Is it absurd to make a statement like “Buying Transformers toys is neither about Transformers, nor is it about toys”? Of course it’s absurd, those of us who collect Transformers are all about the shape-changing robots from Cybertron and their hand-candy plastic and metal representations. At what point, though, does the end result and motivation become more the chasing of a feeling than any sort of devotion to the fiction or experiencing a toy’s engineering or looks? For many collectors that may never have happened, and may never have been the case to begin with.
So, with that door shutting rather abruptly, what on Earth is the point of this article? Well, I’ve noticed something about my own Transformers collecting over the last year, a feeling that only now is crystallising into something I hope to communicate in any coherent fashion about why I collect Transformers toys. I no longer watch the Generation 1 cartoon, and although I am in the midst of a Beast Wars watch-through and excited for the upcoming Bumblebee movie, apart from IDW’s Lost Light I really feel no massive connection between Transformers fiction and my current toy collecting passion. Even then, the toys I collect are not directly related to the Lost Light/More Than Meets The Eye comic.
It’s true that the transforming nature of the toys is a big appeal for me, as it was when I first handled G1 Starscream in 1986. And it was the original cartoon that led me to the toys in the first place, so of course they are undeniably responsible for my current passion for collecting vintage Transformers, and only vintage Transformers. As it stands, though, I am not constantly buying new G1 toys for the sake of having a big collection of figures. I am also not buying them in any condition available, but more specifically going for really superb specimens that satisfy a particular urge. So if I’m not regularly enjoying Transformers fiction, and I’m not actively playing with the toys or constantly in the midst of posing or transforming them, could there be a different appeal at work as well that ties it all together?
Maybe it’s not that profound, but maybe it’s everything. Sometimes I find myself a little lacking in motivation to read the latest Transformers fiction, watch the latest cartoons or even continue with my watch-through, and that is no reflection of the quality of the fiction. Sometimes I find myself not quite energised enough to pick up my Transformers and photograph them or write about them, even when I am well rested and have some free time in the evening to use productively. I’m not the type to watch TV in the evening or play games when my daughter has gone to bed, not at this particular stage in my life and not for the last 5 or 6 years. If we’re not out or with guests, I’ve typically taken photos, done toy research or toy writing in that ‘me’ time. Or toy buying/selling.
On occasion, even that free time has not inspired me to photograph toys or write about them, as much as I enjoy it. But, if the right song comes on when my playlist makes its way around to the synthwave/retrowave music that has consumed me over the last few years, something can spark and suddenly I am ignited. The feel of 80s-style synthesizer-driven music, or video game soundtracks is for me inextricably linked to Transformers – or at least – what I consider to be Transformers for me, personally. It’s important for me to emphasise that this is not what I consider the key ingredient in my passion for collecting Transformers toys, but it can act as the missing piece, occasionally the majority element, in re-creating a feeling.
In the last few years I have posted a number of photo sets and even produced articles that had a soundtrack included, or recommended. More and more this has tended towards synthwave music as my collecting has also focused again purely on Generation 1 Transformers. With synthwave artists growing ever more sophisticated and successful at re-creating that magical 80s sound, what I consider to be the soundtrack to my childhood of heroic cartoons and video games, a feeling has stirred inside me. That feeling is directly transferable to Transformers, as they themselves were such a key element of that same beloved childhood vibe.
This feeling is made up multiple facets all working in harmony. It’s the look of vintage G1 Transformers, especially post-movie designs whose vivid colours so closely resemble typical nostalgic 80s imagery, filled with neon pinks, segmented sunsets and orange gradients. It’s the sound of the synthesizer samples and beats that transport me back to my Amiga 500 or the Transformers cartoon soundtracks, especially my Transformers: The Movie VHS. Listening to this music while taking photos and writing articles about those Transformers evokes the feeling, and I realise that I spend a lot of my days trying to prolong that feeling. It could be the T-shirts I now wear with these same colours, that of synthwave artists or just particularly neon! Perhaps it’s the music I have on in the car and on my headphones at work or the visual and written influences I try to work into the projects and teams I engage with in my professional role every day. Interestingly, the music can often help conjure an image in my head, an image of a photograph I want to take, but sometimes it’s the modern sci-fi vibe of the TakaraTomy Diaclone toys that helps me realise that more effectively.
This same feeling was expertly captured in the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror not so long ago, albeit minus the robots. I realise that a great deal of my hobby time and energy – and pretty much everything I do creatively at the moment – draws major inspiration from that same source. Transformers seem to be integral to all of it, as do nostalgia and the music, but a combination of the three is potent. You’ll see me tagging synthwave artists on Twitter because a particular song of theirs provided the soundtrack to an article or a photograph for me, and knowing their influences are similar to mine, I hope they’ll enjoy a hit of Transformers nostalgia at the same time. I believe it was synthwave artists The Midnight who said in an interview on the Beyond Synth Podcast that this style of music has a sort of earnest quality to it, a sentiment you can trust, and that’s how I feel about the Transformers I now surround myself with.
Collectors often say they like sealed G1 Transformers as they remind them of walking into a 1980s toy shop and seeing shelves stacked with figures. Others go a long way to re-create a moment of childhood magic by buying one specific Transformer in perfect condition so they can experience a uniquely crystallised occasion in their memory once more. To feel as they did on their eighth birthday. There’s a lot more to my collecting of Transformers than just enjoying toy robots and paying physical tribute to a cartoon I loved. Having this music in my life has helped bind it all together in a way that I can access and prolong more readily, and it’s no coincidence that other collectors who share an appreciation of the same core elements of the hobby as I do enjoy it too.
Long live synthwave, long live the Transformers and long live that feeling.
All the best