Sunday, 16 July 2017

TransFormers Legends/Tokyo Toy Show 2017 LG-EX Black Convoy

Of all the character concepts in TransFormers, Nemesis Prime (aka Scourge and, obviously, Black Convoy) has to be one of my favourites: a clone of Optimus Prime, with all his strength, intellect and skill, yet unencumbered with his compassion... and occasionally designed in such a way that he can be mistaken for Optimus by unwary (or just plain stupid) humans.

I have a number of Nemesis Primes, including a couple of exclusives/limited editions and, if I'm on the fence about a particular Optimus Prime mold, there is a good chance I'll still snap up the almost inevitable Nemesis repaint. Such was the case with the Titans Return Voyager class Optimus Prime triple-changing HeadMaster figure: as a homage to G2 Laser Prime, it was an obvious placeholder for TR Octane and while the 'Chaos on Velocitron' boxed set version's G2 toy-referencing paint job and tanker sticker looked excellent, robot mode was even more plain than the individual TR release, so it seemed like an easy pass, regardless of the long wait till Octane finally surfaced.

But then images surfaced of a Tokyo Toy Show exclusive repaint as Black Convoy - the show's fourth take on Nemesis Prime - and I was instantly hooked. I got very lucky, and managed to preorder via TFs-Express only days before they sold out, then just had to wait over a month for the event to actually happen, to make the stock available. Was it worth the wait..?

Packaging:
As is often the case with TTS repaints, Black Convoy comes in a box with a single colour print - black in this case, appropriately enough. The box features photos of Black Convoy in all three modes on the front and the back, and the normal Legends-style artwork is relegated to one side flap. This is also a completely enclosed box - no window for the toy, nor even for the HeadMaster figure who, like the main robot, is represented by a monochrome image. This is all pretty much par for the course with such exclusive figures, but it's a little disappointing compared to Takara Tomy's standard TransFormers Legends boxes...

Inside the box, Black Convoy and his accessories are bagged separately, along with the usual Legends mini-comic/bio/instruction leaflet. It's all a bit no-frills, but that's how most of these exclusives are... which just goes to show how unusual BotCon was with its premium packaging...


Truck Mode:
Black Convoy comes packaged in truck mode and is eerily similar to the Car Robots/RiD Black Convoy/Nemesis Prime/Scourge figure comprising a separate truck and trailer, only now he's a single, complete unit, similar in some respects to G1 Motormaster. The paint job is fairly standard Nemesis Prime stuff, with a black plastic cab and teal linework. It's pleasing to see that the front grille, bumper and all the hubcaps are painted silver, while the windows and headlights are painted in with a neon pink. What's most impressive about this is that there was a white undercoat applied before the pink, to ensure the colour was as vibrant and contrasting as possible against the black plastic.

The G2 figure's trailer was gloriously chromed, but that sort of thing has fallen out of favour - returning only very briefly for Hasbro's rather dubious Generations update of Jetfire, much to the horror of many of the fans - so the trailer here is painted silver. This paint extends to the central section of Black Convoy's smokestacks - which are actually transformation hinges - while the upper and lower sections are bare black plastic, kind of ruining the effect.

Many of the details of the G2 figure's trailer are replicated on this one, but the original's disc launcher is now just sculpted detail, the only functional feature of which is that the translucent pink section opens to reveal a cockpit for the HeadMaster figure. It features a socket at both ends so that he can sit inside and face forward in both truck and jet modes. While it's a bit of a shame that a more appropriate location couldn't be found for the cockpit, it could be argued that, this being a robot in disguise rather than an actual tanker truck, the 'tanker' is actually the control centre...

Unlike the G2 figure, Black Convoy's sword cannot plug in underneath the truck. Even worse, the double-barrelled handgun cannot be attached in any sensible position: the only two 5mm ports on the entire vehicle - in either vehicle mode - are on the sides of the tanker. The handgun kind of works as a turret which is extruded from the side of the trailer, albeit one only able to tilt up or down when facing either backward or forward on either side, but the sword just looks daft.

