Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Matilda


Review:  #269
Title:  Matilda
Series:  N/A
Author:  Roald Dahl
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  I loved it, it wasn't because it had a beautiful, complex, elegant plot, but of the innocence and simple feel of it.  It seemed more like a classic fairytale than a novel with a moving story.  You cared for the characters, and sympathised with Matilda, you might not agree with everything she does, but you forgive her for it, since she’s so young.  The simple illustrations complement the text very, very well, adding a lot to the story.  I wouldn't say there was a lot of humour, but there is a lot of amusing events, that you can't wait to see what’s going to happen next.  I felt the book ended in a rush, if it was closed off more slowly, it would have been perfect.  The most attractive feature of this book is the sheer simplicity of it.
Rating:  6/10

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 4


Review:  #268
Title:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 4
Series:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project - 4th volume
Author:  Osamu Takahashi
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Asuka’s being annoyingly jealous and envious in this chapter, with the typical situation where the heroine mistakes the couple kissing (a.k.a. Shinji and Rei).  What’s more, after Shinji being kissed by Rei at the end of the last volume, its Asuka’s turn kissing Shinji, and it’s just gonna get messier from now on.  At least both heroines have shown their true feelings now… although Shinji, as per a typical protagonist, doesn't have a clue.  There’s the obligatory Valentine’s Day situation that must happen in every single one of these manga, in which Asuka and Rei find ways (and have trouble with) giving the chocolate to Shinji.  The cherry blossom chapter was funny, although Shinji’s dad is definitely weird (yet hilarious sometimes).  I still find it very odd that Rei acts all cool at times and then suddenly very shy when the plot calls for it.  All three protagonists keep getting additional training, but for what?!  And why are they doing what they’re doing, it makes no sense and there’s no explanations (yet) about it.  The bonus pages were worth a laugh, and the ending of the volume makes me want to get the next one as soon as I can.
Rating:  6/10

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Beast Machines Transformers


While Beast Wars generally have more positive comments than negatives, this isn't the case with Beast Machines.  I found mostly negative criticisms for the series, and while a lot of it is justified and understandable, it really wasn't such a bad series at all.  It's very plot heavy, if you miss one or two episodes, you would have lost track of what happens in the next.  While this means it's less episodic, it's pretty good to have a fully dedicated story that spans the whole 26 episodes.  That said, the first few episodes were annoying in the fact that it withholds a lot of information, a lot of revelations so to speak.  The Maximals are chucked onto an empty Cybertron, cannot transform and there are all these drones trying to attack them.  How did they come to this predicament?  How did Megatron get there before them in the first place?  Well, if you're itching to know, then the episodes just tease you, presenting you with more and more questions until finally, after around six to nine episodes, the answers finally presents itself.   That, is too long.

A lot of the personalities of the characters have changed, being more inconsistent with what was established in Beast Wars, from Optimus' stubbornness in trusting blindly with the Oracle, to Rattrap's cowardice.  Furthermore, there are plenty of annoying instances, liked Blackarachnia's obsession over reviving Silverbolt, the constant running away, the aforementioned character traits, and... Nightscream.  Wow, he is one annoying character that I do not mind if he dies, and throughout a lot of the episodes, I was hoping he would die.  The character personalities does not do the series any favors at all.  Furthermore, the character models/designs are pure ugliness.  They are not even Transformers in the normal sense in.  It had seemed like the producers wanted to have that same wow factor and vastly different take like Beast Wars with it's animal forms, the difference here is, it does not work.  Every single character is a sight for sore eyes, you will be disgusted with it.  Little wonder why the series didn't do so well with fans and why the toys didn't fly off the shelves (the toys were even uglier than the models).

Then there's the transformations, I don't know what they were thinking but they don't even transform like Transformers anymore.  A light envelopes them and then they're transformed, no shifts or movement of parts, not breaking up of panels, just a light travelling up their body, accompanied by the extremely lame and cringe-worthy "I am transformed", and it feels like they're superheroes.  It doesn't help that they have non-mechanical weaponry attacks that reinforce the image of lame superheroes.  Honestly, throwing energy from your arms and sonic screams?

