Let’s face it: 2021 sucked. It sucked a little less than 2020, but it still sucked. Fortunately, there was plenty of plastic nonsense to keep us distracted from the everything else, and I’d like to share some of my favorite plastic nonsense.
This list is (mostly) presented in an unordered fashion. I love all my plastic children and it’s too hard for me to do a strict ranking. But don’t worry. If this displeases you, there are probably other people ranking nerd culture fetish objects elsewhere on the Internet. Also, I limited myself to toys that were released in 2021, though a few may have trickled out at the tail end of 2020.
First Runner Up: Hasbro Transformers Kingdom Beast Wars Figures
For years, fans have been clamoring for a return to the beloved Beasties of the mid-1990s, those fighting animals that saved Transformers from obscurity. Sure, we’ve gotten a few (excellent) MPs and a handful of Generations figures, but a comprehensive revisit to the line was overdue.
In 2021, we got it, and it ruled. The only reason I’m not ranking any of these individual figures is because all of them have just enough of a minor flaw to keep them off the list, whether it be Megatron’s useless fist, Dinobot’s strange raptor hands, or Cheetor’s lack of gun. But together, they’re fantastic, and I love seeing them on my shelf. I’m looking forward to further Beast Wars exploration in Legacy.
Second Runner-Up: Transformers Collaborative Series Draculus
Only a couple of figures from the ever-expanding Collaborative series have stricken my fancy. Draculus felt like it was marketed directly to me. Heck, he even came packaged in a video tape! I don’t know what I did to deserve this level of pandering, but I’ll take it.
Draculus only doesn’t rank because I’m a little cool on the Titans Return Mindwipe mold. I can’t think of a better choice for the Lord of Vampires, but it doesn’t change the fact that Mindwipe feels pretty outdated in 2021.
Third Runner-Up: MOTU Origins Grayskull Accessory Set
I absolutely adore the care that went into this set. They didn’t need to make the Orlax articulated (its tentacle is bendy!). The explorer space suit ended up being one of my favorite molds in the whole Origins line.
It doesn’t rank because I can’t overlook how difficult it was to obtain this set. I even saw one person said it entirely killed their enthusiasm for the line. And that just makes me sad.
Third Runner-Up: TF Studio Series ’86 Dinobots
I’ve been waiting for a set like this for ages. I didn’t have the funds nor desire to track down the Fans Toys Dinobots, and the Power of the Primes Dinobots ended up feeling chintzy to me. So I’m overjoyed that Hasbro is (slowly) releasing appropriately large, G1-accurate Dinobots that look amazing and play amazing. I’m in love with them.
They don’t rank because I can’t pick a favorite between Slug or Grimlock, and I’m not gonna rank ’em both.
Final Runner Up: TF Studio Series Grindor
The original Studio Series leader-class Blackout was the figure that got me interested in the line. I never would have imagined that Hasbro would design an appropriately massive Blackout figure with such a complex transformation, especially not at mass retail.
And yet they did! And then, a few years later, they one-upped themselves with Grindor, Blackout’s nearly identical cousin from Revenge of the Fallen.
Grindor functions essentially as a 2.0 patch for Blackout, most notably redoing the hands, adding wrist swivels and finger joints, and replacing the pack-in Scorponok minifigure with Ravage.
He doesn’t rank because he’s basically Blackout, and we’re talking about figures released in 2021.
10. Transformers Studio Series 86-04 Hot Rod
In 2021, Hasbro pivoted the Studio Series line to begin featuring characters from the original 1986 animated film. Being the G1 dork I am, I was beyond excited for this.
Hot Rod was controversially released at the typically larger $30 voyager price point, despite being the size of the $20 deluxe figures. This is due to increased complexity and a wealth of accessories to dress him up like the turbo-revvin’ punk from the movie.
If you go by G1 accuracy, articulation, and transformation, he’s easily the best Hot Rod made yet, even surpassing the fantastic Masterpiece figure. He feels like a MP figure in many ways, but at a lower price and scaled to fit with a wider range of figures.
9. NECA Ultimate Mondo Gecko
I’m thankful that I’ve been able to find and collect the majority of the NECA cartoon TMNT line, since I know many collectors have not been so fortunate.
