Official Transformers toys are released in most of the world by Hasbro, and in Japan by Takara Tomy, formerly Takara. Takara, a Japanese toy manufacturer, produced the first toys that would become Transformers in Japan in the early 1980s. Hasbro saw these Diaclone and Micro Change Series toys and licensed them, creating the Transformers brand. Today, both companies perpetuate the toy line, but is it true to say that Takara (Tomy) Transformers toys are regularly better than Hasbro releases? This is the question we asked a number of collectors this week, and their contributions can be found below.
Michael Kingcaid starts us off with a very level-headed and neutral take on the question, “I’m not sure I have too much of an opinion on this one because I feel that all it is for the most part is opinion. If you put a Takara version and a Hasbro version of a figure at the same price point in front of someone and don’t tell them which is which, I’m thinking that it will be split down the middle. I feel like sometimes, here in the US, since the fan can get their hands on a Hasbro version at Toys ‘R’ Us or any other number of stores, the Takara version becomes somewhat more sought after. Now of course, in situations like the Combiner Wars Devastator and some others where the Takara versions are more expensive, then it’s a no brainer. Of course they will be better. They usually have better paint apps, upgrades in the moulds and stuff like that“.
Paint apps. This has been a recurring theme in my discussions on this topic, and the above Binaltech Smokescreen was one occasion where the difference in paint application between Takara (Binaltech) and Hasbro (Alternators) was enormous. The fact that the Takara releases had die cast metal instead of being all plastic is a discussion for another day, seeing as how some of the products benefited from the added metal, and some didn’t. For purposes of heft and feeling as though you had a high quality collectible it worked, for durability of paint finish and sometimes stability, it worked against.
Jon Strong also believes it is subjective and has a bit to say about paint: “I think there’s a romantic mystique surrounding paying a premium for a potentially better paint job which might not necessarily stop you from opening up a lemon of a toy produced in the same factory. My Generations Wheeljack looked tons better than the oddly forest green tinted United version, whose hips were also looser than the lady over the road who entertains many a gentleman caller. On the flipside United Jazz has a far superior paint job and lovely bright white plastic compared to his Western cousin, but he also commands a hefty chunk of change to this day. Both have the same quality feel to them. I think it’s entirely subjective and boils down to what you want from your toy visually. I wouldn’t touch any of the Unite Warriors Special Teams over their Hasbro counterparts as I am more than satisfied with their appearance, but Takara’s Devastator is by far and away the one that will see my money as the differences there go beyond the aesthetic and make it a more collector focused piece“.
We’ve now seen Combiner Wars Devastator versus Unite Warriors Devastator mentioned by two contributors, and like the Binaltech argument, the fact that Takara Tomy have gone the extra mile to add extra engineering and moulding to their version of the release, well it’s likely many more will share the view. Expense is also a prominent subject in this discussion, mentioned by both Michael and Jon so far.
Even the most recent Hasbro Robots In Disguise toys have been eclipsed in terms of paint apps by Takara Tomy for their Transformers Adventure line, displayed ably by TAV01 Bumblebee above, and he’s actually more show accurate as a result. It’s not all about paint, though, we’ve mentioned tooling as well. It’s also not just a discussion that needs to take place in the world of modern Transformers. Martin Lund talks a little about historical differences between Takara and Hasbro’s Transformers:
“Going back to G1, it was already evident that Takara went in a slightly different direction – continuing their approach from their Diaclone/Microman day and releasing their boxed toys in sturdy styrofoam and easily replaceable inserts, whereas Hasbro went for the economic version with cardboard inserts with plastic bubbles that were less easy to replace the toys back into. Whether this was (and still is!) just a reflection of ‘use-and-discard’ western consumerism or not is not something I want to go into here…Packaging aside even the toys themselves would sometimes feature elements that the Western releases did not. Most notably were any kind of launchers: In Japan they would and could fire their projectiles quite a distance whereas the Western versions would sometimes barely keep the projectiles in place, let alone fire them any sort of notable distance“.
“And then the there are the toys that were altered between markets, toys like Silverbolt, Onslaught and Motormaster and their base mode launching gimmicks which were deemed unsafe for American kids and completely altered.
“Starting with Beast Wars, Takara started a practice that they continue to employ to this day, namely colouring their toys more closely to their media appearances, adding extra paint applications, changing plastic hues and even – like in the case of Combiner Wars Devastator – adding joints and accessories that Hasbro probably deemed to costly to add themselves. That being said, Hasbro US usually have to work up against a fixed on-shelf size and price point for a given size class assortment, whereas the Japanese offices are more free to adjust the pricing on individual releases to add that something extra to the figure.”
While Takara Tomy released Transformers have not always been media accurate, Martin has covered some highly salient points, namely the target market (for both Hasbro and Takara) and price points that Hasbro must meet.
More Bumblebees. Transformers Animated by Takara Tomy was not as well received as other previous or later Takara concepts seeing as how the addition of shiny paint across many figures took show accuracy away from them in a highly noticeable way. In my experience, the Hasbro versions of Animated figures have better joints, fit and general quality control as well. Some collectors are already convinced that Takara versions are generally better. Duron Land said “I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Hasbro has price points that they have to reach, and a younger demographic to appeal to, so they must make cuts where Takara-Tomy often does not. Takara produces for a largely collector-based market, so more attention to detail is needed to stand out in an already crowded robot toy market“.
