Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Brave Maximus

By the year 2000, the Transformers franchise in America had been doing Beasts of some kind or another for several years straight, and although the cartoon was enjoyable, I had started to get a bit tired of them. So tired, in fact, that when I was strapped for cash midway into my seminary degree, I made a decision to sell off all Beast-era Transformers from my collection on eBay, and focus my limited funds and space on the earlier toys.

Brave Maximus Robot ModeThen Takara made a decision to do something different than what the American market was doing, and return to mechanical forms in what they called the "Car Robots" line. Like Generation Two, a good number of the toys in this line were simply repaints of earlier toys (including some Beast-era toys!), with a few new designs thrown in. Brave Maximus was one of the repaints: specifically, a repaint of Fortress Maximus, the leader of the 1987-era Headmasters and still the record-holder for the largest Transformer ever made, standing about two feet tall. Obviously, since this toy is a repaint of that one, Brave Maximus shares the record, and literally towers over most other Transformers. Anyway, I took advantage of the opportunity to get the repaint by importing it from a Japanese company.

Cerebros/BraveAs is the case with other Headmasters, Brave Maximus has a head that can come off and transform into another robot. The original Fortress Maximus' head turned into a robot called "Cerebros," who was only a tiny bit smaller than the regular Headmasters toys. The Japanese release of Brave Maximus doesn't call the Cerebros equivalent "Cerebros," but uses the derivative name "Brave." This actually should come as a surprise to no one, since their version of the original Fortress Maximus didn't use the name "Cerebros," either, but called this robot "Fortress." In fact, fans of the Japanese Headmasters cartoon were more likely to see this robot mode than they were the giant robot that constitutes the full "Fortress Maximus" form.

Spike/Plasma/EmissaryThis toy's Headmaster action continues with the Brave robot, as its head also comes off and forms a tiny robot, this one equal in size to the Nebulans that came with the other Headmasters, and interchangeable with them. That's right, this toy is a double-Headmaster! The original American version of this figure was called "Spike," intending the toy to represent the long-time friend of the Autobots from the cartoon. Again, the Japanese didn't use this name for their version of Fortress Maximus, because their entire concept of the Headmasters was different. As readers may remember from the Brainstorm review, in America the Headmasters were a fusion of two beings: one Transformer and one human(oid), whereas the Japanese Headmasters were just tiny robots who created larger bodies for themselves. Hence, no need for a separate name for the tiny robot, since it just represented a smaller part of the same character. However, when the "Brave Maximus" version of the toy was created, this toy was unique among others in its line. There were no other Headmasters around. Perhaps this explains why the the Japanese went the additional step of calling this tiny robot "Plasma," rather than just going with "Brave" again.

Brave Maximus City ModeLike Metroplex before him, this toy was created to turn into a small city, and incorporated a number of features in which smaller Transformers toys could interact. In the case of the "Car Robots" Brave Maximus release, the back of the instruction sheet doubles as a play mat with street designs on it, and spaces marked out that (roughly) correspond to parts of Brave Maximus' city mode. This was done so that Brave Maximus could interact with the "Spychanger" toys that were also released with this line. Although Fortress Maximus was not designed with this scale in mind, these toys do work fairly well. If you look really closely, you might be able to make out the "Brave" unit (the intermediary body, that is) in the center-right of the city, transformed into some unidentifiable form that pretty much only serves to give that chunk of plastic a place to go in this mode. The two ramps on each side are equipped with little sliding "launchers" which could be used to propel Spychangers (or similarly sized vehicles) along and down the ramps.

Brave Maximus Jail CellAmong the features of Brave Maximus' city mode is a small jail cell on one side. Basically, you play with a smaller toy and march it up that little staircase, then flip the door down from the top "locking" it inside. This perhaps made more sense in the original Fortress Maximus version, since there were actually Decepticon toys small enough to use this feature back in 1987. The toys in "Car Robots" small enough to actually fit in this compartment were all Autobots!

Brave Maximus CompartmentOn the opposite side of the city was another set of "stairs" leading to a compartment too small for any but the smallest of Transformers toy to interact with. Also, just immediately to the left, you can just barely see a small ramp leading into the center of the city. If you have a toy small enough to fit in there, you can turn on a small crank just above to raise and lower an elevator inside. However, there are so few Transformers toys small enough (the tiny "Plasma" figure is small enough, though) to take advantage of this, I pretty much never use it. This toy's too big and unwieldy for me to "play" with all that much, anyway. Bringing the toy out for this photoshoot was the most interaction I've had with this toy in years! It's pretty much a display piece.

