Despite being initially met with outcry amongst old-school fans during its mid-90s debut, Beast Wars has stood the test of time to become one of the most beloved and enduring parts of Transformers history.
Given that the central conceit of the series is robots with animal alternate forms, it’s no surprise the toys at the time featured all manner of weird and wonderful beast disguises to stir our imaginations. However, some noticeable overriding themes were at play, too, as the good guy Maximal crew was primarily made up of mammals and birds, whilst the evil Predacons consisted of dinosaurs and bugs, broadly speaking.
Although today’s examples don’t necessarily buck that trend, they remain some of the more distinctive choices for beast modes found during the series’ heyday, with each example occurring only once in toy form. Simply put, here are five unusual Beast Wars animal modes!
#5: Snarl (1997) / Beast Wars II Tasmania Kid (1998)
Initially released by Kenner under the classic Transformers name of Snarl in 1997, this toy is now more commonly identified by its Japanese moniker from a year later, where it debuted alongside a memorable cartoon portrayal as Tasmania Kid in Takara’s Beast Wars II line. Both versions are unusually identical (which was not very often the case from Beast Wars II onwards) and have recently inspired an updated Legacy attempt at the character, which is no surprise given what a distinctive alternate form the design possesses. As if the clue wasn’t already in the name, this is a Tasmanian devil, albeit very stylised! Despite being a significantly lighter shade of brown instead of the animal’s commonly dark shading, the large pointed ears and rather sizeable opening jaw are unmistakable and provide us with what is assuredly one of the more quirky choices for a beast mode of all. As the title suggests, these animals are native to Tasmania, a large island south of Australia, and are the largest carnivorous marsupials in existence today.
#4: Beast Wars Neo Mach Kick (1999)
Honestly, I could fill this list with Beast Wars Neo examples, primarily because the distinctive Takara exclusive line is chock full of atypical choices for alternate forms! That might sound like a stretch as this next entry is rather simply a horse – hardly a rare or surprising animal in the grand scheme – yet considering the Beast era was mostly focused on big cats and dinosaurs, it registers that way in the context of the toys. In any case, Mach Kick is about as bizarre as they come, sporting ‘My Little Pony’ style nylon hair for both the beast tail and his robot mode noggin, along with plenty of other idiosyncracies besides! Just no one asks me about the transformation on this one (it’s a foal’s errand), and we’ll be onto a whinny.
#3: Manterror (1997) / Beast Wars II Mantis (1998)
A fair share of the Preadcon ranks turn into various insects of all shapes, sizes and colours, yet there’s still something oddly specific about the distinctive sight of a praying mantis that hits different. The triangular head, protruding eyes and large imposing forelegs all give the right kind of creepy crawly vibe for this insidious effort, which, if anything, makes the toy’s repositioning as a Maximal-aligned character for Japan’s Beast Wars II all the more baffling! True, the Insectrons were friendlier than they looked, but I will forever find it hard to shake the bad-guy vibes of this design. Either way, the choice of animal form is inspired and provides a highly memorable robot mode as a bi-product.
#2: Beast Wars Neo Longrack (1999)
Come on, you knew this would be on here, surely? Yes, Longrack is the poster boy for quirky beast modes, even if, again, there’s nothing all that peculiar about the idea of a giraffe to begin with! Yet, in the weird world of Beast Wars, it feels hugely distinctive and has garnered a lot of intrigue over the years. Hailing from Beast Wars Neo, Longrack’s popularity has seen plenty of collectors tempted to add him to their ranks, even if he fits with precisely nothing else on the shelf! Fortunately, it’s also a remarkably fun toy, boasting gimmicks aplenty and a strange but compelling robot design to boot. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the animal head features a stick-out tongue (somewhat incorrectly coloured for the species, but hey) that, when pressed, makes his eyes roll backwards. What more could you possibly want?
#1: Beast Wars Neo Heinrad (1999)
For our final entry, we’re back to Beast Wars Neo again, and if you thought that a horse or a giraffe didn’t quite live up to the article title’s promise of unusual animal forms, how about this specimen? Yes, Heinrad turns into a tanuki, more commonly known as a Japanese raccoon dog, a canid species endemic to the titular country. Though a real animal, tanukis have become a major part of Japanese folklore, often depicted in artwork, sculptures and statues, and playing a large role in literature and popular culture, even inspiring the iconic ‘Tanooki Suit’ of the Super Mario game series.
In Heinrad’s case, you can pose the beast mode more naturally akin to the animal itself or upright to reveal some of the eccentric characteristics of this toy. It’s impossible not to notice the large working clock built into the design (which features an alarm function, too, by the way!), as well as his twin accessories of a bottle of sake (notable because tanukis are commonly presented as tipsy tricksters who impersonate humans to purchase alcohol) and an accounting ledger of unpaid bills (essentially IOUs, another classic element associated with the animal). Perhaps even more outlandish is a noticeable pair of testicles (yep) underneath the clock (I spelt that correctly!), which is yet another signature part of the racoon dog’s portrayal in Japan. The animals are typically depicted as having quite comically large scrotums (making Heinrad look almost modest by comparison), which is inspired by real-world nature (supposedly competition amongst tanuki males for a suitable mate is fierce) but taken to extreme lengths in Japanese folklore where they’re thought of as shapeshifters who massage and knead their ballbags into any shape they desire, forming makeshift raincoats, weapons, and even drums. So, yeah.
Anyway, I never expected to write any of the above in an article about Transformers, but I promised you unusual beast modes, and I’ve delivered on that score!
So that’s our list! What are some of your favourite beast modes?