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View Full Version : Which Headmasters origin do you like, the West or the Japanese?


Cyberstrike nTo
2015-01-01, 03:24 PM
I know we can split this up into almost a half-dozen specifics but basically it boils down to this:

In the West The Headmasters are humans and/or aliens that are binary bonded to a group of Autobots and Decepticons.

In Japan they are a group of neutral Transformers that fled the war on Cybertron and crashed on Master, a harsh planet where after years of struggling they built giant bodies called Transectors that transformed into cars, jets, wolves, bats, and etc. Some of them wanted to rule the universe others wanted peace and each joined a respective side.

numbat
2015-01-01, 04:12 PM
Having just read IDW Infiltration, Escalation and Devastation (leading on to the inexplicably terrible Maximum Dinobots...) for the first time I can say that either of the G1 origins is preferable.

Funny thing - the Headmasters concept leads to some really cool toys, but the associated fiction always seems to come up short.

If I had to choose from West and Japan G1 origins it would be Japan, but frankly I think they're both very poor.

Denyer
2015-01-01, 08:10 PM
Bodies for small robots or squishies transitioning to bionic/android works for me as a concept. The -Masters thing for heads/weapons/engines with organics supposedly offering some kind of improvement over basic Cybertronians has always been daft, and I'd rather just incorporate the characters without those gimmicks.

Sunrunner
2015-01-01, 09:24 PM
After discovering the Takara series, I've always felt the Japanese concept worked best for the Headmasters. It doesn't make sense for me that an essentially immortal being would bond itself to a Nebulon/Human with such a relatively short lifespan.
To me both the Headmasters and Brainmasters are a natural continuation of the Micromaster process. Due to lack of energon the Transformers are forced to downsize, but for battle a larger body would be of much more tactical use, hence the use of Trantectors.

That being said, the western idea of binary-bonding does open up a wealth of story opportunities, which imo no-one has done justice to yet. How do two minds share one body? Does this genuinely offer any tactical advantage or would it cause mental conflict, hesitation etc? Both the comic and cartoon only paid lip service to this issue, with one personality becoming dominant, and (normally) the Nebulon being forgotten about until necessary to the story.

Targetmasters and Powermasters also open up an ethical can of worms. I can see the Decepticons using other species as power sources, but the Autobots? It never sat well with me that Optimus Prime would plug Hi-Q into himself every time he needed to recharge! And what about the Nebulons themselves? How does becoming a walking Duracell affect them? Are there any benefits following the surgery required to contort oneself into a gun or engine block? :-)

Heinrad
2015-01-02, 04:02 PM
I tend to prefer the Japanese version.

The reasons given in the West wind up getting used mainly in The Rebirth, and in a way, they do make sense. But instead of using a human or Nebulan, you could simply designate an a.i. program to run the guns. And it only works for Headmasters.

In terms of personality matching, it's obvious that both the Autobots and Decepticons weren't really trying. Admittedly, in either toon or comic, they didn't have a lot of time to do psychological breakdowns for the initial pairings, but by the time the second waves came along, they could play with it a little: Nightbeat and Muzzle are the perfect team, Hosehead's deficiencies are made up for by Lug's experience..... and Siren and Quig are the odd couple out.

As for the humans/Nebulans getting old....... I doubt it. They'll age, but they've been so cyberneticaly enhanced by this point, be they Head, Target, or Power Masters, dying of old age may no longer be a worry.

This is kind of where Masterforce comes apart, conceptually. Or at least the Star TV dub does. The Junior Headmasters and all the Powermasters are given bracelets, which they touch to trigger their armor activating so they can link with transectors, go into dangerous situations, or just go out to mosh in the cyberpunk bar down the street. But working on the basic assumption that there are actual human bodies in those suits, transforming's not so bad for the kids(touching toes...with your nose), but the adults, the Powermasters. Even assuming they're all top level gymnasts, or at least flexible, the 90 degree side snap on the knees would be crippling.

Does it offer any benefit in the long term? Not enough to really make it worthwhile. The only advantages it offers is in scouting ahead.

Nightbeat: -looking at the air vent that's the only unsecured entrance to the Decepticon base- "Well, I'm not going to fit in there. You'll have to go, Muzzle."

