TARBOSAURUS (PNSO, 2021)

Tarbosaurus bataar, the “heroic lizard that inspires admiration”, is best known as the eastern version of the Tyrannosaurus. Of course, at first glance the two genera are very similar, so much so that some would prefer to combine them, in this case we would be dealing with Tyrannosaurus bataar. Both have the classic “derived tyrannosaur pack”: large head, massive neck, small forelimbs with two fingers, and so on. But it is in how these parts are organized that many differences can be seen. Furthermore Tarbosaurus is not the only Mongolian / Chinese tyrannosaurus of large dimensions, practically contemporary to him was the genus Zhuchengtyrannus of which, however, we have much more fragmentary remains.

It will be surprising to know that commercial representations of Tarbosaurus are very rare. Aside from Mattel’s Primal Attack which is part of the Jurassic World line, there are very few others worth mentioning. There is the Collecta which dates back to 2009, and is definitely light years behind by current standards. The Favorite, from 2013, is the only truly comparable for both the scale and the invoice, but it is barely available. The two Kaiyodos are cute, but much smaller and for obvious reasons much less detailed. Probably the resemblance to the much more famous North American cousin didn’t help. PNSO has finally done this dinosaur justice with a truly exceptional model, Chuanzi, which also takes a huge step up from, ironically, Wilson the Tyrannosaurus, who will be an obvious yardstick in this review.

The packaging is what PNSO has accustomed us to. The classic white box with images of the model and lettering. Inside there are a poster, the transparent plastic blister where the Tarbosaurus is housed and the small support rod.

Let’s start with the actual analysis with the dimensions. Chuanzi is 31cm long, since the largest specimens of Tarbosaurus fall within a range of ten or eleven meters in length, we are perfectly in 1:35. This is not surprising given that PNSO works with this scale for all its products with a few exceptions.

The pose is not very interesting, the classic walk done so well, but without any memorable particularity. The animal is portrayed with the torso parallel to the ground, the left hind leg is forward and supports a good part of the mass, while the right acts more as a support pivot and is about to be lifted off the ground. At least in the model I received, the toes of the left foot have the toes that rise slightly upwards; I don’t know if it is an isolated defect or a general problem. The tail forms a soft curvature to the left in order to support the contraction of the thigh muscles on the same side. Finally, the neck and head are turned slightly to the right and this manages to give a little more dynamism.

The mandible, as is now the practice for PNSO theropods, is articulated and allows both to completely close the mouth and to open it with an excellent range. Obviously this opening mechanism requires small aesthetic compromises and, personal opinion, I believe that to have the most visually satisfying results it is better to keep the jaw closed or only slightly open so that the joints that form the internal muscles of the mouth fit together perfectly.

In my specimen I have not encountered any stability problems; Chuanzi is perfectly balanced and has never shown signs of giving up despite the intense heat of the summer. Therefore, finger crossed, I would dare to say that for once the support is superfluous.

As for anatomical accuracy, there is very little to say. Chuanzi is a Tarbosaurus without any doubts. When news broke of the release of a Tarbosaurus PNSO some thought they could use it as a cheap substitute for Wilson. With a significant price difference, the first costs practically half of the other, the idea will have flashed to everyone’s mind. But if for any fan everything can actually be resolved in a “close enought” to the dinonerd on duty, the various differences will immediately pop to the eyes.

The very first thing that you will not fail to notice when confronting Wilson and Chuanzi is in the size of the scales. Here PNSO has shown a remarkable step forward, managing to give a much finer texture while respecting the patterns identified in the study of the skin of tyrannosaurs made for Wilson. So scales have different shapes and arrangements depending on the part of the body where they are and they’re much closer in size to the proportions they should have in a scale model. Here too no feathers, although they are present in the poster attached to the model. It cannot even be said that the Chinese company does not know how to reproduce them well, on the contrary, the Yutyrannus has a really well done feathery cover. Probably PNSO wants to stay on a “safe” line in which dinosaurs are correctly represented from a scientific point of view but without daring anything as far as speculation is concerned, which is a bit of a shame. On the other hand they focus on what sells the most. So much so that even the Qianzhousaurus or their “Nanotyrannus” are completely scaly although they represent animals of comparable size with Yutyrannus and therefore it is likely that they had a good feathered cover.

Another feature that immediately stands out is the robustness of Chuanzi. The animal appears decidedly massive and releases mightiness as it should be for a dinosaur of that size that has evolved to fight and overwhelm prey just as mammoth if not even bigger than it. Someone said that it appears almost fat due to the excessive roundness at the height of the abdomen. Personally, I prefer this approach to skin and bone reconstructions that have established themselves since the late twentieth century. We are still talking about animals and if we take a bear, a tiger or even a crocodile they are much more than a skeleton covered in skin.

The most noticeable differences between Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus are in the head and the PNSO reconstruction have not been overlooked. The skull in Tarbosaurus has a more tapered general shape, is less tall and above all less wide. In fact, by comparing the skulls of these two genera with a frontal view or from above, it is impossible not to understand at first glance which one belongs to one and which one to the other. Consequently, the stereoscopic vision in Tarbosaurus, although present, was also less extensive than its North American cousin. All of this is perfectly represented in Chuanzi, even if the pupil of the right eye is slightly squinted when compared with that of the other side. Fortunately, the defect is only perceptible by looking at the model from the front and at least in my case it is practically insignificant.

The nostrils and the ear openings are clearly visible on the head; the first ones are in an advanced position to the bone opening and this is in line with the most recent reconstructions. As in the other PNSO theropods, there are no full lips and the tissues surrounding the mouth show larger scales than those present on the rest of the body, this feature resemble the mouth of crocodiles. The openings of the skull are almost invisible, they are just hinted by the different dimensions of the scales that cover them.

