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Masterpiece Bumblebee

by yo go re

Long ago, when the Alternators line was still kicking all the butt, HasTak tried to put Bumblebee in the line. It didn't work, because Volkswagen wouldn't license the car design. Clearly something's changed in the... oh Christ, the decade since then, because we now have a Masterpiece Bumblebee.

Bumblebee is the smallest Autobot warrior. His size is an advantage, however, as he's able to infiltrate where others are reluctant to go. Has exceptional vision, enabling him to detect enemy sensors in hostile territory. Although he lacks speed and strength, Bumblebee admires Optimus Prime and is always keen to make the effort in order to be recognized.

This figure came out two years ago, and there's still no sign of Hasbro releasing their own version, so I finally resorted to importing. I'm about to do the same thing with Ultra Magnus if they don't get their act together soon, but that's a topic for another day. We're here to talk about one thing and one thing only:

Bumble (as he's known in Japan) is packaged in his altmode, a classic VW Beetle. The original 1984 toy was a superdeformed take on the Beetle, not meant to be an accurate scale representation of the car - in fact, since it originated in the same Micro Change line as Soundwave, Reflector, and other "real item" Transformers, it was meant to be a 1:1 version of a Penny Racer. This, however, is definitely the real car - it's 4½" long, 1¾ wide and nearly 1¾ tall. That puts it in about a 1:37 scale, right in line with MP-10 Optimus Prime. Apparently the design team was split down the middle whether they should make a realistic car or a chibi one, but this was the right choice.

The car's wheels are hard plastic, rather than rubber, owing to their small size. The body of the car is a vibrant yellow (leaning slightly toward orange) with an Autobot symbol on the hood and translucent blue windows. There's no die-cast metal in his construction, possibly due to his small size. Like real Beetles, he only has a driver's side mirror (removable for some reason, stored in the back with his instructions). The car's license plate is removable, and can be replaced with a spare tire. Why not just have the spare tire there to begin with? No idea. The license plate can be stored inside the tire case, so you don't have to worry about losing it.

Converting Bumblebee is fun. You lower the front half of the car, then tuck the leftover piece of hood into the body. Straighten the legs, fold the front wheels away, and wrap the car doors around the back of the feet. The rear panels pull out to the sides, revealing robot arms (with a little piece of fender kibble that you'll have to swing down to the underside of the arm). The roof rotates around, then the rear bumper is folded away and the entire piece is tucked against his back.

Because of his small size, Bumblebee tended to get along better with humans than his fellow Transformers did. Of course, that's just a handy excuse for making him the kid-appeal character: of course this multi-ton murderbot from outer space will be your gentle and loving friend, tiny fragile sack of meat-water who has no one else to express your emotions to! Remember that time you cried for an hour because you accidentally tried to close the car door while your fingers were still in it? It certainly won't be like that every time your new automaton buddy tries to shake your hand! Go play and have fun!

The first thing you'll notice about Masterpiece Bumblebee will be his size. At just under 4¾" tall, he's shorter than some Deluxe Class toys. The Masterpiece line had a soft reboot with the release of MP-10, and now the directive is that every 'bot be properly scaled to Optimus Prime, using the official cartoon model sheets as the measuring stick - and note, that's specifically the robot, not the car. They design the robots first, and then whatever size the altmode ends up is what size it is (as long as it fits inside Prime's trailer).

'bee definitely takes his design cues from the cartoon, rather than the old toy. Because as with all old toys, it was crap. There were a few parallels in the placement of the kibble, but that was to be expected. The car's roof becomes the robot's chest and the hood becomes the feet, but that's about where the similarities end. This one, like the versions that until now have only ever existed in art, has a yellow groin and yellow boxes on his forearms. His upper arms are sculpted to look like flexible tubes, and his legs are larger below the knee than above them. A large chunk of the car's roof just hangs off his back as kibble - the inclusion of the spare tire was only to duplicate a similar circular element on the back of the animation model, which was itself a vast simplification of the spare tire (sticker) on the back of the original toy. Layers!

The chest does seem a little too large, proportionally, and if they really wanted an Autobot logo on the car's hood, why didn't they put it on the flap that folds away rather than somewhere that would still be seen in robot mode?

The toy has interchangeable faces: the one he's wearing in the box is sort of a neutral expression, while the second has the mouth open slightly. Not a drastic change, by any means. However, if you ordered from Amazon.jp, you got a third bonus face that looks like the original toy, taking a cue from The War Within by stylizing it as a battle mask! It's tough to get the faces out of the head, but that just means they stay in place securely.

Bumblebee is armed with a small metallic blue laser gun, which was something the original toy never had. Something else the original toy never had? Articulation. 'bee has a hinged head, swivel neck, balljointed shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, a swivel waist, swivel/hinge hips, swivel thighs, hinged knees, and ankles with two hinges: one for flexing down, and one for rocking side-to-side. The large feet keep him stable in wild poses. In car mode, the gun can be stored under the car - in fact, so can the spare tire, if you don't want to use it.

Since Bumblebee is so little, it would have felt like a total ripoff if they'd tried to sell him for the same price as all the other Masterpiece toys. On the other hand, there was no way they were lowering the price. What to do? Include a bonus figure!

Although the human Bumblebee most often hung around with was Spike Witwicky, the one this toy comes with is Spike's son Daniel. He's wearing the exosuit he donned in Transformers: the Movie, a 3⅝" tall robot suit that looks like he's be floating around inside it. It has hinged shoulders, swivel elbows, balljointed hips and hinged knees. It's white and blue, with orange vents on the chest and a clear dome that lets us see Daniel's painted head within.

Supporting the assertion that Daniel is just tucked into the chest of the suit, it transforms converts into some kind of weird all-terrain vehicle space buggy; the way the arms and legs have to move around, he'd be torn to shreds if his human limbs were inside them. The altmode is 3¼" long, 1⅝" wide, and 1⅛" tall, and features rolling wheels. You have to take the clear dome off to tip Daniel's head back - it would have been really impressive if they'd engineered something that tilted it automatically when you twisted the dome 90°.

Daniel and his exosuit are kind of... just "there," taking up space in the package, but Bumblebee himself is fantastic! I don't know why Hasbro hasn't given even the barest hint that they might release this mold in North America (VW licensing restrictions, perhaps?), but the toy is great, so do what you gotta do to get one.

-- 06/07/16

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