Muzzle: "Crap. Good thing the Decepticons have all these Headmasters and Targetmasters now. Otherwise this air vent would be a lot bigger."

Nightbeat: -shrugs- "Up until the whole Master process showed up, we didn't need air vents."

Tetsuro
2015-01-02, 05:36 PM
That being said, the western idea of binary-bonding does open up a wealth of story opportunities, which imo no-one has done justice to yet. How do two minds share one body? Does this genuinely offer any tactical advantage or would it cause mental conflict, hesitation etc? Both the comic and cartoon only paid lip service to this issue, with one personality becoming dominant, and (normally) the Nebulon being forgotten about until necessary to the story.
The only way the Headmaster process makes sense is if you think of it as similar to a tank, you have a pilot and a gunner - two persons, one vehicle, but they both have distinctly specific tasks while also cooperating when necessary. Unfortunately, none of the fiction really explains it like this, instead opting for some nonsense. In practice, I prefer the Japanese version.

The powermasters are even worse, because it makes no practical sense at all. The amount of food the nebulan partner would have to intake to actual fuel their Transformer partner is so absurd that they'd have to pretty much stop and drop everything they're doing to eat once every 15 minute, for the entire day, every day. At least the Godmasters are basically just glorified traditional super robots.

Death's Head
2015-01-02, 07:23 PM
Do we actually know who initiated the idea of the various '-Masters' (at the toy-design stage, that is) - what is it a Hasbro decision, or one from Takara?

The cockpits and little men from the Headmaster concept almost seem like a call back to Diaclone drivers, and the whole idea of a robot bonding with a little chappie to power up seems like far more of a Japanese idea - perhaps borne out by the way the Godmasters work a bit better fiction-wise than the Powermasters.

inflatable dalek
2015-01-02, 11:39 PM
The way the binary bonding process was portrayed in Western fiction is very like the pilot/robot connection in Robotix. Suggesting a Hasbro exec who wasn't prepared to let go of a failed idea if he liked it.

I would think it's fair to say the decision was made before Budiansky got his hands on the toys, it's unlikely he'd have pumped for the option that required him to come up with twice as many characters for each release.

Cliffjumper
2015-01-04, 10:45 PM
One of the few bits of "production" info that doesn't seem to be well-know I'd love to actually know is who exactly was pushing these big concepts in the 1980s - Takara or Hasbro.

The basic concept of the Masters is, as said, quite Japanese, bringing Transformers back to mecha suits with human-sized (or even human) pilots in line with stuff like Gundam. But some of it was completely stupid (go on, remember the Japanese TM origin with a straight face) and it seems the Japanese series were deeply unpopular to the extent that surely Takara wouldn't be pumping that much R&D into it, so maybe they were just repainting toys designed on commission from Hasbro or whatever to put out a line at minimal cost. Which doesn't gel with them suddenly doing a load of huge figures at the arse-end of the 1980s unless it was a "your shit isn't selling, **** you" thing.

But yeh, both are pretty crap on the whole. The Japanese one makes the most logical sense but then it's not much as there's never really much of an explanation as to why they don't just use the big bodies. I *can* kind-of see the toy marketing angle - you, kid watching this advert, can be a Headmaster and partner up with a Transformer just like your hero Spasma - but the Western fiction largely goes out of its' way to be as stupid about it as possible. Both Max walking up to Galen and tearing his own head off and Spike going "Hey, you know what'll make you like machines? Having parts of these machines rebuilt as all-enclosing suits!" are momentously dumb.

Clay
2015-01-05, 10:37 PM
That being said, the western idea of binary-bonding does open up a wealth of story opportunities, which imo no-one has done justice to yet. How do two minds share one body? Does this genuinely offer any tactical advantage or would it cause mental conflict, hesitation etc? Both the comic and cartoon only paid lip service to this issue, with one personality becoming dominant, and (normally) the Nebulon being forgotten about until necessary to the story.

That idea predates the -Masters with combiners in general, where it was also glossed over. Closest they came to an interesting dynamic was probably Menasor, where the four smaller bots are bullied by the big one and create an angry, self-loathing gestalt as a result.

As for the Headmasters origin, the Japanese version is, contrary to what one would expect, simpler and more straightforward: the actual robots are little and just use the big bodies as power-up mushrooms. This is the least complicated way to go about it, I think.

