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REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS SKY SHADOW
By Thomas Wheeler

I have been very pleased to take note of the fact that, following the toys based on the third live-action Transformers movie, "Dark of the Moon", the popular Generations line of Transformers has continued.

"Generations" had its start with a line called "Transformers Classics". The purpose to this line was to bring iconic characters, mostly from Generation 1, into the modern-day Transformers format. What this especially meant was that the most popular Transformers characters of all time were not only returning, but in new forms that featured modern articulation levels.

As cool as the original Transformers may well have been, and I certainly have all the respect in the world for the concept, the simple truth about the toys is that, in their robot modes, they weren't terribly well articulated. This wasn't a matter that was really addressed until the days of Transformers Beast Wars, when I assume technology and design had finally reached a point where it was possible to create more articulated Transformers.

But for all of the Transformers concepts that followed Beast Wars, it still seemed as though there was something missing. And so, the Transformers Classics line was created, which brought the original Transformers into the modern day, and the finally had the articulation level in their robot modes that they so very much deserved.

The Classics line eventually gave way to Generations, with a short burst of "Reveal the Shield", which was a series of Classics-type Transformers with the thermal-activated emblems which had existed in the original line. Obviously the Classics/Generations line has been interrupted on a couple of occasions due to movie-based product, but it seems to have returned once again, and I sincerely hope it's back for a good long time. There's still plenty of characters from Generation 1 that I believe most of us would like to see made.

One of the newest additions, however, seems a little enigmatic. His name is SKY SHADOW, and that's not really a name that comes across with a lot of familiarity. It's a cool-sounding name, but it's not terribly familiar.

Fortunately, I know some Transformers experts, and one of them was able to give me the lowdown on Sky Shadow. And in so doing, we need to delve into the admittedly very complicated history of the Transformers.

The Transformers are, as most people know, a Japanese concept, created initially by the Takara toy company, and later somewhat reworked and brought over to the United States by Hasbro as Transformers. Given its massive popularity, the Japanese side of things started to base their product, and media tie-ins, at least partially on the American concept. Some of the names were different, of course. Optimus Prime was known as Convoy, for example. But there were any number of common points.

Most fans tend to regard the animated Transformers series as reasonably canonical. This is in contrast to G.I. Joe, where the original comic book is regarded as canon, not the animated series. The reverse is true as far as the Transformers are concerned. The animated Transformers series ran for three seasons, with the animated Transformers movie taking place between the second and third seasons.

The movie created a massive shift in the storyline. Taking place twenty years in the future, the movie killed off Optimus Prime, transformed Megatron into the maniacal Galvatron, and brought in a whole host of new Transformers on both sides, while dismissing or dispatching any number of others.

On the human side of the equation, the one-time teenager Spike Witwicky was now an adult, married, and had a young son named Daniel, who liked hanging around with the Autobots as much as his father had.

The third season took place in the post-movie future time period, and ended with a two-parter titled "The Return of Optimus Prime", which featured, indeed, the return of Optimus Prime, as he was the only one capable of saving all of the Transformers, as well as all of humanity, from a horrific plague that induced insanity in man and machine alike. The season ended with an apparent truce between the Autobots and Decepticons, as Galvatron shook Optimus Prime's hand, and told him, "There will be no war today, Optimus Prime. You have earned Galvatron's respect."

While there wasn't really a fourth season to Transformers, there was a three-part story that followed. It introduced a number of new characters, and was focused on the new concept within the toy line known as the Headmasters. According to the storyline, the Headmasters were alien humanoids who could literally transform into the heads of various Autobots and Decepticons.

Speaking personally, I never liked the Headmasters concept. It seemed to, first of all, complicate the Transformers concept needlessly. Secondly, I couldn't imagine the Decepticons, who detested all organic life, going along with something like this. It just didn't make sense to me.

The three-part episode did give us our first animated look at Fortress Maximus, the largest Transformer toy ever designed. But it also did something that, again on a personal note, I found unforgivable. Young Daniel was seriously injured, crippled, really, in an attack by the Decepticons. He ended up needing to wear a life-support suit, and became the Headmaster component for Arcee.

Now, here's where things get a little complicated. We need to turn our attention to Japan at this point, where the Transformers were just as popular. They actually produced a full fourth season of the Transformers animated series. I've seen some portions of it here and there, and the animation style is identical. Additionally, their fourth season completely ignored the events of the Headmasters three-parter, although it did introduce the Headmasters. And the Japanese series didn't cripple Daniel. He was seen in perfect health and completely intact throughout the series.

In Japan, the Headmasters were not organic beings, but smaller robots. So really, the American three-parter and the Japanese Headmaster series don't jive much at all. In another odd note, the Battle Beasts, an entirely different toy line in the United States, do appear in an episode of Headmasters.

