There’s a bit in my notes here made quite early on in my time with Masterpiece Inferno that reads as follows: ‘Would leg detailing save it?’ The bit I want to draw attention to here is not necessarily the sentiment but more the fourth word – ‘save’. An hour or so into my Inferno experience and I felt that it was a figure that needed saving.
I’ll be completely honest – out of the box I was gutted. Inferno arrives in his truck mode which is… fine. Lack of detailing is a theme with the figure and it’s almost as apparent with the alt mode as it is the bot. Not that I had him in this mode for long, as straight away I got stuck into the transformation. Which was a bit fussy first time out, truth be told. The instructions for the arms were a little hard to decipher, for little old me at least. How did I feel about the bot mode? About the time I was scrawling the word ‘save’ in my pad I was also checking out how much Kapow were asking for MMC Backdraft. The signs were not good.
All of which sounds suitably apocalyptic and actually not at all representative of how I feel now, a few days down the line. How did I learn to love Inferno? By judging him for what he is, and not what I think he should be. So let’s start again, shall we?
The Masterpiece line has already had one reboot in the form of MP-10. This was not only Takara’s attempt to re-do its first Masterpiece Optimus Prime effort, but also a complete rethink for the series, marking a change in scale and a new direction, paving the way for the Autobot cars. And it’s all good – MP-10 remains, I think, the best transforming toy ever made, and the series has grown by leaps and bounds since its release. But none of that means anyone is prepared to stomach a second reboot. Masterpiece collectors, by definition, most often have a collection. Switching the rules part way through is very much, in my mind, ‘fucking with my shit’. And I object strongly to my shit being fucked with.
And that’s sort of how Inferno feels. He is kind of fucking my Masterpiece shit up. As a representation of the cartoon character, he’s a remarkable achievement. It really is like the screen come to life. There are two heads to reflect the different looks the character boasted in the ever-morphing world of Sunbow animation. The toy-like chrome front bumper can be swapped for an animation-authentic plain grey one, complete with cartoon-like faction symbol. When ‘cartooned up’ he’s stunning to look at. ‘Toying’ him up isn’t quite as successful, however.
I’ve settled on having Inferno is his toy form as overall it fits most comfortably with all my other Takara, Hasbro and 3P Masterpieces. There’s no escaping the fact, though, that while going ‘full ‘toon’ is a resounding success, there’s no real way to pull off a complete toy look in keeping with the line as it stands. Yes, you can chrome up the grill and the hose, and use the toy head, but none of that changes the legs. Even the blaster looks like it’s been plucked from an animation cell.
Now, the legs are an engineering marvel. They’re wonderfully ratcheted, with shit hot ankle tilts, allowing all manner of posing, and they’re beautifully painted. But there’s no way they’re ever going to look like the G1 toy. There’s virtually zero detailing and the feet are huge. No matter what you do, while you end up with a toy and MP authentic bot from the waist up, south of that is pure, vibrant ‘toon.
The legs are actually reminiscent of Ratchet and Ironhide, and that isn’t where the similarities end. Like that pair, Inferno’s proportions see him widening from the shoulders to the waist like some sort of chubby RPG barkeeper. And it looks strange. In fact, everything from the waist down – including the static and completely paint-free hip skirts – doesn’t feel quite right.
Again, I realise I’m coming across quite negative. And I understand that doesn’t sit right with the score sitting there at the bottom of the page. And I really don’t want to become known as a Takara cheerleader who wanks furiously over the company’s every release.
So why the score? It’s because while I could frown and tut all day about Takara’s visual choices and fret about the possible future of the Masterpiece line, there is absolutely no escaping from the fact that Inferno is a completely glorious in-hand experience.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it – no-one is better than Takara at producing Masterpiece looking robots with voyager or leader class playability, and Inferno is right up there with the best of them. While the first transformation was a fuss, and I even had to turn to a video review for the journey back to alt, it’s been all smooth sailing since then. It’s great, with only the fold of the head wings back into the body offering any sort of hassle. You don’t have to take off the arm hose, either. And you want a ‘wow moment’? You’ve got it – forget about Maketoys’ and MMC’s ladder kibble. Inferno’s ladder is completely concealed in bot mode via an ingenious feat of folding theatricality, the result of which is a gloriously kibble-free robot mode. It feels so, so good.
Inferno’s also a perfect example of why die cast is not a Masterpiece prerequisite. I can’t find any here, and he suffers not one bit for it. Head articulation is wonderful, and also largely independent of the character’s head housing. Shoulder articulation is maybe a little weaker than elsewhere on the figure, but it’s still entirely sufficient. Oh, and there’s not a single articulated figure in sight, sadly. But this is still a toy that begs to be played with and the very definition of a top class fiddle-bot.
The alt mode is less inspiring. Don’t get me wrong – it’s decent, and very solid. And fits excellently with the line. Just look at how, despite being about as tall as Ironhide, the alt is so much bigger. Witchcraft, I tells ya. The ladder extends nicely and even has a hidden in-built attachment for the water prop. But the lack of leg detailing is true here, too, with a rear end devoid of lights or any hints of real-world vehicle furniture.
Water prop? Yep. Inferno’s bringing ALL the accessories. I’m not really one for extras but those who are can look forward to a treat. There’s a plastic molded squirt of water thing, a hose, arm communicators, two heads each of which has two faces (which, oddly, aren’t cross compatible). Then there are both chromed and grey versions of the cab front and hose. Oh yes, and the cradle. Yes, an entirely separate front grill section is included for the sole purpose of allowing Inferno to hold Red Alert like he did that one time in that one episode. I mean, you have to love that.
As for QC – it’s good. There has been talk of some paint blemishes on the shoulder strut which seem to have resulted from him being transformed into alt before the paint has been allowed to fully dry, and there’s a small hint of that on mine. Mine has also succumbed to a bit of scraping due to the chrome head hose, which is left a perfectly circular line on the side of the head. If you look hard there are one or two small paint blemishes too, but overall, I can’t really see anything to be too concerned about here – unless you’re the sort who loses their shit at even the slightest sign of imperfection. And I know there are PLENTY of those sorts.
Ultimately it’s the brilliance of Inferno’s build and play that wins out over what are undoubtedly some pretty bold and arguably unwise design decisions. Does that make Inferno the best Masterpiece version of the character on the market? I did previously own Maketoys’ Hellfire, and thought he was a fine bot. I’ve not handled MMC’s, although I know plenty of folk who have had lots to say about the build quality and panel aligning. He certainly looks the part, nonetheless.
If I were buying a Mastepiece Inferno, however, I wouldn’t be able to look past Takara’s. For me, at least, the more time I’ve spent with him, the more ‘right’ he’s felt. There’s still an oddness to his proportions, but in much the same way as you love and fancy your wife even though she doesn’t look like Scarlett Johansson, Inferno still ended up doing it for me in the end.
This review had 3 Stars written all over it in my mind for the longest time. Whether the look of Inferno does it for you or not is entirely subjective. Some will adore it, others will be unable to tolerate it. I can’t make that decision for you. What I can tell you is that he’s an amazingly crafted figure with a great transformation that is every bit Takara Masterpiece quality. There are some questionable design cues but, I think, they are after time forgotten because of the so many fantastic things that can be found here. The bigger question for me is where the Masterpiece line goes from here. I’m not aware of many calling for a second reboot, so let’s not have one, yeah?