Release Date: November 2021
Price Point: $69.00
Retailer: NTWRK Exclusive
Accessories: Rifles x 2, Blast Effects x 6, Rocket Launchers (non-working) x 2 for Stripes & Blasters x 2 for Buzzsaw
Official Product Description from NTWRK:
The 7-inch tall Soundwave-inspired figure converts into cassette player mode in 6 steps and features deco and details inspired by J Balvin – including packaging inspired by J Balvin’s rainbow color scheme and his iconic smiley face icon with lightning bolt eyes. He comes with two mini cassette figures, with deco inspired by albums “Energia” and “Vibras”. The Energia Buzzsaw converts to condor mode in 4 steps, and Vibras Stripes converts to tiger mode in 3 steps. The figure also includes a blaster accessory and two rainbow blast effects.
The Collaborative series of Transformers toys continues to expand in 2021. This time, instead of a movie, the Transformers brand is jamming with the Reggaetón musician J. Balvin. Balvin (full name José Álvaro Osorio Balvín) rose to prominence in 2014 with his hit 6 AM and has gone on to become known as the "Prince of Reggaeton". Balvin has played notable festivals such as Coachella and Lollapalooza. His collaborations include notable artists such as Pitbull and Beyoncé.
"J. Balvintron" was only available via the NTWRK app starting July 13, 2021. It seemed to go out of stock briefly but then came back. It was finally released after delays in November 2021.
This collaboration reflects the artist's signature style and colors embodied in the form of "J. Balvintron", presumably a robotic version of the singer himself. In an unusual choice, this figure reuses the G1 Soundwave, Ravage and Buzzsaw sculpts instead of a Generations figure (or a brand new sculpt).
Wow, this J. Balvintron set has a ton of accessories, and not all the ones you would expect. For some unknown reason, the traditional Soundwave weapons were not included in this set. Instead, Soundwave includes a redeco of the rifles included with Siege Commander Class Jetfire. What? Yes, that's what I said. Instead of their original colors, the rifles are now purple and silver. Thanks to their 5mm pegs, they fit right into Soundwave's hands and you can even put them on his shoulder mounted slot. The problem is, these weapons are heavy and the Soundwave sculpt was never designed to hold weapons with this much weight. Ironically, it's not his arms that are the problem. He holds the weapons up just fine, it's his feet. The get overwhelmed with the weight if you hold both weapons pointing forward with Blast Effects attached and he winds up falling over. I would have much preferred the original the original weapons have been included, in part because they double as "batteries" in his Microcassette Recorder mode. Without them, an element of play value has been lost.
In addition to Jetfire's rifles, this set includes two sets of his Blast Effects. These are the large ones that all connect to one another to form a gigantic blast. On Jetfire these could be used for his weapons or as thruster exhaust. Here they fit into the rifles, but again, J. Balvintron cannot really stand with them being held up. That said, the colors are gorgeous, featuring translucent plastic with orange, pink and blue accents.
The other accessories included are intended to go with the cassettes. Buzzsaw has his traditional blasters but these are the "neutered" versions released with the Walmart exclusive Vintage G1 Laserbeak. These are missing the weapon barrel ends due to revised safety rules (keep in mind, previous releases used the original weapons). These are vac metal silver. The other weapons included are orange vac metal versions of G1 Ravage's weapons. This is an interesting choice as the original Encore Stripes figure included light gold versions of Steeljaw's weapons, not Ravage's. I have to say I really dig the orange color. It's very deep and gorgeous.
For those curious, I swapped out the weapons for Buzzsaw and Stripes with the "correct" ones from previous sets and included those pics in the gallery below.
The "Energia" in Buzzsaw's name comes from J. Balvin's 2016 album of the same name. Buzzsaw is cast in white plastic with his eyes painted blue. The body panel in the middle is painted light yellow, one of Balvin's signature colors. His wings have silver foil stickers with yellow lightning bolts and green batteries on them, all art inspirations from the "Energia" album itself. Likely due to the recent release of this sculpt as a Walmart exclusive, the joints on this figure are all nice and tight. That said, if you do not slide the head back and forth properly during transform, it has a chance at popping out, but it snaps back in easily.
In cassette mode, the stickers on the other side of the figure are a nice riff on the original G1 stickers. These are also silver foil stickers with the yellow lightning bolt on them along with the "Energia" logo from the album. In the middle however are the cassette spools from the G1 sticker. A really nice touch!
It is interesting to note that Buzzsaw has no faction logos, nor do any of the other figures in this set. While Buzzsaw is traditionally a Decepticon, Stripes (who I'll get to in a moment) is an Autobot, so I'm choosing to look at this set as being from a time when the Autobots and Decepticons have set aside their differences and decided to pursue non-violent goals like creating Reggaetón music!
