2014 in review – Thank you, goodbye, hello!

Hi y´all!

As the year is coming to an end, WordPress sent me a nice summary of the run of this blog. As I present it here, I also want to take the opportunity to tell you that this blog is now retired in favor of my new one: http://tftheoretician.wordpress.com/

There you will find all the contents from this blog, except the content of the post “A Classification System for Transformers”, which now contains an updated, improved classification system. Please continue to follow me there, and I´ll see you in 2015!

Happy New Year!

Cheers,

The Theoretician

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 360 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Great Transformers Classification Project

Reading the previous post, one might have expected me to start some kind of scale project, which indeed has been done from time to time elsewhere on the internet, I am however attempting to take on something that according to my knowledge has never been attempted before: To classify Transformers according to their anatomy and transformation schemes!

First, a disclaimer, I do not claim in any way that an effort such as this one is in any way necessary, rather, call it being nerdy about being nerdy… Some just like Transformers, whereas some people get obsessive about some kind of aspect about them, adding another layer of nerdiness by for example memorize running changes of certain toys, how they vary between markets, etc. As for me, I am a biologist by training, and within that field, taxonomy is one of my favorite topics. Thus, I love documenting, classifying and sorting stuff, and Transformers, with its many hundreds of toys, provide an excellent opportunity!

Second; this system is still under development, and any comments are welcome. First it was only intended to describe the G1 Cars and Mini Cars, but I have gradually expanded on the concept so that it can encompass all toys of G1, but given the vast number of toys even in that line there might be transformation schemes not yet accounted for by this system.

Third: The classification system is not meant to serve as an instruction for how to transform a given toy, only to describe its general anatomy. Thus, the order of which the transformation steps is written in the designation for a certain toy does not necessarily represent the correct order of steps for transforming it.

Having that said, let´s explore my classification system. To make the concept more concrete, I will use Sideswipe as an example, one of the most basic TF toys I could think of. Here goes…

1. Segments – Locate the head 

When classifying insects, one usually counts segments and study what appendages they have. In fact, vertebrates are segmented, too. This approach is the starting point for my classification system. Study the picture below:

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IIlustrated is a car, the arguably most archetypical alt mode, nose pointing to the left. It is divided into three segments; the hood (A), the “cabin” (B) and the rear part (C). The first question we ask, is: In which segment is the head of the robot concealed? The answer to this question will determine if the bot is A-, B- or C-type.

2. Orient the vehicle “head up, chest forward”

Having identified where the head is located, orient the vehicle so that it in robot mode will have its head facing up and its chest facing forward (towards you). First, does the vehicle stand on its rear, on its nose, or does it stay on its wheels? Second, do you have to rotate the vehicle for the chest to point forwards?

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As you can see, we first get three basic types; A, or “rear standers”, B or “center standers” and C, or “nose standers”. Further, if they requite rotation for their chest to face forwards, an “R” is added for “reversed” or “rotated”. Also, a center stander might, at least hypothetically, stand on its roof, in that case a “U” for “upside down” is added. This gives us eight hypothetical types; A, AR, B, BR, BU, BUR, C and CR. Note however that the types BR, BU and BUR are hypothetical, as I am yet to encounter toys belonging to this category (at least in G1). Below are examples of characters/toys of the existing types:

A: Jazz, Sideswipe, Dead End, Gears, Punch

AR: Counterpunch, Point Blank, Boss

B: Optimus Prime, Trailbreaker, Ironhide, Camshaft, Thunder Clash

C: Bumblebee, Tracks, Sunstreaker

CR: Siren, Hosehead

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Above: Four classic G1 toys representing the four most common body types: Sideswipe (A), Optimus Prime (B), Bumblebee (C) and Siren (CR)

When oriented for robot mode, Sideswipe is “stand on rear” and don´t need rotation for facing forwards, thus, he is type “A”.

3. Identify the transformation mode for the three segments

At this point, we have to identify how the respective segments transform. While there is admittedly endless variation to transformation schemes, there is however a few basic movements of parts that is deployed, and they each are assigned a figure in this system. We start transforming the toy from head to feet.

