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By Thomas Wheeler

Although the Transformers Universe line has taken a sabbatical to make room for the Transformers based on the recent movie, samplings of the 25th Anniversary series can still be found in some areas. And recently, I came across a very interesting specimen from that line.

I would like to say that I have been very pleased with the Universe line. A successor to the Transformers Classics line, and incorporating it under its overall umbrella, the Universe/Classics line offered something that I think a lot of Transformers fans have wanted for a long time -- Generation One characters in a toy form where in their robot mode they were articulated to modern levels. As cool as the original Transformers may be, in their robot modes, most of them couldn't move very well.

That's no longer the case and hasn't been for some time. The Transformers Classics line resolved that matter for quite a few characters.

In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Transformers, the Universe line not only officially acknowledged the 25th Anniversary on its package, but also expanded its boundaries beyond Generation One, bringing in characters from other Transformers concepts from over the years, and even presenting a time gauge on the back of the package to indicate the time period of the concept from which a particular Transformer hailed. Very nicely done.

The Transformer that I recently discovered is named LEO PRIME. And his history is a little more complicated than most. He's listed as being from Transformers Beast Wars, which is true as far as it goes. However, don't look for him in the excellent CGI animated series from Mainframe. You'll even be hard-pressed to find him in any of the toys -- if you restrict yourself to the American Beast Wars line.

As virtually all Transformers fans know, the Transformers concept got its start in Japan, where it continued apace through Takara, even as Hasbro, with design help from Takara, did its own thing in the United States. Although there are a great many similarities between the American and Japanese worlds of Transformers, there are also a great many differences.

Japan had its own run with animalistic robots, its own version of Beast Wars, and technically speaking, Leo Prime, under a different name, hails from Japan. However, the character has been worked into the American concept, thanks to a comic book series, and some other endeavors.

Leo Prime's entry on WikiPedia helps to sort it all out -- a bit, anyway...

Leo Prime is the name of a character in the various Transformers universes. He is sometimes referred to by his Japanese name Lio Convoy because his English name Leo Prime wasn't coined by Hasbro until 2006.

(And that's got its own bit of history there, as Optimus Prime's name in Japan is "Convoy").

Leo Prime is a Maximal commander, who leads The Pack in the Japanese animated series "Beast Wars II". Originally a brave and noble Maximal commander, after his ship was attacked by a group of renegade Predacons led by Galvatron, Leo Prime was dispatched to pursue the Predacons and bring them to justice. Chasing them to the planet Gaia (in reality a future Earth), Leo Prime was injured by the fields of Angolmois energy (similar to the energon fields in Beast Wars). He was then rescued by a white lion, whose form he scanned to give him a beast mode for protection. However, believing him to be dying the Matrix had copied itself into another Maximal: Lio Junior, who came to think of himself as Leo Prime's son.

After many adventures to prevent Galvatron from gaining the Angolmois energy, Leo Prime would meet his foe one last time on the Nemesis, a planet-sized warship Galvatron intended to use to suck the energy out of planets. As his team sabotaged the Nemesis from within, Leo Prime and Galvatron clashed for the last time. Unable to defeat his Angolmois charged enemy, the two Matrixes combined their powers to merge Leo Prime and Lio Junior, allowing them to defeat the insane Galvatron. Enraged by this defeat Galvatron set his own Matrix to self-destruct the Nemesis. Although the Maximals survived the explosion, they became trapped inside a wormhole.

Beast Wars II also produced a feature film entitled "Lio Convoy is in Imminent Danger!" (One would suspect this has lost something in the translation...) In this film, the Predacons of the series discover a mysterious transwarp device that allows them to summon the monstrous Majin Zarak from Cybertron's past to aid them. The Maximals then summon Optimus Primal (referred to as "Convoy" in Japan, but not to be confused with the original Autobot leader Optimus Prime) from prehistoric Earth prior to his becoming Transmetal. Optimus Primal then aided Leo Prime in battling the demonic Transformer by combining the power of their Matrixes, transforming them into "Flash Lio Convoy" and "Burning Convoy". They destroyed Majin Zarak with a technique called Matrix Buster and returned Optimus Primal to prehistoric Earth.

