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The Reverend's Review: KO Headmasters (Planet Master's Super Warriors)

Name: Planet Master's Super Warriors (Headmasters KO)
Sub-Group: Headmasters
Generation: G1-Japan

Okay. I don't really want to stretch this review out with a lot of pointless exposition, since the set consists of ten figures and I'd like to detail each of them. However, I also know that I'd better clarify a few points before I plunge into the reviews, so here we go:

When the G1 toy series ended in North America and the rest of the world (barring some of the toys released in Europe between Generations 1 and 2), the toys and supporting cartoon series continued on for some time in Japan. The writers for the Japanese "Headmasters" backstories ignored G1's "The Rebirth" episode and Nebulon backstory for the various "-Master" types. Instead of the Headmasters being organic Nebulon (or human) individuals "binary-bonded" to various robots, the Japanese series instead rendered them as roughly Micromaster-type Transformers who had fled some time ago to "Planet Master", where they eventually learned to transform into the heads of larger, lifeless robot bodies for combat purposes. The bodies were referred to as "Transtectors". In other words, the Headmaster WAS the sentient Transformer, and the bodies were just accessories to some degree. Theoretically, a Headmaster could (and did) join with and pilot another body if need be. There was no bonding, mind-pooling, whatever. This meant that, say, instead of Brainstorm and his sidekick/head Arcana, there was just Brainstorm the tiny Autobot who had a transformable jet at his disposal.

(If anyone finds this a little weird, Dreamwave's More Than Meets The Eye compendium had an interesting little entry on Headmasters which explains that the in-universe concept had originally been intended as an energy-saving measure.)

Anyhow, in the middle of all this, the Japanese series depicted a group of young Autobots still training on Planet Master. These are usually referred to as the Headmaster Teens or Headmaster Warriors. They did not yet possess Transtectors of their own. And notably, not all had humanoid forms - some have animal modes instead. These were sold individually at retail and fit onto many of the larger Headmaster robot toys. (They also command excessively high prices now for being just heads - a loose-in-box Headmaster Teen can fetch $300 or more on the secondary market.) Also, each one interacts differently with the built-in Tech Specs readouts in a larger robot's chest - for example, Shuffler will give different scores than Kirk, which does add some interest to the concept - some Headmasters might be more suited, theoretically, to operating certain Transtectors in particular situations.

Product Overview:
This unofficial "reissue" set shows up from time to time on Ebay and IOffer. Its manufacturer isn't known for sure, and there's none listed on the box that I can find, but the seller I got it from was just outside of Beijing, China. It consists of ten Headmaster robots - four versions of more familiar Headmasters and six Headmaster Teens. On the box, these are labeled as:

Grand Maximus Spike ("Grand" in Japan)
Fortress Maximus Spike ("Fortress" in Japan)
Black Zarak (from Scorponok's Japanese recolor)
Lord Zarak (Scorponok's headmaster)
Lodoni ("Rodney" in Japan)
Trizer (sometimes rendered "Toraizer" in Japan, derived from "tiger")

The set comes packaged in faux G1 style, with the gridded red/yellow/black gradient familiar from the later 80s packaging for Autobots. There's also a G1-style bit of artwork on the back depicting Grand Maximus and BlackZarak battling in space while the Headmasters (some not included in this set, such as Krunk (Snapdragon) and Duros (Hardhead) are depicted) float about in battle with them. The box's front flap opens to reveal all ten Headmasters in their own individual windows, and some curious tech-type artwork on the inside flap that depicts Cerebros and names several other Headmasters (by their Hasbro names, at that).

Before I delve into each figure, I should point out that while this is technically a knockoff, the quality is actually quite good. The plastic used for the figures is quite sturdy and the assembly is tight - no mismatched joints or any of the other stuff I expected. The humanoid figures all preserve the same articulation we know from the Hasbro line - shoulders and lower legs move independently of each other, hips move together. I only see one or two minor paint issues (which I'll note on their corresponding figures). You can see some sprue marks, though I don't think they are abominably bad. The only thing that gives them away immediately next to the originals, possibly, is that the colors are slightly darker in most cases. I compared the set's Lord Zarak to the original I own - and I am not sure I could tell the difference if you just put them both down in front of me. To the point that I made sure not to mix them up while I was holding them, and I put the original back in my bookcase immediately before I dropped them both or something.

This brings up another thing I should mention, though - the relative availability of this set means that someone could easily buy the set and sell each one individually as a loose original for a high price. Heck, the US version of Spike already fetches $150-$200 loose on Ebay. So if you're shopping for the original Headmaster Teens toys, be warned - if the seller doesn't have the original box, BE WARY. The new set of all ten "reissues" cost me $80 - I think that illustrates the nastiness I'm suspecting here.