Of all the versions of this mold currently available, this is easily my favourite, and may even surpass Octane/Octone - when he finally hits the shelves - due to the elegant simplicity and timeless cool of its colourscheme and simple, clean paintwork, and not least because it has none of the Hasbro versions' crummy, poorly-applied stickers. One thing that strikes me as a little odd is that there's a space on the nose of the truck which appears to be intended for a faction symbol, but none of the versions thusfar released have featured a symbol there. It wouldn't actually work on this one, since Black Convoy often uses in inverted G2 Autobot insignia rather than the traditional Decepticon insignia. That said, I see no reason for the complete absence of faction symbols in this mode.

For those who are that way inclined, Black Convoy's tanker features three Titan Master foot pegs - two on the rear section, one on the central section - to allow a small number of additional figures to surf the highways... or re-enact a movie action sequence... or something...


Jet Mode:
Aside from being largely unnecessary, Black Convoy's second vehicle mode is very contentious. On TR Optimus Prime, it was completely superfluous and marred by the fact that there were obvious chunks of very red truck cab stashed beneath its stubby, barely decorated grey wings. The 'Chaos on Velocitron' set was arguably worse because the tanker stickers and virtually bare grey nose, wings and tail just made it look as though someone had welded aircraft parts onto a wrecked tanker.

Here, though, it almost works. From certain angles - with the truck cab's windows obscured - the darker colouring of the cab and the silver grille almost look like engines hanging off the wings, and the generally more coherent colour scheme works in this mode's favour. I rather wish the wings and tail had been molded in black plastic and embellished with more teal linework, but the grey plastic works fairly well against the silver body. A lighter shade would have blended better, but would then have had an adverse effect on robot mode. Either way, I do think there should have been some teal paint on the wings and the tail...

Another factor on the Optimus Prime versions of this mold that seemed a little dubious was the nose. I could kind of see what they were aiming for - a jet with large intakes, almost as tall as the jet's body, either side of the nose - somewhat like a Harrier jump jet, but on a much larger scale. Without tanker stickers as distraction, the look is fairly effective on Black Convoy, though the nose of the jet itself still seems rather awkwardly shaped. While it's actually well-proportioned in-hand, it seems strangely duck-billed to my eyes - certainly not resembling any real aircraft I can think of, but not so unusual as to look as if it's intended to be Cybertronian.

What really doesn't work is the wingspan... I'm not sure I understand why they even bothered making these alternative wings when TR Octane's wings fit into tanker mode more snugly. While they feature more molded detail, these wings are far too short and, while the hinge is disguised as some sort of engine-type detail, its presence means there's a lot of fuss involved in getting the wings into their proper positions.

I'm also forced to admit that the rear end and the undercarriage are a bit of a mess. Looking at it from the side, it's almost as if you're mean to ignore the black parts of the body entirely, as the silver fuselage very nearly seems to sweep elegantly upward to meet up with the grey plastic tail section. Of course, that illusion is well and truly broken when viewing jet mode from the back, from which angle the halves of truck cab look particularly ugly, and it's very apparent that the small, slim jet tail is protruding from an otherwise blocky, flat surface that actually extends more than halfway into the wingspan.

That said, it's quite clever that the truck's wheels have been repurposed as the jet's 'landing gear' and it even rolls quite well... But it's extremely clumsy compared to some of the Third Party Octane figures that have appeared over the last few years.

Jet mode being, essentially, truck mode running back-to-front, the weapons attached to the sides of the frontmost silver section of the jet's fuselage, looking particularly daft because they would further hinder the jet's aerodynamics... and having a sword mounted on the side of a jet makes no sense whatsoever.