In a subsequent series called "Beast Wars Neo", which took place years after the events of Beast Wars II, after further battles of the Angolmois energy between Big Convoy and Magmatron revealed its' true origin - the lifeforce of Unicron - the Chaos-Bringer was resurrected, and caused Big Convoy's Maximals to fall inside the same wormhole as Leo Prime. There, Leo Prime explained the nature of the threat and used what little was left of his power to help them escape. However, Leo Prime was later able to escape himself, and aided Big Convoy and Magmatron in Unicron's eventual defeat, helping to bring about a new age of peace on Cybertron.

Finally, in a series known in Japan as Robot Masters, At an unspecified time after his acquiring a Beast Mode, Leo Prime arrives on Earth in the first Robot Masters short episode after the first battle between Megatron, Optimus Prime and Optimus Primal, but keeps his presence secret. In the second short episode, Leo Prime assits Optimus Prime by firing upon Megatron, but still kept his identity a secret. He finally reveals himself by assisting Optimus Prime once again by attacking Megatron who is riding upon Gigant Sniper and knocking him off. Soon after, it is revealed that Reverse Convoy is in fact the original Megatron in a new form more akin to his Generation 2 appearance, who then attempts to fire upon a downed Optimus Prime. Leo steps in again and throws the original Megatron aside saving Optimus Prime. The two Megatrons then perform an attack similar to the one used by the two Optimuses in the previous episode. The two Optimuses retaliate with their own attack and are seemingly overpowered until Leo Prime bolsters their technique with his own move, thus defeating the two Decepticon commanders.

As you can see, while there are some connections to the Beast Wars universe familiar to American audiences, the Japanese concept very much had a life of its own.

The Japanese Beast Wars toys were as extensive and remarkable as the American line, and even included a number of animal species that never turned up in the United States. My personal favorite is the rabbit, named Stampy. There were also such animals as a penguin, a horse, and even a giraffe!

But we never really got Leo Prime in the States during the initial run. I think that's a shame. Now, I'm not putting down Optimus Primal -- but it does seem to me that a lion has a cooler image than a gorilla. Certainly the Japanese like their lions in pop culture, that's for sure. Any number of prominent Power Rangers have had lion-based Zords over the years, and consider Voltron in that equation, as well.

But we really didn't officially see Leo Prime in the States until a comic from IDW a couple of years ago, and even then, he wasn't named as such. WikiPedia continues:

His first actual appearance in an American series was during 2006 in the first issue of IDW Publishing's Beast Wars: The Gathering, sending Razorbeast on a mission as a double-agent infiltrating Magmatron's Predacons. However, he was not named; his first American toy was not yet released at the time. He had a Cybertronian redesign as in the storyline, Leo Prime had yet to travel to Earth to become a lion. However, this Cybertronian form (except for his head) bore absolutely no resemblance to his Cybertronian form in the first two episodes of the Japanese animated series.

In the second Beast Wars mini-series produced by IDW, The Ascending, he appears under the name Japanese of "Lio Convoy", now transforming into his familiar white lion form. Receiving Razorbeast's signal from Earth (aided by a disembodied Magmatron), Leo took the Pack, an elite Maximal unit, to Earth to assist. They arrived in time to turn the tide of the Predacon assault, but was surprised when their commander, Ravage, brokered a truce between the two factions. He was, however, too late to stop Razorbeast being infected by Angolmois energy.

Simon Furman, the co-author of the series, explained that he, editor Chris Ryall and Ben Yee decided to use all names as they originally appeared "for better or worse" regardless of any changes made over the years.

Those two Beast Wars series were superb reading, and managed to work their way into American Beast Wars continuity surprisingly well, without disrupting the highly popular CGI series, by displacing the characters fractionally in time, so that while they more or less existed side by side with established characters, they could not be seen, and direct interaction was difficult.

Leo Prime's first named appearance in America was as one of the small "Legends" toys in 2006. Now, we have this full-sized Leo Prime to enjoy.

Leo Prime, in animal form, is not a white lion. Instead, Leo Prime has a color scheme similar to Optimus Prime himself -- heavy on red and dark blue, with some silver trim, especially on his mane. Granted, this would make it exceptionally difficult for Leo Prime to blend in with any natural habitat, unlike some of the other Beast Wars characters. Conversely, some of them started to have some trouble blending in themselves, once they took on TransMetal forms and the like. Additionally, Leo Prime has quite a few robotic components visible even in his animal form, so perhaps blending in isn't a concern for him.