Of the figures I’ve been able to find, Mondo gets the shout-out today for his incredible design. He has a double-jointed neck, opening jaw, ball-jointed mid-torso, and deep leg articulation that’s all cleverly hidden by clothing and decor. At their worst, NECA figures can feel more like statues than toys, so my favorites invariably are the ones that blend a toyetic feel with killer looks and deco. Mondo was the best of the bunch for me in 2021.
8. Transformers Studio Series 86-09 Wreck-Gar
Ever since I saw Wreck-Gar burst out of a junk-pile in the ’86 movie, I’ve wanted a toy that looked like him. The G1 figure is a lot of fun, but it critically lacks the facial hair and has awkward proportions. We got several Wreck-Gars in the Generations line, but they were all a bit weird and none were based on his original animation model.
And then along came this fellow. He is the perfect Wreck-Gar. He has the red-studded wheels, the nipple guns, the facial hair, and the axe. But what really amazes me most about this toy is how it illustrates the functionality of his cartoon model – he transforms nearly identical to the G1 figure, with the only major difference being that his head doesn’t become the front of the cycle (although it does tuck inside the front of the cycle).
I find him irresistible and I’m looking forward to adding more Junkions to my movie crew.
7. MOTU Origins Scare-Glow
I was finding it difficult to pick a favorite from my beloved Origins line, until I saw Scare Glow on the shelf.
Scare Glow is a character who has eluded me for ages. I wasn’t able to find a vintage one in the early aughts when I first got into collecting MOTU. I missed the Classics one. Both of these figures are now nearly impossible to obtain.
Origins Scare Glow came out as part of the line’s second wave, and when preorders for waves 3-5 started filling before wave 2’s, I started to sweat. Would I miss my favorite glowing skeleman yet again?
But fortunately my worrying was for naught. The wave fulfilled and I finally have my own Scare Glow. And beyond the grail mystique of the character I think this figure is fantastic. There’s no way to display him without him looking super menacing. And the glow works really well. Ten out of ten skeleman.
6. Star Wars Retro Collection Mandalorian
I all-but gave up Star Wars collecting almost two decades ago. Nowadays I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t collect modern “character” figures who derive from popular media. So no Marvel Legends, no Star Wars Black Series, no Ghostbusters Plasma Series, no SH Figuarts, and so on.
But I obviously make exceptions from time to time. The NECA TMNT figures were one. Another was the Star Wars Retro Collection. If there’s one piece of the old Star Wars collector alive in me, it’s the one that loved the vintage Kenner series. I maintain a small collection of these figures and vehicles, and when I saw that Hasbro was going to release figures from The Mandalorian in this style, I knew I would buy new Star Wars figures again for the first time in ages.
Mando here is perfectly representative of what I like about this line. He fits in beautifully with the old-style Kenner figures. He has just enough detail and paint work to look like the show design, but he still feels like a toy. And a vinyl cape!
I’m looking forward to future additions to this line.
5. Transformers Kingdom Galvatron
Like Wreck-Gar, I’ve wanted an animation-accurate Galvatron since I was old enough to form memories. I adore the G1 Galvatron figure, but it’s in a league of its own. Meanwhile, in Generations, Galvatron was a character who Hasbro always seemed to stumble over. The 2008 Universe figure has widely been considered to be the worst of the whole Generations range, and the 2016 Titans Return version had compromises to allow for the Titan Master gimmick.
But the third time was the charm. Kingdom Galvatron isn’t just the best animation-style Galvatron ever made, he’s also one of the best Generations toys made in the past 10 years. Being priced at the leader-class level let the design team jam-pack him full of meaningful articulation, deco, and cool accessories. You can feel the wrath exuding from his head sculpt. He is about to execute Starscream with that big orange cigar on his arm.
He is the Galvatron I’ve always wanted.
4. MOTU Origins Castle Grayskull
I had a vintage Castle Grayskull, as a kid or otherwise. My first Grayskull was the one produced for the 2002 toyline with its strange character-recognition technology. I was able to obtain the Classics Grayskull during its original release as well, and it’s one of the centerpieces of my collection.
Neither of those toys came close to the feelings this playset gave me. It hews very close to the 1982 playset, but with more precise deco and sculpting, and just a couple of features – such as foot pegs and notches for the ladder – that increase its play value a bit.