While the overall story might be good and worthwhile, it's only after the first season where it picks up a lot and becomes much more exciting to watch.  I didn't like the fact that the limited cast of Maximals were really facing one character, Megatron.  Sure, he eventually created more Transformers for him, but it was just him a lot of drones which served as cannon fodder.  More annoyingly, Megatron lacked a proper body until the final episode.  What's up with that?  Where's the threat and awesome in that?  Disappointing, that's what.  And the body he just had to take at the end, even worse...

Anyway, the music was interesting and seemed to suit the series well.  However, Cybertron appeared too bleak and dark, and not all questions were really answered, "it just happened".  I really liked the final episode, it was pretty intense and epic.  I felt the length of the series was just right, not dragged on for too long and it gave a pretty decent story.  If you can ignore the ugly models and some other flaws, this is a really nice series to watch and a great follow up to Beast Wars.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 3


Review:  #267
Title:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 3
Series:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project - 3rd volume
Author:  Osama Takahashi
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  I still can't get over the fact that the manga feels very normal, where’s all the weird super awesome events?!  Anyway, the relationship between Shinji and Rei escalates, a lot.  It’s funny and interesting to see how it develops and how they act towards each other.  It’s surprising to see Rei so unsecure, when I had to notion of her coolness from the first volume.  Poor Asuka seemed to never have had a chance, guess Rei is just too mysterious for Shinji to pass up.  There were a lot of funny moments, and a lot of typical moments, yet they all worked.  You could say that the pacing was slow, but considering the content, I’d say its fine.  At this rate, it seems that there’ll be only one or two volumes before Shinji and Rei really get together for real.
Rating:  6/10

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 2


Review:  #266
Title:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 2
Series:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project - 2nd volume
Author:  Osamu Takahashi
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Fairly plain and normal, as in, it seems to be chronicling the ‘typical’ life of a middle schooler, with some mysterious research facility thrown in.  The research part is really off to the side, and isn’t bought up to focus.  Even though it wasn't exciting, I couldn't help but become absorbed in the going on of Shinji’s life, and the people that he’s surrounded in.  I was surprised at how attracted Shinji was to Rei, you kinda feel sorry for Asuka.  The dialogue was funny, and appropriate.  If you’re looking for a paranormal fix, then this manga is not for you (yet), otherwise, very nice.
Rating:  6/10

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 1


Review:  #265
Title:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project 1
Series:  Neon Genesis Evangelion:  The Shinji Ikari Raising Project - 1st volume
Author:  Osamu Takahashi
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Another spin-off/alternate take (?) of the Evangelion universe, and more interesting that I initially anticipated.  The first few chapters (and most of the volume) felt very normal, it was only near the end where the experiments are being teased.  Nothing is explained other than Rei is involved with the experiments at the lab and Shinji just got involved.  I liked the interactions between the characters, and the situations Shinji gets himself in was funny (although it felt too much like a manga in which the focus was the love triangle of the characters, who goes to high school, and one of them’s a tsundere).  I enjoyed it a lot, but seriously, the clumsiness and knack for getting into awkward situations is probably just a tiny bit unoriginal.
Rating:  6/10

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: Deltora Quest Volume 6


Review:  #264
Title:  Deltora Quest Volume 6
Series:  Deltora Quest - 6th volume
Author:  Story by Emily Rodda, Illustrator:  Makoto Niwano
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  This volume covers the end of the quest for the Opal and beginning of the Lapis Lazuli (just the start, where it involves the Rithmere Games).  I finally realise why the manga adaptation feels so weird, it is because the characters don’t act as they do in the book.  Lief and Jasmine lose their coolness, wit and cunning, to be replaced with childish, exaggerated behaviour that is stereotypical of manga protagonists.  It ruins the tension in the story.  The fight against Reeah was okay, diverging a small bit from the books, but it wasn't too satisfying considering it’s the climax of the current arc.  A so so volume overall, the series is not really worth reading.
Rating:  5/10

Monday, October 15, 2012

Toy Review: Transformers Masterpiece Optimus Prime (Hasbro MP-10 Version)


Review:  #109
Name:  Optimus Prime
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Masterpiece
Year of Release:  2012
Size Class:  Masterpiece
Variations:  this is the Hasbro release of TakaraTomy's MP-10 Convoy, with some minor colour differences.  Also, as of this date, there is a planned black repaint of the core robot.

