Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2004 03:22:12 -0000
Subject: Zob's Thoughts on Reissue Smokescreen and Red Alert

[Fred asked me to start posting my mold change reports here, so he doesn't have to go digging through ATT to find 'em. I told him I'd make a concerted effort.]

The short version: Smokescreen's stickers are missing some stuff, Red Alert's got new bolts in his back, and both toy molds have been produced WAY too many times.

The long version: I got Smokescreen quite some time ago, just after the tax refund came in, and I got Red Alert much more recently as awedding anniversary present. I've sort of fallen out of toy- reviewing mode lately in favor of spending more time with the kids (they're out of school for the year) and the cats (congratulate me, we found homes for all 13 kittens, 'cept Runt who we're keeping) and my kitbashes (warm weather tends to drive me downstairs where it's cool), but I also don't like getting too far behind (I *still* have this half-finished Energon review with Rodimus and Hot Shot and Prowl that I should probably just post and call it good).


Well, Smokescreen is kind of special to me, in that he was one of the very first Transformers I ever got, along with Starscream and Snarl on Christmas back in 1985. I've always been immensely fond of the toy, long before I ever saw the G1 cartoon episode "The Gambler," which did a nice job of selling me on the character. I still have my original toy, though he's tattered and worn, with a heavy amount of super glue holding all three windows in place, wearing reproduction stickers to replace the ones that were falling apart rather badly. I would never dream of getting rid of him, but I'm delighted to get a brand-new toy that I can proudly add to my display shelf. Now I can paint my old Smokescreen and put him on my kitbashing shelf. He's long overdue for his retirement.

Smokescreen is the other toy who, along with Autobot Grapple, comprises Commemorative Series VI. His box uses the same template as Grapple, including that odd, possibly pre-Transformers illustration featuring oddities like the blue-colored Bluestreak and the police car Sunstreaker. (If this was created specifically for the Transformers line, it was done way early on in the program. Sure, there are Autobot and Decepticon symbols on everybody, but those could have been later additions to the art, just like they stuck them on all the Microman and Diaclone package art.) Unlike Grapple, who got stuck with some supremely sad-looking box art, Smokescreen's portrait is really quite attractive. It accentuates the cool aspects of his design and downplays the poor ones (what few there are), precisely what box art is supposed to do. It's supposed to make the toy look attractive and worth owning.

I do have two minor quibbles with the art, though. The first is that his rifle and missiles are still depicted as chrome, as with the original G1 toy and Japanese reissue, rather than black as with the domestic reissue. Anyone with a decent image editor program and five minutes of spare time could have rectified this, and the effort would not have gone lost on me. (Of course, nobody's bothering to tweak the G1 toy photos that are still being used for the packaging, either. Smokescreen's box photos are interesting in that they were taken before the decision was made to start adding rub symbols to all the toys.)

My other criticism is the addition of the "SUN" and "MOON" logos to his front bumper. The real-life stock car on which the Smokescreen toy was based had dozens of sponsor logos, much like the Alternators toy, but most of them are still active trademarks that can't be reproduced on an unlicensed product. These were the only two such trademarks generic enough to include on the illustration without inviting legal trouble, but they look really isolated and out of place by themselves. (My solution would have been to take my cue from "The Autobot Run" and concoct satirical sponsors. Newyear, Valvodyne, Electromotor, Datssan, that sort of thing. Shame that they couldn't have slipped a few of the existing trademarks into the mix, though. The idea of a Smokescreen toy that says "Bosch" somewhere on it is just too delicious. I may have to come up with some rally stickers for my G1 Alternators Smokescreen repaint now.)

