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Blackjack's review: Soundwave

Name: Soundwave
Allegiance: Decepticon
Size Class: Deluxe Class
Accessories: Laserbeak

”I am Soundwave. I am Decepticon. The revolution begins now.”

Unlike Megatron and Starscream who received multiple incarnations throughout Armada, Energon, Cybertron and the 2007 Movie, Soundwave got the short stick out of the three original ‘main’ Decepticons. There was the Cybertron toy, of course, which transformed into a stealth jet, but it isn’t exactly the best toy around, and he wasn’t even a Decepticon in the Cybertron cartoon either. Soundwave was slated to appear in the 2007 live-action movie, but the various roles he was envisioned with ended up being replaced separately by Blackout and Barricade.

Well, Animated has this thing about fan-pleasing, and while there is a significant amount of original characters among the Animated cast (Bulkhead, Lockdown, Lugnut, Sentinel Prime and its unique take on Prowl to name a few) as it went on the show kept pandering to the fanbase and continued to make their own unique take on classic characters as one-shot guest stars. Soundwave, despite missing out on being part of the main Decepticon cast, was part of these guest stars.

Soundwave started ‘life’ as a toy music robot that the inventor Isaac Sumdac gave to his daughter Sari, the main kid-sidekick of the series. Now what the humans didn’t know was that Soundwave was explicitly designed by Megatron, who was chilling out in Isaac Sumdac’s basement and pretending to not be a galactic despot. While the initial plan was to turn Soundwave into his new body, when Sari used her AllSpark key to upgrade Soundwave he ended up being self-aware and was coerced into joining the Decepticons by Megatron… although Soundwave had a unique take on being a Decepticon – he is going to free his fellow machines from the humans, as well as the humans’ robotic allies, the Autobots. The Autobots ended up destroying Soundwave, reducing him into a small piece that more than bore a passing resemblance to the original G1 Soundwave toy, promising a return… and return he did, in a season three two-parter where he managed to reprogram four of the Autobots and turn them into his minions.

Soundwave’s toy was released around his first appearance, and came with a Laserbeak toy which transformed into an awesome-looking guitar. While Laserbeak was an entirely new addition made by the toy designers, the show-makers liked him so much that they included Laserbeak during Soundwave’s return.

Alternate Mode:
Soundwave foregoes his classic alternate mode of a cassette deck for a chunky SUV, which is reportedly based on a Scion xB. And not just any van either – it’s a van with music-based Tron lines. It’s a unique and nice little reimagination of what alternate mode Soundwave would adapt if he doesn’t shrink down into a tape deck, and while future Transformers series would give Soundwave various new modes (jets, awesome-looking sportscars, a satellite…) I’ve always felt Animated Soundwave was the one that stayed the closest to the original in appearance if not in functionality.

Unlike what stock photography made him out to be, Soundwave is a really nice dark shade of blue. It’s a wee bit off from the original Soundwave’s blue, but it is close enough to resemble the original whilst being unique at the same time. Soundwave has lots of neon-blue Tron lines running all over him, though not too much to distract. The ones on his doors are shaped in the vague shape of speakers or an old-fashioned radio. Soundwave’s windows are painted black. His front grille has those buttons on the original Soundwave tape deck – you know, play, fast-forward, all that – painted in gold. On his hood is a Decepticon symbol, and on the roof a power button, all painted in gold. On Soundwave’s rear window is sculpted some details which resembles some kind of a radio display with those bars going up and down, but are left unpainted. Also unlike the stock photography, the inner sides of Soundwave’s wheels aren’t painted gold. The whole thing is cast in black, with neon blue circling part of the wheel’s lateral side. It’s not a major change that I would cry over.

Soundwave in this series is reimagined as having this punk rock star vibe to him, and his van mode is certainly one that seems loud in all senses of the word. In either guitar or bird mode, Laserbeak can peg onto Soundwave’s roof. It’s a nice take on reimagining Soundwave as a less espionage-oriented but still sound-based character, and one I find refreshing.

Robot Mode:
Soundwave’s transformation into robot mode is certainly a unique one despite his relatively common alternate mode. The end result is far from the tall, boxy Generation 1 Soundwave, though. While he takes a lot of cues such as the general shape of the chest and the head, Animated Soundwave seems more inspired by a walking stereo set, and the ones that are extremely loud. Thus he’s more stout and boxy instead of having those long legs G1 Soundwave is famous for. He has massive blocky shoulders where the wheels end up, and they angle forwards so with their neon paint they can resemble speakers. And in the show itself Soundwave does battle by shooting sonic booms from his speakers. I’ve always felt that Soundwave’s lower arms are a bit too long in toy form compared to the show model, ending up making him look somewhat gorilla-ish, but it’s a minor complaint because I very seldom display Soundwave with his arms hanging down anyway. The hands should really be painted gold, as do the piece of armour that borders the lower arm, but those are left in the base dark blue plastic. I think painting the hands gold would go a long way to making them look visually more distinct and call out attention to them.

