Third-Party Palooza - Masterpiece Edition: Ocular Max's Azalea (Alternate) and Sphinx (Cel)
The world of Third-Party Transformers can be confusing. Which companies still exist? Which ones are gone? Which companies stand alone? Which ones are parts of other companies? Sure, it’s a little exhausting sometimes to keep track, but it can be important to do so if for no other reason than to ensure a little piece of mind regarding the quality of what you may or may not end up purchasing.
In this pair of reviews, we’re going to take a look at a couple of Ocular Max offerings. For those of you that don’t know, Ocular Max is a branch of Mastermind Creations. Now, while I’ve only reviewed a couple of pieces for the site so far (Thunder Prominon and Nitro), I’ll be adding a bunch more to the site soon…ish. In the year since those reviews, I’ve become a HUGE fan of the work Mastermind has done in their Reformatted line…so how do some of their early Masterpiece-style entries stack up? Stay tuned and we’ll find out!
This one’s probably the highest profile given the sheer amount of competition, but discussion ends up circling in on three different figures. There’s Third-Party darling Fans Toys Rouge (yes, with the optional boobies) which looks great but I’ve heard is an absolute nightmare to transform. Then there’s the fact that Fans Toys’ stuff sells out so quickly that the aftermarket prices are insane! Next up is Takara/Tomy’s official release which is…well…official, but if I’m being honest, the look of the robot mode kind of helps cement the oft held belief that nerds don’t know what a real girl looks like. Lastly, we have the toy we’re looking at today, Ocular Max’s Azalea. How do you, as a collector, choose?
Well, if we’re going by robot mode appearance, what stage of life do you want your Arcee? Azalea looks like an early Arcee with female features you’d find say, late teens to early 20s: lean and athletic with a developing chest. Rouge is in her prime: mid 20s to early 30s. Tak/Tomy is in her 40s to 50s, still fine, but bits are starting to sag. I know, I know, it’s soooo base to make these decisions based on robo-boobs, but still, dorks will be dorks and as such, robo-boobs are indeed a factor for discussion. And if I get right down to it, ordinarily, yeah, I’d buy the official without batting an eye, but the saggy chest…just no. There was no way I could give that money.
So, having gotten that out of the way, the other issue is of course price. Like with Maketoys’ Gundog vs Tak/Tomy’s Hound, MP Arcee will run you in the ballpark of $150 while Azalea is shy of $100. If you’re watching your funds the way most of us are these days, the answer is obvious.
All that being said, Azalea is a really good figure. Poseable with good joints, the robot mode is all you can ask for and blends in with your Tak/Tomy MPs easily. It’s not oversexualized at all and really fits my mental image of Arcee to a T. Transformation is interesting and mostly smooth, although there is an exception we’ll need to talk about in a bit. The car mode is fine…but you can tell this is where the sacrifices were made. Mind you, there’s nothing deal-breaking here at all, but when you compare it to the other two entries, it does pale in comparison with both of them.
Negatives. Yeah, there are a few. First off, in robot mode, the hands are not articulated. For each different pose, you need to dig out a different set of hands. The good thing is that Ocular Max gives you three different sets, so you’ve got options. The bad news is that if you want to exercise those options, then you’ve got to leave 6 very lose-able pieces out for easy access. Can’t see any way how that would backfire, eh? And it’s important to point out that not all hand sets are conducive to transformation. If you’re going into car mode, you’d best have those fists in otherwise, this isn’t going to end well. On the note of transformation, my praise earlier was mainly for the front end of the vehicle. The back end can get downright fidgety, resulting in emotions ranging from mild annoyance to HULK SMAAAASH!
To wrap up, sure, she’s not perfect…and Masterpiece might be a bit of a stretch…but Azalea isn’t half bad either. Her robot mode definitely fits the Arcee aesthetic without getting…ahem…weird, and is very solid. The car mode is middling and the transformation can be a bit more fiddly than I’d like, but for the price, she’s a great addition to any MP collection. It might be a low-end Happy Cat, but Azalea gets a Happy Cat nonetheless!
Trying to find the more toy-centric deco of this mold will either drive you broke or insane, so with the recent reissue, you’re more likely to find this animation-deco a little easier, both on the pocketbook and the cabeza. If you want to go for the more toy look, however, I’d HIGHLY recommend grabbing the decals from ToyHax.com. Those will provide you with enough detail to separate your copy from the relatively bland original.
Okay, touch-ups aside, how does he stack up? At the time of this writing, there’s precious little competition in the Mirage market. Tak/Tomy does not have a version…which, sure, could lead to a Mirage rant that would wonder why this particular character always seems to get slighted, heck, even now only finally getting a brief mainline entry before being shuffled off to an Amazon exclusive. Ahem, right…as I was saying, Fans Toys has a version on the way but that’s in the Pre-Order Sold Out phase. There is an entry from DX9, Invisible that hit shelves at least three years ago (but if you know where to look, you can find him…and maybe even affordable too!). But the one you’ll hear talked about just as much as Sphinx here is the Transform Element TE-03, Speed Star. A quick comparison will show that prices are about equal, Speed Star might be a little less depending on where you shop, but it’s quick to note that Sphinx still has plenty of nods to the toy and details baked into the mold while Speed Star is very much based on the animation model and thus, can be quite plain.
All right, let’s quit talking about the competition and look at the bot of the hour. [This is a twin review, so maybe bot of the half-hour? – Ed.] If you’re a fan of Mirage, there’s a lot to like here with Sphinx. There are some nods to the cartoon design when necessary, for example you won’t find wheels slung back over the shoulders here, but as I already mentioned, the details in the mold steer this figure more in the toy direction than the animation model. Transformation is fun in that ‘sure, I don’t remember EXACTLY how this goes, but I’ll figure it out as I go’ way…and you will get through it with minimal frustration. Worst case scenario is that there might be a panel that needs massaging. For me, it’s always the racer’s driver’s compartment but it always clicks into place after the second or third try. Really, just enough to limber up the brain. Formula-1 racer mode is fun with rubber tires and the especially thick rear rubber tires. I can’t explain why, I just always get a kick out of ‘em.
It's not all perfect though. Fortunately, my nits to pick with this guy are minimal, but both of them are items that show the mold’s age…having come around in the earlier days of Third-Party offerings as opposed to the seasoned offerings of today. First off is how the forearms and hands transform. Sadly, nothing here locks into place. While it’s clear where the panel designed to cover the hole from which the hands emerge should go, a slip of the thumb can just as easily shift that panel to expose said hole…which isn’t a good look. A similar thing happens with the small red and blue piece that conceals the hole where Mirage’s head sits in vehicle mode. This panel just doesn’t lock in with the chestplate the way that you think it should and, again, a misplaced finger can knock that loose for a less than pleasant appearance.
That’s it though. By and large, this guy’s a great figure and with the reissue out there, you’ve got a chance to get your mitts on it. Like Azalea, Sphinx blends in perfectly with your other Masterpiece Transformers so as to not rock the boat aesthetically. While the few transformation issues keep this from being perfect, this is a high-end Happy Cat to be sure!