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Chapter 1 - Part 2
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"Car Robo" and "MicroChange" - almost Transformers

"Blue Bluestreak": A legend among collectors. (Photos by Jeroen Blok)
In 1982, the futuristic vehicles were replaced by realistic models. The inspiration was an older toy from the short-lived Microman "Command Series" called the "Cosmo Countach", which could be transformed from a Lamborghini Countach with a giant exposed rear engine into a robot-esque attack mode. Based on the "Cosmo Countach", the first toy for the new Diaclone "Car Robo" line was created, the "Countach LP500S Super Tuning". Although this was another Lamborghini with an exposed rear engine, the vehicle could now be transformed into a humanoid robot (the future "Autobot" Sunstreaker). The following "Car Robos" were mostly realistic car models at a 1:60 scale that could be transformed into more or less articulated robots, which would later end up becoming the first "Autobot Cars". The "Car Robos" were often available in several color schemes and variations, not all of which would see a release as Transformers. Also part of the "Car Robo" lineup was "Battle Convoy", the future Optimus Prime, who was the work of a Takara designer named Hiroyuki Obara. Most of the other toys, meanwhile, had been designed by Kouzin Ohno.
Many of the "Car Robo" toys were equipped with lots of extra parts such as weapons or removable hands. Additionally, each toy came with a pilot sporting magnetic feet that was about one inch tall. This also explains why many of the early Transformers toys would sport tiny seats, in which the Diaclone drivers could originally be seated. In the case of the Autobots Ironhide and Ratchet, the seats would even be equipped with new stickers and thereby turned into "heads" for their Transformers release.
The last "Microman" catalog from 1984. Depicted are, among others, the future Transformers "Blaster" and "Perceptor". (Scan by Paul Lorphanpaibul)
Following the success of the "Car Robots", the line was soon expanded by the "Real & Robo Series". The "Jet Machine Robos" were two F15 fighter jets (the future "Decepticon Planes"), which were no longer kept at a 1:60 scale. The "Train Robos", meanwhile, which could be transformed into trains, were also able to merge into a larger robot (the future "Trainbots").
Aside from the "Car Robos" and the "Real & Robo Series", Takara introduced the "Double Changers" (the future "Omnibots"), which featured an additional attack mode besides their regular vehicle modes, and the "Triple Changers", which could now be transformed into two different vehicles or aircraft (the "Jet Type", a tank/fighter jet, became the "Decepticon" Blitzwing, whereas the "Heli Type", a helicopter/jet, would never be reused). Furthermore, there were the "Attack Robos" (the future "Jumpstarters") and the "Constructor Robos", six construction vehicles which could also form a larger robot (the future "Constructicons"). With the "Dinosaur Robos" (the future "Dinobots") and the "Insecter Robos" (the future "Insecticons"), which could be transformed into mechanical dinosaurs or insects, respectively, the toyline would soon adopt more and more bizarre traits.
The other spin-off, "MicroChange", was launched in 1983. The toys were detailed objects at a 1:1 scale which could be transformed into robots and which were also equipped with numerous accessories. Among them were the "Gun Robos" (handguns, including the future Transformer Megatron), the "Cassette Robos" (two cassette players, future Transformers Soundwave and Blaster) including several cassettes, the "Watch Robo" (a wrist watch that wouldn't be released as a Transformer until the "Generation 2" line), the "Microscope Robo" (a microscope, future Transformer Perceptor), the "Camera Robo" Microx (future Transformer Reflector), and, finally, the "Mini Car Robos" (rather simple miniature toy cars, the future Autobot "Minicars"). Like the Diaclone "Car Robos", some of the latter were again available in several color schemes and variations, which would later be the cause of much confusion.

