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Transformers: Prime
by yo go re

The goal of Transformers Prime was to bring the animated series closer to the live-action movies, so naturally Bumblebee is right there in the center of things. He may not be the solo POV character like in the films, but he's still central.

Technically Prime Bumblebee is the same guy as War for Cybertron Bumblebee, but he's clearly been reformatted: no longer does he look like a school-bus flavored jellybean - which is very good, since I asked around the office, and none of us want to think about what a school bus would taste like.

Taking its cues from the movie, Prime designed Bumblebee as a muscle car - of course, they couldn't go the fully licensed route, so he's just a generic car shape. The flat, boxy look owes a lot to the Chevy Camaro, but the front end comes to a pointed V shape that's unique to this design. The rear wheels are larger than the front wheels, and the engine pokes through the hood. The car is yellow with black stripes (naturally) and the car has translucent blue glass.

To convert Bumblebee, split and lower the rear. Turn the car over and raise the robot's chestplate from the undercarriage, then fold the entire lower body into the air. Split the roof, fold up the arms and rotate them out to the sides. Tuck the pieces of the roof behind the car doors and fold down the windshield. Lift the hood, rotate it in halves, and fold it back down to reveal the head. Clip the sides of the hood into notches in front of BB's head and pull down the lower bumper to make him look a little bulkier. Straighten out the arms (folding the armor over his shoulders as you do) and that's it!

Bumblebee's robot mode owes just as much to the movie as the car did: the chest uses the same "broken hood" design; he has similarly pointed knees; and the armor on his forearms has the same sort of shape as the live-action version. The general feeling is softer and more solid, though - not as many open holes exposing internal mechanics, and not as many straight lines and hard angles.

The chest is a little problematic. The panel on which the Autobot logo resides is actually sunken behind the rest of the chest, so his symbol is at least partially concealed at all times. You'd think it should be closer to the front, but no, it's designed that way. Go figure.

His face is really cute, however. It's a softer, friendlier version of the movies' already-friendly take on the character. Instead of an angular, horned head, he has a nearly spherical dome. He has big blue eyes (to up the "cute" factor), and his mouth area is covered by his head armor, as a reminder that he can't speak - just like in the movie.

Articulation is fine. The only major point of articulation he's missing are some sort of swivels at the wrists, which means it's not much. His head, elbows and hips are balljoints, his forearms, thighs and waist swivel, and his knees and elbows are hinges. The shoulders have both swivels and hinges. You can also pose the wings on his back. One of the feet on mine was misassembled, but I'm not going to complain about that (for reasons we'll get into in just a bit). The figure includes a double-barreled blaster that can plug onto either forearm and can be stored under the car when in altmode.

Bumblebee, along with Arcee and Starscream, is one of the "First Edition" Prime toys. What does that mean? Well, it means there's foil lettering down the left side of the packaging declaring it a first edition, but beyond that, nobody knows. The packaging was a runner-up in the 2011 ToY Awards, because we've been getting noting but red packaging since 2006 and it's nice to get something as different as blue. The character is shown large in the background, with the edge of the card die-cut around them, and the toy is showcased in a large round blister.

The packaging also includes a quote/unquote "display stand," which is nothing more than a folded chunk of cardboard taking up the bottom ⅓ of the blister. The stand is 6" x 2½" x 2¼", and has a rocky blue pattern with an Autobot symbol on one side and a Decepticon symbol on the other. It's not a bad inclusion, but it's really pointless. It's just getting thrown right the hell out, so Hasbro is literally putting garbage in with these toys. It's particularly offensive if this thing is the reason the prices for Deluxe class Transformers just jumped several dollars.

Shortly before Christmas, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights released a report that detailed poor work conditions at Jet Fair, one of the 46 factories Hasbro uses in China. Among the figures being made at Jet Fair, and therefore featured in the report, was this very Bumblebee. Apparently the worker who assembled this figure earned 17¢ out of the $13.99 you'll pay - believe me, if I'd known that ahead of time, I would never have put him on my wishlist. Yeah, I got Bumblebee for Christmas, which is the only reason we're reviewing this: I certainly wasn't going to buy one after hearing all that. The toy is perfectly fine, and yeah, he's fun to play with, but you have to decide whether the conditions that went into his creation deserve the endorsement implied by your money.

But the next time some self-entitled fanboy claims that western consumers wouldn't be willing to pay the price required for better working conditions in China and that's why sweatshops are okay? Remember that an extra seventeen cents above what you're paying now would double workers' wages, and tell us fans wouldn't pay that if it were going to pay workers, rather than to line CEO pockets or fund stupid cardboard inserts we just have to throw away.

-- 01/10/12

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