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Clay's review: Max B

First, the background information:
How Beast Wars Spawned Beast Wars II

In the mid-nineties, Transformers obtained a new lease on life with a rather dramatic retake of the old theme of ‘Robots in Disguise’: instead of changing into vehicles and mechanical animals, the brand went full-force with organic animals for alternate modes. And it worked! Thanks to the cohesion with the terrific CGI cartoon by Mainframe, Transformers came back with a vengeance.

Part of the reason for the show’s success was the concentration on a handful of characters that developed over the course of the series as opposed the constant slew of new individuals as is typical is most Transformers’ fiction. However, this was not just skilled story telling in action! It was also the product of producing a television series on a deadline and within a budget. As such, only so many CGI character models could be designed within that budget, so the volume of the show’s cast never ballooned to more than a dozen (give or take) at any given time.

Of course, that meant that the rest of the other Beast Wars toys never got depicted in fiction in the US and UK (until 2006 and the Beast Wars comic, but that’s another matter). In Japan, however, the dubbing process for Mainframe’s CGI show was slow enough that Takara opted to delay the airing of season two in order to combine it with season three and broadcast both together under the name Beast Wars Metals in 1999.

To fill the time in between, Takara commissioned a new cell-animated series to help sell the toys that weren’t in the CGI show: Beast Wars II. Like its successor Beast Wars Neo, BWII only aired in Japan, never making it to the West. BWII not only featured most of the ‘leftover’ toys from Beast Wars up to that point, but also a host of Generation 2 toys that were previously never released in Japan. In needs to be noted, of course, that most of these toys were not previously available in Japan.

But, to at least offer up a bit of completely new content, a few new toys were made for the line (Tako Tank, Lio Convoy, Galvatron, and Moon), and five previously released toys were significantly remolded for re-release: the original Trypticon (or, Dinosaurer in Japan) as Gigastorm, and the four Beast Wars toys Cybershark, K-9, Waspinator, and Dinobot.

The Remolds and Their Characters’ Relationship to the Show

As is not terribly unusual in Transformers fiction, some characters got killed off, reformatted, and returned in brand-new bodies to continue to wreak havoc on their enemies. Beast Wars II was no different. In that particular series, five characters received near-death makeovers: Megastorm (the big G2 Megatron tank), Starscream (the little G2 combiner jet), BB (the big G2 combiner jet), Dirge (the blue Machine Wars jet), and Thrust (the yellow Machine Wars jet). Megastorm was turned into Gigastorm (the toy being a remolded G1 Trypticon), while the latter four became Hellscream, Max B, Dirgegun, and Thrustor.

Hellscream, Max B, Dirgegun, and Thrustor’s Claim to Fame

What’s interesting is the previous makeup of the factions: the Cybertrons all had animal alternate modes while the Destrons were all vehicles. To help blend the newly reformatted Destrons with the theme of the series, the new toys were animals as well. But, the characters’ violent processes of change are visually present in the figures. They’re all asymmetrical scrambles of parts, switching between smooth and sleek organic parts with jagged and metallic robot parts almost randomly.

This is a perfect execution for a robot that’s reformatted haphazardly, and is a pretty interesting juxtaposition of the norm in fantasy fiction. Instead of having a human put back together with machinery, these figures are the opposite, being robots resurrected with fleshy parts.

Of course, that’s not the toys’ only claim to fame. Remolds themselves are fairly rare with Transformers toys, especially with significant differences. Since the toys have to be able to alternate between two or more forms, any remolding has to agree with that process by not getting in the way. The fact that not one, not two, not three, but four toys were altered so significantly for what was essentially a filler series is really quite distinguishing within the Transformers’ backlog.

The final piece of interest is of course the visual style itself. The half-organic, half-robotic, asymmetrical appearance of the figures is a direct precursor to the Transmetal 2 figures Hasbro would produce a full year later. It’s amazing how much the head sculpt of Thrustor, which is essentially a Transmetal 2 version of the Dinobot mold, looks like… the Transmetal 2 Dinobot. A coincidence, I’m sure, but a freaky coincidence nonetheless.

