Well this one came out of leftfield. A knock off - which I very rarely buy - of a Bayformer - which I'd all but given up on - that, and let's get this out of the way right now, might actually be a contender for figure of the year. But lets not get ahead of ourselves.
|A true classic for the ages.. *poker face*|
The Voyager class Evasion Optimus Prime was easily the highlight of the lacklustre Age Of Extinction toy line and its popularity saw it released in all manner of varieties. Whichever flavour you picked up, be it standard retail, smoky bacon or the limited movie accurate 'Rustimus' deco, Evasion Prime was a bit of alright, harking back to the engineering savvy of the Revenge Of The Fallen figures but smoothing out the frustration. In a nutshell, it's a cracking little toy.
|Or you could choose a photo of none of the above|
And let us not forget that it was this design that married the controversial Generation 1 cab over engine design with the universally popular and iconic Bayformer Optimus Prime, finally bringing together fans of the old and new and burying years of animosity through ebbing waves of mutual appreciation *pours another drink*.
So then.. knock offs.
|97p? Sales like these would see a stampede round my way|
I used to think shampoo bottle plastic, distended faces in perpetual anguish, shameless neon bastardising and massive queues in Poundland. Of course there's everything and anything in between all of that, but it was the KO of MP-12 (in gold, obvs) that properly surprised me. In fact, washed out details/tabbing issues aside, it got a little worrying with just how well they pulled off those cheeky 'Takasa' Masterpieces, the bootlegged buggers actually proving a viable alternative for many collectors today and sparking lively, good natured debate amongst the fandom *raises toast*
The Age Of Extinction toy line proved prime KO fodder. Many fans were not impressed with the size of the official figures and oversized diecast versions of the principles quickly began cropping up left, right and centre. These figures found their way into the hands of popular video reviewers and something of a boom went off. Say what you will about bootlegs but here was a market ripe for exploitation and where money can be made..
..money will be made. Enter Wei Jiang and their M01 Commander. A refined, retooled and hugely polished upscale of the Evasion Optimus Prime mold, this is a piece that might have just changed the goalposts as far as knock offs are concerned.
At first I genuinely didn't think this was ripped from the original. It's not just the size nor the accompanying weight, though for the sake of detail Commander squares up a head shorter than this good drop of Malbec and weighs in at around the same as a can of soup and small tin of beans. No, it's the ridiculous finish on the damn thing.
Commander's creators saw fit to add a big wad of diecast to his central frame, as well as rubber tires and chromed out wheel trims and smoke stacks. The improvements to the figure whose carcass he so proudly wears continue with heavy clicking ratchets in the hips, knees and outward shoulders to help support this added ooomph. Side by side, the difference between the two figures is shocking.
|Yes, those are vestigial DX9 upgrades on the original. I apologise..|
You will also notice additional (and functional, transformable) embellishments on the shoulders, back and thighs, most of which come into play in vehicle mode but add further visual polish to this magnificent beast.
The new joints that pivot the tires up from the lower legs to meet the front tires beneath the thighs are a great example of this attention to detail, as are the flaps on his wrists that fold backward to free up his improved hands. Speaking of which, these articulate at two pin joints in the knuckles. So no individually poseable fingers but no worries about them flying off when he's opening up his titty windows to give you a flash of why he's the leader either (that's new as well).
|'Something something something TOUCH!'|
Finish the whole thing off with a paint job that not only covers all the expected bases but also extends to pinstriping the flames, bronzing the cogs and picking out the springs and the overall first impression of Commander is so far removed from 'knock off ' it's unreal.
Even without the glut of included accessories - gas tank gun, two swords, the axe and shield he wielded in Dark Of The Moon and his goat face - this isn't something masquerading as a high end premium figure. It simply is one.
|'So.. if I give me my face, will the pain stop? Man that's pretty deep. I need to go shopping'|
So far, so gushing. Of course there are flaws. The shoulder rotations are worryingly tight out of the box, so take heed. They will settle into a groove after a bit of hands on time with the figure. There's a fair bit of play between the big clicks in the shoulders so posing can get a bit frustrating. How they'll hold up long term is up for debate as well. I also found it hard to tab the shield into his left hand and the axe relies on friction and a bit of luck to stay in place. There are spots here and there on mine where the paint isn't brilliant. And I worry long term about the weight of Commander's torso versus the (admittedly strong) joints in his legs and feet.