Unboxing this toy was probably my favorite toy experience of 2021. I loved assembling it and applying the stickers, then arranging a mixture of vintage and modern MOTU figures atop the battlements, within the halls, and on the throne. It is a blissful marriage of “adult collector” and toyetic play value, which is exactly my jam.
3. TF Masterpiece MP-52 Starscream (and mold-mates)
Here’s another one I’ve been waiting on for a long time. I started collecting the MP line only a few years ago, and by then there were already a few choices available to me for Starscream, and I didn’t really like any of them. I briefly owned Maketoys’ unofficial MP Starscream, and I wasn’t overly fond of him either.
But I knew TakaraTomy would eventually sate my need with a cartoon accurate MP Screamer, and they finally did it in 2021. Like all of the recent cartoon-style MPs, he is staggeringly complex and a little bit intimidating to transform, but he achieves his goal admirably and finally gives me a transforming Decepticon Air Commander who looks extremely close to the animation model.
I could gush more over the gorgeous F-15 alternate mode, the wealth of accessories, and the alternate faces, but I’ll leave it there. My Decepticon MP shelf didn’t feel truly complete until this fellow arrived.
2. Onell Design Glyos Syncroborg
For the originators of the Glyos System Series, it’s been a bit of a dry two years. One of the many things the pandemic era has taken away from us is regular monthly releases from Onell Design.
But they haven’t been totally inert. In 2021 they released a brand new mold into the Glyosphere. Known as the Syncroborg, this figure is a spiritual successor to the now-vintage Buildman mold. It features a dizzying array of alternate parts including heads, weaponry, and limitless build options, even with just one figure. It lands on my list because I love the classic cyborg looks of the head and the way every single part has more than one use.
The Syncroborg has only had a few colorways released yet and I’m looking forward to what may lie in store for future iterations.
1. TF Masterpiece MP-53 Skids
I mentioned that this list was arbitrarily ordered, but that’s not true for this one. MP Skids is absolutely my favorite figure of 2021.
I first discovered TF through a library’s copy of issue #19 of Marvel’s The Transformers, which heavily featured Skids. Just on a basic kid level, I loved him for transforming into a blue minivan. When I later read Skids’ solo adventure in #20 and read his Universe profile, I fell more deeply in love with the character. He soon became my favorite Transformers character.
I didn’t pick a wise choice as a favorite, though. I came to learn that Skids was vanishingly obscure, only barely figuring into a few stories beyond the ones I’d already read, and being short-packed in his original toy release.
So there’s only been a few occasions for me to pick up new figures of Skids. I got the Collection-series reissue (pictured here in car mode) when I was a teen, and I got both versions of the IDW styled release from the 2014 Generations line. I skipped the Q-TF figure and the Alternator. When X-Transbots released their “Savant,” I eagerly preordered it. I figured that would be my only chance at an MP-style Skids figure.
Imagine my surprise when TakaraTomy announced an official MP Skids in mid-2021. TT usually focuses only on characters who feature heavily into the G1 cartoon, which is not true of Skids – he was only in two episodes, and only barely had lines. The deciding factor, we surmise, wasn’t Skids’ identity as an iconic G1 character, but instead his alternate mode as an iconic car.
G1 artists often misinterpreted Skids’ alternate mode as a minivan, but it was in fact a tiny compact that only saw production overseas. The Honda City Turbo is evidently still beloved by Japanese consumers. And who can blame them? Look at this cute little box! It even came with a fold-up scooter that fit into the trunk.
TT has already released one redeco of Skids as new-character Reboost (who comes with the scooter) and plans to release another one next year as Crosscut. Even though I really wanted this toy to represent the character of Skids, I love the mold – it feels like a throwback to the earlier days of the MP line, where the figures were less complicated and featured more sculpted-in mech detail. He’s a joy to handle and was a great way to cap off my toy collecting for 2021. And he’s not even the last Skids I’ll ever buy – there’s a new one coming out next year, in the Legacy line!
So we march toward 2022 with a little bit of hope in our hearts. The world will continue to suck – that’s a fact. But knowing I have at least one more Skids to look forward to, along with many other plastic curios, is one thing that keeps me going in these dark times.
Friends, thanks for reading. I hope 2021 was kind to you, and if it wasn’t, I wish you the best for the coming year.