After two full years of the Official Transformer Club's existence, the first exclusive toys (not counting the freebies automatically sent with your membership) have finally arrived! I will now attempt to review them in my own peculiar fashion....
The first thing that simply has to be discussed is the packaging. It's certainly nice packaging. Sturdy. Attractive. Possibly as much a display item as the toys themselves. Modeled here with the assistance of my cat, Turtle, I'm sure that they'll make a nice addition to any Transformer collection.
But, to be honest, I'm a bit annoyed that these toys come with packaging at all. To judge from the posts on the club forums, I seem to be of a minority opinion on this matter. But I'm convinced that these nice packages add a considerable amount to what I had to pay to get these toys in the first place. Since Fun Publications, as a rule, never releases actual costs and figures for pretty much anything, we can really only guess how much this packaging costs, but back in the days of the former convention holder, packaging was said to make up as much as half of the expense of an exclusive toy (see question 9 at the old Transformers FAQ for my source). Now, there are several differences between these boxes and the ones that FP would create. For example, these are simple boxes with no window. Adding a transparent window is an extra expense in creating a box. However, the material here is much sturdier than some of the old boxes were (the packaging on the OTFCC 2003 exclusive set was apparently particularly bad). I don't know how all that shakes out, but I'm willing to guess that we paid at least an extra $20 in order to get these boxes (I figure guessing almost 20% of the total cost of toys is being generous, given that the old figure was 50%. I certainly assume FP is more efficient). I could have gotten two deluxe-sized retail Transformers for that money!
And I don't really care about having a nice package to add to my Transformers collection. I care about a nice Transformer to add to my Transformers collection! They provide nice storage for the toys, but they take up so much room! I have to figure out where in our apartment I can actually keep this stuff!
But, enough of that rant. Pete Sinclair says that the boxes are pretty much guaranteed to be a part of every club exclusive for the foreseeable future, so it doesn't sound like my attempts to make these things moderately affordable for fans is going to do any good. Let's move on to the toys themselves.
Astrotrain is the larger of the two items, and is a repaint of Armada Jetfire. This is a very attractive recolor, with one of the nicest remolded heads I've ever seen on an exclusive. While I agree with the people who have commented that, not being a triple-changer with a locomotive engine as one of his alternate modes, Astrotrain is not an especially accurate name for this toy, the colors, head, and space shuttle mode all combine to create a toy that homages the original G1 character very well, while having enough distinctives to be a character all his own.
Astrotrain comes with four Mini-Cons. All with less than terrific names: Starcatcher (and the powers-that-be really wanted to call it "Cowcatcher," which would have been a hundred times worse! Starcatcher's actually not so bad), Astro-Hook, Astro-Line, and Astro-Sinker. The last three were named as an homage to minor characters (named simply "Hook," "Line" and "Sinker") from the original Marvel comic. Although these toys have pretty much nothing in common with the original characters they are intended to homage, and the "Astro-" added to each name is pretty dippy, it's kind of cool that the club remembers such obscure names enough to homage them in the first place.
The other club exclusive just released is a pre-Beast Wars Airazor. This toy is a remold of Energon Slugslinger with a new head and an attractive orange-and-brown color scheme. The transformation for this figure is one of the most original I've ever seen, causing me to wonder if I'd be able to figure it out without the instructions when I first tried it. However, it's actually fairly intuitive. It does have some stability issues in both modes, though, which definitely detracts from the toy's playability. But I suppose that I'm supposed to just put these toys on display, rather than play with them. Both Astrotrain and Airazor have "Adult collectible, not intended for use by children" on the packages. I find this particularly odd given that, aside from the remolded heads, these are exactly the same molds as toys available for children only a few years ago. Not only that, but both packages have an extra "Ages 5+" sticker on them. But we move on....
Airazor is intended to compliment the BotCon 2006 set, which was also comprised of "pre-Beast Wars" characters. Hmmm.... Now I may need to figure out a way to fit Airazor into the Family Feud comic I did a couple of weeks back. ;)
Anyway, all in all, the toys are quite nice. Unfortunately, I'm not yet convinced that they're worth the price I paid for them, nor worth the many, many delays. Technically, these are to be considered the 2006 club exclusives. At one point in time, we were promised two club exclusives per year. Since these are the first, and they actually came out in 2007, it can safely be assumed that FP has not yet been able to set up a pattern of two toys per year yet in the two full years of their ownership of the club. Time will tell if FP can make good on 2007 exclusives this year. They're already pushing the limit on getting pre-registration forms up for BotCon 2007, which happens in just over three months. This is the make-it-or-break-it time for FP, and I wish I could say that I was more encouraged. I guess I'll have some time to think about it, though. I'll be out of town next week, and won't be making any further updates here until April 2nd. I do expect updates to my podcast, The Reflectionary, to continue preparations for Holy Week without interruption, however.