Welcome back to part 2 of our trawl through all the various aspects of the Transformers franchise that fans will never agree on! In case you missed part 1, we’ve already dealt with such controversial topics as what colour a pair of toys should be, which cartoon drawing became another drawing in a film from over 35 years ago, whether having additional parts and added engineering can be considered ‘lazy’, and pondered if one particular toyline from two and a half decades prior really was the death knell of the flourishing global franchise we know today.
Ahem. Moving on then, the list continues below!
WARNING: you may find you disagree with some of the points raised…
#8: ‘Mint in box’
This one will especially resonate for anyone that has ever bought anything second hand on eBay ever, I’m sure! You see, there are a lot of commonly accepted terms for toys on the aftermarket, many of which have even made it into more general parlance. I am of course meaning acronyms like MIB (mint in box), MISB (mint in sealed box) or MOSC (mint on sealed card), but what often proves contentious is the common word in all three of those – ‘mint’. As someone who has waded through more vintage toy auctions that I care to think about right now, I can tell you this – the word ‘mint’ means precisely nothing. Some sellers reserve it for the toys that you might say fit the typically understood definition of the word itself, that is those in pristine condition; as new. However, you’ll just as easily find the word lumped into auctions where all manner of defects or damage can be observed, sometimes to the point where it seems like mockery! I’ve observed ‘mint’ toys that have been heavily sun-damaged, been missing limbs or other parts, had extreme sticker or paint wear, or just generally seen better days. The only real thing you can be sure about when you see the word ‘mint’ being used, is that you really can’t be sure what it means at all!
Oh, boy, here we go. Can you believe that more years have now passed since the first live-action Transformers film in 2007 than had passed since the end of Generation 1 at the time of its release? Perhaps that will provide some perspective when I mention that it’s somehow still impossible to post a photo of the characters from that story without someone popping up to let you know how much they dislike them! You see, a lot of fans have never really accepted Bayformers, be that the robot designs, the films themselves, the rewrites of classic lore, the casual racism… ok, well, we can hopefully all agree on that last one, but bizarrely the most controversial elements of the films for many weren’t actually those which were truthfully more troubling, as right from the moment that first set of concept artwork leaked online prior to the first movie’s release, a lot of people never accepted how their favourite characters have been visually portrayed. Now in fairness, it was quite an extreme departure from anything we’d seen before, but this one rocked the boat so much that the argument continues to today. In fact, we’re still seeing it now with the upcoming Rise of the Beasts film, so it doesn’t seem like the movieverse being a source of contention is something that is about to end any time soon!
Transformers fans have a funny relationship with repaints, don’t they? People will legit scoff at the idea of HasTak ‘milking the mould’ but then turn around and splash out on a 3-pack set of Siege Rainmakers because they bring that one scene from the cartoon to life. If anything, it seems like repaints are generally considered acceptable by a lot of fans as long as they have some sort of purpose to them, be that representing a character from a cartoon who just so happens to share a design with someone else (e.g. Ironhide & Ratchet), or as a means to procuring a lesser-known and therefore unlikely-to-happen-otherwise character in toy form (such as Generations Selects Rotorstorm), or even to bring to life everyone’s favourite niche animation error from some 35 years prior. However, without that identifiable logic, they’re often seen as a worthless cash-grab, an attempt by the powers that be to strip fans of their hard-earned coin. The reality is that all toys are designed to do that, of course – the ones that just happen to resemble a drawing you’ve seen on your TV aren’t imbued with a righteous purpose because of it – and if anything, it’s the sales of repaints that actually help to keep the costs down elsewhere and to fund new moulds being made. Or y’know, they’re just milking the mould again. You decide.
#5: Knock offs
Unlike some of the entries on this list, it’s not hard to understand why knock-offs are controversial, is it? Even a lot of fans who will willingly support unlicensed third party designs will draw the line at out-and-out reproductions of official toys being flogged through illicit channels. Then there are some who find shades of grey to the whole thing, using the logic that they would never purchase a KO toy that replicated something they could find officially, and only if it had noticeable variations in the colour or design used. Of course, you will also find people who swear that KOs are somehow better than the official releases, perhaps putting to one side the potential impact that has on the fortunes of the hobby as a whole. Whatever your stance on it all, there’s little doubt that this is one topic where people will never find common ground.
#4: Masterpiece vs mainline
Both the Masterpiece line and the overarching Generations line (in all its many incarnations) have been running for ages now, long enough that a lot of today’s collectors weren’t even around for the beginning of it all! They’ve also both swung into similar territory over the years in terms of how G1-focused they have been, whilst incorporating smatterings of influence from elsewhere, including the likes of Beast Wars. Yet they remain very different in terms of price point, which of course reflects the respective designs, engineering, parts counts, paint applications and complexity you’ll find in both lines. All of that is a very calm and logical way of saying that we, as modern-day Transformers collectors, are all exceptionally lucky beyond our wildest dreams, as we essentially get two toylines worth of stuff all designed to cater to our every whim and preference. Unfortunately, though, it seems that the debate of which is better, Masterpiece or mainline, will continue to rage on despite the two essentially being a great compliment for one another. There’s no doubt the occasional bit of snobbishness that comes from the MP crowd, just as you’ll read opinions from mainline collectors groaning about whatever the latest Masterpiece toy is, all too often despite never having handled it to begin with. For my money, I can’t help but feel that the whole debate belies what an impact the two lines actually have on one another, especially as you can clearly see how continued advancements in the Masterpiece line have had a direct and very positive impact on Generations examples, and how in turn the success of those mainline toys enables HasTak to fund more and more high-end projects. Is mainline better than Masterpiece, or vice versa? No, of course not – it’s all personal preferences afforded to us during what is surely a golden age of collecting, but don’t expect everyone to start agreeing on that any day soon!