Diaclone International

GiG releases: The future Transformer "Sideswipe" as a police variant and the future "Mirage" with "Ligier" stickers. (Photos by Maziar Shahsafdari)
In the meantime, Mego had discontinued the release of the "Micronauts" in the USA due to the "Star Wars" boom. As a consequence, Takara now tried, following Bandai's example, to set foot onto the US market on their own. For this purpose, the "Diaclone" toys were now equipped with new packaging and released under the name "Diakron" beginning in late 1983. Due to a lack of knowledge of the American market, however, Takara failed to promote the line properly, especially since the toys were exclusively available from stores of the Toys "R" Us chain. Thus, when Hasbro secured the license for distributing the Takara toys as the "Transformers", Takara discontinued the "Diakron" line after only a few toys had been released.
Nevertheless, in 1984, after Hasbro had already launched the "Transformers", Takara made one last attempt on their own with a toyline named "Kronoform". This line consisted of several Diaclone and Microman toys that were not used by Hasbro. Just like in the "Diakron" toys' case, however, these toys weren't particularly successful either. The fact that some US stores were also importing Diaclone, Microman and Dorvack toys (more on the latter later) directly from Japan also didn't really help to simplify the market situation. Therefore, Takara ultimately pulled out of the US market again and subsequently decided to restrain themselves solely to the part of a licensor.
Meanwhile, in 1983, an Italian toy company named GiG (which is owned by Giochi Preziosi these days) had acquired the license for selling the Diaclone and MicroChange toys in Italy. In 1984, after Hasbro had made their big breakthrough with the Transformers in the USA, GiG released the Diaclone toys to the Italian market as part of a line sporting the bizarre name "Trasformer". Some changes were made to the toys as compared to the Japanese versions: The plastic missiles, for example, were replaced by new missiles with rubber tips for safety reasons.
The Joustra version of "Battle Convoy", the future Optimus Prime. (Photo by Elvin Pena)
What's even more remarkable, though, is that the toys even used logos and other elements from the American toyline - in some cases, even the Hasbro toys' sticker sheets were recycled. At the same time, the pilots were omitted (albeit not in all cases). That way, GiG were hoping to take advantage of their license from Takara in order to benefit from Hasbro's success without having to pay additional royalties. However, the "Trasformer" line also featured toys that would never be released as Transformers in the USA. It wasn't until 1985 that GiG finally decided, due to pressure from Hasbro, to follow the American example and thus started releasing the "Transformers" under that exact name in Italy as well (more on this in chapter 2).
In 1984, Joustra, a subsidiary of a French company named Ceji, had a similar idea and started selling MicroChange and Diaclone toys under the title "Diaclone". The "good" toys were led by Battle Convoy/Optimus Prime (simply called "Diaclone" in the Joustra version), whereas his evil counterpart was "Multiforce 14" (aka Gats Blocker), who was never used in the Transformers line. Also included were mini-comics that told a different story as compared to Marvel's "Transformers" series. In addition to France, the Joustra toys were also available in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Finland, and since Takara had already started producing the "Transformers" for Hasbro by that point, some of them even sported "Autobot" stickers.
In Finland, meanwhile, Takara also released the Diaclone toys on their own. The packaging of the toys, which were exclusively available from a store chain named R-Kioski, was using some elements of GiG's "Trasformer" packaging. A very special oddity in this regard was a black version of the future Transformer Tracks, which was only ever available in Finland in this form.