Robot Mode:
Here's where both the mold and the paintwork really shine. In fact, in my humble opinion, this is the only version of this mold where the paint job does it justice, showing off its detail to the best effect. The original Voyager class Optimus Prime used the fairly standard red, grey and blue plastic setup with minimal paintwork, the 'Chaos on Velocitron' version was mostly grey and black, again with next to no paintwork (at least on the upper body) in homage to G2 Laser Prime, so this is actually the first time the mold has featured much in the way of paintwork. The design is very contemporary and, while not quite to the IDW level of intricately panelled detail, let alone movie levels, it's perfect for the Titans Return portion of the continuing main toyline... making it all the more disappointing that Hasbro haven't done a better job with either the standalone version of the one in the boxed set.

Following the Car Robots/RiD toy, his base colours remain black and dark, gunmetal-ish grey, but he features metallic teal all over the place and silver paint on his chest and shoulders. What's really weird about this particular version of the mold is that it was made to double as Optimus Prime - to get the kids interested ahead of the Octane retooling - but the molded detail clearly wasn't designed with a Nemesis repaint in mind, as the silver and black blocks on his chest and shoulders - referencing stickers on the CR/RiD toy - are not supported by any sculpted detail. For example, there's a diagonal line across the circular detail on each shoulder, but it runs perpendicular to the diagonal of the black paint. Contrast with Combiner Wars Optimus Prime - created with reuse as Motormaster in mind - which had its chest window split in a way that would have been ideal for a CR/RiD-style Nemesis Prime repaint... And here was me thinking a Nemesis repaint of any Optimus Prime mold was all but inevitable these days...

While neither vehicle mode featured any faction insignia, robot mode displays a single inverted G2 Autobot insignia on the lefthand chest window - a neat and very welcome touch, referring to Takara's creative solution to the sculpted insignia on the discs launched from the trailer weapon.

Where the G2 mold was very boxy, this version throws in a few more angles, making for a more imposing and dramatic look. I'm particularly pleased by the sweeping line from shoulder to shoulder - via the sculped chest windows - which drop in a shallow 'V' to the mid-point of the belly grille. I'm puzzled as to why the standalone release of the Optimus Prime version didn't have his traditional silver stripes either side of the fake grille belly, as it would have made a huge difference to his appearance. The metallic teal here breaks up the chest nicely, even though the whole thing is painted in a very subtly gunmetal colour (it's such a close match to the grey plastic of the thighs, biceps and the chest flap hinge that I barely noticed it initially), and more is used on the groin, thighs and shoulder protrusions as callbacks to the paintwork on the CR/RiD toy. All that's missing is the metallic teal on the trapezoids on the tops of his hip joints.

One quite clever feature of this mold is that the chest plate covers over one set of wheels, but leaves the other set to fool the eye into thinking the waist area is slimmer than it actually is, more in line with the slightly reduced waist section of the G2 mold.

That the forearms are made up of the truck's nose isn't really a problem - they're bulkier than that of the original, but it does mean that metallic teal linework comes off as a deliberate reference to the metallic teal edging to the original's truck mode footplates. It's a bit of a shame that the fingers aren't painted gunmetal, but that's a loss I can live with given the overall look of the figure. That said, a bit more paintwork on the forward-facing parts of the biceps and forearms wouldn't have gone amiss...

I'm pretty sure that the HeadMaster face is exactly the same as both of the Voyager class Optimus Primes, but the extra paint on the helmet and the overall darker colourscheme look awesome. It's also possible to angle out the HeadMaster's arms via his shoulder ball joints, to resemble the small, angled antennae on the sides of the G2 Laser Prime head sculpt, or there are the extra antennae that can spring up either side of the head at the touch of the button on his belly.

