Something I discovered recently is that a lot people find the Aerialbots to be the most boring combiner team because they are “just” a bunch of jets. As someone whose imagination lives more in Afterburner II than Super Monaco GP, I struggle to wrap my head around it. Fighter jets are more exciting than cars, especially when they turn into robots who turn into an even bigger robot. As much as I like the Aerialbots I’d never really thought, beyond wistfully spending my imaginary future lottery winnings, that I needed them at Masterpiece scale. Resurrecting gestalts in the Combiner Wars line had thoroughly scratched my combiner itch and with my spare room beginning to look like that shop from Gremlins, they were easy passes. August 2017 rolled around and I happened to pop by TF Nation, spying this huge Superion that looked like the Combiner Wars toy had been Frankenstiened into a glorious new monster, in a glass display cabinet – I had to have it.
Truth be told I was already aware of it having seen some of the earlier pics but seeing it person took it from “that looks nice” to my mind exploding like some popular internet meme. When Kapow got these in stock at a price less than just one Masterpiece Seeker, it was an easy sell.
So that, dear reader, is why we are about to take a stroll through a review of Ju Jiang’s Jet Commander.
As these are third-party toys the names have obviously been changed to protect identities. For the purposes of this article I will keep flipping between their own names and the names of the Transformers they are clearly aping because why not. Their actual names are as follows:
Jet 1: We can have lots of fun.
Jet 2: There’s so much we can do.
Jet 3: It’s just and me.
Jet 4: I can give you more.
Jet 5: Don’t you know that the time has arrived…HUH.
Ha! No, these New Kids on the Block are actually named: Jet Concorde (Silverbolt), Jet Phantom (Fireflight), Jet Eagle (Air Raid), Jet Harrier (Slingshot) and Jet Falcon (Sky Dive). The names are as throwaway as the boxes they came in.
Like the majority of pre 1986 movie Transformers, the Aerialbots featured realistic vehicle modes. Each was based upon a real word jet of varying shapes and sizes with the four smaller jets all being fighter planes, and Silverbolt attempting to reconcile his larger size with a larger jet mode of a passenger jet. Revived as the opening salvo of Combiner Wars, the Aerialbots were once again granted realistic jet modes that were close to their original forms without being exact. From that stand point it’s not hard to see why Ju Jiang made the Aerialbots their first choice to reshell. All of the other CW combiner teams have central torso bots whose entire figures would need a significant rebuild to look G1 accurate – Silverbolt just needed a natty curve adding to the wings.
That’s not to say they’ve only made the odd tweak, that would be a gross understatement. Every single piece, as far as I can tell, has been completely resculpted and the jets all look fantastic as a resilt. But a lighter touch was required than say the Combiner Wars Stunticons who would require an extensive redesign of the whole engineering of Motormaster. Because that toy’s torso mode is still worse than a Gareth Southgate penalty.
On many an inconvenient occasion I have been told “bigger is always better”, and one of the “biggest” reasons for this sets existence is the significant boost in size. See, the point here is to dose the Combiner Wars toys with gigantism and send them off to stomp across Masterpiece town with more accurate vehicle modes. Pictures don’t quite sell how big they are. Once you pull them out of the box for the first time, there’s a genuine sharp intake of breath as despite knowing they are upscaled, you still sort of mentally expect deluxe size. But these are closer in mass to an MP Seeker. That’s a lot of plastic, and very thick plastic it is.
Retaining the CW engineering on something so large does create its own set of problems though. Place it side by side with a Masterpiece toy and the lack of refinement becomes a little apparent. No matter how prettily you dress them up, you can’t hide that original intent was for these toys to be played with, which doesn’t really jive with the paint slathered, ultra engineered world of Masterpiece (official or third-party). They stand out and that won’t be to everyone’s tastes but for me it’s a huge positive to have toys of this size that I want to play with. Masterpiece’s inherent problem, or chief selling point, depending on your angle is that they are high end collectible pieces primarily for display. I ain’t sweating paint flaking on these guys.
