Transformers Ratchet
Transformers Ratchet
Transformers Ratchet
Transformers Ratchet

Ratchet was always one of my favourite Transformers characters thanks to his solid buttressing in the Marvel comic, where both Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman repeatedly returned to him. Furman tried to repeat the success with IDW, but after spending six issues focusing on him then accidentally forgot he existed and crapped out self-indulgent rubbish about Arcee and Wheelie instead. He was in the cartoon a fair bit as well, with the small screen struggling to contain his epic characterisation (he grumbled about having to repair people whenever his voice actor was in the studio) - though he did kick Thundercracker into a tree once and later died like a bitch in the 1986 film.

Toy-wise he's long been tied to Ironhide. Well, the original shared a mould and the Universe/Henkei version was predictably a repaint of the shapeless collection of join lines the redneck had as a toy. The original figure was taken from the Diaclone line basically unchanged. It was originally skipped in Japan (for mass retail, though he was available as a mail-in special) - most likely for bearing next to no resemblance to the character's animation model - but was finally issued there in the Encore line. The reissue was joined by a mailaway version decked out in live-action Ratchet's colour scheme. For once there doesn't appear to be some mental cartoon-centric explanation trotted out for this by joyless Japanese uber-nerd Hirofumi Ichikawa - something to be grateful about.


So, Ratchet turns into the world's smallest ambulance. Considering you'd barely fit a stretcher in the back - let alone anything else - it's possible he was intended to be a medical support vehicle, and the need to explain him to an audience of Western kids lent to some flubbing (like the way Soundwave was largely portrayed as a cassette player rather than a microcassette player, and Skids was regularly shown as a mini-van rather than a subcompact city car). It's also possible Takara just didn't give a damn - Ratchet came out the same time as the police version of the custom Lamborghini that became Sunstreaker, after all.

To be fair, they've had worse recolour ideas (hi there, Road Hauler!). The basic scheme is very clean, and the vehicle mode is cute - in theory. Sadly, what we're talking about here is a Takara Encore reissue. Encore is, as any otaku will be able to tell you, Japanese for "no quality control". So, Ratchet fits together about as well as The Castle of Fu Manchu. The mould warping is appalling, as bad as any knockoff I've ever seen - even those cheap slush-moulded combiner copies. And this from an apparent proper toy company. Frankly, Ratchet is below release standard. It's a shame, as the basic design has some nice details to it, despite the awful opaque, unpainted rear windows.


Ratchet, of course, splits into a small robot and a battle platform, rather than the collection of boxes seen in the comic and cartoon. The result notoriously doesn't have a head - no problem in Diaclone, where there'd be a pilot in the seat. Transformers instead put a sticker on the seat, which has a certain charming retro weirdness to it. Sadly, Takara have long made a habit of forcing square pegs into round holes, and came up with something monumentally stupid for the reissue - a little cardboard picture of cartoon Ratchet's face that slides into place. Because a little drawing makes the rest of it look just like the animation model, especially as it completely fucks up the rest of the proportions. Dedicated idiots have postulated moving the arms to point upwards so the hands form 'shoulders'. This looks every bit as stupid as it sounds.

Why people can't just enjoy Ratchet's figure for what it is I don't know. It's a great piece of retro kitsch from days when preconceptions of what transforming robots should look like weren't quite so congealed. Held in the palm of your hand he's actually very difficult to dislike. In robot mode, the abysmal Encore reproduction has few problems as the numerous misshapen parts aren't required to go flush together - the reissue also adds a couple of clips to the battle sled so the robot can be attached more securely. The platform itself is rather good fun with its' little turret and missile launcher. With the gun and missile removed, there's just enough space to mount a small figure (like a Minibot) on there with the launcher over it like a scanner, a nice feature for the team medic. Plus chrome caterpillar tracks - how can you possibly go wrong with chrome caterpillar tracks? It's a nice little package, and means there's actually a couple more things you can do with Ratchet than just stand him there.


Due to representing (in a vague way) a better character and having a slightly sharper colour scheme, if push came to shove I'd nominate Ratchet as a better figure than Ironhide. While both are inessential as the original cars go, I really do think every Transformers fan should own one of the Vanettes at one point or another, for both the quintessential weirdness and due to the figure being a lot more fun than it looks. However, I'd recommend going for originals rather than Encore versions.