1986 will never die.

On my lunch break today I happened across a Transformers Generations figure I’d been looking forward to for some time and had started to think I wouldn’t see in an actual physical retail space. Heck, I’d been a heartbeat away from buying it (and a couple of its cohorts) from BigBadToyStore.com a couple of nights ago. I speak of …

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Generations Arcee, based on the last major character from 1986’s Transformers: The Movie who had never gotten a Hasbro action figure. Sure, we’ve been getting figures that were called Arcee in the Transformers toy line since 2004’s Omni-Con Arcee in the Transformers Energon line, but none of them were this character. They were varying levels of homage. (Indeed, the Arcee we’ve had for the last three years in the Transformers Prime cartoon isn’t even remotely the same character — different color scheme, different vehicle mode, and completely different personality.)

And what of that fellow to her right, you ask? Well, I figured if I was going to 1986 it up, I’d go a little further and grab the latest action figure version of that same movie’s Chosen One, the Autobot hero Rodimus Prime. Obviously this figure doesn’t transform, but it’s part of a wacky sub-line Hasbro’s developed that covers both their Marvel Comics and Transformers properties where you can pull the figure apart in various ways and randomly assign bits of other characters’ limbs to them. It’s a cute idea, and I can see it being a lot of fun if you buy a bunch of them. But I only have Rodimus, so boo.

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Arcee comes with all you see here, plus the final issue of the Dark Cybertron crossover that hijacked my beloved More Than Meets The Eye through the start of last year and a set of instructions that I had to consult briefly when converting her to vehicle mode the first time. Oh, and minus that base I bought from HobbyLink Japan a year or maybe a year and a half ago. That doesn’t come with her.

She has a pistol that resembles her gun from Transformers: The Movie, a larger blaster pistol I don’t recognize, and two crazy energy swords that I believe are a reference to the armaments of the version of the character appearing in the IDW comics. (Maybe that other gun is, too?) Irritatingly, getting any of her weapons into her hands means causing some stress to the plastic. Sliding them in from the top of the hand doesn’t work; the bottoms of her hands cup inwards, catching the bottom of whichever weapon’s handle you’re sliding in, which seems a bizarre design flaw. Instead, you have to wedge them in between her thumb and fingers and then twist them in along the curve of the fingers, which puts a little pressure on her thumb. What’s neat is that the stress point is right where her black “gloves” are painted on, so the white stress marks are only visible from inside her hands. I still wouldn’t recommend popping weapons in and out of her hands with reckless abandon, though. I’m thankful that you can work around it, and doubly thankful that the paint hides the scars of the workaround, but it’s tremendously odd that this is even an issue.

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What’s also a little strange is her color scheme. Arcee has traditionally been almost entirely pink and white, with black as a sparingly used accent. The black is still rare, but it’s most notably been added to her collar and feet. It doesn’t look bad, but I assume there was some durability-related or assembly layout-related reason for the addition of extra black to her deco. Aside from the tweaks to her colors, however, this is a remarkably faithful interpretation of her 1986 character design, with all the shapes and panel lines a fan of the movie and the subsequent season of the cartoon would expect to see. The one major complaint I would expect to hear is the fact that she does carry most of the car mode on her back. But then, how else would you get an extremely thin, feminine robot to convert into a sci-fi convertible? And bear in mind, those giant hunks of car hovering over her shoulders are part of the character’s original animation model — she’s supposed to have that silhouette.

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If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the only parts of the robot that are visible in vehicle mode are her chestplate, which becomes the center of the car’s front bumper, and her thighs, which become the rear fender assemblies. The back of the car folds out from behind her rear end, and the front folds upwards as her midriff and chestplate fold up and stretch her flat. There’s a very clever bit not mentioned in the instructions where her arms are secured by plugging her handgun in between them and having the hands grip the pegs on each side. The result is — again, aside from the addition of black accents — a very accurate 3D representation of Arcee’s car mode from twenty-eight years ago. The clear windshield is a lovely touch, and though it further strays from the original artwork, the blue headlights and grill are terrific additions to the deco.

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Remarkably, this is probably the Transformers: Generations figure that I’ve been most looking forward to that I’ve been the least disappointed with. The weak ball joints in Skids and Whirl’s shoulders marred my experience with those figures, though there’s a lot to like about both. Also, Whirl’s pile of weapons isn’t as fun to connect and load him up with as it should be. The black stripes on Waspinator’s gun chipped off if you so much as looked at them funny. The stealth bomber Megatron was too small. Trailbreaker and Hoist just felt too plain, and also seemed a little small. Rhinox and Rattrap suffered from overly involved transformations that were more frustrating than fun. Scoop is pretty great, but his Targetmaster partners don’t quite work as advertised; he’s probably my next favorite, though. I’m looking forward to tracking down Windblade and Chromia, and even though I’ve got Goldfire Bumblebee (a.k.a. Goldbug) I’ll probably get the redeco into Nightbeat; my Goldfire has a weirdly weak knee joint, but it’s not like it hurts his ability to stand. After that, the line resets into Combiner Wars, about which more another day.

