More often than not, when something is called a knock-off, it's meant in a derrogatory way...and usually it's merited. After all, a knock-off is exactly that: an item that presents itself as an original item, but lacking the original's quality. They're certainly not new to Transformers collecting, hell, it's why the rub-signs first appeared in Generation 1 toys back in the 80s. As collecting entered the 21st century, knock-offs have certainly persisted but the line has also become increasingly blurred with the rise of the third-party transforming toy: Transformer style toys that aren't made by Hasbro but more often than not capture the appearance, style or spirit of an existing Transformer character. For an example of this, check out our comparitive review of FansProject's not-Stunticons. Surprisingly, Hasbro and Japanese partner Takara haven't done much in the way of persuing any legal action, but in the wake of the toy that we're going to look at today, Wei Jiang's M01 Commander...well, let's just say that the line between third-party offering and knock-off has been blurred.
Truth be told, the only reason for really calling this a knock-off is that around 90-95 percent of the engineering of this toy is taken directly from the Hasbro-released Age of Extinction Evasion Mode Optimus Prime voyager class toy. The transformation is virtually identical. So if you had an insane level of frustration transforming that figure (and I'll admit, there are times where I fall into that category), prepare yourself, because it's present here too. That being said...given that Wei Jiang opted for a pretty good use of die-cast parts and the increased size does make it a little easier. At the very least, you won't have to worry about stressing the plastic as much as you did with the Voyager class original.
Now, the 5-10% of original engineering mostly puts a level of finesse that Hasbro simply could not on a mass-market toy due to cost (which is not only becoming increasingly more apparent but is starting to affect the aesthetic of their mainline toys). For example, adding panels that conceal all the stored bits that are visibile through the back of the cab on the original release...or articulated hands more in keeping with standards set in the Masterpiece line. Unfortunately, there is a missed opportunity here, that being the funky elbows that are present...you know, where the actual elbow is molded where it should be, but the actual joint that you can move is almost in the middle of the forearm. Ouch. This was my second biggest gripe with the original mold from Hasbro (the first of course being the extremely unforgiving nature of the cab transformation) and ends up being my biggest gripe with this upscaling. If you thought enough to re-engineer some aspects of the figure, which are all welcomed, why on earth would you overlook the biggest flaw???
While I'm griping, we might as well go into the seemingly standard third-party issues that usually rear their ugly head. In this particular specimen, thankfully they are few and certainly aren't remotely deal breakers. Still, in the interest of full disclosure, some of the joints are insanely tight...either really tight in the friction department or some really damn strong springs in the ratchets. Rest assured, many joints in this figure WILL NOT get floppy...ever. There are some clearance issues in the transformation. Now, you'd think that I'd jump right into the cab transformation that I mentioned in the above paragraph, but that existed from the initial design, so nope, not going there. Instead, there is a bit of an issue when you're trying to transform the lower legs either from robot to semi or vice versa...you do get a little bit of plastic on plastic action. It is pretty minor and at this point, I haven't noticed anything in the way of scratching or stressing. Lastly, there are a couple of things that may not snap right into place as they should, most notably on my copy is one of the window-chest panels, but this is another instance where the strength of the friction joint prevents this from being a big issue.
Let's return to the positives of this toy. Sure, if this were your standard knock-off, the above issues with clearances and tight joints might be deal and toy breakers. Thankfully, the quality of the plastic as well as the die-cast parts make this toy feel like a natural inclusion into your Masterpiece Transformers collection. This is one damn sturdy toy and, much like the original MP-01, I'm pretty convinced that you can kill a man via blunt force trauma with it. [A better, non-lethal way of saying that is to say that the toy has impressive heft and weight to it. We here at Nuking The Cat do not condone killing people with toys. We're not Superman villains here, thank you very much. - Ed.] And while this might simply be an effect of the upscaling, and thus allowing for more of the sculpt's details to be seen, this toy is much, MUCH prettier than the Voyager.
And then there's the extras. The figure comes with two fuel tanks that merge to form Optimus' rifle, two swords, a shield, an axe and an extra face (this one with the mouth instead of a faceplate). All of them just as good in the quality department as the main toy itself. I only have a minor gripe with the swords...they can only be held in such a way that the blade extends straight out from the fist as opposed to be able to stick straight up from the fist. I see how this fits in with how Prime's swords are used in the films, but it does take away the option of many of your more traditional sword poses...both dynamic and static. And this does seem like it would be a rather minor thing to tackle, just as they tackled other minor engineering issues with the original mold. I had wanted to say that my only complaint with the extras is that there's nowhere to put them when the toy is in vehicle mode...although the fuel tanks do store on the figure (I forgot to attach them in the pictures!). Then I found out that Wei Jiang have released a trailer for this mold that can indeed hold everything included here. Sigh...remember those old 80s toy commercials? "Accessories sold separately?" Dammit. Off to ebay.
And that's just it. Minor gripes aside, this is a vast improvement on Hasbro's original toy and has every right to be called a Masterpiece. It really is that good. Thankfully, he's not that hard to find (ebay is probably your best bet) with prices ranging from $70-$100. He's certainly worth the price...but given the nature of the figure, if you can I'd aim for the lower end (I managed to snag mine for $65-ish), especially if you're looking for a trailer too...which'll run you about the same price range. If you need a Masterpiece representation of Movie Optimus, you'll be hard pressed to find better...official or otherwise. So if you've seen this figure and have been thinking about it, just waiting for a review to tip you over, I'm happy to provide that service: Buy it now! For what it is, it's a truly impressive piece and sets an interesting precedent: will third-party transformers makers revisit old Hasbro molds to further refine them...especially now that Hasbro's recent cost-cutting measures have had a clear, visible impact on the toys? It'll be interesting to find out. If they do, Wei Jiang is certainly at the crest of that wave and if Commander M01 is any indication, they're pretty damn good at it.