For today’s Countdown we’re going all vintage! You see, there are a few choice examples of original series Transformers toys that have strange tales to tell, usually stretching back to before the brand was even a thing. It just so happens that they’re also some of my own personal favourite toys to take pictures of, so happy days! All that said, here are 5 examples of G1 Transformers toys that have weird and wonderful origins.
The original Shockwave toy is pretty much the poster boy for strangely-inherited Transformers designs. It was first released as the purple Decepticon we all know and love back in very early 1985 – so early in fact that he was one of the few second wave characters to make it into the first season of the accompanying cartoon. However, before his time guarding Cybertron, the toy was better known as Astro Magnum, and was originally designed and released by a company named ToyCo in 1983. Unlike his Transformers interpretation, Astro Magnum was grey, and became one of the most infamously knocked-off toys doing the rounds at that time (often with pink translucent plastic replacing the ToyCo version’s clear parts). There was a subsequent official release however, as ToyCo later licensed the design to be sold by RadioShack. It was now known as Galactic Man, although RadioShack’s involvement meant that this version is commonly referred to by the nickname, ‘Shackwave’.
Whilst most Transformers fans can’t imagine Shockwave in anything other than his signature purple these days, there are still many who would love to see more grey repaints doing the rounds in homage to the character’s origins.
#4: The Insecticons
OK, so perhaps even relatively casual Transformers fans might be aware that the infamous Insecticon trio from 1985 features a set of toys all originally designed for and released under the Diaclone line. So what’s so unusual about that, eh? After all, there are dozens of early Transformers toys that originally came from Diaclone, so why single out these particular insectoid specimens?
Well, it’s nothing to do with their natty colour schemes (nor that they seem to be on a bit of a Christmas theme for some reason!). No, they’re unique in that they’re the only Diaclone hand-me-downs that were intended to represent the bad guys in that original universe (as opposed to the “good guy” toys from Takara’s other line, Micro Change, that were subsequently repurposed as Decepticons).
The Insecticon designs were originally released in 1983 as part of a giftset known as Insecter Robos, and were part of the evil Waruder faction, who were the villains of the Diaclone universe (with the name even deriving from the Japanese word, 悪, or waru, meaning “evil”). They were known as Kuwagatorer, Battas and Kabutron, and represented lifeless vehicles for their Waruder pilots, which in turn explains why these toys have small cockpit sections built into them (something that caused endless confusion for children growing up with their Transformers’ equivalents).
Understanding their origin certainly puts these strange toys into context a little, although for many fans they’ll always be more recognisable with their now familiar black and purple colour schemes.
#3: The Deluxe Insecticons
Whilst the more commonly-known Insecticon team inherited from the Diaclone line featured heavily in the surrounding Transformers fiction, the so-called “Deluxe” Insecticons barely registered on the franchise as a whole. Yet despite their lesser-status they still have an interesting backstory in how they came to be. They were originally created by Takatoku Toys in Japan, and were a follow up to that company’s biggest success, designing the toys that would accompany the popular series, Macross (hold that thought for a moment, won’t you?).
Known as Armored Insect Battalion Beetras, the toys were not-long released before Takatoku went bankrupt, with all of the designs being subsequently purchased by Bandai, who were a direct competitor to Takara in Japan at the time.
When Transformers quickly became a huge success, Hasbro started looking beyond their relationship with Takara to ensure they had plentiful supply of robot designs ready for Western markets, and Bandai thus licensed their newly-acquired wares for new life under the Transformers banner as the so-called Deluxe Insecticons.
Sadly the agreement with Bandai and their rivalry with Takara meant that none of the Deluxe Insecticons were ever featured in much of the franchise’s supporting fiction. Despite a brief appearance in the UK-version of the Marvel comic from the time, they never made much of a blip otherwise, causing them to fly far under the radar of a lot of fans
It’s a shame too, as they’re some of the most distinctive designs from the time, standing out in the Decepticon ranks as being at once visually-appealing whilst remaining surprisingly intricate to handle. Their abnormal aesthetic is perhaps what makes them some of the more peculiar toys fleshing out the early G1 ranks.
What’s also rather curious is how a number of Transformers catalogues from the time continued to feature the toys in their Beetras colour schemes, making for a lot of confusion for children at the time, not to mention latter-day fans unaware of the toys’ origins.