Black Convoy's handgun closely resembles the double-barrelled blaster wielded by his CR/RiD ancestor, albeit with a great chunk gouged out to act as a seat for a HeadMaster figure. They've tried to keep the silhouette the same, with the back end angling upward, but there's no mistaking the large rectangular pit just behind the barrels. Curiously, along with the two side pegs and the grip on the underside, there are two 5mm ports on the top of the gun - one right at the back, the other just in front of the 'cockpit' section. Aside from on a couple of Titans Return figures (Scourge in particular, where his central nacelle can plug into his gun to become a third barrel), I've not seen any evidence that there were any plans to have combining weapons, but it would certainly be possible with this gun... if only he had another suitable accessory. The sword is more intricately detailed than the original, even down to having detail on the hilt, so it's more than just a boring 5mm peg for his fists. The details look good as they are, and catch the light to great effect... but I can't help thinking the hilt should have been painted, or that some metallic details could have been added to the blade, along the lines of live action movie Optimus Prime's original swords. The downside to the sword is that there are no accessible 5mm ports in robot mode other than his fists, so there's no way to store his sword other that just sliding it down between his folded up wings and his back... and there's no way at all of storing his gun when it's not in his hands. A port on each thigh would have been perfect for 'sheathing' the sword via the 5mm peg poking out the side of the cross-guard.


Unofficial 'Drone' Mode:
This appears in the comic included in the package, where the HeadMaster character (wearing a natty teal scarf) is commanding a whole fleet of these drones. It looks pretty ridiculous - like one of the Decepticon drones from the videogame of the first live action movie, but with a mohawk made of jet tailfins - and sadly lacks the red paint for his 'eye', but it's fairly effective nonetheless. Obviously, the head can't move as much as the HeadMaster... pretty much all it can do is look up, revealing that it's 'neck' is even further back than the HeadMaster socket.

Other than that, it's exactly the same Black Convoy figure with no other differences in transformation... It's an interesting bonus mode, though I hardly think anyone will be troop-building with this figure, even after Takara Tomy's second release via their own webshop...


Unofficial Base Mode:
The base mode - also depicted in the comic - is surprisingly good. Not having been designed with this configuration in mind, it has none of the clips for connecting Leader class figures and, frankly, its 'ramps' are a little steep, but this is a decent homage to the battlestation alternate form of the G2 mold's tanker trailer, even down to having the potential to mount weapons on the two side protrusions. No disc launcher, no multi-missile launcher, and no pneumatic rocket launcher, but a decent base that actually manages to look better than some of the official Leader class figures' base modes.

The only real downside to this is that, since this mold wasn't actually designed with a base mode in mind, there are no pegs with the necessary orientation to help the HeadMaster figure stand on any of the horizontal surfaces, and the 'ramps' aren't the most stable surface for them to stand on without such assistance. He also won't fit inside the control centre standing up - the best he can do is stand underneath the translucent pink canopy. On the upside, he can sit up on the double-barrelled cannon at the top of the central tower.


HeadMaster:
Unusually, for a Takara Tomy HeadMaster, there's very little paintwork on the body - only a touch of silver on his face. In fact, this is pretty much exactly TR Diac, just with a (slightly) darker colourscheme. It's a little surprising that there's no paint at all on the body, considering Takara Tomy's HeadMaster figures have tended to be fairly well decorated... but, looking at the paintwork on the Black Convoy face - red eyes, metallic teal on the sides and dark gunmetal for the battlemask - and the main robot, it's clear they didn't skimp on the paint budget, it's just that it favoured everything but the HeadMaster figure.

As usual, he can sit in Black Convoy's gun but, since it's not designed to resemble a vehicle, it's of no use in and of itself - it has to be attached to Black Convoy in one of his modes.


