Nostalgia you can play with! Transformers toys transformed a generation and are still going strong.
If I’m being completely honest, Star Wars is my number one passion. After all these years it still speaks to me on an emotional level. The story continues to resonate with me as it does for countless others. But my Star Wars fandom didn’t start till 1991 when I was already 10 years old. Before that….it was Transformers toys.
Sure, there was G.I Joe and He-Man and others, but nothing compared to Transformers.
I can recall the packaging in perfect detail in my mind, and I swear I can still feel the blocky feel of the figures in my hand. Phantom transforming. These toys were the best.
So where did they come from?
It Starts With Takara
The history of the Transformers toy line actually starts in the 1970’s with the Japanese toy company Takara. Takara was producing a line of transforming robot toys under the branding Diaclone, which was also spun off its own predecessor Microman. These had both been selling in Japanese markets since 1974. In 1984, Hasbro purchased distribution rights for the line and brought them overseas to the United States. Rebranded “The Transformers”, the first figures hit the shelves mostly reusing the molds from the Diaclone line. The tv series that also started that year was essentially a 30 minute toy commercial to sell the figures.
I think it goes without saying that it was a huge success.
Transformers toys were a goldmine for Hasbro, primarily because they were so different. There was just nothing else like it on the shelves.
The line continued along with the tv show and ended up going beyond after the series was canceled in 1987. Hasbro released some hits and misses during this time, through different collections like Headmasters, Targetmasters, etc… Mostly to disappointing sales, production stopped in 1990; the line wouldn’t return for two years.
The “return” in 1992 was dubbed “Generation 2” and were mostly the same molds as before, with some paint swaps here and there. It only stuck around for 2 years, and like before, was canned due to poor performance and wouldn’t return until the next wave of cartoons on tv.
Beast Wars And Beyond
New life was breathed into the franchise in 1996 when the show Beast Wars hit the airwaves. Drastically changing concept, the new bots would transform into various animals and insects, very different from what came before. I never really got into this line, call me a purist, I dig my robots as cars/jets/ships and spacey-stuff. But, they were a hit and allowed the franchise to continue. After Beast Wars, new figures would be introduced for the following spin-off and sequel series’ that were airing at the time. For the Robots In Disguise line (2001-2002) some of the main characters went through redesigns to alter their robot modes.
In the Armada line, Mini-Cons were introduced; just mini Transformers that would connect or enhance larger robots. This line also debuted the first Unicron figure, which we had and was totally awesome.
Other lines would include: Universe, Energon, Cybertron and Classics.
Several lines would connect the original G1, or Generation One, to the more modern figures and eventually lead up to the debut of movie line toys. Most of the original concepts for the core figures remained the same. With the exception of some color swaps here and there, or an update on their robot mode, the figures were still recognizable to their earlier counterparts.
In 2007 however the toy line received a huge new addition.
Toys Off The Silver Screen
A new line of Transformer toys hit shelves in 2007, in the lead up to Michael Bay’s Transformers that summer. The new figures drummed up some controversy however; they were very different than anything that came before. Purists argued that they bore no resemblance to characters that they loved, while others accepted the change in stride. I for one loved them and so did my son. He was 4 that year and Transformers hit him in a big way. Great news for me! I got to play with Transformers all over again. They still had a great design even though they were very different from my childhood bots. But the concept was still the same. I am still blown away by the engineering that is present in these toys. It’s an art.
Although I do remember them being easier…maybe I’m just old. Some of them can be downright migraine inducing.
The new line sold though, in fact retailers were not prepared at all. Seriously underestimating the success of this film, stores just did not order enough; plain and simple. Still, the line ushered in fans new and old to these transforming heroes and villains seen on screen. Kids and adults found the characters they saw in the films inspiring and rushed out for the toys just as children had during the 80’s.
With The Last Knight hitting theaters this summer, and several more films in the works, Transformers toys are without a doubt going to be here for a long, long time.
This is the second article in the Rolling Out Transformers: The Last Knight series. You can read the first article here.
Mike Harris hails from the suburbs of Chicago and has been a fan for most of his life. Working as an industrial radiographer and raising a family with his wife take up most of his time, but there’s always room for Star Wars books and podcasts! Just looking to give back to Star Wars and the fan community, it’s been a source of fun and learning for him for so long.