You can’t keep a good thing down, and Transformers has continued to go from strength to strength in 2012. New offshoots of the brand were announced, and with a seemingly assured future for at least a couple more years, and well loved parts of the toy line being extended with very popular additions, Transformers enthusiasts have much to be excited about. On top of that, the appeal of vintage Transformers collecting has grown and the known universe has expanded. But that’s just my opinion…
It seems as though neither Hasbro, Takara nor Michael Bay can introduce anything new into the Transformers universe without inspiring as much (if not more) negative feeling as positivity and enthusiasm amongst collectors and fans. Although that may just be how it feels to someone who is excited about an upcoming Transformers event only to encounter significant amounts of opposition. This week I’m going to look at what really stood out and surprised me in 2012 in terms of the old, current and new of the Transformers universe.
This one really stands out for me, and not because of its size. Takara Tomy reissuing Fortress Maximus as part of the Encore line was not something I was expecting. We had been fed stories about a failed drop test for the mould when the subject of a Hasbro Robots In Disguise Brave Maximus release was considered. The mould was released as part of Car Robots in Japan, so it shouldn’t have come as so much of a surprise, but expectations aside this was absolutely huge news for those who still do not own the Maximus mould. Vintage Fortress Maximus toys were regularly approaching and topping the $1000 mark, and Japanese boxed versions with the sword even moreso. The imminent arrival of Encore 23 Fortress Maximus has caused prices to drop, and a good Brave Maximus in box can now be picked up for about $350 and less, about the same price this reissue is being pitched at by online retailers.
A number of vintage collectors I have spoken to are annoyed that some of their most valuable originals will decrease in value, while others rejoice at an opportunity to own an affordable perfect Maximus. Whether or not Takara Tomy go the E-Hobby exclusive route and produce limited numbers of the Super God Masterforce exclusive C-311 Grand Maximus remains to be seen. Having never owned a Maximus due to price and priority, I think it’s brilliant news, but it actually doesn’t look like I’ll be able to swing one at release. Congratulations to all that can though, hopefully they will thoroughly enjoy one of 2012’s top good news stories, and finally get to play that famous G1 collectors’ game “Is my daughter taller than a Fort Max?”.
If I am wrong to not buy a Fortress Maximus reissue immediately despite wanting one, then I am categorically insane for not buying the Masterpiece MP 12 Lambor (Sideswipe) and MP 14 Alert (Red Alert) while they are at the lowest price they’re ever going to be, despite being a huge Lamborghini Countach fan boy, an early G1 character and mould lover, as well as a big fan of the Masterpiece Transformers. I have owned virtually every G1 and pre-G1 version of the Countach moulds. Again, it was genuinely a surprise to see Takara Tomy wield a Lamborghini licence and start producing Masterpiece Autobot cars. I struggle to believe that they will have as much success convincing Porsche to let them use the 935 Turbo, but they’ve surprised me already.
As expected, the community response to these releases (specifically MP 12) has not been all positive and maybe understandably so. Collectors have raised points such as a high price point for a figure that stands only a little taller than most deluxe class Transformers, one that does not even come with rubber tyres or die cast content and imperfect paint application for what is essentially a high-end collectible. The newer Masterpiece figures being a different scale to the first releases also irritated some. While I sympathise with these complaints, I feel the MP Countach mould is the definition of modernisation of my childhood favourites. The high number of visible panel lines on the vehicle side would be my only complaint, and were my ‘toy money’ not purely set aside for vintage purchases, MP 12 would be an immediate purchase.
Another new initiative from Takara Tomy for 2013 that really caught my attention was the Transformers GT announcement, where Alternity-scale and mould cars would be re-done as Japanese Super GT (formerly JGTC) racing cars. The Super GT cars are a huge part of the Sony PlayStation flagship racing title Gran Turismo’s history, a series that I have loved since its inception and have worked on in the past through Nissan’s successful GT Academy programme. Racing car Transformers (G1 Mirage, BT Smokescreen) have always been favourites, so the prospect of Takara Tomy and Super GT joining forces to release a grid of Alternity-standard modern day sponsored vehicles seemed irresistible. The toys would also come with race queen figurines, named apparently after the title sponsor of the corresponding car. I could take or leave that feature.
Since those first announcements, it seems that only the Nissan GT-R GT500 mould is being used for the first four toys of the line. The Japanese Super GT series is made up of two classes, GT 500 and GT 300. The GT 500 class consists of Nissan GT-R cars, Honda HSV-010 vehicles and the Lexus SC430. GT-01 Convoy is based on the Nismo Motul Autech GT-R, GT-02 Saber is based on the glorious Calsonic Impul GT-R, the newly-announced Megatron is based on the S-Road Reito Mola GT-R and the previously-shown Advan D’Station GT-R model was mooted for Fortress Maximus.
Recent publications have shown the Transformers GT Megatron with the sub-heading “Mission GT-R”, suggesting that only the Nissan mould will be utilised, scuppering my dream of a full – or at least varied – GT 500 grid. There are only four Nissan GT-R teams on the Super GT GT500 grid currently and all of those have been showcased as Transformers characters already. It also seems that the Alternity Convoy GT-R road car mould is more evident in the moulding than the lower-nose/hood actual race version, so if they’re still heavily using the Alternity vehicle base instead of the fully accurate racing silhouette, maybe the other Super GT cars won’t be used at all and this is just a Nissan vs Transformers initiative. That is to say nothing of the incredibly high price of the individual figures (approx 10,000 yen) which might sadly mean that Transformers GT is yet one more thing I will have to pass on, because unless we get those Honda and Lexus cars I struggle to see beyond a possible GT-04.
Despite being originally billed as a trilogy, the fourth installment of Michael Bay’s live action Transformers features felt like one of Hollywood’s worst kept secrets. With not too much revealed yet apart from a quite hilarious must-read ‘leaked script’, Hasbro’s line of Transformers beyond TF Prime and continued attention for the brand seems secure. I couldn’t possibly hope to successfully cover all of the negative feeling towards the Bay films from the TF community, but for my part the Transformers live action film was the first that really inspired me to visit the cinema more than once to see anything. Dark of The Moon was the same, I saw both more times than any sane person should at the cinema, but I only saw Revenge of the Fallen once. I could watch ROTF up to the forest battle scene over and over, but after that the less said the better. I am not ashamed to say that I am very much looking forward to what Michael Bay cooks up for part 4.
So, lots of things for collectors of current and upcoming lines to get excited about. Or not, depending on your perspective. But there were a few things for collectors of vintage Transformers and pre-Transformers to get excited about too, especially in an area that should really become more stagnant as time goes on and mysteries get solved. There were new colours of known releases uncovered, new hybrid versions of well-known variants found and further explanations put together of why some countries received such odd packaging variations. For me personally, it’s been an opportunity to feel that thrill of discovery, that archaeological buzz that comes from being part of a group of collectors that are able to share something ‘new’ in the vintage collecting universe. That will always be where my heart lies in this hobby.
There are other things that really got my attention in 2012, such as the disastrously high prices realised at the Dan Morphy live Japanese Robot auctions in Denver undoubtedly influenced by hobby investors as opposed to actual pre-TF collectors, but I wanted to keep this all as positive as possible to see in the new year. So while I have read many opinions and voiced a number of my own, my feeling is that Transformers as a hobby, not just a brand, will continue to flourish well into 2013 and hopefully beyond. Unfortunately for some the direction of the brand is not what they hoped for, but of course you cannot please all of the people all of the time. And if the future isn’t to your liking, there are still a number of juicy vintage discoveries to be made and gems to be found even after all this time.
All the best