Wednesday 30 December 2015

FansToys FT-13 Mercenary Test Shot Review

fanstoys ft-13 Mercenary aka Transformers shrapnel
Fanstoys FT-13 Mercenary
As another great year for toy fans draws to a close  and bids us a boozy farewell in a warm lightsabre glow, it provides a worthwhile opportunity to look back at some of the cracking toys we've seen and also forwards at some of the delights 2016 will have in store for us.

One of my favourite toys of 2015 was Fanstoys Grenadier so it's quite fitting that the toy we are looking at today is a test shot of the next release in Fans Toys unofficial Masterpiece Insecticons - FT-13 Mercenary. This didn't come from Santa Claus, but rather the equally generous, festive folks over at tfs express.
Which is handy because Santa would have been disappointed that I'd already eaten all of the cookies....

Disclaimer: This is a test shot so may have issues or quirks that are not representative of the final product. But if you don't care about that - read on.

fanstoys insecticon mercenary

Fanstoys Mercenary is an Insect robot and his chosen invertebrate is that of Stag Beetle. Far from looking like the sort of thing that scoops up dead fruit or going for a realistic looking animal mode,  not Shrpanel here follows in the fine tradition of Insecticons looking like robots with vague Insect like bits attached to them.

In the 80's, G1 Shrapnel toy in hand, I had no idea what kind of insect Shrapnel was meant to represent only that as he was called an Insecticon - he must be one.

Beast Wars and realistic animal/beast alternate modes do nothing for me but you make it robotic - I'm in. The Predacons appeal to me in the same way that they are not trying to look like real animals, they look monstrous and robotic.
I already live in a world filled with real animals, what I don't live in is a world where there are giant transforming robot insectoids that fly about looking like space goths and hatching dastardly schemes instead of gooey eggs.

fanstoys mercenary articulated legs

Decorated in the traditional Black, Purple and Gold that you would expect of the original trio of Insecticons - Mercenary looks every inch the rock god.  He wears the looks of Shrapnel with pride and is loaded with 100% pure nostalgia.

Mercenary is a fair sized figure in alt mode and even as just a test shot the quality is excellent in this mode. There is so much weight and in the rare places paint is applied it is done so tidily. Just as a block in your hand he feels like something drunk folks would happily throw through a window at 3am on a Sunday morning.

back of fanstoys ft-13 mercenary in alt mode

As svelte as Mercenary is, with most things disappearing into his solid, brick like frame there is a hinge assembly jutting out across the underside of bug mode which allows the hind legs to fold up onto his back in robot mode. Neither mode deals with this hinge convincingly and if you are looking for a nitpick to fill a couple of sentences - then this is it.

Super articulated bug legs are included, as with Grenadier, and they allow for a wide array of mad poses and creepy walking shots. As a G1 fan boy I switched them out for the G1 styled legs that Fanstoys include and instantly I feel they make the figure look even better. Swapping them is very easy and just requires a screwdriver but for the same reason that is convenient it also creates a problem. 

With the joint's being screws it means if you move them they start to loosen up as the screw keeps swivelling. It is a nitpick at best and an issue that is most noticeable whilst reviewing a toy because it involves  moving things more than most collectors probably ever will.

fanstoys mercenary masterpiece exhaust

Not Shrapnels pincers can open and close so you can simulate him eating just other robots or the snack sized Energon cubes that Grenadier was packaged with. You can store the accompanying pistol weapon in his alt mode backside which also follows on from that toy. Fortunately here it blends in with some subtlety, matching the G1 style hind legs (if you have opted for them) in style and colour.

FansToys have gone to great lengths to homage the original Shrapnel design and every detail feels like it has come from via Delorean from 1985. The colours are perfect, the shape is spot on and the shiny chrome and use of diecast call back so strongly to Generation toys that it's hard not to get caught up in nostalgia. Less articulated, classic bug legs feel more on point and complete that feeling of a Generation One toy dragged into 2015 by loving fans.

It's slavish but in the best kind of way.

