Whether it was the malign influences of Unicron, or merely evidence that some folks at Takara were overworked to the point of nervous exhaustion, something very strange happened to the TransFormers brand in Japan in 2006... and that strange thing was "Kiss Players".
A mercifully brief line of toys, it incorporated repaints from Binaltech, G1, and a bunch of transforming egg things that hadn't previously been 'TransFormers'. There was also one larger-format PVC statuette of one of the girls that came along with a 'Worlds Smallest' version of the Mazda RX8. Each of the Binaltech repaints came with a human partner - at a slightly larger scale than had been used with Binaltech Asterisk - and the story had it that the robots gained special powers when their human partner kissed them. The story also seemed to include gratuitous panty shots, and the sort of phallic tentacle/tongue things that are normally only seen in the seedier genres of anime.
Hot Rod comes with Xiao-Xiao/Syao-Syao, some kind of Chinese martial artist in a very short dress and a padlocked collar, munching on what could be either a dumpling or a rice cake. Despite being to a different scale to the BTA figures, she fits into Hot Rod's vehicle mode reasonably well though, obviously, cannot be made to hold the steering wheel.
When it was first announced that the Fort GT was being used to make an Alternators Mirage - and the Alternator did come first, Mirage eventually gained a limited Binaltech release, in clear plastic, representing his 'optically camoflaged' mode - I was intrigued, yet sceptical. When the first photos appeared, I have to admit, I thought it looked like crap. Massive shoulders with doors hanging off behind, and the vast majority of the car's shell folded up and hanging off the back, it hardly look like Takara/Hasbro's finest hour...
And yet, it's a fairly nice-looking car... and with a different paint job, the result is far better. Mirage, having previously been a racing car, just didn't suit the 'high performance streetcar' look. Hot Rod, meanwhile, can get away with it. Some might argue that the 2007 SDCC exclusive's paintjob was more evocative of the character, but this toned-down, catalogue-accurate look is more believable, more in keeping with Binaltech, than the golden flame pattern of the exclusive.
As was common to the Binaltech line, Hot Rod features 'steering', opening doors and bonnet-boot (and possibly engine compartment - I'm not sure if that's intended to 'open' in car mode, or if it only comes apart for transformation...). It's as detailed a model as any of the Binaltech line but, despite this being a Japanese release, there's no die-cast metal in the model. The visible surfaces of the car are painted, rather than being plain red plastic, so there's an excellent glossiness to the finish, but the toy feels light and, to be honest, cheap in spite of this. Furthermore, while there's a fair bit of paintwork in the interior of the car, the steering wheel - molded in red plastic - is incongruous.
I'd still say this model suits Hot Rod more than it does Mirage, but its shortcomings are just as glaringly obvious. Having the entire front wings of the car occupying each shoulder doesn't look too bad until you see the car doors hanging off behind. Additionally, the whole shoulder assembly looks weak and clearly wasn't really built with poseability in mind. The joint between the arm and the shoulder is also fairly loose and, since it's a pin joint, not easily fixed.
Having the bulk of the car shell hanging - loosely - off the back not only ruins the look of the figure, but interferes further with poseability, both at the waist and at the shoulders. The legs win some points back through being very mobile, but the feet, even with their garish, jarringly yellow heel pieces, don't offer a great deal of stability.
The head mold is also rather contentious. Mirage's head was quite wide - it always was, though, and the Alternators update looked quite reasonable, and familiar, despite being more angular than Mirage's G1 look - but, for whatever reason, the folks who sculpted Hot Rod's head decided to keep to the same approximate dimensions, leaving him with a comparatively wide face inside an enormously wide helmet. Sure, it has a deployable visor gimmick (albeit in completely clear, colourless plastic, so you can barely see whether it's deployed or not) straight from the animated movie, but nothing about it really says "This Is Hot Rod". Nevertheless, with the huge shoulders and the hinged arms that transfer the car's bonnet to the robot's chest, the head somehow manages to seem a little lost, despite its size.
One really cool aspect of this model is that it was packaged with a three-part fishing rod - another homage to the animated movie - which can be reassembled into Hot Rod's trademark triple-barrelled wrist blaster. Sadly, the clips that should hold it in place don't actually clip in anywhere, and aren't that tight, so the slightest nudge will dislodge this weapon... Which is a real shame, because the 'guns' he inherited from Mirage are terrible. One is barely bigger than his hand, the other folds out in such a way that I cannot fathom how it could possibly be aimed adequately. They can be put in his hands like tonfa, and actually look marginally better that way, but Hot Rod is distinctly lacking in good weaponry.
In some ways, this model appears to have been a template for Classics Sunstreaker/Sideswipe - particularly in the way the legs transform, with the back end of the car hanging - unsightly and useless - from the knees. Transforming him back and forth between modes feels quite perilous at the shoulders - the plastic doesn't seem to be of a particularly high quality and, since it's such a struggle to get the steering tabs and sockets lined up, I'm forever scared that I'm about to break him. Also, the robot's chest seems like a real cop-out, being just the bonnet of the car held out from the body by a pair of panels that it doesn't even clip onto. Sure, it means you could drop a Matrix of Leadership into the gaping chasm that is Hot Rod's chest... but it'd probably just fall out.
In many ways, I'm not a fan of this model... or the mold, at least... and, being part of the much-maligned Kiss Players line, it was a very strange purchase for me. I'd like to say that Hot Rod transcends the shortcomings of the mold but, even after owning him for several years, I'm not entirely sure he does. It feels rather like a high-quality knockoff, rather than a genuine TransFormer and, while it's cute to have Xiao-Xiao sitting on his shoulder as he goes fishing from his shelf, Kiss Players Hot Rodimus cannot be described as an essential purchase, particularly at typical import prices, and especially at the inflated prices of the secondary market.
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