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Masterpiece Soundwave

by yo go re

There's a reason I don't buy Japanese releases of the Masterpiece Transformers, and this figure sums it up perfectly.

Behind his impassive expression, Soundwave is as cold and ruthless as they come. He cares nothing for right or wrong, for the advancement of a cause, or the welfare of his fellow Decepticons. All he cares about is information, and he acquires it any way he can. He spies on everyone, from the lowliest Autobot scout to Megatron himself. He hoards information the way a miser hoards gold, sharing it sparingly, if at all. No one knows what the true purpose behind his obsessive data collection is, but all fear him for the secrets he keeps.

The Japanese Convoy was better than US Optimus Prime, but our Starscream was so much better than theirs that Takara imported it and sold it as a special edition. And even in cases where we don't get as many extras (Grimlock, Hot Rod), the price difference between domestic and import is so great that it's generally not worth it just for a few accessories. But now with Soundwave, we have a US release that fully overshadows his Japanese counterpart no matter how you look at it.

The Masterpiece figures are designed to be the toys we always imagined they were: fully transformable, yet cartoon-accurate. Soundwave's Decepticon-logo-shaped head definitely owes influence to the cartoon, in that the shapes of the various components are more rounded, and he has an actual neck rather than just being plopped on the torso.

He retains the "silver arms and legs, blue torso and shins" aesthetic, but the proportions come from the cartoon. Compared to the original toy, he has longer limbs and a waist that's noticably narrower than his torso. It definitely makes for a much better-looking robot, while retaining everything that makes Soundwave Soundwave - that is to say, a gold-rimmed window on his chest, and various buttons on his waist. His eyes are yellow, like the toy (the Japanese release has red eyes, like the cartoon). We'd say that there are more sculpted details on this toy than the original, but it wouldn't really be true: nearly all the sculptural elements you see here come straight from 1984, and those that don't (such as on the fronts of his shoulders and knees) are duplicating the shapes seen on stickers back then.

One thing that is new? The speakers you'll find when you open his forearms. It doesn't seem to be a reference to anything from the cartoon or the comics, just a random spot of detail that makes sense for such a sonic-based character, and it may be intended to never be seen except when converting the figure, but it's better than a plain, featureless flap would be.

Soundwave stands nearly 9" tall, and has excellent articulation. He gets a hinged head, swivel neck, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, double-hinged elbows, swivel wrists, hinged fingers (the index finger is separate, and has an additional hinge in the middle), swivel waist, swivel thighs, hinged knees, and hinged ankles. The design of the hips is weird - they have the range of a swivel/hinge joint, but it's accomplished by having two hinges: one in the hip joint itself, to move the legs laterally, and another in the top of the thigh, to move the leg forward and back. The forward/back motion feels a bit flimsy; I'm legitimately worried that it might break.

To help dominate the Autobots, Soundwave comes with a nice selection of accessories, beginning with the same Megatron gun (and various attachments) Masterpiece Prime came with. He has his shoulder-mounted cannon (permanently attached to the figure) and his "concussion blaster" gun. There's a small gray sensor (seen in the Season 1 episode "Fire on the Mountain" while searching for Jetfire) that can be plugged into his wrist, after folding the hand away into the arm - a step the instructions completely fail to mention. Actually, that's going to be a theme from here on out. The instructions also neglect to tell you that the sensor can be plugged into the back of Soundwave's waist when it's not on his arm.

He also comes with an Energon cube - or at least, a clear plastic box that we're told is an Energon cube. On the G1 cartoon, Soundwave would generate an empty cube frame from his chest, and it would then be filled with whatever power source was being refined (in that particular episode) into Energon. The lid of the cube can be removed, and the cube itself then plugged into the front of the toy's chest hatch. The set also includes a thin frame with a slightly raised grid on the back. It also plugs into the front of the chest, and is supposed to represent the times Soundwave used his chest as a readout display. The Japanese instruction booklet has screens you can cut out to put behind there (blueprints for the Decepticon ship, and Cybertronian gibberish from Teletran I), but the US version doesn't. Which makes the accessory basically useless. Luckily, someone has put a printable version online, complete with a glowy pink interior for the Energon cube. Winner!

In broad strokes, Masterpiece Soundwave's conversion is the same as the original's - hands into the arms, arms behind the back, legs folded up around the side, head tucked away - but the entire process is far more complex, with a lot more twisting, folding, opening and closing involved, and all in an effort to reconcile two designs that never had to worry about lining up before.

