Way back in 2002, Transformers: Armada introduced us to the idea of Minicons; small Transformers of a neutral third faction that unlocked and enhanced abilities in their larger cousins when utilized, typically by just smashing them onto convenient points on their bodies. Though Armada was geared specifically around the Minicons, both in importance to the plot and in the toys, they continued to serve a supporting role throughout the subsequent toy lines and cartoons for the Energon and Cybertron series. After that, they faded into the background a bit in North American markets, reduced mainly to occasional repaints of earlier molds and a brief resurgence in the sadly short-lived Power Core subline. In Japan however, the tiny robots kept going through a flurry of repaints, many of them extremely limited and related to in store contests. Until the latest animated installment, Transformers: Prime shook things up a little.
When Takara/Tomy started showing off their versions of the Prime toys, the molds had been retooled to include 5mm ports in various spots and in place of character-specific weapons, personal Microns (the Japanese name for Minicons) that transformed into character-specific weapons were included instead. This move intrigued me as one of my weaknesses is small companions for larger figures, but price and the fact that the proper Autobot and Decepticon figures relied on stickers in lieu of a lot of the more intricate paint applications of their US cousins stayed my hand. Released just this month however were the six individually packaged Microns pictured above. The bottom three are repaints of molds available only with larger figures before now and are a review for another day. The top row however, are three all new Microns in service of the Decepticons with a powerful secret, The Dark Matter Caliber Team!
These fellows are part of what's known as the Arms Micron Weapon Series, marked "AMW-0X" on the packaging where X is whatever number figure it happens to be. Said packaging is a simple plastic envelope containing the plastic sprue of parts, a small sticker sheet and a printed insert that serves as both package art/information and instruction sheet. Each Arms Micron is essentially a small model kit as you have to snap the parts off the sprue and assemble them yourself, adding detail with a few stickers.
I have yet to see any official names for the individual Dark Matter Caliber team members beyond their AMW designations, so I'm just going to refer to them as the animals they resemble. In this case, AMW-01 is a sting ray cast in an almost pearly gray plastic. Of the three, this Micron's animal mode is the biggest stretch. He has a long, pointed tail and "horns" near the mouth similar to those of a manta ray, but the rest is debatable. The "wings" have large holes in them due to their use in the other modes and no ray on Earth has a face that creepy. (Edit: I've since read that this guy is actually supposed to be a horseshoe crab and not a sting ray. This makes more sense in some ways, but less in others.)
Seriously. Look at that singular, red eye. Those serrated mouth parts. He's evil. This is a good place to point out that both his eye and the Decepticon symbol under the yellow crystal are stickers. Tiny, nigh-impossible to place with my giant sausage fingers stickers. The eye stickers for these guys especially are incredibly miniscule, I held my breath while putting them on.
The sting ray transforms into a crossbow like weapon, straightening out the ray wings into bow arms, flipping the tail around and extending a triangular bit at the front that looks somewhat like the head of a bolt. This one confused the hell out of me when I first saw pictures of it as when not in the context of being held as a weapon, it looks like nothing more than a bladed dradle of death!
It's actually a pretty nice weapon now that I've had it in hand to look over, holes due to the combination aspect of the team give it a dual-barreled appearance and there are a lot of technical details spread across the main section. It reminds me of bowcasters used by the Wookiees in various Star Wars media and anything reminiscent of Chewie and his laser-crossbow is a winner in my book.
AMW-02 is a bird of prey of some sort, cast in a slightly metallic silvery-gray plastic. Personally, I think of him as a condor since he resembles Generation One Laserbeak both in appearance and transformation, he even has the same landing-skid feet that Laserbeak had!
The condor's spark crystal is located on his back, right between two intake looking details (another Laserbeak nod?) and above his surprisingly detailed little tail. I should mention that the stickers for these guys are on thick paper and seem to be holding well, but I worry about areas like the edges of the condor and sting rays wings where the stickers have to bend over curves as some areas are already peeling up.
AMW-02 folds up into a roughly rectangular, cleaver-like blade with a long handle at one end. This is the simplest weapon mode out of the team members, yet it is also the most effective in my view. This is a mean, savage weapon with no finesse or subtlety; you cleave skulls (cyberskulls?) with this blade and wipe the blood (oil?) clean on the corpse.
AMW-03 is an alligator, or perhaps crocodile judging from his long snout, cast in a dark gray plastic with his spark crystal housed near the base of his tail. He is fairly detailed with lots of mechanical bits, little accordion tube legs, a ridged spine, serrated teeth and the omnipresent cyclopean red eye of doom. He is also the most articulate member, being able to raise his head upwards a bit and to bend his tail up and down at the base and about half way along the length.
AMW-03 folds up into a stout, four-barreled weapon with a buttstock which makes it very unique looking, but hard for some figures to handle properly. Due to the short profile and added stability of the stock, I imagine this as being a grenade launcher of some sort, adding some heavy firepower to the Transformer who chooses to wield this gator.
Soundwave demonstrates that the Dark Matter Caliber Team individually are firepower enough, but these Microns have one more trick up their sleeves. Back in the days of Armada, a team of Minicon jets known as the Air Defense Team had the ability to merge together to form the legendary Star Saber Sword, a weapon coveted by Autobot and Decepticon alike (well, until they got the Dark Saber) and depending on the writer, this struggle for power represented in the sword was a key factor in why the Minicons wished to stay neutral in the first place. The actual toy versions of the Air Defense Team were cool enough, but the combined sword was a bit lacking as the connection points were too shallow or weak and the blade was likely to just topple off the hilt in even the lightest play scenarios. Well, ten years have passed and guess what? The Dark Matter Caliber itself is a sword formed by these three Microns. Has toy engineering advanced to provide sufficient support or will this be a repeat of the Star Saber?
I'm happy to report that the combined Dark Matter Caliber is quite sturdy and quite impressive. AMW-01 folds up into the point, AMW-03 reconfigures into a hilt and AMW-02...just stays in weapon mode to form the center length of the blade, merging the color and detailing of the three separate Microns into roughly six inches of pure robo-sword goodness. The combined Dark Matter Caliber suffers from none of the Star Saber's weakness, holding tight and being designed in such a way that each point of connection between the figures is reinforced for maximum stability. The sword is quite heavy, so not all your figures may be up to the challenge of wielding the Dark Matter Caliber, but those who can look quite intimidating with it.
Due to the transformations of the elements, the Dark Matter Caliber unfortunately only looks really sword-like from one side and the other is pure kibble. Kids won't care about this however and collectors can display it with the good side facing outward, so this isn't really an issue in my eyes. It is after all three small figures that turn into animals, weapons and parts of a sword, there's only so much a sculptor can do.
The Dark Matter Caliber is, as I mentioned, not available domestically. Each Micron is bagged and sold separately in Japan at most toy and department stores, but if you live in the US, your best bet is turning to an importer. I bought the Microns from Big Bad Toy Store for about eight bucks a pop and you're probably not going to score them for much less. I would strongly recommend them if you like Minicons already, were a fan of the smaller companions of Generation One figures like Headmasters, Targetmasters and Powermasters, or just need some additional firepower for your larger Transformers.