That’s right, 100 articles since September 2011 when I started writing for the Source Blog, excluding Collector Interviews. It’s customary to see in milestones such as this by taking stock of what has gone before, but we will be doing that in 4 weeks as we hit the 2 year anniversary of the Source Blog anyway. Instead of just looking at what we’ve featured on the Blog, why don’t we take stock of where we are in the Transformers collecting hobby more generally and holistically?
The Collector Interviews we have carried out over the last year and more have demonstrated, through the wisdom of our interviewees, just how much the Transformers collecting scene and community have changed over the last 10 to 15 years. Every year that goes by brings us more fascinating Transformers product to collect or helps establish a deeper appreciation for what has gone before, depending on people’s preferences, perspective or circumstances. So is this now the best time to be a collector?
First of all, we have a global community. This has helped break down many of the international barriers and blind spots in our view of vintage Transformers over the years. Collectors from Europe can have complete Japanese Takara collections and collectors in Asia can collect European exclusive G1 and G2 items with much greater ease. We have numerous outlets for obtaining toys such as international eBay sites, Yahoo in Japan, webstores, big online retailers and community forum websites where collectors do trade. It is now not uncommon to find collectors with complete runs of US G1, augmented with exclusive variants or characters from foreign continuities or toy lines, whereas once upon a time knowing someone who had a Bluestreak was a big deal. Specialist websites documenting every corner of the collecting universe have popped up and grown over the last decade or two as well to the continuing benefit of the community.
With the globalisation of the community has come the sharing of previously local-only knowledge of variant Transformers – especially the vintage variety. We now know of store-excusive Diaclones released in limited supply in Finland, a multitude of hybrid-style characters from Mexico, one-off colour schemes for Japanese toys we thought had been fully documented and every year seems to turn up more odd-coloured minibots, placing countries like Brazil, Venezuela and Peru on the Transformers map. Even now, nearly 30 years after their heyday, new discoveries are being made to keep vintage collectors occupied and interested. Not many other toy lines can claim such rich original variety, heritage and global reach.
Astonishingly, vintage Transformers finds are not limited to the odd childhood specimen dug up from a basement or attic, flea market treasures or age-old collections finally being sold. We also have the immense privilege as a fandom of occasionally being treated to original warehouse, factory or old toy store case finds of pristine unsold vintage Transformers – and this is still happening. Who would have thought, eh?
Finds such as these – or even individual unsold Transformers – allow certain collectors the opportunity to buy the most unused pristine specimens of the toys they love, and have them cased forever in protective acrylic knowing the contents have never seen the light of day. Whether we prefer MISB, loose complete, boxed unused or any old haggard example of a toy, we have the choice to play the collecting game any way we choose, restricted only by our finances and resourcefulness.
Since the turn of the millennium we have had particular moulds and characters reissued by both Takara and Hasbro allowing collectors to own fresh specimens of G1 toys that would be far more expensive as vintage items. We have also been lucky enough to get a slew of exclusive repaints – some new and some homages to age-old pre-TFs – to add troops to collections which may have been sorely in need of fresh blood. Seriously limited edition prize & lucky draw versions of some G1 Transformers reissues have helped create a brand new niche in the collecting scene.
Between the original release of the G1/G2 Transformers and the start of the reissues, and then after as well, Transformers fans have had the pleasure of experiencing new cartoons and animated series which spawned their own toy dynasties, and created even more directions for collectors (and collections) to expand into, further catering to a person’s specific preferred aesthetic, design and interests. Generation 1 was no longer the only show in town.
Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Robots In Disguise, Animated, Cybertron, Energon, Armada, Prime…just some examples of the kind of thing Transformers fans have been able to indulge in over the years. Lots of different styles of animation, storytelling, characterisation and – importantly – Transformers toys. Again, variety.
Aside from these new styles of Transformer boasting new technology and designs supported by cartoons/animation, there has been a great deal of life and love in the birth of the Classics-era Transformers which encompass Generations, Universe 2.0 and Henkei – referencing and paying tribute to older Transformers toys, characters and designs through new toys and modern technology.
