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Blackjack's Review: Masterpiece Prowl

Name: Prowl
Allegiance: Autobot
Function: Military Strategist

The Generation One version of Prowl has always been one of my favourite characters, thanks to a lot of the comics I read early on into the foray of the massive multi-series franchise that is the Transformers. In the early Marvel comics I read he was basically the competent second-in-command, but Marvel’s later fare and IDW’s early comics turned him into a very perfunctory, manipulating and bureaucratic commanding officer. He’s the definition of lawful good, more concerned about following the rules and enforcing them than to charge in headlong into battle like an idiot, or compromise their mission thanks to some misguided little human beings. He’s always been a fun character, being faced off against Grimlock and Ratchet in the Marvel and IDW comics respectively to illustrate that the Autobots aren’t one big happy family like how the cartoon portrayed them. Later IDW fare, written by James Roberts, would further expound on Prowl’s manipulating nature hinted in his appearances and full-out made him a chessmaster that manipulates everyone and allows himself to take all the hard and morally ambiguous decisions. Basically, he was turned into a cold anti-hero, which I accepted wholeheartedly. I loved this!

Of course, other writers ended up turning Prowl into a human-loving hippie and later his characterization was thrown into the bin in favour for him being (shock!) mind-controlled, which, in retrospect, is even worse than the cartoon. And Prowl didn’t even do anything in the cartoon except stand in the background and shoot at stuff. No, really, despite Prowl’s popularity he never was as prominent as the likes of Jazz or Ironhide.

There are, of course, other versions as Prowl with varying degrees of similarities to the original Generation One character. Beast Wars had two Prowls, the first a lion that’s part of the Magnaboss combiner and the second is a really awesome Transmetal-2 owl which I own. Robots in Disguise’s version of Prowl is still a police car and is the eldest of the horribly-named ‘Autobot Brothers’ and was one of the main characters in the cartoon. Armada had a Mini-Con police car that can turn into a gun called Prowl, which, like all the other Mini-Cons, got repainted like two dozen times. Energon had an Autobot Prowl, also a police vehicle. Universe got a couple other Prowls in their toyline. Animated brought us the next major Prowl, a black-coloured loner ninja that turns into a police motorcycle, which ended up being one of my favourite characters in the show despite being rather irritating early on. And you can bet that any of the half-dozen alternate universes Fun Publications spewed out has their version of Prowl in it.

Of course, though, while Animated Prowl is a good contender, as far as characterization goes the comic book version of G1 Prowl is one of my all-time favourites… as long as I selectively pretend all those other stupid stories from IDW where he’s an idiot never happened.

I already had a Prowl toy from 2008’s Universe line, which, while a decent ‘modernization’ of the original Prowl design, doesn’t quite feel right. There was that turtleneck thing, and while he’s a creative and good representation of Prowl, he’s not the most awesome toy I own. Bad paint and bad plastic meant that despite perpetually standing in the most shadowed part of my racks, in five years parts of him have yellowed to a ridiculous degree, and a lot of the paint on his door-wing section has smudged and turned sticky.

Now come the Masterpiece line’s second phase, with a smaller set of moulds instead of the towering behemoths of the original Masterpiece effort. Takara claims that they are going to do every single guy from the cartoon, set in around the same scale as their brand-new Sideswipe. Transforming into an officially licensed Lamborghini Countach, Sideswipe stands at the height of a short Voyager, slightly taller than your average Deluxe. It’s a pretty good representation, and it’s great for finding space to display them and deflates the price tag to boot.

Of course, I didn’t get Sideswipe or Red Alert or the completely random yet somehow intriguing Tigertrack repaint. Too expensive to import, I reasoned, and despite them being really damn pretty, I figured I don’t need another Sideswipe. It’s just a bigger, more sophisticated and show-accurate version of the Universe toy I own, also licensed, and I can’t justify dropping a huge chunk of money (plus importing fees) on him. Now, Prowl, on the other hand… he’s a personal favourite. I ended up biting the bullet. It’s Prowl! I’ll splurge just this once.