The main problem with the original figure is also present and correct. Those arms, an issue borne out of the transformation scheme, remain large and in charge. Here the visual problem is tempered by the paint job but still means that a straight arm can never be achieved because the actual elbows are sculpted at a bend while the functional joint rests below. I can't help but feel that this was a missed opportunity to reverse engineer an actual double jointed elbow.
|'Yes, Jazz? Can I help you?'|
It's little things like this that hamper enjoyment of the figure. But only slightly. Reaching a touch higher for the stars might have guaranteed Wei Jiang's revamped robot modes place as an all time cast iron classic.
|'Faces..? In here? Dude, what? I am so over that. I've just been into town to purchase overpriced deli meats'|
Nevertheless, in the here and now this is a spectacular robot mode, quite possibly the best that Murder Prime has ever looked outside of £2000 statues or non transformable model kits or that bit in the woods. It's a figure that utterly commands your attention.
|'Haaa.. Jazz. Like taking a Marks and Spencers bag into Lidl'|
|'All Their Face Are Belong To Me.'|
Transformation is pretty involved and becomes a bit more complex than the original owing to the larger size of Commander, the stiff joints and the additional parts. It's hardly a head scratcher, in fact it's a very clever piece of engineering, though I recommend battling past the comically bad Engrish of the instructions and focusing on the photos they use which will give you a good idea of how things are supposed to play out.
|'It's a good job I'm drunk on murder or I'd be wearing your skin right now. You better not be putting this online.'|
As the majority of the robot practically explodes out of the cab and your main job is to put all that stuff back, it's yet another example of a figure that would benefit hugely from being packaged in vehicle mode for that initial familiarity of where parts should sit. Not to mention the 'Wow' factor so sorely missing from your first vehicle to robot conversion - 'Transforms from tractor trailer to robot and back!' - remember that? Look, I'm old fashioned. Okay, I'm old.
|A genuine classic for the ages|
In saying that though, this is still a bit of a 'Wow' moment.
From bloodthirsty Bayformer to cartoon classic, it's hard not to be impressed by the achievements made by Hasbro and Takara with this design, nor the bells and whistles that Wei Jiang have added to the mix which really help this vehicle mode shine. The cold metal sides of the cab, rubber tires and shiny chrome wheel trims definitely do their job in bringing home the luxury feel.
The additional shoulder pieces now help finish off the back of the cab which was left empty on the original, but is properly boxed off here. And rather than the single smoke stack on the original figure (accurate to the movie), Commander goes full tilt in his G1 homage with two blinging pipes of chromed out goodness.
Like the robot mode it's not all good news. It might be me doing something wrong, though from pics I've seen out there it ain't, but the rotating portion of the cab doesn't like to sit fully flush with the rest of it which leaves some unsightly gaps as well as slightly misaligned front windows. I had this problem with the Voyager too, so perhaps this is an unavoidable family trait and something I should shut my mouth about. You tell me.
That aside, this is joyous. I suppose if you really wanted to gripe you could complain that aside from his gun tanks, there's no weapon storage, but then I might say that storing great big murderstabbers was never the point of this figure, you might not back down, we'd both take things too far, there's an oversized trailer you can buy to house them anyway, I don't care.. that sort of thing.
And Commander is a bootleg, or a KO or whatever else we call them. But this is unlike anything I have seen before. This isn't some shrunken down misshapen monstrosity or fuzzy faced out of focus facsimile. This is what happens when you put Evasion Optimus Prime through a full 4K remastering and what has come out the other side is a Masterpiece in all but name. It's not flawless - few things seldom are - but if you are going to stand on the shoulders of giants then the least you can do is use that height to elevate their design to the level it always deserved. Not only have Wei Jiang done exactly that, they're selling it for the price of some 3P Deluxes. I hope this is the beginning of something special.