I've been trying to figure that out ever since this toy was first announced. Did I need an MP Inferno?
I remember being a child and getting Hosehead as one of my first transformers figures, and pretending he was Inferno, even though I knew he wasn't. So clearly at some point I thought Inferno was a pretty important character. I remember being pretty stoked when I eventually got a real Inferno as well.
But when it comes to the character himself? There, my memory is a lot more barren. I guess he did a bunch of stuff in season 2 of the cartoon, but none of it has particularly stuck in my memory all these years later. He was one of those characters that just showed up one day, and then just disappeared at some point. He didn't even get the dignity of a hasty death in the movie. In the comics, at least in the US, he was a total non-entity. Maybe this wasn't a character I needed immortalized in plastic.
But then this toy hit. As you likely know by now, it was one of the most lauded-yet-controversial releases ever. Was he the greatest engineering marvel produced up to that time, or did he herald the downfall of the MP line? A year later, hot off a Black Friday discount, I've finally gotten around to finding out.
Inferno comes packaged in fire engine mode, so let's start there. It's... it's not amazing, is it?
I mean, don't get me wrong, it's fine. It basically looks like a fire engine. But are we just supposed to ignore his clear and present robot arms hanging out there, looking not very much like the sides of a fire engine? That gag seemed a whole lot more acceptable on the 1985 G1 toy than it does on a 2016 masterpiece figure.
In fact, part of me wonders if this thing is trying to homage Inferno's G1 toy alt mode more than it's trying to emulate an actual fire truck. The white coiled hose and stabilization pistons on the side don't seem like common features on real fire engines, but they are very faithful recreations of the same features on the G1 toy. The G1 toy also included the little lights and horns on the top of the cab. And in a move so dopey I can't help but be charmed by it, the truck even has a little silver gun-looking thing back by the ladder assembly, mirroring the part on the G1 toy that became the gun next to Inferno's head -- even though that's no longer the case in the MP transformation, and it's now purely vestigial.
So yeah, I guess if what you're after is a representation of a toy fire engine from 1985, then MP Inferno delivers. The thing is that what was pretty good stab at a fire truck for a mass-market transforming robot in 1985 looks kinda lackluster on a collector-grade toy in 2017. The entire midsection of the engine is just unabashedly hollow, occupied only by a kibbleicious transformation strut. The robot knees are awfully visible as well, even from the side. Real fire engines have all kinds of interesting details on their typically beefy frames, and MP-33 just ain't bothering with any of that.
The other thing you'll notice about this mode is that it's really, really red. We'll talk about this more in the robot mode section, but needless to say, Inferno is not a very colorful toy, unless you count red, and then HOO BOY is he ever full of that color! The cab is reasonably broken up by the chrome bits and the clear plastic windows, but after that it's just red for days. There's some sculpted detail here -- a ladder on the back, some tail lights -- that could have really benefited from some paint apps, both to pick them out and just to break up that crimson sea.
This is a meaningful departure for the Masterpiece line, which has up to now has generally given us really lifelike vehicle modes where possible, with the MP carbots going so far as to proudly call out the real-world vehicles they're licensed from on the box. Surprisingly, Inferno's box also features such branding, proclaiming this to be a "Fuso T951." A quick google search reveals that this is an old model of flatbead mitsubishi truck that was indeed sometimes converted into fire engines. Looking at the pictures, it looks pretty plausible that this is what G1 Inferno was based on. But I do not buy that it is what MP-33 is based on. MP-33 is based on the G1 Inferno toy, and any resemblance to the Fuso T951 is purely the result of a multi-decade game of design telephone.
One other minor gripe: It's sort of disappointing that the ladder can't turn from side to side. I suppose this does make the transformation go more smoothly, but still, it's the kind of play value one might expect from this kind of toy. On the bright side, the side pylons do extend, and you can attach the water spray accessory to the top of the ladder, so there's a little something to do here besides roll the engine back and forth.
If you're going to fall in love with Masterpiece Inferno, it will be because of the transformation.
The first time I transformed Inferno, I thought it was one of the greatest transformations ever designed. I was immediately reminded of Masterpiece Ironhide, another red largish MP Autobot who won me over primarily on the back of his transformation.
The main event, of course, is the much-hyped way that Inferno hides his ladder in his robot chest. It's accomplished about the way you'd think it would be, but it's an excellent move nonetheless. The way the arms rotate around is relatively pleasing as well, and while the various panel movements on the legs aren't exactly surprising, they're also satisfying in their own way. And all of this is intuitive enough that I didn't need the instructions to accomplish it.
I have cooled a bit on the transformation since that first impression. I find it much less fun to go from robot to fire engine than the reverse. It took me a while to realize why: When you go to robot mode, you can kind of do things in whichever order. But on the way back to truck mode you have to do things in a specific order, or pieces start getting in each others' way, particularly around the front section.
Still, all in all, this is an amazing transformation sequence.
Here's something you absolutely can't deny: Inferno cleans up good.
