Full disclosure here: I’m not much of a Transformers guy. Transformers took off when I was a wee one and I kind of missed the boat. I had some friends and cousins really into it, and I even had a few myself that were gifted to me, but it was nothing I gravitated towards. And I say that as someone who very much enjoys the concept of toys that can switch between two modes of play – that’s just economical! I did get into the Generation 2 stuff a bit. I remember saving up, what was a lot of money at the time for a kid, to get the Generation 2 release of Optimus Prime, and I would also get a Megatron and a few others. It was a mostly passing fad as it basically occupied the brief period of time when I was transitioning from being a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kid to one obsessed with the X-Men.
Since I didn’t grow up enamored with Transformers, I’ve very rarely dabbled in the collector scene for it. When I was younger and had my first post college job and more disposable income than I was used to, I did dabble in the Masterpiece line. I picked up the US release of Optimus Prime and I grabbed the Takara release of Megatron to pair with him. And that’s where I left the Transformers. It’s just too expensive a line for me to collect when I don’t have tremendous interest in it.
One character though that I have always had affection for is Soundwave. I feel like that’s fairly common as Soundwave is just so decidedly 80s in his design. He’s a tape deck that can turn into a robot, and better yet, he has tapes that transform into robotic, animal, sidekicks. He’s awesome, and there’s a part of me that has always wanted a kick ass Soundwave. Maybe I should have grabbed a Masterpiece version of the character or the G1 reissue from a few years ago. I didn’t, and instead I’ve turned my attention to the R.E.D. release of the character from Hasbro.
R.E.D. stands for Robotic Enhanced Design. It’s a bit of a controversial line in the Transformers collector community because these are Transformers that do not transform. What?! It doesn’t seem to make sense to have Transformers that literally do not do as their name suggests, but it’s also not a new concept. I remember seeing non-transforming Transformers released to stores not long after the Michael Bay films hit. Transformers are notoriously expensive, whether new or vintage, versus a standard action figure. It’s not at all surprising that Hasbro has sought to introduce cheaper versions to retail, especially as a whole new generation of kids got sucked in. I know I’m not eager to drop 30 bucks on a good Transformer for my kid when I don’t know how much play he’ll actually get from it. Plus, having a non-Transforming option means parents aren’t called upon to transform the toy every ten minutes.
The difference with R.E.D. versus those other releases is that this one is not really aimed at casual fans, but collectors. That doesn’t mean casuals (like me) or even kids can’t enjoy them, but they’re definitely collector-focused. And the whole purpose is to produce robots that resemble their animated counterparts in a way that a transforming toy cannot. It’s not a secret that the old cartoon took a lot of liberties with the design of its characters. The show could have directly adapted the toys, but that probably would have resulted in character designs deemed too complex for animation, plus lesser robot designs could be improved for the aesthetics of the show. And now, collectors who grew up on that show can add some Transformers to their display that reflect the robot look of that cartoon. And honestly, from a collector’s point of view, it doesn’t feel that controversial a move considering the vast majority of collectors are going to display their toys in robot form anyway.
Even though my affection for Soundwave is deeply rooted in the fact that he could transform into a 1980s styled boom box, I still find the robot form immensely satisfying. And since the R.E.D. line retails for less than $20, I decided to take the plunge and add a Soundwave to my toy collection. The line comes housed in an attractive, red, window box. It’s shaped like a trapezoid with the figure in the center and off to the side is a window for the accessories, which are in their own, separate, tray. First of all, I think some may be taken by surprise at the size of the figures in this line. Soundwave stands pretty much right at 6″, which is pretty small for a Transformer. This line is likely designed to scale with itself, but it also feels like a typical size for a Hasbro action figure release. And it even feels like one as far as articulation and accessories go, which I’ll get to in a moment. If you’re a dedicated Transformers collector looking to mix and match your display with these guys and traditional G1 or Masterpiece figures, then you might be disappointed.
Considering the primary goal of this line is really the aesthetics, I have to say Hasbro pretty much nailed this one. Soundwave looks like he stepped out of the old cartoon and onto my shelf. The paint is clean and vibrant and the physical structure of the character looks pretty good. I could maybe nitpick the broadness of the shoulders, but considering I’m not a big Transformers fan that feels unnecessary. He looks great to me, and I assume most will be quite satisfied with how this guy looks. My only criticism of how this figure looks is that he could have benefited from a bit more paint. The head is a little plain and something to bring out the facial details would have added some more “pop” to the look. There’s a little bit of paint slop here and there, but relegated to minor dots and blemishes. You can also see some residual plastic from the mold extraction process, but thankfully those blemishes are mostly found on the rear of the figure.