Other changes are fairly innocuous. Each of the 4 smaller jets are given landing gear, something left out of their corresponding Combiner Wars toys, whilst there are some adjustments to the transformations that mean feet hide (sort of), arms fold in a little more and hands are all hidden snugly inside forearms. Small things in themselves but they each make a difference and elevate the toys. Silverbolt already had some of these elements but Jet Concorde sadly still does suffer from acute visible hand syndrome and he actually loses a feature with the nose cone no longer able to pivot downwards like a real Concorde.I sense Bad JuJu…Jiang.
Observing the lengths the designers have gone to in making the jet modes accurate to the real world, there is a much less cohesive idea applied to the tidily applied paint jobs. For example, Jet Harrier lifts his paint details directly from the vintage Slingshot toy, right down to painting a faux black hinge along the body. A trick Takara employed with its Unite Warriors set. However, both Jet Phantom and Jet Falcon omit this detail, despite it being present on the original Fireflight and Skydive toys and their Unite Warriors counterparts. This may seem like a trivial thing to pick up on, but it’s recurring thing across the set that there is a lack on cohesion in inspiration. Not a bad thing, it’s a ghostly echo of this sets Combiner Wars lineage with an “idealised” approach taking inspiration from multiple sources – but it just sits a bit awkward when you’ve been conditioned to accept toys to adhere to strict rules. Perhaps chaos is the theme that ties them together? I can get on board with that.
My only gripes regarding QC relate to some tabbing issues on Jet Phantom (Fireflight) that mean a few things don’t sit quite flush. Otherwise everything locks to together incredibly tightly and you could probably chuck them through a neighbours window and they’d survive.
Perhaps slightly unfairly, this set is frequently labelled an “up-scaled knock off”, with people using the acronym “OSKO” which sounds like a Japanese town. Despite every single part being re-shelled, it stems from the engineering DNA being the same as that used in Combiner Wars. The four smaller bots all have that familiar transformation pattern, but Ju Jiang added a few extras. Ball jointed feet fold out as opposed to being molded to the shins and hands flip out of forearms to add that standard level of articulation you’d expect from toys of this scale. Other more peculiar additions come in the form of Silverbolt’s chest being completely changed to be two smaller pieces that slide outwards, his head folding out from the fuselage, Skydive’s shoulders being re-engineered so they now slide up instead of using a rotational joint whilst he and Air Raid also have extra hinges in the middle of the wings offer multiple options for how you want to pose them. Keeping the CW transformation is a bold move for a set of toys that is targeting the Masterpiece crowd, but it’s a smart choice for a combiner as it means you are never put off switching them through modes due to how much time you have to invest.
Often, the hallmark of a Masterpiece toy is when we say “it looks like it just walked out of the cartoon!” but these don’t. They look cartoonish, but not specifically dead on to the The Transformers cartoon. Just like the jet modes every piece has been retooled with new detailing but it’s not necessarily to make each of the robots slavishly accurate. In many ways this set takes the same path as Combiner Wars in providing an “idealised” version of the character but just does it differently. Plenty of signature details have been reintroduced and the boxier proportions definitely help convey a more vintage feel, but there is still the vibe of a designer being allowed to leave his own mark. Jet Eagle (Air Raid), for example, has blue paint on his chest that is added for the sake of it looking pretty.
As mentioned earlier, the “OSKO” moniker doesn’t quite tell the whole story as the do have some new tricks. Chief among them are new feet and ball jointed wrists for each of the limb bots. All things you’d expect of toys of this size and things that really should have been on the original toys. The feet on Phantom and Sky Dive look ridiculous and like they are wearing the robot equivalent of plastic bags over their shoes to stop them getting wet. But the point of them isn’t to look good, it’s to be functional and they at least tilt sideways and down to give you a decent range for posing them in the manner of an NSYNC video. The hands flip out from inside the forearms, which unfortunately leads to unsightly hollow arms on each of the limb bots, who also have unslightly butt flaps that seems to have become an unwanted fashion trend amongst the Masterpiece crowd.
