Sooooo, the big one! I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever been as hyped for a release as I am for this. It was the lure of a ‘proper’ Masterpiece Megatron – Apollyon, in that instance – that drew me back into Transformers collecting. MP-10 had survived the purge, and I just knew I needed Apollyon to stand alongside him.
Of course, as it transpired, Apollyon was shambolic. In the time that has followed, however, two worthy MP Megatrons have been released. DX9 Mightron was very decent, but Maketoys Despotron was the one that stole my heart. He got 5 Stars from me just last week. Could Takara ever hope to better such a mighty fine figure? Well, let’s be honest – the early coverage of MP-36 wasn’t promising, was it?
The very lively community that surrounds Transformers collecting is a wonderful thing, but it does have its drawbacks. By the time MP-36 actually arrived on my doorstep I was already fearing the worst. Would the paint be scratched out of the box? Was he going to break when I transformed him? Hell, would I even be able to transform him? And if I did, would I scratch him up?
To answer those questions – yes, no, yes and no.
The moment the box was opened the first thing I noticed was, yes, some of the paint wasn’t great. The stock chest panel is scratched at the side and there’s a blemish on the right bicep. I’ve subsequently noticed some flaking on the front of the crotch, too, although that’s a lot harder to notice. Most annoyingly, however, I’m missing the shouty face, with two smiley faces supplied instead. My retailer tells me this is a common problem.
As we’re talking problems, let’s just get them all out of the way.
My biggest gripe probably isn’t the paint. The rear panel on which the gun barrel hinges is quite loose in bot mode, and swings about a lot. It’s fine for posing, but any kind of movement seems to leave it out of position. The right bicep is also a tiny bit loose. Both may possibly be cured by some Future floor polish, although I’ve not yet investigated.
I’ve also yet to pluck up the courage to install the silencer. There are loads of reports online of this scratching up the barrel, and when you ease it on you can tell it’s going to be a tight fit. So I’ve bottled it – he’s going to spend 99% of his life as a bot, so I’m not risking that for a few minutes of gun action. You could also argue that the back is a little untidy, which it is I suppose. In fact, the whole shoulder area is quite gappy, with lots of parts folded up together (although it should be said that they fit together brilliantly and everything is held nicely in place). Certainly the 3P offerings have the better of it in that particular respect.
Then we have the transformation. Right, so, there are lots of types of Masterpiece transformations. Takara’s are generally the most intuitive, requiring the fewest steps and with little in the way of small parts. This isn’t that. At the same time, you have transformations like X-Transbots Apollyon, which are complex nightmares that are zero fun and risk breakages at every turn. This isn’t that, either. Staying with XTB, you also have the likes of Boost and Eligos, which are a tedious challenge of clearances, tolerances and tabbing. Nope, not that. Maybe, then, it’s like Toyword Primorion, with impossible to reach panels and ridiculous clearances? Nope. How about DX9 (and sometimes Fanstoys) and their physically challenging stiff joints? No.
The closest comparison I can come up with is actually Badcube. MP-36 has a lot of moving parts, and while it’s not physically challenging or difficult per se, there’s a lot to learn and it takes some time. However, I enjoy it more than any Badcube transformation I’ve experienced. Plus, both modes – once you reach them – tab together wonderfully. And despite what you’ve read, I’ve had no issues at all with damaging the figure further during transformation. Now I’m familiar with it it’s a 15 minute process from bot to alt and ten minutes back again. It’s complex (especially in the arms) and it’s perhaps not the most fun in the world (I do like the legs, though, which borrow Mightron’s slick hinged narrowing idea and also feature a wonderful collapsing thigh joint) but it’s nowhere near the monster I’d been led to believe. Essentially I’d describe it as arduous, but not really that difficult. There are good moments, though, like the clever collapsing chest. Love that. And it’s never frustrating.
OK, got all that? So, he’s flawed, certainly. And no, he’s not perfect. But what MP-36 does well, he does better than any other Masterpiece, official or otherwise. By any definition of the word, Masterpiece Megatron is an extraordinary and very special bot.
Note the use of the word ‘bot’. The gun mode is good, but I wouldn’t go beyond that. Part of it may be down to my inherent discomfort with replica guns. Just yesterday a young boy was shot dead at a US primary school. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy stuff like Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades on HTC Vive well enough, and I’ve played my fair share of FPS games (D.Va for life!), but I’ll never get the same joy from an MP gun as I would, say, a car or jet or tank. Honestly, I’d quite happily have an MP Megs that turned into a tank provided the bot mode was authentic. But for what it’s worth, the gun mode is really solid, scales well and fits in my hand better than Despotron or Mightron. It’s a bit panel-heavy, though. And sadly I’ll never be putting on the silencer.
