MakeToys, a Japanese 3rd party company producing unofficial Transformers-like products, have a strong reputation for quality and engineering. This year they decided to turn their attention to a very hotly sought-after piece of collector real estate, the Masterpiece Transformers market. First came MakeToys Re:Master or MTRM-01 Cupola (Chromedome), then MTRM-07 Visualizers (Reflector) and now we have their first foray into the holy and sacred world of Masterpiece Autobot cars, starting with Hound who is yet to receive an official Masterpiece release. With Hellfire (Inferno) and Wrestle (Grapple) on the way soon, MakeToys are clearly going for the gaps in the official Masterpiece line-up.
MakeToys decided to release Gundog in two versions, one an homage to the cartoon G1 Hound and one an homage to the G1 toy Hound. Version 2N ("toon") was painted in a much lighter screen-accurate green with minimal decorations, just yellow striping and stars, painted silver weapons, and detailing, together with Version 2Y ("toy") sporting a dark sparkly green deco, chrome parts and painted toy details to match the original G1 stickers.
Each Gundog comes with the same instruction booklet (2N on front, 2Y on back), rocket launcher (non-firing of course), gas can, spare tyre, hologram hand gun and machine gun. No collector's card, though. With Gundog in direct competition with FansToys FT-15 Willis, getting their contender out first - coupled with some vocal fans' dislike of FT's head sculpt for Willis - must have contributed to Gundog's current success, as the figure has sold out here and there.
When you lift Gundog out of the clam shell packaging, you are struck by the weight thanks to considerable die cast content. The paint application on both versions I have is delightful, and there's no doubting the allure of the sparkly green toy deco on 2Y. That is the version I opted for initially as I imagine it will still be relevant when Takara Tomy release their cartoon-accurate Masterpiece Hound one day. The chrome weapons and wheel hubs are striking and really put you in mind of the 1984 G1 Hound toy. There's excellent leg, ankle, waist and shoulder articulation, good neck articulation and the proportions in robot mode are extremely easy on the eye. He looks heroic, he looks quality and premium, and most importantly, he looks like Hound.
Not long after ordering the toy deco, I started to get the feeling that I may regret not having plumped for the lighter green, Masterpiece-fitting 2N toon deco. This occurred in part thanks to the impression 2Y left on me, and also because of reports of broken shoulders on the 2Y release. The pin joints that control where the arms swing out during transformation are insanely tight on my specimen too but there are no stress marks or cracks yet. I like transforming this figure, the engineering behind it is interesting and repeatable with a couple of hairy moments on 2Y, but hearing that 2N did not exhibit the same issues...well I had to have it. With my recent foray into more regular Masterpiece photography, a toon-coloured Hound would certainly be appreciated.
Gundog is very expressive, aided immensely by the available articulation. The balance and poise of the figure is great, and it just begs you to fiddle with it. Just like Ocular Max Sphinx, I find Gundog very hard to put down. Weapon grip is very good (except when he holds the machine gun as it doesn't tab in and has an angled mount where Gundog grips it), and is open to a number of different configurations. While the missile launcher can only go on the right shoulder, thanks to the tabs built into the weaponry, you can attach the machine gun to it. You can also attach the weapons to the outside of the left forearm. The gas can attaches to the hand gun as well, and the spare tyre can either be clipped onto the figure's back or as a shield on his right forearm.
Nothing in robot mode is inherently loose or floppy, poses are held with ease and look properly convincing. There's a lot of wow factor there for me, and even though they are basically the same figure in different shades of green with different highlights and decorations, I don't feel as though a potentially exceptional MakeToys Hound was sacrificed, split into two parts and released individually for more profit. Instead, it's as if there are two separate excellent Hounds that could fill the Masterpiece spot ably on their own individual merits. One thing that did occur repeatedly on posing was that the top half would regularly rotate forward on the waist hinge, but it's a simple matter to compress it again and remove the appearance of Gundog having a separate top half.