PACKAGING AND INTRODUCTION:


I've only taken some quick photos of the packaging, as this is not the focus of the review, and be warned, there are 74 photos in this review!!  It was originally around 90, but I've combined a couple together 'as one'.  This has got to be the longest review I have ever done (trumping the previous longest review, which was, ironically, MP-01B Black Convoy), as I really cannot make myself make a separate post for more photos.


Anyway, the figure comes in a packaging style similar to the previous Generations packaging, it's interesting in that it's an oddly shaped box (i.e. not optimised for stacking).  The stock photos do a great job of selling the figure (at the very least, there's no awkward shots or mistransformed pieces).


One thing that I found really surprising, and that photos don't do enough justice, is the size of the box.  It is HUGE, and very hefty.  You're getting your value's worth here.

TRUCK WITH TRAILER MODE:


The best thing about this package is... the fact that Hasbro didn't take away the trailer like they did with Rodimus, but included it with Optimus!  Optimus just isn't Optimus without his classic trailer, and it makes him much more impressive here.


As expected, all wheels roll, and there are ten of them here.  One thing I haven't really mentioned yet is that this is the MP-10 mold, that is, the new and revised Masterpiece Optimus, supposed to be the 'definitive' version and much more cartoon accurate than the previous MP-01 mold.


Optimus with his trailer makes for a very long toy, and an awkward toy to play with.  That's not the point though as this is supposed to be a display piece, and he is stunning.


This guy is huge, as evidenced by the tiny Deluxe figure next to it.


The rear of the truck opens like a real one, with two panels swinging outwards.


There's also a panel that slides out (a really neat aspect) which you can use to deploy Roller.


The trailer also has enough empty space to store a Deluxe sized car (Generations Wheeljack used in picture).


The trailer is articulated but there is a notch in the connection that prevents it from bending further than a certain angle (this is a good thing as the trailer won't hit the actual cab).


You might notice that there two square outlines at the top of the trailer, well, the reason for that is that you can fold those panels in to create a hole for the blue pod in the trailer to poke through.


There's really no official term for this configuration, I guess it's a battle vehicle mode of sorts, the whole reason for this odd gimmick is that it is mimicking a similar feature found in the G1 toy.

TRUCK MODE:


Focusing on the cab itself, it is much more consistent and squarish than the previous Masterpiece toy.  Surprisingly, there are side mirrors.  All six wheels roll and are rubber.


There is a lot of chrome:  the smokestacks, grill, headlights, gas tanks and hubcaps.  Apparently the red and blue here is lighter than TakaraTomy's release, but it's still pleasing to the eye.


One thing that I really detest in Optimus toys is how the legs form the rear, it's not so much the concept that bugs me but the execution.  Most of the time (and it's the case here), the feet themselves stick out in an unrealistic fashion, and makes it obvious that the back half forms the robot legs.  the tail lights are also unpainted.


The back half is also much chunkier than you would expect.  Overall, it's a very compact cab that stays together very well, whether or not it's an improvement is down to your opinion.  I am somewhat disappointed in how from the sides you can make out the hinges for the shoulders, taking the place of side windows.


Furthermore, another typical Optimus aspect, you can make out the robot groin when viewing from the back, it's not as obvious as MP-01, and it's not actually too bad here, but it's there.


There are tons of sculpted detail, it's very impressive.  What's even more impressive is that Hasbro didn't skimp much in paint application, the painted headlights and windscreen wipers make a world of difference.


In terms of size, it's fairly short, and not really bigger than a Leader class figure.  However, it's hefty and bulky.  The biggest difference here when compared to MP-01 is that it's much lighter, being primarily (like, 95%) plastic.