The bot mode, however, is absolutely astonishing. Whether you’re a fan or a critic of Takara’s recent cartoonish slavery, never has it brought the ‘toon character to life so compellingly. Even more than MP-10, Megatron feels alive in your hands. Whether you’re recreating scenes from Transformers: The Movie or from episodes like More Than Meets the Eye, it’s there, right in front of you. He stands like the baddest of badasses, he holds his cannon with alluring menace and yields his energy mace with all the athleticism you could possibly hope for. Articulation is about as good as I’ve seen, with shoulders and arms that will do more or less anything you want without sacrificing stability.
Saying all of that, the arms are probably still the weakest element. They’re the fiddliest part of the transformation and probably the least succinct part of the bot, though that’s like criticising Matt Le Tissier for being not quite as good as Maradona. The hand design, too, is very decent. It’s still as not as articulated as some of the 3P hands you get, of course, but it works. Each hand has a single jointed posable thumb and a separate forefinger. Both the forefinger and remaining other fingers are double jointed, too.
And the legs? Oh my, the legs. Not only are they a wonder to transform, but the articulation is everything you could want. Standing, kneeling, running – no job is too big. That they accomplish this while offering such incredible lines and shapes, and being so solid, is quite enthralling.
My feelings about the paint are really mixed. On the one hand, it’s an absolute crime that Takara continues to struggle with its paint and chrome. Like I said, mine was scratched out of the box. And while he’s not suffered further, plenty have reported developing problems with play and transformation. On the other hand, the paint that does remain attached is absolutely beautiful. It’s everywhere, and conveys a richness of colour that’s befitting of such a characterful bot. Be it the silver of the torso and arms, the black of the hips and calves or the ever so faintly bronzed gun metal grey of the shins and heels, it’s all tremendous.
And none of this even touches on the headsculpt. Despotron’s was a bit too stylised for many, although I thought it worked in its own right. Mightron’s was great, but MP-36 is something else entirely. It’s perfect, plain and simple.
Don’t forget the myriad of accessories too, all of which are absolutely spot on. Along with the stock face you (should) get three additional options – laughing, shouting and battle damaged. The latter is a stunner and designed to go with the equally as battered chest plate, both of which ape Megatron’s battered visage after his barney with Optimus on Autobot City. Swapping both the faces and the chest panel is incredibly simple, and the effect is mesmerising. Also in the box are the purple gun and not-lightsaber from the same scene. In a nice touch, the blade from the sword can be used as a blaster fire prop for the gun.
It doesn’t end there, either. Harking back to the first series of the cartoon, Megatron’s purple energy mace is also included. Cleverly, along with a metal chain there’s also a plastic version that uses a row of hinges, making it ideal for battle posing. The Key to Vector Sigma and Megatron’s mind control helmet round off the set. Oh and there’s more – the stock for the gun mode also doubles as a stand, complete with pivoting feet. It uses a very firm plug that unceremoniously inserts itself up what can only be described as Megatron’s arsehole. Whereas recent Masterpieces have included a lot of what I personally regard as tat, this is the most excellent of playsets.
However, for some it will matter not how good MP-36 is or is not. At £160/£170, he’s a fiendishly expensive figure that really tests the limit of what collectors are willing to pay – although the fact that he is sold out virtually everywhere suggests this perhaps isn’t proving as big a problem as you might think.
I will be completely honest and admit that I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to figure out how to score this guy. Even now, as I first write this sentence, I’m not entirely sure. I’m actually a bit peeved that just last week I finally got around to (mini) reviewing Maketoys Despotron. I gave him 5 Stars. Logic would dictate, then, that if I score MP-36 below that, he’s a ‘worse’ figure.
Well, he’s not. I have always been a big advocate of Despotron and doubted MP-36’s ability to replace him in my affections. Truly, I now look at Despotron and I’m not sure I really like him that much any more. MP-36 wipes the floor with him. The bot mode makes Despotron looks bloated and amateurish in comparison. Those are words I never thought I’d associate with a Maketoys product. The alt and transformation are a different story, I admit. Despotron’s gun is far too big, but arguably has a better, less gappy look than MP-36. There are things I prefer about its transformation, too, although the same could be said for Takara’s bot. But there’s no escaping the fact that regardless of any score, I much, much prefer MP-36.
