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By Thomas Wheeler

In 1990, Hasbro released a new series of Transformers. These were called ACTION MASTERS. They were 3-3/4" figures of many of the most popular characters from the Transformers concept, plus some new faces never before seen. The carded ones came with transforming accessories, while transforming vehicles came with their own Action Master Transformers.

The line was, for some strange reason, a flop. It continued in Europe for an additional year, but by all accounts, it was not a success. The argument that the Transformers didn't in fact transform was somewhat negated by the fact that their accessories and vehicles DID. But still and all, the Action Masters were greeted for many years with disdain and even hostility by Trans-fans.

The figures weren't bad at all, really. Many of the ones based on established characters could credit their designs to being taken directly from the popular animated series. Thus you could have a Bumblebee or Megatron that looked a lot more like the one from the show than the actual original toy did. Articulation was decent -- head, arms, legs, and knees, with some structual similarities to the 3-3/4" G.I.Joes, especially in the use of metal leg hooks and rubber "O-Rings".

Fast forward to 2002. Transformers have been through a number of -- transformations. Generation 2, Machine Wars, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Robots in Disguise, and ultimately Armada. There's even Playskool Transformers. Recognizing that there's a distinct collectors' market for the classic versions of these popular characters, Hasbro released special editions of the original Transformers to Toys "R" Us.

But there's another player in the "giant robot" world, and its name is Gundam. Produced by Bandai, and with a conceptual history in Japan easily equalling that of either Transformers or Robotech, the highly-articulated Gundam action figures have definitely made their presence known in the toy stores.

So imagine -- what if the Transformers Action Masters came back, but were of a detail and articulation level similar to Gundam?

Wonder no more. When Hasbro began marketing the "Heroes of Cybertron" line of small PVC Transformers in 2002, they caught on very quickly. A lot of people equated them to simpler versions of the Action Masters, and were more than happy to add a new likeness of popular classic characters of the now decidedly convoluted Transformers concept to their collections.

What soon became known was that Takara had introduced a second line of toys in Japan. Their name is "Mega-SCF", which stands for "Super Collector Figure", and they were reportedly larger and more articulated versions of the popular Transformers PVC characters.

I made some mention of this in my recent review of the "Heroes of Cybertron" line. I did have some reservations, which I kept to myself, as to whether or not these figures would actually live up to the hype I was hearing about them, especially articulation-wise.

It was around this time when I heard from a good friend of mine in England, who has a good friend in Japan, who had sent him some of these Mega-SCF Transformers. He had a spare Optimus Prime. Was I interested? ABSOLUTELY!

So, do these Mega-SCF Transformers live up to the hype? If Optimus Prime is any example -- brother, do they ever!

The articulation is amazing. Not quite to Gundam levels, but very close. In fact, the articulation joints themselves look like they were derived from Gundam designs. Optimus is nicely articulated at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel-arm feature), waist, legs, and knees. He comes with spare hands and assorted weapons (the spare hands bit is another Gundam comparison). The box also includes a nice little cardboard display backdrop, an image of the Autobots' computer. TeleTran 1.

The design and detail work is very impressive. The figure looks precisely like his animated counterpart. The Autobot logo is very neatly applied.

The figure is very solidly made from the same type of somewhat flexible plastic as Gundams. However, by the nature of the character's design, he's a good bit bulkier than most of those, and you'd never know he was made out of flexible plastic if it weren't for a few protruding parts on his arms and head that can be moved back and forth a bit.

My one and only complaint with the figure is the legs. They're somewhat loosely articulated, and given how heavy the legs are, they tend to hang rather loosely when one picks up the figure. The sculpting around the attachment point for the legs looks strangely unfinished, as well. But this could be a correctable problem for someone with sufficient skill. Apart from that and a slight preposing to the feet, I have absolutely NO complaints about this excellent action figure.

Truly, this Optimus Prime is indicative of not so much an advanced form of the "Heroes of Cybertron" PVC's, but the return and upgrade of the Action Masters. And this time they're proving to be hugely popular, as well they should.

The line at this time is not currently available in the United States, although there are rumors that it will be. Even in Japan it's somewhat limited, with only a few classic characters such as Optimus Prime (known as Convoy in Japan), Megatron, Starscream, and a few others. A figure of the Armada Megatron is also in the works. Whatever one thinks of the Armada concept (and I'm basically indifferent towards it), the designs for the two lead characters aren't that bad, really. There's a few others, including at least one Mega-SCF of a Japanese-only Autobot known as Star Saber.

I have no idea where this line is headed. Possibly even Hasbro and Takara don't. It's rather limited at the moment. Optimus here has a 2002 copyright date on him, so this is clearly a brand new series. But it is my hope that this line will be brought to the United States, and in no way restricted to Walgreens and other slightly obscure outlets for toys, and that it will grow far and way beyond even its present Japanese incarnation. There is a universe of Transformers out there, even within the Generation 1 concept, that would make truly superb action figures in this line. Let's hope it happens!