Of particular note in this line-up is Ransack, re-born with a new black and yellow colour scheme under Transformers. He was long thought to have been unreleased in his previous green and grey paint job by the time TakaToku had gone backrupt, although evidence has since appeared to contradict this, with retail specimens popping up to show that Beet-Vadam did indeed see release at some point prior to Transformers.
Alongside the Deluxe Insecticons were the so-called Deluxe Vehicles, known as Whirl and Roadbuster, which were also licensed by Takatoku from their Special Armored Battalion Dorvack line. Unlike their insectoid counterparts, these two would go on to get at least a little more exposure in the UK Marvel comic as part of the battle-hardened Autobot crack-team, the Wreckers. With the idea of that crew having found a resurgence in more recent Transformers media, so too have the characters been rediscovered for a newer audience, whilst the Deluxe Insecticons remain firmly a part of the past.
#2: Omega Supreme
Omega Supreme is portrayed in the Transformers supporting fiction as being the Autobot’s last stand, their supreme line of defence in the war against the Decepticons. Yet the toy’s origins are nothing but supremely convoluted! Omega began life as Super Change Robo Mechabot-1 and was released in Japan by a company known as Toybox in a very different colour scheme of grey, red and white. Interestingly, the design for the toy was completed under commission by Takara’s then-rival, Tomy.
As with the Deluxe Insecticons, Hasbro licensed the design in an effort to bolster the ranks of their sudden smash-hit new franchise, and turned Super Change Robo Mechabot-1 into the supreme guardian we know and love. The toy’s origin meant it was never part of Takara’s roster of Transformers in Japan however, although it was released in a number of territories under different names by other companies who had also secured a license alongside Hasbro.
Omega Supreme was not alone in his unusual beginning, as Tomy also designed the toy that would eventually become known as Sky Lynx, and it too was licensed to Hasbro by Toybox for inclusion in the Western Transformers line. Knowing that these two share a common origin certainly explains many of their design similarities.
Omega and Sky Lynx did eventually make it into the Japanese Transformers line-up however. After Takara merged with Tomy in 2006, it transpired that the latter had retained the rights to both designs despite them being originally produced by ToyBox. Thus, the 2008 Encore releases were made possible, much to the delight of fans everywhere.
C’mon, you knew this guy would be taking the top spot, right? After all, the 1985-released Jetfire may not necessarily have the weirdest origins of this list, but it’s fair to say that as his genesis remains such a convoluted yet somehow inherent part of the character’s DNA even to this day, it really couldn’t be anyone else. Aside from anything, this was the toy that *every* Transformers fan wanted to have when they were growing up in the 1980s.
So, what’s the story? Well, this design is rather famously (and rather obviously) lifted directly from the popular toyline known as Takatoku 1/55, which began in 1982 and in turn supported the television series, Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Originally known as VF-1S Super Valkyrie figure, the toy that would become Jetfire was a big part of the line’s smash success, and was hugely influential on many subsequent transforming robot toylines that would soon follow, including the likes of Diaclone. The big idea of the 1/55 toyline was to create “kanzen henkei”, or “perfectly transforming” robot toys that didn’t prioritise the robot mode at the expense of the vehicular form.
What’s perhaps even more interesting is that the designs for Macross were overseen by Shoji Kawamori, who was already well-known in the world of mecha design and would go on to work on both Diaclone and Transformers, eventually completing the notorious re-design of Masterpiece MP-3 Starscream prior to its release. When Hasbro needed to full its ranks for the 1985 wave of Transformers, the VF-1S toy was licensed to them for release alongside the likes of the Deluxe Insecticons and Deluxe Vehicles.
Really, what sets Jetfire apart is the legacy that his origins have left for him. Unlike the other Takatoku designs, the character would go on to appear in the popular Transformers cartoon, albeit undergoing a heavy redesign and name change (to Skyfire). This was to avoid licensing issues in Japan, where Takara were using the same cartoon in support of their own Transformers toyline, despite Jetfire not being part of their roster. His inclusion in the animation has meant the character has survived the test of time, remaining a notable part of the franchise even today, though even modern interpretations often seek to pay homage to his convoluted roots in one way or another.
So that’s our list. Did we miss any great Transformers with weird origins?