Lazy Luddite Log

30.12.19

Tidying Transformers

Recently Lukas decided to reduce the size of his Transformers collection (which has mostly sat in boxes this century). This resulted in a show-and-tell session among a few friends keen on second-hand Transformers. The focus was on the original era of Transformers now known as Generation One (1984-1990) and this got me thinking all things ‘G1’.

One of the key things I have been pondering is the lack of consistency between the toy line and its accompanying cartoon. The cartoon existed to promote the toys so you would expect a close correspondence between them. However there were many discrepancies between them and herein I present my wish-list for reconciling them with a focus on the years 1984 to 1987. What follows is only for Transformers fans.

Reflector

This is an odd Decepticon that transforms from three robots into one camera. Is Reflector an it or a they? Does Reflector say ‘we’ and if so is it the royal we? In the cartoon it seemed to be one entity. The toy robots however had three separate names. None of this matters much to me but what does matter is inconsistent appearance in the cartoon and on toy shelves.

The cartoon character was there to bolster Decepticon ranks in the short first season of 1984 and was an occasional background character in the longer second season of 1985. It was never seen (except possibly via animation error) later than that however the toy only became available via mail order in 1986! My wish is that it had been available (on shelves even) in 1984-1985. I also have a particular fate in mind for the cartoon character.

In Transformers The Movie (which acts as a pilot for the third season in 1986) we should have seen a battle-damaged Reflector jettisoned by the fleeing Decepticons into deep space and then re-formatted by Unicron into the Sweeps. Three practically identical robots with barely any personality become exactly the same thing but with more useful alt-modes. This makes more sense (particularly in terms of reconciling toy shelves with cartoon seasons) than what did happen.

Soundwave And His Cassettes

Soundwave is a useful Decepticon in the first three seasons of the cartoon and likewise was in the catalogues of 1984 to 1986. This is a wonderful toy and its ability to hold micro-cassette sized minions is the original and still one of the best Transformers ‘play patterns’. However I would have done a few things differently with those cassettes.

Buzzsaw always seemed superfluous to me as the rarely seen other condor of the cartoon. But it was cool for the Soundwave toy to come complete with a cassette. I would rather have seen Soundwave packaged with the non-character drone known as the Autoscout which was only seen in one cartoon episode. Much more recently a ‘third party’ company (in other words a company that pilfers the intellectual property of Hasbro and Takara to make toys for adult collectors) has made the Autoscout and that shows it can be done. I think of this accessory as like Roller is to Optimus Prime.

The other change I would like to have seen was for the other four original cassettes to continue shipping to shops from 1984 to 1986. Later Decepticon Cassettes seem silly or would be better in another faction.

Blaster And His Cassettes

I have mixed feelings about the Autobot counterpart to Soundwave. Blaster is a cool character and yet in some ways detracted from the Autobot Jazz. It is a cool toy and yet way too big – this is one instance in which I think a re-deco of Soundwave may have been better than that hulking boom box.

Blaster lacked minions in 1985 but then got some in 1986 (persisting on toy shelves till 1988 even in his absence). He seemed to do okay by himself and it then made the debut scene of those minions in the movie an exciting one. However I would have replaced Ramhorn with an Autobot incarnation of Ratbat. Something as lumpy and brutish as a rhino seems silly as a cassette (I would say the same thing for later dino-cassettes). And why is it that bats must always be evil? Giving Blaster a winged messenger ('Scatbat') makes him a better match for Soundwave.

Perceptor

This Autobot microscope is cool and I’m happy with his consistent appearance as both character and toy in 1985 and 1986. Only qualm? Why do so many Autobots have to combine the colours red and blue? This toy looked awesome in its original Micro-Change colours.

Decepticon Planes – Autobot Cars – Autobot Mini-Vehicles

I bunch these together as I wish to have seen them following the same basic pattern of appearance and availability. They appear in 1984 and continue into 1985 consistently across both cartoons and catalogues. However in 1986 the Autobot Cars diverge from the pattern maintained by the other two groups.

The norm for most of these is that they appear in cartoon and are available on shelves for two years each (whether 84-85 or 85-86 or 86-87). The exceptions I accept are that a few key characters from 1984 persist into 1986 (Starscream as a ghost and Jazz and Bumblebee as true survivors). However I wish the following had been so:

* In Transformers The Movie I think that Unicron should have re-formatted Thundercracker into Scourge and Skywarp into Cyclonus.

* The ‘coneheads’ should never be seen getting devoured by Unicron. We know they live into the third season so replace them in that scene with generic purple tetra-jets.

* The Autobot Cars of 1985 should have been continued into 1986. Those characters could have been seen helping tidy Autobot City in the movie following the big battle there. Later they could have been in third season background scenes. And those toys could still be sold (whether on shelves on via mail order) in 1986 along with Jazz. However...