A Spike Witwicky figure is included.  It's miniscule since it's to scale with Optimus, and has limited articulation.  His shoulders swing, hips swing (but both hips share the same joint, so if you swing one side, you have to swing the other) and knee joints.  Facial features are somewhat undefined, but for what it is, it's still cool.


The reason I'm mentioning the figurine now is because there's a gimmick involving it.  This is the sole gimmick of the cab, you can open the front of the cab and put Spike inside, as if he is driving it.  Honestly, there's no interior details (all robot kibble), so the only real benefit is seeing the figure through the transparent blue plastic if you squint.


A nice update to Optimus' cab as seen in the cartoon, it's much more stable and defined.  While some would consider the shape to not be an improvement (I'm one of them), you can't deny it's still a solid mode.

TRAILER:


Focusing now on the trailer, when you do not have Optimus attached, there are fold out stands to keep the trailer upright (just like a real one!).  The trailer has four rolling rubber wheels, with chromed hubcaps.


It's doused in silver, which gives it a premium look.  There are transparent red taillights and some really nice sculpted details.  Although essentially, this is a box on wheels, it does pack in a lot of gimmicks and transforms into either a combat deck or maintenance dock, both of which I'll get to in their own sections later on.


The sculpted details extend to the underside, featuring a spare tire and other interesting tidbits.  The bit Autobot symbol looks awesome and there's minimal visible hinges and transformation joints.  Probably due to the size, it feels heavy and big, it's still made from plastic though so it might give you a bit of a flimsy feeling.

ROLLER:


Let's diverge a bit and have a look at Roller first.  It's blue this time around, and features six plastic rolling wheels.


Note the blue is painted on, and you can feel it.  While it might not chip easily, rest assured, it will chip eventually (it has a rough feel to it, and not at all like the smoothness that you're used to).


By opening the back and flipping a piece, you get an attachment piece protruding out, what is this for?  Well, check out the next photo...


It's to attach the trailer!  So if you don't want Optimus to drag it around, yet you don't want to use the flip out stands as you want it to be portable, then you can attach Roller to it!


Next, while also fiddling around at the back, by flipping up a panel, you expose a peg hole to slot in the gun for some mobile artillery.


You can also put Spike into the driving seat.


Or just combine the two to make it seem like Spike is useful by controlling Roller and attacking the evil Decepticons.

TRANSFORMATION (TRAILER):

Well, basically, to get the trailer into a different configuration, you just have to open the two halves up, fiddling around with some panels to present it in a way you would like, and voila, there's your combat deck or maintenance dock.  That said, simplicity is preferred here, since any added complexity would probably make the trailer more unstable, and there are already some nice touches which make the trailer much more interesting that it would have been.

COMBAT DECK:


Let's diverge just a bit more and focus on the different trailer configurations.  First up is the combat deck, which is basically a battle platform/station.  A lot of people would be annoyed or disappointed with the lack of silver paint in the interior, but really, it's not bad.  You can still pick up the details, and they gotta cut down costs somehow, and I think this is a nice compromise.  For those of you who can't live without the silver painted interior, fork out for the TakaraTomy version which is 2.5 times the price.


In combat deck mode, you will also fold out two support struts on either side.  Something nifty is that while you're pulling them out, the struts automatically extend so it's long enough to touch the ground (whereas it's above the ground when folded back to the trailer).


There's the blue pod situated in the middle, which can extend (via two joints).  It has this flip up radar dish thingie on the right side, and a multiple jointed claw (which can open and close) on the left.


Plus, you can open the windshield to get access to the cockpit and place Spike there to control it.


Furthermore, on each side, there is a seating place for Spike.  The seat can be folded in to hide it or up to actually form the seat.  The picture above is the one to the left of the pod.  It contains a computer terminal for Spike to utilize.


While this one is the one to the right of the pod.  It contains control mechanisms of some sort.


Each of these sections are specially designed for Spike to sit in.  I found that this displaces the notion that Spike was just a gimmick that was forced in, instead, it's well thought out and there are plenty of places for him to interact with the figure.


