Lio Convoy – Big Convoy
Transformers Beast Wars II / Neo (1998 / 1999)
Transformers took an interesting turn in the mid-nineties. Frankly, nobody could have seen it coming; the robots in disguise ditched their vehicle modes and became as flesh and blood. Gone were the cars and planes and tanks – the warring robots were animals now, and fought with tooth and claw. They maintained their robotic natures underneath the pelt of the animals, however. Squishy on the outside, hard on the inside – much like an inside-out armadillo (or a Dime bar, as Harry Enfield frequently reminded us).
Anyway, the new “Beast Wars” toyline spawned an award-winning cartoon (arguably the best Transformers show ever) and eventually made its way to Japan. It proved to be a phenomenal success over there, and before long they had created two unique Beast Wars series, with new characters and toys. This is where I come in!
Among the many unique toys created for the Japanese market, I am particularly fond of the two Autobot leaders, Lio Convoy (from the 1998 series) and Big Convoy (from the 1999 series).
“But Adam! Those are clearly Optimus Prime!” I hear you cry. And you’d be right – Optimus Prime has forever been known as “Convoy” in Japan. Furthermore, there are often multiple Convoys, who can at once be the same character, or unique individuals. It’s best just to take these things at face value and avoid a continuity headache.
Well then, on to the toys! I’ll take them one at a time, as they each have unique qualities worth talking about :-
This toy perhaps deviates most from the traditional “Prime” styling, although he maintains the classic head and red-and-blue deco. The mane of the lion, a white lion no less, is slung over one shoulder, giving him a sort of Tarzan/jungle warrior look. He’s really quite tall, one of the largest figures available at the time, and is packed with some pretty interesting gimmicks.
The mane assembly is geared to spin around, sort of like a windmill, for a ‘hurricane attack’ in either lion mode or robot mode. In a feat of engineering, two pairs of missile-firing guns are also concealed in there! It’s easy to be king of the jungle when you can blow the competition away. He also has a button on the top of the lion’s head which, when depressed, causes him to menacingly bear his fangs.
In robot mode, Lio Convoy can wield the guns or slice his foes up with a pair of rather ferocious claws concealed beneath his forearms. The insignia on his chest can open, revealing some mechanical gubbins inside. Overall, he’s very impressive, and cuts an imposing figure in both modes.
This time, Convoy turns into a woolly mammoth. It’s a… unique… choice for an alt-mode, and a tricky one to pull off. But this guy manages it, I reckon. His armour is intricate and highly detailed, in contrast to the earlier toy. Just look at him! He’s bristling with weapons and features; spring-loaded missile launchers on his legs, sculpted guns at his hips, two tonfa clubs fold out from his forearms, his chest compartment opens to reveal a removable “matrix”, his shoulders have sculpted missile pods, and he has a massive gun formed from the mammoth trunk that features a ripple-fire missile launcher. In mammoth mode, pulling on his ears causes his tusks to raise for attack (er, just like a real mammoth?) and a lever on his head raises his trunk.
There are a couple features from the classic “Generation One” Optimus Prime incorporated into Big Convoy’s design, most obviously the over-cab lights and grille from his truck mode, but what’s really interesting is that Big Convoy appears to have lost an arm. His left one is sculpted differently; it’s much more skeletal, with exposed wires and joints. It’s a prosthetic.
How cool is that? It really lends character to the toy, and I can have fun imagining the circumstances under which he lost it.
Beast Wars was a difficult time to be a Transformers fan. Characters of yore were forgotten, the vast majority of new toys received no characterisation whatsoever (there was no comic or anything to support the toys, and the cartoon had a very small cast) and some truly terrible and lazy designs almost ruined the franchise by association. It’s sad, then, that Japan got so many exclusive toys that for the most part blew ours out of the water. Most fans didn’t learn about these toys til years after they came out, and they command a pretty penny on eBay to this day. I had to sell organs to afford these.
Not the musical type.
Awesomeness Rating: 4.5/5 – Everyone goes to the zoo at some point, even Transformers. The beast years didn’t always bring us great things, and I was glad when the status quo returned, but these two toys make the whole thing worth it, and they take pride of place in my collection.
“Hard on the inside”