The other advantage to this design is that Hasbro can cram in quite a bit of articulation without worrying about the transforming function. First off, the cannon that mounts on his shoulder is prone to popping off. This isn’t a huge deal for a collector, but if you were thinking of this for a kid know that cannon is going to annoy someone who wants to play with this. For posing, I recommend not fighting it and just popping it off, pose your figure, then replace. Soundwave’s head is on a ball joint and rotates fine, but the cannon gets in the way a bit. He can look way up as Hasbro has the head seated pretty high, and he even looks down a little bit with some side-to-side tilt. The shoulders are also ball-jointed, but the blocky-ness poses a problem. There’s a butterfly joint, but it just can’t do much because of the chest. Hasbro clearly didn’t want to break up the chest with any articulation, and there is a reason for that beyond aesthetics, and it is an issue, but honestly it’s actually less an issue than one would expect just looking at this guy. The elbows are double-jointed and he can go way past 90 degrees as he can come up and touch his own shoulder. There’s a bicep swivel and the hands are on ball-hinges with swivel action. You can keep them recessed in his forearm or pop the ball-joint out of the socket slightly for additional range of motion. There is a waist swivel and the legs can go out and to the side. There is a thigh swivel and the knees are double-jointed and he can bend as far back as a Yoga instructor. The feet are also ball-jointed and can rotate all around and have an overall fantastic range of motion.
The final piece of articulation is in that chest. Soundwave may not be able to transform, but he still has a functioning tape deck. There’s a button near his head that causes the tape deck to pop open and he even comes with a non-transforming tape to insert. Honestly, this was the capper for me on this figure as if he couldn’t do that I would have passed. Since he can though, we’re all good! The eject function isn’t very strong on mine and it basically just cracks open enough to slip a fingernail behind it, but it works well enough. Overall, considering how blocky he is, I am really impressed with the amount of articulation Hasbro crammed into this guy. The only thing that’s unfortunate is that cannon, and I don’t even know why they made it removable considering he has no need to transform. They could have put it on a ball-joint and called it a day, but I guess that was just too much money to spend on one toy. He feels really nice to hold with solid weight. Nothing feels fragile. There is potential to damage the figure though via his articulation. The crotch piece, where the leg is affixed to the figure, has a sharp edge and when I was messing around with the figure it actually scraped my figure’s right thigh, essentially removing a tiny chunk right on the corner of the thigh piece. There’s a little mark on the other thigh as well so I must have done the same there without noticing. It’s something to be wary of though.
In addition to the figure looking great, the accessories do as well. Especially the tape which is fully sculpted and painted and looks great whether it’s in Soundwave’s chest or out. It’s his coolest accessory, but the not the only one. In addition to the fists he comes packaged with, Soundwave also has two additional hands. One is designed to work with his eject button to make it look like he’s about to summon one of his robot minions, while the other is a simple trigger finger. That one works with Soundwave’s blaster which also looks sharp. It’s well-sculpted and has the right amount of paint on it to really make it stand out. The hands are easily removable, though I had trouble getting Soundwave to hold his gun. I ended up heating up the hand to get him to grip it, as it just had little to no give and I didn’t want to scrape up the plastic. And now that I have the gun in his hand, I do not plan to remove it. It’s a solid assortment of accessories, though some may have preferred an open hand option. I do wish we got a transformed Laserbeak as well to pose on his shoulder, though that probably would have tilted the costs beyond what Hasbro wanted.
If I am only going to own one Soundwave, I feel like this figure scratches that itch. There will always be a part of me that desires a transforming version of the character, but I’d definitely display him in his robot form anyway so this will do. I just love how he turned out from a visual standpoint. There’s a nice balance to the molded plastic and painted parts and he’s just really fun to look at. Maybe a little bit of shading, especially on the head, could have brought an even greater level of detail, but this is fine. If you’re not philosophically opposed to non-transforming Transformers, then I think this will make you happy. The only real negative is that stupid cannon, but I suppose I could glue it in. And the only other impediment is the scale, but that only matters if you intend to place this figure alongside other, non-R.E.D. Transformers. For me, this is great and I think I’ll keep him beside my Weltall figure which complements him well. If you want to snag one of your own, your only option right now is Walmart. Yeah, I know, I prefer not to shop there (especially during a pandemic), but he has regularly been in stock online if that helps. For 20 bucks, I say grab him now if you’re even slightly interested and return him if it ends up not being your thing, but I think most who do take the plunge will be pretty happy with the end result.