The trailer also serves as a weapon storage unit, well, Optimus only has two weapons to store, his rifle, which goes on the left side, and the axe, which goes on the right.  It should be noted that if you choose to store the axe, the seat on the right side is unavailable since it is covered.


As mentioned, there are a ton of generic mechanical elements here.  It actually makes for a great command centre in which Optimus directs his troops.


While you may think that the trailer is pretty bare, it's kind of necessary since you need to store Roller inside, and it also has space for other vehicles to go in.  It's compacted in trailer mode, but it's just that when it is unfolded, the surface area increases exponentially and the emptiness is magnified.  Still, the extra space is perfectly scaled for Legends sized toys.

MAINTENANCE DOCK:


If you stand up the trailer, then it becomes a maintenance dock.  The claw is flexible enough to go under the pod and positioned in such a way to be 'patching up' Optimus.


If you leave the weapons stored, this mode looks even cooler because it seems like a personal armory for Optimus.

TRANSFORMATION (ROBOT):

While it keeps the core of the Optimus Prime transformation, such as the back half of the cab extending to form his legs and the sides of the cab folding out to become his arms, there's surprisingly a lot of refreshing twists.  If you have played and transformed MP-01 before, then you'll see that there are some similar aspects of engineering, such as the tires folding in the same way to form his torso, the real grill folding into his chest and the head flipping up from within the cab.  That said, it still provides a different experience such that you don't feel cheated.  The panels that flip to form the legs were interesting, and created better looking lower legs for Optimus.  Forming the torso might get a little bit tricky but only because parts get in the way of each other.  There are some little touches here that increases the cartoon accuracy, like the smokestacks sliding up to elongate it and panels to cover the wheels on his legs.  Generally, it's a simpler and easier transformation, making him more fun to go between the modes.

ROBOT MODE:


Now, we finally get to the main section of the review, the robot mode.  I guess the robot will either make or break the figure for you, so I'll do my best to point out the highlights and flaws.  Supposedly, this is more accurate to the cartoon, so there are some changes to proportions compared to MP-01.  Something that may irk you could be the relatively thin waist.


He's relatively kibble free, he does a good job of 'absorbing' most of the truck elements into himself to present a sleek robot.  That said, he does have some detracting kibble on his back that sticks out all the more because of the chrome (they're the headlights and grill).


The head is rounder and more anime like (something that may not please everyone).  Hasbro made an excellent choice when they went ahead and painted the eyes bright blue, it fits so well with the figure, and it makes it so that the eyes don't blend into the darker blue helmet.  Sadly, he doesn't have a moving mouthplate gimmick anymore.


The recent Masterpiece toys have all had a reduction in size, and this new Optimus is no exception.  I guess this is now the new height standard.  While still big in his own right, MP-01 absolutely towers over him.


He and Rodimus Prime are about the same height, which means that he's about Leader class height.  Optimus shares a similar amount of mass with Leader class figures too.


Thanks to the size reduction, Optimus loses the awesome finger poseability of his previous incarnation.  Now, his thumb is fixed, his index finger has two joints and the other three things are molded together and jointed at the knuckles.  Basically, Binaltech finger articulation.


Optimus has decent articulation, while he may not have as many joints and hinges, he has a larger range of motion, and he's able to keep a pose easier.


Something that I sorely miss is up down movement for the wrists, they can only rotate.  Optimus also has a rotating waist, and the range of motion his head has is amazing.


At least on mine and a friend's, his ankle joints are weak enough to make him keel over forwards when you're trying to pose him.  Needless to say, this is annoying, especially since he has decent ankle motion that's now impaired by that single joint.


Now, let's look at the gun.  It's unique for the fact that it can fold up (the reason why will be clear later on).  It's spring loaded, which means when you release the clips, it'll automatically unfold.  However, this also means that gun has some obvious hinges, and while it still looks like his G1 rifle, it's flimsy and less accurate.  Still, it's good enough for display purposes.