An intriguing feature that MakeToys have built into Gundog is that the shoulders and front wheel arches can be lowered to resemble the appearance of the original G1 Hound toy's proportions and silhouette (still able to work this word into every review!). It is most appropriate on the 2Y deco, but that means rotating those insanely tight and frightening joints just behind the head that are liable to break (especially the left one). This tightness has been fixed by a number of resourceful collectors who have heated the pin head with a soldering iron and jiggled the joint about until it has loosened up, effectively preventing the break from happening. In this G1 toy mode seen above, you can also attach the feet and lower legs to each other giving a brick-straight G1 pose, shorten the arms by compressing them, point the missile launcher dead-straight and attach the gas can to the flip-out peg on Gundog's foot.
In terms of robot mode scale, MakeToys Gundog fits in perfectly with the other Masterpiece figures, and the other 3rd party release that most closely replicates the Takara Tomy aesthetic, Sphinx. Gundog definitely has thicker thighs than all the other Masterpiece Autobot cars, something especially noticeable when he is in line with them all, but in general the look is spot on. Recently, a friend said to me that no Masterpiece car is perfectly cartoon accurate, there is a degree of stylisation to make them look a bit more heroically proportioned in all such as Tracks, Lambor and the Datsuns - and of course Wheeljack has the race deco accuracy all over unlike the animation model - so the fact that Gundog is a tad beefier than his animation model does not disturb me in the slightest. Any reference to this being more Classics than G1 falls on my deaf ears too, because it just goes to show what a fine job Classics Hound did at being an updated G1 Hound! The 2N version of Gundog probably melds into a Masterpiece scene more seamlessly with his painted silver and matte-like surfaces. 2Y stands out due to the chrome and sparkles, but then Tracks sparkles so it's win win whichever Gundog you select.
I like my dynamic and occasionally exaggerated poses, and I have a few select poses I try out with every single figure I purchase. Gundog could not convincingly execute The Run as there is a lack of outward ankle articulation. With enough jimmying he could do a decent kneel, but he rocks the Ultra Magnus 1986 Movie poster pose with ease and delight. That's a really fierce ankle tilt he can execute. No fancy James Bond style gun-holding poses, though, Gundog does not have double-jointed elbows. His weapons are long enough, bud sadly his arms are not, so they cannot facilitate two-handed gun stances. This can be masked by the fact that he has so much weaponry, two-handed stances for one weapon become irrelevant.
Another great strength of Gundog is that both versions sport a great deal of Hound's character, the one most recognisable from the 3-part 1984 cartoon pilot. He looks great alongside Sphinx - the most eligible MP Mirage so far - and even though his face sculpt is pure MakeToys and not perfectly screen accurate, it's undeniably beautiful. I like it better than the face sculpt on MP Bumble, Lambor and Smokescreen. In terms of what Takara Tomy could do better, a perfectly screen-correct face, a small underwater visor for his face and keys to Ravage's cage would be a great place to start!
Just to wrap up the robot mode portion of the review, from the back Gundog looks very clean indeed, I guess the only things qualifying as kibble would be the seats sat flush against the calves and back of the knees and the steering wheel/dash just kinda hanging there upside down - this is something that seems bizarrely out of place on a figure where absolutely everything else has a pre-determined and well-defined finishing point or resting place. I've seen far far worse, Gundog is a success in this department.
It is during transformation that issues, concerns and criticisms of Gundog surface mainly for me. Considering that my first experiences of transforming him were with the 2Y toy deco version, I was lucky not to have caused damage to those shoulder pin joints thanks to their really unnerving tightness. I have always made sure to transform them while actually holding the joint as close to the pin as possible. The tabbing of the arms first to the back of his waist and then to the back of the legs is a bit of a chore as most of the time the view is obstructed. Getting the wheels folded out and tabbing them to the underside of the hood is slightly fiddly and laborious, but at least it is secure. On the 2Y version, my steering wheel section popped off its ball joint regularly, so I tended to keep it off and reattach after transformation. I must admit my least favourite part is attaching the sides of the vehicle, because they tab in at 3 separate points and the last one, where the side 'doors' tab into the wheel arches requires too much plastic flexing for my comfort.