Sid Beckett supports the idea that Takara figures are superior. “I think it’s true. Not only does the plastic feel better, the paint job is usually much, much better. A simple example of this is the Legend class (I forget the new scale names, sorry) Tailgate, I sold the Hasbro version because it just felt cheap and nasty, after waiting years for an update to that character. The Takara version is lovely. There are obvious exceptions, such as the Arms Micron versions of Prime, but the lack of paint with those was a stylistic choice (to go with decals) rather than a cost cutting measure. Another example of this is with the recent Combiner Wars debacle. For me, the SDCC and Hasbro Devastator was effectively dead in the water when Takara announced their version with such overly elaborate tooling updates such as ELBOWS, literally the day before the Hasbro Botcon panel (the Takara panel was the talk of Botcon, NOT the Hasbro panel)“.
“All of Combiner Wars is a good example, as much as I’ve enjoyed the new characters such as Rook and Alpha Bravo, people want Gee-wuuun, and that is exactly what Takara is giving them, with better paint and even new tooling, or even wholly new figures if they feel justified. It’s hard to stomach Hasbro’s bullshit reasoning for Blast Off being a Slingshot repaint, when we have 99% confidence that Takara will just give us a space shuttle. After all, it’s not like they can’t repaint space shuttles to fit other figures later down the line, considering how repaint heavy CW is. But this isn’t a new trend, the Beast Wars figures from Takara had vastly superior paint jobs, the Henkei line was full of careful, loving paint jobs and decisions (heck, they threw out loads of spare engines / exhaust intakes from the Sideswipe mold just to make him more G1 accurate), same with the United line. Ultimately this is a pay to play hobby, and individuals have to make the subjective decision whether the figures are worth the extra cost of import, or even the delay on release. Objectively, I’d be hard pushed to think of an argument saying Hasbro is better. But one of the lovely things about this hobby is I’m sure the next person in line is waiting to argue the exact opposite“. Not yet, Sid. Soon.
Bryce Rutledge is another who believes Takara generally produce better figures, although he has reservations about the Arms Micron interpretations of TF Prime Transformers like Wheeljack above “On average, I think Takara has the better figures. There’s the occasional piece or line that they miss the mark on, but with things like Masterpiece, there’s no contest. I wouldn’t own a single Hasbro MP if they weren’t gifts or characters not released by Takara. Better paint, build quality and tighter joints of the figures. Even MP Prime where a lot of people went Hasbro because of the eyes, a couple internal labels and they’re just as bright, without sacrificing the red and paint in the trailer. That’s not to say that all are better, for example Arms Micron adding the Minicon ‘warts’ all over the figures and the occasional Henkei or United figure where the chrome and shiny made no sense“.
Not everyone sees it as being so clearly in Takara’s (or Hasbro’s) favour. This view of price points limiting Hasbro but not Takara – who are more collector-centric – is shared by a number of others.
Jeremy Kaufmann said the following “Takara (or in recent years) TakaraTomy versions of Transformers are serving a different audience than Hasbro is. Sometimes this means the Japanese release is a premium toy with extra goodies or nicer packaging, but more often the colors are just different. You can’t consistently say Japanese releases are better but you’re pretty safe in saying they are different and more expensive. The extra expense may be worth it to the discerning nerd collector, but probably not anyone else.
“Animated Arcee, Generations Straxus, Combiner Wars/Unite Warriors Superion… all slightly different, not much to write home about. God Ginrai on the other hand is way different than Powermaster Optimus Prime. Doubleclouder, though, is not as drastic. If you want to go back to Arcee, the recent Generations/Legends Arcee is a little more show accurate in color scheme but the paint budget to achieve that means her guns are plain pink plastic while the Hasbro one has gray and black painted on the gun. Often Takara Tomy is more screen-accurate, but not always“.
This is supported by Kit Tang when asked the question of whether Takara’s Transformers were regularly superior to Hasbro’s: “The statement is a bit disingenuous. True, Takara toys tend to have better paint jobs, packaging and (anecdotally, nobody’s actually done a proper study) better QC but the problem is Takara toys cost more, so you would expect them to be ‘better’. Hasbro product is cheaper because it’s priced cheaper. So is Hasbro worse? Considering the toys are practically the same I’d say it’s not so much ‘Takara is better’, but more along the lines of ‘you get what you pay for’“. Getting what you pay for is certainly a consideration when choosing between a Takara Buster Optimus Prime seen above and a ROTF Hasbro Optimus Prime, the price difference can occasionally include a zero. Whether that’s worth it or not is down to the collector.
