Review by Ginrai
When I started high school in the mid-'90s, The Transformers was again off the air with the end of The Transformers: Generation 2, but that didn't mean I was no longer interested. In addition to buying clearanced Generation 2 toys from Kaybee, I discovered Transformers nerds on the Internet through a Usenet group alt.toys.transformers. This was where I learned to my delight that after the show ended here it kept going in Japan for three seasons. I was so delighted, in fact, that I sent some shady guy I only knew through the Internet all my Christmas money and got dubious VHS duplicates of the shows in straight Japanese. Being a robot cartoon nerd in the '90s was dangerous and stupid. I can't tell you how pleased I am that all three shows are officially available in English.
1987's Transformers: The Headmasters was more of a traditional Toei space opera show along the lines of Space Pirate Captain Harlock or SF Saiyuki Starzinger (Spaceketeers in the US).
The series that intrigued me the most, 1988's Transformers: Super-God Masterforce, was heavily influenced by Japanese live action tokusatsu hero shows like Masked Rider (or Kamen Rider) and Space Sheriff Gavan with a little flavor from '80s "real robot" anime series. Nearly every character either was a Transformer pretending to be a human (or organic monster of myth) or a human who controlled a Transformer body in a very henshin hero kind of way.
One of the exceptions is Black Zarak.
So you know how the Decepticons (or Destrons in Japan) are always ruled by some crazy evil robot or other, right? Not in Masterforce. In this show they are ruled by an evil alien/god named Devil Z. Devil Z is sort of an intangible, always pulsing and glowing orb that is usually found in a very gross looking giant monster oyster shell. Devil Z was the one that gave humans the ability to control Transtectors using the Masterforce, an ill-defined process that grants the users access to supernatural powers.
Black Zarak is a new Transtector for Scorponok, replacing his Megazarak Transtector that was destroyed at the end of the Japanese Transformers: The Headmasters cartoon. He shows up at the half-way point of the show where the bad guys are losing ground thanks to the growing number of good guy Godmasters.
Devil Z summons Black Zarak from space for reinforcements, but Ginrai (upgraded to God Ginrai using the Godbomber drone and backed up by Grand Maximus) fights against Black Zarak and Decepticon Godmaster Overlord in a tense two-parter set on the moon. The fight ends with God Ginrai destroying Black Zarak's head with his God Fire Guts finishing move. That didn't kill Black Zarak, though. (Supplemental material reveals Scorponok was wired into Black Zarak's body instead of being a Headmaster.) Black Zarak went on to become a recurring villain. After failing several times, Devil Z grew tired of his lack of success and possessed the giant scorpion robot so he could take the fight to Ginrai and his friends directly.
Black Zarak isn't as fleshed out or as interesting as some of the other villains (Overlord is a married couple who both "God on" to the same Transtector), but he isn't overexposed like Scorponok was in Headmasters either. The demon possession angle is also a welcome new twist. While Black Zarak (with or without Devil Z) may not be quite as engaging as the Lord Zarak/Scorponok team from the Marvel comics, he still makes a good antagonist and far more compelling than Scorponok alone was in the previous cartoon.
Plus he looks really cool.
Looks are a good place to start talking about the toy. In a lot of ways, Black Zarak alleviates my complaints about the Scorponok (or Megazarak) toy. Instead of the eye-melting green/purple/orange combo, Black Zarak is sleek black with bright red highlights and sparkly gold trim. Everything about the color scheme is sinister and cool. It's true that Black Zarak is part of a long tradition of black and gold repaints of Japanese robot toys going back to the original Popy black repaint, Brave Raideen.
Black Zarak, however, is more than just Scorponok in black and gold. True, the red highlights help, but Black Zarak is also a retool with an entirely original head. This helps both his scorpion and robot modes.
In his arachnid configuration, he has a proper bug head with creepy blue eyes and better mandibles than Scorponok. He still has a lobster tail, but there's actually a head instead of just a weird empty box with a transparent welder's mask over it. True, the Headmaster figure can't ride in it like a chair, but that was stupid anyway.
A strip of plastic that covers up his robot mode face comes off and sticks on his forehead as a samurai-inspired crest (sadly missing in these photos; it still looks nice without that part, though). This head is much more in proportion with the rest of the robot body than Scorponok's is and has a cool design. I really like the paint on Black Zarak's face as well. The large head is actually a big shell that you can open up, revealing...
