Sunday, May 31, 2015

Little Changes: The Saga of Q-Transformers!

THE great Japanese tendency to take the usual and transform them into smaller, cuter iterations is easily encapsulated by eye-popping, aww-inspiring world of Super Deformed (SD) toys. Being one of the great toy lines of the world, Transformers have seen several different manifestations of the SD effect, but the newest, most multi-faceted iteration is the new Q Transformers line of tiny transforming figures.
            The long story of the Q TFs begins with another toy altogether, Takara’s Choro-Q line in 1978 (the company is now known as TakaraTomy). The Choro-Q toys were 3-4 inch cars boasting oversize rubber back wheels and pullback motors.; they were officially licensed. These toy cars were a hit in Japan and in the United States, where they were known as Penny Racers.
            When Takara was building its Microman line, they decided to include robots that transformed into tiny toy cars. Take note: The cars were toy-sized, so the robots were supposed to be tiny. Takara called them MicroChange robots. These toys were the fat, short versions of cars like the Volkswagen Beetle and Porsche 924 Turbo, keeping the same big back wheel but dropping the pullback motor. When Takara and Hasbro put together the Generation 1 Transformers, they included these two MicroChange robots—which are now instantly recognizable as the original Bumblebee and Cliffjumper toys.
            Through the years, Takara has paid tribute to the idea of Choro-Q, but never fully committed to an actual, mainstream toyline until 2014, when they began releasing the Q-Transformers. Take note that the line’s name includes the (listen carefully) word “Cute,” so you know what they were aiming for.
            The Q-Transformers were smaller than the original Choro Q cars and MicroChange robots. They all had the same transformation and were all licensed so the alt modes really are SD versions of real life cars. The line is predominantly made up of G1 TFs, but there are Bayformers (Lockdown and the blue Optimus Prime) as well as other TF lines mixed in (the Binaltech Optimus Prime shows up as well).
            I had been looking for these little critters for a while now and was quite happy to find them at Toys & Games at the Hong Kong International Airport. The store had a mix of both 2014 and 2015 models. I didn’t want to get all of them for various reasons. The G1 Optimus Prime, which ironically is part of the latest wave—didn’t look quite right, in particular because the trailer became the robot’s arms. The Megatron had a fantastic looking alt mode—a gray Lamborghini Veneno—but seriously, I just can’t accept a Megatron that turns into a car.
            Being the G1 freak that I am, I chose three old-school Autobots: Lambor (Sideswipe), Sunstreaker and Hot Rod.
            Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice had detailed and accurate the alt modes are, down to the paint apps for headlights and windows. The cars are adorable, to be honest. The only odd thing about the car modes are the fact that you can just see the robot feet from under the front and the robot hands from under the back. They all transform the same way: You pull the legs from under the hood, the back side of the car separates and flips up; you pull the arms down. Then you lift the windshield and the entire assembly moves down to become a backpask and the head rises from the body. All the Q-TFs have a faction sigil tampographed on the hood, so these three all bear the Autobot logo on their chests.
            Lambor, officially listed as QT-05, is a smooshed Lamborghini Countach and he is very G1 accurate, as his transformation is the closest to its G1 self. Interestingly enough, even though all the Q-TFs are licensed, Lambor has an “Authentic Lamborghini” product sticker on the bubble. The Lambor shows one of the other G1-centric qualities of the toys: Even if the transformation is different, the legs of the original-mold Q-TFs all resemble their G1 robot legs. Lambor looks really sharp in robot mode with that shiny red paint and accurate helmet. You just have to be careful with him because the spoilers are not glued on to the arms, only attached through a tab, and fall easily. Keep track of those tiny things so you don’t lose them. I am seriously tempted to super-glue those spoilers, something I don’t like doing to TFs. The back side—which becomes the shoulders—are a little loose on him. Lambor is throwback in the group and looks great.
