I hated Masterforce. The intro to the anime was unbelievably camp, they were trying to glorify Pretenders, there was too much of a human-centric approach, the toys are ridiculously expensive, the humour in the show was immature and just generally unbearable. I hated Masterforce…until I actually watched it! By the third episode I was not only a convert but an avid follower, fan, enthusiast, whatever you want to call it. After I finally stopped badmouthing the show, it took its revenge by torturing me forever with toys I could never afford.
The 1988 Japanese TF anime Chōjin Masterforce (Super God Masterforce) had a healthy amount of Takara Japan exclusive figures that have collectors salivating and clamouring after them even today, years after discovery by the wider collecting community. Godmasters (Powermasters), Pretenders and junior Headmasters were given a completely different feel to the US/UK releases with some exclusive paint jobs thrown in for good measure. A strong anime and characterisation of particular toys helped make this a real hit with collectors, even those too hard-headed to see the light initially. While these exclusive toys have always been hugely popular and sought-after, they did used to be somewhat more affordable. My brief flirtation with this series of toys ended abruptly after getting some expert opinion on market values from a few Japanese Transformers collectors. So I am now happy to enjoy these exclusives through the beautiful collections of the aforementioned collectors…
The first leader of the Cybertrons introduced in the anime is Metalhawk, one of our Japanese exclusives. This rather chunky Pretender shell and robet/jet within contain gold-chromed and die cast metal sections. Hawk’s character in the anime is extremely heroic and I have to admit he was my early favourite in the series, and it was a fine example of how a strong show which develops individual characters can have an influential effect on what a collector (or a child) will want to buy or collect. For me, a lifelong early G1 disciple and Diaclone specialist, this was a very surprising turn of events. While I didn’t find the toys for Hawk’s fellow Cybertron Pretenders that appealing initially, the equally strong and heroic characterisation of Diver (Waverider), Lander (Landmine) and Phoenix (Cloudburst) compelled me to look closely at the possibility of starting my first Pretender collection.
Metalhawk eventually hands over leadership of the Cybertrons to a human called Ginrai after the Japanese Earth-dweller comes across a truck that looks remarkably like a Powermaster Optimus Prime! The lifeless mecha, called a Transtector, contains Godmaster bracelets which fit Ginrai perfectly and allow him the power to merge with the truck cab, and later the trailer too, to become Super Ginrai. The Super Ginrai toy differs from the Hasbro Powermaster Prime in that it contains diecast metal in the cab, glass windows instead of just stickers, retractable fists for the combined robot and chromed sections amongst other things. As an interesting aside, there is pre-production paperwork kicking about that indicates the large robot head for this mould (and PM Prime) was originally intended to be a Headmaster.
Later in the series, Super Ginrai merges with the Cybertron-made Godbomber to become God Ginrai. Godbomber comes apart and attaches to the main robot as various pieces of armour and upgrades. The Godbomber figure is also exclusive to Japan and before the C-310 God Ginrai giftset reissue would command a quite impressive sum of money by itself. The combined God Ginrai was originally exclusive to Japan, but was reissued by Takara and then by Hasbro as Apex Armour Powermaster Optimus Prime. You can imagine what an important and significant exclusive vintage Japanese Transformer God Ginrai was pre-reissue.
God Ginrai wasn’t the only prominent Godmaster in the Masterforce anime, with the Godmaster bracelets being such a valuable commodity in the story, any Cybertron or Destron Godmaster was given a lot of airtime and eventually the story became about them and not so much the original Pretender crew. While Roadking (Slapdash) and Lightfoot (Getaway) were given all the trimmings you’d expect of a Japanese Takara Transformers release (styro, collector’s card etc), the Masterforce version of Joyride was actually repainted into another exclusive figure called Ranger, his colours being more white and grey than Joyride’s blue.
Not to be outdone by the newer characters sporting the Godmaster/Powermaster gimmick, the junior Headmasters played a massive role in the Masterforce series too. Probably the main focus of the human element, the three children “Shuta”, “Cab” and “Minelba” are central to the plot and overall feel of the Masterforce human cast becoming one with their mecha, growing stronger and maturing into compassionate heroes.
The C-303 Masterforce exclusive repaint of Nightbeat, “Minelba”, is a perfect example of how desirable and expensive certain toys from this series have become. Being one of very few female characters in Transformers history, Minelba (or Minerva) is one of the jewels of Super God Masterforce. What’s not to love about a nurse that happens to be a Porsche 959?!
The other exclusive Cybertron Junior Headmaster figure from Masterforce is “Go-Shooter”, a police repaint of Siren. Along with “Cab” (Hosehead), these three are a formidable sub-category of figures and a considerable challenge for any collector to find in pristine unused condition. Yellowing is a significant problem with Minelba for starters, and Go Shooter’s guns can be painful to track down if missing. These are the kind of figures I would never have batted an eyelid at before actually taking the time to watch the show in its entirety.
If the toys mentioned above qualify as expensive in today’s market, then the C-311 Grand Maximus is simply off the scale, not just in size! A repainted Fortress Maximus with a gigantic sword and pretender shell for “Grand” (Cerebros), Grand Maximus is a behemoth of exclusive goodness. The purchase of this figure is very often a landmark event in a Japanese Transformers collector’s journey. Despite being one of the Cybertron’s obvious heavy-hitters, Grand Maximus is not quite the end-of-series ultimate hero that you may imagine him to be, that honour still belonged to God Ginrai and his remarkable array of weapons, attacks and powers. That’s not to say that Grand Maximus’s appearance in the series was insignificant, far from it.
Honourable mention should also be made of the Japanese exclusive repaint of Quickswitch called “Sixknight”, as his character was particularly interesting in the series, a lone wolf style travelling warrior (not unlike Greatshot from Victory).
So that concludes our run down of the interesting Cybertron portion of 1988’s Chōjin Masterforce toys released in Japan. We’ve already seen a considerable number of exclusive and high-end exclusive Japanese Transformers that can easily run into the mid-thousands. I can say without guilt or remorse that I took zero interest in Transformers as a child when the 1988 assortments hit the stores in the UK, choosing instead to pick off any 1987 Headmasters and Targetmasters that I missed the first time around. But, had I been exposed to Chōjin Masterforce as a child, especially the animated series, I would surely have ached for the toys featured in this week’s article the same way I did for my G1 heroes.
Next week we’ll explore the interesting toys from the Destron portion of Chōjin Masterforce, and as many fans say, the evil half is usually better.
Immeasurable thanks must go to HighPrime, Brandon Yap, Eric Warren and Morgan Evans for the beautiful Masterforce collection pictures they have allowed me to use this week.
All the best