Tuesday 23 February 2021

Toybox REVIEW: Transformers Studio Series 86 Kup

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Release Date: December 2020
RRP: $19.99/£19.99

There’s no better way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Transformers: The Movie than with a whole line of figures based directly on it, featuring many of the brand new characters that would replace the original 1984-85 cast and go on to be the leads in subsequent seasons of the show. Among those characters is of course Kup, an old Autobot war veteran with plenty of war stories to keep the young un’s entertained (or not so much in Hot Rod’s case). Fun fact - he also happens to be my favourite Autobot in the whole franchise. I have a lot of love for the TakaraTomy Legends figure from 2017, but a more cartoon-accurate version directly referencing the movie? Studio Series 86 Kup was an instant preorder.

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The deluxe class Kup comes in standard Studio Series packaging, which has been given a few extra 1986 flourishes. Kup is packaged in robot mode and can be seen fully via the window on the front of the box, which also features some great artwork of the crotchety old Autobot veteran. This artwork is repeated on both spines of the box, with one also denoting this as the second figure in the Studio Series 86 range. On the back of the box you’ll find some renders of the figure in both modes, as well a few graphics and tag lines showing off what the line has to offer and how many steps the transformation is. Open it up and you’ll find the figure and accessories fitted on a moulded plastic tray, with a few elastic ties to keep it all in place. Also of note is that this is the first bit of Hasbro packaging to refer to the character as simply “Kup” and not “Sergeant Kup” in a long time! Surprisingly it doesn’t even have the “Autobot” prefix at the beginning like Wheelie does. Looks like that name is truly back in Hasbro’s possession.

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Each Studio Series 86 release also features a diorama style backdrop referencing a specific scene from Transformers: The Movie, and in Kup’s case it’s the “Sea Squid Showdown”. This is following the ship carrying Kup, Hot Rod and the Dinobots crash landing on the Quintessons’ home planet, where Hot Rod finds Kup at the mercy of a giant sea squid. And of course, all this happens while the brilliant “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” by Spectre General plays in the background. The tray diorama features a nice big image of the aforementioned sea squid, alongside a red display base with the Transformers: The Movie logo. It’s a bit too small to work as a display backdrop with multiple figures, but looks great with Kup alone and really helps sells the Studio Series packaging that little bit more.

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There have been a good few different Kup releases over the years, but it’s fair to say that none of them nail the G1 cartoon design quite as much as this one does. An argument could be made for it being a little more slimline than the animation model, but when you weigh in it being a deluxe class figure and its need to incorporate a transformation it’s done a fantastic job. But on top of making sure it has all the right detailing, those colours are just perfect as well. Hasbro dropped the ball with their last Kup figure and it took the Takara version to pick up the slack, but even that doesn’t nail the tones and placement quite as well as this one does. The one thing that does seem to be dividing opinion on this figure though is the head sculpt. While I acknowledge that the chin is a little longer than it should be, it’s definitely not enough to throw the face off or suddenly make it unrecognisable as Kup. Presumably the expression is supposed to convey Kup’s grumpy demeanour and while it does to an extent, given that the whole release references the sea squid scene there’s every possibility it was modelled off Kup’s “fix me” expression. That would explain why it looks so sad, as well as why it looks like it was modelled off one specific frame rather than just a general model of Kup. Maybe a more neutral expression would have suited the figure better for varied posing, but there’s no way you’d look at the head and not instantly see Kup.

However much like Grimlock it's worth noting that isn't just a straight G1 cartoon deco, and draws inspiration from a couple of other places too. Like the G1 toy it has sections of the wheels protruding from the shins (not present on the animation model), as well as moulded panel detailing that brings it more in line with the modern War for Cybertron trilogy figures. Additionally the chest windshield has metallic blue metallic detailing behind it as opposed to being a flat grey. Personally I do feel like these little touches enhance the overall figure though, and allow it to become a more universal G1 update to Kup rather than just a straightforward 86 movie figure.

