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…
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.
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!
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.
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 😉
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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…