There’s a difference between fake or counterfeit Transformers that are meant to fool collectors into thinking they are buying official product and a bootleg that is immediately distinguishable from a Hasbro or Takara figure. While both are intended to profit from and take unlicensed advantage of the Transformers brand and its supporters, some collectors can find themselves quite drawn to particular knockoffs. This week I’ll highlight a few that have stood out to me as being more than just fakes.
Vintage era bootlegs of Transformers are often viewed through rose-tinted glasses and occasionally they can be valued very highly if they are interesting enough. What makes a knockoff as interesting as an official product varies from piece to piece, sometimes it’s as simple as a colour change or some imaginative (read: awful) moulding addition, but in the case of the above “Alpha Base Robot”, two of the most desirable Japanese G1 exclusive Transformers of all time – Overlord and Star Saber – are hybridised into one creature. While Alpha Base Robot boils down to being a slightly glam Overlord with Star Saber’s head, it can sell for hundreds of dollars.
Other vintage bootlegs of well-established figures that are nothing more than a new paint job with lower quality materials will appeal to fewer collectors. I bought the above two KO Rotorstorms because of my big interest in the toy at the time, having just completed a vintage official one. The white one was very interesting to me and they looked great next to the G1 Rotorstorm. While the blue KO is too close for comfort, however distinguishable, the white one stood out almost as a new character.
Pitching bootlegs as new characters, where not just new paint but new moulding is employed, can also work wonders for a KO’s desirability and appeal. In the case of the above deluxe Animated Prowl KO, though, as hilariously entertaining as that face is (and the apparently Iron Man scheme), another fact that distinguishes certain bootlegs is just how poor the build quality is. These things are not safety tested and brittle plastic snaps, shatters and stresses easily. KOs like this Prowl can fall apart on first transformation. When you’ve ordered through a proxy service on Taobao and waited ages for your expensively-shipped package of KOs to arrive, an immediate breakage can rapidly turn the whole endeavour sour. Sometimes horrid can be good for a KO, but not when it’s the build quality.
Something that can make a KO interesting is if it could be seen as a new character in a popular and already highly populated Transformers sub-line. If a bootleg turns a mould into an already-existing character that was previously not represented in the line. The above Activators class Animated Sunstorm KO is a great example. Considering we never officially got Dirge, Ramjet or Thundercracker as voyager class figures, but did get them for the Activators class (arguably a better Seeker representation than the voyager), to also have a bootleg Sunstorm of the decent quality of this item is nothing short of awesome and allows for a fuller Animated Seeker display to some degree. Decent build quality, though, can be overshadowed by a shoddy paint application. Just look at Sunstorm’s face.
When a KO manufacturer fills a character gap, and produces a figure of relatively durable quality (but still notably inferior to official quality) in addition to making it aesthetically pleasing, well then they’re onto a winner. Every time I post the above image of Animated Arcee and her bootleg sisters somewhere on the net, at least one collector who hasn’t seem them will ask me where they can score a set. While I like the Chromia and Paradron Medic deco on the Arcee KOs, and can appreciate the effort they have gone to in reproducing the Japanese Takara Tomy Animated Arcee cardback so accurately, the fact that they also offer a pink Arcee that can fool collectors is not something I endorse. I absolutely despise the G1 KOs and the more recent Masterpiece KOs because of how close to the originals they are, and they do fool people as intended.
If a KO is not going to be a new character, or an established character for a line where they weren’t featured, or be something completely barmy like a hybrid then there’s one more safe bet for a laugh. Supersize.
The over-sized Transformers Prime Wheeljack and the utterly insane “GDLD Strong King” huge Defensor/Guard City with the Gobot-like feet are two of the most memorable bootlegs I’ve seen where the original has been left looking like a legion or legends class fiddlebot. Again, completely distinguishable as a bootleg, and while in the case of the Wheeljack the quality is ok, just the fact that it towers over the standard toy made it irresistible to me. I went so far as to buy the TFPrime over-sized Dead End and Hyperspeed Wheeljack coloured versions too.
So in terms of what I would call ‘good’ for a KO, or at least interesting and attractive, is for it to be quite original and immediately distinguishable from an official product that it was based on or mimicking. I would want it to be of good build quality with some character or reason for grabbing the attention. A bootleg that stands the test of handling, displays well alongside official toys and will always be remembered (for good or bad). Should said abomination also be in some way linked to the Transformers mythos and represent a character previously missing from TF Animated, TFPrime, G1, Masterpiece or whatever it may be aping, then all the better. There is definitely a place in the Transformers collecting hobby for weird and wonderful bootlegs of the figures we love, but the ethical arguments will always be present and keep some collectors away.
Many kind thanks to Morgan Evans (Alpha Base Robot) and Paul Hitchens (GDLD Strong King) for photo contributions.
All the best