So here we go, the ugliest Transformer ever: Universe Ramjet. This is the large, colorful Ramjet sold as a Toys 'R Us exclusive in 2004 for $19.99 (not to be confused with Universe G1 Ramjet, sold in 2008).
Where Did We Go Wrong?
Universe was first conceived as a gap-filler following Armada, and intended to save Hasbro moneys by consisting entirely of repaints of old toys. Truly, the genesis of a quality toy line. Though there were a few gems in the lot, the toys would (perhaps unsurprisingly) range from drab to spectacularly awful. 3H Productions was given the unenviable task of tying this cacophony into a coherent comic book storyline. 3H still held the Transformers Club and convention license at this point, so the Universe repaint dregs were mixed with the more limited Botcon/OTFCC repaint dregs in said comic book- giving them a somewhat limited credibility with the fandom. However, in 2004, 3H lost their license (and filed for bankruptcy), terminating said comic without a conclusion, Hasbro simultaneously canned all future plans for Universe version 1, and Universe Ramjet was squeezed out of the toy grinder on to the aisles of TRU. Other toys were less fortunate.
The Herald Wears Primaries
I am told that this Ramjet is a herald of Unicron in the "Armadaverse." Once Unicron was destroyed in said continuity, Ramjet was thrown into the "non-space that glues the multiverse together." Maybe it is like the inside of the walls between rooms in your house- dark and full of rats. Evil beings in that non-dimension (super dimensional rats, perhaps) rebuilt him into his current form. You know he is powerful when all of his text bubbles have to be drawn in black with white letters. This does not save him from being blown away by Vector Prime.
As a sidenote, "Ramjet" is a name reuse from the Generation 1 series, where Ramjet was one of the conehead Seekers. Although no one knows if this is the same character, Ramjet HAS been known to adopt god-awful color schemes...
Pretty standard fare for Universe toys. Most Universe toys featured reused artwork, so I would normally say that it is refreshing to have original artwork for the larger toys. Unfortunately, the box art is nothing short of appalling. Here is a close-up for your benefit:
I get the feeling that the artist couldn't quite figure out how Transformer legs and arms connect to the torso, and decided to fudge it by omitting all such connective regions in the drawing. They also appear to have been using a mistransformed toy as a reference model (Nemesis Prime has the same problem- roughly 50% of the toy is missing in the package artwork. Oops!). Kudos, however, on the missiles, which have every detail from the toy etched in so thoroughly that they look like a pair of veiny phalluses protruding from the launchers.
As an interesting note, it appears that a G1 fan at Hasbro had some very different plans for the Mini-Cons. The toys pictured on the box back do not look anything like the ones included in the box- and frankly, much as I hate Mini-Cons, the ones on the box are all pretty awesome. Thunderwing is obviously G2 Skyjack and Gunbarrel is G2 Terradive (which, funnily enough, is also the name of another Minicon in this set). I think the other two- Terradive and Thunderclash- are supposed to resemble the Horrorcon Headmasters, Apeface and Snapdragon. The final product is kind of bland. There's a lot of grey plastic involved.
The colors are... just not right. I've only seen red, blue and yellow used in 3 situations: (1) the little plastic package of crayons that they give to kids at family restaurants; (2) Hot Dog on a Stick; and (3) Gundams. None of them make this toy appropriate. He looks like Captain America's airplane. I wonder if his incorporation into the comic series as the main villain was done completely without a sense of irony.
As far as the toy goes, jet mode is pretty weak- really nothing more than the robot mode bent in half. The arms barely stow beneath the wings. Ramjet's overall design is a mish-mash of general airplane (inexplicable VTOL fins) and space fighter parts without great effort to hide the robotic bits. Armada was the first Transformers series to be co-developed by Hasbro and Takara and the designs reflect this. They adopt some of the mechanical flourishes of Japanese toys, but have not quite escaped the simplied kiddy aesthetic that was par for most American toys until then.
Robot mode is where Ramjet really shines. Collaboration with Takara is more readily apparent in this mode, which has a classical mecha form and a lot of nice mechanical detailing overall. The form is not unlike a Macross Valkyrie if you really think about it. Ramjet is based off of a remold of Armada Starscream, the notable additions being the head sculpt and VTOL fins (the look is nice, but I don't really understand why he needs them). The design is still a little blocky and awkward, but in a good way that hearkens back to late-era G1 toys. Simple and fun were not mutually exclusive terms then. Articulation is limited, but the figure is very sturdy in feel and well-balanced (the heel 'spurs' that fold out to balance the figure are sheer brilliance). The red crested helmet and black masked face give him a regal 'fallen knight' persona when set against the white and blue body. Also noted are the painted-over Decepticon insignias on the wings- another nice touch, whether or not intentional (Ramjet was not technically affiliated with either faction in the comic). Ramjet feels built to withstand play, which I always appreciate in a toy.
Most of my complaints with the toy lie in the gimmicks wedged into the design. Action sounds? Yes, it has those. One button is disguised as the jet cockpit, which emits a pew-pew sound when pressed. There's another one, but I can't remember where. Useless weapon gimmick? Yep- two in fact! The two cannons behind Ramjet's head spring forward when a Minicon is inserted into the rear port, ready to spray some phallistic missiles. The port is poorly placed, however, because the Minicon ends up blocking the two guns. The guns also made it necessary to have a huge overhang on the rear torso. Overall, it's not a bad feature, and the guns look a bit like the Macross/SDF-1 cannons. His left wing also pops off to form a sword, which is kind of a strange concept in itself- like ripping off your arm to beat someone with it. My wing does not come off, and I didn't want to force it.
I really wanted to dig into this toy in my review because of the gaudy color scheme and Armada association, but after having it on my desk for a couple of weeks I actually LIKE him. Ramjet's colors are so absurd that your eye is instantly drawn to him in a group, making him almost iconic in the way that G2 'Big Stick' Megatron epitomized that line.
Ramjet is a very solid toy in design, and goes against the typical conventions of evil toy coloration. Certainly recommended if you never owned an Armada Starscream (or repaint thereof), but be warned that it carries all the flaws of Armada toys. Personally, I feel that this is an overlooked gem of a toy, as it barely garners above-retail prices even though it has been out of production for years. How often do we get obscure comic-based characters in a mass release? Ramjet was sold near the very end of Universe and without much interest. I expect that there are relatively few collectors that currently own Ramjet, which might make it an interesting piece to own a few years down the road. Certainly, he is worth the $19.99 price of admission.
2 days ago