Of course, while in theory he’s supposed to ship around September, thanks to stupid customs I ended up waiting nearly until the next year until I get him. After all the wait, well, was he worth it?

As I open up his surprisingly tiny packaging (I know Sideswipe was small, but it never clicked in my mind how tiny Prowl would be until I got him in the flesh) and was greeted by the sight of his pristine, white-and-black alternate mode, well, I think he is. In addition to his weapon, Prowl comes with a trading card thing which all Takara toys do, as well as a fold-out, full-colour instruction manual. With the instruction on one side, the other side features colour pictures and bios for both the Nissan Fairlady 280Z-T (there is a Datsun in there somewhere, I know) and Prowl, with tech-specs for both the Autobot and the real vehicle.

Alternate Mode:
Like his original G1 toy, Prowl transforms into a Datsun Fairlady 280Z-T police car. Except that it’s now licensed by Nissan, unlike the G1 toy which was designed in a time where copyrights and licensing don’t work as they do now. Looking up pictures of the Fairlady, it stands as an extremely accurate representation. I cannot go into much detail without sounding like a complete moron to anyone who knows the slightest thing about automobiles, so let’s just say that they moulded an impressive amount of detail wherever they can into Prowl, yet still kept his contours relatively clean and not overdetailed. There are join lines, but they are cleverly designed to try and blend in with the car’s own ridges and bumps, thus not ruining the impression of Prowl’s sleek alternate mode.

It’s obviously coloured like the original Prowl, although like the rest of their ‘new Masterpiece’ line, Takara opted for a strictly cartoon-exclusive deco, removing the blue Japanese insignias on his hood, as well as some other minor stickers from the original toy. Prowl ends up looking more realistic, but a wee bit more plain. He’s mainly white and black (no such luck for Marvel fans who want a blue-coloured Prowl) although there are details painted everywhere. The blue-coloured police emblem thing is adorned on his doors, his police lights are cast in clear red plastic with actual moulded lights inside, a small red Autobot insignia proudly sits on his hood, and below it a silver Z symbol representing the Fairlady Z is moulded. Prowl’s headlights are moulded in clear plastic and the smaller ones on his front bumper are picked out in orange. One of these orange lights on mine tragically has smudged paint, though I did not notice until I was reviewing him. His rear lights are painted in orange and maroon and his vanity plate is left blank. Prowl’s wheels are kind of odd. The front ones have pins sticking in the middle of the silver hubcaps, like most Transformers cars do, but the rear wheels do not have them and instead have proper, actual detailing. He’s got a single exhaust pipe poking out of the right side.

Prowl’s windows are cast in see-through gray plastic, though Prowl sadly does not feature any interior. From the rear you only see a bunch of black parts that can conceivably exist inside a car, but the two dinky missile launchers, cast in white, stand out really loudly from within the car’s dark interior. Kind of an eyesore here, but it’s a minor complaint. The little side-view mirrors jutting out from halfway across the length of the hood (which don’t exist in the original toy) are cast in slightly softer plastic, and it’s best to exercise extreme caution when handling these. Takara doesn’t instill in me the best confidence in crafting these sort of things properly considering the fragile mess they did with my Alternity Optimus.

Prowl rolls on the ground pretty well though it’s not something I’ve tested out a lot of times. His doors, despite being moulded to look that they are fully functional, do not actually open. If you try and force the issue you’ll move a chunk of the area behind his front wheels along with it, and anyway Prowl doesn’t have any car interior to speak of.

You can plug in Prowl’s massive weapon onto the back of his lightbar. The weapon’s handle (cast in white instead of silver like the rest of the gun) can flip in and out depending on whether you’re arming the car or the robot. Of course, as with all cars with massive guns strapped on top of them, Prowl looks silly like this.

Overall, though, Prowl truly looks great in vehicular form. He looks relatively old-fashioned but very rigid especially in contrast with his Universe toy, which was all curves – I think it kind of brings out Prowl’s unwaveringly cold and rule-bound (unless when he sidesteps it) attitude towards life. It’s everything you would want in the most accurate depiction of Prowl’s Datsun Fairlady alternate mode, whether comparing it to the real-life car or the cartoon character model.

