Friday 24 April 2015

Toybox REVIEW: Transformers Masterpiece MP-24 Star Saber

Six years ago I started this blog with the aim of reviewing my then-ever growing Transformers collection. However thanks to a variety of circumstances (raised prices, difficulty finding the figures I wanted in the UK, Hasbro’s increasing focus on the movie franchise) my collection diverted away from transforming robots and into the world of mecha and tokusatsu heroes. My love for the Transformers franchise never went away though, and I continued the then-airing Transformers Prime along with catching Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction in cinemas (both of which I thought were awful, but that’s another topic altogether). I keep an eye on what’s going on with the toy line though, and right now it seems to be in a pretty great state. Almost makes me want to return to what was once one of my biggest fandoms, but I guess you can’t collect everything.

Masterpiece Star Saber however was a figure I could not pass up. The Autobot (or Cybertron in Japan) Supreme Commander from the 1989 series Transformers Victory, Star Saber managed to receive the prestigious Masterpiece line treatment from TakaraTomy after winning the “Fan’s Choice” poll in 2013. The 24th figure in the line, he is the first in that does not hail from the main Generation One cast (although Victory is technically part of G1, it just never aired in the West) – a fact that has proven quite divisive among Transformers fans. As one of my favourite characters, all I have to say is “Good job Japan!”

Though the Classics, Generations and similar lines aim to appeal to veteran fans, Transformers is, has and probably always will be a franchise primarily aimed at children. Masterpiece figures however are a completely different story, being completely collector orientated (a fact which is displayed in both their complexity and price point). The packaging also nicely represents this status – a huge black behemoth of a box covered in glossy images of the figure and embossed silver writing. A particularly nifty feature on the back is that it features actual-size images of the figures inside, so you can see before even opening it just how huge this figure is. Upon opening the box up you’ll find all the pieces in a gigantic plastic tray, with the two largest components in their vehicle modes.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Transformers figure without the instructions, and Star Saber’s come in the form of a nicely printed booklet – complete with images of him from the Victory series. The back also has some pictures of other Star Saber figures released over the years, including the 1989 original, the 2004 Robot Master and even the Star Saber sword from Transformers Armada. Also included is a trading card, featuring the same art as the cover of the instruction booklet.

After Headmasters and Super God Masterforce introduced Transformers fans to Headmasters, Targetmasters and Godmasters, Victory added yet another -master sub-line into the mix - the Brainmasters. This exclusively Autobot group are similar to the previous ones in that they are smaller robots that link up to larger 'Transtector' bodies, only this time the smaller robot becomes the face and cerebral circuits. The other interesting thing about the Brainmasters is that they all have titles rather than actual names, with Star Saber's being the Brainmaster of Courage. This tiny figure is excellently detailed for something of its size, and features moveable arms and legs.

Moving up from the Brain of Courage is the middle Transtector in Star Saber's gloriously Russian doll-like transformation - Saber. This is the mode the Autobot Leader is usually seen in when not in battle, averaging the height of an ordinary Transformer in-series (while the complete Star Saber is more combiner sized). Saber transforms into a red futuristic jet/spacecraft, with splashes of white, black and yellow to break the colour up a bit. The gold sections at the back are also chromed, giving the figure a nice retro feel while not being too intrusive in terms of chrome placement. Flip the jet upside down and you'll see that the robot body isn't particularly well hidden, but not noticeable at all from the top or sides of the vehicle. Both the front and back pairs of wings are hinged and able to swing upwards, which will prove important in a later transformation.

This is where you also get a first taste of the figures various diecast metal components - in this case being the landing gear and thrusters at the back.

The spacecraft also features an opening canopy, revealing a cockpit complete with moulded detail on the inside. The Brainmaster of Courage can also fit inside this space securely, with the canopy coming back down over the top. One of my favourite aspect of the various -master Transformers sub-lines was the fact the smaller robots could pilot the vehicles, so even though it was obvious that the figure was going to this functionality (it's called Masterpiece for a reason after all) it doesn't make it any less awesome to see.

Transforming the vehicle into robot mode is a relatively simple process, and one you'll easily be able to do from memory after playing around with the figure once or twice. With it being a Masterpiece figure I was expecting the transformations to be a long and complicated process, but I think that was just years of movie toy experience influencing me. Star Saber is blocky G1 goodness, and even when made completely accurate to his animation model has a nice smooth transformation that doesn't cause any needless stress. 

