Third Party company MakeToys of Japan have entered the Transformers Masterpiece-a-like wars, along with FansToys, X-Transbots, BadCube, MMC, Omnigonix, DX-9 etc, but MT come from a place of great expense and a reputation for very good quality products. Their first foray into this aesthetic was MTRM (MakeToys Re-Master Series) 01 Cupola, a Masterpiece Chromedome. The second release in the MTRM line are the "Visualizers", a Masterpiece-style Reflector done in the Sunbow cartoon fashion. This product will be competing directly with FansToys' Spotter and KFC's Reflectrons. I've only recently discovered MakeToys products through the insanely nice Utopia and the intricate, fantastic but marginally flawed Cupola, so how do the Visualizers compare to recognised Masterpiece style 3P figures I have plenty of experience of such as the FansToys range, BadCube range and DX-9 toys?
Reflector's had a funny old life in Transformers, the characters were of course based heavily on the Takara Micro Change Series MC-05 Microx Camera, 3 robots that combined to form a camera. In the Sunbow Transformers G1 cartoon, the separate robots were almost identical looking, most unlike the Micro Change Series (or Transformers mail away) toys that were different colours and quite different. So in the first instance, cartoon accuracy for the hard-to-get mailaway G1 Reflector was way off. Added to that was the fact that they were not even available to order until 1986 in the US, and completely inaccessible in the UK. At least in mainland Europe there was the Ceji Joustra Diaclone Microx "Caméra Robot" in 1984 and 1985. If that wasn't enough, the writers of the Sunbow cartoon were told explicitly to not write Reflector into the stories of late season 1 and any of season 2, much like Skyfire. If you can't sell it, why feature it?
As we can see above, the Sunbow Reflector was rather dull in its appearance, nowhere near the diversity and visual appeal of the Micro Change Series or Transformers toys. Just about the only thing carried over to the animation models was the central aperture, surrounding green chest and general colour scheme of the middle toy robot called "Micro Finder" in Micro Change Series and "Viewfinder" in Transformers. Unfortunately, the surrounding Reflector bots were just a copy/paste job of the middle guy. I think it worked in the cartoon visually but as for personality, it just compounded the general lack of character for Reflector overall.
MakeToys, going for cartoon accuracy as the main draw of the MTRM sub-line, have reproduced the uniform look across all three Visualizers robots, nailing the show aesthetic impressively. There's none of the chrome and die cast of the vintage Reflector figure, although some nice touches have been reproduced as a homage to those decades old figures. Another key attraction of the Visualizers is that the camera lens is not a separate accessory, it is integrated across two of the robots. The flash cube is still a separate accessory, but this is not something I have ever held against a figure, new or old. I would never want the overall concept or execution of a toy mould to be compromised for the sake of total integration. The Visualizers also come with a small attachment allowing the camera mode to attach to a standard photographic tripod, a miniature camera mode Reflector for use with other official or unofficial Masterpiece figures, the three faithfully reproduced Reflector/MC-05 handguns and a small attachment accessory for joining the flash cube to the main Reflector camera. You also get 3 extra robot faces with varying facial expressions.
Straight off, in hand, the figures seem solid and hugely poseable. The first thing I did was recreate 'The Run', and while the middle robot has far more waist articulation than the side-bots (thanks to their lower backpacks), all three have outward ankle articulation, double-jointed elbows, good range of movement in the shoulders, excellent weight distribution and balance. They don't have a lot of up and down range in the neck articulation though. so they can't look up too well. Knees are double-jointed too, all of the above contributing to figures that are a joy to pose. Figures that show a lot of expression where their (stock) faces show none.
As you would expect, the outer Visualizers bots ("Spectro" and "Spyglass" in Transformers) are extremely similar in transformation and general build, with the central "Viewfinder" being slightly different in construction and conversion. The concept remains the same as the vintage toy, the arms fold in and the legs fold up. The hiding of the head, arms and general lining up of panels, tabbing etc is far more sophisticated on the MakeToys Visualizers as you'd expect. The real genius is how the lens is integrated into the two side-bots. More on that later. Here's the gang with included weaponry.
The three hand guns are directly inspired by the original MC-05 and G1 Reflector accessories, although the camera lens obviously is not detachable so it cannot be placed on the corresponding handgun as with the vintage figure. The flash cube as missile launcher is another nice touch that MakeToys have incorporated into the Visualizers, except there are no firing missiles this time around, only a large flap that opens to reveal a moulded missile pod. Weapon grip is very good although I think the weight of the flash cube eventually forces the arms down on the Visualizer bots. You can see just how expressive and poseable the individual figures are, especially when combined with the interchangeable faces, but watch those red eyeband pieces, they can sometimes fall out easily. The central robot can pull off an especially convincing kneel.
The head sculpt is tremendously nice on the Visualizers, very reminiscent of the animation model and generally of Sunbow designs. The whole thing can look quite plain with the dull grey and a general lack of shine or metallic presence, but they achieve precisely what they're going for in reproducing the cartoon look. I'm not sure how much demand there is for an updated toy version Reflector, this is after all not the first attempt a company has made at updating the camera trio, but in going for a gap in a Masterpiece collection I think MakeToys have incorporated a respectable number of homages to the vintage figures, especially in terms of accessories where there's more freedom from the restrictive cartoon influence.