Allen Greenwood’s words echo the above. “Hasbro and Takara Tomy simply have differing consumer markets and cater to them accordingly. Hasbro has an approach towards capturing a new consumer whereas Takara Tomy market a bit more towards to older, adult collectors [of G1]. The budgets per figure are different as well. Much of what some perceive as ‘better’ often come with more paint applications. I’ve found that to be very much a hit or miss scenario. Collectors then have to decide if those differences are worth the price, especially since often times most collectors will pursue one over the other of a same figure. Generally speaking, most things are relatively the same. However, for a collector, those small details can make a big difference. Having said all of that, a collector should recognize whether or not they are being catered to. There are certainly options available for today’s collectors. A collector should be wise to their own budgets while knowing what’s going to have lasting value in one’s collection. Sometimes figures are vastly different, whereas other times the difference may not be relative to a higher cost“.
Andrew Hall who has worked on Transformers projects in Japan offers this insight into the workings of Takara and their releases: “It’s not true for every case, but Takara versions are regularly better than Hasbro ones because they tend to have a greater number and detail in paint applications. If that weren’t the case, it’d be rather difficult to justify the comparatively higher price. Takara also often have the advantage of observing reaction to the Hasbro version, which is commonly released first“. This is key and a point for consideration when collectors like myself weigh up the relative novelty of being able to buy what I want from a local store, or wait for what could be a more appealing version from overseas.
Andrew goes on, and the subject of Unite Warriors and Generation 1 influence come up again,”If you’re discussing ‘better’ not solely in terms of the final result but in terms of cost performance, though, it would be more debatable! Unite Warriors in general, but this is of course coming from a G1-centric adult collector’s viewpoint. Children might not care much about paint detail at all, and instead go for the version with more vibrant colors, so this is coming from a collector’s perspective. Unite Warriors Devastator is likely to be another one, especially with the added elbows and guns. That’s all possible because Takara Tomy didn’t go first“.
David Buenaño Hochman also talks about how post-Hasbro release schedules for Takara can aid them in producing a more attractive product. “Takara Transformers usually have better show accurate decos and presentation. But these are usually because Takara toys are released after Hasbro so they have time to adjust for factory mistakes and make running changes. All the toys are made in the same factories. The differences are usually because of legal details (In USA there is a much more ‘I sue you’ culture so toys must adhere to stricter standards than Japan. So in Japan you can do things like longer smokestacks and firing missiles that in the USA would be considered a safety dilemma). And that’s why in Japan you can also make toys that would be impossible to do in USA (I’m looking at you MP Megatron). As adult collectors, we could say that Takara has better quality as a whole than Hasbro (for some of the things considered before). Finally, I personally think that years ago (before the merger with Tomy) Takara had better quality than now“.
It does seem that when taking into consideration, for many Transformers examples, paint application and presentation, target markets and additional extras or tooling (or characters!), screen accuracy and collector focus against increased prices, import costs and the occasional tendency to cater to a G1-centric audience, Takara is the way to go. However, not everyone thinks that, myself included. For TF Animated, one of my favourite lines of all time, I’d almost always select the Hasbro versions. While my TAV Bumblebee is way ahead of the Hasbro version, when I weigh up costs it makes a great deal less sense. A case by case basis for this question of Takara vs Hasbro Transformers is how I see it.
Seeing as we’ve heard from the neutrals and the pro-Takara collectors, I think it would be fair to finish on a pro-Hasbro note, and Dan Ghile may seem like he’s doing a fine job of putting up a one-man defense for them this week, but what you’re getting here is some perspective. “If we put aside collector orientated lines and look at how each company has handled their ‘main’ media tied line, Takara have had nothing but criticism for years. Animated had the metallic decos, Prime lacked paint apps and had added ports glued on and TAV had the remolded spots for the stickers. All points which have left ‘the fans’ arguing about how Takara have ‘failed’. In all honesty I believe Takara are better suited to catering for a collector market – however, outside of Masterpiece you have to remember that Hasbro is still involved in developing the product. ‘Superior’ paint apps are subjective to what the consumer wants and are dependent on what the person buying wants from a toy in terms of homage.
“On the whole Takara are better at bringing a product to market that appeals to the hardcore G1 cartoon fanbase. In fact thats often the only area on which they shine. All important for some, but it does leave them short when Hasbro seems to do all the heavy lifting in terms of furthering the brand. Takara struggle to sell toys to children. They’ve locked down the collector market domestically, and even internationally to some. However Hasbro sell toys to kids, and it needs to always be remembered that this is their primary market. The fact that I can go to a local store and buy a G1 homage figure is actually pretty unbelievable. That Hasbro is willing to bring that product to market is commendable. At the end of the day both have their strengths. I do think that the louder pro Takara supporters are drawn in by the allure of expensive imported toys – surely that makes the hobby feel more grown up. Hasbro cater to us where they can -moreso these days than ever, and in the face of a declining demographic and increasing costs. Plus they invented Transformers. Not the toys themselves, but the characters, the shows, the brand. If not for Hasbro would we even have this hobby to discuss?“
Huge thanks to all those who answered the call this week, Michael Kingcaid, Kit Tang, Duron Land, Bryce Rutledge, Jeremy Kaufmann, Jon Strong, Andrew Hall, David Buenaño Hochman, Sid Beckett, Martin Lund, Allen Greenwood and Dan Ghile.
All the best