Soundwave is still predominantly dark blue with neon highlights, but more gold show up here. Soundwave’s faceplate, his feet, his Decepticon insignia, the fake tape-deck chest and those buttons (which has moved up to his lower chest instead of the crotch like the original Soundwave) are all cast in a tasteful gold. And in a nice bit of subtle detailing, again you can see those… whatever you call those music bars on the radio moulded onto the back of Soundwave’s tape-deck chest. It’s extremely subtle and you won’t know it’s there unless you look closely. Soundwave’s head-sculpt has a thinner faceplate than usual, though it fits with Animated’s more stylized, anime-inspired designs. His eyes are red here. In the show itself Soundwave starts off with yellow eyes (like the toy version of G1 Soundwave) when he’s still a toy and adopts red eyes (like the cartoon version of G1 Soundwave) when he becomes a proper Transformer.

Soundwave has a fair amount of articulation – his head can turn, his shoulders can rotate and angle a bit, his elbows are double-jointed, his hands can swing in and out, he has the ever-elusive waist joint, his knees can bend backwards and inwards, and his feet can waggle. It’s a shame that the joint in his knees used to transform is so prone to moving that posing his feet is a fair bit of a chore. I’m also not a big fan of how his hands look. They’re just static, flat pieces that look more like an afterthought. He’s got a fair amount of posability, which allows him to play the completely metal-looking guitar Laserbeak like a boss. Thanks to his transformation scheme, his chest can actually pretend to open as if he’s G1 Soundwave ejecting cassettes, except he doesn’t come with one. Easter egg on the part of the designers, or coincidence? You decide.

It’s not the best robot mode out there, but it’s fairly cool and does what it does well. I know it served as the Soundwave in my collection for a fairly long time.

Being extremely music-based, Soundwave comes with a rather mental accessory of his own. His faithful pet bird minion, Laserbeak. Only this time he’s reimagined as a metal, two-pronged guitar that looks simply badass. It’s a fairly detailed looking guitar, and while Soundwave’s hands aren’t made to hold it properly, the volume knobs on either side of Laserbeak’s guitar mode pegs in perfectly into pegholds on the inner side of Soundwave’s lower arms, making it relatively easy to have him pose like he’s rocking out on his guitar.

Laserbeak can also transform into a very simple bird mode that can perch on Soundwave’s lower arm. I like how Laserbeak perches onto the massive door handles on Soundwave’s vehicle mode. Laserbeak’s bird mode looks cool, and is in the classic black-and-red deco, and is clearly a bird… but the guitar mode looks so much more impressive and it’s evident that Laserbeak is designed as a guitar first and a bird second. His bird mode looks too much like a splayed-out guitar with a bird head tacked on to it, and the bird head doesn’t even have any sort of detailing painted on! It’s got a moulded beak and eyes and everything, but it’s just cast in black.

When Soundwave is in alternate mode Laserbeak can perch on his roof, either as a bird or as a giant guitar longer than Soundwave’s alternate mode. Still, a guitar accessory. Can’t top that.

Marks out of ten for the following:

Transformation Design: 8/10 I’ve always thought that the transformation could’ve been done better to give Soundwave better hands and less blocky feet, but as it is I find the transformation pretty well-designed and fresh.

Durability: 9/10 Other than loose joints I’m not sure Soundwave won’t break.

Aesthetics: 9/10 A few omitted gold details aside Soundwave is as perfect as you can get to the show’s character model. It all comes down to whether you can accept the idea of Soundwave as a boxy guitar-strumming robot who transforms into a SUV. It all comes to preference, really, whether you like the Animated aesthetic or not. I certainly do.

Articulation: 8/10 He’s got about the par for a deluxe class toy, although he does have a bit of a wobbly balance problem with those knees.

Fun: 9/10 I did have fun with Soundwave. He’s got a guitar and you can pretend he’s a rock star and shit.

Price/Value: 7/10 He used to be shelfwarming when I got him, and I did get him at full retail price. I didn’t really regret him, but didn’t really think he’s the BEST THING EVAR either.

Overall: 8/10 Soundwave is hardly an essential toy in a collection. The reimagination of Soundwave as a more sound-based, rockstar villain instead of an espionage agent who launches rabid birds at people’s faces may not sit well with everyone, as is the Animated aesthetic. It’s an extremely solid toy that definitely isn’t terrible, but comes up somewhat short in being spectacular, falling just short of the gap that separates a good toy and a great toy.
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