Transformation between all modes is reasonably simple, the only complications are the wings - both because they don't like fitting back inside the tanker in truck mode and because they're mounted on an occasionally baffling array of hinges - and everything feels fairly solid. It's not the tidiest of transformations into robot mode, admittedly, with the wings and jet tail simply folding up onto his back (still a smaller backpack than that of the G2 figure), and the central tanker panels simply folding down onto the sides of his shins without pegging in anywhere, but you can't argue with the end result - an imposing-looking, well-proportioned robot. Tanker truck mode is obviously the best vehicle mode, in that it's the most believable, stable mode. The jet mode is just as stable, but the stubby, hinged wings, weird nose, boxy tail and under-wing truck chunks means it doesn't quite manage to convince. One improvement I can think of, looking at the robot mode, would be to have the truck's front wheels fold in to cover the gap in each of his forearms which accommodates his fists. The gap isn't especially noticeable on this version, due to the black plastic, but I'd imagine it would vastly improve the look of the forearms on either of the Optimus versions, and probably Octane as well.

The robot's articulation is mostly on a par with the G2 figure with one notable exception and a couple of improvements. What it lacks in a waist joint - which I'm pretty sure would have been achievable, even with the hips needing to slide back and forth between robot and vehicle modes - but it gains swivel joints just below the hip so you can sort-of fake a bit of waist movement with careful posing. The arms are hindered slightly on two different fronts: the protrusions from the tops of his shoulders - while they can be hinged back out of the way or rotated slightly for clearance - will bump into the robot's body as the arms rotate, and the wings are still somewhat in the way even when folded up. For me, though, the most disappointing thing here is that there's no improvement in the feet - the original's were basically fixed apart from folding away for vehicle mode... and these are exactly the same, only floppier. I'm sure they could have been mounted on a ball joint on the inner edge (TFPrime Rumble-style) to give him a bit of ankle movement but, to be honest, there's not a great deal of useful support at the heel. For most purposes, the tanker shell pieces will suffice, but they're fixed in place and so not much use in some poses. Pretty much everything else is exactly what you'd expect from a contemporary Voyager class figure... with the possible exception of wrist rotation, as his hands are part of the same piece of plastic as the truck grille. As standard, the head moves on the HeadMaster's neck ball joint but, at the push of his fake grille belly, additional antennae spring up either side of his head, effectively nullifying the HeadMaster's neck joint and leaving him relying on a very limited rotating panel embedded in the upper body.

I'll admit to a certain bias when it comes to Black Convoy/Nemesis Prime/Scourge, and I strongly suspect I wouldn't be so keen on either of the current TR triple-changin' Optimus Prime figures, but I think this figure is excellent. The colourscheme is just right (at least in robot mode), he's a decent size of figure (only slightly smaller than the G2 mold, but substantially less blocky), and he's an awful lot of fun to transform. Sure, it's another triple-changer with one duff alternate mode, but that's hardly anything new.

The bonus modes are a mixed bag: the troopbuildable 'drone' mode seems counterintuitive in a limited edition figure (albeit one which will apparently be re-released by Takara Tomy due to popular demand), the other is a throwback to - and a replacement for - one of the missing features compared to the G2 figure which ties in well with the Titans Return Leader class figure base modes... except that it lacks the necessary parts to connect to any of them.

The Tokyo Toy Show does seem to specialise in producing black/monochromatic repaints, several of which have either been Optimus Prime or Black Convoy/Nemesis Prime/Scourge, including their own take on the the Collectors' Club's Scourge. This latest incarnation of the evil clone is far better due to its size (Voyager vs Deluxe) and the 'complete' truck-and-trailer alternate mode - it feels more like a proper update of the Car Robots/RiD figure, despite its shoulder protrusions being rather more slimline than those of the Deluxe figure.

Given that this cost me £45 - not massively more expensive than TR Voyager class Optimus Prime when he first hit the shelves in the UK - there's a far greater sense of value for money with this figure than there could possibly be with the standalone Optimus, and particularly with the boxed set version. It's a great figure, so it's a real shame that it took a limited edition, event exclusive to do it justice. It is still available on the secondary market, but currently averaging 2-4 times what I paid... so it might be worth waiting for Takara Tomy's re-release, seemingly due in November, at a much more reasonable price.

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