These days the most intrepid and deep-pocketed Transformers collectors no doubt have a couple of shelves devoted to the Masterpiece figures. Of course, this now prolific line got its start a full decade ago with the release of one huge stand-alone figure. In Japan he was MP-01 “Masterpiece” Optimus Prime, but when I found him on the shelf of my local Target he was “20th Anniversary” Optimus Prime. The day I spotted this guy at the store, I had already been back into collecting Transformers for a solid four years, and my nostalgia for all things G1 was back in full force. I knew straight away he was coming home with me, and didn’t think twice about whipping out my credit card and dropping $80 on this guy. Only $80!!! This toy is a behemoth of plastic, rubber, and diecast metal! Nowadays I’m happily forking over that kind of money for an all-plastic Masterpiece figure half this size. Oh, how times do change!
The packaging for this figure is long gone, but if memory serves, Prime came in his robot mode in three-quarter window box with a heavy G1 inspired theme. He was later released repainted and with a talking base, but today I’m looking at the original Hasbro release from 2004. I’ve been meaning to feature this figure for a long time, but to be honest, every time I thought about doing it, I couldn’t get the nerve up to transform him. I probably haven’t done it in almost 10 years and I can remember it was a huge pain in the ass back then. Like the package, the instructions are long gone, but today I had a few Jamesons in me and for whatever reason I felt up to the challenge. I half expected to either break him or give up half way through in disgust, but I was pretty surprised at how smoothly it went once I had sussed him out. As usual, I’m going to start with his vehicle mode.
In his semi cab mode, Prime is a big and heavy toy. The diecast is mostly located in the blue back and parts of the cab itself with a lot of plastic bits serving as the connective tissue. Unlike a lot of toy collectors in general, and Transformers collectors in particular, I do not have any nostalgic love for diecast metal. It tends to be harder and more expensive to sculpt detail in it, the paint on it chips fairly easily, and it often adds balance issues when used in action figures. As far as Prime is concerned, the sculpt looks pretty good and mine has picked up only a few very minor paint chips over the last ten years. As for balance, well, it doesn’t affect Prime in his truck mode; on the contrary, I think the toy benefits from the nice, satisfying heft it provides. So, fair is fair, diecast, you win this round!
As for the rest of the toy, there’s a lot to love here and a lot to gripe about. As a “Masterpiece” toy, Prime has some aesthetic issues. The side windows don’t look right at all and that’s because they’re just his exposed shoulder joints. The front panels on the cab don’t really match up, but unless I’m looking at it from underneath it’s not a big issue for me. What is a big issue is how obviously his robot hips are exposed behind the cab. There’s no attempt to hide them at all. The huge sculpted Autobot symbol on the side of the cab also looks somewhat out of place to me. Here’s an example where I think it should have been tampo’ed on instead. Also worth mentioning is the blue button on the top of the cab that sticks out like a sore thumb. And lastly, the Hasbro version was notorious for having the smokestacks cut for safety issues.
I know I’m being mercilessly tough on a 10 year old toy that also happens to be Has-Tak’s first attempt at anything like this. It’s easy to look back on this Prime and scoff, but even after nitpicking all of those points, I don’t think the cab mode is necessarily bad. As we’ll soon see he’s a mighty ambitiously engineered toy and I’m ok with some sacrifices having been made. Hey, it’s got real rubber tires and the wheels have a working suspension… that’s pretty damn cool! Plus, I’m happy to say that the chrome pieces have held up beautifully over the years. Besides, it’s clear that the designers erred in favor of Prime’s robot mode and that’s exactly what I would have wanted them to do. In 10 years this figure has only been in his truck mode three or four times, so the fact that that aspect of the toy isn’t perfect doesn’t faze me at all.