Anyway, on to the figures! I proceed in the numbered order on the front of the box. And because each of the Teens gives different Tech Spec readings I'll use G1 Highbrow (the only one of the four large Autobot Headmasters I own at the moment) as the guinea pig for each one in their reviews. I'll try to give the Tech Spec readouts accurately, but these things are hard to read within a point.

Grand Maximus Spike and Fortress Maximus Spike:
In Japan, these individuals were two separate entities, but the packaging calls them both Spike. They are identical except for their coloration - Spike/Fortress is grey with blue limbs, Grand has more of a very dark gray (almost dark green) torso and red limbs. Each has the flipping panel on their backs to obscure the large robot face. Both are very true to the original mold, with the same molded detail (no corners cut - the limbs look just as sculpted as the original's) and good painting on the silver faces. I can see a very tiny paint error on Grand's face... looks like the silver paint for his face ran just a little bit into the inside of the helmet, but its only because I'm looking for it for the purposes of this review. In casual display you'd never notice. The head mode sports the same yellow eyes common to the originals, and they both fit well into Cerebros. Like the original Headmasters we're familiar with from the Hasbro line, they each have long panels on their arms and legs to make their head modes look squarish and not betray the presence of the limbs so easily.

Fortress Maximus Spike alone is one reason to look into getting this set - the original costs $150-$200 on Ebay and not much less from other sellers, so if you need the part to complete a Fort Max...

Black Zarak and Lord Zarak:
The only Decepticon in the set, these two versions of Zarak (same guy at different times, not two separate entities) are also different only in coloration - Lord Zarak is the same off-white and purple character we know from the Hasbro line, Black Zarak features a gold torso with black limbs. I looked closely with a jeweler's loupe and no, this doesn't appear to be the "swirly" gold plastic prone to the infamous Gold Plastic Syndrome. Again, the mold is near-indistinguishable from the original and well detailed. Mine don't have any paint errors - the faces (silver for Lord Zarak and black for Black Zarak) are well done, the eyes for the large robot head (both in red) look good.

The original Hasbro Lord Zarak doesn't go for as much on the secondary market as Spike does, so I can't say "if you need a Scorponok head you should just get this box set, its much cheaper and you get extra figures to mess with". However, I will say that Black Zarak actually looks good plugged into Scorponok as well - but because of the helmet, I'm not sure any of the Headmaster Teens will fit as Scorponok's head.

Okay, now we begin the individual Teens. Loafer is a lanky Headmaster, with a relatiely thin torso (rendered in a pink/red color) and thin blue limbs. Loafer has a silver masked face, and I can see that the paint ran a little bit on this one too - there's just a little more on one side of the helmet's edge than there needs to be. Loafer's legs, interestingly, do NOT have the side panels on them we know from Hasbro Headmasters - they are proper, tapered legs. His arms have nearly round shoulder joints, with some flatness on the outer edges... not the rectangles Hasbro HMs had, but tapered flat panels stretching from bicep to wrist and ending in two obvious gun barrels on the back of each hand - Loafer carries his own weaponry. Not bad - I always hated that the Hasbro HMs usually didn't have obvious weapons, and I didn't go for the notion of Hanna-Barbera GoBot fist blaster thingies. Loafer has the same flipping back panel common to most of the larger Headmasters, but in his case it is visible from the front as two curved spines sticking up behind his head. Why is this?

...because in head mode, the same piece becomes a crest on the forehead. A tall, thin, double-spired crest. Loafer's a big taller than most HMs in head mode because of this. He presents a smiling, well-detailed silver face in a pink helmet - he almost looks like he's wearing a mitre. In head mode, his hand-guns point upwards, mimicking the crest. Because his legs lack the aforementioned panels, they are visible, but they look almost like power conduits or pipes going into the head from the body. Not bad at all. Loafer gives Tech Spec readings of 9 Speed, 8 Strength and 8 Intelligence when plugged into Highbrow.

If I am remembering correctly, Kirk was the "leader" of the Headmaster Teens in the Japan cartoon. Kirk is a rather stocky individual, with a very light grey body, orange face, and red limbs. His helmet shape and general body size look quite similar to the Hasbro HMs. He has a nicely sculpted "V" pattern on his helmet, a well-painted face with discernible features, and circular ports on his chest. His legs are panel-less, like Loafer, alhough they are notably wider at the shins and look more armored. His shoulders are square and he doesn't have guns on his hands - instead, he appears to be wearing some sort of overguard on each shoulder from which his lower arms emerge, with tapered panels on the outside of each arm. The flipping panel on his back has a pair of upward-pointing wings vaguely reminiscient of Mazinger Z's Jet Scrander - flipping it down makes the wings stick out of his butt, which might be useful in play for flight purposes, but it exposes the large robot face and looks pretty silly anyway. Still, Kirk's a solid-looking Headmaster - a little bland next to his fellows, maybe.

