When a franchise is successful, you can expect all kinds of merchandise from it. A perfect example of that is in the toys/figures that often accompany a successful movie or TV show (or comic book, actually). In most places, you will find toys of most if not all of the characters. However, one way of memorializing a character that’s not common in North America is the model kit. While Gundam and other animes have long embraced the model kit as a pillar of marketing, North American properties generally eschew models, at least they have for the last 30-odd years. Sure, MPC made some car kits of things like KITT, the Coyote and other ‘80s “hero cars”, but that’s about it.
Thus, it came as quite a surprise when Flame Toys, a “third party” Transformer design house, announced that they would be offering model kits based on some of their very detailed, and very expensive, posable, but non-transformable, figures. Even more amazing was that these were licensed by Hasbro, making them “Official third-party” goods. If that scrambles your brain, well, you’re not alone!
This line of kits was called “Furai Model Kits” and would be made available in North America; Game Stop/EB Games and several local comic stores carry these near me, so check for them in stores like that. The models are, despite the branding, not “transformers” as they do not transform. They are robot-optimized model kits that are a direct competitor to Gundam, 30 Minute Missions, Armored Core and other well-established mech model lines. However, they are “Transformers” because they’re of Transformers characters and Hasbro said so.
Of course, marquee characters like Prime, Bumblebee and Starscream got the Furai treatment first, but a surprising entry was Drift. A fan-designed character with a cool mix of Gundam and samurai warrior in his design, Drift has quickly become a fan-favourite. For a while, his $300+ figure was the only way to get Flame Toys’ amazing take on the design. However, when I found a Furai Drift in a local store, I was really eager to get at him! For more on that, check this out:
So, I dug right in and got at this guy. To find out how things went, read on!
The biggest thing I wanted to do, other than have my own, much more affordable take on Flame Toys’ Drift, was to see how this fledgling model company stood up to the competition. I’ve built a couple older Kotobukiya Super Robot Wars OG kits, and while good, they were NOT Gundams, and it showed in several places. Fit was passable but iffy in spots, poseability was moderate and plastic quality was good enough, but there wasn’t as much polish; not as much confidence or swagger, if you will, in the kit.
Kotobukiya has been making models for quite some time, but Flame Toys is really an unknown when it comes to any kind of kit, so I didn’t have very high expectations, to be honest. Sure, it looked like a Gundam-level kit, and it had good parts separation, but there were some things that were decidedly weaker than on a Bandai. A good example of this was colour separation.
On modern HGUC kits, the colour separation is excellent. On this kit, it’s only “Meh” at best. There are attempts to get things in the proper colours, but it doesn’t always work. There are also a lot of small areas that are red on Drift, like fin leading edges and the little chevrons on the sides of his shoulders. To be fair, the folks at Flame Toys do give you foil decals for this, but that’s not something to get too excited about.
Thus, to make my life easier, I opted to etch a separation line or a deeper outline to delimitate the red areas from the white ones. On the chevrons, this was easy, but it was a lot harder on the fin leading edges. The reason for this was a clear and telling difference between a Bandai kit and the Flame Toys one; there was no panel line to separate the colours on Drift. There was simply a facet, a change in slope on the surface of the fin. I had little choice but to bust out the Dymo tape and add my own lines to these very important locations. It would have been a lot easier if Flame Toys had put them in, but that doesn’t seem to be a thing they do. With the new panel lines etched in, painting the red leading edges and chevrons proved to be much easier, as anticipated!
Amazingly, though, the build order on the kit was excellent, and there wasn’t much build-around. One glaring exception to that was the top part of the lower arm, that into which the elbow joint is attached. You are expected to put in the elbow joint and then put the entire thing in the lower arm. Um… no. To skirt that, I cut off the flanges that hold the upper-lower-arm in place, making it possible to insert this in the completed lower arm. Then, I etched a panel line (a “cheater line”) on the two halves while they were test fit together. Once I had the part painted, I put it around the elbow and then outlined the panel line. This made things much easier, and I would recommend it to anyone building this guy.
There’s another thing to consider with this kit. If you test fit it, without opening up the peg holes with a knife first, it’s going to be a bugger to get things apart again. So, you have a choice: Either open the holes (like me) or take my word for it that this kit fits together pretty darn nicely! Note: if you paint things (which you should), the fit on the parts will be VERY tight, so you may very well end up having to open the holes anyway!
