"Almost the entire collection: T1 Leader Optimus (middle) and ROTF Leader Buster Optimus (right)"
Transformers toys have got to be on top of the list when it comes to boy toys. I remember growing up and really getting into the whole Transformers action figure collecting and playing scene. First there were the cartoons. Then came the comics, toys, etc....mind-blowing (Actually the toys came first if my memory serves me correctly. The Cartoon stories was based on these Japanese creations)! Trucks, cars and jets transforming into fighting robots. I mean what is there not to love. You marry two ultimate boy fantasies, robots and vehicles. Now you can have two toys in one (three if you buy one of them Triple Changers). The only problem....there were too many of them out there and well, back in the day, we had to rely on our dad and mum (or grandma and grandpa) to get them for us. As such we could only pick and choose a few.
As a kid, one of my favorite characters from the Transformers cannon was Optimus Prime. He was a strong, noble leader and he stood for justice and he protected the weak. His motto "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings" still remain as one of my favorite catchphrases. Most of all he had that deep commanding voice, which we all later discovered belonged to one Peter Cullen! The choice for me was easy. Optimus Prime it was. So began my obsession with everything Optimus!
Optimus Prime was the first Transformer I ever received as a child. I remember my dad getting Optimus from the departmental store and me bringing him home. The old school red and black Hasbro box had illustrations of Optimus in robot mode holding up his ion cannon blaster on the right hand corner of the clear window. The back of the box had an illustration of Optimus, and the rest of the Transformers, as well as a spec sheet down the bottom half showing his speed, agility, strength, firepower, etc etc. The toy also came with an illustrated sheet showing you how to transform the truck to robot mode, and stick on decals for the action figure. Back in the day there was only one version of Optimus to choose from, so picking a figure to buy was easy. Optimus, as in the G1 cartoon, was an old school cab over truck, and he came with his trailer (which opened up to form a battle platform) and his other component Wheelie. Also supplied was his ion cannon blaster and removable hands. Transformation back then was easy. His arms simply fold outwards, and his legs moved 90 degrees downwards from their horizontal position. Then all one needed to do was flip his head up. Transformation complete. That said, that was the spark that sent me off on this Optimus collecting spree.
Movieverse Optimus Prime
"T1 Leader Class Deluxe Optimus. Note the chrome"
The first of the movieverse Optimus Prime's to be released came out in time for the new Michael Bay movie. While I was a big Transformers fan back in the 80's, I never did revive my Transformers figurine collecting passion. Instead my attention got diverted and I was busy collecting other figures, such as X-Men, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. It wasn't until I saw the radical new design Optimus had for the movie that the collecting spark was reignited (pun intended!). The first movieverse Optimus I got was the mid sized figure, dubbed Voyager Class by the Hasbro execs. The transformation was neat, at least for that time, and I though Optimus did look like his movie counterpart. The larger format figure, the Leader Class was even better. Both of these had amazing truck modes, the PeterBilt truck that had a long nose as opposed to the cab over design of old. The reasoning behind this was to make Optimus larger!
I purchased the Voyager Class figure and had fun transforming him. Moving with the times, these toys were much more complex and harder to transform. Still the printed instructions were sufficient to help in the transformation. For instance Optimus's head still flipped out. But this time his hands were squeezed into the small space underneath the hood. He came with two blasters, converted from his smoke stacks and gas tanks (which in my opinion was just plain laziness on the designers part). Still the Voyager Class was pretty easy to transform. The one major issue with this current crop of Transformers was the excessive back kibble. It looked like the whole front of the truck was now Optimus's backpack! While this was less obvious in the Leader Class figure, he too had some kibble.
The other problem with US Hasbro issued Transformers was the lack of paint apps. The figures were very poorly painted (if any at all!). This was the beginning of the great divide between the US release Hasbro Toys and the Japanese Tomy Takara Issued action figures. Both shared the same mold, but the Takara ones had superior paint jobs (i.e. chrome paint! See above example) and a different flame scheme. I ended up holding out on the Leader Class until the Takara one was made available as a Deluxe Leader Class figure in Asia. Of all the movieverse Optimus Prime's, the 2007 Movie Leader Class figure was most reminiscent of Optimus Prime from G1. He was blockish and not as streamlined as in the movie. He also came with a much too short ion cannon blaster and a snap on energon blade. Still he was a pretty awesome figure, and was the first to feature electronic sounds (i.e. transforming sounds).
