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Masterpiece Grimlock

by Poe Ghostal

Before we begin, confession time. I bought Masterpiece Optimus Prime, but later sold him. Yes! I was a fool, I admit it. In any event, that's why you won't see any comparison photos with MP OP. However, it's notable that Grimlock is smaller than MP Optimus, despite generally being depicted as taller in the cartoon. This is most likely a result of having to keep his price in the realm of the not-insane, but those who like to display the MP figures next to one another will probably be disappointed.

Masterpiece Optimus wasn't just a toy - he was an event. The toyetic equivalent of a blockbuster movie - a good blockbuster movie, like Jaws or Ghostbusters. That holds true for every Masterpiece Transformer so far - each one is an incredible work of toy engineering and artistry.

As you probably know, the original Grimlock is my favorite toy of all time. That will probably never change, since it has the advantage of my childhood memories and nostalgia. But while it can never be that same toy my parents first gave me in the living room of our apartment over 20 years ago, Masterpiece Grimlock is nonetheless a superb tribute to one of the most popular Transformers ever.

Of course, that excellence comes at a price: I paid $150 for this figure (including shipping), and depending on where you buy him, you could pay a bit less or significantly more. But, as even my wife graciously came to accept, there was no way I wasn't getting this toy.

The most fearsome and powerful of the Dynobots, Grimlock would gladly usurp Optimus Prime's role as Autobot Commander if he thought he could get away with it. For now, he's happy to tear into the enemy Decepticons whenever he can to wait for a more opportune moment to try for the leadership. He can be cold and merciless, and shows contempt for the weak, such as humans and even some fellow Autobots. But he is a valiant warrior and his actions command respect from all who are witness to them, both friend and foe. Grimlock's strength is second only to Optimus Prime's, and even that is arguable. Other than arrogance and lack of speed, Grimlock has no significant weaknesses.

One last thing before we get to the review: I'd like to address a criticism from our Transformers Classics Grimlock review. yo go re wrote, "Grimlock is the Boba Fett of Transformers: blessed with wild popularity, but without having done anything to earn it." This characteristically glib statement is unfair and just plain wrong. While Grimlock's initial popularity with kids was no doubt due to the fact that he's a robot who transforms into a Tyrannosaurus rex - how could that not be a kid's dream toy? - he received plenty of characterization in the cartoon and particularly in the comics, where he became legendary Transformers scribe Simon Furman's signature character. Grimlock hasn't done anything more or less than any other Transformer character to "earn" his popularity.

But getting back to Grimlock... what else can I say about him? He's a robot. He's a Tyrannosaurus rex. His name is Grimlock, for heaven's sake! That has to be one of the baddest-ass names ever. Grimlock comes in a large black box with some nice graphics, although I would have liked to see the classic G1 art somewhere on it. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a gatefold front, so you can't see the figure until you take him out of the box. Inside he's strapped down in a clear plastic tray.

Included in the box is a small instruction booklet that also gives a sort of history of Grimlock, such as notable cartoon episodes and a look at past Grimlock toys. It's written entirely in Japanese. There's also a collectible card and a sheet showing how to replace his batteries.

The premise behind the Masterpiece Transformers series is to create toys based on the cartoon and comic depictions of the characters in as highly accurate a manner as possible, while still preserving the ability to transform convert. This is a very difficult task, because the vagaries of the way the Transformers were drawn - the stylistic license and other artistic touches - often exaggerate or alter aspects of the toy's design in a way that wouldn't allow for them to change properly.

In general, the cartoon looks are smoother and more rounded than the blocky G1 toys were. Depending on the character and the nature of his transformation, the Masterpiece figures have had varying degrees of success in mimicking both modes: Masterpiece Optimus was pretty much perfect, while Masterpiece Megatron suffered from legs that were too thin (and transformed into an amusingly oversized Walther P38). Grimlock, fortunately, falls more on the "perfect" side of things.

As usual with the MP figures, it took me quite a while to transform him the first time. I even had to resort to the instructions, to my everlasting shame - and even then I had trouble, since they're written entirely in Japanese. While the basic conversion works the same as the original figure - the robot's legs become the dinosaur's tail, the robot's arms become the legs and so forth - the leg transformation is very complicated. Once I got the legs down, though, the rest of the process was fairly easy.

I would imagine that, when designing Masterpiece figures, the designers start with one particular mode and then do their best to make the other mode look as good as possible. In the case of Optimus Prime and Megatron, they clearly started with the robot mode, since that was the more distinctive form and the one you saw the most of on the cartoon. Even the original G1 Optimus and Megatron looked fine in their truck and gun modes; the idea here was to make them resemble their robot modes as well. I think this has been true for most of the Masterpiece figures.

