When launching a whole new combiner project as a 3rd party company, you need to put your right foot forward (groan) and really ease yourself into the groove (boo! hiss!) of the aesthetic and customer reception to the product. MakeToys have on a number of occasions gone for an all out box set for expensive combiners, whereas MMC, UT and others have seen fit to release combiners one limb at a time. For their Guardia (Defensor), MakeToys have released "Axle", their interpretation of Protectobot Groove first.
Any 3rd party combiner project based on the significant Generation 1 special teams will now have to compete with the more economical, accessible and probably reliable Combiner Wars or Unite Warriors offerings. For the price of MakeToys Axle, you could pick up most of CW Defensor in Toys 'R' US in the UK, never mind the US. Another key thing here is that you probably didn't even need to read this review to decide whether or not Axle was for you, the aesthetics are such that one could declare themselves for or against based on official product images.
I had personally decided from product images and even some reviewers' photography that Axle wouldn't be joining my collection. I definitely gave the product more time than I would previously had done because I now own MakeToys Utopia (astounding), MakeToys Cupola (magnificent) and MakeToys Visualizers (brilliant), I'm completely into their products currently and for the first time. Then, I received a review sample of Axle and was forced to take notice. On un-boxing, initial posing with phone photography (see Twitter), I realised that nobody was posing and capturing Axle how I needed to see him in order to bite. Once I got Axle in front of a camera, I was able to capture how I wanted - needed - him to look to appeal to me, he could do everything I wanted a modern figure to do. So while a number of my collecting friends have now seen the photographs I've taken here and remain uninterested in the robot mode (they adore the bike mode), at least I feel like I have done him justice in presenting him how I felt he should be presented...even if it still appeals just to me and those originally interested in him pre-release.
So what does all of that mean in simpler words? Basically, I wasn't sold on official and reviewer images of Axle, got it myself and realised it was much nicer in hand and I took photos that succeeded - for me personally - in showing him off properly, especially the feet. That's still not been enough to convince others, that's a shame as looks play a huge part in a purchase. Once you are past whether you like the looks or not, and I suspect if you're still reading then you are still interested in knowing the rest, Axle is quality. In terms of posability and quality, I love it. I've been through the transformation a few times now and while it was difficult, laborious and slow-going to follow instructions step by step from bot to bike first time, without them at the second time of asking it was much easier. Posability is glorious, I really love it. Axle can pull of a dynamic run (but needs very careful balancing and weight distribution), a convincing kneel, wide-angle poses and a quite anime-style badass idle stance!
The range of motion in the arms is really good, but the bike handles behind his head can cause an occasional hindrance, just be careful when going for more extreme arm positions. Waist rotation is minimal because of the bike seat that acts as a hanging, un-clipped crotch gets in the way, even though his waist is on a ball joint. Leg posing range is great too, you can see above what he's capable of, but it must be kept in mind that the feet have a small surface area that is in contact with the ground and his heels are storks, so weight distribution and balance is key for successful holding of a pose. You can compress the figure down into the ground a bit and the foot/heel assembly sinks into the ankles a bit, giving more stability. The head is on a ball joint/stork too, so bringing the neck forward allows much more range in the head, this aids poses immensely.
Weapon grip is very good. Axle comes with a (ridiculously) massive blaster. It's just too big for my liking, although when he's holding it double handed he looks quite mean. He also can have his exhaust pipe (which I believe is die cast!) pointing forwards, making a tiny little Megatron cannon! There is a white plastic plate that attaches behind his back, this can be detached and fixed onto the exhaust pipe as a kind of shield, but it doesn't stay in too well and can pop off with ease. In robot mode I prefer to have it clipped onto the back of his waist, it also allows you to 'holster' the massive blaster in robot mode, which looks just as ridiculous as a weapon like that should for a bot this small.
I think MakeToys have created a nice-looking head sculpt for Axle, very reminiscent of the Scramble City peg-heads that Groove is very much a part of. The face is coloured gold, he has a significant chin, and his head is surrounded by handlebars just like G1 Groove, so it is a legitimate homage. The solid eyeband is not G1 accurate, but wow it really suits him. Should it have been blue or gold? Maybe. Were they going for a Robocop look? Am I alone in thinking the moulding on his gold chest resembles an Autobot symbol?
