Everything costs more now. Diaclone, Japanese Transformers, Mexican variants, South American minibots, prototypes, Reissues, even unused stickersheets have entered the multi-hundred dollar realm. It dawned on me very early into my return to collecting that if I wanted to do any area of Transformers or pre-Transformers properly, sacrifices would have to be made. I sold my 2007 Movie toys, I sold many reissue exclusives, all my prototypes and test shots and just about anything that wasn’t G1 including Classics, Animated and Alternators. I was also advised to sell my Binaltechs as they were clearly not going up in value and took up a huge amount of space, something that’s becoming more and more difficult to hold on to these days. But I will not sell my collection of Takara Transformers Binaltech, and I intend to tell you why.
Premiering in late 2003 in Japan, Takara’s Binaltech line featured highly articulated and fully-licensed automobiles. These toys had G1 homages coming out of their ears and were even constructed with healthy amounts of diecast metal. A significant impact was made on the collector’s market and Binaltech was very popular for a time. Based strictly on modern sports cars and popular contemporary vehicles, this was a real win-win scenario for me.
Being a huge fan of artwork and character depiction, I shouldn’t really have liked the Binaltech packaging, but I did. The beautiful view of the vehicles inside, minimalistic exterior but intricate interior of the boxes scored points for me, but I must admit the artwork on Hasbro Alternators boxes was nicer. Despite the fact that the Japanese packaging was smaller and stacked better yet still took up a lot of display space, I persisted in holding on to these toys ahead of all the other beauties I sold in the last year.
With such heavy licensing of big vehicle brands and products came heavy obligation, but being a serious car enthusiast meant I actually appreciated this aspect of the toy line instead of seeing it as a hindrance. Having Chevrolet insist that Tracks was released as a yellow Corvette was no big deal to me, it’s my preferred colour for a sports car anyway. Thankfully, he was made available in blue as well for Transformers purists with a fetching flame hood sticker for further G1 connection. Mazda also required that BT-08 Meister (Jazz) be released in a repainted signature company red as “Zoom Zoom”. The whole showroom style insert packaging, while rarely displayed, was welcome. The automotive history of the Autobots was being shamelessly celebrated in style.
The paperwork for Binaltech toys was nice too. The booklets featured transformation instructions, lovely line-art and even a respectable story line for the Binaltech project. Collector’s cards were included, something that Japanese Transformers enthusiasts have appreciated for a long time, and specialised stickersheets accompanied specific releases such as the Tracks hood sticker mentioned above. Everywhere I looked I found nice touches.
And the nice touches didn’t stop at the paperwork. For example, Tracks had an ingenious faux robot chest section that harked back to his Diaclone-mould incarnation and Prowl was able to store his baton weapon in a holster made of his car exhaust. This kind of detail was precisely what I felt modern Transformers were lacking, and having Binaltech toys laced with G1 references appealed to me. I refuse to be ashamed of that!
It wasn’t just the robots that shone for Binaltech, the vehicle representations were simply out of the park…
Corvettes, Dodge Vipers, Ford Mustangs, Subaru Imprezas, Mazda RX-8s, Honda Integra Type Rs and S2000s…for someone with as great an affinity for the Sony PlayStation Gran Turismo racing simulators as me, this was just heaven on Earth.
Subtle G1 nods and car porn aside, these toys had their drawbacks too. First of all they were heavier than Alternators due to the diecast content and were subsequently expensive to ship from Japan. I certainly couldn’t waltz down to my local Woolworths and pick up a BT-08 Meister. Furthermore, with painted diecast sections comes paint-chipping, and some of the transformations were complex and fiddly enough to highlight this fact painfully. I was happy to forgive all of this because I was so satisfied with the toys in both modes, every new mould brought that feeling of anticipation and excitement at the discovery of another instant classic:
On the subject of new moulds, these designs were clearly not cheap to produce or mass release, therefore much of Binaltech consisted of recolours or minor remoulds. We had 7 Subaru Imprezas, 3 Dodge Vipers, 3 Chevrolet Corvettes and 4 Mazda RX-8s, so understandably folks started to grumble about the heavy recycling and fewer fresh new moulds. However, one thing you could never accuse the Binaltech designers of was a lack of bravery.
By taking time-honoured characters and re-casting them as vehicles, Takara were taking a massive risk. If they were going to release Dinobots and cassettes as cars, it had to be done right. My personal feeling was that choosing a Ford Mustang as BT-10 Grimlock was a stroke of genius, and the toy itself was gorgeous. I have heard tales of some collectors becoming so frustrated with Grimlock’s transformation that he has gone through a bedroom wall, but as with all Binaltechs, regular practice was the key. I am not so sure that they got it as right with BT-11 Ravage, but hey, at least they gave it a bloody good try and Ravage’s vehicle mode was simply untouchable. Robot mode…not so much. Acquired taste.
I’ve always been a fan of well executed spin-offs, be it a comic book mini series like Spawn: The Undead or a completely separate full-time endeavour like Stargate: Atlantis. Often I’ve ended up liking those more than the original source. I found Takara’s Binaltech Asterisk line to be an equally satisfying addition to the main line of releases.
I wasn’t enamored by the fact that we were getting more repaints, or that the packaging was going to be slightly different to the mainstream Binaltech line for display purposes, but the emphasis on spectacular artwork and the choice of toys themselves truly won me over. Broadblast (silver repaint of Skids), Alert (Police repaint of Streak) and Sunstreaker (yellow repaint of Dead End) were simply inspired choices for this little footnote to Binaltech. The paint jobs were stunning, the packaging beautiful and the addition of PVC figures…forgettable. But I loved Asterisk deeply and was sad to see it canned after just three releases. BTA-02 Sunstreaker was quite the highlight:
Seeing the Binaltech line as a whole tail off the way it did after a few reprisals was somewhat heartbreaking, but of course I knew it couldn’t go on forever. The whole premise of the line was seemingly to modernise the Autobot cars and a few Decepticon vehicles (and Ravage), so there was always going to be a limited scope for expansion. The endless repaints both in Binaltech and Hasbro’s Alternators may also have been responsible for waning interest amongst collectors. I myself stopped picking the toys up after the BT-17 Wonderfest exclusive Black Convoy. I was uninterested in the lack of new moulds and the change to all-plastic manufacture. I loved Alternators, but there were certain things I appreciated about Binaltech and still do to this day that made them so appealing to me.
But, what Hasbro and Takara did well with Alternators and Binaltech respectively, they did bloody well. We may not have had a Porsche for Jazz/Meister, or a modern VW Beetle for Bumblebee (or a Bumblebee at all), but two of the Autobots’ most stylish, memorable and celebrated designs were given stunning new forms which to this day, amongst all the ‘rare’ Diaclones, variants and collectors’-favourite pieces in my collection, still hold their own admirably. These are in my opinion the jewels in the crown of the Binaltech/Alternators chapter, magnificent vehicles steeped in automotive history and racing success and pedigree, some of my all-time favourite G1 Autobot cars and characters given majestic robot modes and show-stopping head sculpts. This is why I won’t sell my Binaltechs (or one Alternator!):
You can start your collection of Takara Binaltech Transformers here at TFSource.com
All the best