Transformers and TraSformers, what’s the difference and which came first? Last week we started looking at the origin of the Italian Takara Diaclone and Micro Change Series toys labelled as “Trasformer” and started to question whether the use of that phrase pre-dates Hasbro’s use of “Transformers” branding on their world famous 80s toys. Guiding us on a journey through old magazine adverts and legal documents, Marco “Puffmarko” Salerno and his fellow Italian collectors continue to share with us their theory on why GiG did not just copy and piggyback on Hasbro’s “Transformers” branding, instead dispelling misconceptions with compelling evidence.
We have already seen that GiG in Italy were using the term “trasformazione” in comic magazine adverts as early as 1982 for Diaclone toys like “Warudaros” and “Dia-Gats”. The well known term “Trasformer” seen on GiG’s Diaclone, Micro Change Series and even Transformers packaging is believed to have been derived from this early GiG phraseology. We continue examining evidence in this second and final part of the series as well as comparing perceived history to Hasbro/Takara legal agreements.
“We should keep in mind two fundamental truths” says Marco. “The first is that it’s extremely difficult to find people who can give us a definitive and accurate answer on this topic, supported by documents or by direct experience. Aldo Gianfranco Horvat, GiG founder and owner, unfortunately passed away in 2009 in a tragic and unpredictable way. It was a huge loss for the Italian entrepreneurial community, and a huge loss for all that grew up with games issued by his company. His death left bitterness, memories, nostalgia and a lot of questions that will probably never have definitive answers.”
Marco goes on to say “The second truth is that Diaclone and Micro Change were the property of Takara; Takara was the holder of toys’ license, and made their own decisions about commercial partnerships. GiG had filed and patented the Trasformer logo and trademark, so GiG products were formally official. Hasbro was only a partner and hadn’t bought Takara as a company, Hasbro bought just the license from Takara to sell part of the Diaclone and Micro Change Series toy lines in the United States (1984) and later in Europe (1985).”
During the second half of 1985, GiG ceased selling “Trasformer” toys in Diaclone and Micro Change-style packaging and started to sell regular G1 toys licensed by Hasbro. So what happened?
“The most popular theory across the TF fandom, according to Tfwiki, says that ‘GiG was an Italian toy company that originally held the licence to market Diaclone and Micro Change toys in Italy. When Hasbro introduced the Transformers brand throughout much of the rest of the world, GiG rebranded its Diaclone toys as Trasformer [sic] in an attempt to exploit the global popularity of Transformers without paying royalties to Hasbro. However, Hasbro eventually pressured GiG to acquire a licence for the Transformers property, although for the next several years, a smaller version of the old “Trasformer” logo would remain on GiG toys in addition to the larger, internationally known “Transformers” logo’”.
Marco argues that “After hearing our theory, you may start to question the statements contained in the above description. GiG had not only registered their logo and trademarks before the official release of “The Transformers” products, but were even doing business with Takara since the beginning of 1980. It is important to repeat that Takara, not Hasbro, were the legitimate owners of the rights to production. Takara has always led the game.”
At a certain point in 1985, GiG and Hasbro’s worlds collided. This means that we must also analyse and try to understand the presence of G1 Transformers toys in Diaclone boxes. We must find a way to explain the presence of toys stamped Hasbro/Takara in GiG Diaclone boxes or the presence of Takara-only stamped toys with Transformers G1 stickers in Diaclone GiG boxes.
These toys are considered to be transitional versions, GiG probably continued to sell Diaclone even if Takara had permanently ceased producing them, instead turning its production priority exclusively to Hasbro’s commissioned Transformers in Spring 1985. In this short, confusing period, a lot of transitional toys were issued in Italy in Diaclone-style boxes. Some of these are pretty rare and valuable, like the Diaclone Triceratops pre-Slag with red face and chromed horns.
Another thing to mention is that during the first half of 1985, GiG imported Ceji Joustra “Diaclone” overstock of pre-Powerdashers after the initial Japanese Takara wave, and even Diaclone Attack Cars, subsequently called “Destroy Car” in Italy.
In order to satisfy the commercial agreements with GiG and the progressively stronger demand from the Italian market, Takara began to send GiG mixed overstock of G1 and Diaclone, and GiG packaged them in Diaclone-style boxes as it had always done previously, hence the hybrids mentioned above. Marco says that “this certainly could have created some problems with Hasbro related to selling licences, and perhaps it is for this reason people from the US say that Hasbro pressured GiG into no longer selling licensed products.”
