Toy company Hasbro was impressed with two toy-lines at the Tokyo Toy Show in 1983 – Takara’s Microman and Diaclone – and sought to pick them up for the Western market. Concerned about launching two similar new toy-lines simultaneously, Hasbro instead elected to roll the two into one, rebranding models and concepts from both lines under the new ‘Transformers’ banner.
The majority of the first few releases of Transformers toys were adapted – many almost unchanged – from the Diaclone ‘Car Robots’ toys that debuted in 1982, while those designs not focused on vehicular transformations were typically pulled in from or inspired by the Microman ‘Micro Change’ line.
With the toys sorted, Hasbro realised that the brand needed more than just a cool gimmick. It needed lore, a story, a reason for the Autobots and Decepticons to be locked into their epic clash of good versus evil.
For this, the toy company turned to Marvel Comics to produce identities and a back story for the robots, and while Marvel’s names and tech specs all made it through intact, a lot of the initially proposed story was altered or lost entirely in Sunbow’s accompanying animated TV series.
The three-pronged strike of a set of cool toys, a flashy animated TV show and a comic series was an immediate success, to the point that Takara quickly dissolved its own original Diaclone and Microman lines to instead produce new figures under the Transformers brand for Japan as well.
It wasn’t long before the Takara well ran dry and Hasbro was forced to licence models from other companies just to keep up with fans who couldn’t get enough, supplementing this with its own designs from around 1986 onwards.
Fortunately, Hasbro had a secret weapon ready to go that year – Transformers: The Movie was released, featuring a star-studded cast including Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles. Despite the film’s modest success on the cinema circuit – it barely managed to break even – it was a great advert for both brand and characters.
The franchise’s explosive first few years would never be topped and popularity wound down in the late Eighties, although the line remains popular with collectors.
Numerous attempts have been made to restore the Transformers line to its former glory.