The inside of the mouth is well reconstructed. On the palate there are the choanas, the furrows where the teeth of the jaw are lodged and a whole series of folds in the oral mucosa. The tongue ends at the base in a harmonious way with the rest of the mouth and is adhered to the floor of the jaw; in fact, according to our current knowledge, the tongue of the theropods must have been not very mobile. The teeth are also well represented, individually sculpted and of different sizes based on their housing in the mouth, a small sore point here is the less accurate coloring than that reserved for Wilson.

In the mandible you can see the grooves that form between the housing of one tooth and the other and the scales become smaller and smaller as they descend towards the throat.

As far as the head to neck junction is concerned, we have an improvemed compared to Wilson, where there was a large groove dividing these two portions. However, nothing could be done about the detachment between the jaw and throat, due to the joint of the mouth, which is more or less evident depending on how wide the jaws are open. The jaw joint is also the cause of the major anatomical inaccuracy of the model. On the sides of the neck there should be voluminous muscles used precisely for the movement of the mouth and it is superfluous to reiterate how important they must have been in a dinosaur where a very powerful bone-breaking bite was the main weapon used to kill prey. In fact, looking at Chuanzi with his mouth closed, one notices as if something is missing between the junction of the voluminous neck and the head.

Going down to the chest, the gaze is diverted to the tiny arms. They look far too small, even by tyrannosaurus standards, but this is not a mistake. Tarbosaurus had proportionately smaller forelimbs than all other members of its family. If you add to this the fact that the arm is in part embedded in the muscles and skin of the chest, this result is achieved. The rest position of the arms is also correct, they are not projected forward but close to the body. A small gem of the sculpt is the presence of a hollow between the arm and the chest where in theory the forearm should be housed when the animal is on the ground in a resting position. The two tiny fingers are also scientifically accurate, the first is shorter and more massive, while the second is longer but also slimmer. The only small drawback is the color that here leaves something to be desired. While the entire forelimb does not differ chromatically from the rest of the animal, the fingers in their entirety are colored with a much darker shade of green. This color is great for the nails, but continuing even further, without any detachment, more than anything else gives the feeling that they have given a coarse painting.

The body seen from above has a barrel shape that reflects the skeletal reconstruction while in profile the swollen belly could make some people turn up a little. In reality, this pot-bellied aspect depends at least in part on Chuanzi’s pose. In fact, if on the one hand the addition of gastralia to the skeletal reconstructions has dramatically changed the silhouette of the theropod dinosaurs, on the other hand the almost rampant pose of Tarbosaurus PNSO makes the “belly” protrude even more. To demonstrate this, along the back of the model, it can be seen that all the paravertebral muscles (those located behind the vertebrae and used to arch the back) are in tension to allow this position to be maintained.

The hind limbs are massive to say the least. A concentrate of tense or released muscles that transmit how much energy the dinosaur needed to move forward by moving all its mass. Seen from some angles, it seems that Chuanzi is about to overwhelm everything in his path. It goes without saying that the muscle insertion heads are all correct. Approaching the feet the mass becomes less voluminous but this does not mean that the extremities of the legs or the metatarsals appear slender, far from it. Especially in frontal view they also seem a bit too wide, but this time too the problem is probably not in the reconstruction, or at least not only there, but in the experience of the observer. The feet of this Tarbosaurus have clearly been reconstructed based on the fossil remains and what those of today’s large flightless birds look like. So seeing a foot that resembles something known as an ostrich or cassowary but with completely “busted” ankle proportions may subconsciously appear to be wrong.

Speaking of the feet, these also seem slightly large when compared to the bone component alone, but to that must be added the soft tissues, all too often ignored. Real natural casts of Tarbosaurus footprints have been found. From these exceptional finds it was possible to ascertain that in life there must have been some pads that would allow for a greater support surface, so as to better unload the weight of the dinosaur on the ground.

Here too the nails are colored with the same shade of dark green that we have already seen on the hands, at least this time there are no large smudges, however we would expect more care from PNSO. The nails, among other things, are embedded in the pads mentioned above and thus appear smaller than they are.

Little to say about the tail. It has the correct length relative to the rest of the body. All the main muscle groups are clearly visible and above all well reproduced. Perhaps the only aspect that I would feel like criticizing, and this applies to both the tail and the hind limbs, is that in this trying to give as much emphasis as possible to the muscles you lose a little bit of the naturalness of the animal. Above these muscles there where a whole series of soft tissues that should have at least partially masked this overwhelming muscle hypertrophy.

For the coloring. Except for the defects mentioned above, teeth and nails, the paintwork is technically flawless. Unfortunately, PNSO certainly does not shine for its originality in the chromatic choice. The solid color with gradient from green on the back to cream on the belly, with various shades of yellow and pink in this range, will certainly not be counted among the most memorable ones. An extra point in favor only for the yellow crests of the head. The inside of the mouth is well rendered with various shades of pink and red with a glossy effect. The last flaw I would like to add are the practically non-colored nostrils. I don’t feel like rejecting the coloring, however we are on a average level for the PNSO standard and the various smudges are definitely a huge NO for a company that has accustomed us to a much greater attention to detail.

Final remarks. In short, is it worth recovering Chuanzi? It is useless to compare the PNSO with the other tarbosaurs in circulation. If you want an excellent representation of Tarbosaurus, even from a scientific point of view, there is no other choice. A real must buy from this point of view. For a more general public, the value for money is still good. It’s not exactly cheap, but it should be said that you pay the right amount for what you get if we compare it with the top models of other companies. Furthermore, the quality-price ratio is more favorable than the PNSO products of the Museums Series, the top line, where the quality is undoubtedly better in painting but comparable in terms of sculpture.

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