The name "Vibras Stripes" is inspired by Balvin's 2018 album "Vibras". The cover of this album was orange featuring two cartoon eyes and a set of cartoonish sharp teeth. This makes using the feline cassette a logical choice.
Stripes is really interesting. The character first saw a toy release as part of the Encore toy line, released with the Twincast reissue. That version was a redeco of Ravage with gold versions of Steeljaw's weapons. He also had other releases including the Titans Return and Masterpiece versions. This release is a redeco of the original version. Both figures are orange plastic, but the die-cast metal parts on Vibras Stripes are a lighter silver instead of the gunmetal color on the original. Also, the orange on Vibras Stripes is a much deeper orange than the original.
Interestingly enough, the designers borrowed some of the original Stripes' deco for this figure. The left side of the beast mode and the head/neck section have black "tiger stripes" on them. The patterns are almost the same between the two figures except for the very last stripe towards the tail. The stripe on the original Stripes is longer than the one on Vibras Stripes. This seems most likely due to the stripe being printed slightly "off" of where it was originally intended to be. Both versions also have silver eyes.
All the joints on my copy of Vibras Stripes are nice and tight. This is likely thanks in part to the tooling having been recently used for the Walmart reissue and the recent "Decepticons Forever!" set.
The cassette mode really brings out the differences between this version of Stripes and the original. On the side without stripes, we get a bit of G1 callback and a homage to J. Balvin's album "Vibras". The G1 reference comes in the form of a cassette spool sticker. Meanwhile, the aforementioned eyes and teeth from the "Vibras" album cover show up here. Set against the orange background, this basically serves as a reproduction of the album cover art and I find that really fun.
One of the misconceptions of this Collaborative set is that it features the character of Soundwave in different colors. The character is actually "J. Balvintron", a robotic representation of the artist himself. By virtue of this, the figure embodies the singer's style with a very dramatic and bright color scheme. J. Balvintron is mostly made up of yellow plastic, inspired by the singer's signature smiley face icon. Indeed, the Microcassette player mode is essentially one giant smiley face in front. He has two red lightning bolt details representing the "eyes" from his smiley face icon and there is a big smiley face on the bottom in black. To really drive the point home, there is a smiley face tampograph in place of the Decepticon symbol.
The silver bits of the figure including the button to open up his cassette door are still silver. The buttons in front are vac metal and they stick out a bit as they do on previous reissues of Soundwave. On the back you can see the robot forearms are a blue color that is lighter than the blue used on Soundwave.
J. Balvintron's robot mode shows off even more color than the alt-mode. This includes rainbow colors on his head. Rainbows are a favorite theme of J. Balvin's so this makes perfect sense. The stickers on this figure all appear to be riffs on stickers originally seen on G1 Soundwave. For instance, he has stickers on his shoulders and knees that look almost exactly like Soundwave's stickers except some details have been replaced with Balvin's signature lightning bolts. In what may (or may not) be an error, the stickers on the fron to fthe lower legs have been applied upside down and they feature different colors than the original. Blue stickers are used on his thighs and interestingly the "REC" and "STOP" details on his hip area are now tampographed instead of being stickers.
Now, whether or not you consider this deco "good" is entirely subjective. To many it is loud, out of place with the other reissues of this sculpt and make no sense in a larger Transformers collection. I can totally get that, but in terms of representing J. Balvin's sense of color and style, I think it succeeds wildly and winds up being a very unique piece as a result.
All the joints on this figure are nice and tight on my copy of this figure. That said, the section where the legs connect to the hips worried me a bit because I am used to those parts moving very smoothly during transformation. On this figure I had to push a bit to get them moving. I would not recommend excessive force, just be careful with this one point. I went into the weapons extensively above. The cassette door still springs open beautifully and the cassettes fit inside without a problem.
Unlike the more general pop culture collaborations such as Top Gun or Ghostbusters, this one is very specific to an audience that enjoys the music of a specific artist (or those who just love Soundwave variants). So this set won't be for everyone. However, as some who does enjoy J. Balvin's work and who appreciates weird/out of the blue collaborations, this totally works for me. If you're like me in that respect, this is recommended. Otherwise I'm sure there are many other collaborations coming in the future that may better suit your tastes.
- A fun representation of J. Balvin's personal aesthetic.
- Some of the colors chosen such as Stripes' deco and weapons are really beautiful.
- A different type of collaboration than previous releases.
- While limited by today's standards, the Soundwave sculpt is still a fun toy in my book.
- The colors are pretty wacky especially considering the colors of the original G1 Soundwave, so some folks will be turned off by that right away.
- I really would have preferred the original Soundwave weapons be included. The Jetfire rifles are just too gigantic and heavy for this figure.