Transformers: A History of the Toys, Movies, and Cartoons
Transformers Original Cartoon Opening Theme
Transformers: A History of the Toys, Movies, and Cartoons
Transformers were one of my favorite toys growing up. Admittedly, they are still one of my favorite toys today. My friends and customers know that I am a Transformers fanatic. As much as I am into toys, it’s hard not to have friends who enjoy them as much as I do. I often find myself answering their questions regarding the various toy and storylines regarding the transforming robots from another place in space and time. The entire Transformers series has a long and complex history. Here, I have collected a number of the key points of the Transformers legacy and put them in chronological order for others with similar interests to have a look over and hopefully find something new.
Transformers Generation 1, Series 1
The earliest inception of the Transformers came about when Hasbro licensed a series of transforming robots from Japanese toy company Takara. Takara and Hasbro had a pre-existing business relationship with their partnership on the G.I. Joe action figure. The process began in 1983 when Hasbro attended the Tokyo Toy Show. By 1985, the series launched, but it did not just launch as a toy line. Hasbro had gone all out on this one. The worked with Marvel Comics after having success with the G.I. Joe comic book produced by Marvel to support the Hasbro produced action figures. Jim Shooter, Dennis O’Neil and Bob Budiansky pulled together to create a main story as well as profiles and names for each of the Transformers. The toy line was also supported by an animated television series upon release as well.
Takara had a variety of lines that were tapped to help create the iconic Autobots and Decepticons. The Takara Diaclone or Inchman series served as the basis for the Decepticon Seeker Jets, Optimus Prime, and Autobot Cars. Meanwhile, Takara’s Microman series was selected for such figures as Megatron, Soundwave (and his tape-transforming cohorts), and Minibots.
Takara had actually tried to sell Transformers in the U.S. market before there were transformers. This may have been an attempt to rid themselves of excess Diaclone stock or it may have been a legitimate attempt to test the market for the transforming robot toy line. These two toys were known as Kronoform and Diakron. The line was met with less than stellar success.
Transformers Jetfire G1
Transformers Generation1, Series 2
With the unbridled success of the U.S. conceived Transformers storyline, more molds are licensed from Takara to Hasbro. From the Diaclone series, Hasbro would find more Transformers including the Dinobots, Insecticons, Constructicon Combiners, 3 more types of Seekers, and more Autobot Cars. Microman would provide the mold for the Autobot Blaster and his transforming cassette tapes. It was also at this time, however, that Hasbro began looking elsewhere for other ideas for their Transformers.
Bandai, an exclusively Japanese company at the time, would license the molds Jetfire, Deluxe Insecticons, Roadbuster, Whirl, and possibly Omega Supreme. These molds had been acquire by Bandai from the failed Takatoku, another Japanese toy manufacturer. Takatoku has too aggressively pursued what they dubbed the “perfect transformation robot.” Bandai picked up most of these molds, although it also appears some molds were picked up by a U.S. toy company called Select who released them as Convertors.
Hasbro also found molds in other, less likely suspects. Shockwave, a futuristic, ray gun looking Decepticon, for example is shown to have come from Radio Shack under their own private label toys at the time. Blitzwing, one of the first triple changers if not the first, may have existed previously in Japan. Astrotrain, on the other hand, was most likely a totally new design and mold just for the Transformers line. One example of the burgeoning transforming robot market was molds that Bandai sold to Tonka, which became the GoBots. At the time, Tonka and Hasbro were competitors.
As the success of the Transformers continued for Hasbro, other toy manufacturers were scrambling to create their own version of transforming heroes and villains. Molds from additional sources in Japan were being bought up before Hasbro had a chance. So, for the third series of Transformers toys, Takara and Hasbro would need to develop all new molds and toys. They ended up producing a number of fan favorite Transformers then with included the Autobot City Metroplex, the Aerialbot Cominers (aka Superion), and the Combaticon Combiners (aka Bruticus). These newer Transformer combiners were different from the original combiner Constructicons as they had different connecting mechanisms so they could be interchangeable. These would include Menasor and Computron. This would prove to be the standard for the next few years.
Over the next several years, the partnership between Takara and Hasbro would continue to bloom. The two companies would see to following their formula for success. And, in so doing, they introduced a multitude of new ideas in consecutive Transformers series.
The Transformers Animated Movie
Transformers: The Movie (Animated)
The animated Transformers movie was released in 1986. It had been in development for a few years at this point. The toy line slated to follow the movie had done away with all previous Autobot and Decepticon molds, allowing Hasbro to start with a clean slate. This decision was made prior to realizing the existing Transformers would have been met with such success and become icons. Prior to the animated movie coming out, Transformers and their associated media were referred to as Scramble City in Japan.
Headmasters and Micromasters came later, but it wasn’t really a line I got into. I’ll be sure to dig up information on these lines later.
The Transformers Animated Movie Intro: Check Out the Tunes!