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
"ROTF Leader Class Optimus from Hasbro with JetWing Optimus Keychain and T1 Voyager Battle Damaged Optimus in truck mode. Grey where chrome should be"
Two years of redesign from the Hasbro team saw a complete overhaul of the Leader Class Optimus Prime figure. The leaked pics of the prototypes for this new Optimus Prime blew everyone away. He was very slick and more stylized, in comparison to 2007 counterpart, while retaining the amazing truck mode. Paint apps seemed a little better, but still a whole heap of greys where chrome should be. The ugly back kibble, so present on the previous iterations of this figure was gone, replaced by sliding plates. Hasbro really outdid themselves with this Optimus. He looked and felt like his real life action movie version. Transformation was really complex on this one and the one dimensional printed instructions were no longer sufficient. I had to refer to an online You Tube tutorial to get him to transform properly. This is not one where you want to constantly convert from robot to truck mode and vice versa. He also came with two spring loaded retractable energon blades, as in the movie, but no blasters. The energon blades were poorly painted and I felt the previous Optimus weapon was better. No great loss since this was one heck of a Optimus. He still reigns supreme as the best Optimus Prime figure out there PERIOD!
Again Takara released their own souped up version, nicknamed Buster Prime (see below). This one had full on chrome, fantastic detailing (more flames) on his truck and robot mode, plus his smoke stacks and gas tanks can be removed from his back plates and broken down to transformed into his ion cannon blaster. He also had his face shield down revealing his face. Needless to say I got this figure in a heartbeat! Hasbro and Takara also released a combining Optimus, one that could merge with JetFire to create Jet Power Optimus Prime. This was a huge figure but it kind of looked awkward so I passed on this one. Here Leader Class Optimus can combine with Leader Class Jetfire to form the ultimate mash up. While looking awesome in the movie, I had mixed feelings about this as a action figure. Overall Jetfire folds out and attached to Optimus on his back with some pegs, making for a very awkward looking figure (weird black Jetfire kibble on his back...looking like an alien had attached itself to Optimus's back backwards!).
The Voyager remained unaltered, other than different paint schemes. A year later they released a modified Leader Class Figure with his energon blades replaced with hooks (Battle Hooks Optimus) and a all new Voyager Version of ROTF Leader Class Optimus. This figure, called Battle Blades Optimus was released in conjunction with the "Hunt for the Decepticons" line. He essentially looks like a smaller version of the Leader Class. The only difference was his skinnier legs, his energon blades are not spring loaded and his chest cavity contains the Matrix of Leadership. This figure also came with two blasters that look more like gas tanks.
"ROTF Takara Leader Class Buster Optimus. No grey's here all chrome!"
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
"Optimus Prime evolution. From Left to right DOTM Optimus, AOE Evasion Mode Optimus and T1 Voyager Battle Damaged Optimus"
As the name implies, this was a dark time for action figures and for collectors. Maybe it was pure apathy, or maybe they just didn't care. Nothing was done to improve the pre-existing ROTF Optimus Prime mold. All they did was give him hew ribs to reflect the movie version (robotic abs!). The Leader Class figure was basically the same as the previous Optimus, so I totally ignored these. They issued a new mold for the Voyager Class figure though. This figure was a rather big departure from the previous released Voyagers. The figure was a tad shorter than previous iterations and incorporated the robotic abs. This figure had a weird body to leg ratio, with a very short torso. Also he had big honking gas tanks that stood in as his ion cannon and molded on tyres on the side of his legs. Surprisingly this figure did not have that much back kibble. Still the funny body ratio made the whole figure awkward and ugly. To me this figure was a step back. The only plus for this was that it came with an option to purchase just the robot, or the set with Optimus's trailer, as in the movie.