I’m so enamoured with him that I’ve even toyed with the idea of buying a second so I have one to remain relatively untouched on display and another to play with. That’s the kind of behaviour that I would turn my nose up at if others did it. It drives me spare when people don’t physically enjoy their transformers. And folk who buy a second so they can keep one mint or – god forbid, MISB – make me itch. Yet here I am, contemplating just that.
So what we have is a Masterpiece who can’t possibly be scored any lower than 5 Stars. It would be criminal. But he’s also a Masterpiece I can’t possibly award 5 Stars to. How can I when the paint is so fragile? When I didn’t even get all the bits? When I’m too scared to attach one of the accessories? When the transformation abandons Takara’s key minimalist principles?
I put this conundrum to the members of the TFW2005 UK thread. Here are some of their thoughts:
“I think a 4.5/5 or 4. It has to be, otherwise you damage the credibility of your scoring system when a toy with clear and well-established failings – however inconsequential overall in comparison to the majesty of said figure – gets a perfect score. Save a perfect score for perfection.”
“Essentially, to me the ‘perfect’ transformer meets all of these criteria:
1. Highly-articulated, well-proportioned and good-looking robot mode.
2. Detailed and believable alt mode with no hints of robot anywhere.
3. Satisfying and reasonably quick transformation that is complex but not complicated.
4. Reasonably priced to be affordable by children with their own funds.
Which is a practically impossible goal to reach, of course. But that’s the point – it’s a standard by which to measure quality, and allows you to appreciate the flaws a toy might have. Not meeting all those standards doesn’t make a toy bad of course, just imperfect. And hey, aren’t we all?”
“Some figures have other qualities greater than the sum of their parts.”
“Go with your heart mate. If you think it’s a 5 Star figure then that’s what it is, regardless of flaws. Your own personal scoring system doesn’t have to be beholden to any real set of rules; it’s totally your own thing. 5 Stars doesn’t have to mean it’s technical perfection, it could just be you like it that much. I’m a 34-year-old man playing with a small pink, teal and grey robot that turns into a shark. Making it eat other robots. That’s not something I can seriously score based on a set of strict criteria. It’s down to emotion, nostalgia and other stuff more than it truly is the physical toy itself.”
My conclusion? Nothing will ever, ever be perfect, surely? Like, absolutely perfect? Part of the reason why I went for a five star scoring system as opposed to a percentage system was partly to reflect that. In my head this is pretty much how the 5 Star system breaks down:
- God awful
- A bit shit
- Decent enough
- Very good
A 100 scale point system would I think preclude anything ever getting perfect marks because any imperfection at all, even a minute one, can knock a percentage point off a 100% score. But on a five point system you have to have more flexibility. A scratched panel or slightly loose knee can knock 1% off a score, but it can’t knock 20% off (or 10% when you factor in half Stars). Therefore something can be 5 Stars (out-fucking-standing) without being beholden to this magical ‘perfect’ ideal. Personally, I find that a far more compelling and fair prospect.
As a consumer, I want to know if something is really really fucking good and not necessarily if it’s the next coming and above any and all criticism. You see plenty of 5 Star films that no-one would argue are perfect but are still top of their game and absolutely worthy of top marks. No-one seems to mind this in film criticism, but enter the world of toy criticism (and video games, it should be added) and it seems to be a very different story. Anything short of absolutely ideal and that’s it – it’s a failure. Perfection should not be the goal we aim for.
Grrrr, even now I’m not sure. 2,500 words in and I. Just. Don’t. Know.
Undoubtedly my worst experience of MP-36 was the worry and disappointment that pre-empted his arrival. The internet was filling up with worry and criticism, and by the time I actually got my hands on him my first instinct was to search him for problems, not to enjoy him. And that’s a real shame.
I’m not making excuses for what he does do wrong, either. There’s no excuse for the fragility of the paint. This is a problem Takara really needs to address. The floppy barrel panel pisses me off and don’t get me started on the missing face or paint-scraping silencer.
But all of that kind of melts away when you have him in hand. To experience MP-36 is to experience the absolute pinnacle of the Masterpiece dream – that being bringing these characters we know and love to life in our hands. I’ve always felt MP-10 stood as the ongoing king of this particular kingdom, but I’m not so sure now. Certainly none of the 3P Megatrons come close to what Takara has achieved. Is MP-36 my favourite Transformer ever? Well, how about I put him in a room with MP-10B and hand the title to the winner?