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Transformers Animated
by yo go re

It took a long time, but eventually G1 fan-favorite Soundwave returned to toy aisles in Cybertron. Apparently that opened the floodgates, because since then, he's been all over the place, including the new Transformers Animated.

Soundwave has only been around for a little while, but he knows that if there's one thing he loves, it's noise! Sound is like clay that he sculpts to his purpose. The more noise there is around him, the more elaborate he can get in how he uses it. He can imitate voices, make humans fall asleep, and even take control of simple robots with sound. He hopes the Autobots are ready, because he's about to rock them harder than they've ever been rocked before.

Soundwave began "life" as a music-playing toy given to the series' human star, Sari Sumdac. Of course, it was all a plot by Megatron, who knew that Sari would irresponsibly use her AllSpark-empowered key to "upgrade" the toy, eventually bringing it to life. Yeah, if you haven't seen the show, Sari's kind of an idiot.

In Animated, Soundwave's altmode is an "STBLDF" version of the Scion xB - same car that Alternators Skids turned into. It's a little more than 4½" long, 2¼" wide and 2¼" tall. All four wheels roll freely, but the construction doesn't accommodate any other real-car abilities, like opening doors.

The choice to make Soundwave an xB (even a pseudo-xB) is a good one - and not just because it's hard to imagine a car that, at a glance, looks more evil. No, it's because Scions are a favorite of tuners and customizers, so the details on on Soundwave don't look out of place. The car is dark blue, with lighter teal stripes, and there are several design cues pointing back at his tape player origins. The circles on the doors look like the spools on a cassette, the front bumper has control buttons and the rear window shows an equalizer. There's even a gold power button on the roof! It's a nice bit of work.

Converting Soundwave to a robot is actually pretty smooth. Rather than list every step (because, hey, Hasbro offers instructions for free on their site now. Who knew?), we'll just say that in general, nothing transforms the way you think it would. The car's windshield and roof become the feet, for instance, and though his chest has the control buttons from the old toy, they're completely separate from the buttons that were on the bumper.

Thanks to a tall backpack thing, Soundwave stands 5½" tall. He's very stocky, with a remarkably wide upper body, but still has the classic look, thanks mainly to his head and chest - though because there isn't really room to give him the typical TFA chin, he instead gets huge cheeks. He has four speakers on his shoulders, including two formed from the car's wheels.

Befitting his musical origins, Soundwave includes a red and black Flying V guitar. It's detailed well, with tuning knobs, sculpted strings and more. The instrument is ¼" taller than the robot, and can be stowed on the car's roof/robot's back. Soundwave is articulated enough that he can actually play the guitar: the large pegs on the guitar can plug into the inside of Soundwave's arm (meaning you can decide for yourself if he plays righty or lefty). Rawk! Still, there's more fun to be had here.

Push in the neck, slide down the headstock, split the body, and holy crap, you've got Laserbeak! For those who remember Kenner's SilverHawks, it's a bit like Bluegrass' companion Side Man. The bird has an impressive 5½" wingspan, and is 3¾" long, but has no articulation (moving the wings for transformation doesn't count). His red and black colors are reminiscent of the original toy, and there are even bits that suggest cassette reels. To complete the look, Laserbeak can perch on Soundwave's arm. Much like Lugnut's mace, the animators didn't know Hasbro was making Laserbeak, which is why he didn't appear in the cartoon: if when Soundwave makes a return, look for him to bring his bird along.

And so he did! Soundwave resurfaced in the two-part "Human Error," and Laserbeak was with him. He also had a new friend and - in some scenes - a new paintjob. As a reference to 1987's Soundblaster, he was black and red. Well, dark grey and red, since black is hard to animate.

After a couple of years working alongside Laserbeak, Soundwave realized it was time for a change. His new partner, Ratbat, lets him lay down multiple tracks of sound at a time, creating frequencies that can do more than just control other robots. Now, Soundwave is into straight-up mind control. Using complex synch beats he can make people - and even the Autobots - do whatever he wants.

That new color scheme was a perfect excuse to re-release the toy, for some reason with the name "Electrostatic Soundwave." The mold (and thus all the pertient details) is the same, although his legs are slightly misassembled: the piece below the knee balljoint is swapped on both legs; merely unscrew the single screw holding the legs together, disassemble the shins, pop off the knees and switch them, then put everything back together! It's fairly easy.

Electrostatic Soundwave doesn't quite match the already-toned-down cartoon colors: instead of a nice grey, he's a desaturated blue, which falls into the "almost but not quite" camp. Come on, guys, black. Just make him black, since that works for a toy the way it wouldn't on the cartoon. Rather than merely changing colors in the existing paint masks (ie, a palette-swap), the pale, blocky lines of the original figure have been changed into tribal designs, and the Decepticon logo has switched sides on his hood.

But honestly, all that has nothing to do with why anyone is buying this toy. Since the original had the guitar that turned into Laserbeak, it would have been really easy to just give this one Buzzsaw. Instead, since the animators were already designing one new character/musical instrument, they decided to go for two. Lead designer Derrick J. Wyatt took the opportunity to create an Animated version of another one of G1 Soundwave's little buddies, Ratbat.

In the cartoon, Ratbat was basically just an animal. In the comics, however, he was a Cybertronian senator, and eventually commanded the Decepticons. Animated sort of splits the difference, in that he obeys Soundwave's commands, but can also take charge of other robots via electronic means. While Laserbeak was an electric guitar, Ratbat turns into a 5½" long keytar, making him just that much more terrible. In either mode, Ratbat can clip onto Soundwave's arm or roof.

A few years ago, Don Figueroa designed an SUV-based Soundwave for inclusion in Classics or Alternators. Sadly, it never showed up, but its spirit lives on in this Animated figure (even with the substantial differences between the two designs). Soundwave was a one-shot rarely-used villain on the cartoon, but this toy is great fun, and a smart way to bring this old favorite into the modern day.

-- 09/30/08

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