Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Toy Review - Transformers: Titans Return Highbrow (Wei Jiang version)

If you've tried to buy Transformers in the past few years you'll have heard of third party figures, which is when a company designs their own version of a character (usually Devastator), puts it into a small production run through some Chinese sweatshop and charges the customer the fucking Earth for it even if it doesn't really work. It's a decent way of making coin out of so many Transformers fans' legendary impatience and poor judgement of value for money. 3P manufacturers aren't seen as bootleggers as while they entirely steal the designs and trademarks of others to cash in they do at least use their own engineering. Amusingly and predictably a certain tribalism has grown around the thing and many fans ardently follow certain 3P companies. If you want to know which one just go on the internet, it seems part of any transaction is a contractual obligation to be a dull 3P evangelist.

Anyway, smack between 3P and bootleggers are Wei Jiang. They made their name by grabbing some of the official moulds (or CAD files thereof, obviously, this isn't the fucking Wiki) for the Age of Extinction line, upsizing them and adding both diecast parts and additional detail - e.g. the Voyager Hound was pushed up to close to Leader class size, given metal parts and the character's cigar. The only thing they've really missed is that even after international shipping their figures cost less than off the shelf Hasbro toys.

More recently they've branched out into a few Titans Returns figures. Beyond the laughable decision to claim Chromedome is a Titan of anything other than the staggering unpopularity of current Transformers comics my only real issue with the line is that the figures were too small and expensive for what they were, so the WJ versions should be an open goal.

I did actually briefly own the Hasbro Highbrow before cashing him in so he's a good one to look at for comparison. I've always had a soft spot for the character from his infrequent but usually well- written appearances in the British comic, his snobbish personality in "The Rebirth" and his cool chunky guns. Plus as a bonus last time I checked the comics hadn't randomly overwritten him with the personality of a character from Justice League International, which helps.

One of the interesting thing about the Titans Return line is that everyone has become a Headmaster, even the likes of Triggerhappy, Broadside and - hold on, you'll like this - Twinferno. Twinferno, fucking hell, come back Rodimus Major. Now Highbrow was already a Headmaster so to shake him up a bit he's now an Action Master Elite with a transformation that largely involves tripping the robot up. Fair's fair the original giant brittle toy from 1987 was like that and the various media models have done little to break the pattern of " generic robot with random sort-of helicopter bits on the back" theme. I've not kept up much with helicopter development, maybe since 2007 they've been a collection of boxes with a cockpit lobbed on the front and a pair of rotors attached like bunches of balloons carrying Wile E Coyote partway across a canyon. No, fair's fair the HasTak designers have done what they can to make the basic design look airworthy but if you saw one of these things in real life you'd guess rapidly that it turned into a boxy robot.

Transforming him into a robot is twice as complex as the original but still takes less time than it takes the President of the United States to cause a global shitstorm (bit of a topical reference there, might date a bit if the USA elects a non-psychotic leader, though I doubt blogger will survive the next four world wars). Pull legs out, stand helicopter on tail, arms are basically there, flip cockpit down, stick Gort on. Well, he's not Gort anymore, you can probably Google what the thing's called.

The robot mode is dead on and advances in toy technology really make their presence felt here, as even on this basic figure the articulation is excellent. He can pull and maintain a fair few poses solidly, with the additional metal helping anchor him. And HasTak's recent penchant for dialling back on paint applications doesn't hurt a figure which was always two colours, all those on the original being present on the copy. It's about a head taller than an official Voyager or standard Masterpiece figure.

The only real problems come from the artist formerly known as Gort. The original had next to no paint applications; scaled up this only looks worse, with the visor left unpainted and meaning Highbrow has a skull composed of tiny folded limbs. Worst of all this weird thing where the bigger figure's accessories have to work for the little figure means Highbrow's machine pistols are gutted so Gort can sit in them, also adding superfluous stabilizer wheels. In one of the few flubs the Wei Jiang version casts these in blue instead of grey plastic.

Overall Highbrow is harmless, clunky and faithful. It's better than the original figure while following the G1 look well and the gimmick doesn't screw the update any more than it did in 1987. Wei Jiang's contribution (which includes excellent quality plastic and good tight joints) makes it a decent Masterpiece-scale companion if you get some Autobrand labels to cover their "Transformers? Never heard of it, guv" insignia tomfoolery and for size and price (around £12 shipped on Aliexpress) alone beats the official release.

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