Toy Photography Advent Calendar Day 13: DW-P51 Chatter by Dr Wu

Here we have once again me using one of these all-month features to get myself to do some photo coverage of something I wanted to give attention to for a little while already. I have a troubled history with unofficial/unlicensed third party Transformer-like products. Simple aftermarket addon stuff and accessories like a decent Nonnef? Generally pretty cool with those. Full-on figures, though? Not nearly so much.

There’s a number of reasons I could point to, like being over-engineered for little or no reason except that someone could – or possibly because someone didn’t know better. Or how a great many don’t do a good job of portraying the image of a “living” character. Which, like, I used to try to draw; making a character look like an individual and not just a collection of features in generally the right places is hard and is not a skill everyone can or will have. But one of my biggest problems (aside from what the stuff costs) is that it’s literally painful to handle a lot of it.

See, genuine Transformer products made by Hasbro and TakaraTomy, among other things that distinguish them from off-brand clones, smooth off corners and hard edges, subtly rounding them so they’re more comfortable to handle. It’s really not even something you’d ever pay attention to until you encounter something that doesn’t do this. Almost every “third party” “Transformer” I’ve handled has suffered from this, and it makes them not feel very good in the hand.

But today’s subject, the Chatter cassette combiner set from Dr Wu avoids much of these stumbling points, and is one of only like two third party figures that I am almost unreservedly happy with. It’s perhaps just slightly more complicated than it ought to be for its size, but is still very approachable to mess with even without the benefit of having the instructions. The face looks like a Transformer character in a style pretty consistent with official product – plus the individual figures even have some character, which almost seems like too much to expect. Finally, the edges are softened. I’m not jabbing myself on corners or catching myself between two flat edges no matter what I do. There’s just that little bit of finishing polish to the sculpt that brings it tremendously closer to the feel of an official product, and I feel hard-pressed to truly describe the importance of that in the hand feel of these toys. I mean, that I even find myself using the word toys in describing them goes to show how much better they feel than most of my past experiences.

Chatter is a representation of Squawkbox, a Decepticon cassette combiner from… 1988, I wanna say? Pretty late G1, and double checking with the wiki, well after Soundwave had stopped being sold in Hasbro’s markets. The set is comprised of Eagle and Orang (as in “orangutan”, not “orange”, sadly. Hey, Dr Wu, just a heads up but I would 100% buy a redeco of this with an orange Orang. Hit me up) who are meant to be Squawktalk and Beastbox respectively. They conform roughly to the dimensions of the Siege cassette “Micromasters” and are intended as an expansion of that range. I find that a welcome thing, especially with Hasbro rather unlikely to reach for characters this far down the obscurity well, especially while they don’t have a Generations Soundwave as a current or even near-recent product. I think Dr Wu teased or solicited for Autobot combiner Slamdance too, but we’ll wait and see if that ever turns up; Chatter took over a year to get preorders filled.

As individual things, I’d say Eagle/Squawktalk is the winner here, thanks to possessing a majority of the joints for the combined form. The wings are quite poseable for the small size of the toy, and combined with the simple hinges for the neck, leg, foot, and tail, you can get a decent bit of expressiveness, as well as some solid flying poses with the help of a display stand, or some decent standing poses. Balance in that case can be a bit of a problem because of the mass of the wings, but that can be managed with a little care.

Orang/Beastbox is comparatively more basic. There’s some articulation in the arms, but the legs functionally have just one ball joint each. You can squeeze a few poses out of what’s there, but the handling experience definitely feels more limited. Now, by contrast, these are distinctly more poseable and expressive than their official counterparts like Siege Rumble (the red one) or Laserbeak, and for being as tiny as they are, they both have some impressive mobility.

The cassette modes are probably the weakest, but that’s not a condition exclusive to these unofficial ones, as the Siege Micromaster Cassettes tended to be more willing to sacrifice that form for the sake of the primary forms too. They’re intended to fit in either Siege or Netflix Earthrise Soundwave, but it can be a little …snug. Orang/Beastbox in particular depends on being transformed exactly right in order to even fit. And it’s not exactly immediately apparent when you have got it right or not. Eagle/Squawktalk has less ambiguity, fortunately.

The real show is of course Chatter, or Squawkbox. And it shows. Combination is a simple process, but resulting in a secure connection between the two components. The combined robot mode is pretty well proportioned and makes use of virtually all the articulation of Eagle and Orang. The only omitted parts are Orang’s legs and neck. Which, uh. Well, Chatter has a gorilla head on his back, as well as the entire legs of the gorilla attached to the robot’s head. I can’t really fault this, because I know there’s really nowhere for these parts to go. And Orang has Chatter’s face on his butt, so this seems like a fair-ish trade between forms. But man, those legs on the head just look quite goofy, especially when you might choose to utilize the neck joint. It’s the only visually-detracting aspect of this whole thing.

That said, I’m more then satisfied at the poseability of Chatter. I’ve probably had action figures about this size that were more poseable. Maybe. It might be closer to a draw. But this also has to do a lot more with its parts, so I can’t hold minor limitations against it. It genuinely does more than I’d have expected before handling it the first time, and is even able to pose reasonably as if aiming the arm cannons. Good showing, I think.

Those arm cannons, though. Each is made of two smaller parts. I think individual weapons for the cassettes, but the packaging ended up only showing the full units stuck to Orang, so I kinda just went along with that. These are fine in the individual modes and combined as Chatter, since they have places to plug in for both cases. It’s the tape modes that pose the problem, with the weapons having to be left off to the side. And they’re so small, and even smaller when they separate, that they’re just begging to be lost. I genuinely would have preferred to not even have them. On top of that, they came on a small parts tree, which was sprayed silver. You have to remove them from the tree, but that leaves behind blank spots in the paint where the connection points were. Which happens to be the ends of the barrels. Like, one of the most noticeable places. Yeah, really just wish these hadn’t been a thing, I gotta say.

I believe this set ran about $30 at the time I got it. Which sounds like a lot for things the same size as the Microcassettes that came 2 for $10 in Siege. And it kinda is. But they’re more complex and do much more than the cheaper official characters, plus they work with your Siege cassette collection and even fit in visually fairly well. Besides that, they’re the best third party figure I’ve ever bought. I’ve had remorse over almost every other third party figure I’ve ever tried to own, but I continue to love these two dumb little things. I feel like they’re a worthy purchase and I recommend anyone that’s got one of the WFC Trilogy Soundwaves to at least seriously think about these.

Kingdom/Legacy Blaster being a thing now, I’m even more likely to pick up Unofficial Slamdance if or when that ever comes out, if the cassettes stay compatible.

Give me more tapes.