The real-world his­tory of the Trans­form­ers

SFX - - Bumblebee - Sam Ashurst

the trans­form­ers story starts shortly af­ter World War II, with a part­ner­ship be­tween Amer­ica and Ja­pan that saw the States help­ing re­build the dec­i­mated coun­try.

Us­ing dis­carded tin cans do­nated from Amer­i­can bases, Ja­pan turned them into toys – re­build­ing one of their most im­por­tant in­dus­tries. those cans be­came many things, but the most pop­u­lar were the wind-up ro­bots that be­came a na­tional ob­ses­sion.

the ro­bots leapt to the printed page, launch­ing the Manga in­dus­try. they spread fur­ther, with As­tro Boy and Ul­tra­man bring­ing Ja­panese cul­ture into Amer­i­can liv­ing rooms.

toy­maker takara was watch­ing this Amer­i­can mar­ket closely, and the suc­cess of the US GI Joe doll line led the com­pany to ob­tain the Ja­panese li­cence for the fran­chise from Has­bro, cre­at­ing a new GI Joe – a ro­bot they called “trans­for­ma­tion Cy­borg”.

An oil cri­sis led to the in­ven­tion of the Mi­cro­nauts (smaller, more cost-ef­fec­tive ver­sion of the trans­for­ma­tion Cy­borg), which was such a suc­cess it al­lowed takara to go big again – with Di­a­clone, gi­ant ro­bots that trans­formed into space­ships and fu­tur­is­tic ve­hi­cles. Ini­tially a suc­cess, the line stopped sell­ing – and a change was needed.

In 1982, the Di­a­clone car ro­bot line (ro­bots that trans­formed into cars) was cre­ated, which ex­panded into a line called Mi­crochange; ro­bots that turned into house­hold ob­jects, such as boom­boxes, cam­eras and, yes, bright yel­low Volk­swa­gen Bee­tles.

Back in the States, Has­bro had done some trans­form­ing too, shrink­ing down its bulky GI Joe dolls into dy­namic ac­tion fig­ures; an in­stant hit. Look­ing for new ideas to build on that suc­cess, Has­bro bosses trav­elled to tokyo for the an­nual toy fair.

In tokyo, Has­bro saw the huge range of trans­form­ing ro­bots, and the mas­sive po­ten­tial for an­other suc­cess­ful im­port deal. Has­bro signed a con­tract with takara that al­lowed the Amer­i­can com­pany to com­bine Di­a­clone and Mi­crochange into one line – a line they called trans­form­ers.

the pre­vi­ously un­con­nected toys were given a mythol­ogy – with the good Aubobots wag­ing war against the evil De­cep­ti­cons – with Has­bro ap­proach­ing Mar­vel Comics exec Jim Shooter, who wrote the back­story bi­ble that’s sur­vived ever since.

In 1983, Shooter en­listed writer Bob Bu­di­an­sky to come up with char­ac­ter names and in­di­vid­ual back­sto­ries (though Bat­man writer Denny O’Neil came up with Op­ti­mus Prime) for a comic se­ries.

then, in 1984, the an­i­mated se­ries launched, and – com­bined with catchy com­mer­cials and an iconic jin­gle – cre­ated one of the fastest­selling toy lines in his­tory.

*wide eyes and grabby hands*

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