Head-containing segment

Here follows an illustration of the basic ways of revealing the head, 10 mechanisms numbered 0-9. Note that for case 8 and 9 there might not be a proper segment involved in the head reveal, in these cases the head originates from the inside of the torso segment (B).

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Left: Basic head reveal transformation schemes. Right: Sideswipe demonstrating head reveal type 4.

In other words, if we take Sideswipe, his designation this far would be “A4”.

Torso segment

Here, the main issue is to identify how the arms are formed. I have identified nine main transformation schemes, numbered 0-8:

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Left: Basic arm reveal transformation schemes 0-8. Right: Sideswipe, with arm reveal scheme “1” clearly displayed

For Sideswipe, having arm reveal scheme 1, we now get “A41”.

Leg segment

Here I have identified 16 (!) basic patterns, numbered 0-15.

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Left: The 15 basic schemes. Right: Sideswipe, displaying a leg split (scheme 1).

Having reached this point, we now have the following designation for Sideswipe: A411. 

4. Adding detail

Sideswipe has a quite straightforward transformation scheme. However, there are a couple of small steps that the designation developed above does not cover; that his legs expand and that his feet flip out. Now, this is not really a big, defining feature of Sideswipe´s anatomy, but nevertheless there. By adding small letters behind the figures designating the main segments we can display such minor, yet distinctive features. For the leg expansion, we add a small “e” after the number designating the torso segment, and In the case of flip-out feet, we add a small “f”, after the number designating the leg segment. Thus, we get this: A41e1f

…for explaining this:

instr_sideswipe

Except for where stickers are applied and weapons mounted, of course.

Now, let us try a few more…

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Bumblebee: C-type, backward head flip reveal, shoulder split arm reveal leg expansion, backward quarter flip for feet: C91e7

instr_gears

Gears: A-type, pre-exposed face, shoulder split arm reveal, forward knee flip: A014

As it turns out, we will need to add a few more concepts for taking on the B-type bots, such as Optimus Prime, but let´s save some fun for part 2! 😉 Until then, consider this:

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Above: Sunstreaker and Sideswipe – Nearly identical as cars, strikingly different as robots.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker are often referred to as “brothers”, based on the fact that they both transform into Lamborghini Countachs. Why don´t we try to see how related they really are – anatomically? First we have Sideswipe´s designation; A41e1f.

Now let´s take a look at Sunstreaker, skipping the fine detals; C-type, Quarter back flip head reveal, fold from back arm reveal, leg extension and quarter back flip foot formation: C72e7! How can he be brothers with Sideswipe when they don´t even share the basic body type? They certainly seem to come from different molds, even though they share the same disguise…

Just wanted to sort that out 😉 😀

Thanks to BotchtheCrab for providing instruction manuals and Seibertron and TFWiki for ever great reference photos!

Scale, Or The Utter Lack Thereof…

All right, let´s get to a classic, but most frustrating concept in the Transformers universe: Scale! Or rather, the utter lack of scale consistency…

Since the Transformers franchise was created through putting together transforming toy robots from a variety of Japanese toy lines, where some turned into cars, some turned into jets, and yet others into small, electronic devices, problems were bound to arise…

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Above: Actually, scale was not even consistent within the Diaclone toy line, the main contributor to Transformers

If we look at the original Transformers cartoon, there were actually set rules for how the different characters would scale to each other:

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Above: Tekering´s excellent expanded version of the Sunbow scale chart

Note, however, that this chart directs how the characters are supposed to scale to each other in robot modes. As soon as we start to take into account that they actually transform into stuff, problems immediately arise…

The first and obvious problem is the glaring size disparity between what I call “vehicle bots” and “device bots”. While the archetypical Transformer today arguably is one turning into a car, as do the greater part of the Autobot faction, some of the most iconic characters, foremost on the Decepticon side, do not. One of these is Megatron, the Decepticon leader, who transforms into a handgun. In the cartoon, he is frequently depicted as fighting Optimus Prime, and as robots they seem evenly matched in size and strength, like in this classic duel on top of the Sherman dam…

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However, remember that while Prime transforms into a truck, Megatron turns into a meager handgun. They should rather be scaled something like this…

