A couple weeks ago, I ran a Twitter poll asking my readers what they’d rather see for my next review– a “weird” Beast Wars toy or a Kenner-style DC toy. The BW figure won. Thanks to all 32 of you who voted.
When it comes to “weird,” Beast Wars has plenty to choose from. It was a bizarre, high-concept toy line that took a ton of chances and commonly veered into what we might consider “abstract” or “avant-garde,” at least as far as action figures targeted at 7-12 year olds go. In that regard, it’s only rivaled by Hasbro’s Batman Beyond toy line.
I really wanted to lean into the “weird” aspect, and it doesn’t get much weirder than Takara’s Cyborg Beasts figures. These Japanese exclusives took four deluxe Beast Wars molds (Cybershark, Dinobot, Waspinator, and K-9) and infused their beast modes with crazy robot augmentations. The general weirdness also carried over into robot mode.
Consider today’s subject, 1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B, who is a cyborg German Shepherd with wolf-colored fur.
In Mainframe’s Beast Wars cartoon, the characters were robots who combined their mechanical parts with organic parts, resulting in a biomechanical amalgamation that was mostly robot-based. For a cyborg beast, you have the robot augmented with biological animal parts (already kind of a cyborg), and then you add mechanical parts on top of the organic animal parts. So you’re basically left with a double cyborg, and in an entirely different way than what you saw with either Transmetals I or II. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s a lot different than what any other toy line was doing at the time.
Let’s get weird with 1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B.
A Primer on Beast Wars II and Max-B
Many of you reading this probably know more about Beast Wars II as a franchise than I do (I’m just in it for the toys), so I’ll try to keep the overview brief.
Beast Wars II was an original Japanese production based on the North American Beast Wars cartoon and toy line. BWII included a cartoon, a manga, a toy line, a movie, and plenty of assorted merchandising– including a sausage product.
“The cartoon series aired in Japan between season one of Beast Wars and seasons two and three, in order to fill the gap until the later seasons could be dubbed into Japanese. It was followed by Beast Wars Neo…
… The Beast Wars II toyline consisted almost entirely of redecoes (and the occasional retool) of Generation 1, Generation 2, Machine Wars, and American Beast Wars toys, although all new molds were created for the two faction leaders: Lio Convoy, a white lion, Galvatron, a purple dragon, and Moon an oft-abused robot space bunny anime mascot. Most of the Predacons are mechanical while the Maximals all have beast modes.”
Basically, BWII was Takara’s way of using the toy-only characters from Beast Wars, some toys from earlier lines, and a couple of new molds, to stall for time in between seasons of Mainframe’s cartoon.
To this day, I have only seen the first 10 episodes of the Beast Wars II anime. Japanese Beast Wars is played for laughs more than its North American counterpart and, to put it gently, its sense of humor does not gel with me at all. Luckily, the character designs were fantastic, which resulted in a bunch of really cool toys.
Thanks to websites like Dave’s Transformers Page and BWTF.com, I was aware of Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo in the late 90s, but I had no way of getting the toys then. In those days, you had to know someone in Japan to obtain any of the Takara figures. I assume people made their contacts through forums and UseNet, but I don’t know for sure. To say the Transformers fandom in the late 90s was hostile towards teenagers (which I was in the late 90s) would be a huge understatement. People my age were largely not welcome on the message boards of the time, and there was no social media. If you think fandoms are adversarial and cantankerous now, you should have seen things back then. We’ve come leaps and bounds since those days.
I never even dreamed of getting a 1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B until recently. I never experienced any of the Cyborg Beasts as a kid. I never even owned a Wolfang or a K-9, which Max-B is a retool of.
Since my familiarity with this mold is fairly recent, I have no childhood stories surrounding it. I’ve owned Wolfang and K-9 for years now, but Max-B is so different that it’s a completely new experience. And it’s a weird one!
Non-show Beast Wars toys are a very niche interest to begin with, and toys based on show characters from the Japanese series are an even more narrow niche. Max-B did appear in the Beast Wars II anime, but in the weirdest way possible.
BB was one of BWII Galvatron’s minions. His toy and show model were based on the Generation 2 Dreadwing toy, who he was a repaint of. So BB, who was a huge stealth bomber packed with missiles, was “upgraded” by Angolmois Energy into Max-B– a cyborg dog. In the cartoon, this made him more powerful. I don’t know about you, but changing into a cyberdog when you were once a huge flying death machine seems like a real downgrade to me. But I’m not a Japanese toy executive, so my opinions don’t really count.
The name “Max-B” is odd when you take it at face value. In this case, though, Max-B isn’t your homie who shows up to his tech startup job every day with hangover and won’t stop talking about Dogecoin– instead, Max-B refers to “Maximum BB,” because a grey German Shepherd with robot parts sticking out of it is a stealth bomber’s final form. Naturally.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the actual 1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B toy.