Brave Maximus Battle ModeJust like Metroplex changes from city to a seldom-used battle station mode, this toy also has a third mode. I've heard this mode variously referred to as a battle station or a spaceship, depending on continuity. It's not like it really resembles a spaceship all that well, but this was the mode you pretty much always would see this toy in when it was seen in the Japanese Headmasters cartoon, so who am I to judge? I don't think this mode was ever used by Brave Maximus in the Car Robots cartoon, though. (It was used by this character in a later continuity, but the less said about that one, the better!)

Brave Maximus TowerIf you want to, you can take the tiny "Plasma" robot and put it in that little green tower (available in both alternate modes, actually, although it was facing backwards in city mode), where it fits rather comfortably. I'm sure that the Nebulan components of other Headmasters would also fit in here, just as well. Imagine that the small robot is controlling everything from this watchful position, if you like.

Brave Maximus Repro WeaponsA quick disclaimer: the two hand-held weapons (also seen in the various modes above in the positions suggested by G1 Fortress Maximus' instructions) did not actually come with my Brave Maximus toy. In fact, Brave Maximus is a somewhat gutted repaint. The only way you could get official "Brave Maximus versions" of these weapons, as well as the equivalent to Fortress Maximus' "Cog," was to win a "Lucky Draw" contest held in Japan. This makes these parts very expensive. I got the hand-held weapons you see here from a guy who used to make wonderfully high-quality reproduction parts before he suffered a series of strokes a number of years ago. This was a true loss to the fandom, as his work really was top-notch. In fact, he really wasn't very happy with how these particular pieces turned out at all (you probably can't tell from the pictures, but you can see a number of air holes if you look at the weapons closely enough) and so he sold them to me a dirt-cheap prices! I've kept the web site on my radar in case the guy behind it recovers enough to begin work once again someday, but I really don't expect anything at this point, and there are in fact rumors that the site has been sold.

Actually, most Americans think of this character as "Fortress Maximus," fully recognizing the difference between this toy and the original. They are not wrong to do so. When the "Car Robots" line was eventually imported into America as the "Robots in Disguise" line, along with the corresponding cartoon (dubbed into English), this character was called "Fortress Maximus," and was a fairly important part of the Robots in Disguise cartoon. The name "Cerebros" was also carried over into the American cartoon, although Spike was not (in fact, Cerebros was the name of the smallest robot in Robots in Disguise, with the intermediate robot being called "the Emissary"). However, although Hasbro had every intention of bringing this toy to American shores, child safety laws had changed a fair bit since 1987, and the gargantuan toy could no longer pass what is often referred to as the "drop test." The idea is that a toy, if dropped from a certain height, either doesn't break or, if it does, any broken parts cannot be considered unsafe for children. For example, if a large plastic piece breaks off into shards that can cut a child, it is considered unsafe. I do not know the specifics of this toy's failure to pass the "drop test." Only that this is the test it failed to pass, and it was considered either impossible or not cost-effective (again, I don't know which) to fix the problem. I was unaware of these issues when I bought this toy. In fact, I imported it from Japan not aware at the time that Hasbro would ever bring the "Car Robots" toys to America at all. To this day, there remain a number of toys that were available in the Japanese market that have never come to the States, and I had every reason to believe that this toy would be one of them, even though I had no reason to suspect that the ultimate reason would be one of safety regulations.

Brave Maximus with Spychanger ScourgeAlthough this has already shaped up to be one of the longest (if not the longest) reviews I've yet done, I have to point out just one more feature that's more serendipity than planned. You've probably noticed the bright green on the toy's right shoulder (as you're looking at it). This is a door that opens up to reveal yet another compartment. A major plot point of the cartoon involved a Decepticon named "Scourge" (in the US version) taking control of Fortress Maximus, and positioning himself in that compartment while he attempted to destroy all of his enemies. The small toy you see in this picture, however, did not exist in the Japanese line, but was created by Hasbro to boost the US line while they were trying to figure out how to release the larger toy as a retail exclusive. So what you see here is a toy only available in the US inside of a toy only available from Japan: a meeting of two cultures!

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