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Rail Racer

Transformers: Universe
by yo go re

Most of the Micro Change and Diaclone toys released before Hasbro combined them to create the Transformers franchise were eventually released in the US. One notable (group) exception, however, are the Trainbots, combiners like the Constructicons who joined to become Raiden. He never came to America, but his influence is still felt.

In 2004, as part of the original Universe line, imported a few sets of Micromasters. The Micromasters were Transformers who downsized their bodies to be more fuel efficient. But since that left them severely out-classed in a fight with even the Minibots (like Bumblebee), eventually they introduced some combiners to up their ante. In the sixth Japanese-only series, 1992's "Operation Combination," there were four Micromaster gestalts, including the heroic Sixtrain.

We'll begin with the Yamagata "Tsubasa" bullet train, Midnight Express. Despite being only 2⅜" long, this mini-vehicle is detailed nicely. Four hidden wheels on the bottom spin, allowing the train to roll around. The door, windows, and false wheels on the lower edge are sculpted nicely, and a connector hitch folds out of the back. The train is dark grey with black windows and teal highlights.

In Japan, this figure was "Windy," a female warrior with the mentality of a teenage girl. No, really. She's more obsessed with gossip than battle, and has a remarkable singing voice. You being to see why Hasbro didn't bother including any biographical information with these sets. Midnight Express's robot mode introduces a bit more color, giving us some orange on her face and chest.

Next we have my personal favorite of the set, Overload. What makes this one more special than the others? He's a steam locomotive, rather than a bullet train. It's probably a JNR D51, built between 1936 and 1951. The toy is 2" long, and done in grey plastic with silver detailing. The wheels that allow it to roll are actually designed to look like train's wheels, rather than hiding behind fake ones.

Overload shares his mold with San D-Go, who was the team's technological support, always building new devices to make them better fighters. He was also fascinated by Earth culture, going so far as to plan a "marriage" to another Micromaster - good thing he has the "male" connector peg, huh? But honestly, that seems like one step above having a wedding for your cats. He's 2½" tall, and features a yellow chest and blue legs.

Next we have the Tokaido "Nozomi" bullet train known as Railspike. It's 2¼" long, and done all in white with black windows and blue trim. Judging by the size of the door and windows, this train is about half the size of Midnight Express. The wheels roll, though those are just for the toy: there are no sculpted wheels on the body. Is this a pure maglev?

Railspike is the shortest bot we've looked at so far, standing not even 2¼" tall, but his Japanese counterpart, Desire, is the team leader. Yes, he's named Desire - please save all your "street car" jokes unil the end of the presentation. Does that mean Railspike is the leader of the Railbots? Sure, why not. There's a lot more blue in this mode, but the chest is silver and the face is bright, bright red.

The second white and blue train is Rapid Run, the "Asagiri" Special Express. We're back to having fake wheels on the bottom of the vehicle, with the real wheels concealed behind. The train is very stumpy, measuring just over 2" long, but the design of the cab windshield is pretty neat. The blue stripes are different than they were on Railspike, but the two still feel connected.

Rapid Run is known in Japan as Raise. Or Rays. It's レイズ (re-i-zu), which could be romanized either way. His bio says he loves to sit and watch the sunrise, but that was written years after the toy came out and could be a joke. His major trait was that he was somewhat precognitive, and saved his teammates many times. Rapid Run breaks the 2½" mark, and is predominantly red with just a bit of blue.

You probably know Swindle as the Decepticon arms dealer, but in this case, Swindle is the EF66, an electric train engine. No, not an electric train like you played with on the floor as a kid, an electric train like an above-ground transit system. Think of trolley cars. It's 2" long, and has the most impressive detailing of any of the Railbots.

Technically Swindle should be blue, not green, but that may be a licensing issue. In Japan, he was Convertor, the oldest of the Micromasters, but he was always trying to act young. However, he loves Earth history, and uses history lessons to give his teammates advice. So basically he's a high school history teacher going through a midlife crisis? Yay! The robot's chest is blue, with a golden panel, and he has a matching visor covering his silver face.

And finally, we have the improbably named Tankor, which might have made sense for the steam engine, but seems out of place on a TGV-A Super Express bullet train. This is another shorty train, but it has very nice sculptural work on the "nose" of the train. It has the pretend wheels, and there's a definite break between the front and back halfs when it comes to overall aesthetic.

Tankor was known as Atlan in Japan, where he was a karate master and would often spar with another Micromaster in public matches to hone his combat proficiency. Always love it when the Autobots have a violent psychopath on their side. It's like the OAFEs and Shocka! The 2½" tall robot is overwhelmingly blue, with some red courtesy his wheels and a black belt. Wait, a black belt? How appropriate!

Each of the Micromaster Railbots was individually carded, and each comes with a piece of the "connection kibble" to form Rail Racer. Midnight Express the right foot, Swindle has the left, Railspike has the chest, Overload gets the legs, Tankor gets the head and gun, and Rapid Run has both hands, strangely. All six were KB Toys exclusives, but eventually showed up in clearance outlets.

Combined, Rail Racer stands 6¾" tall, which is pretty decent even by non-Micromaster standards - that is, there are plenty of "full size" TFs that aren't even this big. Articulation is extremely limited, with the only movement being swivels at the neck and shoulders. In case his big gun isn't enough, he has blasters on the back of each hand.

The overall color scheme is attractive, even if it's not symmetrical - there's enough blue, grey, white and silver spread around to create a cohesive whole. The G1 colors were quite ghastly, so this is a huge improvement. There was also an all-red version available in Japan, representing Sixtrain's powered-up mode. We don't get that, but we also didn't have to deal with blind-boxing. Comme ci, comme ca.

The combiner kibble doesn't turn into a jet, like Devastator's did, but that doesn't mean it's useless. Though there's no mention of it anywhere in the instructions, you can turn everything into "battle train" weapons for the vehicles to haul around. It's a decently cool idea, but the only way you'll ever know about it is if someone tells you. Why no notation, Hasbro? Technically only three of the trains get battle stations, but you can hook the other three up to things so they don't feel left out.

Rail Racer isn't a spectacular toy, and neither are any of his components. I only got him because I love trains so much, and because his big cousin, Raiden, was never released over here; getting these six little guys at KB was much cheaper than trying to find an intact import of a Japanese exclusive.

-- 02/23/10

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