Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The Transformer or the TraSformer? This is absolutely straightforward, Hasbro released their global phenomenon known as “Transformers”, then companies like Ceji Joustra in Europe and GiG in Italy got in on the show and did their best to mimick Hasbro’s masterstroke in order to cash in on the popularity. But is this really true or is there another side to the story?
For years, Transformers and pre-Transformers collectors have under-appreciated the significance of the Takara-licensed toys released in Italy by GiG and misunderstood their history and place in the grand scheme of things. That is the view held by prominent Italian Transformers & Pre-Transformers collector and researcher, Marco “Puffmarko” Salerno. Marco and his fellow Italian collectors have been kind enough to provide us with a very interesting theory supported by evidence that the phrase “Trasformer” used on Italian packaging could conceivably have pre-dated Hasbro’s “Transformers” branding. A huge statement, I’m sure you’ll agree, so let’s explore the theory.
“According to TFwiki, Hasbro had reached an agreement with Takara in mid-1983, after a Tokyo Toy Show, to buy the rights to sell these Japanese toys with the aim of launching a brand new toy line that would be called “The Transformers”. Hasbro announced the forthcoming launch of this toy line in the U.S. at the beginning of 1984 and began sales in May of that year.”
A great deal of valuable information about toy history and chronology can be found in catalogues and other publications of the time. “Topolino” (Italian for “Mickey Mouse”) was a weekly magazine for children, published in Italy by Disney. This comic magazine published material in many genres including comic strips, educational material, feature columns, humour, news, reviews, readers’ letters, puzzles, and most importantly, adverts for many toy lines (Mattel, Coleco, Arco). These adverts usually corresponded to the launch of the related items in stores. Let’s have a look at one of these adverts, dating back to 1982:
This and other similar adverts for some of Takara’s best known Diaclone toys “Dia-Gats”, “Dia Attacker” and “Warudaros” were advertised by GiG in 1982 using the word “trasformazione”. The Italian company could have chosen ‘mutation’, ‘change’, ‘shift’, ‘convert’, ‘turning’, ‘combination’, ‘metamorphose’…but GiG chose “trasformazione”.
It might be hard to believe the theory that GiG could be the first to consider using this name in the western hemisphere. It’s worth mentioning that the English verb “to transform” and the Italian “trasformare” both come from the same Latin verb, “Transformare”. During the speaking of ‘Latin Volgare’ (known as the early Italian language) which was very different to classic Latin, certain letters were dropped from words and ‘Transformare’ become ‘Trasformare’. So is it possible that Hasbro was inspired to use the phrase “Transform” by studying early GiG commercials for the Italian market? Or, conversely, were Gig aware of Hasbro’s commercial strategy, and inspired by them to the point where in order to avoid any external interference in the politics of selling these products, they used the phrase “Trasformer”? Or was it simple coincidence?
Looking at the advert above for “Warudaros” notice that the slogan: “si trasforma in tre insetti spaziali” (transforms into three space bugs) is very similar to the formula that Hasbro later used on its packaging. For example, on Hasbro’s Insecticon Bombshell box it reads “Transforms from insect to robot and back”. Could this be another simple coincidence of style, maybe just borrowed from the original writing stamped on Takara boxes?
So it seems that GiG had been widely using a derivative of the verb “to transform” since 1982. It is important to acknowledge that the first Diaclone adverts appeared in Italy, in “Topolino” issue no. 1328, on May 10, 1981. The first “Trasformer” advertisement appeared in “Topolino” issue 1480, April 8 1984 (Porsche 935 Turbo – pre-Transformers Jazz). Finally, the first and only group photo of Diaclone Car Robots “Autorobot” (with blue and yellow versions of pre-Trailbreaker amongst others) appeared in “Topolino” issue 1483, on April 29 1984. Another very important consideration is that toys were usually already available in stores when adverts were printed in magazines.
Marco says “In my opinion this means three things:
1) Toys under the “Trasformer” brand released by GiG (Car Robots, Micro Change Series) appeared on store shelves just a little bit before the market debut of the toy line “The Transformers” by Hasbro (according to TFwiki, in Spring 1984).
2) The brand “Trasformer” by GiG debuted publicly one month AFTER Hasbro announced the birth of the new toy line at Toy Fair (according to TFwiki, in February 1984).
3) Diaclone arrived in Italy in 1981. That means, according to TFwiki, two years before this toy line had arrived in the US. This proves GiG were making deals with Takara, concerning importation and distribution of toys, before Hasbro and even Ceji Joustra.”
It is possible that GiG, under their own initiative, imported and distributed toys related to the “Car Robot / Autorobot” series during the first quarter of 1984, ignoring Hasbro’s moves in the marketplace. However it could also be that GiG imported most of the Diaclone “Car Robot” toys at Takara’s suggestion or at their invitation.
Why? Possibly because Takara, during the second half of 1983, after coming to an agreement with Hasbro for future toy distribution in the US, had a strong interest in consolidating previous business partnerships in Europe (with GiG), and creating new ones with Ceji Joustra. Note that Ceji Joustra created totally new packaging for these toys, with exclusive illustrations, blending Diaclone and Micro Change toys into their own “Diaclone” range.
Still in the fall of 1983, after the deal with Hasbro was made, Takara launched for a short time on the US market several Diaclone and Microman toys (under Diakron first and Kronoform later) which had not been licensed by Hasbro for the Transformers franchise; under the Diakron line, only three Car Robots were issued: Blue 4WD Hilux, Black Cherry Vanette and red Countach LP500S.
“So what do we have so far at this point? We have found an incontrovertible fact: GiG used the verb “trasformare” well before Hasbro Bradley, and from the verb “trasformare” GiG coined the phrase and associated logo “Trasformer”, filed and registered officially, as you can see in the pictures. Starting from the dawn of the 80s, GiG always created brand new and original adverts to promote its toys and the Diaclone toy-line in particular, in collaboration with the advertising agency Phasar of Florence.”
GiG “Autorobot” cars were on Italian shelves a little before “The Transformers” were distributed in stores by Hasbro. It’s curious that the American name for the good faction of robots in The Transformers was “Autobots”, something very similar to the name “Autorobot” that GiG used for the brand new Diaclone Car Robots imported from Japan. Since “auto” in Italian means “car”, we can deduce that “Autorobot” was the Italian adaptation of “Car Robot”, which is the name under which Takara released its line of transformable cars.
“The origin of the name “Autobot”, in the Generation One story line was never explained. So what inspired Hasbro? The creative genius of its authors? Are we totally sure Hasbro hasn’t quoted someone else? Maybe just another coincidence?”
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 HighPrime and Frank Milkovich for supporting images.
All the best