|Maketoys MTRM-09 Downbeat|
The Masterpiece Jazz wars were always an inevitability and the only question was – when?
Unquestionably one of the most iconic and popular Transformers it’s amazing it’s taken this long. Good news is, it seems in 2017 we are about be inundated with claims to the throne from a variety of companies. Toyworld have got one imminently due for reason, Maketoys have just released one Fanstoys have teased one, Hova is allegedly still happening and Generation Toys released a modern IDW themed take at the tail end of last year….so there’s a lot of choice competing for that coveted dusty spot on your shelves.
Downbeat is the first Jazz of 2017 and Maketoys next entry in their excellent RE:Master line that sees them put their signature anime robot style on to Masterpiece style figures. It’s also a figure I largely ignored until about a week before it was released, at which point it became something I needed more than food and water.
So does it live up to the hype?
Continue on after the jump to see the full review
Maketoys Downbeat rolls out of the box and into your hands as a fully formed Porsche. Specifically we are talking about the Porsche 935 Turbo which is the car Jazz’s iconic alt mode was based upon. Back in those glorious, He-Man jellies and giant watch clock filled days, toy companies weren’t as likely to go get permission to use a vehicles likeness, so Takara and Hasbro were happily able to recreate the Porsche complete with the Martini livery, with only very slight changes in an effort to ward off Martini.
Ironic really when you consider the proliferation of the third party transforming toy market in 2017. Bit of karma perhaps?
Third parties clearly lose no sleep over stepping on Hasbro toe’s and the same goes for car manufacturers. Looking at photo’s of the original Martini Porsche the only thing that appears to be missing is the Porsche badge on the front. A long, wide hood peppered with vents, slopes out of the front as a massive spoiler emerges from the rear of car which both serve to stretch out the body and not conform to the traditional Porsche emphasis on sleek looking cars.
Jazz’s 935 was always a beast and there is even an aggressive Funko Pop face in the bumper. Maketoys originally intended for those circular lamps to be rectangular in order to homage a different version of the Martini Racing 935, but the message board gods were angry and to pacify them Maketoys cast them out to be replaced with lights that more accurately reflect the source material.
It was the right choice as the rest of this figure works so hard to be the Masterpiece Jazz Gotham deserves, whereas with those different lights it wouldn’t be the one it needs right now.
Downbeat’s paint job might be as bland as the latest Simon Cowell controlled X Factor puppet – but it’s still bang on point. Real world accuracy is in the dog house and cartoon accuracy is en vogue (“Never gonna get it”) with Masterpiece style figures and Maketoys follow Takara’s lead of using a real world alt mode but scaling back the colours to match whatever Sunbow’s animators put onto our screens.
What this translates to is a lot of white with a confusing mix of bits of the real world cars livery. Cloaked in a blanket of white, detail still pokes through with Maketoys wisely picking out the vents on the hood and rear, as well as the front grill with silver. Re-using that same paint on the wing mirrors gives them a little reflective sheen in a lovely tiny touch of class. Martini’s livery is revised to red trim scooting around the bottom of the bumper as well as the simplified, cartoon accurate version of iconic stripes that run across the core of the body and the rear wheel wells. Those rear stripes are a different colour to the central stripe because reasons.
Reasons called Sunbow.
A perculiar swerve is the addition of the number 4 to Downbeat’s hood. Not present on the animation model it’s a feature lifted from the original car, thus in turn the vintage toy, but here it appears without the original inline striping. Adding toy details but making them fit with the cartoon aesthetic is an interesting choice and one I’d like to see more of.
If you aren’t happy with the less detailed, animation approach, never fear, Maketoys sent Reprolables an advanced version of the toy which created the odd situation of Reprolabels having a sticker set out before the actual toy. Themed around the original toy and real world vehicle, there are even stickers that attempt to cover the junk in Downbeat’s trunk and rebrand them as exhausts. They fail, but at least they try. Each piece ends up as an ankle in robot mode but it seems a very inelegant way to get there. They don’t bother me, I am firmly in the “stop moaning, you aren’t displaying your toys in alt mode backwards, so it doesn’t matter” camp, but with the effort MT have made to get this alt mode so spot on it strikes you as an odd thing to sacrifice.
Ports on the back allow you to equip Downbeat with two speakers that exist to homage his “light and sound show” that he frequently dazzled enemies with or campaigned for his local MP. It’s a fun addition and one entirely in step with the world of Masterpiece’s current proclivity for throwing in accessories from specific episodes. That they look like ray guns from Flash Gordon is an added bonus that has me shouting “Gordon’s alive”.
As you can tell, Downbeats vehicle mode is scorching success. It looks exactly as you’d expect and orchestrates a concerto of nostalgic heart strings that is what brings most of us into this hobby.
That’s all you want right?
Well no, because you also want a smooth transformation which Downbeat delivers – if you are willing to put in the practice. My experience was not quite so smooth as Maketoys video makes it look but it does feel designed to be familiar to Masterpiece collectors – something most third parties ignore. *Glares at Badcube*
The upper body transforms fine thanks to some incredible engineering alchemy that shrinks the chest down as if Doctor Strange were manipulating it. Downbeat’s arms can be reluctant to fold out (or back in depending which way you are going) but that chest transformation, where it shrinks, took my breath away. It’s a true Masterpiece moment that reveals a sunken blue panel with a familiar, borderline trademark infringing, red badge.
The legs might be as fiddly as a Mortal Kombat fatality, primarily due to parts being so tight, but what you find with Downbeat is that every part of the transformation has a knack to it and as a result it gets easier each time you go through it.
Or maybe being not being lightly inebriated helps. Don’t judge me just buy me a pint.