1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B Review
Released by Takara in 1998, Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B is a deluxe Beast Wars figure. As a Japanese exclusive, that means he was packaged in a very fancy box with plenty of inserts and other ephemera.
Here’s the box:
Here’s the figure in its specially-molded two-part plastic tray (which keeps the toy very secure without annoying safety ties):
Here are the inserts:
The inserts all come in one plastic bag and, even though I’ve opened plenty of sealed Japanese Beast Wars toys before, I was kind of floored by the volume of sheer stuff that this figure comes with.
There’s this little cardboard insert, depicting a forest with one large tree, packed right behind the figure tray. It makes for a nice presentation in the box and could probably act as a backdrop for display or photography. It would be a pretty shitty display or photo backdrop honestly, but it’s the thought that counts.
Next up, we get the toy’s instructions. Even if you don’t read Japanese, they’re straightforward and easy to follow. They make modern Transformers instructions look even worse by comparison.
You also get a character-specific card, with stats and a bio.
There’s also this little slip of paper, which I assume is a warning of some kind.
Then we have… a survey? Probably!
Finally, we have the most fun part of all the paperwork, which is a fold-out catalog showing you all the other toys in the BWII line. I don’t have a scanner, so you’ll just have to suffer through these photos. I am sure you can find nice scans of it somewhere on the web, though. This is definitely worth saving and keeping around.
Max-B is a retool of Beast Wars K-9, who is a retool of Wolfang. Whereas Wolfang is a grey wolf, K-9 is a pretty typical looking German Shepherd. The K-9 figure featured a lot of changes from Wolfang, and not just in beast mode– his robot head, torso, tail/weapon, and shield were also quite different.
Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B builds upon the K-9 tooling: the left half of his beast mode head, left upper beast mode leg, right lower beast mode leg, robot head, shield/back piece, tail/weapon, and robot head have all been completely remolded. You’ll see the differences up close here in a bit.
Here’s the toy in robot mode:
Max-B stands a little under 6” tall in robot mode. He’s rendered in dark grey, light grey, purple, black, red, and silver. He also features some yellow and white highlights for eyes, teeth, and little details. He features a lot more paint detail than you see in most modern Transformers, and it’s all very well applied. Although it was sold at a regular Takara price point, it feels like a premium toy.
Max-B is THICK in robot mode, and he looks like a Predacon linebacker. He does feature some beast mode kibble and other awkward parts that can sometimes make posing him a bit of a challenge, but he’s not too bad. The beast mode forelegs can interfere with his arms, the hip skirts can interfere with his legs, and the beast mode head (shoulderpads in robot mode) can get in the way, too. Overall, though, this is a fantastic looking robot mode. Based on looks alone, this is a near-perfect Beast Wars villain.
I particularly love the head sculpt. Depending on the pose or scenario you have him in, he’s either immersed in a berserker rage, letting loose a maniacal cackle, or shouting in irreconcilable confusion. Placing an additional cybernetic eye on a robot’s head is also a nice touch. You can never have too many robot parts on your robot.
Max-B looks good from every angle. Though the backs of his legs are hollow due to transformation, there’s no one area of his body that screams “we didn’t fill this in or add any detail because we needed to save a dollar.”
Max-B is articulated with a swivel neck, ball jointed shoulders, a “butterfly” joint where the arms meet the chest (due to transformation), hinged elbows that have the range of a “double hinge” you’d get in modern figures, ball jointed hips, hinged knees (also with a great range), and hinged feet/heels. Although he gets in his own way and isn’t “super articulated” by 2021 standards, you can still get a great range of motion from this weirdo.
Before we get to his Beast Mode, let’s look at his accessories because they are essential to both modes.
Max-B comes with a missile launcher that also serves as both a mace-type weapon and his beast mode tail, a “shield” weapon that also serves as a missile launcher and his beast mode back, and two anchor-shaped missiles.
Here’s the figure All Geared Up:
The missiles can be loaded into either the tail weapon or the shield, where they fire with a fair amount of force and distance. The missiles can also store in his robot mode chest, where they give him some very aesthetically pleasing spikes.
The tail weapon features a flip-down peg so it can be held as a missile launcher. In this configuration, the tip of the tail (where the spiked ball resides) fits neatly over his shoulder, so it’s not nearly as awkward for the toy to hold as it could be. The other side of the weapon also features a peg handle, so he can wield his tail as a nasty-looking mace. In addition, the weapon also looks pretty good without a missile loaded– it works quite nicely as a regular gun, too!
When I was a kid, I was always disappointed when a spring-loaded launcher was a Transformer’s only weapon. When that was the case, I tended to use the unloaded launcher as a more standard gun so the figure had more than one shot with its weapon. If I’d had this toy in my younger years, I probably would have used it that way.
