There’s more to “Pre-Transformers” than Diaclone, Microman and Takara, and there’s definitely more to them than just being predecessors to Transformers toys. The figures we looked at last week in Pre-Deluxe – Part 1 included Takatoku and Bandai Valkyries from SDF Macross, the Mugen Calibur and Ovelon Gazzette from Dorvack – proper toy lines in their own right with animated series to boot. Now, while the remaining figures on our list didn’t enjoy an animated series, they deserve mention and recognition. This week we look at Armored Insect Battalion Beetras by Takatoku – the toys that would become Deluxe Insecticons – and briefly, Toybox’s Mechabot-1 (pre-Omega Supreme) and the Astro Magnum by Toyco (Pre-Shockwave).
The Armored Insect Battalion Beetras (Battle Expert Emergency Task Ranger Anthromobile System) toys were manufactured by Takatoku in Japan in 1984 and the designer Shinji Aramaki is said to have taken inspiration from the original Takara Diaclone Insecter Robo toys, so we have pre-Insecticons influencing the design of pre-Deluxe Insecticons, a kind of symmetry that warms the soul.
The boxes have an “AM” sticker on referring to Japanese animation studio ArtMic, who were approached by Takatoku to design some toys for them. There were three releases in this toy-line; “Beet-Gadol”, “Beet-Gugal” and “Beet-Zeguna”. “Beet-Vadam” never got released despite being in the latter stages of pre-production, and “Beet Papil” – a female ladybird-based Beetras figure – didn’t even make it that far.
Aramaki is even quoted in this interview as saying “We planned out a second series…They were never actually produced as toys, but there were prototypes. One of them was a hornet. There was also a spider, and a dragonfly, and another one. I designed those, too. Since it was a second series, it was decided to give them a new gimmick in addition to transforming, and so they incorporated little wind-up motors that would carry them across a taut piece of string“. So what about the toys that did see release?
Beet-Gadol, who would later become the Deluxe Insecticon “Barrage”, can be seen above in much more inconspicuous colours than his Transformers descendant who was bright yellow and green. The instructions and style of the stickersheet are very similar to those we featured last week from Takatoku’s Macross and Dorvack toy lines. Styrofoam inserts and robot mode packaging set these toys apart from their Transformers counterparts quite significantly, the package as a whole is still quite attention-grabbing.
One imagines that the more subtle colours on the Beetras toys are meant to allow attention to be spread equally between the insect mecha and the pilot (shown in the paperwork, not included with the toy), whereas Transformers are all about sentient robots whose portrayal can be influenced more heavily by the colour and appearance of the robot. It’s either that or Hasbro just felt the Beetras colours were too dull. Having said that, the colours on this Beet-Gadol while obscuring some of the finer details in the photography, do give much more of a mecha feel to the toy in robot mode that the Transformers Barrage certainly lacks. I do much prefer the Beet’s scheme to Barrage’s.
Beet-Gugal was the name of the Beetras toy that wound up as “Chop Shop” when released in the Transformers line in the West. While Hasbro saw fit to add garish orange between panels of light brown, the original release of the mould in Japan was a very sinister and classy looking black and grey. There is definitely a theme with the Beetras colours being more subdued than the Transformers iterations of the moulds, and one imagines that could have affected how the figures were originally received. Could Takatoku have pushed the boat out a bit further considering these came out around the time the company was crumbling?
The colours on Beet-Gugal are certainly the most interesting of the three Beetras toys, and any Transformers version of either mould too. While black, grey and red are not a groundbreaking combination for something released in Japan, what it does is give the figure a really intriguing appearance. I instantly wanted to know more about the figure on first discovery than I did about Chop Shop, for example. Compared to Chop Shop, the overall dark scheme on Beet-Gugal really allows the white detailing on the robot chest and insect back to pop.
Here’s the pre-Venom “Beet-Zeguna”, looking relatively wild colour-wise relative to the previous Beets, but when you compare him to the bright green and orange “Venom” from Transformers, you begin to realise that despite the translucent orange wings and turquoise extremities, there’s still a significant amount of brown and grey, typical for Beetras.