Perhaps the ultimate tribute to the original Transformers aesthetic and philosophy – made relevant again through the use of modern toy technology – can be seen first in the design and execution of the massively popular Binaltech/Alternators line of licensed contemporary vehicles, later perfected (arguably) and honed through the collector-aimed and high-end Transformers Masterpiece line.
While Binaltech and Alternators have had their share of the limelight in the last decade, Masterpiece rolls on with ever-better releases and ever-growing popularity, with a mid-season reboot bringing all subsequent releases in line with a specific scale and aimed at recreating the look of the G1 cartoon as closely as possible. Many collectors have sacrificed much of the aforementioned toylines to focus purely on the expensive offerings now made possible by the best efforts of Takara Tomy and Hasbro.
No general view of the available Transformers toys today is complete without proper acknowledgement of just what a massive effect Michael Bay and his live action Transformers movies have had on collecting and the community. The 3 blockbuster films have brought countless new fans to the franchise and to toy collecting in general, not to mention an avalanche of new designs and toy product, causing many completists to flounder. Transformers are now once again a massive and recognisable part of modern pop culture, for better or for worse.
Due to the sheer range of Movie product, collectors can choose to keep it small or go premium depending on the class of Transformers toy they like to collect, sticking to on-screen characters or indulging in a plethora of repaints and re-tools. The Human Alliance line that came out during Revenge of the Fallen and some of the leader-class figures throughout the 3 movie lines showcase the best of what this era of Transformers designs have to offer. One should pity merchandise collectors and completists thoroughly though…
Moving slightly away from the mainstream and into the hardcore, what would we do without the Transformers shows and conventions? BotCon is of course the most popular, but in Asia there is Wonderfest, in Europe there is Auto Assembly, BOTS, CONS etc, there is TFCon in Canada, this year we also have Charticon in the US. These events can be the highlight of any collector or enthusiast’s year. Opportunities to mingle with community members, long time friends and even Transformers voice actors, celebrities, Hasbro and Takara staff members are not to be missed if one can make it.
There are often exclusive toys and merchandise to be had as well. I have personally purchased original Transformers box artwork direct from the artists at these events, and these experiences are amongst my most cherished in the hobby. A closer relationship between collectors and toymakers can also develop through these shows, the 2007 Hasbro facility tour being one of the greatest things the company has ever offered its followers.
On the subject of behind-the-curtain peeks, there is no shortage of pre-production material and toy-related items out there for collectors to buy and enjoy nowadays. From vintage prototypes, mock-ups and paperwork to modern-day test-shots and unreleased packaging samples, this is another rich area of Transformers toys for someone to get themselves tangled up in. Competition can be intense and the expense is ridiculous sometimes, but the payoff for knowing that your collection contains unique pieces of history that shaped the brand we love today is immeasurable.
If we are going to talk about shaping the brand, then we cannot avoid the topic of 3rd Party companies whose products continue to explode onto the scene and improve with every new wave. Companies like Mastermind Creations, Igear, Headrobots, Dr Wu, Unique Toys, Fans Toys, Fansproject etc have provided collectors with a very real and alternative distraction from official product. Nothing is sacred and maybe that’s a good thing, collectors everywhere hope that the emergence of these 3rd Party products will force Hasbro and Takara Tomy to up their game and give collectors what they really want. But what do collectors really want?
This article has just scratched the surface of what’s available to Transformers collectors and enthusiasts nowadays, especially with such a heavyweight history and variety of lines, sub-lines and niche areas to focus on. Focus (and money) is something increasingly difficult to hold onto these days due to the fact that we have so much choice regarding what to collect and pour our hearts into. It is overwhelming for some, inspirational for others. What we cannot argue is that the hobby is far from becoming stale and we have a great deal to be thankful for, a great deal left to collect and a great deal left to discover. Transformers are very much alive and well, on course for their 30th anniversary. Excited? You should be.
Many kind thanks to Jon Krause, Mijo, Ben Munn, Jason Holliday, Brandon Yap, Paul Hitchens, Martin Lund, Paul Friemel, HighPrime and Bryce Rutledge for photo contributions.
All the best