I suspect most buyers of the Visualizers will keep this set in robot mode in order to fill out a Decepticon Masterpiece display, but the camera mode is wonderful and despite an initially bewildering and endless journey through the instructions, features lovely sections in the transformation. The standout moment for me was how the two sections of the camera lens literally fold out from the guts of the side robots, get straightened out, and then reform the circle upon final transformation to camera mode without any partsforming. Absolutely inspired. Be warned though, there is a lot of alignment that needs to happen between panels and surfaces (the ones that fold out from the legs), there is a lot of tabbing that requires jimmying of parts that end up being squished together until you get the correct alignment and it pegs in.
I've just formed the camera for the second time, totally without instructions so it is nowhere near the most complex 3rd Party transformation out there, but it does have the potential for frustration especially if rushed. Take your time, line up the tabs and be patient when creating clearance for the leg panels that must close up behind the connecting arm of the lens. I also found a couple of bits that popped off during transformation easily, the main culprit being the very front of the green lens. The white rectangular panels on the feet of the robots popped off once in all my playing with the Visualizers, so that will not automatically be a problem on all specimens. This is not a quick transformation, there are three figures for starters, and alignment-based conversions can always require a delicate touch, precision and therefore time. Going back to robot mode is infinitely more swift and intuitive. Now, in order to attach the flash cube, it must first be slid onto its connector panel, then plugged into the main camera once one of the small buttons (that can be depressed) have been removed. What button, you say? This one...
So, yes, there is partsforming to achieve the complete camera look. So what, Transformers have had accessories since the dawn of the concept, this is not a bugbear of mine. It does mean that the flash cube can be attached on either side of the camera. Notice also the LCD screen detailing painted onto the figure, I like touches like that, reminds me of the vintage Micro Change Series toys and their stickers. This kind of detailing is not required to superficially reproduce the cartoon look, so it is a welcome addition. Some more shots of camera mode detailing:
You can kiiiinda see out of the camera lens when you peer through the viewfinder, but it's not the kind of functionality that has been prioritised with the design of the figure, so it's a novelty thing as opposed to integrated engineering. I love how the sculpting of the flash cube, especially the side profile, is so accurate to the vintage toy. The colours, of course, are way off and much closer to the animation model which you can see below. I also appreciate how tidy the rear of the camera mode looks, very unlike Masterpiece Soundwave. The moulded and painted dials and switches across the top of the camera mode are great too, something Soundwave did actually have. Unlike Soundwave, though, these cannot be manipulated on the MakeToys Visualizers. So, a slightly long and involved transformation, but a real reward at the end in the form of a compact, weighty, dense and attractive camera mode.
In terms of colour, it's not perfectly accurate to this particular screen grab of More Than Meets The Eye from the iconic sequence with Thundercracker, but it's not far off. With all the faffing about I did when parts were incorrectly aligned for tabbing, I am impressed at how there are no signs of scuffing, stressing or deformation of the plastic tabs. It seems the build quality is very much up to snuff here, one hopes for lasting durability. Interestingly, the sidebots are moulded in such a way that you could swap sides and have them on opposite sides of the central bot in camera mode, the clips and connectors are there for this configuration, but then the lens halves do not line up.
So in and of itself, MTRM-07 is a very accomplished, impressive and highly enjoyable set. The key draw has to be how it fits in with official Masterpiece toys (and a FansToys Grenadier for good measure). I think you will agree from the above photographs (Utopia excepted) that the size is acceptable, and while there is a lack of metallic finish on the Visualizers, to my eyes they slot into a Masterpiece display beautifully. The one toy above they jar with the most is probably the FansToys Grenadier, but that's because Grenadier uses chrome and painted die cast where Masterpiece figures rarely do nowadays. For flat, matte, screen accurate colours, the Visualizers are a success in my opinion. The camera mode is hideously out of scale with the figures, but that's because mass-shifting is not a physical reality in toy technology, and MakeToys have included a scaled Reflector camera mode accessory for all your diorama needs.
So for every potential criticism of the Visualizers, there's a positive. Yes you basically get two slightly different moulds and one clone with almost indistinguishable appearance, but they are screen accurate and serve the precise purpose they were designed to - satisfying the toon-faithful Masterpiece crowd, a bandwagon all 3rd Party companies seem to be jumping on. The transformation involves a ton of tabbing and alignment to get to camera mode, but all of that tabbing comes in very handy in robot mode when no sections are left hanging or loose, there's delicious finality to the transformations in both directions. Love and thought has gone into this, it is so clear. The alternate mode doesn't really lend itself to Masterpiece display, but neither does MP Soundwave's, and in both cases you get a gloriously fun and attractive pseudo-functional gadget-former that underpins the beautiful concept behind Takara's original Micro Change Series 1:1 scale transforming robot line.
They're not cheap toys, $150 overseas and £120 in the UK, but considering how the latest Masterpiece Thundercracker repaint of MP-11 is priced a good 25% or so higher, I think it's superb value for the quality product you get. Slap some well-placed Reprolabels on the Visualizers (thank you MakeToys for not moulding in spots for stickers!) and you have yourself a Masterpiece Reflector. Highly recommended, Utopia, Cupola and now the Visualizers have made me stand up and take serious notice of MakeToys. Some will say that the ultimate test lies in how they compare to FansToys' Spotter, but any such comparison is not going to detract from what MT have accomplished with MTRM-07.
All the best