With Cybertonium-brand odour eaters.
As we draw ever closer to the thirtieth anniversary of this toy-based franchise we all know and love, it strikes my amusement to point out some of the more... unusual aspects which arose from the franchise's thirty-year run. And not just stuff like 'oh, did you know Perceptor's microscope mode is really a microscope?' No, I'm talking about some weird stuff, like a scorpion with a snake tail that squirts water, or that one time when Optimus Prime turns into a shoe, or when Transformers were packed with comics which exude pedophilia. Yeah, most of you old-timers with access to the internet probably already know what I'm talking about here, but let's take a little walk down the memory lane to reminisce about some of the strangest things made into toys, shall we?
(And I'm going to point out that I'm going to be toy-centric for this one. If I get to listing the weird shit from the comics and especially the G1 cartoon, I'd probably not be done by the time we hit the 40th anniversary.)
So, anyway, the whole concept behind the Transformers is pretty basic... robots from outer space who are able to turn into other forms. Cars, jets, tanks, animals, tape decks, or the odd wheel or toaster or whatever. But as the first franchise went on its merry way, the people behind the brand decided to innovate the line, first by having little people that turn into heads, guns and engines, then having them hide within fleshy shells resembling humans, then shrinking them... and finally, turning them into Transformers that don't transform. Basically just barely-articulated action figures based on Transformers. Yeah.
While the Headmasters, Targetmasters and Powermasters seemed relatively tame as far as gimmicks go (although their backstories would never make sense if not for the campiness inherent of the eighties), the Pretenders were pretty far-fetched... somehow the idea of a transforming alien robot having to hide in a fleshy bodysuit resembling either a bit fat human or weird-looking rubber monsters doesn't really feel right.
But it did get lots of classic characters back onto shelves.
The Action Masters are an easier target to mock, though. For an entire year, the main gimmick in the line called 'Transformers' is that they are not able to transform. And despite being lauded as 'action' masters, these toys barely had articulation enough to lift the little Targetmaster buddies who came with them. I'm not going to even touch G2's crazy sense of fashion, or we'll be here all day.
Instead, let's go to Beast Wars. It's generally lauded as one of the best series ever in terms of storytelling, cartoon and toys, and I won't argue that point. On the other hand, some of the weirdest things in the franchise certainly stemmed from Beast Wars, which had free rein to be different.
With the entire animal kingdom up for grabs, the first two years ran its course without anything quite strange enough to talk about. Well, aside from the odd baboon that transformed into a battle platform, or the spiky centipede pillbug monster that's, like, the most adorable thing ever. Up until the third year, that is, when Hasbro decides to make the line more extreme. Part of the line is simple enough. 'Transmetals', which made the beast modes look more streamlined and robotic, and adding additional vehicular kibble. And thus we are gifted with the likes of Megatron, a robot t-rex that has roller-blades
and has VTOL engines in his thighs. Optimus Primal, meanwhile, obtained a surfboard which allows him to fly and holds two spiked maces. They're extremely wacky, and the sheer absurdity of some of the Transmetal modes certainly would appeal to collectors. It's certainly not a bad thing, since these certainly illustrate something which modern toys seem to lack -- toys are meant to appeal to kids so that they can have fun.
Of course, compared to their counterparts, the Fuzors, the Transmetals are relatively tame. The Fuzors are the result of someone deciding to release transformers based on mix-and-match critters, probably in an attempt to justify releasing mythological beasts. And for the most part, it worked. Silverbolt is a wolf with eagle wings and talons, and looks pretty majestic and noble. Torca is an extremely wicked-looking cross between a killer whale and an elephant... and really looks like some monster out of a crazy Japanese kaiju movie. Air Hammer manages to make a hawk with the head of a hammerhead shark look sleek and dangerous. Quickstrike turns into the aforementioned scorpion with a water-squirting cobra head as a tail.
Some of the Fuzors are, of course, pretty uninspired compared to their brethren. The likes of Terragator, Sky Shadow, Bantor and Noctorro look pretty lazy and seem like a halfhearted effort in just slapping two animals together. Still, all of them look normal and decent compared to the sheer absurdity that is Injector.
Infamous for the sheer craziness of the two animals which makes it up, the designer behind Injector's conception was probably just looking for the most nonsensical fusion animal design he or she could come up with, and ended up with a wasp lugging the head of the ugliest lionfish out there. Injector is an extremely bizarre-looking toy, and he does not look any less strange once you transform him and realize his robot head is a wacky Xenomorph-style inner jaw inside the large lionfish head. And yet despite all that, the ugly abomination actually appealed to me, and I actively sought out Injector. The hideous-looking demon fishbee stands proudly on top of my desk as I type this, watching me with its soulless, empty eyes.
Seriously. Just look into Injector's eyes for more than twenty seconds, and tell me you don't feel extremely violated.
Beast Wars was also around the time McDonalds started distributing happy meal toys of Transformers. If you were lucky enough to be younger than three years old, McDonalds would give you a toy of a disembodied lion head which splits apart to reveal a bad caricature of a robot. I don't even know what they were trying to convey with this. "Under-3
", as this toy has been known to the fans, is certainly one we will not be seeing a Classics revisit of any time soon.
Then there are the creatively named 'Transmetal 2' figures, a glorious attempt at making mutated Frankenstein Transformers with organic and mechanical details, with emphasis on making the toys asymmetric in details but symmetric in proportions. And lathering them with liberal amounts of chrome which tends to flake off. Beast Wars itself has got loads more crazy stuff, like Guiledart, a triceratops with a 'dead dinosaur
' mode, or Spittor, whose gimmick includes shooting his robot mode head out on the tip of his frog mode tongue.