At this point in the review, I stopped writing and picked up Axle to transform back and forth one more time. Absolutely no issues at all, a speedy transformation that was very enjoyable and not at all frustrating now - and that's just my third time back and forth. I can even appreciate some nice touches like the tabs on the outside leg that you push in to create a gap for the knees, face-planting the robot head into the fairing and the way the thighs concertina into the middle of the bike. It's made even more satisfying by the fact that when you finally clip together to make bike mode, it's utterly gorgeous. What a beauty. Check out those brake discs, those details on the fairings and headlights, the police lights and handlebars. Axle is beautiful in bike mode, no question. It seems to be based on a real life Honda VFR800P, a Japanese police motorcycle.
|Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
Stability in bike mode is very impressive, but that's quite a fat rear wheel so not surprising. Occasionally I was able to get Axle to balance even without the kick stand deployed. My first memory of a motorcycle is watching Street Hawk on TV, and those gorgeous front brake discs had an effect on me for years as I avidly followed Moto GP and the 500 cc championships. Axle evokes that same appreciation in me. You can attach the giant blaster in bike mode too, but that's not for me.
With regards to scale, I guess it works with Classics scale Transformers and to some degree with Masterpiece, but this isn't a Masterpiece Transformer. The whole look and design of the thing is not restricted by cartoon accuracy or scale. Good, not every corner of the official and unofficial Transformer producing market should be recreating the Sunbow cartoon, there is room for good Transformers for the sake of good Transformers. I felt that way about Invisible, Chigurh, any of the 3rd party combiners I have, and also about Axle.
Axle does of course also transform into the leg of Guardia (MakeToys Defensor) but since he doesn't come with the Vulcan (Hot Spot) leg or the Guardia foot, I saw little point in fiddling him into a limb mode that I could not properly portray as it was meant to be appreciated. Instead, have a render of Guardia, with Axle integrated, courtesy of MakeToys, TFCon and TFW2005:
This figure, this MakeToys Axle, has surprised me. I honestly don't think I would have bought this figure based on the strength of promotional or reviewer images, and I may not have even succumbed to its charm if one of my collecting friends had brought it to a local meet-up. I would have needed the proper sit-down time that I have enjoyed over the weekend to transform it, pose it, photograph it, experience it, before coming to the conclusion that I have: it's a brilliant figure. Axle doesn't get close to redefining what I think of as the most impressive 3rd party figure I've had the way Utopia and Cupola have, and it doesn't do the impressive tick-box job that the Visualizers do as Masterpiece figures.
What Axle has done is completely sell me on Guardia, and that's a damn fine achievement. I like Defensor, I think I might like it more than any of the other Generation 1 combiners I've owned and I was disappointed with the Combiner Wars toy as Defensor combined. If MakeToys can deliver Blades, Hot Spot, Streetwise and First Aid to the level of Groove, I'm going to be truly thrilled. Even if they don't, Axle is a terrific standalone that I can enjoy should I never purchase or get sent the other members. It's fun to transform in a way that other spindly 3rd party Transformers like Cynicus and Azalea don't quite match and the only thing that popped off during transformation was the front wheel because I was doing something very wrong. It's highly posable and expressive pulling off all the classic stances that thrill me as a badass transforming robot lover. It has a stunning alternate mode and I personally like the robot looks plenty. Durability seems great too although I am always careful when moving the shoulder flaps/engine covers.
I'm not too sold on the accessories or weaponry and I think the price is too high, not as many people are going to plump for this now based on the success of Combiner Wars and it's going to suffer for that. It'll be extremely divisive based on looks alone, so I do wonder where Guardia as a whole will figure in the end with regards to sales and popularity for MakeToys.
In Italy, the GiG version of the G1 Transformers Protectobot Groove in 1986 was called "Chips", so when a figure has trivia and history that touches the dizzying heights of cool like that attached to it, it has a lot to live up to. Axle, to me, is the best version of Groove I could hope to own. MakeToys have definitely led with the right foot here. Cue Street Hawk intro.
All the best