I don't dislike the Western version of bonding two different personalities together, but it's the kind of thing that the proper treatment thereof would involve a much smaller cast and a much longer buildup. As it happened, they had barely finished pushing out the Headmasters before having to move onto the Pretenders.

Cliffjumper
2015-01-06, 12:44 AM
Yeh, the Western one... wasn't suited to a fast-paced kid franchise. Aside from Furman's Highbrow fetish and the belated decision to cover Zarak towards the end of the US comic there's just this hotch-potch where ideas are skimmed over and largely forgotten. In the comics after introduction everyone but Fort Max and Scorponok basically becomes a bog-standard Transformer; while Zarak's wangsting all over the place the likes of Fangry and Snapdragon just stand there.

Rebirth basically makes them pilots with overrides, leading to this idiotic idea that a bunch of technophobes are somehow able to control sentient robots in a more accurate fashion than sentient robots can control themselves - something largely inspired by Hot Rod winning a car race because he took along a gunner. Not one of Brainstorm's finest moments. Well, it is, but only by default.

Clay
2015-01-06, 02:35 AM
Rebirth basically makes them pilots with overrides, leading to this idiotic idea that a bunch of technophobes are somehow able to control sentient robots in a more accurate fashion than sentient robots can control themselves - something largely inspired by Hot Rod winning a car race because he took along a gunner. Not one of Brainstorm's finest moments. Well, it is, but only by default.

Now see, for all the Decepticon Headmasters, that could work at a different angle. They could have gone with an idea that the heads/pilots were the trainers or handlers of the larger robo-fauna (I think the toy catalogs call them this, but it isn't borne out in the fiction if I remember right). Then, the sentient and humanoid robot would have a clear advantage (a big body with a sense of reason and artillery) in the merger. It'd also allow greater autonomy for the Headmaster-less alternate modes (what with having limbs and all) than, say, Chromedome.

Come to think of it, Chromedome is a good example of why the Western version needed more development. If not simply a drone car that becomes a power up for the driver (like the Japanese explanation), he's essentially Kitt from Nightrider that has David Hasselhoff forming the head. And while that analogy works pretty well to explain the concepts, dropping fifteen different two-man teams on the audience all at once immediately muddies it up. Actually, that may be why the Japanese version works better... they spent a whole thirty-odd episode series slowly introducing the characters* instead of just jumping right into it.

*Well, very general character archetypes at any rate.

Warcry
2015-01-06, 05:00 PM
The powermasters are even worse, because it makes no practical sense at all. The amount of food the nebulan partner would have to intake to actual fuel their Transformer partner is so absurd that they'd have to pretty much stop and drop everything they're doing to eat once every 15 minute, for the entire day, every day. At least the Godmasters are basically just glorified traditional super robots.
The Powermasters not only completely fail on the grounds of basic logic, but it's made even worse because the in-story explanation for them doesn't even match up to the toys. The only way to make any sense of the way the toys work is if the bigger robot's transformation cog was broken/removed, and the smaller partner is a Micromaster who's been reengineered to use their cog to help their partner overcome their disability. So going with the "power source" idea in fiction is really baffling.

Powermasters are probably the worst toy ever, though, since they're basically garbage once you lose a single, tiny accessory that I'm sure many, many kids lost track of really quick. I mean, Headmasters are bad too from that perspective but at least you can still transform them even if the robot is headless.

One of the few bits of "production" info that doesn't seem to be well-know I'd love to actually know is who exactly was pushing these big concepts in the 1980s - Takara or Hasbro.
I do remember reading that Hasbro were the ones who pushed Micromasters, as a way to compete with Matchbox/Hot Wheels and the like. Who knows if that's the case for all the sublines, though?

But yeh, both are pretty crap on the whole. The Japanese one makes the most logical sense but then it's not much as there's never really much of an explanation as to why they don't just use the big bodies. I *can* kind-of see the toy marketing angle - you, kid watching this advert, can be a Headmaster and partner up with a Transformer just like your hero Spasma - but the Western fiction largely goes out of its' way to be as stupid about it as possible. Both Max walking up to Galen and tearing his own head off and Spike going "Hey, you know what'll make you like machines? Having parts of these machines rebuilt as all-enclosing suits!" are momentously dumb.
You know...I'm not even sure the Western one makes sense as a marketing vehicle. You might grab a few kids with the "you can drive a Transformer" roleplaying, but at the same time you're weakening the core idea of the franchise: the fact that these robots are people in and of themselves. Once you lose that, what difference is there really between Transformers and a Zord from Power Rangers or the mechs from a million other series? It hurts the brand, in a sense.

