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Leo Prime

Transformers Classics
by yo go re

It may have taken a ridiculously long time, but Hasbro is finally getting the last of the Transformers Classics/Universe figures into stores. Sucks to be the people who already bought on eBay, huh?

Leo Prime is a career soldier, commander of an elite Maximal black ops unit designated The Pack. So secret is his unit, even most of those in the Maximal Command structure are aware of it only as a rumor. Leo Prime and his comrades in The Pack travel wherever trouble is thickest, often working undercover to deal crippling blows to Predacon plots.

Wow, Maximals? Predacons? I have a sneaking suspicion someone's slipped a filthy Beast Wars homage into our nice, clean, wholesome G1 homage series. TRUKK NOT KITTEH!

"Leo Prime," as he's known here, is the US equivalent of Lio Convoy, the Beast Wars II character we reviewed (in knockoff form) here. It's a bit odd that Hasbro would release a Classics version of a Japanese-exclusive character, right? Well, there is a reason, but it's even more obscure than the character himself.

Recognizing the importance of the burgeoning collector market way before any of their contemporaries, Hasbro was the first company to offer an online store and rare exclusives. Yes, today HasbroToyShop is the prime example of a corporate store done right, but in the late '90s, we had HasbroCollectors.com. It featured unreleased figures from canceled lines, and, in 2000, an exclusive import of Lio Convoy.

Like most of the Universe/Classics 2.0 Voyager Class figures, Leo Prime is a repaint of an existing toy: in his case, that toy is Cybertron Leobreaker. Since the Cybertron line was less concerned with making its animals look organic than it was with designing halfway decent robots, Classics Leo Prime isn't as much of a shellformer as Lio Convoy was. The lion has a lot of technological detailing, which serves to make him look very much like something that would belong with Voltron or the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers - just with a lot more detail. The only thing remotely "natural" about him is his mane, and even that's thrown off by the cables running through it and the long braids on each side of his head.

The lion is 10" long, counting his tail, and has decent articulation: all the leg joints you'd expect, but that's it - no waist, no neck, the tail doesn't move, etc. There's a simple play feature, however: press the button on his forehead, and his jaw moves up and down. Nicely unobtrustive. Despite the fact that the packaging specifically identifies Leo Prime as a Maximal, the symbol on his forehead is an Autobot one.

Leo Prime isn't just the old figure with new paint apps - he gets some minor retooling, as well. Leobreaker had a distinctive head that really looked nothing like Optimus Prime, so slapping some new colors on it wasn't going to fool anyone. Thus, Leo Prime gets a new noggin, with that classic Prime appeal. The blue "helmet," the silver mouthplate, the little vent-thing on his forehead... it's all here. The face is a bit pointier and narrower than you might expect: think Powermaster Optimus Prime, rather than the more familiar look, but that's okay; remember, this is technically a different character, not Optimus with a new altmode.

The robot stands 8" tall, and true to its Unicron Trilogy origins, it doesn't really look so hot. It's not that this is a bad toy, it's just that the Armada/Energon/Cybertron designs suffer in comparison to the Classics, movie and Animated stuff. The beast modes, in particular, end up looking very blocky and unfinished. Of course, in Leo Prime's defense, he actually is unfinished.

The original designs for Leobreaker (and therefore, by extenison, for Leo Prime) were much more complex than the final product - he would have had a lot more fold-out bits (for reasons we will discuss shortly) scattered about on the shoulders, more in the legs... so when you look at the toy and think something seems "off," you're right. But more on that later. Leo Prime has one accessory, a "blade whip" formed from his tail. Leobreaker had electronics, but Leo Prime was made without them - even the battery cover is riveted shut.

The figure is painted in traditional Optimus Primey colors: blue and red, with a bit of silver spread around. His legs are blue, of course - and that's all four lion legs, so the robot's forearms are blue, too. There's no way to suggest Prime's classic "window boobs" using this mold, since he ends up with a lion's head on his chest; at this point, he looks more like Razorclaw than Optimus Prime. Give Hasbro credit, though, they tried. If you squint just right, the silver on his crotch and chest could almost pass for a retro reference.

Articulation is somewhat limited, again thanks to the excised action features, so maybe it's finally time to talk about those. As we said, this mold originated during Cybertron - which means it has a Cyber Key-activated feature. Actually, two of them: plug the key into either arm, and three large claws pop out of the backs of his hands. Sounds familiar, huh? The claws work on the lion, too, just in case he wasn't vicious enough. The original plan was to have claws pop out of the figure's shoulders, as well as his wrists, and you can see the spots both where the claws would have rested, and where the Cyber Key would have plugged in up there.

Leo Prime has a third mode, beyond lion and robot, that isn't shown on his instruction sheet. Fortunately, you can just look at Leobreaker's instructions to see what needs to be done. The third mode is basically a giant arm - originally it was designed to plug into Cybertron Optimus Prime, but since that figure's not around anymore, they don't tell you about it. Oh, and you can also use the arm on Megatron or Tidal Wave, if you have them.

The "arm" isn't much to look at, but again, that speaks more to changes in the intended design than the actual toy. Those big hollow spaces on Leo Prime's legs? There would have been fingers in there that folded out. The big strange pods on the outsides of his knees? Would have been thumbs. Basically, it would have looked a lot more like a real arm than it does, and it's a shame that didn't make it to the final toy. Damn you, rising costs of plastic!

Leo Prime is an okay Transformer, but he's hampered by flaws that have been around long before he was even under consideration. Don't buy this one blindly, just counting on the Optimus Prime connection to carry it, but if you're aware of what you're getting and you're okay with it, you won't be disappointed. If the red and blue aren't to your liking, there's a Target-exclusive version coming soon, done in white and gold as an homage to the original Kimba Lio Convoy. Or heck, get both, and call the white one Leo Magnus.

-- 11/17/09

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