Best kind after Princess Leia's bikini in Return of the Jedi at least....

fanstoys ft-13 mercenary

Grenadier was a simple figure to transform and Mercenary preserves that sense of fun over frustration that often defines third party transforming robots. Homages to the original G1 Shrapnel toy are abundant right from off but new tricks are added that bring this toy into modernity.  
Mercenaries arms for example,  fold down to the side of the body just like the G1 toy but then the forearms contain a hinge that allows them to snap open midway and fold under the body itself. The legs slide up across the thighs but the back of the legs actually slide up partially before that, separately. It's not complex or confusing but there are enough little touches to keep it interesting.
Clever stuff - there really is a lot of fun to be had here.

Trademark giant chrome pincers rotate out and you can position them how you want. Even the face covers are not molded onto the pincers so can move and be positioned separately if you so wish. I'm not a fan of chrome on Transformers, I moan about it all the time because it peels off and I have memories of chewing on it as a kid and the thought still goes through my teeth. 
One exception on Liams list of hypocrisies is the G1 Insecticons, these figures should have chrome parts just as they should also come with clear plastic chests (spoilers!).

fanstoys ft13 mercenary back kibble

As with Grenadier this toy also has a tough time dealing with storing the articulated Beetle legs in robot mode. That toys Achilles heel was that the Beetle legs had nowhere definitive home so ended up being fudged as best as you could manage.

If you like the uncontrollable flowing plastic dreadlocks of the back look then this guy has you well covered. You can squish them together and whilst it still looks a mess you won't see them from the front of the figure. 

But in a nice bout of symmetry, just like Grenadier the G1 legs save the day and nicely banish the problem to the minor grumbles bin. In fact on Fanstoys Mercenary they do an even better job as they fold up into a neat, compact backpack where everything folds away and he even gains jet boosters.

I can always get on board with jet boosters, especially when they are the result of being neat and tidy.

fanstoys mercenary ft13 headsculpt

In some photos Mercenaries face doesn't quite like right and it's hard to pin point exactly why that is beyond the usual "fanstoys can't do faces" shtick you see on the t'internet. 

What I think is happening, in my non expert way, is that the harsher lighting used for photography is hitting the Silver paint, and exposing the flatness of the face because it doesn't really have any depth because there's no cheeks to add definition to the jaw.

In my actual hand the face looks fine, good even and spot on as G1 Shrapnel from the old cartoon. 

Is there some Joe Pesci in there? I can kinda hear him shouting "MARV!". Oh the Insecticons would make great Home Alone burglar impersonatiors.

fanstoys grenadier and mercenary

Looking downwards, FansToys has been as slavish as ever when it comes to G1 accuracy and recreating those characters to as closely resemble a 30 year old cartoon as possible.

Molded detail leans in that direction rather than covering it in unnecessary fluff and hyper detailing. The Merc looks smooth and G1 but incorporates some extra detailing just to finish the figure off and make sure it doesn't look as bland as a 30 year old animation may.

There's paint and one thing that will be instantly obvious is that the Yellow on the chest does not match the Yellow on Grenadier. It doesn't bother me but I know it will annoy a few people on the interwebs so hopefully it's something Fanstoys will correct for release for those who it does annoy.

The Purple on Mercenaries arms doesn't match the Purple used on Grenadiers chest due to it being molded on Mercenary as opposed to the glossy paint used on Grenadier. Mercenaries feet are painted over the diecast though and that does seem to match. Again, it doesn't matter to me personally but your mileage may vary and there is always a chance just be something unique to the test shot that ends up changed for production.

One thing I wish they would knock off off doing is molding a spot for a Decepticon logo onto his chest. This is a trick repeated from Grenadier and I'm a fussy sod who likes to choose my symbol and perfect positioning of that sticker.

Stop trying to bring order to my fussiness FansToys.

fanstoys masterpiece shrapnel daniel witwicky

He's a poseable guy too with  ankle tilts that produce a scary range of inward movement then the toes move forward on a separate joint. Building so much die cast in the legs means Mercenary is exceptionally great at balancing. 

