For more than 25 years, the Transformers toys have never ceased to amuse everyone from little boys to avid toy collectors. But how exactly did these toys get started?
The Transformers toys debuted on Japanese soil as Microman and Diaclones, made by Takara Company Limited. They were officially named the Transformers when the company Hasbro bought the distribution rights to the Japanese toys for the US market. Soon after, Hasbro took over completely, buying the sole ownership and copyrights of the entire Transformer series. Takara, however, retained their rights to market the products in Japan.
Hasbro hired two comic book writers, Jim Shooter and Dennis O'Neil, to develop a story behind the characters and the Transformers began what was supposed to be a small miniseries in the Marvel comic universe, but wound up being an 80 issue series.
The first Transformers were known as AUTOBOTS, called such because they can be a vehicle or a robot, and hit the market in 1984. Soon after, the AUTOBOTS’ rival, the DECEPTICONS, a more complicated transformer, hit the stores. The highly popular Optimus Prime and Megatron, leaders of the AUTOBOTS and the DECEPTICONS respectively, also debuted in the first year of the Transformers. As more and more kids got hooked on Transformers, an animated TV show was created, focusing soley on the very popular action figures. Just a year after the release of Transformer toys into the US market, they had become one of the leading toys in the market.
By 1986, the use of the Microman and Diaclone molds had been completely phased out. Hasbro started using their own designs for the many characters in the line of action figures. This was also the year the first Transformers movie hit the screen. Over the next few years, several new sets of characters, including new leaders of the AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS were released. However, the Optimus Prime and Megatron characters remained the hallmarks of the series.
In 1990, the last year of the first generation Transformers (known as G1 Transformers), a brand new series named Action Masters were brought to life and production of the original Transformers toys was halted.
Two years later, Transformers toys made a comeback! New characters were released and a lot of older ones re-surfaced with new body colors and features. This was also when the toy line started to speak, with the electronic phrases and sounds. Optimus Prime was released many times with many enhancements, including talking, laser lights, and rocket launchers for weapons.
In the late 90’s the Transformers were more popular than ever. One big breakthrough was the release and mass production of the first female Transformers character, Blackarachnia. The Transformers Beast Wars series also became a hit during this period and the release of Fuzors and Transmetals closed out the decade.
In early 2000, the Transformers toys enjoyed continued popularity in the market. Several new story lines were released, focusing largely on the traditional Transformers characters, the AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS. The Transformers Armada also made their debut adding some spice to the old character line.
The popularity and almost cult-like following the Transformers franchise had gained through the years led to the production of another movie, released in 2007. Using live action and special effects instead of animation, the movie became one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. The action figures once again enjoyed a resurgence propelled by the popularity of the movie all across the world.
Young or old, it’s evident that the Transformers continue to amuse the kid in all of us. And, judging by the fact that new Transformer toys hit the market each year, that trend won’t be ending any time soon.