The package lists Leo Prime as a Maximal, and uses the Maximal logo. However, as with other Beast Wars characters that have been worked into the Universe line, the Autobot logo also appears on the package. Somewhat incongruously, though, Leo Prime himself has the Autobot logo. The other Beast Wars characters had either Maximal or Predacon emblems on them. But Leo Prime has an Autobot logo squarely on his forehead. This is not a complaint, merely an observation.

Incidentally, pressing down on the Autobot emblem causes Leo Prime's mouth to open.

Leo Prime is about 7 inches in length -- not counting his tail. His body is predominantly red, with a metallic silver mane, some silver in the middle, and primarily dark blue legs. His articulation in beast mode is very capable. All four legs move at the shoulders or hope, knees, and feet. The tail is detachable. The head is not poseable, although as I said, the mouth can be made to open and close.

There's too much robotic working visible on Leo Prime for him to likely be turning up on the cover of National Geographic, even if he were colored more like an actual lion. He also comes with a Cyber Key which, when inserted into a slot in his shoulders, activates extended claws that snap down and extend beyond his paws.

Technically, Leo Prime is a recoloration of a toy from the Cybertron line called Leobreaker. I'm assuming there's no character relationship between the two, and what the heck, it's still a cool robot lion, and Leo Prime has been given a new robot head more in keeping with his characterization as a "Prime".

Speaking of his robot mode... The steps to transform Leo Prime from lion to robot are as follows. First you remove the tail, something I would never recommend doing to an actual lion.

Then you fold the back of the rear legs down to comprise the back half of the robotic feet, and stretch the rear legs out behind the figure.

Next, fold down the silver flaps on the side and back of the upper lion body, and allow the upper half of the body to swing forward (which isn't likely to do anyway just because of its weight).

Then swing the upper body back, and snap the blue tab on the underside of the lion head into the slot on the lower torso. I found this to be a rather uncooperative piece, and sort of had to slap it in.

Now, fold the front paws down, and the thumbs around. This makes for the robot's hands, and rotate the arms just below the elbows so that the hands are pointing inwards.

Finally, pop the robot head out from the center of the mane. It will rise up and snap into place. The head is VERY Optimus-like in appearance, and I am very impressed with it as such.

You will notice that the arms do not have the room, it seems, to come all the way down to the side of the to. In fact, they do. There's a hinge in the upper arm that will allow the arms to swing out somewhat, and rest at the side of the figure. The tail can now be used as a weapon, and the Cyber Key feature can still be used in robot mode, to give Leo Prime a set of claws emerging from his wrists that would give even Wolverine something to think about.

In robot mode, Leo Prime stands about 8 inches in height. That's a little taller than the average Classics, but what the heck, he's a Prime. Let him have the extra height.

Leo Prime is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and ankles. The arms aren't quite as poseable as one might like, but the upper arm hinge does add a little more, and if the hinge seems to be a weird design element, just consider -- he's a robot, not a person. The head does not have the frequent "transparent back letting the eyes light up" component, but give the fact that part of the mane is attached to the back of the head, it probably wouldn't've worked all that well anyway.

Leo Prime's character profile reads as follows: Leo Prime is a career soldier, commander of an elite Maximal black ops unit designated the Pack. So secret is this unit, even most of those in the Maximal command structure are aware of it only as a rumor. Leo Prime and his comrades travel wherever trouble is thickest, often working undercover to deal crippling blows to Predacon plots.

Interesting, that. We not only get a mention of the Pack, but an explanation, their covert black ops nature, as to why they haven't been mentioned very much, at least in the United States.

Leo Prime's overall power rankings are considerable. He ranks "10" across the board in everything but Fireblast, in which he gets a "9". Otherwise, he has a full "10" in Strength, Intelligence, Speed, Endurance, Rank, Courage, and Skill.

His WikiPedia entry includes a personal quote that is not on his packaging. It reads: "I will protect the freedom of the Galaxy until the day I die and after that I will have no regrets." And somehow that really sounds like a translation from Japanese. But it's an impressive line regardless.

So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. This is a very cool Transformer. Okay, the character's a little tricky to work in, continuity-wise, into the Beast Wars concept, but hardly impossible. And it's an impressive toy.

At this late date, it's not that easy to find him, but neither is it impossible. And of course, there's always the secondary market, and there's certainly no shortage of Transformers to be found there. And however you might acquire him, the TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE LEO PRIME definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!