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By Thomas Wheeler

One wouldn't expect a Transformer to be a victim of technology, but that's sort of what's happened to Soundwave. This popular Decepticon has an "alternate form", his non-robotic form, that just doesn't work too well in the 21st century -- he turns into a tape player!

Before the days of CD, MP3, iPod, and whatever other digital forms of music have been developed, sound impressions were recorded onto a length of narrow magnetic tape that was attached to two spools and encased in a massively large object -- which was called a "tape cassette". These tapes could only be played in a cassette tape player.

Soundwave was one of the most prominent Decepticons in the Generation One line. And, as a tape player, although he didn't actually function as such, he was fairly advanced for his time -- the early 80's -- especially since he used mini-cassettes. Or more to the point, his assorted compatriots turned into mini-cassettes.

For all the varied personalities that were in evidence among the Autobots, the Decepticons in contrast were, with a few notable exceptions, pretty much a pack of thugs. Megatron wanted followers, and it seemed the main qualities he was after among his followers were a mean disposition, a penchant for brutality, and a willingness to follow orders as long as it presented an opportunity for the attitude and the brutality to be unleashed every so often. Brains were optional. And for the most part, that's what he got.

But there were exceptions. Starscream, although he probably wasn't as smart as he thought he was. He was just more power-hungry than most. Then there was the abundantly logical and clearly highly intelligent Shockwave. It's no great surprise that Megatron left him behind to take charge of Cybertron while he was away. And then there was Soundwave.

In the animated series, Soundwave's voice was even more robotic-sounding than most. He spoke in a sort of monotone, using as few words as needed to get his point across, and his voice had a mechanical reverb to it that was almost totally devoid of any sort of emotion or inflection. Despite a certain mechanical tinge to their voices, it was never too hard to figure out the mood of most of the Transformers when they spoke. But Soundwave's voice never seemed to change much. He could be ordering captured humans around, declaring his superiority over the other Decepticons, or reporting something important to Megatron -- whatever the case, the tone of his voice never seemed to change.

On top of that, he didn't have much of a face. As with Optimus Prime, Soundwave's lower face was covered -- assuming it was a covering -- by a face shield. All we could see of Soundwave's face were his eyes, which were more like a single visor, only somewhat distinguishing a pair of eyes with a slight indentation in the middle.

Technically, Soundwave was the Decepticons' communications specialist, but he was a lot more than that. He had a variety of associates -- the aforementioned mini-cassettes -- each of which could be sent out on reconnaissance, sabotage, infiltration, and other assorted spy-type missions. They frequently managed to sneak into Autobot headquarters undetected, and their small size as mini-cassettes meant they could hide just about anywhere in the human world as well, and record whatever information was needed.

In the animated series, Soundwave also performed an additional vital function, that was never really addressed on his original file card. Shockwave was able, through means that were never quite explained, to produce the cube frameworks which could be filled with processed Energon, the fuel that the Decepticons desperately needed to remain functional. If any other Transformer was ever shown manufacturing these cubes, I don't recall seeing it, although it's reasonable to assume that the Autobots had some method for it, since they needed Energon as well, and I would suspect that Megatron had other means in case Soundwave was ever incapacitated.

But as a tape player, Soundwave has had a little trouble finding a place in the modern era. Despite the popularity of the character, he wasn't part of the live-action movie. The fairly recent Cybertron toy line did produce a truly excellent character named Soundwave, which was an interesting nod to the original in many respects. However, the Cybertron Soundwave turned into a stealth plane, not a tape player. And trying to make a Soundwave that transforms into a modern music player probably wouldn't be all that effective. At the very least, many of these rely on digital downloads, so where does that leave Soundwave's brigade of cassette-associates?

Fortunately for Soundwave fans everywhere, the original has returned! A while back, Toys "R" Us and Hasbro got together to present reissues of some of the most popular Generation One Transformers in their original Generation One forms. The line was decently popular, but not inexpensive, and ultimately, the advent of the Classics line, the impending movie, and perhaps to some degree, the price tags, brought an end to the Generation One reissues.

One last Generation One reissue, well after the others had been cleared from the stores, would be presented -- SOUNDWAVE!

I'm not normally one for discussing packaging, but in Soundwave's case, one really needs to. The box is an interesting amalgam between the "window box" style that was used for the rest of the Generation One remakes, and yet the design on the box itself is clearly that of the Classics line. The back of the box even showcases other Classics, including Jetfire, Mirage, and Grimlock, although there is text on the box that is very clear: "You hold in your hands a reproduction of one of the most popular Generation 1 Transformers characters of all time. Identical to the original toy, this convertible action figure lets you reproduce all the action of the sinister Soundwave!"