On the other hand, the Japanese idea of smaller robots wearing bigger, drone robots as armour does make a lot more logical, in-story sense, but when it comes to selling toys I don't think it works very well either. Considering the way Western media treated the Headmasters after their big "new toy" push, completely forgetting about their partners 90% of the time, I think they would have done even less to make them feel special if they'd only had one personality between them.

Now see, for all the Decepticon Headmasters, that could work at a different angle. They could have gone with an idea that the heads/pilots were the trainers or handlers of the larger robo-fauna (I think the toy catalogs call them this, but it isn't borne out in the fiction if I remember right).
That would actually work really well, all things considered. And I think you're right about the toy catalogues (or maybe the commercials?), maybe suggesting that it was a working idea at one point or another before Hasbro settled on the "Nebulon" route.

inflatable dalek
2015-01-06, 08:55 PM
The Japanese version would work better if they used the smaller robots more, creating the sense these are small guys who put on big bodies for important work but because of energy concerns can't be normal sized Transformers all the time.

Instead, with very few exceptions, they spend 99.99999999999999999% of the time with Heads On, even when doing things like interacting with Daniel, making you wonder (as Cliffy says) why they bother.

Headmasters also feel as if they're one of the few (only other than the film?) places where the cartoon people seem to have had a say in things. Which seems odd for a show on the edge of cancellation, but it has to be down to their suggestion Max's head became Spike rather than the Galen* that was obviously Uncle Bob's plan (though based on the Annual Kord might have been a suggested name as well).

It's also odd that David Wise was allowed to focus so much on Arcee in Rebirth when Hasbro would surely have been keener for the three episodes to get on with shoving all the 1987 toys in there. We could have had Battletrap in there somewhere instead!






*Though with it being a very heavily merchandised franchise and as Fox are pretty hot on their intellectual properties Galen might have wound up a no-no due to him still being trademarked under the Planet of the Apes TV series.

Clay
2015-01-06, 10:15 PM
That would actually work really well, all things considered. And I think you're right about the toy catalogues (or maybe the commercials?), maybe suggesting that it was a working idea at one point or another before Hasbro settled on the "Nebulon" route.

Ah, found it: They're called trainers on the catalog (http://tfarchive.com/toys/catalogues/generationone_catalogue/87d_catalog.jpg) and on the box (click the boxed image link) (http://tfu.info/1987/Decepticon/Mindwipe/mindwipe.htm). Strangely, that's about it for being called trainers... in the comic, they were just regular Nebulans and in the Headmasters cartoon they were just transectors. It's a shame, because I like that version the best even if it only works for the animal figures.

Cliffjumper
2015-01-06, 11:06 PM
There was that absurd plan for the Chromedome redeco, so who knows if that played into things... TBH I suspect Hasbro just wanted everyone in the thing and named and probably indulged Wise's peccadilos as he was doing the job they wanted. And Arcee got a fair bit of screentime in Season 3 in similar circumstances; it's possible that for some reason Hasbro just wanted to keep a female character in the mix.

Rebirth's full of weird choices for that sort of thing, though - namely that the background's always chock full of older toys whereas the Throttlebots, Technobots, Clones, Punch etc. are all but ignored once the plot gets to Cybertron in favour of Aerialbots, Constructicons and so on.

IIRC the Decepticon Nebulans were referred to as trainers in some early adverts (I'm thinking the Hasbro UK one from the comic specifically).

Skyquake87
2015-01-06, 11:47 PM
Powermasters are probably the worst toy ever, though, since they're basically garbage once you lose a single, tiny accessory that I'm sure many, many kids lost track of really quick. I mean, Headmasters are bad too from that perspective but at least you can still transform them even if the robot is headless.

The Powermaster toys can transform without their engines. There's a recessed button you can press (which the engine would normally trigger) that unlocks the transformation.