Kirk's head mode is a large orange face wearing a thick, light grey helmet, with the aforementioned "wings" making a large crest on the top of his helmet, sort of like the crests born by Bluestreak and Prowl. His sculpted orange face has a serious expression - not the goofy one that Loafer bears - and the bulkier look fits very well with larger Transtectors. Like Loafer, Kirk's exposed legs are noticeable from the sides and rear of his head, although they don't look as "disguised" to me. Kirk gives Tech Spec readings of 8 Speed, 10 Strength and 7 Intelligence when plugged into my Highbrow.

Lodoni (Rodney):
Whichever name you prefer for him, Lodoni is also a humanoid Headmaster. His transformation is different from the usual Headmaster, though, and this creates a few differences in his robot form as well. Lodoni is purple with yellow limbs. He has tiny hoselike arms bearing huge, almost paddle-like yellow panels and his hip joints are very high on his torso, giving him noticeably long legs. Below the knees, his legs are very large and carry flat panelling on the back instead of the sides. His head is more rounded than most Headmasters' and there's a noticeable curve rising behind it, with two purple spikes sticking up from his back panel. The reason for his odd head shape is because Lodoni's head is not the plug-in part for connection to a Transtector - the "plug" is actually sticking out of his crotch, though its not quite as obvious as I'm making it sound here. His gold face is almost featureless (I'm not sure if that's a flaw in this version or if the original was like that as well), and the aforementioned "paddles" on his arms actually stick up prominently above his shoulder joints. There appear to be two small nodes at the end of each paddle, and the box art does actually depict these (imaginatively) as guns, though they don't look the part to me on the toy. So anyhow, in robot mode, Lodoni's a serviceable Headmaster - looks good displayed with others, looks a little silly on his own. Oh yeah, and if you flip the back panel down, you'll find it's not really big enough to hide much of the large robot face.

Head mode for Lodoni results in a thin purple face with nice golden eyes and a thin double crest (similar to Loafer's). So thin, in fact, that it doesn't do much to hide the face in robot mode, but it looks good here. The paddles on his arms now create some "earpiece" detail, although they look a little detached because the face is thin and the shoulder joint is obvious from the front. Also, because Lodoni's legs fold UP behind the robot face instead of down, head mode looks like it's carrying quite a bit of extra equipment behind it. Lodoni gives readings of 9 Speed, 7 Strength and 9 Intelligence.

Trizer (Toraizer):
Ah, now we get to the animal Headmasters - probably one of the bigger selling points for this set. Trizer is supposed to be a robotic tiger. Despite his odd coloring for the part (purple body, dark blue limbs and head, dark red tail), he doesn't look half bad, with his sleek body and large shoulder & hip joints. His head is movable somewhat, it can be raised to a 90 degree angle, and sports red eyes and whisker etchings. His tail can rise over his back and all four legs can move at the shoulder/hip joints. Each foot has some detailed ribbing suggesting claws. While Trizer's large robot face is visible on his underbelly (no folding panels here), it doesn't show easily from most angles and its forehead gives his chest a stocky look that actually works well for a tiger. Trizer would have more play value if he had joints at the paws, but this is, after all, a Headmaster. He still looks good, even if his form and coloring look more like a Decepticon.

Trizer's transformation to head mode is necessarily different from the HM's we are used to - in essence, he bends backwards at the middle, his tiger head folds back, his front forelimbs become detail at the sides of the large robot face and his rear limbs and tail fold up at the back. Trizer's head mode is mainly purple, with a silver visor (I see the only true notable paint issues of the set here - the visor paint has gotten onto the nose a little) - he actually resembles Computron from the TV series. The forelimbs on either side of his head gives him a sloping helmet like Fortress Maximus, although the angle they descend from kind of reminds me of Hassidic sidelocks and the way his head projects at the back from the hindlimbs is a little strange. Trizer gives specs of 9 Spd, 7 Strength, 7 Intelligence. Not bad for a puddy tat!

Shuffler is an elephant. I kid you not, a literal (if robotic) elephant, not a fat person. He's a dark reddish brown, with tan legs and ears. The legs are properly large, but rather thin and line-straight. His elephant head has little beady green eyes, and a curved trunk and set of tusks can move somewhat on a joint just below his eyes. The forelimbs are attached to and move with the ears, but the more squared, larger hind limbs are free. He doesn't have a tail, but his elephant butt does curve downward instead of being just a block. The large robot head rides along just under his elephant head, partly obscured by the trunk and tusks. I'm not really sure how much good Shuffler is in terms of posing, but I do get an interesting mental picture of him happily knocking down and squashing the tiny stiff midgets that came with the Junior Headmaster robots. This also makes him the only elephant in G1 (even though he wasn't a Hasbro toy, I'd count the Teens as G1).