Despite going to great lengths to homage the vintage characters, like a lot of third parties Ju Jiang still opted not create decent space to put faction badges in their correct place. Petty gripe it may be, and you may be rolling your eyes, but when you make all this effort to get closer to the source material – you should know your audience is going to follow it to. Placing a faction symbol, to me, is quite important as it brands the characters. With these guys only Air Raid makes it easy to get the badge in the right place which irks me enough to write and entire paragraph on it. I mean, look at Silverbolt, they changed his chest so his badge can’t go in the traditional place – but then leave no room anywhere else for it. Yes, I am fussy. Yes I know it’s trivial and yes I am also a Vegetarian who hates vegetables so fussiness should be expected. But please guys it’s not hard to leave a decent space, it’s not like we’re a bunch of maverick artists with our badge placement. Leave a decent spot.
The joints on these figures are so tight that they squeak loudly enough to send my dog barmy every time I move one. Nothing is loose, over tightness is probably more accurate, and the plastic is really strong, decent stuff. In terms of quality control there isn’t a lot to moan about and most of the complaints will owe to the aesthetics where some things look like they didn’t quite get as much attention as they perhaps needed. The heads are the biggest example of this. All brand new sculpts but they are pretty bland and several lack paint when they badly need it. Air Raid especially looks like a styrene mock up for a custom. It was always going to be tough to compete with Hasbro on this front as throughout the last few iterations of Generations they’ve produced some cracking heads and the heads are the one area where the retooling is at least two Paula Abdul steps back.
Another current fashion trend is for Masterpiece toys to come with a bundle of accessories but these don’t. Instructions aren’t even included/ It’s a very bare bones release which goes back to the price. You do get a gun for each bot but again,it’s a confusing approach because two of them get new gun molds in the form of two small black pistols, then the other two just get a knock off of CW Air Raids gun. This is the only time something from Combiner Wars is copied wholesale, and then Miracle-Gro added. The new hands are all open palm and the guns slide in with a tab to lock them into the forearms (of the smaller bots) because…well I don’t know.
Silverbolt still has a farcical, oversized gun which splits into some sort of rubbish shield and a longer barrel and, as with Combiner Wars, a trick was missed where they could have made the barrel split into two giving Silverbolt a much more appropriately sized weapon. But then perhaps he just likes to show off….
The main draw of this set is the massive combined form of Superion and you’ll be unsurprised to hear that getting him there is almost exactly the same as it is on the Combiner Wars toy. Benefits from keeping that simple transformation are immediate as it means it’s a swift, intuitive process with very little fuss. As a combiner should be. Deviations only really show in Silverbolt’s chest collapsing to create a smaller waist and the foot pegs having extra tabs to connect to the jets. Actually this is important, because if you want a G1 style look with the leg jets facing the other way you need to disassemble the feet and reverse the ankle joints. Fairly straightforward, but for something that’s been designed with simplicity in mind it seems unnecessary. Especially when I’ve got a ton of Lethal Weapon episodes backed up to watch.
On mine the spring loaded panels in the shoulders that are supposed to move when you slide the combiner pegs in don’t work as intended and need to be manually pressed into place with my thumb. It’s not big issue, but it’s something to be aware of if you buy this set because inserting the combiner peg in fully causes it to lock tightly into place. But not the good type of tightly. The type of tightly that causes you to swear a lot. Fortunately you can push it almost all the way and it holds firmly anyway. Most likely it’s easily fixable but life goes on. Something I did take the time to fix was the chest shield. Out of the box the connectors were too tight and it couldn’t clip together flush. So I took 10 seconds to trim a bit of plastic out of one of the slots with a craft knife and boom – sorted.