Finally: The Transformers are coming

The faction symbols for the Autobots and the Decepticons.
In June 1983, the American toy company Hasbro, who had released the original "G.I. Joe" toy, sent a representative to Tokyo Toy Fair in order to look for new trends and ideas. One of the concepts the Hasbro employee brought with him when he returned to the USA were Takara's "Diaclone" and "MicroChange" toys. A toymaker named Henry Orenstein saw the potential of the toys and convinced Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld and George Dunsay, Hasbro's then head of research and development, to secure the licenses for releasing them on the American market. New York City-based advertising agency Griffin-Bacal, which was working for Hasbro during that time, created a concept that would merge "Diaclone" and "MicroChange" into a single line, and it was creative director Jay Bacal who first came up with the name "Transformers".
An advantage in Hasbro's favor was Takara's bad experience with Mattel, one of their competitors. Starting in 1982, Takara had been releasing a licensed version of Mattel's "Barbie" doll in Japan, called "Jenny". However, the working relationship with Mattel would turn out to be rather uneasy, and thus, Takara were more than willing to try out a new license partner in the form of Hasbro. In return, Hasbro gave Takara permission to use the name "Transformers" and their toy commercials in Japan as well.
Hideaki Yoke, Takara's liaison with Hasbro. (Photo by Steve Stonebraker)
Under the supervision of Takara's later vice president and ultimately even president, Nobuyuki Okude, the most toys and color schemes considered the most "appropriate" by Hasbro were prepared for the American market. The toys, now lacking their "pilots", were equipped with new packaging and stickers and divided into the factions "Autobots" (good) and "Decepticons" (evil). Thus, the toyline that would ultimately be released in the USA under the name "The Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye" was created. In order to guarantee an efficient cooperation between Hasbro and Takara, Takara's toy designer Hideaki Yoke even moved to Rhode Island for six months as part of an exchange program, where he would assist Hasbro in developing the Transformers toyline.
However, Hasbro not only obtained the licenses for the Takara toys, but also for several toys from other companies, which were going to be released as "Transformers" in the USA as well. Among them were, first and foremost, toys from three lines manufactured by a company named Takatoku. From "Tokuso Kihei (Special Powered Armored Trooper) Dorvack" came the future "Deluxe Autobots"; from the the still highly popular "Super Dimensional Fortress Macross" series, various models from which would also be released by Revell and Matchbox as a part of their "Robotech" line in the USA, came the initially mentioned "VF-1S Super Valkyrie", which became the Autobot Jetfire; and from "Kikô Chûtai (Armored Insect Squadron) Beetras" came the future "Deluxe Insecticons". That way, Hasbro prevented those toys from being licensed to Tonka, who may have otherwise used them as part of their "Gobots" line.
Finally, Hasbro obtained the licenses for two toys from a company named ToyBox (future Autobots Omega Supreme and Sky Lynx) and for a toy from a Korean company named ToyCo (the future Decepticon Shockwave). In the latter's case, however, bizarre licensing conditions allowed Radio Shack to release their own (equally licensed) version named "Galactic Man" concurrently with the Transformers version.

Enter Marvel

Jim Shooter, one of the creators of the Transformers' background story. (Photo taken from Phobos Entertainment)
Unlike Takara, Hasbro didn't want to leave anything to chance. In order to set the "Transformers" apart from Takara's rather unsuccessful "Diakron" toys, Hasbro's internal marketing department decided to make the main the of the line a conflict of "good versus evil". For the purpose of fleshing out that concept, Bob Prupis, then vice president of Hasbro's Boys' Toys Marketing department, turned to Marvel Comics. Marvel had already been publishing the "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" comic book series since 1982 and had also developed the cartoon show of the same name in cooperation with Griffin-Bacal-owned Sunbow Productions. Thus, it was an obvious choice for Prupis to assign Marvel to develop a background story for the "Transformers" as well, and also to come up with a similar multimedia marketing campaign in the form of comic books and a cartoon series.
For this purpose, Marvel's then editor in chief, Jim Shooter, penned down a rough story draft. Subsequently, he in turn his assigned editor Dennis "Denny" O'Neil, who had made himself a name as the writer of titles such as "Justice League of America" and "Green Arrow" for competitor DC Comics (later, he would serve as a Batman editor for many years), to flesh out the background story. It was O'Neil who originally came up with the name "Optimus Prime". However, his concept wasn't met with Hasbro's approval, and on top of that, O'Neil had already lost his interest in the project as well. Thus, Shooter now assigned a young editor named Bob Budiansky to work out the story and to create names and personalities for the individual characters. One of the names Budiansky came up with was "Megatron" - a name which Hasbro initially rejected. Additionally, Budiansky was also responsible for a few name revisions, as "Blow-Out" and "Spin-Out" were changed into the more memorable "Cliffjumper" and "Sunstreaker".
Ultimately, shortened versions of Budiansky's character descriptions were printed on the toys' packaging, whereas the original versions were used for the character profiles in Marvel's "The Transformers Universe" mini-series.
At the American International Toy Fair in February of 1984, Hasbro presented the toys for the first time to a small audience. One month later, the Marvel comic book series was announced for the first time in an article in Marvel Age #17, and in Spring 1984, the Transformers could first be seen on American TV screens in the form of an animated commercial advertizing the Marvel comics. In May 1984, the first issue of the Marvel comic book series was released to stores, and the first toys also came out the same month. The pilot episode of the cartoon show, meanwhile, wouldn't air until September.