The Brainmaster gimmick from the original toy is still around, only this time some slightly alterations have been made. On the original the Brainmaster of Courage actually transformed into Saber's face (the term 'transformed' being used very loosely).  Here it simply plugs into the open cavity inside the larger figure's chest and when closed causes the face to slide up into place. I'm sure many fans will lament the loss of transformable face, but personally I'm happy with how things turned out. A transformable Brainmaster would unlikely lead to a face sculpt this good and compromise the accuracy of the figure. In terms of looks the gimmick looks and feels just as satisfying as ever.

And voila, Saber has arrived! Around the size of an average deluxe Transformer (so around 5-6"), Saber is a beautiful little piece of G1 nostalgia - smooth, simple and brightly coloured. The face sculpt looks great, with those transluction Autobot-blue goggle eyes standing out really nice against the darker blue that covers the head and body. In this mode Saber may not look like faction leader material, but would definitely look great in a Transformers collection made up of figures from across the franchise's long history.

The articulation is pretty great too, especially with those ever-so-satisfying clicky joints in the hips and legs. A moving head, rotating shoulders, elbows, knees - everything is present and correct. The thin feet don't provide a whole lot of balance for posing, but as an appetiser for the main course it'll most definitely suffice. The nosecone clipped onto the side of the arm does hinder the shoulder, but if it proves a problem you can always just pop it off and give your Saber a more symmetrical look.

As far as accessories go you have two options with Saber - the obligatory sword (his name is Saber after all) or a blaster rifle. The sword itself is made up of a hilt which isn't actually part of the alt mode (and thus has its own little space in the insert tray), and a chrome blade which clips into the top of it. Both weapons fit comfortably into the figures hands, with the articulated fingers wrapping around to provide a decent grip.

On his own Saber is a pretty fantastic figure, and most definitely lives up to the title of "Masterpiece". But that's only half the fun, as things are about to get a whole lot bigger...

But in times of need, Saber is able to get even bigger and become the Transformer known as Star Saber! This is done by combining with an even larger Transtector known as the V-Star. In vehicle mode the V-Star is a mobile weapons platform, which is occasionally piloted by the Autobot leader's adopted son Jean Minakaze. In terms of functionality there isn't a whole lot to say about the V-Star other than it's a hulking piece of plastic both in terms of size and weight. The V-Star is in vehicle mode straight out of the box, although you'll need to connect the helmet section to the top to complete the look. The helmet is connected to an articulated claw, and the turrets on either side can rotate. 

It's also worth noting that on the underside of each side cannon are Autobot logo panels that can flip forward. I completely forgot to do this when taking these pictures, which could either be me not paying close enough attention to the instructions or the fact that these aren't actually present in the V-Star animation model. Either way they're there should you choose to have the vehicle show off its faction a bit more clearly. Similarly the guns (which are diecast metal) can flip up to reveal missile pods, another thing I didn't realise until after I took all of these photographs.

Of course the V-Star is also able to combine with Saber's own alt mode, creating the jet-like spaceship that Star Saber is synonymous with. To connect the two vehicles together all you need to do is flip all the wings on Saber vertically, and then slot it into the space at the front of the V-Star until it locks into place. Getting the two components to lock together can be quite daunting (as I'll go into a bit more later on) but as long as you take care and read the instructions before forcing it in you shouldn't have any problems. 

The combined vehicle mode can also displayed on a special stand, made up of two translucent blue plastic pieces included in the box and Star Saber’s shield (which isn’t part of either vehicle). The shield can be changed into stand mode simply by sliding out the middle section and replacing it with the blue pieces (as shown in the instructions). The stand then clips on to the bottom of the V-Star firmly, so there’s no worry of it losing balance and toppling over. It’s pretty impressive how such a tiny stand can hold up such a huge/heavy vehicle so well!

Like Saber himself the V-Star is pretty straightforward to transform into robot mode, and even without the instructions easy enough to figure out yourself. However fitting Saber (who requires a bit of transforming himself for this) into the V-Star Transtector is by far the most daunting element of this entire figure. The amount of force needed to lock him securely into place is enough to make you feel like you're about to break your incredibly expensive toy, and the only thing harder than getting him in is getting him back out again. The back of the figure has a push button which I assume is there to unlock the figure and make getting him back out a lot easier, but in my experience seems to achieve very little. The whole balance of force and carefulness needed for this step is enough to make me refrain from transforming him too many times, which is not a particularly good sign when that's the toy's whole gimmick. Still, I've done it a few times and there's not a scratch on Saber yet, so I'm obviously doing something right.

So here it is - Masterpiece Star Saber assembled and ready for action. And what a piece this is. The colours look absolutely stunning, mostly thanks to TakaraTomy's wise decision of using coloured plastic for the body rather than painting it. This means the finish is a little different to what most Transformers (or even mecha fans in general) fans usually expect, but a figure that can take the constant rubbing of parts that a transforming toy involves. Just like it is with Optimus Prime red, blue and white prove to be a winning combination, although the different colour placement makes Star Saber feel unique and not just retreading the same ground. The gold chrome really completes the look. And of course once again you have to appreciate the sheer size and weight of this piece, with Star Saber just about coming in as the tallest Masterpiece figure to date.