Do remember to rotate down the front wheel arches (the ones with the stars and mirrors attached to them) because if you try to fold up the hood with them in the wrong place, the plastic looks like it might rub and leave marks. They seem like slightly fragile parts too. My final complaints about the transformation, clipping the hood over wheel arches and shoulders is nerve-wracking as it's the thinnest plastic on the figure, and it feels as though it's going to break when being pulled over to click in via the tabs. I also occasionally have difficulty threading the head through the gap for robot mode, and the seats have been known to come off on the 2Y during transformation. However, that said, I like how the doors fold up to become his heels and the accordion effect of the forearms is pure magic, definitely my favourite part of the conversion. That would be Gundog's 'Masterpiece Moment', and it's lovely that he has one at all.
Now interestingly, 99% of the above issues I have described do not exist with my 2N specimen. It's as if all the tolerances, clearances and general feel of joints are improved for the toon deco. This is exactly what I wanted, because I want to transform this toy regularly, such is the attractiveness of his alternate mode. The troublesome 2Y shoulder joints are non-events on 2N, the clipping of the hood and the sides of the vehicle are a far easier and less heart-stopping affair, and my steering wheel section never pops off. I guess the sparkly plastic has introduced some issues into the general Gundog design for 2Y.
All of that aside, I simply cannot deny the beauty that is Gundog's jeep mode. Wow, absolutely gorgeous and laced to the brim with G1 Hound goodness. The tyres are not rubber but they're not the hard plastic of the Masterpiece Transformers either. The chrome on 2Y really shines in this mode, as do the array of weapons he has attached. It's a great achievement and almost expected that all the accessories attach in both modes. The fit of panels and sections, once you've gotten them into the right place, is superb.
And now we must touch on the other main complaint about MakeToys Gundog as a Masterpiece Hound, the fact that his jeep mode is so large compared to the other Masterpiece cars. The relative proportions of MP Bumblebee, Tracks, Wheeljack and co are written off as a slightly disappointing side-effect and consequence of their scaling in robot mode, the primary decider of a MP car's size it would seem. In the case of Gundog, everyone has noticed his slightly larger relative presence when all the cars are placed together. I don't really know what MakeToys could have done differently because his robot mode scaling is spot on, and this alternate mode is hardly taking gratuitous liberties with its proportions. It is a basic fact, this is the vehicle that comes out of that robot in those proportions.
Should FansToys come out with Willis rocking a much more scaled vehicle mode that also scales in robot mode, with an altogether more interesting and engaging transformation - and an improved face sculpt as recently promised - Gundog may well be in for some serious competition. However, I have said it about other toys elsewhere and I will repeat it here, what FansToys and one day Takara Tomy come up with for Hound should not diminish what MakeToys have done with their interpretation of this well-loved Autobot. Originally intended to have a much bigger role in the series until Bumblebee usurped him as the main point of human interaction for the Autobots, I can at least say that despite some worries in the transformation, durability and alt mode scale for Gundog 2Y - of which 2 out of 3 are corrected on 2N - MakeToys Gundog is 100% worth having and enjoying. I am enjoying it every single day, and I wholeheartedly look forward to what the design brilliance of FT and TakaraTomy brings to the story of Hound and his official/unofficial Masterpiece incarnations. How will Takara handle the scale issue in vehicle mode? How will FansToys hide his arms and wheels etc? I will enjoy discovering the answers to those while at the same time not allowing my appreciation of Gundog to diminish in the slightest.
Overall, I'd say the 2N version wins my preference, but not based on appearance. Although I will admit how surprised I was that the matte light green with simple silver and yellow highlighting of 2N looked so brilliant. It must be said, the dark sparkly green and chrome of 2Y are positively dreamy. What elevates 2N for me above 2Y - especially considering the specimens I have ended up with - is just how much more user friendly 2N is in terms of transformation and feel. It's one of the finest 3rd party products I've ever handled, right up there with Cupola, Visualizers, FansToys Iron Dibots, Quakewave, Ocular Max Sphinx, the MMC Hexatrons, Feralcons and DX9 figures.
Now go ahead and enjoy what Gundog brings to the party...
All the bestMaz