Robot Mode:
Prowl’s transformation is relatively faithful to his original one, although a fair bit more complex in that they’re not settling for ‘humanoid form’ like the G1 toy, but an actually fully articulated action figure. It’s a fairly fun affair, though you’ll probably puzzle through transforming his legs for the first time. The rest of him is pretty basic, as far as a toy his size goes. Robot-mode Prowl, as mentioned before, stands around the height of a shorter Voyager class toy, but certainly a good head above nearly all Deluxe class toys.

There are some more fragile parts, and the most terrifying is the pair of side-view mirrors you have to tuck under Prowl’s robot chest while transforming. These are tiny in comparison to other parts, and feel very weak compared to the rest of Prowl’s large and well-defined parts. Indeed, with only several transformations done, these bits on my own Prowl have already shown worrying stress marks. The point where the car roof meets the rear section of the car also come under a great deal of stress and mine show a fair bit of stress marks as well. The missile launchers also feel easy to snap off if you are transforming Prowl and they get caught in the way. The chest of the robot don’t exactly peg properly with the abdomen, though the toy is tight enough that this doesn’t really affect his balance or articulation much.

All that really don’t amount to any sort of a problem in displaying or playability, though, and as long as you’re not a barbarian while transforming him (i.e. use instructions until you’re sure you remember how to do it properly) he’ll last for a fair while. And those, really, are the only things that are inherently flawed in the mould itself, which isn’t a terrible shot at all.

Masterpiece Prowl is basically the G1 toy and the G1 cartoon model given form. Prowl is exactly how you remember him. The paint scheme adds a lot more black and silvery-grey, and adds several other colours into the mix as well. I could go on describing in detail every single paint application used in Prowl’s robot mode, but I urge you to just look at the pictures and save me two paragraph’s worth of description. Suffice to say, Prowl looks marvelous. The sculpting is top-notch as well. The parts which stemmed from the car’s rather rigid curves are still as nicely car-y (if there is such a word) as ever, whereas the parts that sprout out of recessed parts for the robot mode (everything between the chest and the knees) are given robotic details that are a nice contrast from the sleeker car parts. It’s a nice little balance of simplicity and detailing which gives Prowl that G1 feel without making him look like a simplified cutout of the cartoon model. And you do have to appreciate the amount of work the designers did in replicating the deco from the ridges and everything from the original G1 toy and made them into something aesthetically proportional… and adding a lot of extra details that will fly over your head. Under that hood-chest are a lot of details cast in black plastic that won’t be noticed 99% of the time. Rotating the thighs’ ball joint will reveal an impressively-detailed joint piece even when you turn the thighs around.

Prowl’s headsculpt is an impressively stern expression, with red chevrons, that memorable helmet, and a nicely silver-painted face devoid of any expression or compassion. His eyes are painted in a soulless shade of blue likewise incapable of comprehending how you would dare to question orders from a superior. It’s a nice headcsulpt, and even if you don’t see Prowl as a soulless chessmaster like I do, it’s still a really fitting one. I also like how nicely-angled the police door-wings are. The original toy had them jutting horizontally (and you can do that because of the transformation scheme) and the Universe incarnation have these massive bulbous kibbletastic door-wings that looked terrible, but Masterpiece Prowl’s door-wings are efficient and extremely tasty.

Fists have always been the bane of Transformers designers. Traditionally they are ugly chunks with holes, and finger-like sculpting around it, but recently, starting in around 2010 or so, they began casting transformers with neutral open-handed fists that can still grip weapons – an improvement for which I salute Hasbro and Takara. Prowl works on around the same basis, having sculpted, articulated fingers that look natural whether clenched or open. Prowl’s four fingers move as one single piece, because somewhere between Soundwave and Prowl Takara realized articulating an index finger alone is just asking for it to pop off and disappear into the cluttered oblivion that is a bedroom floor.