Downbeat is astonishingly good looking when scrunched up in to a car but where he truly captivates is in robot mode.
Flipping up the doors to give him the signature Autobot car door wings provides a concession to fans who prefer the vintage toy look, but everything else about Downbeat is relentless in evoking the cartoon. Maketoys have a crafted a figure that embodies an animation model as well as anything Takara or any other third party have knocked out thus far. MP style figures slavishly pursuing animation model accuracy often crash hard into a wall with “physics” graffiti’d all over it but this chest move feels like a door has been opened and is something we are going to see variations of going forward.
Maybe with a Sideswipe whose chest doesn’t look like something that convicted Kryptonians are trapped within.
Running through the other details and most things are spot on to the show. Kibble that hung from the rear bumper now form ankle scoops that combine with the “fake” wheel well piece to give Jazz his 70’s flares wearing look. In spite of all the grumbling about how bad it looks in car mode (seriously, who is displaying their tows with the back of the alt modes?), it’s actually a very elaborate way of recreating the detail of the cartoon character, that itself was lifted from the original toy.
Thighs that should be white are now silver which is perhaps the one baffling turn this figure makes. In the cartoon, silver toy detail was frequently rendered white (see: Optimus Prime’s thighs) because of limitations in animation – but Jazz’s toy had white thighs. This actually comes up again with the shins in feet which are produced in dull, swirly grey plastic, when the show model’s grey was intended to represent the toys silver. My head hurts, but when they’ve gone to as much effort and physics bending as they have with the chest it seems odd to do their own thing in other places. Picture them trolling?
I have already made peace with future Liam buying an MP+ toon accurate MP 10 Optimus Prime. Not sure how well the phrase “I’m spending hundreds of pounds on white thighs” will go down with the mrs. Violently I suspect.
Downbeat generally has a beautiful finish applied. Everything feels premium from the paint to the use of diecast metal. Detailing is scaled back to ensure it fits the toon aesthetic and far from looking bland it just looks right. That shrunken chest pays dividends again as it works to capture the proportions in a cartoonish manner which befits a lack of hayper detailing. In fact there is a bit of a Dreamwave feel to it which plays into Maketoys “anime robot” vibe their toys generally go for. As much as cartoon accuracy is a thing, there’s a playful puffiness to it that is beautiful to look at.
His head (all three faces) especially embodies this. It’s a great sculpt with gorgeous reflective visor, and whilst it looks spot on it’s got anime proportions. Downbeats face sinks into a lightly oversized helmet which is at odds with the cartoon but comes off all the better for it.
One thing that slightly bugs me is that red Autobot badge outline. I am a fussy git who likes to choose my own con badges and here my hand is being forced to choose a particular size and type. This blog is all about freedom of choice.
Make badge choosing great again!
Articulation and build quality are as great as you’d expect from Maketoys. He’s got more articulated joints than I can count and each one is rock solid. In some cases, like the legs, moving them requires a solid bit of force but not very many people are buying this guy as a toy to play with. Except me.
Arms go every which way but loose, legs go any which way they can and the head is on a great ball joint. Downbeat’s neck comes with the hidden skill of being able ape Mekaneck from He-Man due to it’s transformation joint. Either that or a snake, but I’ll take any chance to squeeze a Masters of the Universe reference in here. Good journey.
Best of all is the ab crunch which a rarity for Transforming toys, and gives everyone the chance to get him in the sort of cool, anime pose which gives me back ache just thinking about. My mother always told me not to slouch and I wish I’d listened.
Downbeat comes packaged with a plethora of accessories. As mentioned earlier you get three faces in total, all with various expressions that you can see throughout this article, as well as his grey rifle. On top of this is his rocket launcher that doesn’t launch rockets but allows you to complete the toy themed look if that’s your jam.
A set of black clip on pieces are included that attach to his hips to complete his home entertainment center look when paired with the purple speakers which now mount to his shoulders. Again taken from the show, they are intended to replicate a scene from the show (specifically Dinobot Island part 2) but really the sculpted speakers on these pieces looks like oven knobs.
His final accessory is a grappling hook that slots into his hand to replicate one of his other powers in the show. However, in that show it replaced his hand entirely by popping out of his wrist. Downbeat’s hands don’t fold away which is maybe why Maketoys opted for this route but his hands are on mushroom pegs so it may have been better to remove them and have it slide on. At any rate it’s still a pretty cool accessory and you can freely dangle your Downbeat from things like a very expensive alien robot themed set of chimes without the accompanying racket.
|“Baby you’re all that I want, when you’re lyin’ here in my arms…”|
Are we ever going to get a true Masterpiece Jazz? Maketoys dazzling attempt at answering that question is a little slice of magic that does more than just look good, it illicits feelings of nostalgia and joy for all the reasons we collect toys in the first place.
Downbeat is probably the closest any third party has gotten to achieving the holy grail of feeling like a legitimate Masterpiece. The fit, finish and feel (that’s a lot of F’s) are all fantastic whilst it’s looks are so dead on to the animation you’d swear we’d gone all Last Action Hero. Maketoys may have made a couple of subtle changes, like the silver thighs, that prevent it from being completely accurate but even that is in keeping with how Takara dealt with Masterpiece up until very recently.
With several third party Masterpiece Jazz figures due this year, it’s usually a good indication that a Takara release is probably in the offing, but Downbeat is an absolutely wonderful stand in during the mean time and is one that Takara will struggle to depose. The best compliment I could pay it is if you told me it was official I’d be ecstatic.
2017 has already set a very high bar for Transformers and third party toys and it’s going to incredible to see how much higher it can go. We are in for a wonderful year – I just wish my bank account saw it that way.
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