive toy from wave 4. Not pictured: everything they do.

The Beast Wars repaints! You know, the recoloured transmetal moulds they put out as they couldn't make actual Armada toys fast enough? Because they actually sold really well?

Ha ha, just kidding. Good toys are they, but that isn't why I'm here. Coming at number 3 is Hoist, an excavator whom was retooled into two different Beast Wars characters. Coming at number 2 was the Supercon release of Optimus Prime, known as “Bendy Prime”, whom will probably be on display until I die. And at number 1, there's Unicron.

Yes, Unicron. The star of the 1986 film. Rendered in plastic, as what must be the single greatest act of fan-pandering ever made in the brands history.

Yes, even more than the Masterpiece line.

 Unicron, A.K.A mecha-satan. Not pictured everything he does.

While, as mentioned, I don't venerate G1 as much as other people, there was a huge hit of nostalgia for me with this one. Unicron was explicitly tied to the film which I loved as a kid, and was a huge part of a comics too. And not to put too fine a point on it, Unicron was incredible. And he still is. Gigantic, but articulated down to the fingers. Endless sculpted detail. Many gimmicks. A missile launcher of such complexity and noise that it scared my Grandad's dog, and no, it wasn't aimed anywhere near her. Even the haters had something nice to say about Armada after that. And this toy has been released four times, later versions replacing the head with something more G1, with a platinum edition on the way.

Armada doesn't get enough respect. Its never quite overcome the bad impression that the cartoon made, and fans always react badly to a Transformers series doing something different. The fact is though, the brand would be in a very different state without Armada selling so well. We'd probably find ourselves like He-Man or MASK or whatever, known, but no-longer relevant. Sometimes a hard reset is needed to keep things fresh. Armada got two direct sequels, and that success eventually allowed for the Classics line of 2006 and the modern films. And more importantly than that, the toys aren't as bad as some claim, its just they are designed differently.

If you are tired of G1 remakes, and want a change of pace, Armada is the toyline you should look at.

Foot notes
  1. Uhhh, its complicated, just go with it for now 
  2. A direct comparison to G1 cartoon is very tempting. Maybe another day.

Images not by me are copyright of Hasbro etc.