The articulation is pretty great too, with the Autobot Supreme Commander sporting 360° spinning shoulders, elbows, rotating hands, articulated fingers, ball jointed hips, knees and hinged feet on top of the head articulation provided by the Saber figure. Due to the size and weight of the figure you'd think balancing might be an issue, but those flat feet provide plenty of support that's also supplemented by additional rotation at the knees. "Brick" is usually a term used to describe a barely articulated lump of plastic, but Star Saber is a brick in all the right ways. 

One problem I always seem to have with my transforming/combining figures is that there are always parts left over when they're not in use. Thankfully Star Saber doesn't suffer from this issue, having somewhere to store nearly all his weapons. The two sword blades can be stored in the opening blue compartments on the backpack, while the gun and sword hilt have spaces to plug into on the very back. This only leaves Saber's sword hilt and the shield - neither of which are actually part of the alt modes either. In fact the shield is a particularly special addition to this figure as it was not a part of the original G1 version but did appear in the show's final episode. Well, final episode of the story anyway as it was followed the week later by a clip show episode.

Back on topic, while there's no physical way to connect the shield to the body (other than having him hold it anyway), Saber's hilt does kind of slot in to a screw hole just above Star Saber's backside. It isn't an intentional storage spot and isn't completely secure, but it does the job well enough and is mostly likely going to be out of sight in a display. Failing that, just leave the piece in the box I guess.

Unlike the smaller sword designed for Saber, Star Saber's blade features a hilt that is part of the robot's alt mode - specifically Saber's entire nosecone section. The front splits open to reveal a place where the chromed blade can be clipped into place, while the back features a hidden handle that swings outward. The problem is this handle isn't particularly long and not very good for poses, so Takara Tomy have also included a longer handle that can clip onto the hilt in its stead. With this display options become a lot more diverse, as he is able to hold the sword with both hands for those truly epic poses. Of course if you're some sort of heathen and would prefer to pose Star Saber with a gun Saber's is also perfectly suitable, but requires the handle being flipped around to make it more suitable for Star Saber's giant mitts. Unfortunately the hands' grip isn't quite as secure this time around, with the shield in particularly being quite wobbly in use. Still, it's enough to get the job done and articulated fingers always prove to be a lot of fun so I'm glad they weren't omitted.

The only thing I'd want extra thrown in terms of accessories would be a cloth cape (preferably not urine stained) and a skateboard so my figure can roll around like the "Cybertron Banzai" end sequence from the series. But hey, a cape isn't a hard thing to do yourself and maybe one day I'll get the super-deformed Star Saber I secretly dream of.

So what's is store for Star Saber in the future? Well the figure features some mysterious connector ports in the feet, which don't serve any purpose in either robot or alt mode. Therefore many have speculated that these have been thrown into design to be compatible with a Masterpiece Victory Leo that may or may not be coming somewhere down the line. Victory fans will know that Star Saber is able to combine with him to become Victory Saber, which essentially gives him some fancy boots, wings and a pair of shoulder cannons. If Victory Leo is coming it could be a few years before we hear anymore, but if one does come along one day I'll definitely be picking him up. Along with any other Transformers Victory characters TakaraTomy may choose to pump out. 

This review has already proven to be incredibly long experience (both for you reading it and me writing it!) so I'll try to keep my conclusions relatively short. Star Saber is incredible, and without a doubt of the best pieces in my ENTIRE toy collection. Over the years I've heard stories about how great the Masterpiece line is, and already many have said this is one of the best figures it has to offer. You could be familiar with Star Saber via Transformers Victory, his stint as a religious fanatic in the recent IDW comics or barely know him at all - but a great toy is a great toy regardless of your attachment. The robot within a robot within a robot gimmick is something that was just begging for the high-end Masterpiece treatment, and despite commanding a pretty hefty price tag (around 20,000 yen RRP) is arguably worth every penny. Every time I play about with him or even look at him standing tall on my shelf I fall in love with it a little more, and I'm confident you'll do the same too. Let a little obscure G1 into your lives, and you won't be disappointed.


Best Toys For Boys In Australia said...

Very Funny toys ! Thanks for share this kids post.

Anonimatus said...

A great figure.

Agree about the part where you have to insert Saber into the transector to form Star Saber, it's a real pain.

About the smaller sword in Star Saber mode I just put it in the backpack with the handle still attached to the blade, this way he can switch to a two weapon style quickly.