Overall, it’s basically the original toy, just with less blue. The headlights on the chest are no longer blue, and he’s missing the original police shield stickers from his shoulders, and while this makes me sad and in my opinion makes him look a bit too plain, it’s not a choice I will bitch too much about. Prowl looks gorgeous and that’s that. Even from the back, a place where many designers designate as the dumping ground for unused car parts, Prowl looks impeccably neat and tidy, with nary a misplaced kibble.

Articulation-wise, Prowl manages to be really impressive as well. His shoulders are double-jointed with a ball joint on the torso side and a hinge joint on the shoulder side, his elbows are double-jointed with hinges and his wrist can rotate. Prowl’s fingers (but not his thumb) are hinged, as mentioned before. Prowl’s head can turn around a full 360 degrees, and can angle upwards – a fact I was not aware of until Warcry pointed it out to me. Prowl’s wings can tilt backwards, or angle downwards to be horizontal. He has a hip joint that is partially blocked by the piece holding the car roof in place, although Prowl still has the same articulation as a human hip would have. Those skirt-like things on the side of his hips are hinged too. Prowl’s thighs are on a nice ball joint, and the grey parts are individually jointed as well. Each knee has two hinges, and the ‘feet’ chunk manages to be able to be twisted into all sorts of positions whilst still retaining enough balance to make Prowl stand firm.

Granted, with the limitations of a massive chest that protrudes forwards Prowl will never be able to, say, dance the Gangnam Style, but the range of articulation and frankly impressive balance he has means that Prowl will be able to pull off most action poses you will want to put a transforming robot through. He even has flaps on his feet, just below the windows, which will prevent gaping holes when you move his feet. Great stuff.

That’s not all, though. Prowl comes with a massive rifle that I mentioned earlier, and it’s a gorgeously massive ‘semi-automatic rifle’ as the instruction booklet informs me, though any Marvel comics fan will effortlessly point out that, no, G1 Prowl has an acid pellet rifle. Stupid Takara. It’s a tastefully non-chromey version of the original Prowl toy, except that it’s scaled up, and looks far more threatening and impressive even though it’s got a weedy, thin barrel. The handle is cast in white plastic, and pegs in well inside the ridges inside Prowl’s palm. Sadly, thanks to the protruding chest Prowl can’t use a second hand to steady the barrel of the rifle or pretend to reload or any of that stuff, but that’s just a small complaint.

The second play feature Prowl has is a pair of flip-out missile launchers, which are frankly sad, pathetic-looking little cylinders. Apparently designed after the cartoon version of Bluestreak’s never-used missile launchers, these are incorporated into the Datsun moulds, and Prowl looks a lot better with these castrated things hidden in his backpack. Prowl never appears with his missile launchers in the cartoon, and I don’t think he does either in the Marvel comics. It’s not until the days of Dreamwave and IDW that they began drawing Prowl with shoulder missile launchers – although they drew those based on the awesome, massive things that the toy had. And considering how Takara has a rather disturbing habit of including useless accessories like ‘scanning device Soundwave used in that one season one episode’ or ‘lightsaber Megatron uses for three seconds in the TFTM fight’, it’s kind of egregious that they left out an integral part of Prowl’s original toy.

Except that they didn’t. See, if you order Prowl via Amazon in Japan, you get one single toy-accurate missile launcher which looks pretty damn good. (You also get some stupid collectible police badge thing, but no one cares about that) Only one, though, so even if I was willing, or even able, to pay for the Amazon version, Prowl would only have one lonely awesome-looking missile launcher accessory. It’s a dick move, really, to anyone who purchased MP Prowl and wanted a pair of toy-accurate missile launcher – those who purchased the vanilla Masterpiece Prowl like me will seethe that they don’t get any, and those who purchased the Amazon Prowl will seethe that they only got one, and those who purchased two Amazon Prowls will seethe that they have to buy two Prowls. Nobody wins. And if Hasbro’s version has those two missile launchers my head will probably blow up in rage.

Still, that is a big, personal grievance of my own, for I really do like those missile launchers. Most of you probably wouldn’t care.