Transformers Battle Beasts
In 1986 or 1987, Battle Beats were released in Japan. In Japan, they were featured in an episode of Transformers, but they were not officially connected with the U.S. Transformers in any way. This would pave the way for the U.S. Beast Wars saga, which was still to come.
Transformers Generation 2
At its core, Transformers G2 was merely a re-release of previously existing Autobots and Decepticons after the decline of the toy line in the United States. G2 quickly found their way to clearance shelves just as Beast Wars was hitting the shelves in the mid-1990’s.
With the success of the closeout pricing on Generation 2 Transformers through Kay-Bee Toy Stores, Kay-Bee commissioned the manufacturing of Machine Wars. Machine Wars utilized mold that had been made for Transformers Generation 2 toys. The toys from these molds had not yet been released in the U.S., but some had hit shelves in the United Kingdom.
Rough Transformers Timeline
- Pre-1984/1985 Pre-TF (Pre-Transformers): Diaclone (aka Inchman) and Microman Lines by Takara
- 1984/1985: Hasbro devises the Transformers Story-Arc
- 1985: TF Generation 1 (G1) Series 1 (S1)
- 1985: Go-bots/Diakron/Kronoform
- 1986: TF G1 S2
- 1986: Takatoku/Bandai provide molds for Deluxe Insecticons/Roadbuster/Whirl
- 1986: US G1 S3/Scramble City
- 1986: Gestalt Combiners
- 1986: TF The Movie
- 1987: Targetmasters
- 1987: Headmasters
- 1989: Micromasters
- 1990: Pretenders
- 1991: Battle Beasts
- 1992: Generation 2
- 1995: Beast Wars
- 1998: Machine wars
- 1998: Transmetals
- 1999: Beast Machines
- 2000/2001: Car Robots 2000/Robots in Disguise/Alternators/Re-issues
- 2002: Armada
- 2003: Unicron Transformer Toy Released
- 2004: Transformers Energon
- 2005: Transformers Cybertron Line
- 2005: Transformers Comic Reinstated by IDW
- 2006: Transformers Classics/Universe Toys Released
- 2007: Transformers First Live-Action Movie Released with Supporting Fan Fare, Merchandise, and Toys
- 2008: Transformers Animated
- 2009: Second Transformers Live-Action Movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
- 2010: Video Game Transformers: War for Cybertron
- 2011: Third Transformers Live-Action Movie, Transformers: Dark Side of the Moobe
- 2011: Transformers Prime
Transformers Beast Wars Megatron
Transformers Beast Wars
Right around the same time the U.S. Beast Wars toys were transition into a sub-line known as Transmetals, the Machine Wars were being released. The Beast Wars CGI television series had not gone over well in Japan. As a result, Japan created their own, classically animated series called Beast Wars Neo. Beast Wars Neo made use of some old vehicle style Transformers as well as introduced new ones. The U.S.-based Beast Wars would not see these, as that series was exclusively based on animal-styled Transformers.
As the Beast Wars series wound down in the U.S., a follow up series was conceived. This would be known as Beast Machines and would be a CGI sequel to the previous series. Core characters from the Maximal faction were plunged back into the Cybtertronian War—on Cybertron! They would face off against the Cybertronian Vehicons. Perhaps this mixture of vehicles and animals was perpetuated by the success of the same which had been done in Japan’s Beast Wars Neo.
Transformers Car Robots 2000 & Robots in Disguise
Japan continued to diverge from the U.S. market by deciding not to launch Beast Machines. Instead, they formulated their own sequel to Beast Wars Neo. The follow up would become Car Robots 2000. The Car Robots 2000 line pitted mostly vehicular Autobots against some animalistic Predacons. In Japan, however, the Predacons were called Destrons and the Autobots were known as Cybertrons.
Beast Machines flopped in the U.S. As a result, Car Robots 2000 was imported and given a face lift. In the United States, Car Robots 2000 would come to be known as Transformers: Robots in Disguise. This was to serve as a filler to keep the consumers’ interest in the Transformers line before Hasbro masterminded the launch of their Transformers trilogy. The Trilogy was not the movies you might be thinking of. Instead, this was going to be three short animated series in succession with supporting toy lines.
The Transformers Trilogy was comprised of Transformers Armada, Transformer Energon, and Transformers Cybertron. These three series would be aimed more toward a modern child audience, using a blend of CGI alongside classic animation.
Transformers Then & Now
From a relatively unknown, foreign commodity to a titanic toy line and merchandising here in the U.S., Transformers have been put through the tests of time and have managed to stay on top. In the past few years, we have been inundated with clothing and accessory lines that have emblazoned classic images of the Transformers on them. There have been three live-action Transformer movies, each with their own toys and merchandising lines. There is even a new series on a relatively new television station called Transformers Prime. We’ll cover more on these topics later. Still, it is impressive to see what has happened to the strong property over the past nearly three decades. What will come next? Will people still be talking, watching, and playing Transformers in another few decades?