It might sound surprising that a toyline with the central concept of transforming robots could produce such controversy about how said robots transform, but here we are. Of course, there are many deviations in the way an individual toy will get from mode A to mode B, but some of those cause a lot more debate than others, you see! That includes things like ‘shellformers’ as much as it does the use of fake parts, as mentioned in part 1. However, so-called partsforming (meaning that certain parts of the toy need to be unattached and then reattached elsewhere during transformation) is one of the most notorious, as a lot of collectors believe it cheats, subtracting from the core idea of what a Transformers toy should be in the first place. Certainly, there are some particularly egregious examples of this from over the years but you will even find fans who refuse to allow even relatively mild cases of it, whether the end product is arguably better of as a result or not. The really funny thing though, is that partsforming has been a part of Transformers since the very beginning, and arguably was never more prevalent on some of the earliest toys. Just check out stuff like 1984’s Seeker design and you’ll see exactly what I mean, although many robots from the Diaclone hand-me-down era had fists and other bits & bobs that needed to be removed for conversion to their alternate modes. Then there’s stuff like combiners, which were exclusively partsformers for the duration of Generation 1 (with even the oft-touted all-in-one solution for 1989’s Liokaiser incorporating a separate head for the big man mode). The debate sometimes also misses the point that partsforming is still an actual choice in design, often as a means to yield a more preferable result in one or more modes, and can be another example where people who don’t like the idea just write it off as being ‘lazy’ instead. Ultimately though, there have been great strides to make transformation designs more cohesive as the years have rolled on, but partsforming remains a prominent component for a lot of releases even today. Don’t expect that to win everyone over though!
#2: Non-transforming Transformers
Back in 1990, the arrival of Action Masters was met with outrage. In fact, it may well have been the very first time Transformers was “ruined forever”, assuming you don’t count the controversy around the 1986 movie in that. Yes, the very idea of ‘Transformers that don’t transform’ went down about as well as a fart in a lift, and whilst attitudes have mellowed on this subject quite a bit over the years, there are still plenty who loathe the notion of the franchise’s most iconic aspect being absent from the toys themselves. I even did a bit of a poll recently and of all the people who replied, 31% said they very much would not buy a non-transforming Transformers toy, no matter how good it looked.
Honestly, I can’t help but think that’s a bit of a shame, even if do understand the reasons why people think that way. Besides, many non-transforming examples have plenty of other qualities about them that are worth considering, such as the recent officially-licensed releases from ThreeZero. If you were to do an in-hand comparison of something like their Dlx Optimus Prime versus the third party Toyworld Freedom Leader as a transformable representation of the Bumblebee movie robodad, I’m quite certain most people would come round to the idea that the former is the superior product in many ways, not least because it boasts far superior articulation, a more impressive finish and a more solid build, but also because once you start trying to transform the unofficial toy, it quickly becomes apparent it’s about as much fun as snogging a toaster. Sure, it *can* transform, but is it worth it when doing so is so arduous that you’re honestly unlikely to ever want to?
Anyway, that’s just one example of course, and I doubt it’ll be enough to convince the third or more of fans that still dislike the very concept of non-transforming Transformers toys to begin with, so expect this to be a debate that carries on for years to come!
And finally, we come to one of the most controversial topics of them all…
#1: Generation 1
What’s that? G1? The very part of the franchise that started it all? Controversial? Why yes, and maybe in ways that you hadn’t even considered, especially as to this day, G1 continues to incite more debate and discord than potentially any other part of Transformers history. Be it examples we’ve already looked at such as Hot Rod’s involvement in Optimus Prime’s death, or simply the manner in which whole swathes of fan-favourite characters were offed in a blaze of glory to swiftly make way for the incoming product line, there are numerous ways that Transformers divided opinion back in the 1980s, and it continues to do so even now. Is the animation a thing to be revered or just a load of childish rubbish? Are the toys really great or just a load of bricks that some fans simply think of fondly through rose-tinted nostalgia glasses? And, perhaps the biggest and most pertinent area of disagreement of them all – why can the franchise not move on from G1 at all? Yes, whilst there are of course plenty of diehard fans who will always view the early years as the best, there are also many who fell in love with Transformers because of Beast Wars, the Unicron Trilogy, Bayformers, IDW’s More Than Meets the Eye or some other avenue, and they’re not all exactly pumped for the constant G1 rehash that seems to be in vogue at the moment. Will the franchise ever move on significantly past G1? Should it even attempt to in the first place? These are potentially massive questions, with the only real certainty being that not everyone will agree on the answers.
So, that’s our list! I think that about wraps everything up. Or perhaps you disagree?