What else can Prowl do? He’s in scale with the other Datsun Masterpiece moulds and the Lamborghini moulds, obviously, and in vehicle mode (but not robot mode, because toys can’t cheat like the carton) he’s in scale with the new Masterpiece Optimus Prime so you can shove him in Prime’s trailer. He’s wildly out of scale with Masterpiece Soundwave, though, only reaching Soundwave’s crotch. And, yes, there is probably some obscure scale chart floating out there that probably justifies this, but I know what I saw in the cartoon and the comics – Soundwave is barely one head taller than Prowl, if any. Prowl, like Sideswipe, features no die-cast or rubber parts. G1 purists might complain, but it’s a great move that helps preserve the toy’s durability, and if you’re a G1 purist you probably will stick to the original toys anyway.

Other than that rather unjustifiably long rant about missile launchers and Amazon and Takara’s idiot ball, though, Prowl is really a gorgeous figure, Masterpiece or otherwise. And despite the long wait I had before I got my hands on him, and the bunch of personal disappointments I have about him, he still manages to worm his way into the list of my favourite toys.

Marks out of ten for the following:
Transformation Design: 8/10 Prowl’s transformation is a bit frustrating at first, and it was initially a little nightmare getting the smaller pieces to transform and sit flush. The lower body/rear part of the car in particular would be rather challenging. However, compared to a lot of modern car transformers and considering his size and how exquisite the end products are, Prowl’s transformation is really well done.

Durability: 7/10 A young child will destroy this toy, but a young child won’t have the funds to buy Mastepiece Prowl. That said, be aware that some parts (the tabs on his roofs, those tiny side-view mirrors that tuck under Prowl’s chest) develop stress marks on my Prowl. The wing-doors and the slim rifle also look very breakable. Other than those he’s pretty solid, though.

Aesthetics: 10/10 Well, beyond several niggles (which basically amounts to ‘grrr want missile launcher’) Prowl is simply immaculate in both robot and alternate modes. I personally would have preferred the inclusion of those blue police insignias on his shoulders like the original toy, but this works just fine.

Articulation: 9/10 He’s extremely poseable and stable thanks to some clever engineering with the legs and generally great design, but the chest jutting out kind of gets in the way of some poses.

Fun: 9/10 He’s a great transformer. He doesn’t have anything particularly special, but everything he does, he does very well – he’s a good Prowl robot, he’s a good Prowl car, he’s a good transformer. And he does these three things pretty well, which is what expected of him. He doesn’t blow me out of the water like Soundwave did, but then Soundwave came with an extra murderbird. Can’t beat a bonus murderbird.

Price/Value: 8/10 Yeah, Masterpiece Prowl is pretty expensive, imported or otherwise, but he is a pretty awesome toy. Anyone who’s considering owning one is going to be a fan of Prowl anyway, so he’s certainly going to have a great value rating nonetheless. Certainly far worth your buck than paying 25% more and getting some piece of shit like FOC Bruticus or those Leader-class Prime toys.

Overall: 9/10 Yeah, it’s not perfect. Yeah, it isn’t particularly ground-breaking. But it’s as perfect as you can get with the original Generation One Prowl design. My review might sound to lean on the negative side at times, but that’s only because his faults are so minimal that I feel obliged to point it out. He’s certainly recommendable. And if you don’t care for Prowl’s character (a bit of me died when I typed this sentence) there are far more attractive-looking repaints in the forms of Bluestreak and Smokescreen. With Smokescreen, they even remoulded him extensively to become cartoon-accurate… remoulded bumpers, a new spoiler, new robot shoulders, a new front window, an altered head, a new gun and those stupid-looking cartoon-accurate shoulder rockets. But really, while I could rant for another paragraph about how stupid-looking Smoekscreen’s shoulder launchers look, I think you have had your fill of me ranting about missile launchers. Bottom line: yes, Masterpiece Prowl is an awesome toy. If you like Prowl, or if you’re a Masterpiece collector, or if you simply have nothing better to do with your money, buy Masterpiece Prowl.
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