* Smokescreen always seemed such a superfluous character and toy to me and there always were too many Autobot Cars. Erase him. And...

* Red Alert is an interesting character but a ridiculous toy – who can accept the existence of a fire department affording an expensive sports car? On the other hand Skids is a distinctive toy mould but a cartoon non-entity. My solution - give the character and markings of Red Alert to the Skids toy and animation model ('Skid Alert').

* Arcee was never made as a toy in the G1 days. However if she had been I suspect she would have been an Autobot Car (with a design somewhat between those of Hot Rod and Blurr). It then follows that in the fourth season she should have become a Targetmaster rather than a Headmaster. The Daniel Witwicky exo-suit could totally be converted into a sweet ray gun.

* We see Cliffjumper survive the movie so surely they could have put his toy on shelves in 1986 alongside Bumblebee. And we never see his re-deco Hubcap in the cartoon so why produce this toy?

* In 1986 both Outback and Pipes get a bit of screen time and dialogue. But I would have liked to see Swerve and Tailgate get more of that (and possibly take some screen time away from Wheelie).

* I would have liked to see those 1986 Autobot Mini-Vehicles sold in 1987 and to see them on shelves rather than the crappy Throttlebots...

* And yet I have always been a bit ambivalent about the Autobot Mini-Vehicles. They are cute and were something a kid could buy with pocket money. But they were simplistic in design and small in scale compared to other toys. They also detracted from the roles of other characters – particular offenders were Cosmos, Powerglide and Warpath. Were they all needed?

Shockwave

Shockwave was never on shelves in Australia as far as I recall. At a similar time however we could get the grey ‘Shackwave’ toy from Tandy Electronics. Most of the 1984-85 Transformers had been designed by Takara in Japan and licensed to Hasbro in the US and beyond to become Transformers. Shockwave however came from a South Korean company called ToyCo who licensed the design to different users in different parts of the world.

Catalogues told us that Shockwave was only on shelves (in the US) in 1985. He was an important recurring cartoon character however in 1984 and 1985. He was last seen in the 1986 movie and presumed dead. I would propose changes to this. Either have the toy on shelves in 1984-85 or 1985-86. And give him a small but key role in the third season as the only Decepticon suspicious of the Quintessons in the Five Faces Of Darkness story (since he is far smarter and more conscientious than Blitzwing).

Megatron to Galvatron

Megatron is featured in the 1984-1985 catalogues and seasons and that works fine. Then he is re-formatted by Unicron into the clunky and mad Galvatron for 1986-1987 – once more this is fine. I prefer the colouration of the toy over the animation model - it has better continuity with Megatron and contrasts better with his lieutenants. I would have liked to see the toy share shelves with Powermaster Oprimus Prime and possibly even be re-tooled to fit a Nebulan figure (say as a power pack fitting his cannon connector).

Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime is featured in the 1984-1985 catalogues and seasons and that works fine. Then his character is resurrected in 1987 but the new Powermaster toy of Optimum Prime only hits shelves in 1988. I would like to have seen these reconciled. The latter toy has its pros and cons – I like that it brings Prime to the same size as Galvatron but will forever lament its introduction of faux-parts to Transformers.

Dinobots - Constructicons – Insecticons

These three groups all have similar profiles in toy and cartoon continuity but I wish to see them be more consistent. All three sets of toys were on shelves in 1985-1986. The corresponding characters however debut with much fanfare part way into the 1984 season and continue to be prominent in 1985. They become background characters in 1986 (with the exception of Grimlock who becomes a key participant in Autobot adventures). However there is the problem of what happens to the Insecticons in the movie.

The Insecticons are shown to be jettisoned and reformatted (like Thundercracker and Skywarp). I think they should have stayed with the Decepticons and participated in the leadership ‘debate’ (stating that they would support whoever could promise them the most energon).

There is also the matter of the Deluxe Insecticon toys. These came from the Japanese company Takatoku Toys and have a very different look and feel from the standard Insecticons. They were never cartoon characters and that makes sense to me. Also I cannot recall seeing them in Australian shops. I suspect these toys would look okay in a later Beast Wars display.

I think the Dinobot and Consctructicon toys could have been a tad bigger. And finally surely Hook should have been the Constructicon leader since he becomes head-and-shoulders of gestalt Devastator.

Jetfire or Skyfire

Jetfire also came from Takatoku toys and the same exact design was a prominent part of the popular Macross or Robotech franchise as a mech. Some distance between these two uses of the same product design was needed and so the corresponding Transformers cartoon character was given a distinct animation model and the name 'Skyfire'. He debuted (also with much fanfare) partway into the 1984 season but his prominence quickly waned into 1985. This may be partly due to the complex ownership issues and partly to make way for another large flying Autobot. However the Jetfire toy was on shelves in 1985-1986.