There another in between figure that could not decide if he wanted to be a Leader Class or a Voyager Class figure. Named Ultimate Optimus Prime, this was a weird one. He was yet another total redesign from the previous ROTF Leader and Voyager Class figures. Optimus came with his trailer and while the figure was smaller, he could combine with his trailer to recreate the Jetpack Optimus (not to be confused with ROTF's JetWing Prime) in the scene where he takes out the driller. The Optimus figure itself is not overly bad (actually quite acceptable). While he has super blocky arms that seems fused to his wheels, the back kibble on this figure is pretty minimal. The problem with this guy is his super scrawny legs and his skinny waist. This figure just felt top heavy! Another minus was he looked weird when combined with his trailer to make a huge Optimus figure (the walls of the trailer opened up to create the wings).
They also released another class of Optimus figures, even smaller than that of the Voyagers. This figure had an overall cleaner transformation and the robot mode looked better. Still there was some back kibble (again the annoying bonnet as in the original Voyager Optimus 2007, but not nearly as bad). I got this figure, released as a Walmart special, only find out that they were reissuing this figure later with a trailer in Toys-R-Us. This is the only Dark of the Moon figure I purchased! Takara also released another Leader Class figure which had a battle shield, big honking rifle and better paint apps. This figure was dubbed Striker Optimus Prime. This was different in the sense that the battle shield could be attached to the front of the truck and act as a battering ram. While this was very cool and reminiscent of the one he used in the movie, the figure was yet again based on the ROTF mold. As such I ended up passing on this one too.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
"Optimus back to back, AOE's sleek Voyager Optimus and T1 Bulky Optimus with extensive back kibble!"
Optimus Prime gets a total makeover for this movie, and so does his action figures! If you though movie Optimus was sleek in the past movies, this new version of Optimus is even snazzier. He now looks like a overgrown samurai in styling. Good or bad I am not sure, you decide. I much prefer his older movie look as he appears less organic and more robotic. We do get to see his pre-AOE robot mode though earlier on in the movie. Here he is a rusted out and discolored version of his previous self. What's cool about this undercover mode is that he transforms into a truck reminiscent of his G1 counterpart, a cab over truck. When news started circulating that an action figure was going to be released, reflecting this alt mode I was ecstatic. To me this is the only figure Hasbro poured their creativity into this time round. The transformation is just nothing short of amazing, to go from a robot mode such as in ROTF, to a cab over G1 truck mode is just astounding. I spied this figure while visiting Japan and snapped up the Takara Tomy Version straight away. Paint apps are slightly better on this "Evasion Mode" Optimus Prime compared to the standard Hasbro USA issue (dull silver paint for the legs as opposed to red paint on his feet...seriously Hasbro?).
Since its release there have been several do overs for this figure. The later available double packs with Voyager Grimlock and The Leader Class figure to me is yet another step back sine there is so much back kibble going on. Also Hasbro though the Transformers figures were becoming to complicated so they dumbed them down into one and two step conversions. Good for little kiddies, not so good for adult grown up collectors such as myself. Most of these "shellformers", as collectors call them have robotic parts being hidden under full bodies truck and car modes. Not appealing at all. Ended up with just this figure from the new movie.
The latest release is probably the one to get for this line. Dubbed Armor Knight Optimus Prime, and released by Takara, this is another example of a done over leader class Optimus. what's unique about this figure is a totally remodeled head (with super cool flip over mask to reveal Optimus's fave, chest, arms (as in the scene when he grabs the sword in the Knights Ship!) and feet. And did I mention the chrome bits are all nicely chromed out? Still the back kibble exist on this one, ike the original. To buy or not to buy, your call.
Those with a fascination for Optimus Prime would no doubt buy some of the figures listed above. I have tried to be as unbiased and comprehensive and as possible. However I cannot hide my enthusiam for some of the figures. The ROTF figure in particular remains the standard by which everything else is judge. Here's hoping Hasbro and Takara continue to push the envelop with the development of our beloved Transformer Optimus Prime!