So it was extremely plausible that GiG and Hasbro forged close contact when Takara chose to shut down the Diaclone toy line to start marketing the “The Transformers” in Japan in its place. GiG seriously ran the risk of being deprived of “Car Robots” and “Micro Change Series”, as the toys were being incorporated by Hasbro into a single much better structured project. Thus GiG turned to the American company, perfectly aware that the “Transformers” toy line had one year of success and a fantastic TV show dedicated to it that worked as a powerful draw for children.
“GiG were also perfectly aware of the incredible success of “Auto robot” and “Trasformer” toys in Italy in 1984, so they simply made a market choice by picking a new partner with which to continue its business.“ To establish continuity between past and new products, GiG kept its “Trasformer” trademark on Italian boxes until 1987, next to the “Transformers” logo by Hasbro.
“However, the partnership between GiG and Takara still continued, and that’s why Italian children had some wonderful hybrid boxes that nobody in the western hemisphere had: I’m talking about the stunning Abominus and Bruticus giftsets, or all the Combiner giftsets in individual boxes, or Throttlebots , or Monsterbots, Galaxy Shuttle, Pretender Hero Set: they were issued in boxes having the same shape and the typical, progressive numbering of the Japanese releases, with styrofoam inserts. However, on those boxes all the text was translated into Italian, and beside the “Transformers” logo on the top flap, there was no HASBRO logo on the front bottom left.”
If Hasbro was pointing a gun at GiG’s head, then why it would allow these hybrid productions?
1) Nov 1, 1983 - The Territory for the importation, distribution and sale of the PRODUCTS shall be exclusive to Buyer [Hasbro] and limited to the United States of America and its possessions, Canada, United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Marco notes ”That means that ITALY wasn’t included, BECAUSE in 1983 GiG had already made a partnership with Takara on its own. GiG was selling Diaclones from 1981 and was using the “transformare” verb well before Hasbro made this contract. In March 1984, GiG started to sell “Autorobot” because probably in 1983 they purchased the rights to sell these toys in Italy, exactly as Hasbro did, with the difference that GiG didn’t create a brand new toy line with a history of factions, but sold Diaclone cars and Micro Change as is, only changing the writing from Japanese boxes under the trademarked name of trademark “Trasformer”)”.
2) March 14, 1985 - Hasbro’s distribution rights change. They are now basically worldwide except for Italy (reserved for GiG), and parts of Asia (reserved for Takara). Note that no exception is made for Europe/France for Ceji. Could this have been a mistake? Note by Marco: “Takara ceased Diaclone production in 1985, as they were ready to launch Transformers toys in Japan. So GiG, to continue selling these transformable toys, was forced to update their previous personal agreement with Takara, making deals with Hasbro as well (since Takara in 1985 was pratically producing toys only under the commercial request of Hasbro). All the products sold by GiG during 1984 and 1985 were legitimate as they were included in an agreement made between GiG and Takara and OUT of the “Hasbro selling territorialy zone”: this thing MUST BE clearly declared to all fans.”
3) January 1, 1986 - Hasbro allows Takara to use the Hasbro-owned molds to make Transformers for GiG. Note by Marco: “This is the point. This is why the Italian market had some exclusives that the US didn’t. Moulds were Hasbro-owned, yes, BUT packaging was NOT! So Takara, in accordance with GiG, was free to create packages never seen outside Japan, like the Italian Abominus and Bruticus giftsets or all the others toys I mentioned previously, without Hasbro logos on the boxes (Hasbro logo was only stamped on toys).
So there you have it, Marco and his fellow Italian collectors’ theory on why the Trasformer-labelled Takara products by GiG were never branded as such simply to exploit the popularity of the Hasbro Transformers. While GiG did eventually have to move from selling Diaclone and Micro Change Series toys in Takara-style packaging to Transformers toys as a result of the irresistible wave created by Hasbro that Ceji Joustra, GiG and eventually even Takara themselves had to succumb to, we can at least say that GiG’s Trasformers have their own unique history and pre-Hasbro connections with Takara worthy of respect and recognition far beyond simple exploitation and mimicry.
Thank you to Marco Salerno and Giocattolivecchi.com users “conteddracula” and “ironknight” for their quite spectacular research, information, words, article construction and valiant promotion of a series of Transformers/Pre-Transformers that I have always felt deserved more recognition and exposure than it ever received. Thank you also to Livio Fazzalari, Matteo Pigliucci, Jeff Stein and Marco Salerno for supporting images, research and information.
All the best