From Headmasters, the Transformers series went into a new storyline called Masterforce. And following that, there was a series commonly known as Transformers Victory, and it is here that we finally find the character known as Sky Shadow, although his name more closely translates as Black Shadow in the series.

The series is set in the year 2025, with the Autobots led by Star Saber. The Autobots mainly consist of the Brainmasters, and the Landcross combiner. The Autobot Micromasters also appear.

The Decepticons fall under the command of Deathsaurus. The main force of the Decepticons consist of the Breastforce and the Dinoforce. Make your own jokes about "Breastforce". Some of this stuff works out better in the original Japanese.

The main plot of the series revolved around the Decepticons seeking energy in order to free a giant space fortress, that had been sealed off in a nebula by the Autobots.

I actually owned a Star Saber toy for a while, and it was a most impressive Transformer. The character of Deathsaurus is known to some American fans in part because one of the early Official Transformers Collectors' Club Convention sets issued a version of the character, slightly renamed Deathzarus, among its contents.

I think it would be fair to say that most really dedicated Transformers fans have some level of knowledge of the various Japanese Transformers series, which carry on well beyond Victory, although following the events of the third season of the original series, the two continuities vary wildly, and would be nearly impossible to reconcile.

One question that might be asked at this point is -- why bring a previously exclusively Japanese character into the American action figure line? Well, it seems that a DVD set, featuring the Japanese Headmasters, Masterforce, and Victory series, is being released in the United States, for the very first time, and is available even as you read this review. Granted, it's still in Japanese, with English subtitles, but it's still cool.

As to the character of Sky Shadow, there's not a lot to work with. He wasn't a major player in Victory. According to the information I was provided, he's pretty much a gangster-type who is willing to do any dirty job, just as long as he gets paid enough. Most regular Decepticons don't like him, and tend not to trust him.

In Victory, he was a "Space Gangster" and served with his partner and fellow Pretender Blue Bacchus. Together their two-robot sub-group was called the Crossformers.

He appeared episode 17 of the show. Sky Shadow and Blue Bacchus were hired by the Decepticon Hellbat, to launch an attack to steal energy from planet Micro, which was where the Micromasters hailed from in the Japanese continuity.

Sky Shadow and Blue Bacchus fought the Autobot Great Shot. Great Shot was able to get the upper hand on them, and defeated them, forcing them to retreat.

The character has had one American appearance. He made a brief cameo in the IDW comic, Last Stand of the Wreckers. He, alongside Sixshot and Overlord, were Megatron's Elite Phase Sixers.

So, how's the toy? Really very cool. I can't honestly say how much it might look like the original Sky Shadow, or Black Shadow, since I've never seen that toy, but in and of itself, it's an impressive toy.

The toy is based largely on the same molds as Thunderwing, who was released some time back. Thunderwing has a rather distinctive look to him, especially in his robot mode, with curiously ridged sections on his chest, and a rather jagged mouth. I was a little concerned as to how much a second version of the same basic robot would have trouble being seen as his own character, and not just a second version of Thunderwing.

Fortunately, Hasbro addressed these concerns, by giving Sky Shadow not only a distinctive head -- not an uncommon practice in the Generations line -- but a distinctive and very different -- and non-ridged -- chestplate, as well.

It also helps that the color schemes between Thunderwing and Sky Shadow are so diametrically different. We're not talking Thundercracker and Skywarp here, where there's not a lot of difference between the two. Thunderwing is mostly an off-white character, with a fair amount of blue and green trim, and a bit of gold. By considerable contrast, Sky Shadow is mostly black, with a more limited amount of red, gray, and silver trim on him.

In vehicle mode, Sky Shadow is a slightly futuristic fighter jet. He's almost precisely 6-1/2" in length, and has a very sleek design, with fancy wings that have forward-angled tips that also angle downward slightly. His detail lines show off quite a bit of zig-zag plating throughout his body.

In plane mode, he is mostly black, with red details near his cockpit and wings, with a certain amount of silver. His cockpit canopy is transparent red. He also has retractable landing gear on his underside.

The underside of the plane mode is about the only place where his vehicle mode tends to be a bit lacking. Quite a bit of his robot mode is readily visible, including his arms, upper legs, and torso. However, I have to say that Sky Shadow pulls off his vehicle mode a good bit better than Thunderwing, due in large part to the different, more mechanical-looking chestplate, and the fact that different details on his underside are painted, or left unpainted.

Let's consider Sky Shadow's transformation. Although Sky Shadow is listed as "Intermediate", a "2" on a scale of 0 to 5, if he's anything like Thunderwing, he's riding the edge between "Intermediate" and Easy".

