Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2004 20:48:37 -0000
Subject: Zob's Thoughts on Reissue Rodimus Prime

The Short Version:

Rodimus Prime's built like a plastic bullet. Too expensive, though.

The Long Version:

Rodimus Prime was a Father's Day present that I'm only just now getting around to reviewing. (This is, I suppose, one factor of getting older that's actually worthwhile. Seems like there are more and more applicable gift-giving holidays. Heh.) I thought about calling this review "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Rodimus Prime (But Were Afraid to Ask)", but for the sake of consistency I decided against it. It *is* a fairly comprehensive look at the history of the toy and character, though.

1986 represented a major upheaval for the Transformers toy line for a couple of different reasons. The first and most obvious of these was the movie, which rather drastically changed the status quo and introduced a whole bunch of new characters to be made into toys. Hasbro ran up against a second obstacle this year, however, and one that's a little less obvious--they were running out of viable Microman and Diaclone toys to turn into Transformers. They had three choices at this point: They could try to sell the remaining Takara designs that were arguably less marketable, like robots that could turn into binoculars and hourglasses; they could continue to repaint and retool the toys from 1984-85 and continue to sell them; or they could finally start creating their own designs, the first toys created specifically for the Transformers line. (As it happens, they ended up doing all three of these things, but the following year, the entire domestic product offering designed for the 1987 line consisted of all-new toys.)

Hasbro's new designs were a lot different than the old Diaclone and Microman products, though. For starters, the vestigal spring-loaded missile launchers, which Hasbro had deliberately gutted so as not to repeat the Battlestar Galactica incident of the 1970's, were one of the first things to disappear. (The last Transformers toys to have missile launchers were Ultra Magnus and Metroplex, who not coincidentally were the among the last of the as-yet unused Diaclone toy designs.) Another design aspect that was revised was the fragile and occasionally complicated nature of the first- and second-year toys, which were probably too difficult for a lot of young children to master and too easily-breakable to last very long during normal play. The solution, then, was to design the next generation of Transformers as simpler, more durable toys with a stronger appeal to younger children.

Rodimus Prime is a special case for a couple of other reasons. In the movie, Rodimus Prime's robot mode is identical in appearance to Hot Rod except for a slightly larger stature and a few more lines on his face. Hasbro could probably have sold a single toy as "Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime" and included an optional trailer accessory (the Hot Rod toy actually is semi-compatible with Rodimus Prime's trailer), but instead they opted to design two separate toys to represent the two different characters. They made an effort to make the toys different in appearance from each other, giving them each unique transformations. Hot Rod is short and squat, while Rodimus is tall and lanky. Hot Rod's got a boyish face, while Rodimus is wearing this squinty, chiseled expression. The different transformations also result in the toys varying in accuracy to the cartoon model each of them was based on: Hot Rod's upper body is mostly-accurate, but he's got a lot of extra kibble on his legs; Rodimus has animation-perfect legs, but his shoulders and arms aren't very accurate. (Surprisingly, Hasbro made both toys the same color, even though Hot Rod, as he appears in animation, is is a lighter, pinker magenta color than Rodimus Prime. Hot Rod does appear in this color in the 1986 toy checklist, suggesting Hasbro was entertaining it for a short time.)

The stickers were another way Hasbro managed to differentiate the toys from each other. Like most of the 1986 toys, the stickers strike me as being pretty poorly-designed, like they're there just for the sake of being there. In Rodimus' case, instead of adding color to the toy where it was needed (like stickers on the wrists or the "shirt collar" to bring out the details on the color model that are absent on the toy, for example), they just serve to uglify the toy, adding a great deal more yellow and red where it really isn't needed. At least the sticker colors match the actual colors used on the toy pretty closely, something that can't be said for a lot of the movie toys (Springer comes to mind).

Even though Ultra Magnus was effectively taking Optimus Prime's place in the toy lineup, Rodimus Prime was the new Autobot leader, as as such, somebody at Hasbro decided that he needed a trailer that transformed into a battle station in much the same manner that Optimus Prime's did. (The trailer transforming into a gun emplacement was never part of the original movie design. As far as the animators were concerned, the trailer collapsed into Rodimus Prime's legs when he transformed to robot mode.) One cool feature of the missile launcher is that if you remove the blast shields, you can actually adjust the height of the guns to accomodate some of the other Autobots, since there aren't many of them as tall as Rodimus. (It's kind of a shame the toy was designed in an era that was afraid of launching weapons. This would be a pretty impressive piece of weaponry if it actually fired missiles.)

There were actually two versions of the original Rodimus Prime toy. The first one had polished metal feet and rubber tires for all six wheels (not counting the little false wheels on his legs). Later in production, Hasbro got rid of the die-cast metal parts on almost all the 1986 toys as a cost-cutting measure, and swapped out Rodimus Prime's feet and wheels for all-plastic versions. Thankfully, the original rubber tires and metal feet were restored for the reissue. (Fun Fact: Rodimus Prime has tires with the "Desert Dog" logo on them, the same tires used for Optimus Prime. Trailbreaker, Hoist, Ultra Magnus, and I think Metroplex have got 'em, too.)

The differences in design between Rodimus Prime and the other G1 reissues released this year is enormous. For starters, most of the movie toys are a lot taller than the Diaclone molds in robot mode, so Rodimus towers over the vast majority of Autobots, up to and including Optimus Prime. Also, Rodimus has only the bare minimum number of moving parts needed for the transformation, plus exactly two points of articulation to his name so he can raise his weapon. The toy is virtually indestructible, at least compared to the Diaclone cars whose windshields snap off when the neighbor's dog sneezes. Hasbro struck a compromise between play value and durability, but this time I think the play value aspect got the short end of the energy conductor. (It's clear to me that this toy was reissued only because of the importance of the character, not because of the innate appeal of the toy's engineering.)

The good news is that this means almost no changes were required to bring Rodimus Prime up to current safety regulations. The reissue has shorter pegs on the rifle and the blast shields (so they don't break off while they're mounted in place, presumably), and the gaps inside the backs of his knees were covered up (probably because they looked too much like working joints). There are also two new clips inside his waist that lock his body in place more securely for vehicle mode. Also, the orange color on the reissue toy is slightly darker and more reddish than the original. Aside from that, though, there are no physical differences between the two toys. (It's worth mentioning that Rodimus was assembled backwards, with the screws for the inner shoulder assembly facing the oppsite direction of the screws that hold the upper torso together when he's in vehicle mode. This results in a minor mold incompatibility that keeps his chest from folding completely down for robot mode by a couple of millimeters. If you want to disassemble the toy and repair it, make sure you do it before you apply the sticker on the front of the pelvis.)

I'm not going to rant and rave on about the package art this time. It's just phenomenally bad. That's all. (You know what's *really* bad, though? The instructions. That's the original G1 instructions artwork, believe it or not. The illustrations took a serious nosedive after the first couple of years, probably because some in- house Hasbro illustrator was handling the art chores instead of the guys at Takara.)

Well, when it comes right down to it, Rodimus Prime just isn't worth paying $35.00 for. Yeah, I realize that he cost $20.00 back in 1986, and once you factor inflation into things that does come out at about the same price, but come on. Optimal Optimus was only a thirty-dollar toy, and he was larger, more sophisticated, *and* had electronic and spring-loaded gimmicks. Rodimus has none of that (he's got, what, a dozen moving parts?), plus the engineering for the toy was taken care of almost two decades ago, so it's not like Hasbro's got development costs to recoup. I got the toy because I'm determined to have a complete collection of domestic reissues, but even I have to admit that the price is outrageous for what you get.