...the Scorponok Headmaster underneath! Yes, that's right! Even though the Headmaster feature was effectively left out of the Masterforce TV show, it's still present on the toy! The weird too-small Headmaster face is still there, but even that looks better in gold and black with bright red eyes than the sickly yellow and silver head with orange eyes of Scorponok. Of course I still vastly prefer the larger hollow head with the gold face and blue eyes that actually matches the toy's body.
Another nice addition for robot mode is the Tyrant Spear, a cool new accessory for Black Zarak to stab his opponents with. He does come with recolors of Scorponok's rifle and the Zarak Shield as well. In my opinion, they look far better in these colors.
As you might expect, you can pull the Scorponok Headmaster figure off of the body and transform him into his tiny humanoid mode and he looks pretty much the same as the original figure, but as usual I like the gold and black better. His purple face, though, that part I'm not one hundred percent sold on. The original toy had a silver face, which was fine. Purple seems to come out of nowhere. I don't think any other part of Black Zarak is purple. Red or blue would make more sense. I don't get this choice, but it's a minor detail.
Well, I suppose we have to talk about the city mode, don't we? Purple and green and orange made no sense for a city and neither does black, gold, and red, unless you're in super weird jewelry store or something. Black Zarak doesn't make a convincing city any more than Scorponok/Megazarak did. It still looks like a freeway overpass at best. The dark color scheme probably makes it even easier for Nebulan derelicts to sleep under there unnoticed, so I bet they would prefer Black Zarak to Scorponok. I know I do.
Worthless sidekick robot Fasttrack has also been recolored into Black Roritchi who is similarly bland, making for a pretty disappointing robot. It's also weird that he's called Black Roritchi when he is gold with purple-y blue wheels and ice cones -- I mean guns. Hey, maybe that's why Headmaster mini figure's face is purple!
Do you like crappy unidentifiable moon buggies that are just a robot bending over? Well, too bad, because that's what Black Roritchi transforms into. Nearly his entire body is made up of gold plastic, which brings us to the elephant in the room: gold plastic syndrome. Essentially all of the gold plastic pieces of Black Roritchi, the Scorponok Headmaster, and the larger Black Zarak body are all made of a type of plastic that was perfectly sound in the late '80s. But due to a chemical process, over the years the plastic has degraded into a very, very brittle material. I can't emphasize enough how breakable this plastic is. I don't mean it will break if you abuse it and I don't mean it will bend and get stress marks the way most ABS plastic will. I mean if you apply pressure to it, even light pressure, it will break. My friend got a Black Zarak sealed in the original box years ago. Before he opened it up, I warned him about the gold plastic, but he opened it anyway and put Black Zarak's shield on his arm. It immediately shattered. I am not exaggerating. The first first time he put it on it broke. He didn't manhandle it either. He was gentle.
If you buy a Black Zarak and you don't want it to die, repeat after me: do not apply pressure to gold plastic. That means don't transform the Scorponok Headmaster mini figure. Don't even connect to the socket on the body. Definitely don't move Scorponok's tiny arms. If at all possible, don't even touch Black Roritchi. Definitely do not transform it. Never, ever attempt to put the shield on Black Zarak's arm. I promise you, it will break. Be extremely ginger with the guns that go on the robot's shoulders and back of his legs. You can probably put them on if you are very careful, but those pegs like to break and definitely do not push them firmly in or you all but guarantee their destruction. Finally, if you insist on transforming Scorponok (which I really do not recommend), be incredibly careful about the toes. While the bulk of his feet is black plastic and so standing him upright in robot mode is mostly fine, if you transform Black Zarak to scorpion mode you are inevitably going to put pressure on the joints that hold the toes onto the body. This pressure will crack the parts. They may not break the first time you try it like the shield, but they will break, I assure you. You are better off just not transforming Black Zarak at all. Heck, you might want to buy a beater Black Zarak that's already broken, get replacement parts from a Scorponok, and just paint them gold.
While you can't really fault the designers or the toy itself for the fragile plastic that has degraded due to an unexpected and unavoidable chemical reaction, it's not the '80s anymore and modern collectors have to realize that Black Zarak is not something you can play with even a little. As a result, I can't in good conscience recommend buying Black Zarak, even though I love the toy and think it's beautiful. It's more breakable than a porcelain doll.
Black Zarak has a lot going for him, including a really nice color scheme, much appreciated improvements over the old Scorponok/Megazarak toy, and an enjoyable role on my favorite Transformers show. He's creepy looking and demon-possessed, but breathe on him wrong, and he'll go to pieces.
(C) 2015 Jeremy W. Kaufmann & CollectionDX
|Posted 25 February, 2015 - 21:18 by Ginrai|