Why repaints and remoulds? Why can’t every Transformers toy be a completely new mould and something brand new to enjoy and explore? We all know the answer to that already. The money involved in creating fresh toy sculpts – the engineering, tooling and design required to birth just one new Transformers toy – is such that the company responsible counters that by ensuring they get the most out of that mould by way of repaints and re-moulds/re-tools. The more the merrier. But that’s not the question we’re asking this week, the question is, what makes us buy them?
In the world of Transformers as we first knew them in 1984/85, there already existed repaints in abundance. The Decepticon jets Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker were the same sculpt/jet in different colours. Autobot cars Bluestreak, Prowl and Smokescreen all shared the same Fairlady Z base sculpt, and they were depicted as such in the Sunbow cartoon and Marvel comics that allowed the brand to touch the lives of so many. So in the very first instance, our acceptance of and resignation to repaints is tied to the need to represent as many original Transformers characters as possible, be it for the purposes of completing a toy collection, cartoon or comic cast.
Except, that’s not completely or chronologically true, is it? The immediate ancestors of the first Transformers consisted of Diaclone (Takara), Micro Change Series (Takara), Beetras, Dorvack and Macross (Takatoku/Bandai) toys with a smattering of others. Certainly Diaclone, MC and Macross are famed for having numerous repaints of the same moulds available. Hell, Macross made an entire range out of the 1/55 Valkyrie variable fighter mould! Anyone coming from Macross to Transformers could laugh down any TF collector whining about repaints in the mid 80s. That most sensible of cost-effective toy manufacturing/line filling measures was already in full swing prior to the toys becoming Transformers, and it still runs in the veins of their descendants today.
Throughout the world of vintage Transformers collecting, the buying of repaints to complete a cast, collection, sub-category or a particular vision/focus is prevalent. With so much historical and emotional connection to characters, toys and the whole Transformers concept it can be easy to pick a favourite figure, category or style and just run with it, buying multiple versions in multiple colours from different countries of the world. And you know you’ve taken it to the outer limit when bootlegs – vintage or recent – start finding their way into your collection to further beef out the shrine or tribute to that character or toy you always loved. But again, why do we do this if we’re not even really buying new characters with any sort of background rooted in fiction or history? It could essentially be exactly the same toy with a different shade of plastic. What is there to gain?
Well “completing a collection” does not apply to everybody. Also, not everyone gets the repaint and the original version, some go straight to the revised edition with a new head, colour scheme or significant re-tool. Why? Because sometimes a mould can be very good but entirely let down by its paint, or lack thereof. It can also be assigned to an insignificant character, or one that does not appeal for personal reasons. The recent AoE Evasion Optimus Prime is a stellar mould, but someone like myself may opt for the Takara Tomy deco, or the rusty version as opposed to the standard Hasbro release for some of the above reasons. That also ties in to screen or show accuracy because first releases may sometimes not nail a particular aesthetic, but the repaint does it 100% right.
Sometimes, the remould/repaint of a character or toy can be an improvement in terms of quality, construction and assembly. The Transformers Animated Elite Guard Bumblebee corrected a few mould issues that plagued the first release of the normal deluxe, such as the stinger halves not folding back entirely into the arm cavities. I know that as much as I may love original releases of my favourite moulds, buying a repaint or retool that does it more physical justice can lead to further enjoyment and deeper appreciation of the figure. Many would say the original MP-3 Masterpiece Starcream was not satisfactory, and so the Hasbro release in proper G1 colours is the definitive version. I am not one of those people, I might add.
Once in a while, a collector will decide to buy repaints in order to support a concept, initiative or line. That kind of perceived brand loyalty and dedication is not unheard of in the fandom. What can seriously annoy collectors is when they feel the company responsible deliberately cheaps out on the first release of a figure only to draw customers in and get it sold, then releasing a much improved edition further down the line. Examples? No comment.
It’s also possible that no matter how much we enjoy and feel contented with one version of a mould, a subsequent release can add so much to the toy concept-wise that it requires exploring or purchasing. Some would say vintage Artfire and Stepper fall into that category. Would the modern equivalent be the Arms Micron versions of the Prime toys? Probably not, but who doesn’t like a little figure that turns into a weapon?
On the subject of weaponry and improvement upon an original concept, I think it’s fair to say a large chunk of collectors bought Masterpiece MP-12 Lambor as it signalled a significant step into popular territory by Takara Tomy and the MP line. However, by the time MP-12G Lambor G2 version came out, it was the fourth iteration of the mould, and yet some collectors simply had to have it. The huge departure from the central MP concept with G2 Sideswipe – growling face, extra accessories and G2 comic reference included – represented a good enough reason to spend hard-earned cash on the same mould yet again (or for the first time). Some may also see the disparity between owning a Powermaster Prime and God Ginrai in a similar light.
I’m always being told how black repaints are popular in Japan, something that started with Popy and their Chogokin line, albeit never as part of the story like TF black repaints have tried to be. It is almost seen as toy culture there for action figures, which would explain the number of reissue, Masterpiece and everything-in-between exclusive black repaints we’ve had over the years, but that does not always appeal to everyone outside of Japan. We’re even seeing a backlash now where some collectors are complaining that a Diaclone ‘Marlboor’ repaint of Masterpiece Wheeljack, MP-23 Exhaust, is being squeezed into the main MP numbering system and being released as a non-exclusive figure, so it’s fair to say that the global collecting community is divided on the nature of certain repaints. But that’s a rant for another article.
However, when done correctly and thoughtfully, a repaint of an already-excellent figure can be so relevant, so necessary and impressive that it simply beggars belief that the two figures started out as the same thing. In such cases, many collectors no longer simply feel obliged to buy both, or choose the one that fits their collecting ethos or preferences more closely. No. On those special occasions, you just have to accept that both original and revised version are so distinct and exceptional in their own right that they could almost be considered as completely different, regardless of origin. These occasions are to be treasured as much as the toys themselves.
All the best