Well, I’m back. Or at least sort-of back, in between other projects. And yes, this may just be the furthest thing from the high selflessness of Voices For Japan that’s humanly possible, but it’s just another example of what we around here call "ripping the gears out of the transmission". As you might’ve noticed, each of us here at the Buffet has our own particular niche of nerdery, and this just happens to be one of mine.
For those of you not living under a rock the size of the Maitre d’s enormous potato-shaped head and who’ve been paying attention to entertainment news, you’ve probably already heard that there’s yet another Transformers movie by Michael "Blow Shit Up" Bay on the horizon (along with sequels to Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more than likely a couple of other franchises I’ve forgotten because there’s only so many hours in a day to indulge my nerdery). That’s not really what this post is about. The movie, I mean. This, ladies and gentlemen, is about one of the lowest rungs on the ladder of geekery: toy collecting.
First, I should probably set out a few caveats, disclaimers, and whatever else I need to cover my ass before someone comments that I’m biased or forgetting to mention something or whatever pedantry they need to indulge in. As a rule, I’m mainly interested in things Transformer-like because of the toys. I like to think of myself as a collector rather than a fan, per se. I don’t really care about the fiction, whether it’s the TV series or comics (although I rather enjoyed Beast Wars and Animated). It doesn’t really matter to me. I can’t even really put my finger on why the toys are so appealing to me, aside from some half-hearted excuses about them being three-dimensional art or well-engineered or whatever other snooty-sounding half-truths people put out there. I collect them because it’s fun, and I don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks.
Within a fandom, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and fixations, and this is mine. I realized this a long time ago, and I’ve accepted it. At the same time, as someone who’s been part of various fandoms for most of my life, I’ve also realized that as a fan, like anything else, you have to grow and change. I recently got into a discussion with someone about this – by not confining ourselves to one aspect of a franchise or fandom, our depth of understanding becomes richer. For that matter, as fans we shouldn’t confine ourselves to one show, book series, or even genre, always seeking to branch out and expand our interests.
As a fan and as a collector, I’ve tried to live by that principle. My collection includes everything from Beast Wars on up through the movies, Animated, and everything else. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed seeing styles change, from the realistic, organic animal forms of Beast Wars to the weird liquid-metal aesthetics of Beast Machines to the blocky, more traditional Kunio Okawara-esque Unicron Trilogy toys. I’ve embraced the character and exaggerated proportions of Animated, and the greebly-covered movie-style figures.
However, lately I’ve found myself in what you might call a "cranky old man" kind of phase. Namely, witha new movie coming up, the current crop of Transformers toys is shifting to reflect that, and my desire to collect has shrunk considerably. Now, you’ve probably heard about a large chunk of the fandom’s reaction to what they call "Bay-formers". Namely, that some fans feel giant robots should look like a man wearing a suit of cardboard boxes instead of an explosion of metal shards stuck together with Krazy Glue (I don’t want to lean to one side or the other of the debate, so I’m just going to make fun of both). In principle, I disagree. In principle, I want to think that any style can be visually appealing. Really, I want to be a better fan than I am.
Here’s the problem: none of the toys for Dark of the Moon (which officially hit stores yesterday) appeal to me, and I’m beginning to, after two previous movies, get burned out on the style. They just don’t spark my imagination or my interest. There may be some reasons behind it, but all of them amount to myself being a cranky, hypocritical old fan who can’t quite live up to my own standards.
You might say, "Well, Revenge of the Fallen sucked, so it’s no wonder you’re not excited about toys from the next movie in the franchise." That’s not entirely the case. Revenge of the Fallen wasn’t exactly the greatest movie ever made (nowhere near the top, obviously), but it was far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen (that dubious honor goes to either Battlefield Earth or Blankman). The movie’s main failing was, in fact, being too ambitious. Good sequels usually take the story or world established by the first installment of a franchise and expand on it, filling out the concepts and adding new ones. The problem lay in that Michael Bay and the movie’s writers seemed to have sat down and browsed through the Transformers wiki, made notes of concepts and characters they found interesting, then threw all of them in without filtering the list down to only the best ideas. Combiners, Pretenders (or Beast Wars-style organic alternate modes, depending on how you look at it), the Fallen, the Matrix of Leadership, a big old Saturday morning-style superweapon, killing Optimus Prime (which has become a trope of its own by now), and more new characters than you can shake a stick at, all tossed into the space of two hours. They tried to do too much with it, and I guess it’s better to aim high and fail than to just rehash the first movie’s story. So my disinterest isn’t really from the movies themselves. I don’t know that I’ll go out of my way to watch Transformers: Turn Off the Dark Side of the Moon, but I’m not going to judge it without seeing it.
Then there’s the divisions in the line and general gimmicks of the toys. As a rule, I don’t mind this sort of thing, but the toy line for Dark of the Moon has branched out in several different ways, from the sort-of micro playset style of the Cyberverse series to the Human Alliance figures that have squishy sidekicks driving them around to the gigantic spring-driven Mechtech weapons in the main line. All these are aimed at kids, obviously, and from what I can tell, kids are going to enjoy playing with them. That’s not to say that I think toys with springs or electronics can’t be fun for collectors, or that some collectors won’t like these things. Far from it – I tend to stay away from the more delicate high-end collectors’-grade figures, and I like good, fun gimmicks. This particular batch, though, leaves me cold (getting into exactly why each isn’t that appealing is even more toy-nerdery than I’m willing to do now).
So, what has your esteemed Chef and megalomaniacal nostalgic twit been collecting? For the most part, the Classics-style figures – in between movies, Hasbro’s been kind enough to toss us old farts a hell of a large bone by redoing a large chunk of the original cast from 1984 through 1986 with modern articulation and detailing, including obscure characters from the comics. The design team has ahold of the fandom’s collective penis and is furiously giving us one hell of a handie, in other words, and I like it. Maybe that’s a bit crude, but it’s accurate. My shelves doth overflow with guys who haven’t gotten new toys in 20 years.
So here I am, conflicted by my own high standards of fandom and my complete lack of interest. What’s a nerd to do, then? Maybe dig deep into another tenet of fandom: take a break once in a while. Maybe it’s okay to not be interested in one facet of a franchise (or even an entire franchise), as long as you give it a chance first and don’t just dismiss it out of hand. Maybe it’s okay for fan-interest to lie fallow for a while, to sleep for a season until something new comes along (and with the Transformers franchise, one of the advantages is that everything reboots on a yearly basis). That might be the lesson here, or it might just be me rationalizing my decision to be a cranky old man. You decide.