In terms of whom did what, the Cybertronian Guidebook vol 3 mentions the following

"Hasbro's main input was to provide and overall direction for the line, then [approve] specific proposals. Hasbro wanted [1987s] toys to be more futuristic...so Takara [expanded] on the trend begun with the [movie toys]. However, Hasbro was stuck as far as any more specific ideas went.

Several proposals were made and turned down, but one [caught on]. It involved a car built out of some sheet plastic and a small doll [that was] cut up and glued back together to form the head of the transformed car. Hasbro's top brass found the idea of small robots becoming bigger to battle appealing, but later decided that they wanted the toys' stat numbers included in the [concept]. [Takara] came up with the stat meters in the Headmasters' chests."

I've no idea how accurate the Guidebooks, but they seem pretty well researched. Interesting that the early concept seems closer to the Japanese take too.

The 5th volume of these books also goes onto state that the Micromasters were created as a deliberate response to Galoob's Micro Machines, which were big news in the late 1980s.

Cliffjumper
2015-01-07, 12:30 AM
Ahh, cheers, interesting stuff :) And yeh, the PMs I've had (which is I think all of the Autobot ones at one point or another) can all be manually transformed; TBH I always found this easier even with Nebulans.

Hasbro don't seem to have actually had much of a unified idea of how the Headmasters actually worked, with the toys, comic and cartoon all seeming to say different-ish things within months of each other. You have to wonder if the brief was as simple as "look, these guys turn into their heads, just make sure that's explained, we don't care how, you guys are the writers". 1987 did seem to be about the point someone took their eye off the quality control and Hasbro just started slinging out anything - while the HMs and TMs are silly they're much more sensible concepts than the Clones or Punch.

Tantrum
2015-01-07, 03:02 AM
If I recall the single issue of a Headmasters comic I read a quarter century ago correctly, the Nebulans were afraid to let these giants run around their planet. So, they had each TF remove his head and replace it with a Nebulan in a suit, giving Nebulans some control over the gigantic war machines. I forget how much, if any, control the TFs retained over their bodies.

I like the Nebulan check on TF power explanation since it works for all three gimmicks, though to different degrees. Headmasters are put largely under Nebulan control. Targetmasters are given free reign bodily, but not control over their weapons. Powermasters would be kept in alt mode until a Nebulan allowed them to transform.

The little dude controlling a giant, non-sentient suit could work for Head- and Powermasters, but not for Targetmasters. If you're going to build a giant suit for yourself, why control it from the gun? Or did the Japanese version make Targetmaster TFs sentient beings?

Powermaster as fuel cell doesn't make much sense, but maybe a fuel reguator would. There's that TF:Prime episode where synthetic energon makes Ratchet a better fighter than regular energon, but also a jerk. It might make sense for a TF to carry both fuel types. Add more synthetic energon in battle, go back to regular energon when the fighting stops. A bot hopped up on syntheic energon may not be willing to cut himself off, so you have an independent agent control the mixture.

The only other thing I remember from that comic is one Nebulan telling another "OUR POWER WAS INCREASED TENFOLD". I didn't know the word tenfold, and the text was all-caps. I couldn't tell if tenfold was a word I hadn't learned yet, or the name of the character he was talking to.

Powermasters are probably the worst toy ever, though, since they're basically garbage once you lose a single, tiny accessory that I'm sure many, many kids lost track of really quick. I mean, Headmasters are bad too from that perspective but at least you can still transform them even if the robot is headless.I think the instructions told you where to push to transform the toy without the Nebulan. For me, it was mostly a moot point, since I almost never took the Nebulan out. They weren't like the Headmaster Nebulans, who could pilot the vehicles (or sit in the gator's mouth). They had nothing to do but be engines, so I left them as engines. The only time the gimmick actually meant anything to me was when you used different engines to transform Doubledealer into different modes.

Clay
2015-01-07, 03:05 AM
Ahh, cheers, interesting stuff :) And yeh, the PMs I've had (which is I think all of the Autobot ones at one point or another) can all be manually transformed; TBH I always found this easier even with Nebulans.

Yep, and I can vouch for the Decepticon PMs (Darkwing, Dreadwind, Doubledealer, Overlord) all working the same way. You can just hit the button with your finger the same way the engine would.