Head mode is achieved much like Trizer - bending the animal backwards (although Shuffler has two spinal joints instead of one) and rotating the limbs into the proper position. In Shuffler's case, it's not the front legs but the tops of the ears that go alongside his head mode's face, and the trunk & tusks become a curious sort of forehead crest - it curves upwards from just above the red eyes, and projects outwards somewhat if you rotate it down enough to close the gap above the eyes. The face itself is somewhat featureless - mainly tan, with wide slit red eyes and a smooth mask covering the rest. Naturally, because of Shuffler's fat body and notable limbs, he's carrying a LOT of junk behind the head mode. Connected to Highbrow, Shuffler gives a readout of 4 Speed, 10 Strength, 8 Intelligence.

Lione is, as you might've guessed, a lion. His limbs and head are a bright orange, the body and tail are a darker shade. Lione can be a bit puzzling on your first look because the designer came up with a few ideas to keep his feline body from looking too blocky. Although he carries his head mode's face on his underside like the other animal Headmasters, Lione has a wide sculpted "mane" around his lion head and a couple of projecting parts behind his forelimbs to mimic the shape of a lion's chest and belly. The mane, while adding a lot to his look, does however restrict the movement of his front legs - he can't reach out and claw anyone without rearing up on his much larger hind legs. His tail can curve over his back like Trizer's, and his lion head sports red eyes. What's also interesting is that Lione has a weird crest sticking out of his lion head, almost like a pterosaur. This will later form a crest on the head mode, but it does look a bit weird here. Lione can move his head downwards to sniff the ground, and his unrestricted hind limbs can move at the hips.

Lione also possesses the same spinal joint Trizer does for transformation. Bending him backward in much the same manner as his fellow feline gives you the head mode, except that Lione's head folds down instead of up. In head mode, Lione has a funny long and thin red face with blue eyes. The lion's mane now makes a dome on top of the head (not a square or rectangular head!) and the forelimbs provide the same side type of side detail as they did on Trizer. Because Lione's lion head folds down to just above the eyes and peers out at the world from there, he kind of looks like somebody wearing a cat on their head, like when you drive them to the vet without putting them in a cage. The odd crest I noted on the lion head sticks up rather like a cowlick here, but it does keep his head from looking overly round at the top and hides the tip of the folded-up tail. Lione gives Tech Spec scores of 8 Speed, 9 Strength, 10 Intelligence.

So why drop good money on a set of knockoffs from (suspected to be) China? Aside from the money-saving advantage to completing Fortress Maximus or picking up the Teens without spending $200-$300 apiece... well, it is kind of funny to have one's Headmasters standing around with the "wrong" heads. It IS kind of cool to reimagine the Headmasters as a sort of "mission impossible" team, with interchangeable partners.

Transformation Design: 4. The humanoid Headmasters (even Lodoni/Rodney's unorthodox design) are easy to transform and require no real thought. If I were rating the humanoid Headmaster Teens in this set against other Headmaster partners I would give them high marks (say, an 8) just because all but Kirk deviate so much from the standard HM transformation scheme. The three animal Headmasters are slightly trickier because placing their limbs just-so in head mode is important. Regardless, Headmasters are Headmasters and you can only expect so much out of transformation here.
Durability: 3. The toys themselves are made quite solidly, to my surprise (I expected a lighter, far more brittle plastic). The shoulder joints on humanoid Headmasters in general are fragile, and I would apply the same to Toraizer and Lione's limbs. Shuffler is a little more durable at the limbs, but does have that projecting trunk.
Fun: 5. Having all those extra pilots and beasts around brings some interesting re-imaginations to Headmasters, and the differing Tech Spec readings are a nice touch. Now, the Headmaster toys themselves are limited in their poseability and apparent firepower and so on, but I won't drop points just for that. If nothing else, they look good populating Metroplex or Fortress Maximus.
Aesthetics: Hmm. Let's say... 4. They're really too small to stand out in a crowd of Transformers. Some of the color schemes are quite eye-grabbing and some are not. On the other hand, the various head modes are different from the Hasbro Headmasters (not being all just squared-off heads), and the variations in body type and details are quite notable.
Articulation: 2. For all intents and purposes, Headmasters just don't have that much useful posing ability, and this set is no different. If Trizer and Lione had at least been equipped with ankle joints I would raise the overall rating.
Value/Price: 8. Look, with Spike going for $150-$200 and Lord Zarak fetching about $30-$50, you've already saved a ton of money by dropping $80 on the box set, even if you do pay shipping on top of that. And the few times I have seen loose (with box) Headmaster Teens on the secondary market, they commanded at LEAST $200 individually.
Overall: 7. I was going to put 5 because of the limits of the toys themselves and because I'm well aware not everyone likes the "-Master" gimmicks. But I decided to add two points because of the quality of the set and the low price.
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