As already mentioned, transforming this guy can be a real pill, although going from robot to cab is definitely the more frustrating of the two starting points. It’s tough to find that one starting point where you “break open” the figure and can start moving panels around. Also, purists may take issue with the use of the faked out grill, as the one he displays in truck mode is not the same as the one he wears in robot mode. Honestly, in hindsight I thought I remembered this toy using a lot more fakery than that, but as it turns out that’s really the only cheat.
In robot mode, I think Prime still looks pretty impressive, albeit quite primitive compared to Takara’s recent efforts. There’s a little Sunbow animated style in him, particularly in the portrait, and yet the diecast manages to invoke the original G1 toy as well. From the waist down I think he’s fantastic. The rubber and chrome wheels still look great, and the chrome and grey mix well with the high gloss diecast in the legs. One interesting design choice here are the working pistons in the backs of his arms and legs. They sure look cool and they add an element of realism to the design, but they doen’t really jibe with any animated or comic version of Prime that I recall seeing. In many ways, the styling of figure feels like the designers weren’t sure which direction to take it.
Prime sports a really broad chest, which I think suits the figure. It can open and reveal a removable Matrix of Leadership. That was pretty big doings back when this figure was released, but nowadays it feels like it’s been done to death. The arms are squared off and favor the vintage toy aspect over the animated one. I’m still not sure about that embossed Autobot emblem on his left shoulder. I think it would have been better as a tampo. And damn those sawed off smokestacks! They’re as much of a drag in robot mode as they are in his alt mode. I still find it ridiculous that an $80 diecast collectible like this had to conform to toy safety guidelines, but whatever. On the plus side, Prime has a cool little pop up comm screen in his left arm, complete with an image of animated Bumblebee on it.
Besides the short stacks, this Prime’s robot mode also features some “battle damage” which was pretty controversial at the time. The damage consists of some scorch marks, most of which are not visible in his truck mode. There’s some on his shoulders and forearms, and a splotch of it on his grill. This aspect of the deco never really bothered me all that much, but the re-release was repainted and clean, without the distress marks.
Prime features decent articulation on paper, but in practice it doesn’t fare quite so well. Part of the problem is that the figure is so poorly balanced. Despite his heavy diecast legs, the massive diecast chest still makes him top heavy and the joints in his hips and his ankles aren’t up to the task. Just trying to stand Prime at attention often results in him leaning to the front or back and threatening to topple. I have been able to get him in a number of decent action poses, but leaving him displayed on a shelf always feels like a risk. In almost 10 years I’ve managed to avoid him taking a shelf dive and I wouldn’t want to see the result of the crash. I keep meaning to pick up a generic Sixth-Scale figure stand for him to see if that will help him out.
This figure came with a number of accessories, and despite my best efforts all I could locate was his rifle. The gun is patterned closely after his trusty G1 weapon and cast in grey and silver. He can hold it fairly well in his hinged fingers, although sadly there’s no post or anything to really lock it in place. The missing accessories included an Energon Axe that could fit onto his wrist and a version of Megatron in his gun form very similar to the one included with MP-13 Soundwave. I recall the stock on my Megatron gun broke almost immediately, but I’m sure the axe is still floating around in a tote somewhere.
As a stand-alone figure, 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime is still a valued piece in my collection. He often finds himself on display on a shelf in my Den far away from my other Transformers. I still love to admire him on the shelf from time to time, but he is not a fun figure to play around with, he’s not very fun to transform, and yet I still think he has a unique charm all his own. Curiously, he’s also one of the pieces that I display, which garners the most attention from my non-toy savvy guests. They often flock to him like crazy, gaze at him in wonderment and are suitably impressed when they are allowed to pick him up and feel how friggin heavy he is. Still, with all that having been said, the years have not been kind to this figure as a collectible. He’s easy to find languishing on Ebay for about the same price he sold for originally, while collectors fall over each other to buy MP-10 at three times the price. He’s far from a true “masterpiece” but he was still impressive for his day and while many collectors scoff at him now, I’m still happy to give him a home on my shelf.