Obviously, Smokescreen was produced from the same molds as Silverstreak and Prowl, only with some different translucent parts (the only physical differences are his rear spoiler and front bumper, both of which are made from clear plastic), so there weren't a lot of profound mold changes that I haven't covered at some point previously. Aside from the black rifle and missiles, the only differences that are really notable are the stickers. They shifted down the fog lights and front grill quite a bit, so that there's no longer enough room for the censored Datsun logo. Also, somebody must have lost the file for the factory-applied stickers and had to redo them from scratch, since the font used for the "38" logo on the doors and hood is different from the G1 toy. Finally, the "2800 ZX" text on the stickers for his hip plates is completely absent (which depicts Datsun's model number for the car, so I'm not surprised it was dropped). The paint operations for the white racing stripes are a little different now, as they wrap around the doors and other body parts to an extent, instead of just stopping at the seams.

Like the Diaclone jet and those poor, tired Combaticons, this is one of those production molds that's been pressed into service far more than Takara probably had any right to expect. I mean, the Diaclone line had both silver and blue versions of Bluestreak, in addition to Prowl and Smokescreen. The GiG "Trasformer" toy line had versions of Smokescreen and Prowl as well. Then there was the domestic production run, and Hasbro UK cranked out Prowl for a second time as part of the Classics assortment. Takara's reissued all three toys, plus an anime edition of Bluestreak, and now we've gotten all three reissues as well. I'm probably missing a couple, but this particular mold has been used at *least* 17 times that I'm sure of. You can really see the damage that's cropped up over the years, too. I'm comparing my Smokescreen reissue to the G1 unit, and the sculpting is just so much more clean and crisp on the original toy. The door handles look all cruddy and corroded on the reissue. The detailing on the front of his legs is all blobby and knockoffy. They need to retire this mold really, really soon. (I guess I wouldn't complain too much if they want to produce an all-blue version of Prowl and market him as Minefield, the background character from Beast Machines, but after that they *really* have to put this mold to rest.)

Red Alert

Red Alert's yet another one of those G1 toys that I'd acqured second-hand, so my original toy has never been in the best condition. (I probably got around half my 1984-85 toys from other kids who traded them, sold them, or just plain didn't want them anymore. I remember the specific trade that netted me Red Alert being an "underground" deal, since the childcare providers there had seen fit to ban all Transformers toys at my daycare for fear that one of them might turn into a scary toy gun. But anyway.) I've never owned a new Red Alert before, and he's probably one of my favorite Autobot characters ever, so you can imagine how pleased I am.

Our boy here is part of the earlier Commemorative Series IV, and for a long while I'd assumed I missed out on him and would have to find him on eBay or something. I was terribly happy that he finally showed up in stores again. His package art kind of bothers me, in that he's standing in a more-or-less random pose ("I'm aiming my gun one way while grasping at something in front of me that I can't see, since I'm looking completely the other way!") and he's sitting on yet another one of those invisible chairs that Dreamwave seems so fond of for some reason. Not only that, but it looks like there's an extra wheel attached to Red Alert's shoulder. Looks like it might belong to Tracks. I guess the person who clipped this illustration from whatever comic book cover it was originally taken from forgot to edit out a piece. (Interestingly, his instructions do include the original G1 box art.)

This is another one of those molds that's seen a more-than-healthy number of production runs, but thankfully Red Alert only has one twin who makes regular appearances instead of two, like Smokescreen's got. Besides the Diaclone versions (three different Sideswipes in red, yellow, and black; two Red Alerts, one as a fire chief's car and one as a police car) and the GiG versions (same as the Transformers versions, I'm assuming), there were also the domestic versions, the Classics edition of Sideswipe in Europe, the G2 version, plus a few recent one-shot repaints by Takara in the form of Tigertrack, Clamp Down, and Deep Cover (intended to evoke the Diaclone toys, I'm supposing). Throw in Takara's G1 reissues and Hasbro's upcoming Sideswipe reissue and we're looking at 18 production runs for this mold, plus whatever versions I'm forgetting. That's a *lot* of wear and tear to put on any toy mold, but it's especially bad for such a complex piece of engineering where parts have to align just so in order to get the transformation to work. (I own a G1 Sideswipe, Red Alert, G2 Sideswipe, and now the Red Alert reissue, so I'm basing my observations on those molds.)