The tail weapon is weird but it works nicely. The “shield,” on the other hand, is weird without working nearly as nicely. This is the definition of Fashion Over Function. The sculpt and paint on the shield are delightful, but when you get down to actually trying to equip the figure with it, things go downhill. Whereas Wolfang and K-9 both had very serviceable riot shields, Max-B’s accessory isn’t nearly as elegant.
The shield has two gimmicks, both activated by the same grey switch on the top. The switch fires one of the anchor missiles, but also extends a “capture claw” when pressed. This looks very cool, but is pretty unwieldy in practice. The figure holds the “shield” via a small peg at the back. So it’s not mounted like a shield. Instead it’s a big, heavy thing the figure doesn’t hold in any really convincing way. The articulation allows the toy to support the shield with both arms, which adds some stability– but it’s still awkward. It’s a cool piece, it just doesn’t work very well. Luckily, the shield can store on the figure’s back, where it also goes in beast mode.
1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B’s transformation is pretty simple. The only things you have to look out for are some parts that tend to bump into one another if you don’t transform them in the correct order. There’s one pretty neat little trick where his torso extends to make a longer, slimmer dog mode from a thicc robot mode.
Here is he is in Beast Mode:
Max-B is a rather nightmarish cyborg dog. His left eye, which is just an angry robotic rectangle, is particularly menacing. As mentioned previously, the shield becomes the dog’s back and the gun becomes the dog’s tail. So, the dog has a big spiked ball at the end of its tail, too. The detailing on the shield gives the beast mode the appearance of small wings and thrusters, and the implications of that are almost not worth thinking about. Those Boston Dynamics robot dogs are terrifying, but they have nothing on Max-B.
This Cyborg Beast features plenty of metal panels spliced into skin and fur, exposed wires, and other nasty little touches. I have no doubt this would have been a perfect fit for the “gross out” toy trend of the 80s and 90s in North America. We missed out.
The only real articulation in this mode comes from the dog’s hind legs, which can move at the hips and knees. Everything else is locked in place.
You can absolutely see some robot kibble in beast mode, most notably the robot arms. On this version of the mold, those robot arms are much less noticeable. Your brain is too busy trying to reconcile all of the dog’s cyborg parts to focus on the robot arms too much.
If you want, you can also use the shield’s missile firing and capture claw functions in beast mode. It actually works pretty well and ends up looking positively frightening. What’s worse than a malevolent, snarling cyberdog? A malevolent, snarling cyberdog with a missile launcher and giant blades protruding from its back.
Now for a look at the toy Max-B came from. Here he is with Beast Wars K-9 in robot mode:
And in beast mode:
K-9 wasn’t the most friendly-looking fellow, especially for a Maximal. Max-B, though, makes K-9 look like Mr. Rogers. In all fairness, North American audiences (and their parents) weren’t probably ready for an “Evil Weaponized Dog” action figure, so maybe it’s best this one stayed in Japan.
Just for fun, here’s Max-B alongside all of the other uses of this mold: K-9, Hasbro’s Wolfang (blue robot bits), and Takara’s Telemocha Wolfang (red robot bits).
Max-B is a good toy, but he has a few more problems than I’ve already mentioned. Most notably, the capture claw on the shield is on a hair trigger. It deploys when you don’t want it to, and it’s hard to lock back in place. This is very annoying. In addition, one of the beast mode forelegs does not peg in place as well as it should in dog form. Neither of those are dealbreakers, but they make the toy a bit more fiddly and frustrating than it would be otherwise.
I looked back at Dave Van Domelen’s old review of the toy (linked below) a couple of days ago, and I was surprised to learn he had those exact two problems. I guess those are pretty much across-the-board quality control issues with this figure, so be aware of that.
Verdict: 1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B is a cool toy. He’s (mostly) fun to play with, is well made, has interesting accessories, and looks like nothing else you’ve ever seen in Transformers or any other toy line. The paint, details, and plastic quality are all top notch, too. This toy is Recommended, but know that it has its share of issues. In addition, the Japanese Cyborg Beasts aren’t always easy to find, so you may be better off just purchasing K-9 or the Hasbro Wolfang.
- Cyborg Beasts at Dave’s Transformers Page
- Max-B gallery at Seibertron.com
- Max-B at TFU.info
- Max-B review by TJ Omega
- Max-B at TFArchive
Closing Thoughts on 1998 Transformers Beast Wars II Max-B
Hah! I was truthful. Not counting this little outro, this review is under 3000 words! Now who’s the wordy one??
Anyway, were you a Beast Wars fan when the toys first came out? Do you collect Japanese (or Korean) Beast Wars toys? Who’s your favorite Beast Wars weirdo? Let me know in the comments!