Hasbro don't seem to have actually had much of a unified idea of how the Headmasters actually worked, with the toys, comic and cartoon all seeming to say different-ish things within months of each other. You have to wonder if the brief was as simple as "look, these guys turn into their heads, just make sure that's explained, we don't care how, you guys are the writers".

I actually kind of like the fractured explanations, in a way. If you dislike one idea, you may like another that's offered. The contrary would have been only one explanation that would probably be a bit daft (I suppose the example I'm thinking of would be something like MASK). As it is, it validates the end user's (read: kids) imagination more than the complementary fiction. And of course the -Masters are fun to fiddle with, so they've got that going for them. It's just that coming up with ways for them to gel with the extant fiction up to that point is tricky.

1987 did seem to be about the point someone took their eye off the quality control and Hasbro just started slinging out anything - while the HMs and TMs are silly they're much more sensible concepts than the Clones or Punch.

Yeah, I was thinking of it earlier and broke down the whole G1 line as roughly this:

1984/1985: Diaclone, Microman, and whatever else they could throw in to meet the demand (Deluxe Vehicles, Jetfire, and the rest)
1986: Movie figures and unreleased Diaclone stuff (Scramble City, Metroplex)
1987: Headmasters and Targetmasters
1988: Powermasters and Pretenders
1989: Micromasters
1990: Actionmasters

Thinking of it that way, after a fairly small number of original offerings on the basic concept in 1986 (despite the shift in style, the movie cast are simply robots that turn into things without any other gimmicks, like the previous products, mostly), the line moved toward additional gimmickry to generate enough figures quickly enough for each year. That's stating the obvious, but I think that part of the impetus was to get as many new toys out of each idea as they could. Headmasters yielded a dozen or so figures, Targetmasters a half-dozen, a dozen more for Pretenders and so on.

The alternative to all that would have been to carry on in the Diaclone style and just keep making cars that turn into robots. The limitation at the time would have to come up with enough different ways to turn cars into robots to keep them interesting, and that would have led to a much lower amount of new product each year (Skids actually being more complex than Chromedome while half his size, for example). As it is, the gimmick heavy subgroups of the latter half the line created a kind of artificial variety, offering dozens of new figures from relatively few new ideas. I know the common idea was that Hasbro started adding additional gimmicks to keep interest up, but I see it as kind of the opposite: they pitched -Master style figures because coming up with enough bread-and-butter car-turns-into-robot Diaclone-type figures would have been too difficult at the time.

A generation later, when CAD programs do the heavy lifting in design and people have grown up on the idea of transforming robots, the talent pool for designing the things is larger. In the 1980s, HasTak may have been constrained by a much smaller group of people that could design stuff like that quickly enough to keep pace and pursued the easier route of gimmick extrapolation and simpler figures.

Death's Head
2015-01-07, 10:09 AM
It's also around the HM/TM era that the design of the toys starts to match a little closer with the sunbow character models, albeit at the cost of complexity.

Cyberstrike nTo
2015-01-13, 09:33 PM
The Powermasters not only completely fail on the grounds of basic logic, but it's made even worse because the in-story explanation for them doesn't even match up to the toys. The only way to make any sense of the way the toys work is if the bigger robot's transformation cog was broken/removed, and the smaller partner is a Micromaster who's been reengineered to use their cog to help their partner overcome their disability. So going with the "power source" idea in fiction is really baffling.

Powermasters are probably the worst toy ever, though, since they're basically garbage once you lose a single, tiny accessory that I'm sure many, many kids lost track of really quick. I mean, Headmasters are bad too from that perspective but at least you can still transform them even if the robot is headless.

Actually there is small button that one could push on most of the God/Powermasters that could release the "lock" and allow for transformation. I've always been able to transform Optimus Prime, Slapdash, Overlord, and Getaway with or without the Nebulan figures and never once broke the toys.

Tetsuro
2015-01-14, 12:57 PM
Actually there is small button that one could push on most of the God/Powermasters that could release the "lock" and allow for transformation. I've always been able to transform Optimus Prime, Slapdash, Overlord, and Getaway with or without the Nebulan figures and never once broke the toys.
That's kind of why I don't subscribe to that notion either. Lose a Powermaster, the robot is still somewhat whole - lose a Headmaster, you got a headless robot. It doesn't take a genius to figure out which one of the two is worse.