So, the reason for the folding up feature of the gun is that you can store is in a cavity at Prime's back.  This also means that you can leave it in there to store when he goes back into truck mode.  Personally, I don't think it's worth it for this pointless gimmick, especially since Prime can store his gun in his trailer.  Still, I guess some people take in pleasure knowing that Prime's weapon is fully integrated.


Prime can obviously hold his own rifle, you can place it on either hand.  There's a tab on the gun corresponding to a slot inside his hand, to secure the gun in place, this is very welcome since MP-01 had a loose grip with his gun.  It's very secure unlike MP Rodimus' infamous loose grip (even with the tab system).


Many gimmicks on the original MP-01 were shafted here, he lacks wrist communications, working shin vents and the moving mouthplate.  Interestingly enough, his ears are still adjustable (needed for transformation).


Optimus uses a false grill on his torso (the real one is tucked inside) and the use of the transparent yellow for his waist details looks great.


Hardly any paint applications were skimped here either, everything you want painted is painted.


The second weapon Optimus has is his energon axe that he had only used for one episode.


It fits over his hand like a glove, annoyingly, you can only fit it into his right hand (I tried it on the left at first and it wouldn't go in), it's molded specifically for that hand.


Due to the way it's inserted, the 'orb' where it attaches is larger than you'd expect, and the shorter shaft coupled with a larger blade makes it somewhat out of proportion in certain angles.


Another flaw (and I know this is not only on my figure) is that the two pieces of the axe detach too easily.  It's in two pieces because of the need for the axe blade to swivel, yet it doesn't attach securely at all.  Even more annoying is that when you peg it into the trailer storage, it can be very hard to get back out when you can't pull it using the blade, and instead try and get a grip on the circular portion.


The axe, as you'd expect, is made of rubbery plastic.  It's not too soft so it won't warp in the heat.  In the end, it doesn't *really* look like the axe is coming out of Prime's hand, but more like he's holding it within a glove (since his thumb is still visible).


The last feature of Optimus is his Matrix.  This cannot be a Masterpiece rendition of G1 Optimus without his Matrix.  The Matrix chamber is much more accurate to the cartoon now, with two panels to open.  The second black panel is a pain to open though.


Inside, the shiny Matrix of Leadership.  It's much easier to take out, only requiring you to push one side in order to pop it out, that's a nice change.


The Matrix itself is bundle of chromed goodness.  It has a transparent blue centre, on one side, it's smaller (representing open?), while on the either, it's bigger (representing closed?).  It's made of die-cast metal, so it has some nice heft to it.


It can be a bit of a struggle to get Optimus' hands onto his opened chest halves to make it seem like he's using the Matrix.


The limited finger articulation also makes it harder for him to hold the Matrix.


Speaking of die-cast, Optimus has die-cast feet (specifically, his toes and heel spurs), and also a piece inside his torso.  Interestingly, that piece is painted red, yet cannot be seen in either mode.  It's only apparent when you're transforming him, that's good news considering it's very easy to chip the paint on that piece since it rubs against other pieces during transformation (mine is already noticeably chipped).


In summary, the robot mode doesn't have too many gimmicks of his own.  They're all just accessories to be honest, the gun, axe and Matrix.  That said, Optimus focuses on being a good Transformer, and being cartoon accurate and super poseable.  A very good looking robot.

OVERALL:


While the robot focuses on being a solid Transformer, the trailer packs a surprising amount of gimmicks.  It was a good decision for Hasbro to keep the whole package, as the trailer is versatile, and the Spike figurine interacts with it much more satisfyingly than with Optimus himself.  This version of Optimus has fulfilled the role of being the definitive G1 re-imagining of Optimus Prime.  I can't really point out many flaws in this guy, and coupled with the relatively low price, this packs a whole lot of value and is highly recommended.  This is from someone who had preferred the look and build of the MP-01 mold, I can still appreciate the design and engineering that went into this figure.

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One last thing (well, maybe two), I apologise for the length of the review, but I had really wanted to pack as much as I could into this review so you can get a feel for the figure, this is truly a figure loaded with features.  Now, if you have enjoyed this review, have a look at other Transformers reviews I have done on this page.
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