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Bumblebee

Transformers Bumblebee
by yo go re

Time marches on.

Bumblebee tunes up and lays low in Charlie's garage.

Hasbro's Transformers Studio Series line was meant to be released alongside the Bumblebee movie, but when the movie got pushed back from summer to winter, the toys came out anyway. Well, most of them. This one, featuring 'Bee in his movie-inspired retro design (or is that a retro-inspired movie design?) was going to be one of the first releases, but it got swapped out for the 2007 Camaro version. So we all waited for a while, and now the Bumbleebee that should have been here is here.

Bumblebee is like the opposite of X-Men First Class: that movie was part of the established continuity, but everybody looked different; Bumblebee may be rebooting the movie continuity, but this looks like the same robot. This head, with its cute little ear-flaps and frighteningly skeletal face, could easily have come right off any of the five movie Bumblebees we've seen in the last decade.

The body, of course, is different, because it has different kibble to contend with. That said, there are plenty of parallels between this bot and the ones we've seen before - the shapes may be different, but a lot of the layout is the same. Like the front bumper wrapping around the chest, the way the doors form wings, or the pads on his arms. The feet are chunkier, the legs are different, he doesn't have a license plate on his wiener, but there is a clear visual connection between this 'Bee and the other 'Bee, and that's good design.

Not a good design, though? The kibble on his back. It's been designed wrong, and so can't do the things it's meant to do. As the toy is produced, the car's hood arches away from the shoulders, then the windshield and roof cut back in horizontally just above the waist, forming a bit of a triangle shape. Which is fine, but it's absolutely not the way the designers intended it to work. If you look at the instructions or the promo shots, the roof/trunk piece is supposed to be able to fold up further, resting flat against the robot's back and allowing the hood to sit farther back. But that is physically not possible, thanks to the hinges that hold the doors and front wheels.

That seems like a minor problem, but it causes two giant issues with the robot mode: first, the tip of the hood piece bumps right up against the back of Bumblebee's head, effectively blocking the articulation there; secondly, the tabs on the bottom of the windshield that are supposed to store any unused accessories in this mode not point in the wrong direction - up instead of out - and so cannot perform their intended function. I don't know how this made it to production with an error like that. If you fold the arms down and the wheels forward, you can force the hood into almost the right position... as long as you don't mind putting a worryingly large amount of stress on a piece molded from clear plastic.

Look at that, we're already talking about transformation steps, and we haven't even finished with the robot yet. Bumblebee moves at the ankles, knees, hips, waist, elbows, shoulders, and neck (if you can get the hood away from it) and has three accessories, all designed to make him ready for battle: an alternate right forearm that ends in a gun instead of a hand, a sword that plugs onto the left arm, and a separate "battle mask" face. Yes, you have to take the toy's face off to switch it, which is hard to do at this size. But it's a neat change, and almost gives you two robots for the price of one.

Changing Bumblebee to his altmode is just as much of a fiddly mess as getting his roof into its proper position (which you'll have to do at least once - the design of it is so bad, he's packaged with his roof just flattened out behind him in the tray, rather than being properly converted; when the people selling the toy can't even get it right, you know there's something wrong). Everything needs to be in very precise positions, or nothing will peg together properly; often, Transformers work under a principle of "close enough," where if you have something off my a millimeter or two, it will just get pushed into the correct spot as you go; but not Bumblebee. Bumblebee you have to line everything up with laser precision, or he's going to pop apart in your hands. As it is, you're almost certainly going to be left with some gaps anyway. Here's the most reliable method we've found:

Leave the arms out until the very end - putting them earlier can make things more likely to pop out of place - but go ahead and rotate the chest/headlights to the proper position. Rotate the waist and fold the legs up, making sure they slid together in the center - there's a mechanism that's supposed to do this automatically, but it's pretty stiff and doesn't always work right. Tab the back of the knees into their slot while you can still reach it. Do the hood next, followed by the rear window, keeping in mind that that bit is one of the ones most likely to make things pop apart. Finally, tab the side doors into the legs, using that spot to hold the toy while you work all the window tabs under the roof. Now you can raise the arms into position, hopefully having converted your toy without it explodifying everywhere.

Bumblebee's altmode is a Volkswagen Beetle, as it was and always shall be. It's about 4½" long, counting the grey bumpers on the front and back. The windows and headlights are clear, while the tail lights are red and the windshield wipers get their own black paint app to stand out. All three of his accessories can store under the car in this mode, though the blade sticks down far enough that it drags on the ground when you roll the car.

The Studio Series figures all include a cardboard backdrop you can display your toy on. Bumblebee's is Charlie's garage. The perspective of the shot is off, though, so it looks like the giant space robot is only about three and a half feet tall.

Despite the delay, Studio Series Bumblebee feels like a toy that was rushed. The pieces don't fit together as well as they should, in either mode, and the yellows of the panels are distinctly unmatched. It's cool that Movie Bumblebee is finally a VW, but if the car type is what you care about, you're better off getting the Masterpiece toy.

-- 12/04/18


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