Using What You’re Given:
I mentioned earlier that the Flame Toys Drift has multiple racks in two colours. I don’t know how this is really financially (or environmentally) a good idea, but I’m glad they did it for one reason: extra thrusters! There’s a cluster of engine exhausts on the back of Drift’s shoulders. They’re great, because the cover a seam, so there’s no need to sand in there. Nice work, Flame Toys! However, Flame did cheap out in one other place; the armours on top of the shoulders. On the figure, these have cool little exhausts of their own; on the kit, though, you get nothing. Just a panel is there, and I’ll be honest, the fit of these upper armour panels to the contour of the main shoulder armours isn’t great.
I didn’t want my finished kit to look incomplete, which frankly it would if this was left alone. I therefore cut the second set of shoulder thrusters in half, and used the “big half” to glue onto the blank plate on the upper armour sections. It fit perfectly, like it was made for the job, and the extra detail just adds a little bit of visual punch to the finished product. It’s just enough that you don’t notice they’re there; you would, however, notice if the weren’t. That’s subtle, and that’s how I wanted it. Nothing screams cheap like expecting hidden detail and getting a flat wall.
In other places, though, the folks at Flame Toys went all-out on the detail. There’s gutloads of greebling on the leg side packs, backpack and shoulders, waist and of course, the two “open” areas on the chest. To make the most of these, I painted all the “venty bits” in Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Steel, with Aluminum and Jet Exhaust used where appropriate. To bring these areas to life, I used a light application of Citadel Nuln Oil. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know that this really helps to bring MMA metallics to life. With the metal bits shadowed and washed, the detail that the mould makers put into this kit really shows, and they should be proud. Drift is far more detailed than 95% of HG-1/144 Gundams of recent times.
The white parts of Drift were done with Gundam White, my hybrid of MMA flat white and Tamiya XF-2. The “black” parts are Virsago Black, so they still show up the Sakura calligraphy pen I used to do the panel lining. The red is MMA Guards Red and the clear parts… well, they came coloured right from the factory! I also made use of some MMA Brass for the knee vents and a couple little bits on the body. There’s some of that on the figure, so I thought “Why not?”. I like it, and I’m glad I went with it.
The one thing about Drift I noticed right away was that his head wings were POINTY. That’s not like a Gundam. Most HGUC Gundams have little “safety nubs” on the back of V-antennae, so that kids can’t hurt themselves. Flame Toys doesn’t care, though, for the Nanny-State heroics of consumer safety groups. Nope: These things will put an eye out! (Note: Flame Toys and Hasbro put an age of 15+ on this thing, so the safety is less of a factor. If you can’t figure out not to stab yourself by then, well… ) I love it, because that means you don’t have to try to delicately sand or trim them off. You get pointy bits right out of the box!
Of course, Drift himself is all about the “pointy bits”, as his sole weaponry are a pair of short, fat blades mounted in the long waist binders, and a very cool, very big sword that slings on his back. I personally don’t find the short fat blades very impressive, so I decided to leave them sheathed. The main sword, though… that’s an event in itself! The sheath is a simple, but very well-moulded piece of kit, with lots of detail on it. This is a great place for some colours, as the Virsago Black sheath needs some life. I used MMA Silver and my own homemade gold (see the MG Shenlong for details) at the top, and did the tip in red, as was shown on the figure. A light wash of Nuln Oil again brought the silver to life, while a light Devlan Mud on the gold gave it some depth.
The sword itself is a good case of build around. However, it’s also very easy to fix. All I did was cut most of the anchoring tab off the blade, so it would fit into the hilt once everything was done. I did the blade in Alclad Polished Aluminum to give it a more “bare metal” feel, although this was reduced slightly by the Aqua Gloss I put over it to protect it. I expected that, and you should too any time you gloss over chrome, or chrome-like, surfaces. The hilt was Virsago Black with gold accents, and I used some gold on the adornments at the sword’s base, too. For a visual change, I used some copper right around the central yellow crystal in the hilt. The metals were Devlan Mud-washed, while the hilt was outlined with a pen. On all sword hilts, I did the “wrapping” in MMA Leather with a Nuln Oil wash. I have to say, the texturing on the handles was amazing, and the leather/wash combo makes them look really like a fabric wrap.