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Even the classic rule “Autobots turn into cars, Decepticons turn into jets” becomes troublesome. Here is the Autobot Jazz giving Starscream a good kick in the chest…

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But given that Jazz transforms into a Porsche and Starscream into an F-15 Jet, their robot modes should be scaled something like this…

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The solution to this problem is implicit (explicit?) size shifting, or mass shifting, as it is usually referred to in the TF fandom. How it works is never explained in the original comic or cartoon, it is just there somehow, as an additional aspect of transforming. This allows for a number of inconsistencies, like Autobot members simultaneously being able to turn in to full sized cars and ride each others´ car modes…

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Honk Honk! Hoist riding Huffer…

A whole Decepticon crew being able to fit into Astrotrain…

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Right: Starscream boarding Astrotrain in train mode. Left: Astrotrain in robot mode beside the very same Starscream…  

And of course, Megatron shifting size as he pleases…

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Above: Starscream wielding Megatron, Megatron wielding Starscream… 

As a child, I treated size shifting with a bit of suspense of disbelief just like everyone else, but as I grew older I found it increasingly hard to accept this concept. After all, it is just a consequence of the Transformers character gallery being based on toys originally not intended to be in scale with each other, a necessary evil rather than a deliberate choice made for the Transformers concept intended to add something to it. As much as I love the characters Megatron and Soundwave, I highly dislike their size-shifting ability and would prefer them just to turn into vehicles like most other Transformers do… Which they have done, in some iterations. But if I would claim those wore the more reasonable, or even valid, versions of the characters I would get a whole lot of old school fans (of which I´m supposedly one) against me…

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Above: The ultimate Megatron and Soundwave, in my book

Adult collectors have various ways of relating to the scale issue. Most just throw any ambition of achieving consistency out of the window and say “simply enjoy every individual figure for what it is”. This is indeed a healthy way of enjoying Transformers while avoiding thinking too hard or seriously about them, but as for me, I have a concept in mind… Which I will return to in a future post, wait for it… 😉

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Until then, enjoy a picture of a pickup truck wielding a jet!

How I Got Into Collecting Again, or, the Great G1 Revival

The year was 2005 (I think) and casually surfing the web I stumbled over Binaltech, which totally blew my mind. Here we had licensed 1:24 scaled cars in die cast, looking like convincing, realistic models, turning into highly articulated updates of classic Transformers characters!!! After not having given Transformers much thought for about ten years I suddenly was back in the 80s in an instant, only, here we had the kind of toy I dreamed about at the time but never could have! I had a meager student´s income at the time and only felt I could choose one, and I went for Dead End.

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Above: Dead end, two hip joints short of perfection

How come? Well, rather than being 100% nostalgic and opting for one of the classic Autobot cars, I was completely enthralled by the fact that a character as marginal as Dead End, the Stunticon, was awarded a high grade toy like this, realizing the full potential of a character who had up until then being restricted by the simple engineering coming with being a Scramble City limb bot. Upon receiving the toy I was impressed by its heftiness, complex transformation and high detailing, but ultimately I was disappointed by the lack of hip articulation, more reminiscent of an old Scramble City leader than, say, a Cyberjet. Dead End nevertheless was a great display piece and I kept him on a shelf above my TV for years…

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Above: MP-01 Optimus Prime, still the ultimate version according to some (I don´t own this toy, however)

I have understood that I was not in any way unique in my response to Binaltech (in the US released as “Alternators”, without the die cast). Rather, this sub line, starting in 2003 more than anything else was the starting point for what I call “the G1 remake marathon” that persists until this day. Also, another subline debuted in 2003, Masterpiece, with an impressive remake of the classic Optimus Prime, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the brand (2004), and for the first time Prime looked exactly like in the original cartoon in both modes. As Binaltech would eventually be discontinued, the Masterpiece line, with focus on cartoon accuracy, is still going strong. As for me however, I slowly forgot about Transformers again, until a few years later…

In late 2008 I was living in Japan for the first time, and strolling around in a department store in Tokyo I stumbled into this:

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Above: One sleek Seeker…

Although I had never really been a die-hard Starscream fan, this toy spoke right to the little boy in me! And then I saw this:

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Above: Gotta love that conehead…

Ramjet, one of the conehead Seekers, but for the first time with a cartoon-accurate head! Then I saw this:

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Above: In my book, one of the greatest TF toys of all time, period

Skyfire, still one of my all-time favorite Transformers toys, such a perfect amalgamation of the cartoon version of the character and the original G1 toy (the two of which, due to licensing issues, had looked quite different). I had discovered the Classics sub line, or “Henkei! Henkei!”, as it was called here in Japan. This line also catered to adult fans´ nostalgia to a large degree, although the aim here was to make reimaginations of classic G1 characters (but in the spirit of their original design ethos) rather than being slavishly cartoon accurate remakes of them. Either way, it was right up my alley!

I bought the three of them in quick succession, and back home in Sweden they would join Dead End on my TV shelf, soon joined by Revenge of the Fallen Leader Class Optimus Prime which I surprisingly received as a birthday gift from some friends. Still, this was not enough to completely reboot my Transformers collecting habit. However, in 2013, Starscream would once again summon me…

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Above: Gorgeous

I once again lived in Japan, strolled into a local toy store and saw this, Starscreams magnificent, metallic-painted Fall Of Cybertron incarnation, part of the Generations sub-line, the spiritual successor of the Classics subline. I bought this one too, and started googling Transformers pictures intensively on the internet. I eventually found TFWiki, the forums TFW2005 and Seibertron, with its comprehensive toy photo galleries, Botch the crabs impressive TF art photo galleries, Cliffbee´s illustrated reviews of rare G1 toys, and I soon got obsessed, reading everything I could about G1 in the US, Europe and Japan, starting to buy an increasing lot of toys on Japanese Amazon (more than my apartment allows display space for) foremost from the Generations line, since I there could find characters as they were portrayed in the excellent IDW comics I now was addicted to. Somewhere along the way I discovered third party companies, and started dreaming about designing my own Transformers toys one day, and lo and behold, I have made a few steps in that direction! But more on that in later posts…

This year, 2014, marks the 30th Anniversary of the Transformers franchise, and it seems as vital and inventive as ever. I don´t know how long I will keep my interest going at this intensive level of commitment, but I know for sure now that I am a Transformers fan for life, and a proud one at that!!!

Generation 2 (1993-1995)

While Takara quit their Transformers toy output for a few years in 1993 and Hasbro in Europe just kept on churning out toys, Hasbro US came back in 1992 with Transformers: Generation 2, marking the first time the franchise had a subtitle in the West. This labeling would carry over to Europe in 1994 and in Japan in 1995, which was also the year when the short-lived generation ended altogether due to poor sales. Durings its short run, the sub-franchise was accompanied by some media in the form of a new Marvel comic book and a TV series consisting of repackaged episodes of the original cartoon. Generation 2 was not a big commercial success, and is sometimes derided by fans for being mostly about reissues of G1 toys in gaudy, tasteless, “neon” colors, but while there is a fair share of this, the line also offered a fine selection of new toys, having impact on the franchise until this day, more than some would admit…

G2toy_laser_optimus_prime800px-G2Megatron_toy

Above: G2 incarnations of classic leaders, Laser Optimus Prime (1995) and “Tank Megatron” (1993)

1992

This year mostly saw the re-release of a bunch of Generation One toys, including Optimus Prime and Starscream, with some new detailing and sound boxes. Further, the toys being released as Axelerators and Skyscorchers in Europe at the time were released as Color Flashes with slightly modified decos and new character names. This year however saw one, in my eyes monumental, innovation; Megatron got a new toy, except for his Action Master the first since 1984, but this one did not transform into a gun, but a tank! Since I am not a big fan of “small object” alternative modes as they require size-shifting to make sense, this was a most welcome development, even though I was not so invested in Transformers at the time. For me, this is the ultimate alt mode of Megatron, much more in line with his personality and imposing stature than a feeble handgun. For the G1 purists who say that Megatron should be “gun not tank”, I answer “a tank is a big f—cking armored gun on threads”!

