Don’t you dare complain about the state of Transformers collecting today, because wherever you look, we’re being told by fellow collectors that we have never had it so good as a toy buying fandom. Whether that is true or not is not the debate topic today. In this article I’ll be talking about what could happen to large sections of the collecting community’s habits should major layers of what we’re able to buy these days be removed. What would happen if 3rd party figures no longer existed? What if Masterpiece Transformers were discontinued? What if we never got any more Movie toys? Some would rejoice, others would mourn and the rest may just re-adjust or remain completely unaffected.
There is an argument that 3rd party Transformers are the biggest luxury we are afforded as a collecting community of toy enthusiasts. To be clear, that doesn’t mean they are the most luxurious products available per se, but more that the fact they exist and occasionally cater directly to highly niche interests or specific gaps in our collections makes them a luxury. That’s an argument for another time, but what would we buy if the whole scene were to evaporate? No more Masterpiece-a-likes of toys unlikely to be done by TakaraTomy. No more intricate figures at smaller deluxe, voyager and legends class scale, figures that simply would not be cost effective for the official manufacturers. There’s more that 3P caters to, of course, but you get the idea.
Effectively, collectors would still have enough product on the market to go back and fill gaps, picking up releases they had to pass on first time around because of the sheer glut of toys available. If that’s what they wanted to buy exclusively, there’s so much 3rd party stuff to explore from just a couple of years back that maybe got passed over because of how many of us needed to commit to a collection priority and aesthetic, sacrificing other ‘cool’ things. This would be much harder for those who want 3P product purely to pad out Masterpiece-style collections with characters that are generally unlikely to be released officially. They may well have to content themselves with what TakaraTomy put out as Masterpiece or make compromises with large-scale Classics-style 3P.
Speaking of Masterpiece, what would fans of that line do if it were to be discontinued, effective immediately? There would undoubtedly be a great deal of frustration towards TakaraTomy for leaving so many sections of the cartoon cast unfinished, and not making their way towards later-era things, more Beast-era MPs and Movie MPs – not to mention MPs of toy lines that are coming up to their significant anniversaries. If we are going to look at this article as a series of layers being stripped away to the core, leaving less and less luxurious collector-aimed lines, the immediate response of “buy 3rd party instead” will not be applicable.
While an understandable number may leave the hobby entirely should MP vanish, as many state that’s all they collect, some might re-imagine their collecting goals using Generation 1 Transformers or Generations/Classics, of which the latter can be viewed as moderately collector-aimed. Those collectors may also return to previous Transformers toy lines like Alternators and Binaltech and complete them, or just buy more of them to experience. This is especially likely if the real world alternate modes of the Autobot cars were key attractions of Masterpiece toys for certain people.
Such is the nature of this article that not all possibilities will have a chance to be explored and discussed at length, so I must apologise for that and move swiftly onward. I mentioned that Generations – specifically Combiner Wars and Titans Return currently – may be something that former MP and 3P collectors would look to in the absence of new product for the above hypothetically-discontinued styles. Collectors who wanted more accurate and posable representations of their Generation 1 favourites may actually find quite a lot of joy in Titans Return and Combiner Wars. Both sets of toy lines have huge amounts of love and G1 references poured into them, from character choice and homages to inter-connectivity and play pattern. The lack of premium feel may not be good enough for some of the aforementioned 3P/MP crowd, though.
The Classics/Universe/Generations era of toys boasts a hugely extensive range of figures, characters and aesthetics. There’s probably something there for most collectors. But what if Generations scale toys were no longer available? Some may see it as a good thing for Transformers as a brand, since Generation 1 manifests itself in a lot of places within the toy line, just as it does prominently in Masterpiece and 3rd party stuff increasingly. A complete lack of Generation 1 influence in toy design and direction, character choice and aesthetic may well spur more original ideas and directions. TF:Animated, the Unicron Trilogy, Beast era Transformers and the Movie toys certainly kept enough people’s interest and gave many fans their way into the hobby. With no 3P, MP or Generations toys to buy beyond what has been released up until now, at least Classics collectors could conceivably find a lot of appeal in lines like Car Robots, Animated and the like. They might even decide to take a step up to more complex figures like Alternators and Binaltech, but if you’re not into cars, that’s a no go.
If someone wants complexity, they could certainly do with looking at the many movie toys we’ve had since 2007. We’ve had them at Masterpiece levels of engineering and finish (maybe not always posability), and every level underneath down to 1-steps. If the Movie universe as a whole doesn’t appeal, like the Beast era did not to many, then choice becomes even more limited going forwards – especially with the Generation 1-focused lines no longer existing. This is a strange one, though, as a lack of a Movie line would be seen by many as a real problem for the Transformers brand. It is believed that the revenue from the Movies directly contributes to the range of Masterpiece and generations style Transformers – plus everything else we get – that collectors enjoy so much.
We are almost approaching a late 1990s style restriction on what new Transformers collectors could buy. Should the Movie toys be done and dusted, and assuming collectors don’t have a desire to go back in time to pick up things they have missed, or explore something that their older priorities (now no longer being catered for) prohibited them from doing, then we are down to the bread and butter of Transformers toys.
Transformers toys based totally on the current media being produced for children. Currently this is Rescue Bots (longest running Transformers TV series ever!) and Robots In Disguise. While the RID/TAV toys are fun and some have touches of genius, they are not to everyone’s tastes. Should this or older toys be the only choice for collectors, the fandom could see a return to the days of the majority buying older figures as opposed to new. Back in the 90s, there were still so many Generation 1 and 2 Transformers from across the world that people didn’t have, there was more than enough to keep folks occupied and busy without the need for new product. Nowadays, fans’ collections have moved on and more people have completed the vintage areas that they wanted – but what is considered ‘vintage’ now is much larger a group of Transformers. The difference between the start of G1 (vintage) and Car Robots (modern at the time) was 16 years. Car Robots is now 17 years old, so we could conceivably call it vintage.
I can never see a time when there just aren’t any Transformers toys around that people want to collect, such has been the explosion of product in the last 5 to 10 years. Unless collectors entered the hobby to collect highly specific types of toys, there is enough diversity and depth in the brand (official and otherwise) to cater for most who find non-Masterpiece figures appealing. This article has of course taken a very general and smoothed out view of the brand’s history and available avenues for collection. I haven’t even mentioned non-Transforming toys, comics, reissues, variants and exclusives, stuff like Brave etc. The original question was very interesting to me; what would I do if all the lines I collected today were discontinued? I know I’d find something, be it completing G1 in the condition that I want, my pre-Transformers, finally getting all the Car Robots figures I coveted, getting those Binaltechs back etc. Whether or not 3P, MP and Generations toys have made it impossible for some to go back and appreciate older lines is another matter. I like to think that Transformers as a concept will always remain magic and there’s wonder in a 1-step that morphs into a recognisable robot with a flick, just as there’s wonder in a 40-step conversion between a realistic alt mode and a cartoon-accurate robot with articulation to burn.
And if there’s nothing in Transformers to interest you should it all go to pot, there’s always other 80s properties!
All the best