The Transformers Toy Origins
For our Transformers celebration, I thought I’d take a look at what led up to the introduction of the Transformers toy line in 1984. Funny enough, it all starts with our last celebration theme, GI Joe!
Hasbro released GI Joe, America’s Movable Fighting Man in 1964. The line became a huge success and two years later in 1966, Hasbro licensed the GI Joe “action figure” out to international companies like Takara and Palitoy. Takara sold GI Joe from 1966-1969 while Palitoy rebranded GI Joe as Action Man and sold him from 1966-1984.
1970 brought a few changes to GI Joe. Palitoy had designed Life Like Hair and Kung Fu Grip hands for Action Man that Hasbro then used in the GI Joe Adventure Team line. Meanwhile Takara came out with “New GI Joe” that also used these concepts but these figures had completely different heads with large anime styled eyes.
In 1972 Takara used the GI Joe body to create a new toyline called Henshin Cyborg. The big gimmick with Henshin Cyborg was that the body was clear plastic and you could see the figure’s Cyborg and Atomic Engine parts inside him. This is similar to the Atomic Arm and Leg Mike Power had in Hasbro’s Adventure Team line. For both the New GI Joe and Henshin Cyborg toylines Takara included costume sets based on popular shows like Ultraman and Kamen Rider. This gimmick is the same as Ideal’s Captain Action toyline from 1966.
Two years after the debut of Henshin Cyborg, Takara shrunk the action figure down to 10cm (or just under 4 inches) The new line was called Microman. The figures featured clear bodies with silver heads as an homage to their forefathers, Henshin Cyborg. Due to the smaller figure, the line was cheaper to make and included many vehicles (A pattern Hasbro would follow in 1982 with GI Joe)
By 1981, Microman underwent another change and was now called New Microman. This series was a re-writing and streamlining of the Microman history. It also introduced the Micro Robot series including living robots which was a change from the cyborg aspect Microman had been. During this same time Takara introduced a spin off of Microman called Diaclone. Diaclone had tiny inch tall figures that resembled Microman Punch that had magnetic feet and came with gigantic robots that could change into futuristic vehicles.
Included in Diaclone’s 1982 line up were two “Car-Robots” while the rest of the line up looked like the previous futuristic robots and vehicles, these two Car-Robots would change into more contemporary vehicles, a Nissan Vanette and a custom Lamborghini Countach. This same year Japanese toymaker Takatoku, came out with a toyline for the Super Dimensional Fortress Macross anime. This line included the ever popular 1/55 scale Valkyrie that could transform into all 3 modes seen on the anime and included many different armor upgrades.
In 1983 the New Microman line introduced Micro Change. These included cassette tapes, guns, watches and other items that could turn into robots, animals or vehicles for Microman to fight alongside with (or ride in the case of the ones that turned into vehicles) There were also Penny Racer types of cars that would turn into robots. Takara’s Diaclone line expanded more on the Car-Robot theme with the Real & Robo series. This included 11 new cars and trucks including repaints of the two previous Car-Robot toys and a large Semi Trailer. Real & Robo also included a couple of Jets and six trains that could turn into robots or combine into one large robot. Other series in Diaclone this year include Attackrobo (vehicles that could be pulled back and spring into a robot mode) and Insecter Robo (Robots that turned into mechanical insects)
Near the end of 1983 Hasbro approached Takara about licensing some of their Diaclone and Microman toys. Due to the new agreement with Hasbro, Takara ended the Diakron line in the US after just 7 figures (3 from the Real & Robo Diaclone Line, the 3 Powerdashers that would later become Transformers Mailaways and a large Multi-Force 14 Robot Combiner) They then changed the name to Kronofrom and released some of the toys from Diaclone and Microman that Hasbro had not licensed.
1984 Hasbro releases the Transformers toyline. It uses old stock and some licensed molds from Takara’s Diaclone “Car-Robots” and Microman “Micro Change” lines. During the same year Takatoku released their last line of toys called Armored Insect Batallion Beetras. This line had no anime but it was inspired by the insect robots from Takara’s Diaclone line. Unfortunately Takatoku was going out of business as Beetras were released. Later this year Bandai bought up Takatoku’s designs and licensed some of them out to Hasbro. While Transformers was hitting the shelves in the US, Japan still had one more year of Diaclone. This last year included robots that were construction vehicles that could combine into a large robot like the previous Train Robo, there were robotic Dinosaurs, Robots that could turn into two different vehicles called Triple Changers, robots that had vehicle attack modes and even a reuse of the Semi-Trailer cab, this time with a car carrier trailer that could carry four of the Car-Robot figures in vehicle mode.
In 1985 Hasbro used many of the Diaclone molds from the previous two years along with Toyco’s Astro Magnum, molds from Takatoku’s Macross, Dorvack and Beetras lines along with Mechabot-1 from a company called Toy Box to create the new year’s Transformers line-up. Interestingly, this is the same year Takara imported Transformers from the US as “Fight! Super Robot Lifeform Transformer” while also ending both the Diaclone and Microman lines.
The first generation of Transformers toys continued on in the US until 1990 but in Japan it had two more years of life left in it ending in 1992. The Transformers brand has since been revamped with many new and different series over the years to become one of Hasbro and TakaraTomy’s biggest brands.