I would have liked to see Skyfire one more time in the 1986 movie. I imagine a scene at the start of the battle for Autobot City in which Ultra Magnus commands Skyfire to ‘get the humans far away from here’. He transforms and we then see Carly, Chip and Sparkplug all rush up his ramp before he takes off over the horizon.

Deluxe Autobot Vehicles

Whirl and Roadbuster also came from Takatoku and like Jetfire were unusually complex for the time. They were in catalogues for 1985-1886 but never made into cartoon characters. This is likely due to the problems (similar to that of Skyfire) of clashing with a Japanese cartoon (Special Armoured Battalion Dorvack) in which they were mechs. Then there is also the fact that there were plenty of Autobots anyway. They could have been intriguing background characters in ancient history flashbacks or scenes on distant worlds I guess.

Jumpstarters & Battlechargers

The two Autobot Jumpstarters were Takara products so were free of legal issues. However they were never made into cartoon characters. I wonder whether the gimmick of these toys – automatic quick transformation – was rendered useless in a cartoon that made that ability the norm. Mind you the later two Decepticon Battlechargers had that same gimmick and yet were made into cartoon characters. Once more is it that there were too many Autobots?

I think Topspin and Twintwist could have been given interesting guest roles in space-faring adventures – do that and fewer cartoon-only characters like Devcon from 1985 would have needed creating. Or I can see them having filled the roles that were given to Powerglide and Warpath.

The Battlechargers simply appear in the 1986 season as if they had always been there. I imagine a cute origin story for Runamuck and Runabout in saying that they were initially the ‘Watchdog’ cars seen in The Ultimate Doom story.

The Jumpstarts and Battlechargers only appeared on shelves in 1985 and 1986 respectively. It would have been cool if each group was in stores for two years rather than one.

Autobot & Decepticon Triple-Changers

In 1985 there were just two Decepticon Triple-Changers. That got me thinking they could be the arch-rivals of the Autobot Jumpstarters of that same year. But in 1986 another Decepticon and three new Autobot Triple-Changers were added. One of them is among the worst Transformers designs ever – Broadside – who is crappy in all three modes. I would be happy if this one had never existed and it would be tempting to have re-assigned optionally-winged Autobot Car Tracks to the Triple-Changers.

These toys never made it beyond the 1986 line. I would have liked to see the newer ones or even all of them persist into 1987. They are fiddly and flawed toys but pretty cool as characters. Of those characters I would have liked to see Blitzwing have a bit more screen time in 1986 and for Sandstorm to have always been a normal Autobot rather than the only decently-drawn refugee from Paradron. I however cannot cope with all the Decepticons fitting inside Astrotrain in the movie – surely there was some extra spaceship they could have commandeered!

Omega Supreme

The huge toy of this character was licensed from a company called Toybox. Both toy and character were in currency during 1985-1986. It is an impressive if very clunky play-set but I sometimes wonder at another role for its character. In some episodes set on Cybertron we see a number of ‘Guardian Robots’ using a very similar design to Omega Supreme. Since then the toy has been redecorated to represent these ancient non-aligned drones. I wonder if this toy (in whatever colouration) could have wholly and solely represented a neutral character. Imagine your biggest toy as something that can potentially endanger both sides of the conflict you are playing out. Or what if it is an objective both sides seek to control? I have always liked the notion of more than three sides. Also this could allow for a character like Skyfire to more effectively fulfill the role given him as large flying Autobot.

Ultra Magnus

This toy was a Takara original and similar in many ways to what became Optimus Prime. However his introduction was held off in both cartoon and stores till 1986 and then persisted into 1987. I wonder if it would have been cool to see this loyal deputy share some of the action with similar yet rival character Shockwave (possibly in an Americanized version of the Scramble City cartoon special). One thing I would have liked to see Magnus do more of in the cartoon is transport smaller Autobots in car mode.

Scramble City Combiners

This is a Japanese term which denotes all the combiners introduced with a shared gimmick that the gestalt limbs can take on the role of any limb of any of the super-robots. It is a more versatile and fun method than that of the Constructicons. However like them I also wish these toys were somewhat bigger – the combiners should have stood as tall as the ‘city commanders’ Ultra-Magnus and Galvatron.

Four groups – Aerialbots, Stunticons, Protectobots, Combaticons – debuted late in the 1985 cartoon season. Another two groups - Technobots and Terrorcons – debuted late in the 1986 season. In all cases these characters arrived sooner than corresponding toys into shops. The original four groups were in the 1986-1987 catalogues. The next two were on shelves in 1987-1988. All or most groups were seen in the short 1987 cartoon season. This is all fine but the one change I would have liked to see is for all six groups to get specific origin episodes. Most do but some are just there.