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But it's not just the looks that make these new Studio Series 86 figures such a joy, it's the engineering. Somehow not only do they manage to pack in transformations but they're also able to make them highly articulated as well. Given that most people would be prepared to make some concessions to articulation in order to get two solid modes out of them, that's a fairly impressive feat. Altogether Kup features;
- Ball jointed head
- Swivel hinge shoulders and hips
- Hinged elbows, knees and ankles
- Waist, bicep and thigh swivels
The only oddity among all this is that the hands feel like they should also be on a swivel but surprisingly they are not (and if they are, they are firmly glued in place and won't budge). It would have been a nice bit of extra articulation to have, but personally I wouldn't take it over bicep swivels on a figure like this so overall it works out quite nicely. The shoulders and hips have a completely unhindered range of motion, and those ankle tilts are just a dream for making the figure balance in those slightly more dynamic poses. I'm not sure I'm a fan of the way the hinge joints make a break between the upper and lower limbs on these newer Transformers figures (is it a recent thing? I've been out of the game for a while now), but at least on Kup it doesn't feel like it breaks the silhouette because certain aspects of the body hide it. Considering this isn't too far off what I expect from figures in other Hasbro lines that don't have to transform as well, this really is quite impressive.

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One of the coolest things about this version of Kup is that the limbs are removable as an actual gimmick, rather than just being able to pull them off and pretend you’re recreating that scene from the movie. Both arms and legs are connected via pegs, which not only allow them to pop off easily (as well as stay attached securely), but also gives the figure the kind of bicep and thigh swivels that most Transformers lack. This gimmick is a lot more fun if you have Hot Rod to go along with it, but even without someone to help fix him it’s a great feature to have and goes nicely with the “Sea Squid Showdown” display diorama.

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Kup’s accessories include both signature musket laser, as well as the “Energon Goodie” dispenser he tries to use to quell the Allicons upon first meeting. Both accessories slot comfortably into the hands via the pegs attached. Some have complained that Kup’s gun might be a little too small, but similar to the head sculpt it’s one of those things that varies depending on where exactly you’re looking at it in the film. Some scenes it looks like it could do with being a bit bigger, while others it’s just right. Either way it suits the figure nicely, and has some good moulded detailing to make it that little bit more visually appealing. The Energon Goodie box is a simple box painted olive green, but has a translucent tab sticking out of it to represent the Energon. Admittedly it’s a piece with somewhat limited use and the cylindrical tab means it’s held pretty awkwardly, but its inclusion ensures that the figure is hitting all the right notes when it comes to referencing key scenes of the movie. Despite the instructions showing no intended accessory storage in robot mode other than the hands, collectors have found that the pieces can be held in the backpack area if you untab it and slot them in. The backpack will still hold its shape, so it won’t look any difference even though it doesn’t have the extra security of being tabbed into place.

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Kup has a 21-step transformation, which veers a little more on the fiddly side but that often tends to be the case with deluxe figures. The instruction leaflet lays it out pretty well so it’s not a case of the steps being hard to follow, but more getting some of the pieces to tab in properly can be a little awkward - particularly when it comes to connecting the front wheels to the cab area. You really can’t argue with the results though, as Kup is a fantastic representation of the Cybertronian picKUP truck he transforms to into the film. It’s got that same low to the ground, angular design and does a far better job of hiding the limbs than any previous attempt in recent memory. Each side of the truck sports an Autobot insignia, and both accessories can also clip onto either side of the vehicle.

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In vehicle mode Kup doesn’t really have any additional play features worth talking about in any detail, other than of course having four free-rolling wheels to allow the whole toy to whizz quite comfortably across smooth surfaces. This is perfectly fine - a vehicle as simple as Kup’s doesn’t require anything extra and how flawlessly it pulls off the vehicle mode is good enough for me. These Cybertronian vehicle modes that don’t really resemble anything are able to have a lot more leeway when it comes to toy interpretations, but it’s great to see one that’s able pull off a proper cartoon look so well. Sure there’s some additional detailing to not make it look so flat, but any divergence the toy has made is slight at best. No previous Kup figure has anywhere near this level of cartoon accuracy.

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I have A LOT of love for the Takara Legends figure, so right from the very beginning Studio Series 86 Kup had some pretty stiff competition. But if you’re looking for a no-nonsense Kup figure that best captures his cartoon self, then this is the release for you. As great as the Legends version is, its overall blockiness, colour scheme, unnecessary Headmaster gimmick and comparatively subpar alt mode just can’t compare with the more compact and all-round better looking and more dynamic Studio Series version. That said, the added Targetmaster, slightly better face sculpt and more satisfying transformation mean the Legends version still has a lot going for it as well. If I had more space I’d definitely keep both, but the Studio Series definitely takes it as the “definitive” Kup for my collection and the best official figure the old coot has ever had.

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