The artwork on both the front and back of the box is superb. I'm not sure who did it, but it's readily comparable to the best of the artwork that's appeared in any of the modern Transformers comics. Open up the box and get a surprise! There's a "fold out" of Soundwave that emerges from the box, much like some of those greeting cards and "pop-up" books that have the same effect. It's a nice touch, and not one that Hasbro really needed to do. But it's cool that it's there, and it's a good photograph of the toy.

Then of course there is Soundwave himself. He is packaged in his tape deck mode, but Soundwave is actually one of the easier Transformers to transform. Fold the legs down and around, pull the feet out, swing the arms around, and pull the head up and turn it around. And there you have Soundwave.

At seven inches in height, he could just about fit in with some of the larger Classics figures, such as Optimus Prime, Jetfire, and Megatron. Obviously, being an actual Generation One figure, however, he's not as well articulated as the more recent Classics. But he could still pretty much fit in.

But what good is a tape deck without cassettes? And how much can Soundwave really accomplish without his associates? Fortunately, this was taken into consideration when this Soundwave set was brought together. Two of Soundwave's best-known cassettes -- Laserbeak and Ravage -- are included with this toy!

Laserbeak is generally regarded as Soundwave's most trusted ally. He transforms into a robotic bird of prey and is responsible for most of the Decepticons' infiltration work. On more than a few occasions, he managed to slip into Autobot headquarters and have a look around and bring back valuable information to the Decepticons. Megatron even praised him in the original animated movie as being among the most reliable of Decepticons.

Ravage transforms into a robotic panther, and is basically used an an attack animal. His relatively small size allows him to enter human-sized dwellings where the larger robots cannot easily go, and yet he's still large enough by human standards to cause them no end of trouble. Since his initial appearances, Ravage has gone on to a certain popularity of his own, appearing in the Transformers Beast Wars series, and most recently, having an Alternator based on his four-legged format.

Both cassettes are extremely cool, and for their size and shape (and original time period), have an astounding amount of articulation, especially Ravage, who is exceptionally poseable. I should also note that among the accessories are two transparent cassette cases, just like the type that one would expect to purchase with a real audio cassette. Be advised they're sort of tucked off to one side in the package and easily missed. Don't throw them out! It's a cute feature in my book.

Now, I need to address one thing here -- the box reads that this Soundwave is "identical to the original toy". Well -- pretty much. There's one slight change. Technically, this toy is based on a second version of Soundwave, that was only produced in Japan originally, which had the name Soundblaster. Soundblaster was a reconstruction of Soundwave, which -- within the story -- used some parts of the defeated Blaster, an Autobot who also carried around cassettes. Needless to say, Soundwave and Blaster had a rather considerable rivalry. Apparently Soundwave was the ultimate victor, but needed some extensive repair.

The Soundblaster toy was different from the original Soundwave in that it could carry more than one cassette. And indeed, it is possible to put BOTH Ravage and Laserbeak into Soundwave's cassette holding area -- which it's worth noting springs open very nicely at the touch of a button. Cool feature there.

Soundwave also has the "color change" thermal sticker with the Decepticon logo on his left shoulder. This was a feature originally introduced in the Transformers line once they had established their initial popularity and robot wannabees started turning up all over the place.

Soundwave's character profile reads as follows: "Cries and screams are music to my ears." It is said Soundwave can hear a fly sneeze. Uses anything he hears for blackmail to advance his status. Opportunist. Despised by all other Decepticons. Sensors can detect even lowest energy radio transmissions. Able to read minds by monitoring electrical brain impulses. Acts as radio link for others. Locates and identifies Autobots, then informs Decepticons. Carries a concussion blaster gun. Often target of retaliation by his comrades.

Honestly, that character profile, no doubt derived from the original toy, presents a Soundwave that was more overtly nasty than the one in the animated series. I don't offhand recall him attempting any blackmail schemes, nor do I recall him being especially despised by the other Decepticons. Still, there's only so much you can do in a cartoon with a large cast like that, and no doubt Hasbro wanted to reflect the original toy as much as anything.

However, if you actually manage to find one at this point at your local Toys "R" Us, this TRANSFORMERS GENERATION ONE COMMEMORATIVE SOUNDWAVE certainly has my highest recommendation!