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Above: Combat Heroes Optimus Prime and Megatron (Sureshot and Archforce in Europe)

1994

This year saw a few more new molds, among them a new version of Optimus Prime (treated as another character, “Sureshot”, in Europe) with a bellows-powered missile launcher. This was the first Optimus mold who turned into a truck that was not of the classic cab over enginge-type, which would set something of a standard for the future. Megatron in turn got a new tank mold, also with a bellows-powered missile (this toy was dubbed “Archforce” in Europe).

G2_Electro_toy G2_Jolt_toy

Above: The Laser Rods Electro and Volt

Further, we saw the sub groups Laser Rods and Rotor Force, both with Autobot and Decepticon members. The Laser Rods were a bunch of hot rod style cars who turned into robots with fist holes with a small light inserted into them, allowing their swords to glow. The Rotor Force transformed into a variety of vehicles with propellers that could be dispatched as projectiles. Finally, we saw the big Decepticon jet Dreadwing, who was partnered with a smaller jet, Smokescreen. Overall, a nice assortment of toys with innovative gimmicks that did not intrude on the overall design of the toys.

800px-HooliganG2-toySkyjack-toy

Above: Two of the groundbreaking Cyberjets, Hooligan and Skyjack

1995

1995 saw one of the greatest versions of Optimus Prime ever released; Laser Optimus Prime! This toy was large, fully articulated and jam packed with gimmicks; while the robot had the same light up fist feature as the Laser Rods the year before, complete with a gun and giant sword, his trailer turned into an impressive battle station firing big missiles (again, bellows-powered) and discs. Other notable releases were the Cyber Jets, the first Transformers toys making extensive use of ball joints, and the two laser cycles, again with light-up features. Two large toys, the Decepticon Auto Rollers, reminiscent of Constructicons, transformed through an automatic mechanism activated by flicking a switch and rolling them along the floor. Last but not least, a subsection of this year´s releases was the Gobots, Transformers turning into cars of the same size, shape and roll-ability as the Hot Wheels cars that were highly popular at the time.

roadrocketroadpig

Above: Overlooked gems? The laser cycles, Road Rocket and Road Pig

In Retrospect

Generation 2 was short-lived indeed, but nevertheless brought its share of innovations for the franchise. First, by adopting the sub-title “Generation 2”, all Transformers released up until that point became retroactively known as “Generation One”. A not so small share of today´s adult Transformers fans are highly motivated by nostalgia, and are only interested in reissues and remakes of toys from the Generation One era, they are sometimes deridingly called “Gee-wunners” for their seeming inability to appreciate anything invented after 1990, or even 1985. Second, the incarnations of Optimus Prime and Megatron from this era have become iconic in their own right, setting a standard for many subsequent versions of the characters. Third, the ball joint design of the Cyberjets set a new standard for subsequent Transformers engineering, one that persists to this day, ensuring highly articulated toys.

G2toy_gobot_prime Megatron-G2GoBot

Above: Optimus Prime and Megatron in their somewhat less impressive Gobot incarnations…

Generation 2 was discontinued in 1995 and followed by Beast Wars in 1996, the first real reinvention of the Transformers franchise, and a huge success. Since I was never personally invested in this sub-franchise I will not cover it in this blog, but I appreciate it for helping carrying the franchise out of a few bleak years. As for me, I did not return to Transformers until the mid 00´s when I stumbled over Binaltech… but that´s another story. 😉

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Above: Battle Sentinel, indie developer Maketoy´s unofficial celebration of Laser Optimus Prime, and the upcoming latest incarnation of a tank-based Megatron

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Thanks to TFWiki and Cliffbee for providing the photos for this article!

Europe Post 1990 G1: A Short, But Significant Transitional Period

Living in Sweden (although having given up on Transformers after their Action Master blunder, turning to Dino Riders and TMNT instead) I never experienced any disappearance of Transformers, as my younger brothers and cousins kept on getting new toys. In Europe, Generation One was not discontinued after the 1990 fiasco in the US, but carried on with both reissues of classic early Transformers toys, as well as new ones.

