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Warcry's Review: Beast Wars Sonar

The dangerous cloning experiments carried out by Megatron have created another powerful ally for the heroic Maximals: Sonar. Super-acute senses provide matchless reconnaissance abilities, while bio-cyber elements allow unmatched strength and mobility. When combined with a fiery, almost uncontrollable aggression, Sonar makes a dangerous enemy and somewhat unpredictable ally. Much to his chagrin, Megatron has unintentionally created the finest early-warning system to have ever existed- the Maximal known as Sonar!

In spite of barely ever appearing in any sort of official fiction, Sonar is an interesting character. First of all, because she's a "she". Though there are numerous female Transformers with toy representations now, in Sonar's day that wasn't the case. She was preceded by only three others, if memory serves: Nightracer, Airazor and Blackarachnia. Sonar is a bit of a weird case though, because she is only retroactively female: her bio contains no pronouns so some fanclub comics decided to make her female, and it has stuck since. Because of that she's not outwardly feminine or girly, a trend that only Sonar and Beast Machines' Strika have managed to buck over the years.

Her bio also suggests an interesting character, though it's one that's never really been explored. When I think of an angry, aggressive female who was used as a science experiment by villains and has extremely powerful abilities my mind tends to turn towards Mass Effect's Jack, a mental image that matches up Sonar's monstrous outward appearance with an equally frightening personality. None of that says anything about the quality of her toy, but it's a big part of the reason why I bought it to begin with.

The toy itself is from the last year of Beast Wars product, a Basic-sized figure from the Transmetal II line. The TMIIs aren't as well-loved as most of the Beast Wars line, and understandably so. They feature neither the realistic beast modes of the original toys, the throwback mech-beast designs of the first set of Transmetals nor the mythological/monstrous look of the Fuzors. Instead, the calling card for the line was deformed, asymmetrical, heavily cyberneticized designs that often fell on the wrong side of the line dividing "unique" from "ugly". But what side of that line does Sonar fall on?

Alternate Mode: Sonar's beast mode is a bat, but not the proud, vaguely Bat-symbol-esque kind that the first Optimus Primal turned into. Sonar is far more menacing. Her wings end in huge claws, her mouth is sculpted to look dangerous and predatory, and the cybernetic bits that poke through her molded skin and fur make her look disturbingly like she's been assimilated by the Borg. She also has three pairs of limbs -- her wings, the feet she stands on and a pair of mechanical-looking talons where her tail should be.

Sonar is mostly a greyish shade of blue, with grey paint apps highlighting some of her fur and silver detailing on some of her mechanical parts. Her head and buttocks are decorated with red chrome as well, and in spite of the figure's age it doesn't seem to be any worse for wear. Her eyes, upper fangs and some mechanical detailing on her rear are decorated in bright green, which is a nice contrast to the red. It's a fairly minimalistic colour scheme, but the green and chrome serve to make it more interesting than it might have been.

Like all TMII figures, the sculpted detail on Sonar is far beyond what we've come to expect from Transformers figures over the years. Her wings and back are covered in bits of molded fur and mechanical outcroppings, and some of these details are quite, quite small. The details have no bilateral symmetry either, and nor do the gigantic claws at the forefront of the wings. The end result is very striking, making Sonar look like a monstrous mutated thing. What she's not, however, is pretty. And while I definitely appreciate and admire the intricate detailing here, I'm not sure I can go so far as to say I like it.

Articulation isn't a strong point of most Beast Wars alt-modes, and Sonar suffers here too. Her jaw can open and close, and her talons have a bit of up/down and side to side movement, but her feet can basically only be in one position if you want her to stand and her wings are immobile. The edge of her left wing, which forms a weapon in robot mode, is also articulated and since it doesn't lock into place it tends to flap around of its own volition. The end result is a figure that can really only stand in one pose, if you want to display her in beast mode.

Sonar is sadly typical of flight-capable beast modes from this era. Non-articulated wings basically make her a statue, and the monstrous appearance is definitely an acquired taste.

Robot Mode: If Sonar's beast mode looks like a monster, her robot mode looks like a demon set loose from the depths of Hell itself. She is quite frankly terrifying, with a giant bat-eared, fanged mouth, arms with massive death-blades built into them, a second (optional) set of smaller arms and rigid bat wings. The same asymmetry is evident here that we saw in beast mode, though it's downplayed a tad. Her robot legs are different colours, with one featuring organic details and the other mechanical. Her wings also feature mismatched tech and fur details, though since the part you see in robot mode are the underside of her beast mode wings the paint apps are sadly lacking.

The figure is still mostly greyish-blue, but the chromed-red chest breaks up the colour scheme nicely and gives her a bit of flare that she was missing as a bat. Grey, green and silver details are evident here too, but not as many or as prominently as in beast mode. And the two huge, clearly-visible screws on her midriff don't do her colour layout any favours either.

Sonar's articulation leaves something to be desired, sadly. Her neck is ball-jointed, but her huge ears tend to get caught on her grey claws if you keep them folded back. You could choose to fold them out to give her two pairs of arms, but if you do that they block the shoulder articulation in her bigger set of arms. And that's a huge setback because shoulder articulation is the only kind she's got -- Sonar has no elbow joints, an unforgivable sin in anything made after 1990 or so. Her hips are ball-jointed, but can't move outwards because of kibble hanging off of her chest. So are her knees, and like a lot of BW figures they've got a lot of 'depth' to them (she gets a near-human range of motion from them rather than the 90 degree bend on most modern toys' swivel-jointed knees -- that's one thing I really miss about BW toys). Her ankles are also hinged, allowing a bit more stability in any of the limited poses you can get her into. And it goes without saying that her wings aren't any more mobile here than they were in beast mode.

Sonar doesn't come with any accessories, but she does have a weapon: a...sword, I guess? The scythe-like blade on her left arm hinges forward so that she can stab folks with it, though it honestly looks really awkward and I think she's more threatening with the blade folded backwards. And her giant claws, while nicely-sculpted and deadly-looking, are useless for holding other figures' accessories.

Although she's got a few nice points, I'm afraid Sonar's robot mode could be a lot better than it is.

Transformation Design: Not the best I've ever seen. Transforming her involves threading her entire lower body through a small hole in her chest, which never ceases to frustrate me. 4/10

Durability: Sonar's wings are long and quite thin. You also need to use them as levers to "crack open" her back to transform her. That sounds like a recipe for disaster if you're not careful. The sliding mechanism in her chest also worries me, as it sometimes seems like I need to use way too much force to lock it into place. 5/10

Fun: Do you like your Transformers to be ghoulish monsters without much articulation? No? The hell you say! 4/10

Aesthetics: Sonar is very detailed, and it's clear the designers put lots of work into her. I appreciate her from that perspective but she's still ugly as sin. 3/10

Articulation: No elbows? And it's not a G1 toy? That's just not acceptable. 2/10

Price: I paid $15 for her. For a toy that old that's not bad at all, and honestly I probably could have found it cheaper. 9/10

Overall: Blah. 4/10
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