After all the pieces were painted, I used Delta Ceramcoat Urethane Indoor/Outdoor Varnish to make a Satin Coat. This gives drift a bit of sheen, without being gaudy. Sure, he’s a one-of-a-kind mech, but he’s also a war machine, so the bright colours (similar to my Gyan Crusader) contrast well with a less-shiny finish.
The final assembly on Drift isn’t much worse than on any other 1/144 HGUC Gundam. I had some problem with the feet, where I’d done some modifications to allow me to install them afterwards, but it wasn’t major. I was very impressed at how well the subassemblies came, and stuck, together. The pre-painted silver face was something I repainted anyway, but you could get away without that if you wanted to.
The poseability of the figure is pretty good, although with so much paint and satin coat on there, he’s a bit creaky. That’s nothing new for me, though; that’s how most of the Gundams I paint end up. However, I did notice that there is a distinct balance issue. Drift’s hip sheaths/binders add a lot of mass, and his ankles are weak. If you put the ankles in a neutral position, this guy’s going over onto his butt, almost guaranteed. At best, he’ll wobble a lot when you walk by. The huge shoulder armours do get in the way a bit, but really, for me, a kit isn’t about posing. He has to stand there and look good. He does.
One thing I did find was this: You can position the feet such that the ankles are “maxed out” on motion; meaning they are pushed all the way frontwards. With this done, the ankles cease to be a balance issue, and Drift becomes much sturdier on display. Sure, you might not get G-Gundam level posing out of him, but he won’t be a “tail sitter” either.
I didn’t use any of the decals; I don’t trust self-stick decals on a model at all. They’re usually insufficiently adhesive to stay on for the long-haul (an exception being the Stargazer’s decals), and I don’t like messing with them. How well Drift’s work is unknown to me.
With Drift, I was really excited to build him for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted an affordable replica of the Flame Toys design, and this was certainly that. Secondly, and most importantly, I couldn’t find much online about how he was as a kit. Lots of stuff about the built-up, unpainted version, but I wanted to see if Flame Toys was going to be able to hold their own against Bandai in making a model. I wanted to find out how Drift was as a KIT, from a BUILDER’S perspective.
Well, by and large, I’m impressed. The final product looks as good as, if not better than, any Bandai, Kotobukiya or Hasegawa anime kit. It goes together well, by and large, and fit and finish are right up there with the big boys. Poseability is no worse than most others, and the kit doesn’t feel like it wants to fall apart if you fiddle with it. Now, if you play with it, like a toy, sure, it might disintegrate. If you treat it like a model, it’ll be fine.
For non-modellers, this kit is not as good a deal as an HGUC in terms of value for the money. It has lots of spares, which modellers will love but one-off buyers won’t see the value of, and the colour separation is not up to a modern HGUC level. Built “right out of the box”, the Flame Toys drift is not that impressive; he’s black and white and has lots of stickers. If you don’t like stickers, then you’re kind of screwed. To be honest, this kit is a bit of a waste for those who don’t paint or detail their kits, as a lot of the fine moulding ends up being wasted, and the kit isn’t cheap.
For modellers, this kit is about as good as you’re going to get in this size. Lots of fun detail for neat paint apps, decent poseability even when painted and a unique design aesthetic help Drift stand out even beside other models. He even holds his own with Real Grade Gundams, which is impressive!
Overall, I thought I’d end up overpaying for a kit that needed a bit more work than it should, and would look less good than it ought to. I was wrong. This kit is expensive, but you’re paying for the name and license. The good news is that you also get a kit that has high quality plastic and great moulding, and that won’t give an experienced MS builder much in the way of heartache. Is it perfect? No. It’s not an MG shrunken down, and it’s not at an RG’s level of pickiness, but I’m okay with that! It has a few deficiencies with the ankles, balancing and the red/white separation.
However, I can honestly say that Drift can stand with his much more storied and experienced competition and gives up very little to the “pros”. The success of the Transformers brand is largely a testament to Hasbro marketing things that fans want, and that are generally of good quality. Drift is no exception to that rule, and the Flame Toys kits look like great additions to the seemingly never-ending stable of adult-oriented Transformers merchandise.
If you like Transformers, and you like to build, really BUILD, your mech kits but want something different, give one of these Flame Toys kits a try. I think you’ll be impressed; I was!