I always try to provide written transformation instructions in my Transformers reviews, because the instructions included with the toys are strictly illustrated. And there are just some times when the illustrations aren't quite clear enough. I've also found it helpful to keep the package around, since there's photos on the back of the toy in both robot and alt modes. And in the case of someone like Sky Shadow, where this is not the first use of most of his molds, it doesn't hurt to have a counterpart like Thunderwing on hand, either.

The first step is to fold up the landing gear. After that, you fold the tail fins down flat against the side wings, and then rotate the side wings outward somewhat.

Next, raise the front of the plane upward and back along the gold hinged strut, rotate the entire rear wing assembly 180 degrees around up against the back of the rest of the fuselage, and then fold the front of the plane back against the up-folded wings. This is one of those parts where the illustrated instructions come up a little short in my opinion.

Now, fold open what has become the upper torso of the robot, and move it forward about 90 degrees. Then rotate the legs down. They can be a little stubborn, but they will move.

Finally, spread the feet out, snap the upper torso back down into place, and lower the center section of the upper torso to reveal the head. And Sky Shadow has been fully transformed from Fighter Jet to Robot!

In robot mode, Sky Shadow stands about 5-1/2" to the top of his head. If you include the front of the plane now attached to his back, his height increases to almost 6-1/4". Not sure if this should be regarded as cheating or not.

As a robot, Sky Shadow is strikingly different from Thunderwing. The different chestplate helps, as does the very different color scheme, but of particular help is the painted detailing. It's extremely different between the two robots. The rounded, ridged detailing that is so prevalent on Thunderwing is either absent on Sky Shadow because of the different parts, or it's minimized because on Sky Shadow, those sections have been left unpainted, to blend in with the primary colors of plastic.

I would expect that it was no easy feat to set up an entirely different set of paint stencils for Sky Shadow, and Hasbro should certainly be commended for doing so.

Shy Shadow has a small Decepticon emblem on his lower chest, and his head has a very Japanese look to it, with the angular, horn-like vanes protruding from the sides of his head, a fairly common attribute among large Japanese robots. He completely lacks Thunderwing's jagged mouth, instead having otherwise fairly standard robotic facial features for a Transformer, although he does have a rather interesting row of small ridges under his eyes.

The bulk of his head is black, with red eyes, and a silver face and vanes. The back of his head is molded from transparent red plastic, which allows for his eyes to appear to be glowing red when there is a light source from behind. About the only problem here is that the front of the plane is high enough to block such light sources, but it still works very well from a slight angle.

I'm also pleased that they molded the back of the head in the correct eye color. I've picked up a few Transformers where the back of the head was just molded in clear plastic, and the eyes lightly painted in some color. Believe me, it doesn't work nearly as well.

Sky Shadow comes with two accessories, a couple of fairly large spring-loaded missile launchers. These connect to his wings in either robot or plane mode, and in robot mode, he can also use them as hand-held weapons.

Paint detailing on Sky Shadow is excellent, especially when one considers that most of this robot is black, and it's not the easiest thing in the world to paint any color over black. But they did a superb and very neat job with Sky Shadow.

His articulation is, of course, superb. Sky Shadow is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, legs, upper leg swivel, and knees. There's a certain amount of ankle articulation, as well, but this is partially linked to his transformation. Still, it serves as an articulation point.

The character profile on the back of Sky Shadow's package reads as follows: Don't mess with Sky Shadow - he's one of the most foul, dark-hearted Decepticons in the galaxy. He takes no prisoners and always finds his target. Even the evil Megatron shudders when he hears the whine of jet engines in the distance, for it may be Sky Shadow coming for him!

Okay, that's pretty impressive, especially for a character who apparently appeared in all of one episode of a Japanese series. Still, it certainly is an effective character profile, and seems in keeping with what is known about the character.

His various power rankings give him a "9" in Intelligence, Speed, and Skill -- so yeah, this guy's a threat -- "8" in Courage and Fireblast, "6" in Strength and Endurance, and "5" in Rank. There's a combo. The lowest level on this extremely skilled and dangerous individual -- is his Rank. Yeah, he's probably perpetually ticked off.

So, what's my final word? Sky Shadow is certainly not the best known Decepticon of all time. I even needed help tracking down his full background. But he's certainly an interesting character, and an extremely impressive Transformers toy. He may be largely based on the molds of another, but the resemblance is far enough off that the two are certainly not going to be confused. Sky Shadow is absolutely his own Decepticon.

And I believe that any Transformers fan will gladly welcome this impressive new figure into their collection, and be watching for him on the DVD set featuring Transformers: Victory! I'm certainly glad that I have him.

The TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS figure of SKY SHADOW definitely has my highest recommendation!