As a test shot the different tolerances on some of the joints is no surprise with most of them being buttery smooth or tight, especially the knees which squeak from being too tight. His head is a little loose and bobbles about somewhat but still holds a pose with no groaning. 

Double hinged knees are in vogue and FansToys have made sure Mercenary is part of the in crowd, but they are are so tight I can't get much movement out of the upper knee hinge.

Oh there is one joint that is very loose though....

fanstoys ft13 mercenary test shot
what a waist....

If the picture above is not clear enough then I am talking about the waist.

The small cap piece you can see in the photo slots onto the waist peg and is secured by that minuscule screw also conveniently visible in the photo. Mercenaries chest halves close above the waist quite snugly, so when you rotate the waist for transformation or general posing it applies pressure and can loosen the tenuous grip the screw already has. Gravity then has it's say with all that diecast in the lower extremities and can pull it apart.

Fanstoys have used a tremendously short screw and so even when I put it back together (you only have to remove 4 screws from Mercenaries back to get in there and poke around) it doesn't tighten and just keeps rotating loosely in the screw hole because it can't get in deep enough to gain a good grip.
A longer screw will alleviate much of the problem but I can't figure out an obvious reason for that cap to be a separate piece from the rest of the waist.

Least it's an easy fix for FansToys to implement and the lack of other reviewers having suffered this problem makes me wonder if this test shot may just have had the incorrect screw inserted.

Bad luck is after all a hallmark of Liams 2015  *checks countdown clock to see how far away 2016 is*

It is also very important to remember that as this is a test shot so will have issues like this and it may not be anything to worry about for the production figure. I hope.

fanstoys mercenary shrapnel clear chest

Whilst we have that screwdriver handy Mercenary comes with an alternate, clear Orange chest piece that can be swapped in to mimic the original G1 Shrapnel toy. Grenadier also had this, and I assume Fanstoys Kickback will not be left out, and it's a simple case of removing a screw to pop it into place. 

His chest flap does open  however sadly there is no seat to fit a Manta Force sized guy in or anything like that. Instead it reveals unpainted tech detail with what looks like an radio dial which I suspect means he can tune himself into the football on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

I do pine for the return of those little seats many G1 toys featured as hang overs from the previous lives as part of Diaclone because it added en extra bit of play value and sparked the imagination by allowing me to stuff Manta Force dudes into Grimlocks spine.

A spare chromed gun that matches that which Grenadier possess is included if you wish to complete that toy look or just want some consistency across your Masterpiece "not"Insecticons. Personally I prefer the Purple one the detail seems to stand out more on it and it just looks cooler in his hand.

transformers insecticons g1 fanstoys mercenary

So that is FansToys Mercenary - or at least the test shot. A toy this good solidifies my decision to go with FansToys Insecticons ahead of Badcubes or Mastermind Creations. Badcubes may do a much better job of hiding the insect legs but Fanstoys have produced two figures with a focus on feeling like modern G1 toys and inspire a strong sense of nostalgia that is tough to beat. Takaras Masterpiece figures are always going to be in a league of their own and supercede anything else but with Fans Toys Insecticons I can't quieten that feeling in my bones that this is what the Masterpiece line should really embody.

It's a turnaround because I didn't care much for FansToys previous releases and it was only sustained enabling by Maz that convinced me to take a look at Grenadier before it made such a massive impression on me.

The loose waist is hopefully just something unique to this test shot so isn't something that bothers me to any great degree and does nothing to dull my excitement about picking up my own Mercenary next month (think that is when it is due) when it is released.

But please do remember that this figure was a test shot so may not be reflective of the final product. That sort of thing is important.

You can order Fanstoys Mercenary, and many other transforming robot toys from TFS Express thanks again to them for providing me with this figure to look at

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Songs I listened to whilst writing this article- Jumpin Jack Flash - The Rolling Stones


  1. I'm interested to know if you've had the Badcube Collector's editions in hand. Kickbutt is my favourite 3P toy ever.

  2. Sadly I haven't. When they were first released I fully intended to go with the Badcube Insecticons, but Mazs review of Grenadier got me to go with Fantoys and it started s chain reaction inside my wallet