Once combined, Jet Commander is a devastatingly handsome Superion. Pictures don’t do his size justice because there is always that psychological link to the CW figures. Looks are incredible and any thoughts of simplicity or upscaled deluxes melts away – he owns it. Size wise he’s comparable to CW Devastator who finally has someone to stand nose to nose with. Or nose to face plate if that is your boggle. Scale wise he looks great with your Masterpiece figures, dwarfing them and despite the simpler engineering he doesn’t look out of place. Posed with a bunch of MP Autobot cars, or towering over a bunch of cons he adds an imposing presence to any display. The redesigned, G1 accurate, chest plate is wider and gives his torso much needed bulk, as do the new yellow pieces on his thighs. A smaller waist gives his body much better proportions and bringing his legs closer makes for much more natural posing. His stance now looks like he could be a brawler in Street Fighter. Ju Jiang have swiped the head from Perfect Effect’s CW Superion upgrade kit, so you get the face changing gimmick with either a face plate or a mouth. When I sit back and look at it, it’s odd because I see all the changes I would have made to CW Superion if I had my way.
But the biggest change is something that adjusts the visual look in a different way – HE’S GOT A WAIST SWIVEL!
An addition of a swivel in the upper chest is the biggest fundamental change to Superion. It’s startling because I’d never actually thought about CW/UW Superion not having a waist swivel. But now he has it, it greatly opens up what you can do with his poses and wonder how we coped without one. Fortunately the tight joints carry over from the robot modes and he holds his considerable weight extremely well. He isn’t going to topple like a drunk into the Nottingham city centre water fountains on a Saturday night. Each ankle joint can feel excruciatingly tight to move by hand, but if you plonk Superion onto a surface and use his weight they tilt smoothly in every direction. Considering how heavy this figure is, and the low price on it, it’s impressive to observe how much work has gone into ensuring he’s stable and well balanced. I guess they appreciate that if he were to fall from a shelf he’d smash his way to the centre of the planet and we’d all be screwed. Nobody wants to send Eckhart back down there.
Unfortunately there is a negative to the articulation and that is those stupid butt flaps. On the arms they stop you quickly moving the arms because you have to take care to avoid shearing those flaps. Again – WHY?!!
Silverbolt’s daft gun seems much more reasonable in size when placed in Superions ball jointed fingers. Getting him to hold it is not so straight forward though. None of these toys come with instructions, something that seems to be in vogue at the moment, which is perhaps annoying considering it’s easy to not realise that there is a hidden handle which needs to be pulled out and pegged further back into the gun in order for Superion to hold it. When you do figure that out, the handle tables into the giant palms like most MP weapons tend to do. What keeps striking me is odd, is how despite the many attempts at Superion toys, with varying obsessions with accuracy, none of them choose to replicate his animation arm cannon. Really, that was pretty much just his gun stuck onto his arm, but it’s something that is curiously absent from every version of Superion which is strange considering the insatiable appetite for accuracy that pervades. Want to fudge a version of it here? Well congrats, you can! Doesn’t look too bad either.
I utterly love the idea of cheap, fun figures that can round out an MP shelf with characters I otherwise wouldn’t be consider spending expensive third party prices on. That is what this set is. It slides into a space between Generations and Masterpiece, offering a budget solution to getting characters into the Masterpiece scale. Open and Play’s Big Spring had a very similar ethos, but without borrowing from an existing toy and it seems to be quite a popular idea. It’s Masterpiece that you can play with. Masterpiece that you don’t live in fear of paint or chrome flaking off if you dare move an arm. It’s heavy and durable and wants you to play with it. Fisher Price Masterpiece? Offering cheaper alternatives also has the effect of being more inclusive, removing the price barrier allowing collectors access to characters and keep expanding collections. That is what this hobby should be – inclusive. So the more options we have at different scales and price points should be welcomed and encouraged.
Nothing here is perfect, far from it and there will be plenty of people who turn their nose up at the idea of denigrating their shelves with something that isn’t built to highest standards and drowning in diecast. But for people who just want characters at this scale, or want fun toys without the fear of a long, overly complex transformation, it’s a tremendous option. That is also happens to be tremendous at what it sets out to do is a great cherry on the top.
Interested in this product? You can find it on sale at Kapow Toys by clicking here: Ju Jiang Jet Commander