No one toyline contained as much odd-looking toys as Beast Wars, not even its sequel Beast Machines (which are just ganglier variations of Beast Wars' initial attempts) or the sister line Animorphs (which featured humans, complete with clothing, transforming into animals). There are some weirdly-proportioned robots, but none as ridiculously batty as Beast Wars ever gave us. Of course, beyond Beast Machines, Hasbro was more concerned with doling out variations of homages to older characters, or simply just making more robots that turn into cars and jets and tanks. Hey, why fix what's broken, after all?
The toy really does have a gripping gimmick.
But there are some exceptions, though. There is, for instance, the crazy Megatron toy in Robots in Disguise which apparently transformed into ten modes (although that's being generous, since a good chunk of the alternate modes are basically just the robot folded into some uncomfortable-looking yoga positions), one of which is a giant hand. Complete with grabby-grabby action. Because that strikes fear into the hearts of Autobots, I suppose?
RID Megatron is a toy which I owned as a little kid who didn't even know what Transformers were. I always found transforming robots appealing, though, and I liked turning Megatron into his jet, gryphon, dragon and bat modes. I think I managed car and some of the other weirder ones, but I never realized that Megatron had a 'giant hand mode' until I joined the fandom years later. And that it's an official one, too, which made a lot of appearances in the corresponding cartoon. Not that its other modes, ranging from mammoth to ostrich, are any less absurd.
In the year 2006, Hasbro and Takara began to work on and release Binaltech/Alternators, toys based on licensed cars that transform into robots based on G1 designs. It was a pretty nice concept, and seemed harmless. Just another phase in Transformers. But sadly, it was not to be so. Despite alien robots beating the ever-loving scrap probably being one of the last things one would feasibly discover a fetish for (although a quick Google search proved me wrong), some people in Takara released an even more perverted spin-off called 'Kiss Players'.
Show us on the doll.
The name itself implies something girly, maybe something cutesy and innocent like Sailor Moon or whatever, but it is nothing but. Kiss Players is a thankfully low-key toyline, but it has made itself infamous by the blemish it had left upon the history of the franchise. The idea itself already seemed preposterous -- selling toys with PVC figures of cute girls... although this probably wouldn't cause much more reaction than some rolled eyeballs and raised eyebrows, the supplementary comics and radio show are certainly... different. I'll have to break my non-fiction rule here, but the accompanying manga is basically a stream of grotesque, disturbing images, most infamously girls which look barely prepubescent in positions that invoke rape and an evil robot having a giant pulsating phallic tongue spraying fluid on said prepubescent girls.
The whole concept (from insane manga artist Yuki Ohshima) is that Transformers somehow get powered up when a cute girl kisses them, but once the power runs out the girl is ejected violently, naked and covered with fluid resembling semen. I have not read any of the Kiss Player works beyond skimming quickly through the images to confirm that they are, indeed, as insane as their reputation claims them to be. There isn't any blatant gore or nudity there, but the sheer depravity in the series simply boggles my mind. And while there may be some sick people who enjoy this sort of thing -- poorly drawn prepubescent girls getting violated by robots with phallic, sperm-spraying tongues -- the general consensus, even in Japan, is that these things are sick and twisted.
Swinging through the city, spinning webs.
So, with us leaving pedophilia and rape imagery behind, let's get talking about the Crossovers lines as a change of pace. First was Star Wars, and there are some rather odd-looking toys of Star Wars vehicles transforming into giant, deformed versions of the characters who drove them. And then there was Marvel, where you have toys such as robot Spider-Man turning into a motorcycle, jet or car. All of these are crazy in themselves, but all are generally in the same genre of franchise-driven science fiction, making the crossover almost sensible.
Steamboat Optimus. Toot toot!
If you had told me that one day Disney and TakaraTomy would join forces and create a hybrid of Optimus Prime and Mickey Mouse which transforms into a truck... well... let it not be said that the Japanese are anything but creative.
Mickey Prime, or whatever he's called, was released alongside a Donald Duck that transforms into a Volkswagen. Maybe in a couple of years we'll see a combiner made out of all your favourite Disney characters? Time will tell.
Of course, not to be outdone, Hasbro went on to mix together Optimus Prime and Mr. Potato Head. Yeah.
And there are some Transformers who just transform into clothing. Again, Japan was behind this, and Takara did a crossover with Nike to make Transformers that turn into licensed Nike shoes, available in Optimus Prime, Ultra Magnus and Megatron colours. Complete with fabric shoelaces. You can't wear the shoes, obviously, since there's a folded-up robot where the feet would normally go, but still... Optimus Prime turns into a shoe!
And this is not a one-time deal either, since Takara would give us the Cap Bots
some time later, where Optimus and Megatron turned into... hats.
And more recently is a little crossover done by Takara with a Japanese popsicle company, where a toy was produced that transforms from a popsicle
into a grotesque amalgamation of the company's mascot (a kid with a disproportionately gigantic mouth) and Optimus Prime.
Crossovers aside, though, after their attempt at working together since Armada, Hasbro and Takara tend to settle down onto known ground and produce just... well, 'normal' Transformers toys. Sure, there's the odd one with weird designs like ROTF Demolishor, or stuff with crazy alternate modes like Ejector, but most of the time they've got a sanity filter on. Not that it's ever going to stop them from releasing the occasional crazy product once in a while, as the recent Transformers Prime Sharkticon Megatron has shown us.
Still, all of these aspects are one small part of the massive franchise we all know and love. Whether you are one of the hardcore G1 fans still following the franchise even now, or one of the ones raised on Beast Wars, Armada, the Bay Movies or whichever franchise brought you in, you can't deny that every series has some rather weird things in them. And, for good or ill, these are all Transformers, and for brightening up this silly franchise we've all grown to love and hate, they all deserve a little bit of appreciation. And they're hopefully here to stay.
Except for Kiss Players.