            Sunstreaker’s transformation is very different from his G1 self, but check out those tiny feet. They look like the front of the Lamborghini Countach LP500S he used to look like. In his Q-TF version, Sunstreaker turns into a Mazda RX-7 FD3S and he is listed officially as QT-12. The mold is nice but the shoulder joints on mine were just a little too tight. While you can still see the feet in car mode, the fact the feet are molded in the same day-glo yellow means you don’t notice them. I originally didn’t think of getting him, but I believe that it you get Lambor, you’re supposed to get Sunstreaker to match.
            The biggest change is exhibited by Hot Rod, listed as QT-07. Instead of his futuristic jet car from 1986’s “Transformers The Movie,” Hot Rod turns into a more familiar vehicle: a Toyota 86. The car is really super different, but you got to love that distinctive paint scheme: orange all around with that yellow flame paint on the hood framing the sigil. The low spoiler on the front also looks quite good. Props to TakaraTomy for getting that distinctive mug just right. In an interesting mold detail, Hot Rod’s feet swing all the way into the hood so you don’t see the feet at all in alt mode. What’s weird is that Hot Rod is a wave 1 release, but this is not a running change you see in the later models.
            I love these three Q-TFs. They’re adorable in both modes and call back to their G! roots while also looking very modern. The other ones I saw looked good too: the Smokescreen had the right colors, the Wheeljack looked properly boxy . Truth be told, the Binaltech Optimus Prime’s Nissan GT-R R35 car mode and its robot mode looked really good (I love me some Nissan GT-R) but I wanted to stick to the G1 cars. The upcoming line includes mostly retools (Tracks out of the Crosshairs, Skids out of the Hound and Drift out of the Sunstreaker). It may be worth looking for the older models in Asian toy stores if you get the chances as the Autobot Meister (also known as Jazz) comes in a Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86 mold that looks like an obvious homage to “Initial D.” The array of characters represented is fascinating, and take note that the line features two different “Optimus Prime” characters (the Bayformer and the Binaltech) but still has the original “Convoy.”
            Not only is the Q-TF line an homage to the Choro-Q, MicroChange and G1 lines, but each toy comes with a code that allows you to unlock that same character in a video game called “Q-Transformers: Mystery of Convoy Returns.” This new game is a callback  to the classically terrible, impossible-to-defeat side scrolling game “Mystery of Convoy” from 1986 for the Nintendo Family Computer.
            Additionally, the Q TFs are part if what may be the kookiest animated TF series yet—and that’s saying a lot, when you consider shows like 2000’s “Car Robots.” “Q-Transformers: Mystery of Convoy Returns” the TV show features four-and-a-half minutes of pure TF1 geeky silliness. Don’t be fooled by the show’s violent, CGI opening, which features heavily-rendered fighting robots set to the heavy metal sound of OLCODEX’s “Physical.”
            When the show actually begins, it’s always three Q-TFs just hanging around, talking about their own merchandise. The show always begins with someone playing the original “Mystery of Convoy” game on a handheld and then complaining how impossible it is. Yes, a TF playing a TF video game. Yes, this is a self-aware show, with the characters, most notably the Bayformer Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and, for some reason, Lockdown, making suggestions for future toy lines. It's done through simple Flash animation (check out the screengarb above from Wikipedia). At one point, plush TFs are suggested. At another, TFs that turn into the Zodiac signs are suggested.  Lockdown even suggested a human love triangle between the three of them. In other episodes, they talk about human expressions. It’s that random and geeky. The Q-TFs transform back and forth just to emphasize points but nothing—literally nothing—happens on the show. What’s amazing is that, despite the lack of story and the short running time, the show has already featured 18 characters from the line in 13 episodes. What’s more, the show has actually been renewed for a second crazy season!
            Q-Transformers is one of those nicely niche product lines that work for those who like their TFs cute or enjoy the nostalgic element of the G1 TFs still doing its thing. These TakaraTomy Q-Transformers were all found at Togs & Games at the Hong Kong International Airport for HK$70 (Php402.05). Keep an electric eye out for them. They might just be the thing for you!

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