Hasbro and Takara, two names of toy manufacturers that are synonymous with the global success and lasting phenomenon that is The Transformers. Takara’s designs and Hasbro’s marketing helped ignite the fire that still burns within all G1 Transformers collectors. Hasbro-Takara are the Lennon-McCartney of our collecting passion. However, any serious Beatles aficionado will tell you that George Harrison penned a few greats in his time too, and that is how I feel about French toy manufacturer Ceji who were responsible for a number of little-known but fantastic variants, some quite influential.
Ceji are probably best known in the fandom for their European line of Diaclones released in co-operation with Joustra, but as their fortunes were waning in the mid-1980s, Hasbro and Milton Bradley started to make use of their facilities and experience to help manufacture a number of Transformers for the European market as per licence agreements made around the same time. We are going to look more specifically at the toys Ceji were involved in producing for Hasbro in Europe after the Milton Bradley (MB) period, which you can read about in detail here.
One of the first figures we’ll look at is Soundwave. Comparing the earlier MB Soundwave packaging with the later Ceji packaging, you can see the MB logo has been replaced with a Hasbro one, but the lack of text in the top left corner still persists due to the need for multilingual text and space considerations. The purple colour of the cardboard used is slightly different as well. The copyright on the base of the box states “Made and printed in France by Ceji under licence from Takara.Co.Ltd. Japan”. The toy itself also has a Made in France stamp with a block moulded over where it should say “Japan”, and while the significance of that is obvious, there are further implications which we’ll look at later.
He may have been first on the bill, but Soundwave isn’t really the main star this week, you can read all about the Ceji Soundwave and his European predecessors here. I want to first of all focus on the Decepticon jets that Ceji produced for Hasbro in Europe, here are images of Ramjet and Dirge’s Ceji packaging:
While Starscream and these two coneheads (and presumably Thrust) appear to be nothing more than packaging variants, the truth is markedly different. Ceji’s manufacture of these G1 jets was so far removed from Hasbro’s Decepticon jets and yet for non-Europeans these variants have remained anonymous for years.
These Ceji-made jets had Diaclone-style hard plastic nosecones and previously unseen black plastic wheels instead of the Hasbro/Takara die cast variety. The paint on the jets is somewhat different as well, a side-by-side comparison with regular G1 jets would be necessary to highlight that well in the flesh.
You might be thinking that these traits are familiar in jets and that you may have heard of this kind of thing before. Well you’d be right, the Mexican Transformers G1 jets produced by Plasticos Iga that were imported en-masse into Europe in the late 80s shared the same characteristics; hard plastic nosecones and black plastic wheels.
They also exhibited slightly different colours but more moulding defects. It is thought that these French Ceji jet moulds were used to produce the Mexican jets, which may possibly explain the degradation. It is also worth noting that Mexican Soundwave and Mexican Megatron also have “Made in France” copyrights…
Unlike the Ceji jets, the yellow G1 Constructicons are quite well known these days. While there have been claims that these are just Chinese remakes from the 1990s, there is photographic evidence and many childhood anecdotes that support the theory that these are genuine European variants from the 80s. Nothing seals the deal quite like a packaged example though…
Unmistakably European, the copyright on the rear of the card again shows that the yellow Constructicons were manufactured by Ceji on behalf of Hasbro Bradley in 1986. In that distinctive yellow colour that is neither the same as G2 Devastator nor the later 90s non-combining Euro Constructicons, these yellow Ceji ‘cons also have a block on the copyright over where it would normally say Japan. You know where else Constructicons show that kind of stamping detail? That’s right, Mexico:
That is not to say 100% that this is again a case of a Ceji mould being used in Mexico, but considering the previous history of sharing, it’s not impossible is it? Closer comparison of the toys next to US Constructicons needs to be carried out for confirmation.
Remember the blue and white Huffer released in Mexico as “Pipes”? A typical cost-saving measure by Plasticos Iga to avoid the need to use re-tooled brand new moulds, many series 3 minibots were just repainted first series toys. Ceji, on the brink of financial collapse, could possibly have previously employed the same strategy for what we believe was their release of Pipes; another blue and white Huffer:
What makes this one so interesting is the fact that it has absolutely no copyright stamping at all. The Mexican blue/white Huffer “Pipes” does have a stamping similar to a US Huffer, so that was not a clear-cut case of mould sharing. That’s not to say the believed Ceji Pipes/Huffer mould was not sold off though, minibot collectors Morgan Evans and Ras have found similarities between this European ‘Puffer’ variant and the El Greco-released Greek version of Huffer in darker orange with red eyes, not least of which is the fact that Greek Huffer also has no copyright at all.
A lot of this has been covered before though in various articles, including the minibot and European pieces I have previously written for TFSource, so now we come to what I’ve really been looking forward to sharing; the Ceji European Insecticons.
Showing the same multilingual packaging as the other Ceji-manufactured European Transformers, including French as the first language on the box and paperwork (unlike multilingual MB packaging), Bombshell, Kickback and Shrapnel contained tell-tale variations too which I had no idea about until very recently.
Looking remarkably close to their Transformers box artwork, Ceji Insecticons have translucent orange chest flaps as opposed to the more common yellow plates of Hasbro/Takara Insecticons. It’s not at all impossible that these 1986 Insecticons were based on the boxart colours. A fellow collector also recently pointed out to me that the yellow plastic on Ceji Shrapnel (and possibly Kickback’s antennae) was slightly darker than that of the Hasbro Takara Shrapnel.
These little critters aren’t horrendously rare, but having just learned about them I absolutely had to track them down. The orange of the chest pieces is very noticeable when compared to the yellow of the regular insects, and they are clearly visible from most auction pictures. The fact that Ceji were responsible for them, and knowing my love of the Ceji Joustra Diaclones, they were always going to be interesting to me. The fact that they are such widely unknown variants also made them irresistible.
The blocked copyrights really cement their origin and can help identify the toys if you are having difficulty distinguishing between the orange and yellow chest flaps. There may well be other minor moulding differences between the Ceji and Hasbro Takara Insecticons, but again, a close side-by-side comparison would have to be carried out. Mexican Insecticons have not been found to date, but if they ever were, you would imagine they would share the same blocked copyright and possibly the same colours too.
These superb little variants are just more examples of the kind of thing you can discover when delving deep into a very specific and generally untapped niche of collecting, aided by the local knowledge of childhood enthusiasts and region-specific collectors. The Transformers manufactured for Hasbro Bradley by Ceji are for the most part still relatively undiscovered entities with only the red-foot Optimus Prime and yellow Devastator making waves previously. For me personally, being educated about the orange-chested Insecticons and more specifically the Ceji Decepticon jets means that this quiet little corner of Transformers collecting and history provides another piece of the jigsaw linking South American Transformers, European Transformers and US Transformers. Remember, George Harrison songs like “Here Comes The Sun”, “Taxman”, “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are widely considered to be some of the finest recordings ever made by The Beatles.
Many kind thanks to Mijo, JB Martin and Chuck Liu for their essential photographic contributions. Sometimes finding pictures of these obscure toys is harder than finding the toys themselves, credit is due to such pioneering collectors.
All the best