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Above, left: European 1991 poster with repuposed Brainmasters in the foreground, Overlord looming in the background Above, right: Action Master battle panorama, box backside art, same year

1991

This year foremost saw a bunch of new Action Master (of which some were actually transformable!), many re-releases of early G1 classics, but also a number of toys imported from Japan, most notably Overlord, but also the three Brainmasters originally forming Road Caesar, but without the combiner parts for doing so, additionally, they had new color schemes and names and were called “the Motorvators”.

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Above: Overlord, the most notable release in the 1991 European assortment, all modes displayed

1992

This year got real interesting, with the two teams Turbomasters (Autobots) and Predators (Decepticons). The Turbomasters all had guns with spring-fired projectiles, guns that could be integrated into their vehicle (car) modes. Their Leader Thunder Clash transformed from a truck, with the cab becoming the robot and the trailer an imposing battle station, not unlike Optimus Prime. Thunder Clash was also dubbed the new Autobot Leader. The team also had an airborne member, Rotorstorm, transforming into a helicopter with the same kind of spring-firing guns as the others.

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Above: Turbomasters; Flash, Scorch, Rotorstorm and the mighty Thunder Clash

On the Decepticon side there was the jet fighter team the Predators, also with spring-fired projectiles, but more notably, with a gimmick were each of the small jets could be mounted on one of the bigger members, Skyquake (leader and jet) or Stalker (tank) upon which their primary Turbo Master rival could be seen in the scopes for the weapons of the bigger toys. Further, the Predators were the first Transformers toys making use of light-piping, where part of the head of the toy is made out of transparent plastic, allowing for light to shine out of their eyes, giving the illusion of them being lit up. Both the Turbomasters and Predators would be reused in the sub-brand Machine Wars in 1997, but renamed to classic Transformers characters with new color schemes.

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Above: Predators; Falcon, Snare, Stalker and Skyquake

On a side note, five out of four Breastforce members from the Japanese Victory sub-line were also released with new color schemes and names, but unable to form Liokaiser

1993

This year was exclusively comprised out of new toys, of which some would see release in the US, where Generation 2 took off in 1993. Many of the toys would however be remain exclusive to European markets.

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Above: Zap, an Axelerator (in the US unfortunately enough renamed “Windbreaker” and Hawk, a Skyscorcher (later renamed Eagle Eye in the US)

First off we had the Autobot car team Axelerators, with weapons integrated in their car modes, and the Decepticon jet team Skyscorchers, both of which were released with slightly different color schemes in the US G2 as Color Flashes. Second, we had the Aquaspeeders and Stormtroopers, Autobot and Decepticon car teams, respectively, who had weapons that could shoot water, and plastic parts which changed color upon getting water on them. Some of these would see US releases, but not all of them.

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Above: Speedstream, an Aquaspeeder (“Deluge” in US G2) and Drench, a Stormtrooper (Never available in the US)

Third, we had the Obliterators, the Autobot Pyro and the Decepticon Clench, both of whose back half of the vehicle mode formed large weapons for the robots. The Lightformers and Trakkons in turn had large weapons with see-through functions simulating laser being fired at enemy targets. All of these never saw US releases and are this considered something of rare curiosities on the international market today.

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Above: Obliterators; the Autobot Pyro (Later “Spark”) and the Decepticon Clench (later “Colossus”)

In Retrospect

So, what is the significance of this short, obscure era? First, the toys carry a distinct esthetical style, not least in terms of often gaudy color schemes. This might be attributed to the fact that the Japanese designer Takao Ejima had at least a hand in designing all of the above mentioned European toys. Second, the sub-group the Predators introduced light-piping, a gimmick adding rather than detracting from toy design, widely used up to this day.

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Above: Pyro, a Lightformer, and Calcar, a Trakkon.

Third, and foremost, I perceive the toys of this era as something of a return to the roots of the Transformers franchise. Sure, all of them have some kind of weapons gimmick, but again, the gimmick is in the weapon, whereas the main toys have their identity not from a gimmick, but from their overall design. Although the toys of this era did not have any medial support and thus never had real characters established for them, they nevertheless dared to exist simply as transforming robots on the merit of their design only, something that was sorely missing during the last years of the G1 US run. And their designs are appealing and quite unique, seemingly with great potential for providing a foundation for appealing and interesting characters.