Surprising no one, Soundwave turns into a tape player. It's 5¼" wide, 3¼" tall, and 2¼" thick, which makes it bigger all around than the G1 toy, but it does have a lot more detail. There are still the direction switch and volume knob on the sides, but there are also a lot of new details that look like various technological parts - possibly to fine-tune the audio balance on this handheld microcassette recorder. The Rewind and Fast Forward buttons on the front can actually be pressed. Well, all the buttons can be pressed, but those actually move. The chrome does seem to be wearing off already, though - like anyone needed another reason to think chrome sucks. Just like before, his weapons turn into batteries and store in the back. The headphone jack on the top is even a functional piece!

[In that you can plug headphones into it, not that it will actually play music; there are no electronics in this toy --ed.]

Press the button on top of the player, and the tape door pops open. There's only enough room in there for one tape. Until you push the rear wall back, and then there's only enough room for two tapes. Until you push the rear back again, and then there's enough room for three tapes at one time! Hooray! This is yet another feature the instructions don't mention, so once you discover it, you might be confused about how to bring the rear wall back to the front: there's a switch on the back that will release the catch and send it springing forward. The Japanese instructions have a note telling you the best way to use this feature: lay Soundwave flat on his back, and the tapes will have a better chance of being aligned correctly.

In Japan, Masterpiece Soundwave comes with Laserbeak - or "Condor," as he's known there. There are other MP cassetticons but they're sold separately, just like they were in G1 (paired off as Rumble/Ravage and Frenzy/Buzzsaw). But why is the US release of Soundwave superior? Because it comes with all five tapes! America: we win.

The tapes all come in clear plastic cases, and in the utmost piece of awesomeness, they're the same size as the G1 tapes - which means that yes, the old toys will fit perfectly inside MP Soundwave! Amazing!

Obviously, Laserbeak and Buzzsaw share the same mold, in different colors: red and yellow, respectively. And in keeping with the Masterpiece style, they have a conversion process that's almost entirely different from the original figure. The wings are hinged in the middle, so they can be folded down slightly, the head and neck move, and the legs can be posed, slightly. The guns/jet thrusters that we're used to seeing on the birds' backs are actually built into the sculpt, rather than being separate accessories this time. Outstanding! A hatch in the head opens, revealing a small camera (as seen in Transformers: the Movie). There are grooves on the underside of the feet that allow the bird to perch securely on Soundwave's shoulder or forearm.

The instructions for Rumble and Frenzy are somewhat misprinted (in addition to all the info they leave out): what is labelled a Step 8 should really be Step 3, which is kind of a big jump. Fortunately, it's easy to figure out what they want you to do - being more complex than the original doesn't mean much when the original was so very simple.

In robot mode, the red and blue bros stand 3⅛" tall and have balljointed ankles, hinges in the upper legs, balljointed hips, hinged elbows, balljointed shoulders, and a swivel neck. Frenzy is a slightly purplish blue with silver details on his chest, groin and knees, and yellow sculpted sections on his shins that used to be stickers; Rumble is red and black, with gold detailing where Frenzy had silver, and light blue on his legs.

Both 'bots come with the same accessories: two "thruster guns," two piledrivers, and a piece that the piledrivers plug into. The guns can be stored inside the piledrivers, and whole thing can be worn as a backpack by the little guys, snapped onto Soundwave's arms, or combined with Soundwave's gray sensor thingie and plugged into the side of the tape player, to represent the interface jack he'd use to connect to other computers all the time in Generation 1 (again, all things that are only in the Japanese instructions).

The guns can either plug into the robots' backs (via the spool-holes) or be held in their hands. Failing that, a single set of them can be stored inside Soundwave's feet. No, really - that's another feature not found on the US instruction sheet, but it's legit. The piledrivers click onto the arms securely; if you find yours are loose, they're not on all the way.

Ravage may look like the old toy, but his conversion is wholly unlike any Ravage that's come before - yes, even the Universe 2.0 version. Like that toy, this ravage is wide and flat instead of tall and skinny, so he's already doing better than G1. His hip missiles are sculpted onto the figure and painted silver, and his little eyes are red. He has articulation at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, stifles, hocks, fetlocks, and can even move his tail up and down.

When Masterpiece Soundwave was released in Japan, importers were charging up to $200 for him - him and his one cassette. The Rumble/Ravage and Frenzy/Buzzsaw sets cost an extra $60 apiece, so a full set (including shipping) could cost you $400; meanwhile, through the use of a timely coupon, I got this figure for under a hundred bucks (retail is $120). Masterpiece Soundwave is an amazing piece of engineering - as are the tapes - and getting them all at once is an unbelievable deal.

But Hasbro better find a way to get the Masterpiece Ratbat that's coming with Japanese Soundblaster out for US fans, too.

-- 10/01/13

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