Who are the Transformers?

A promotional image showing a Japanese interpretation of the original Transformers in their Marvel designs.
The background story as fleshed out by Marvel would be used both for the comic book and the cartoon series. According to that concept, the Transformers were a race of intelligent, independently acting robots from a machine planet named Cybertron. This was an innovative concept at that time, as robots, especially huge ones, were traditionally operated by human pilots. The Transformers were divided into two factions, the peace-loving Autobots under the command of the war hero Optimus Prime and the power-hungry Decepticons led by the malevolent Megatron, who were fighting a vicious civil war for millions of years. A fundamental feature of both sides was the ability to "disguise" themselves by transforming into vehicles and other machinery.
During a mission in outer space, an Autobot space ship, the "Ark", was attacked by Megatron's Decepticons. Ultimately, Optimus Prime saw only one way out, crashing the Ark on a nearby planet and thereby at least taking the Decepticons with him. Thus, the Ark plunged deep into a volcano in today's US state of Oregon, the (fictitious) Mount St. Hillary. The Transformers remained deactivated for four million years, until an eruption of the volcano in 1984 revived both opposing parties. That way, Marvel combined the fictious story of the Transformers with a real world evnt from the not so distant past, the eruption of Mount St. Helens in the US state of Washington on May 18th, 1980.
The Ark's main computer instantly began to "adapt" both sides to life on Earth by rebuilding them so they could transform into terrestrial machinery. In the Decepticons' case, those were mostly fighter jets and weapons, whereas the Autobots were given the ability to transform into cars, appropriately enough.
The Decepticons promptly used the Autobots' temporary confusion as a cue to escape. The Autobots, meanwhile, tried to readjust to life on planet Earth of the year 1984 and to seek a peaceful coexistence with humans. However, the Decepticons' hunger for power and their search for energy sources continued to pose a huge threat for the unprepared mankind. And since the accursed Autobots were still a thorn in their side, the war would soon start anew.

Epilogue

"Magne Force": Microman for the new millennium. (Image provided by Paul Lorphanpaibul)
The huge success of the "Transformers" in the USA caused Takara to import the American cartoon series to Japan one year later. The "Microman" and "Diaclone" toylines were cancelled, and Takara subsequently also concentrated on the "Transformers". Newly planned Microman and Diaclone toys that had already been in the works by this point were now directly released as Transformers (such as the planned "Jizai Gattai", or "Free Combination", toys) or were even cancelled altogether (the "Road Vulcan" toy, for example).
In 1996, a small company named Roman-Do released replicas of older Microman toys under license from Takara, entitled "Microman21", with considerable success. As a consequence, Takara promptly cancelled the license deal and launched two new Microman lines on their own in late 1998/early 1999. Whereas the "Replica Microman" series was aimed mostly at adult collectors and consisted of reissues of older toys, the "Magne Power" line and its successor, the "LED Power" line, aimed at a younger audience. The current line, which started in 2003, is collectively referred to as the "Microman Force Series" and consists of the "Microman Series", the "Micro Action Series", the "Material Force Series" and the "Kiguru-Microman Series", among other sub-lines.
Following the merger of Takara and their former competitor Tomy in 2005, there was also a rumor of a new "Diaclone" line. To this day, however, no such toys have been announced.
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Special vom: 17.01.2007
Autor dieses Specials: Torsten B Abel
Die weiteren Unterseiten dieses Specials:
Chapter 1 - Part 1
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