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We move on to one of Arcee’s psuedo-love interests from the 1986 movie, the boy who grew into the new Autobot leader, Rodimus Prime. I really dig how the thought balloon on the back of the box makes him vain. This is the guy who said to his human sidekick Daniel, “If you’re gonna ride, Dan-o, ride in style.”

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As far as I could work out — these things don’t come with instructions — this is the figure entirely disassembled. He breaks down into his back spoiler, head, torso with upper arms, two lower arms, two thighs, and two lower legs. I tried tugging at the shoulder joints, but they wouldn’t budge; all the photography across the box showed the bodies with upper arms consistent with the original figures, so I figured I shouldn’t push my luck.

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In a moment I’m going to get very annoyed, but before I do, let me point out that I love how this guy looks. The reason I keep saying Rodimus Prime rather than the mere Rodimus on the box or his original name, Hot Rod, is because he has that broader chest and that angular face that just scream Rodimus Prime from the tail end of the 1986 movie. I can’t say enough good things about this design. It’s the classic ’86 character as a beefy superhero, but with all the right sharp edges and tech detail. If mecha artist extraordinaire Masami Obari were doing an action figure line for little kids, it would look something like this.

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And between the tough, rubbery plastic, the exaggerated proportions, and the simple play pattern it’s clear that these are for younger kids. Yes, the classic character selection also tricks old nerds like me into buying them as well (Arcee’s other “boyfriend,” Springer, was in an earlier wave and I almost bought him, too), but we’re not the target audience — which is why what happened next aggravated the living hell out of me. Arcee, aside from the weird design flaw with her hands, was pretty much flawless. But poor Rodimus …

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I was so ticked off about this that I sent the above photo to Hasbro. You’re looking at Rodimus’s left leg’s hip joint. The right leg moves just fine, making a nice soft “click” as it rotates back and forth. His left leg? The plastic twisted the first time I tried to rotate it. The results are plainly visible in both pictures of Rodimus above: a slight white ring where the hip joint meets his torso assembly. This joint was never going to work, and it never will work. The resistance internally, on the ratchet joint, was too strong, so the plastic gave way instead.

The shame of it is, the number of joints in this toy is actually one of the best features of it. It’s got forearm and boot-cut rotation due to the pop-off nature of the parts, the head can look up in addition to left and right, it’s got full ball-style shoulder articulation despite the lack of ball joints, and the hips — if they both worked — afford the same full range of movement. The number of good poses may be limited, but it’s clear that it’s designed to be played with. Which is why this is so damned disappointing.

Oddly enough, I encountered one more weird thing about this toy. That piece on the knee joint with the pin on it is orange plastic that is also covered in orange paint. When the lower leg attaches, it scrapes some of the paint off. When the knee joint moves, it scrapes even more of the paint off. And yet, if you’re not paying attention, you’ll only notice when you find yourself surrounded by flecks of orange paint. What a strange, totally needless, pointless paint application that was, as a bonus, also destined to fail.

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So as not to end on a downer, here’s Arcee with two fellows I have because of their appearances in IDW’s Transformers comics as opposed to in spite of them, Masterpiece Prowl and Generations Whirl. Arcee, in this image, is demonstrating the fact that you can holster her two guns on her legs, which is pretty slick. That truly is a remarkable figure, which is great, since fans have been waiting for this figure for almost three decades. Considering the fact that Rodimus was marked down and Arcee was kind of the main event, I’m still in pretty good spirits about my purchases for the day, but it just irks me that a toy designed for young grade schoolers had such a major problem right out of the box. Hasbro has been making posable action figures since the 1960s — you’d think they could make a leg joint that wouldn’t tear itself apart — and on a figure who’s key action feature is its ability to pull apart and be put back together again, no less! Oh well. We’ll see how they respond to that photo later today.

LATE MORNING UPDATE: Customer service got back to me. They’re sending me a replacement figure. What I always love about getting these kinds of customer service e-mails, though, is the disclaimer that if, say, in this case they don’t have another Rodimus they could send me pretty much anything. Not sure if that still happens much, though.

(And if you’re wondering why I didn’t just go back to the store with my receipt and everything, this was the only Rodimus they had. Ain’t that always the way it goes?)

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