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Above: Overlord, Rotorstorm, Ironfist and Pyro, as they appear in The Last Stand of the Wreckers

In fact, this assumption was proved correct through the highly popular IDW comic miniseries The Last Stand of the Wreckers, where a number of the characters of this era, including the Turbomaster Rotorstorm, the Lightformer Ironfist, the Obliterator Pyro and the Predators made their first proper medial debut as characters, resulting in the value of their until then often overlooked toys skyrocketing in second hand markets. Overlord, who was the main villain of the story, has even become a modern Transformers icon in the West, despite his toy never having been released in the US market. While Overlord debuted in the Japanese Masterforce sub-line, the other Japanese exclusives of the time has never become quite as iconic as characters, and Last Stand of the Wreckers arguably celebrates him as being part of the European transitional era more than anything else, an era whose significance thanks to the comic has finally become rightfully solidified.

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Thanks to TFWiki, Botch The Crab but foremost Cliffbee without whose photos of rather obscure toys this story would have been much harder to tell!

1989-90, Part II (Plus 1991-92): Takara Blaze Their Own Trail

As mentioned in the previous post, during 1989-90 Transformers in the West were sadly burdened by various experimentation compromising the very integrity of the franchise, resulting in its eventual demise in the US. It however turns out, that Japan had their very own thing going at that time, something I admittedly never took part in first hand as a child, but in retrospect, certainly would have preferred over the toys that were released in Sweden…

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Above: The Transformers Victory cast, 1989

1989 – Victory

The sub-line Victory, to some degree returned the Japanese Transformers continuity to the roots of the franchise, in the sense that the main characters no longer were humans as in Super God Masterforce the previous year, but actual Cybertronian robots. Although little background information is given, we find that the Autobots (“Cybertrons” in Japan) are led by the mighty Start Saber, also head of the elite team called the Brainmasters. They and others are in turn fighting the Decepticon (“Destron” in Japan) Deathsaurus (sometimes written as “Deszaras”) who has his own elite team the Breastforce and others under his command. The theme of the conflict is the Earth´s energy resources which Deathsaurus wishes to drain to empower his return to some kind of dubious glory.

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Above: The Brainmasters, as cars, robots displaying their “Brain set” gimmick, fully transformed, and combined to Road Caesar, a guy with decidedly hefty thighs

Toy-wise, this sub-line had many interesting and original ideas. First off, the Brainmasters had a gimmick where a small robot was pushed into a hollow cavity of the chest of a main robot, and closing the chest forced the small bot upwards leading it to become its face. In the case of Star Saber, the robot with the face reveal, Saber, could in turn transform into the chest of an even bigger robot, the one actually called Star Saber. This particular toy was large, and in the anime he was depicted as being as large as the Gestalts appearing in the same show. One of these was Road Caesar, formed by the other three Brainmaster members. Also worthy of mentioning was the Multiforce, a six-member team where two robots each could form a bigger robot, the three of which could form the Gestalt Landcross. Also, the character Victory Leo (a re-born Ginrai) was Star Sabers sidekick who could combine with him to form the even larger Victory Saber!

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Above: Star Saber´s inner robot Saber, in his powered-up Star Saber mode, his friend Victory Leo, and their combined form, Victory Saber

On the Decepticon side, all the Breastforce had a detachable chest piece which could turn into a Breast Animal, a form of battle mini-partners. The six-member team, excluding Deathsaurus (who was a large toy with two Breast Animals) could further form the Gestalt Liokaiser, who was portrayed as frightenly powerful in the anime, at one point taking on Star Saber and Ginrai at the same time! Toy-wise, this was the first Gestalt ever whose kibble, except for the head, was fully integrated in the individual team members. The bad guys had another Gestalt in Dinoking, who was a repaint of the Western Pretender Monsters Gestalt Monstructor, but with all new dinosaur shells for the individual team members of the group, called the Dinoforce. This team´s role in the anime is foremost that of comical relief.

