IMPORTS IN DISGUISE
The real-world history of the Transformers
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*