Bizarre Toy Box: From Microman To Transformers
- by Jacurutu99, 1 October 2016
In 1983, Japanese toy company Takara introduced the latest addition to their "Microman line" - the Micro Change series. Micro Change took the concept of the Microman self-transformation in a new direction. The toys were no longer fictional vehicles that "changed" into robots, but they were now ordinary everyday objects like a microscope, cassette player or even a gun that could be "transformed" into a robot.
In 1982, when executives from American toy manufacturer Hasbro attended the Tokyo Toy Fair. There, they were reunited with Takara – the company Hasbro had originally dealt with in the 1970s, when Takara licensed some of Hasbro's G.I. Joe action figures to sell as Combat Joe in Japan. Hasbro decided to license part of the soon-to-be-released Microman Micro Change series as well as Diaclone (an offshoot of the Microman toy line) from Takara. Hasbro marketed these two group of toys together under the Transformers banner in 1984.
Interestingly enough, a few other Transformers were assimilated into the line from other sources than the Microman and Diaclone lines.
"The Super Valkyrie" plane was Designed by Shoji Kawamori, for the anime series Dimensional Fortress Macross, which first aired in Japan in 1982. (Dimesnional Fortress Macross was later one of the 3 animes that were combined to form the series Robotech in America.)
The Takatoku company rushed production of a transforming toy based on it as the series took off. Hasbro clearly recognized how popular the Valkyrie design would be in the west, so they purchased the design from Takatoku, renamed the robot Jetfire, and added it to the Transformers family, alongside a number of other designs from the company, such as the Deluxe Insecticons.
Interestingly, there's another link between Transformers and Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. Designers Shoji Kawamori and Kazutaka Miyatake, who would later design Macross, had been contracted by Takara to help create the Diaclone toys back in 1980.
Problems concerning exactly who would have the rights to the Valkyrie design in the United States came up when Takatoku went out of business in 1984. Japanese giant Bandai bought up Takatoku assets, and with a Macross movie renewing interest in the series within Japan, Bandai decided it wanted to re-release the Valkyrie toys in Japan. The following year, Macross appeared in America, albeit in modified form, as part of the Harmony Gold series Robotech, which meant that keen-eyed children would see the design being used as Transformer Jetfire as well as on Robotech.
This complex issue of who owned the rights to the Valkyrie design in what country led Hasbro to change Jetfire's appearance and name in the comics and television show; according to the Transformers story bible, intended to help the writers on the comics and TV show, "JETFIRE has been "transformed" into SKYFIRE - with a different model - due to legal reasons. Do not use this character unless necessary".
Decepticon Shockwave also wasn't originally from the Diaclone or Microman toylines like the other robots, or even Takatoku but manufactured by a Korean company called ToyCo. They'd been making Shockwave, under his original identity Astro Magnum, since the late 1970s, and despite a change in colour (the Astro Magnum was originally made from grey plastic) and an alteration to the shape of his trigger (it originally looked quite phallic, poking out from between the robot's legs as it did), he was pretty much the same.
Hasbro, surprised by the success of its robots in disguise and keen to expand its line of toys as quickly as possible, purchased the Astro Magnum design from ToyCo and added it to the Transformers range. Unfortunately, ToyCo had already licensed the design to the company RadioShack, who released it in its original grey form as Galactic Man. This figure was also released in a UK store called Tandy, which was part of RadioShack.
This slightly confusing licensing deal - and others like it, with Takara's toys sold by companies like GiGi and Joustra in Europe - partly explains why Hasbro introduced the heat sensitive stickers, called Rubsigns, to its Transformers from 1985 onwards. These stickers would help to distinguish genuine Hasbro Transformers from its competitors, or dodgier companies who sold knock-off version of robots like Shockwave, Soundwave or Grimlock.
One of the most popular Transformers was Soundwave, a Robot that transformed into a simple Micro cassette recorder came from the Microchange line and was known as "MC-10 Cassette Man."
Both Hasbro and Takara versions are very similar except for a couple small variances. Hasbro changed a few things. first off they went with a slightly lighter shade of blue, they remolded the cassette door to remove the molded “Cassette Man” name along the bottom and “MC-10” along the top. The decision was made not to include a set of headphones and a microphone, both non-functioning that came with the Takara release. Back in the early 1980’s walkmans were big and Soundwave looked very similar, so it was a hit with kids who may have not known what a micro cassette player was.
The popularity of Soundwave and his interactive tape gimmick was evident from an early stage: his toy continued to be sold throughout 1986, after the vast majority of the other 1984 characters had been removed from toy shelves, and Mini-Cassette partners continued to be produced for him even after this, through 1988. Soundwave was subsequently reissued several times over the years with some changes to his alternate form. sometimes a car, truck, minivan or even a satellite or spaceship due to the decline of Walkmans. His initial success would naturally spawn a counterpart heroic rival on the Autobots side of things in 1985 named Blaster who was also from the Takara Microchange line.Blaster was originally known as MC-21 Radi-Cassette Robo, Hasbro chose only one of the two colors (red and left the blue color behind) to contrast against Soundwave.
Both characters had opening tape deck doors with a space for a transforming cassette robots. The most popular Decepticons Cassettes to fit into Soundwave are Ravage (a black panther or puma), Laserbeak (a bird recolored as Buzzsaw) and Ratbat (a bat), Rumble in red and Frenzy in blue (both robots of the same mold). Many other cassettes came out such as Overkill and Slugfest (both dinosaurs, different molds) and a special two creature combiner Beastbox (an ape) and Squawktalk (a bird), who can combine to form Squawkbox (a robot).
For Blaster, the Autobots cassettes the most recognizable were Steeljaw (a lion) Ramhorn (a rhinoceros) Eject in blue and Rewind in black (both robots of the same mold but different then Rumble and Frenzy). Other cassettes also came out such as the special two creature combiner Grandslam (a tank) and Raindance (a plane), who can combine to form Slamdance (a robot).
The Autobots have no choice but to strike back at these Decepticon techniques of stealth, building a force of cassette Transformers of their own, with Blaster as their guardian.
Teletraan II, "Secret Files of Teletraan II"
Do you feel nostalgic for cassette tapes and cassettemen yet? How did you like this installment of Bizarre Toy Box? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below!