Anyway, considering the changes Hasbro's made to many of the other reissues, Red Alert is remarkably similar in function and appearance to the previous versions of the mold. The most significant change made is the addition of a pair of bolts running through the window assembly joint, replacing the metal pins that once held the joints in place. The bolts probably do a better job of holding the toy together, but the heads of the bolts also get in the way of the moving parts, so that you can't actually finish his transformation and push the windshield and roof flat against his back like it was designed to be. Also, the spoiler parts are detachable now, rather than being glued in place. This was once a common place for the toy to break (I've had spoiler problems with two Sideswipes and a Red Alert) so I guess it's a welcome change, even though it greatly increases the chances of the spoiler parts falling off and getting lost.

The tabs at the top of his chest, which lock his hood in place for vehicle mode, are a different shape now. Originally keyhole-shaped, they're now only round on the outside, and are now completely flat on the inside of each tab. This makes them thicker, and presumably less susceptible to snapping off. He's also got two new tabs on the backs of his shoulders that weren't there on the G2 toy, which appear to be designed to prevent you from pulling the arms out while transforming him. I'm serious. Sure, the instructions say to pull the arms right out to the sides, but you can't really do that with the tabs in place; you've got to flip the hood down first. (Sinister plot to make you break your toy, s'what it is.)

The holes for the roof lights were present on G1 Sideswipe, but were filled in for the G2 version to make room for the new missile launcher mount. The holes have since been restored, and I'm guessing they were used again later, but not for the Hasbro reissue. They opted instead to drill a large screw through the center of the roof and hold the light bar in place that way. (It will be interesting to see whether the Hasbro reissue Side Swipe, or whatever they end up naming him, has this larger roof hole filled in or just covered up with a sticker the way they did for G1.)

The weapons have changed a little bit, too. The most significant change is the addition of two little knobs at the chrome end of his missile launcher, similar to the ones added to Autobot Tracks. I think they're there to prevent the launch tab from locking on to the missiles, since they don't actually launch anymore. The missiles themselves seem to have changed as well, with the neck of the launch tab a little longer, and the head of the tab a little shorter. Same missile length, just different proportions. The rifle is a little bit different, too. It looks like somebody's worked on it in places to repair some mold deterioration, evident in little details like the triangle on either side of the gun (imprinted into the side of the gun on the reissue, instead of just having an etched outline as on the original and G2 gun). Also, there's a new reinforcing bar on the top of the gun barrel, added to prevent the barrel from snapping off.

It looks like the die-cast parts have been worked on, too. The wheel wells are now perfectly-round at the bottom, giving the tires more breathing room, as opposed to the more authentic, swept-back look of the original toy. The spoiler mount is also a little bit shorter on the reissue than the G1 toy, so it's closer to the body of the car on the reissue. (I could make an obnoxious comment here about how they "spoiled" the aerodynamics of his car mode, but I'm just gonna skip it this time.)

You know, I hate to say it, because I know I'm going to get pummeled over the head with that same old stale "toys come first" argument, but hopefully I've written this thing so long that nobody will actually bother to read it: Red Alert looks wrong to me with a black head. The character's helmet is colored red in the cartoon, and I can't *stand* the black head on the toy. I actually just tried to switch the heads on my G2 Sideswipe and reissue Red Alert, but the plastic tolerances are a little different, so the black head was too loose on the G2 toy and the red head on the reissue toy wouldn't transform all the way. I'm actually really disappoined about this. Well, at least I've still got the G1 toy that I painted to match the cartoon.

I anticipate the reissue Sideswipe having pretty much the same mold as the reissue Red Alert. They probably won't be using the "LP 500S" text on his knee stickers or the Lamborghini logo on his hood or the "Countach" text on the back end. They'll probably tampograph the headlight sticker graphics, the same way they did for the Takara reissue. I guess we'll see soon enough, huh?