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Commander

Wei Jiang
by yo go re

I knew this toy was an import, but I didn't know it came from the country of Rand McNally, where they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people.


click to embiggen

This figure may look like a Masterpiece movie Optimus Prime, but it's not - it's a third-party release from someone called Wei Jiang, and it's called "Commander." Not the most creative name, but when you're knocking off Optimus Prime, no one's ever going to remember what you called it. Every single 3P Prime could be sold under the name "Bestimus Firsto" and no one would ever notice. Prime is Prime is Prime.

Technically this "Commander" is the variant version, done in "Nemesis Prime" black rather than Optimus red. M01-B, rather than just M01. Basically, I figured I already have enough movie Optimii, and only one movie Nemesis (which was also an import, so why does the US get short shrift on the black Primes?), so going for the black repaint just made sense. The colors do look very nice, with the red glass and the purple flames outlined in silver. We wish there was a little bit of teal on him, somewhere - that's as much a classic color for the character as red is. It's not that there's anything wrong with the purple, but it's nearly as dark as the black is, while a nice teal would have brought some light to the design. Maybe that's why Wei Jiang changed it: the silver is already lightening things up a lot, so maybe the darker color was needed to keep the sinister feeling?

The detail in the sculpt is absolutely astounding. There's not a single centimeter on this thing that doesn't have some kind of etched element to catch your eyes, from the tiny little overlapping layers on his feet to the wires on the backs of the panels behind his neck. Yes, there's some kibble to be found, but it feels like there's never been a toy as true to the digital renders as this one is. Drink in the gears on the knees and ankles, or the shock-absorber biceps. There are even fake windshield wipers molded on his fake window-boobs! Open his chest and drop the front panel, and you'll find a molded Matrix of Leadership (or maybe a Dead Matrix). Not being limited to a retail pricepoint like Hasbro and Takara are, Wei Jiang has managed to deliver the best-looking movie Optimus yet.

All the pictures of this toy I could find before buying showed it with the "mouth" face - of all the recent Transformers trends, insisting that Optimus Prime has a notmal face that he just hides behind a mouthplate is probably my least favorite. I decided I could live with that flaw, since this is supposed to be a "wrong" version of Optimus... but you actually get both faces with the toy! Yes, he was wearing the unmasked one in the box, but you can pick (the plate) which one (the plate) you like better (the plate). Just loosen the screw in the back of the head and trade them out. The current real Masterpiece Movie Prime has a head with a reversible face feature, but that hadn't been designed by the time Commander came out, so we can't fault this toy for not copying it.

We keep referring to this as a Masterpiece-quality toy, and part of that is the size - he's nearly a foot tall, and fairly heavy thanks to real metal construction. The articulation is quality as well, with a balljointed head, hinged neck, swivel/ratcheted-hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, "hinged" elbows, swivel/hinge wrists, balljointed thumbs, two group-hinges in the fingers, swivel waist, ratchet-swivel/hinge hips, swivel thighs, ratchet-hinged knees, swivel/hinge ankles, and balljointed toes. The joints are all sturdy, supporting the figure well. The only oddity are the elbows: the arms are molded with a permanent bend there, and then there's a hinge right below that where the forearm moves so it can straighten out. That's a holdover from this design's origins (more on that later), but it is still a really weird choice. Why would you not put the joint in the joint?

Commander gets a lot of accessories, too. He has his rifle, two swords, a massive axe and and even more massive-er shield. The swords are designed to be held in such a way that they point forward, rather than up, to represent the way they fold out of his forearms in the movies; unfortunately, since the hands are still right there, it just ends up looking like he doesn't know how to hold them. The shield is large and complex, with a translucent purple insert inside a black frame, and the blades are trans purple as well. The gun, swords and shield all have tabs on the handles that fit into the palms, but the axe does not.

The toy is intricate enough that converting it is a complex process - again, just like a Masterpiece release. The instruction booklet has a lot of Engrish text, both informational and instructional. To change him to his altmode, rotate the toes around, then flip the feet and shins around and plug them together. Unfold the fenders and swing the wheels down from his hips. Raise the legs. Open the chest, raise the center panel, unhook the sides of the torso, and rotate the little panels on his back downward. Move the panel from around his neck, raise the small flaps on the sides, unhinge the shoulder panels, then straighten the arms and rotate the entire assemblies down to the outside, rotating the arms as you go to lift them up and form the roof. (It makes more sense in action than it does to describe it.) Finish forming the roof and rear crash panel, then drop the front panel into place.


click to embiggen

It's a little bit tough to work through, but not impossible. The only flaw worth mentioning is one of preference: it would have been nice if he was packaged in vehicle mode, because the way he unfolds in that direction is more... revelatory? The robot seems to burst out from within the truck, just like it did in the movie, and that's more fun than refolding everything - the difference between popping and resetting a jack-in-the-box, sort of. Most of the weapons don't store anywhere in this mode, but the gun splits in half to become the truck's fuel tanks. For some reason, the front windows are designed weirdly: the panel that flips down in the center to finish the conversion doesn't line up right, making the windshields look broken.

You'll notice that this mode is not the usual Bayverse Peterbilt truck, but rather a G1-style flatnose. Yes, this is a perfectly movie-styled robot that turns into a perfectly cartoon-styled truck. Masterpiece quality in both modes. This combo isn't an original idea - the same thing showed up in Age of Extinction, and was even released as a toy under the name "Evasion Mode" Optimus Prime, a Voyager Class figure with a couple exclusive (expensive) repaints. Commander copies a lot of Evasion Prime's engineering - including, sadly, the janky elbows - but turns it up to 11. Hell, to 111. This is the third-party knockoff, but it makes the real thing look like the bootleg. There's as much difference between M01-B Commander and Evasion Mode Optimus Prime as there is between MPM-3 Bumblebee and Bamblebee.

This is another figure that I purchased on Singles Day, because I love taking advantage of a sale. But honestly, the normal price isn't outrageous - third party figures normally come with a huge markup, but Commander seems to be right on target for a Masterpiece figure. Honestly, as much as I love the RotF and DotM Optimus Primes, Wei Jiang's commander is easily my new favorite!

-- 01/02/18


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