Metroplex & Trypticon

Large citadel robots were toys and characters starting in 1986. Most are never as impressive in scale as one would imagine but they do have a lot of play value. The two I name were designed to scale with the limb-sized vehicles of Scramble City so I suppose these too could have been up-sized somewhat.

There is an alternative to these that I think would have been cool. Rather than larger Transformers that try to be play-sets how about some truly larger play-sets of key settings? Parts of them could still ‘transform’ but be free of the need to be a robot. Each product could then be packaged with a Transformer as an extra attraction. All we ever got along these lines was mail order cardboard dioramas.

Rodimus Prime

Rodimus Prime is the more mature form of Hot Rod. However this maturity is dependent on him possessing the Autobot Matrix of Leadership – take it away and he is once more Hot Rod. This trans-generational character was in both the 1986-1987 seasons. Likewise both the Rodimus Prime toy and the Autobot Car or Targetmaster toy of Hot Rod co-existed on shelves in 1986-1987.

I wonder whether the Rodimus Prime incarnation could have been a cartoon-only character and whether we needed the toy at all. It existed in a very crowded space filled by greater truck robots like Optimus Prime in 1984-85, Ultra Magnus in 1986-87, and Powermaster Optimus Prime in 1988-89. However I do enjoy the adventures of this stressed and sardonic character that had leadership thrust on him and never entirely adjusts to it.

Skylynx

This twin-modular beast and transporter was licensed from ToyBox and serves a similar role among the Autobots to Omega Supreme. Both toy and character were extant in 1986-1987. I’m fine with this and think of Skylynx as cool and quirky. One qualm – he is yet another red-white-blue Autobot – how about something different. Orange was a traditional colour of Autobot ships so that combined with white and black would have been striking.

Predacons

The Predacons are another striking set of Transformers that were in catalogues and cartoon in 1986-1987. They were fun but did they have to be so big? These beasts surely should be smaller than Dinobots. The gestalt of Predaking would have been fine with a similar stature to the other combiners.

Wreck-Gar & Gnaw

1986-1987 was the time for both these toys and characters. Wreck-Gar was an Autobot but from the very independent and isolated clan of Junkions. Gnaw was the name given to a toy depicting the cartoon Sharkticons. It was listed as a Decepticon but in the cartoon the Sharkticons were non-aligned slaves to the alien Quintessons. I would have liked to see more toys acknowledged as non-aligned or independent of sides. And I would also like to have seen these toys be smaller and less expensive.

Nebulans – Pretenders – Micromasters - Action-Masters

From 1987 onward I become far less invested in the later gimmick-laden and clunky Transformers. However some concepts are still fun (and recent re-imaginings of some in Generations have tended to make them better). Trends worth mentioning are...

* In 1987 the Nebulans were depicted in the cartoon as human-like aliens who choose to bionically bond with Transformers partners. They don suits that allow them to become the guns or heads and (in 1988) the engines of particular Autobots and Decepticons. Hence we got Targetmaster, Headmaster and Powermaster toys. These have pros and cons. For instance the Headmasters (and only the Headmasters) have room for Nebulan drivers to fit – a nifty touch. However if you lose that Nebulan then your robot is rendered headless!

* In 1988 the Pretenders were introduced and these are small Transformers encased in large non-transforming action figure shells that looked like something from Masters Of The Universe or Centurions. It would have been cool however if the basic concept of shells with innards had taken another path. The Trans-Organics of cartoon episode Dweller In The Depths deserved toys. Separate parts depicting both organic and mechanical components that can be mixed-and-matched and that indulged in the ‘gross and gruesome’ toy trend of the late-80s could have been fun.

* In 1989 Micromasters hit shelves and were pretty much the Micro-Machines of the Transformers franchise. They were surprisingly good toys for the size and came with cool transports and play-sets. At that scale you could collect a whole world of action for a lot less cost and display space. I feel you would have to regard theirs as a separate story unless you wanted to display them with citadel robots to accentuate the scale of those much larger toys.

* In 1990 the original Transformers line came to a close with Action Masters. These were small non-transforming action figures of Transformers characters that nonetheless came packaged with pets or vehicles that did transform. They felt like Transformers imitating G I Joe or Mask. What I would have liked is if cartoon characters that had never transformed had been given action figures. It would be awesome even now to have some toy depictions of Lithons and Quintessons and so forth.

* * * * *

There was a lot of fiddly 'fact' checking in all that. Websites I consulted in writing this are the ever-informative and entertaining TF Wiki (particularly for cartoon characters) and Botch The Crab for scanned catalogues.

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