Thanks to that amazing ladder trick -- and, also to be fair, thanks to that unambitious alt mode -- this is a bot mode with virtually nothing in the way of kibble. From his back to his arms to his legs, Inferno is tidy. He looks, as transformers reviewers love to say, like he just walked off the screen.
And here's the other reason that Inferno has been such a contentious toy. Because whereas past Masterpiece toys sometimes tried to look like somewhat refined versions of their subjects, Inferno is clearly above all an attempt to capture his Sunbow likeness -- and of course, the cartoon wasn't exactly known for its detail.
To be fair, it's really only Inferno's legs that sell the low-detail thing. The default chest he ships with is pretty detailed, and covered in realistic chrome, if that's your jam. But Inferno also comes with a cartoon-accurate replacement chest with white accents, and I have a sneaking suspicion that's the chest the designers preferred. Why do I think that? Because Inferno's shoulders are white (as in the cartoon, matching the cartoon chest), rather than chrome (as they were on the G1 toy, and which would match the more realistic chest). You can banish all the chrome from this toy if you wish, but you can't banish those white shoulders. That's where the designers had to make a definitive choice, and they picked the 'toon.
Faithfulness to the cartoon also explains how dang red this toy is. Had it hewed closer to the toy, it might have featured black knees, or some chrome detailing on the arms. Instead Inferno's robot mode, like his vehicle mode, is redder than the underwear they buried Fidel Castro in.
Once again, Masterpiece Inferno has made a statement. He's a cartoon homage first, and everything else second. So at the end of the day, does it work? Yeah, I think it mostly does. There's no denying Inferno's presence in this mode, or the magic that comes from seeing a character so fully realized in physical form for the first time. Inferno has character and pizzazz in this mode, and I generally think he looks great, as long as I do not suggest to myself that he is wearing red pajamas. Because as soon as that thought flits through my mind, I am incapable of seeing him as anything other than a giant robot kid in a shiny red "footy" onesie.
Anyway, posability is generally strong, with loads of very chunky ratchet joints all over the place. Weirdly there's no wrist swivel, which you'd think would be standard. But generally you can get Inferno into some decent poses.
I suppose I should talk about the accessories, because Inferno has a lot of them. There are a bevy of alternate faces and parts that you can mess around with -- though two of them are so similar I had to squint to tell the difference. I think my favorite face, weirdly, is his gape-mouthed bellowing face. It's just the one that packs the most personality.
Then there are a variety of accessories aimed at recreating cartoon moments, which you've seen throughout this review. These range from cool (the water spout) to kinda half-assed (the wrist communicator), to decidedly ineffectual (the hose).
The craziest is undoubtedly the alternate chest designed purely to recreate the moment where Inferno carried Red Alert. It's pretty awkward, but it basically works. Note that I don't have a Red Alert, so you're going to have to deal with this.:
Build, Quality, and Intangibles
Inferno feels very much up to the standards of the MP line. The plastic is sturdy, and nothing feels in any danger of breaking. The paint used on the chest / cab has a nice, shiny finish to it that does a tiny bit to help sell the toy as premium, though it's a pretty subtle effect, given how perfectly the color here is matched to the unpainted red plastic used on every other inch of the toy. Takara's had some issues with dodgy paint recently, but I haven't noticed any flaking on Inferno yet.
There have been a variety of official Inferno toys over the years, from the really quite decent G1 toy to the Action Master, to the boxy Generations release. As you'd expect, MP-33 easily smokes all of them.
Maketoys and Ocular Max have also taken shots at Masterpiece-style Infernos. Looking at the photos, you can see that they have their strengths, providing the color and detailing that this release didn't. But fan consensus seems to be that overall the Takara release is the better toy.
I'll say this much: When it comes to representing the character of Inferno, it's hard to fathom any of the competitors, or any future toy, doing significantly better than this. Yeah, he's cartoony, but as we established at the jump, Inferno's mostly notable as a cartoon character anyway. So I'm going to go ahead and give him best imaginable, even though, to be fair, I could imagine a repaint of this toy that I would personally prefer.
Why do we buy Transformers toys?
Everyone has their own reasons, of course, but I'd say for most of us, it's some combination of enjoying the puzzle of transforming them, appreciating their display aesthetics, and indulging in the nostalgia they evoke.
Inferno undeniably scores very highly on transformation, with a fun, clever, repeatable transformation. When it comes to nostalgia, he's all-in, striving to replicate the cartoon as faithfully as possible in bot mode, and the toy as faithfully as possible in vehicle mode. That drive for nostalgia has led to some aesthetic choices that won't be for everyone.
MP-33 is an opinionated toy. Sure, its multiple chest and head options are there to try to keep everyone happy, but deep down this toy knows what it is and what it's shooting for. I may not totally agree with that vision, but I appreciate that it has one, and I think it's meeting its goals well.
Inferno may or may not be a B-Lister. But Takara certainly hasn't treated him like one.