For Grimlock, I'm guessing the designers started from the tyrannsaur mode and then worked the robot mode to fit. Grimlock spent most of his time in the cartoon in dinosaur mode, which had a few differences from the G1 toy: the torso was longer and thinner, the head was longer and the teeth sharper, he had three fingers rather than two on each hand (which is inaccurate to a true Tyrannosaurus rex and the original toy, but accurate to the cartoon depiction), and his body, particularly his tail, was actually flexible. Also, in both robot and dinosaur mode, his eyes were blue, rather than red like the toy. It's to Takara Tomy's immense credit that they've worked all of these aspects into the toy. Grimlock is the spitting image of his cartoon counterpart, right down to his chromed teeth and triple fingers.

The robot mode isn't quite as perfect as the dinosaur mode, but it's still very well executed, and looks very much like the cartoon, particularly the head. Transformers don't usually have the same number of paint apps as a sculpted action figure, as they're mostly molded in their specific colors. Grimlock does have a few paint applications, though. There's some nice black and red work on his flanks. The shiny blue and red used for his robot mode visor looks great as well, and can be swapped from red (toy version) to blue (cartoon version) in both modes.

As far as I've been able to tell, the only die cast metal parts on the figure are the claws on the feet, the gold hips, the pelvis and a few of the smaller parts used in the transformation. There are also little Easter eggs hidden throughout the sculpt, such as the articulated flamethrower device in the dinosaur mode's throat and the rocket exhausts on the bottom of his feet (on the back/interior of the robot mode's wrists).

Another hallmark of the Masterpiece line is the fantastic articulation worked in to the figures. While their G1 counterparts were incredibly stiff, the Masterpiece figures have articulation on par with DCU or Marvel Legends. In dinosaur mode, Grimlock has an opening jaw as well as head articulation to look up and down; a swivel neck; balljointed shoulders, hinged elbows and individually hinged claws on each hand; balljointed hips, hinged knees, and hinged toes. Also, both the small silver tip of his tail and his larger "rump" section can move side to side, and when you move the rump, his head shakes back and forth.

I'm not sure I can even accurately count up all the articulation points in robot mode. Suffice to say he's got a balljoints at the head, shoulders and thumbs, a balljoint-like range of motion at the hips, hinged elbows and knees, and a neat system on his feet that allow him to stand in a wide stance. It's more than enough articulation to get him into most poses. The only problem I had with the figure is one of the pieces of the foot articulation popped off a few times, but it went right back on.

Like his Masterpiece predecessors, Grimlock comes loaded with accessories and action features. As mentioned above, Grimlock will shake his head when the larger part of his tail (his rump) is moved back and forth. Also, if you click open his jaw, pressing on his left cheek will cause the jaw to snap shut. The area between his dinosaur mode's eyes can be raised to change his eyes from red to blue, and a switch on the back of his robot mode's head does the same. Also, the dinosaur head can move up and down when the figure is pushed down on its hips.

Grimlock's accessories include his signature double-barreled gun and vibro-sword. When placed in his right hand in robot mode, both can be made to light up by pressing a button on the back of his right shoulder. The sword looks a lot better than the gun, as it has a lot more clear plastic to light up.

He also comes with episode-specific accessories such as his apron, bow tie and tray of drinks from "Madman's Paradise" and the intelligence-transference device he used on Computron in "Grimlock's New Brain." The drinks plug in to the tray, and the tray itself can be plugged into holes in the bottom of Grimlock's wrists. The helmet of the brain-transference device clicks onto Grimlock's tyrannosaur head, and the other end has a suction cup for attaching to the Transformer of your choice. Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything. Suffice to say ol' Grim is loaded with accessories and features. But hey, you are paying an average of $150 for this guy, so it's nice to get your money's worth. There's already an upgrade set available for this figure, including a crown, a mug from Maccadam's Old Oil House, and a miniature Thrust for Grim to munch on.

I've owned many Grimlock figures since that first one, including the Action Master, Pretender, and recent Classics versions - and none have come close to the appeal of the original until now. [should have bought the Animated one --ed.] As of right now, Grimlock is far and away my #1 candidate for Toy of the Year. An amazing update of a much-beloved toy.

Yes, he's expensive, but so are all the (imported) Masterpiece Transformers. These are high-end collectibles, and again, they're the blockbuster movies of action figures. It'd be nice if the figure were cheaper, but I don't feel ripped off at all, thanks to the abundance of accessories and features.

-- 10/27/09

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