Sunday, October 12, 2008

Transformers 101: G-1: Part 1

For an end-of-the-weekend treat courtesy of all of us here at Exfanding Your Horizons, we have another special guest post from our buddy Gary. This time, Gary's diving into an introduction to the Transformers line of toys, shows, and movies.
So, without further ado, take it away, Gary!

Transformers charactersFor those of you readers out there who don't know much about the multi-media juggernaut that is the Transformers, I'm gonna attempt to present an overview of all things TF!

There is enough to write several books about TFs, and people have, so I will even suggest some for further reading. Roughly, I will go over the original toy line, cartoon, and Marvel comic that started it all.

Then, I plan to focus on the Beast Wars/Beast Machines series and toys. And, last but not least, I'll turn my attention towards the 2007 movie and its upcoming sequel. Maybe I'll even get the new animated show. I'll probably mention some other odds and ends about TFs throughout, but these will be the main focus of my 101.

Let's get started, shall we?

In 1983-1984, Hasbro was riding high after the successful relaunch of its war/action toy line G.I. Joe as 3 3/4 inch figures (like Kenner's Star Wars line). Looking for an inexpensive way to create another line, they bought toy molds from Japanese partner company Takara.

These molds were taken primarily from two transforming robot toy lines. One was called Diaclone, and consisted mainly of robots that changed into vehicles or giant animals with cockpits or seats for little men to sit in and pilot them. The other line consisted of robots that changed into objects such as tape players and cameras, or squat (superdeformed) versions of cars.

Part of this second line, Microman, was itself adapted for the U.S. market as Micronauts. To come up with a story behind the toys, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics, who had created the backstory for G.I. Joe figures and developed a comic and an animated show (through its animation studio, Sunbow) for the property.

Marvel initially approached Jim Shooter to develop the idea behind the TFs, but development was soon passed on to Bob Budiansky, who would go on to write much of the American comics.

The basic idea of heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons bringing their centuries-long war to Earth and disguising themselves as vehicles to blend in was born. The concept was then expanded on [or, as we say here, "EXFANDED ON"--Alex] in different ways through each of its incarnations.

The toys had Technical Specifications (Tech Specs) that required a reader (a red clear plastic strip) to access information and a bio similar to the G.I. Joe file cards that gave kids a context to aid play. The comics developed their own story line with the first characters in the toy line, as did the animated show.

These three incarnations, spanning from 1984-1990, make up what is referred to as Generation One, or G-1, TFs.

G-1 Transformers
The Animated Series/Movie

The animated show made its debut as a 90 minute mini-series/pilot. In it, the planet Cybertron is in the midst of a centuries-old civil war raging between the peace-loving Autobots and the imperialistic Decepticons. A space battle forces a contingent of each faction to crash on a planet.

Millions of years later, a volcano erupts and the robots reactivate. The planet is revealed to be modern day (well, 1984) Earth, and the robots have taken the form of vehicles to disguise themselves. The Autobots defend humans as the Decepticons set out to conquer Earth and seize control of its energy resources.

The Autobots befriend "Sparkplug" Witwicky and his son Spike who become their "liaisons" to Earth culture and history. The series was then picked up for thirteen more episodes. These episodes used characters that were in the first waves of toys, but also introduced some characters that would not be released in toy form for over a year.

Among those were the popular Dinobots, the Insecticons, and the Constructicons. A second season of 65 episodes phased out most of the original characters and focused on those that were in the second wave of toys; some of which received their own episode. The series delved into the history of the TFs and took the TFs to visit alien worlds.

Transformers the Movie posterIn 1986, Transformers: The Movie was released. Millions of kids waited to see their heroes on the big screen, unaware of what the movie was meant to do.

The movie was conceived as a way to relaunch the whole TF brand. Kids watched as both Autobot and Decepticon bought it in what seemed to be the final battle. Most of the characters from the old toy line were killed so that new ones could be introduced and the toy company could discontinue those older molds.

A smart business move, but a "New Coke" mistake in killing off a beloved childhood icon in the form of Autobot leader Optimus Prime. The movie also introduced Unicron, a TF that eats planets and one whom the TFs had to stop from snacking on Cybertron.

The third season of the show immediately followed the movie, which had jumped ten years into the future (2005). It featured the adventures of the Autobots introduced in the movie and their new leader, Rodimus Prime, defending Earth and Cybertron from the raiding Decepticons.

A new threat arose in the form of the Quintessons, the original inhabitants of Cybertron and the creators of the TFs wanting to reclaim Cybertron. The show brought back Optimus Prime at the end of the season. A fourth season was scheduled, but canceled soon afterwards with only the three-part opener made.

This introduced the new concepts in the toy line of alien partners to TFs (Autobot and Decepticon) that would form either robot heads (Headmasters) or weapons (Targetmasters) for TFs.

That was it for animated TFs in the U.S. until the '90's CGI animated Beast Wars. However, the show continued to be made in Japan for a few years before finally ending.

Next time: The G-1 Toys and Comics

Thanks go to Gary for another great guest post. Stay tuned for more from Gary on the Transformers, as we all wait for another installment!

[Images from, and, respectively.]

1 comment:

Flashman85 said...

Yep! Stay tuned for Part II... Any day now...