Remember that one day when you could wake up without an alarm? When you would get your favorite bowl of cereal and sit between the hours of 8 and 12? This is a blog dedicated to the greatest time of our childhood: Saturday mornings. The television programs you watched, the memories attached to them, and maybe introducing you to something you didn't realize existed. Updated every weekend.
In 1983, Hasbro representatives
were sent to the Tokyo
Toy Show in Japan to find new properties that they could
import to the North American market. Toy manufacturer Takara (now Takra Tomy)
was showcasing several of their transforming robot toy lines: Micro
subset of their Micromanline which
featured robots that disguised themselves as action figures on Earth, and Diaclone, which had
transforming vehicles and robots piloted by figures spun out of the Microman line. Hasbro bought the rights
to the toys and partnered with Takara to bring them overseas (Diaclone was available before, but only
in specialty toy stores).
Rather than risk confusing consumers
with multiple similar toys, Hasbro decided to combine the Microman and Diaclone lines
into a singular concept as Transformers.
Having found success with G.I. Joe: A Real American Herothrough their
partnership with Marvel Comics,
Hasbro went back to the publisher with the task of creating a storyline for the
toys as well as fleshed out characters. Then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter
and writer Dennis
O’Neil created the story, while editor Bob Budiansky
developed the majority of the characters.
followed two warring factions of sentient alien robots from the planet Cybertron:
the heroic Autobots
and the evil Decepticons.
Both sides could change from humanoid forms into various objects such as
vehicles, devices and even animals. When the war had decimated Cybertron and
made supplies scarce, the Autobots left the planet to find a new home with the
Decepticons in pursuit. Both of their ships crash-landed on the planet Earth
where they were rendered inert for millions of years. In 1984, a volcanic
eruption led to the reactivation of the Autobots’ ship, which proceeded to
repair the robots and give them new forms based on human technology in case
humans turned out to be hostile. The Decepticons were also revived, and the war
began anew with Autobots taking on the additional task of ensuring humanity’s
safety and that Earth doesn’t suffer Cybertron’s fate.
The Autobots were led by Optimus Prime,
who transformed into a 1980 Freightliner COE tractor trailer with a trailer
that served as a mobile headquarters. Their initial line-up consisted of gunner
a Datsun Fairlady 280ZX; scout Hound,
a Mitsubishi J59 Jeep; security expert Ironhide,
a 1980 Nissan Onebox Cherry Vanette; special operations expert Jazz,
a 1981 Porsche 935 Turbo; spy Mirage,
a Ligier Js11 Formula 1 Racer; military strategist Prowl,
a Datsun Fairlady 280ZX Police Cruiser; medic Ratchet,
a Nissan Onebox Ambulance Vanette; warrior Sideswipe,
a Lamborghini Countach prototype similar to a LP500S; Sideswipe’s twin brother Sunstreaker,
a Lamborghini Countach LP500S; defense strategist Trailbreaker,
a Toyota Hi-Lux 4WD; mechanical engineer Wheeljack,
a Lancia Stratos Turbo #539 “Alitallia”, demolitions expert Brawn,
a Land Rover Defender 4X4; espionage expert Bumblebee,
a Volkswagen Beetle; warrior Cliffjumper,
a Porsche Turbo 924; transport and reconnaissance expert Gears,
a 4WD off-road truck; construction engineer Huffer,
the cabin of a semi-truck; and warrior Windcharger,
a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
On the Decepticon side, they were
led by the sinister Megatron,
who could change into a Walther P38 handgun, a particle beam cannon, or a
telescopic laser cannon. Under his command was communications expert Soundwave,
who became a microcassette modeled after a SonyWalkman;
a condor; interrogation expert Laserbeak,
also a condor; saboteur Ravage,
a jaguar; demolitions expert Rumble,
yet another condor; and warriors Skywarp
both of whom became F-15 Eagles along with their commander, Starscream.
The first series of Transformers came with a mix of
regular-sized figures and mini-figures. To save on production costs, Hasbro
reused the designs for the characters with different paint or accessories
(which is why there were so many condors, F-15s, and duplicate car models). As
production of the line continued over the years, this practice began to become
rare as each character got their own unique design; expanding from the initial
Takara toy lines by licensing molds from other toys or by creating unique ones.
Various themed subgroups
also began to appear.
#1 in an eventual 80-issue limited series.
Emulating their marketing strategy from
G.I. Joe, Hasbro commissioned Marvel to
publish a comic
series to showcase the story and help promote the toys. Initially,
Transformers was to be a 4-issue
limited series, but continued for 80 issues before it was cancelled (the final issue
featured the tagline “80 in a 4-issue limited series”). Budiansky wrote a good
portion of the issues. Overseas, Marvel UK ran their own
series for 332 weekly issues that featured new stories
amongst reprints of the American book. Simon Furman
was the predominant writer of the new UK material, and his storytelling style
led to him succeeding Budiansky as the writer of the American comic for the
latter portion of its run. Both series spawned spin-offs and specials.
The third portion of the marketing
strategy involved having Marvel Productions
Productions produce an animated series. Debuting in syndication on September
17, 1984, Transformers ran two
seasons before taking a hiatus in 1986 for Transformers:
Series returned following its events for a third and abbreviate fourth season
before Sunbow lost the rights to the franchise.
While the toys proved popular during the 80s,
their popularity didn’t last nearly as long as G.I. Joe’s as the 90s approached. By 1991, Transformers were no longer being sold in North America even though
they continued in European markets. Those sales encouraged Hasbro to try again
and gave the franchise its first rebirth by rebranding it “Generation 2”.
debuted in 1993 along with a new animated series
(which were repackaged and re-edited episodes of the original with new CGI
elements), a new
Marvel comic picking up from where the original left
off, and a new short-lived
comic overseas published by Fleetway
(Marvel UK had folded). Generation 2,
however, failed to improve Transformers’ standing
in the American market, prompting Hasbro to give it a third try by handing
production of the line over to their newly-acquired Kenner
division. That would lead to the franchise’s first outing on Saturday mornings…