I do very much like how the Beets come with the usual mecha firearm weaponry but also blades, axes and daggers of a sort, not just heavy artillery as seen in Macross and Dorvack. It really does lead one to wonder what this toy line could have looked like as a whole had Takatoku not folded and the second series designs (or even the aborted first series extras) made it to production.
The paperwork from Beetras figures is fascinating too, a real vision of what could have been for the line had it been allowed to continue. The manga for the series was published in Telebi-kun magazine in Japan in 1984, and the above catalogue image shows potential retools for the Beet-Gugal and Beet-Gadol, as well as the pre-Ransack toy “Beet-Vadam” and the ladybug “Beet-Papil” that did not make it to production. Add these to the un-produced second series toys mentioned by Aramaki and there really was quite a line-up in the works. While Beet-Vadam finally saw the light of day as Deluxe Insecticon Ransack, just think what an Insecticon army we could have had if Takatoku had produced them all and Hasbro had gotten their hands on them for Transformers. The full story of the Beetras manga printed on the boxes can be read here at ToyboxDX.
We also mentioned Omega Supreme last week, that famous gigantic Autobot defence base. The sheer number of versions of this mould available throughout the world can often cloud its origin, but we have here the Japanese-released Super Change Robo Mechabot-1 by manufacturer Toybox Corporation. Even the look of the packaging was snagged by KO companies to produce toys such as the “Space Tank”, “Cosmos Robot” – and even official foreign releases such as the Grandstand Convertors “Omegatron”. Let’s not get into the licensed Omega Supreme-coloured European releases in Italy and other mainland countries by Orli Jouet, GiG and the like…
Compared to the brown, orange and yellow of Omega Supreme, the Mechabot is mostly grey with red highlights. I wouldn’t call it boring, just another example of how modest Japanese origins evolved into bright and eye-catching Hasbro Transformers. Notice the lack of blue, yellow or shocking chrome on the original Mechabot-1 compared to some of the more fancy bootlegs of this repeatedly-copied robot.
Quoting from our own article on catalogues “The (above) store catalogue from Swiss store ‘Le Grand Passage’ shows first wave Milton Bradley badged Transformers priced in Swiss Francs alongside a Macross VF-1S Skull Leader and the European pre-TF Omega Supreme ‘Super Robot Change Mechabot 1′ released by Gama“. So even though the Japanese Mechabot-1 is the daddy, official versions were available abroad too released by Gama in countries like Germany and as part of Grandstand Convertors in the UK.
By popular request, here is the hugely adored and massively bootlegged 4-changeable Astro Magnum by Toyco. He Who Became Shockwave came out originally in this packaging and also triangular packaging that saves even more space with possibly the weirdest shaped styro in existence. There were also official North American versions packaged in robot mode, still labelled as “Astro Magnum” with Toyco logos on the box, as well as the Radio Shack “Galactic Man”. The sheer number of bootlegs and various versions of this mould available throughout the world is beyond my cataloging capabilities, but my favourite KO was definitely the Four Star grey version with remoulded parts. Notice also the excellent black and white coloured mock-up on the side of Astro Magnum’s packaging.
That brings to a close our series of features on first the non-Takara Transformers toys from 1984 and 1985, and also the two-part tribute to Takatoku, Toybox and Toyco’s original moulds that were absorbed into the robotic snowball that was the early Transformers line. I truly believe that in order to appreciate these moulds, one has to look to their origin and understand the context in which they were originally designed and released. I would have liked to be able to dig up more on the origins of the Mechabot-1, Astro Magnum and even the Sky-Lynx mould, but that wasn’t possible. What I have established though, is that for every cool colour of Diaclone Car Robot there is a fascinating ancestor to Jetfire, each Deluxe Insecticon, Whirl, Roadbuster, Shockwave and Omega Supreme. Toys that occasionally are seen as pre-Transformers also-rans are, in my eyes, every bit as special as their Diaclone and Micro Change Series contemporaries.
Many thanks to Colin Pringle, Bryce Rutledge, Marco van Leeuwen and Curt from TFSource for photographic contributions, to Jeremy Kaufmann for support, additional info and clarification and Matt Alt for his knowledge and research available at ToyboxDX and AltJapan.
All the best