Anyway, onto the review:

Name: Max B
Function: Bodyguard

Max B is actually a remold of a remold: the 1996 toy Wolfang was remolded in 1997 to K9, and K9 was further remolded into Max B. Unlike the two previous offerings, Max B is a cyborg-canine-thing. The color decor treats it as a wolf, but at least half of the animal head is that of a german shepard.

It does make a bit of sense that K9 was the base mold chosen to be modified, though. The K9 remold added a lot of volume to the original Wolfang, and Max B is larger still than either of the other two.

The resulting toy is quite the monstrosity, continuing the pattern of strangeness started with Hellscream. Unlike Hellscream, who possesses mechanical pieces fashioned after marine vessels like boats and submarines, Max B has exposed mechanical parts modeled after weapons and other equipment, most notably a jet pack and a mace.

It's certainly an interesting piece on the surface, but there's more than meets the eye...

Wolf mode

Max B, in its animal form, is a biomechanical nightmare. Mechanical and organic details are interwoven in the remolded parts in a way akin to a haphazard, unfinished Dr. Frankenstein experiment.

Or it might just look silly, if that's your point of view. Personally, I find Max B the least convincing of the four cyborg monsters, probably due to the fact that dogs can be perfectly threatening on their own should they choose to be, and don't need to be partially mechanoid to do it. Of course, most dogs I know are friendly creatures, and that's the other half of why I'm not intimidated by this small toy.

But it's still an interesting mode, nonetheless. The rescuplting is done well, and the details chosen are certainly worthy of conversation.

The mace at the end of the tail is pretty self-expanatory, even if the piece isn't actually articulated. I've been around dogs enough to know that their tails can be quite formidable when stacked against loose debris on a coffee table, so the addition of a mace would be make any canine's posterior quite the deliverer of woe.

The other detail that leaps out immediately is the dorsal jet pack. I've never really thought dogs would gain the ability to fly, barring Under Dog, but I suppose for cyborg-dogs the sky's the limit.

Robot mode

Max B's robot mode is a bit more convincing, if by Transformers' standards. As it is uses most of its parts from K9, Max B has the longer, fully torso piece as compared to the squat and out-of-proportion Wolfang. It's a wise decision, too, as that was K9's biggest improvement over the original mold.

Of course, the toy is pretty good to begin with anyway in many respects. The animal parts, while still visible, don't get in the way of the articulation, and there's plenty of that to go around regardless. The only lacking bit of movement is in the head: the rotational joint there is a bit stiff, but it does work.

Articulation and details aside, the best parts about the toy are the weapons. The wolf's back piece/jet pack can be held and used either as a set of gargantuan, spring-loaded sheers, or can be used a missile launcher (which are cleverly disguised and stored as ribs in the chest). As a bonus, it can remounted on the robot's back and used a flight pack.

The tail is equally versatile. Obviously it can be held and used as a mace, but it also has a second handle so it can held facing the opposite direction and loaded with a missile as well. Pretty clever additions overall, though Max B does lose the ability to use the back piece as a shield in the same way Wolfang and K9 can.

Transformation: 10. It's a really well-designed mold that can be transformed intuitively, regardless of which version you have.
Durability: 9. The head squeaks a bit when rotated, so that makes me slightly intrigued, but not concerned. For the most though, this a toy that should last quite a while, barring you don't lose the robot's weapons which are required for the animal mode.
Fun: 7.5. It depends on your point of view, I suppose. The dog mode may enthrall you or may turn you off, but the robot mode is busy with things to do.
Price: X. Depends. I got mine for $23 boxed, but I've also seen them listed (and sold) at well over $50. If you're patient, you'll probably be able to find one at a good price.
Overall: Definitely a unique piece of a Transformers' toys. As far as I know, this is the only mold to see three different versions released before ever being animated. (Cybershark is close, though: it wasn't animated in its original version, but was as Hellscream and Sharp Edge for Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo, respectively.) Max B is certainly a well sculpted and interesting remold of an already great toy. Fully recommended for Beast Wars toys enthusiasts and completists, and for people that want a conversation piece.
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