Last Thursday I received a very large box from the fine folks at Big Bad Toy Store containing two items I’d been looking forward to for many months. I’m generally not one to drop a lot of money on Transformers, at least not on fancy and expensive ones. Ludicrously big ones, sure; last year I dropped some major coin on both a reissue of the legendary 1987 two foot tall Headmaster base Fortress Maximus and Hasbro’s all-new taller-than-Fort-Max-by-an-inch-maybe Titan-class Metroplex. But ever since I experienced some major-league disappointment with Takara’s frustrating Masterpiece Megatron I’ve been gunshy about spending major money on intricately engineered import stuff. However, two things popped up on the radar some months back that caused me to rethink that self-imposed embargo: Year of the Horse Optimus Prime and Masterpiece Generation Two Sideswipe.
For the third year running, Hasbro has produced figures tying into the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. Their Year of the Horse offerings include this Optimus Prime figure, a recolored version of the 2011 second edition Masterpiece Optimus Prime missing only some minor accessories, and a recolored version of the 2005 Transformers Cybertron Supreme-class Starscream. As I already own the original version of that Starscream and honestly have no room for a second one, I decided to pass on that guy. However, I’d heard a lot of good things about the new Masterpiece Optimus, and the earlier releases of that toy were either impossible to find or stupidly expensive. This thing is only $120, compared to a nice round $200 at least for the earlier, more traditionally-colored versions.
It’s funny, I actually prefer some of the color choices on the Year of the Horse version. The black around his bright blue eyes makes them pop and really seems to breathe life into the figure. I also tend to prefer a darker blue on my Prime, and the strawberry red is an interesting subtle distinction to make. The gold is a bit gaudy, sure, but I find I don’t mind it. In fact, I think it looks good behind the windows on his chest. It only really bothers me at all on the truck mode, where it looks a bit absurd.
And really, the truck mode doesn’t need any help looking absurd since it’s towing around that clear trailer. That said, I love the clear trailer. All the tech detail from the interior is suddenly visible from the outside, and it gives it a unique, very ’80s look. All pretense of disguise is thrown out the window in the interest of looking crazy and cool. If you ask me, it really succeeds at that, although I still think the gold is a bit too gaudy.
The amazing thing is, at the cost this thing is compared to the earlier releases the only accessories that were cut were Roller, the little drone car that lives in Optimus’s trailer, and the tiny figure of the cartoon’s human sidekick Spike Witwicky, designed to ride in Roller or sit in the command bay of the trailer’s base mode. Utterly unnecessary, I say. I’ve got a better idea as to what should live in Optimus’s trailer.
Masterpiece Generation Two Sideswipe is a recolored and remolded version of Takara-Tomy’s 2012 Masterpiece edition figure of the character as he appeared back in 1984 when The Transformers began. I have no particular attachment to the character in his original incarnation; the most noteworthy thing he ever did in any media was loaning Optimus Prime his jetpack in the original cartoon mini-series story, and his Lamborghini car mode’s red color somehow managed to look dull to my eyes. However, the incarnation this new figure is a reflection of, by merely swapping the original character’s red for black and vice versa, caught my eye on toy shelves back in 1993. On top of that, in the first issue of Marvel’s Transformers: Generation Two comic book that same year he made a hell of a strong impression, charging into action with guns blazing alongside a crew of similarly trigger-happy Autobot warriors. The Masterpiece Generation Two Sideswipe‘s new weapons and all-new face sculpt are, in fact, based upon the artwork of Generation Two‘s original artist, Derek Yaniger.
I have a soft spot for the Generation Two years. The disappearance of The Transformers at the turn of the decade had bummed me out, so naturally its sudden reappearance while I was in middle school thrilled me to bits, even as the rest of my peers were in the process of moving on to less “kiddie” things. The comic book came back with original writer Simon Furman at the helm, the revived toy line afforded me opportunities to grab several figures I hadn’t gotten into Transformers quite early enough to get during the first go-round, and I thought all of the brand new figures were neat in their own ways. As happy as I was to get the original Autobot and Decepticon insignias back at the turn of the century, today I’m always excited to see the G2 symbols pop up for whatever reason. Generation Two may have ultimately failed, leading to the tremendous shake-up that was Beast Wars, but it’s an important step in the history and evolution of the toy line and the mythos. And there are a few great things in there that deserve some acknowledgement.
It is amazing that the Japanese Masterpiece line is left to acknowledge the gritted teeth and wild guns of Derek Yaniger’s take on the recolored Autobot Warrior, especially when neither the figure in this color scheme nor the comic were released in Japan in 1993. Takara-Tomy is nodding towards another country’s nostalgia — ours — which is just weird.
Like the original 1993 toy, Masterpiece Generation Two Sideswipe comes with a sticker sheet, and while I was torn between not stickering him up entirely and leaning the homage towards the comic book portrayal and fully stickering him up and embracing the madness of the toy line, I split the difference and used the Generation Two Autobot insignia from the comic and slapped all the mad green markings from the toy all over him. There was a hilarious tendency for the Generation Two figures to be covered in decals that bore the characters’ names; Sideswipe was no exception, featuring his own name across his spoiler and on his car doors.
As much as I adore each of these toys individually, I love that I got them together. It’s two offbeat color schemes for classic, 1984 Transformers characters, each amazing in its own way, each idiosyncratic in a way that might give a more traditionalist fan fits. Me, I’m always happy to embrace the weird and the wild, especially when it pushes certain buttons like “clear plastic” and “hailing from a forgotten period of the franchise.” It also doesn’t hurt that both of these are phenomenally engineered figures, and unlike complex Transformers of years past, they are actually fun to transform — Sideswipe especially. He’s so good I’m strongly considering preordering the upcoming new production run on the other mid-1980s Autobot Lamborghini that was created from this body type, Red Alert. I probably won’t, but I’m definitely giving it some thought.
Optimus’s trailer is the icing on the cake. It’s so cool that you can actually load other Masterpiece toys into it (it’s how I have Sideswipe stored at the moment), and it converts into all the modes that the 1984 toy’s did, including the base platform and the upright repair bay. In case you can’t tell, I really like how the clear plastic upright repair bay looks as a display piece. It reminds me of something out of a piece of Japanese promo art.
In these colors these are kind of niche products. I’d actually recommend Optimus Prime if you’re looking for an affordable way to get your hands on this particular version of the character and don’t mind the colors, but I could see how the colors would be a turn off for some, especially the gold chrome. I can also understand having a bit of an issue with the clear trailer, though at the same time it was probably the thing that tipped me most in the set’s favor, along with the price.
Sideswipe I know is a harder sell with that crazy rage face, but for me that’s part of his appeal. My biggest quibble with the toy is that he doesn’t come with the bandolier from the comic art, but I’m pretty sure that the fan-run accessory companies are already hard at work designing one for him. It’s only a minor quibble. Otherwise, he’s a perfect representation of that particular 1993 version of the character. He’s even able to wield all his weapons in car mode, which is both largely comic book-accurate and an amazing trick. (See image above of Sideswipe exiting Prime’s trailer.)
If you fondly remember 1993 and all the dudes with crazy guns and pouches that came with it, this is a guy for you. If you don’t, then probably not, as there are certainly other Masterpiece toys that turn into Lamborghinis that are a little less x-treme that would probably be more your speed. For me, though, this is the best of all possible versions of this tooling. Thank you, Takara-Tomy; you’ve made my year.