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Above: Breastforce, the combined form Liokaiser to the left, Deathsaurus to the right. Dinoforce combined to Dinoking, surrounded by their Pretender shells

Something I personally find strange is that the Victory toys never saw proper release in the West. In 1991 and 1992 some members of the Brainmasters and Breastforce were released in Europe, but with different color schemes, names, and most inexplicably, without the parts needed for forming their respective Gestalts. Also, the molds for Star Saber, Victory Leo, the Multiforce and Deathsaurus never saw a use outside of Japan. There has been opinions such as that the Victory designs were too “Anime-ish” to suit a Western audience, but while Star Saber indeed looks like the love child of a Gundam robot and Optimus Prime, he still fits into the general Transformers esthetic and the other Japanese exclusive toys from that year even more so. However, when a Japanese fan poll was arranged for deciding which Autobot leader next would receive a Masterpiece figure, the Japanese fans voted for Star Saber, whose impressive update will hit the stores in early 2015. While Transformers fans are a nostalgic bunch who typically favor the bots they grew up with, I hope this seeming masterpiece of a toy can make a few Western fans widen their horizon a bit 😉

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He will kick tons of ass

1990 – Transformers Zone

1990 saw the Japanese sub-line Zone. Somewhat proving that Transformers were waning in popularity even here, it was not accompanied by a televised animated series, but just a single direct-to-video episode. Further, there were basically no Decepticon/Destron toys released. The focus was on Micromasters, but three big bots were also present, the Powered Masters whose leader Dai Atlas was also the new Autobot Commander. He could combine with the other two, Sonic Bomber and Roadfire, to form an impressive, motorized super vehicle, Big Powered. None of these were released outside of Japan either, and are high-prized collector items today. Dai Atlas has however featured as a character in IDW´s later year comics, as have Star Saber, the latter albeit recast as a villain.

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Above: Sonic Bomber, Dai Atlas, Roadfire in robot modes to the left, combined to Big Powered to the right

1991: Return of Convoy

The Japanese sub-line of 1991 was called Return of Convoy, as Optimus Prime (called “Convoy” in Japan) returned for the first time in many years in the form of Star Convoy, accompanied by Sky Garry and Grandus, with which he, like the powered masters from the previous year, could form a giant, motorized vehicle. These three toys also functioned as Micromaster play sets; a curious detail was that Star Convoy has his own micromaster version of Rodimus Prime! Also worth mentioning from this year is the Micromaster combiner team forming the Gestalt Sixtrain.

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Above, left: Star Convoy, Sky Garry, Sixtrain and Grandus, Micromasters (among them Rodimus) and Micro Trailers in the foreground. Above, right: Star Convoy, Sky Garry and Grandus combined to one giant, motorized monster of a vehicle

I am however even more curious about the character who originally was planned to be this year´s Autobot Commander but ultimately never got a toy produced: Big Bang!!! He would have transformed into a trailer truck not unlike that of Star Convoy (who ultimately replaced him), but apart from his character design sketch and a cameo he made in the Transformer Animated book The Allspark Almanac we know virtually nothing about him. He looks awesome though, Takara or Hasbro, pick the ball up, please!

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Above: Big Bang (Prime), character model and appearance in the Allstar Almanac. Will we ever see a toy?

 1992: Operation Combination

Last but not least, I should mention the last Japanese sub-line in what we commonly refer to as Generation 1: Operation Combination, a sub-line focusing on combining teams. Operation Combintion saw repaints of the classic Special Teams, but also a number of Micromaster combining teams, one of which formed Sixliner, a repaint of Sixtrain. Also worthy of note is that the sub-line included two “normal-sized” teams, the Road Corps and Jet Corps, which were released as the Turbo Masters and Predators in the European market, but more on that in next post.

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Above: The Micromaster Gestalts Sixturbo and SIxbuilder. Note how the vehicles to the right in each picture are formed by their combiner kibble (chest plates, feet, etc)

Again, Operation Combination marked the end of Takara´s first run of Transformers, just like it had ended in the US a couple of years before. At this point the franchise was however being reborn in the West as Generation 2. First, I however want to visit Europe for the first time, one of the markets that never discontinued the toy line…

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Thanks to TFWiki, Seibertron but foremost, Brr-icy for his excellent photos of these rare, Japanese toys, without which it would have been much harder to retell this particular part of Transformers history…