Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sketch - G1 Gears Fanart

Autobot Gears
The Transformers, Hasbro Industries, Inc., 1984

Micro Robot Car 4WD Offroad
Microman Micro Change, Takara Co., Ltd., 1983

Japan 1983 Release

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Bumblejumper Question

One of the fascinating mysteries of the G1 Transformers toyline surrounds the so called 'Bumblejumper' figure that appeared briefly on Cliffjumper cards in 1984.

Micro Change Mazda Familia 1500XG (left)
Transformers 'Bumblejumper' (right)

I'll discuss my thoughts on the figure in the context of my previous entries on toy hallmarks.

'Bumblejumper' is the fandom ascribed name to the G1 appearance of the Micro Change Microrobot Car - Mazda Familia 1500XG. The figure is understood now to have only appeared on Cliffjumper cards in the color yellow, even though the name originated from the misconception that he appeared on Bumblebee and Cliffjumper cards equally. He was only ever a prerub and only came packed on ™ cards in car mode. It is important to note, for reason that become clear in this article, that Bumblejumper only ever appeared with the dated Takara-only copyright notice (stamp) on the underside.

'Bumblejumper' on Cliffjumper card (ASST 5700)

The Micro Change Microrobot Car figures (that originated the original six Transformers Minibots) were first released in Japan in 1983, in two types of packaging:
  • Large 'Coffin' box (1st release)(Bot mode) - where the Mazda came in Red, Yellow and Blue
  • Small box (2nd release)(Car mode) - where the Mazda came in Red and Yellow
I will digress further at this point to state that the Mazda figure was licensed by Hasbro Bradley as 'Sedan' to Estrela, for their Brazilian Transformers 'Robocar' line, that included the original six minibots, with the exception of Huffer who was replaced by Bumblejumper. With this release, it surfaced that a character artwork of the figure in a white color-scheme existed, in the hallmark style of artist Mark Watts, who was responsible for of 1984's minibot artwork. However, Mark has never laid claim to this artwork and it is possible that it is a bespoke piece organised by Estrela itself.

Brazilian Estrela Sedan

The existence of the artwork led to speculation that Bumblejumper was intended for a Hasbro release. Consistent with the G1 artwork for Bumblebee, Bumblejumper's rendition includes the roof sticker from the Micro Change versions of the toy that was not featured on the G1 figures. A possibility is that the artist was given Micro Change references or samples by Hasbro to create artwork from, very early in the development of the product line. Alternatively, as the Sedan artwork does not allow any room for inclusion of the Autobot insignia, and all of Mark's art feature this, this piece may well have not been produced at Hasbro's direction, and thus was never intended for inclusion in the G1 toyline, and is in fact an original Estrela piece.

If the figure was planned for inclusion in the toyline, it appears to have never made it further than a consideration at worst and an artwork at best. Hasbro obviously had the option to select the figure from the Micro Change catalog, however, by the time the toyline was unveiled at the 1984 Toy Fair, six figures has been decided upon - Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Huffer, Gears, Brawn and Windcharger - and they were to appear four apiece in the 5700 assortment case containing 24 figures. This left no room nor need for a seventh figure. Perhaps the figure was too similar to Cliffjumper to be worth developing further as a catalog figure at that price point, and thus his characterization was never fully developed or committed to the comic and cartoon canon (which were marketing tools to sell the toys). Instead, Hasbro gave the impression of a larger minibot line by simply including red and yellow variants of both Bee and Cliff, which would have been two apiece per case. These ratios were maintained in the 5709 assortment that introduced rubsigns and minispy companions.

Hasbro Toy Fair Catalog 1984

The next question is how did the figure end up on Cliffjumper cards in 1984? Some hypotheses suggest that it was Takara overstock from the Micro Change line. There are several reasons why I don't agree with this. Firstly, the Micro Change figure is a different color plastic from the G1. Secondly, the Micro Change figure is circle stamped ('TAKARA JAPAN'), and there are no circle stamped Bumblejumpers in existence. It can't be overstock if it features the copyright stamp that Hasbro instructed Takara to add to the toy (I will get to this). Thirdly, Takara didn't produce surplus figures just to sit on them until a partner came along. Once made, they were out of the factory door. George Dunsay recalled, "Remember, we originally were limited to Takara's original, complete tooling. There was no Takara overstock. The line became so hot they diverted some of their domestic production for us." That is to say, production time, not product. Hasbro found themselves with 100 million dollars of preorders by March 1984 and only forecast to meet 75 to 80 percent of that by the end of the year. Therefore Takara was under the proverbial gun to fulfil their contract and put Hasbro product as top priority.

Micro Change Mazda Familia 1500XG (left)
Transformers 'Bumblejumper' (right)

It is precisely the diversion of time that leads me to my answer.

When Hasbro struck The Agreement with Takara, one of the stipulations was that Takara was to update the existing products with manufacturer notations as Hasbro saw fit. In the course of modifying the toys to meet Hasbro's specifications, Takara designed new molds that contained a copyright notice; at the same time, it added a copyright notice to its old molds. Takara had never used these for their domestic product. They used a maker's mark but not a copyright notice. However, we find almost all of 1984's G1 line-up to have specimens with only the maker's mark and no copyright notice, which are accepted to be the earliest G1 releases. This is where if we understand that Takara diverted their own domestic production to meet Hasbro's demand, then they began fulfilling Hasbro orders before they had the opportunity to update the existing toy molds.

This is why we have 'Diaclone' or 'Micro Change' stamped toys with no copyright notice. Hence, we find all six initial prerub Minibots in the 5700 assortment with a maker's mark or circle stamp. And then later, the same six prerubs with a dated Takara-only copyright stamp, in the same assortment.

However Bumblejumper only ever has the dated Takara-only copyright stamp.

My conclusion is, when all the injection molds were swept up for retooling to add the copyright stamp, the Micro Change Mazda mold was one of them. Takara was under time pressure to keep the production lines chugging and mistakes were made in the hustle and bustle. And what happened to any mold after it was retooled? Obviously they went back to the production line to be used to produce more toys. The Mazda mold itself ended up on the factory floor, being injected with yellow and black plastic in order to make... yellow Cliffjumpers! I firmly believe that the mold was mistaken for Cliffjumper and tossed into the production line for a short period, churning out Mazda figures that ended up in Cliffjumper packaging. And, it was the copyright stamp retooling event that caused the Mazda mold to enter production. This is further supported by the fact that Bumblejumper wears the same rear sticker that belongs to Cliffjumper. 

Bumblejumper sports Cliff's rear sticker, not Bee's.

It was obviously a mistake that was detected and rectified, because Cliffjumper was packed correctly ever since, including immediately after Bumblejumper's limited appearance, as the prerub dated Takara-only stamped Cliffjumpers that only appeared in that assortment. However one can only guess at what stage the error was discovered - during parts harvesting, assembly, or packaging. The error was deemed acceptable enough to pass QC, eventually reaching retail display racks to delight, confuse and fascinate fans and collectors for the next three decades.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

File Notes - Astro Magnum, Shockwave, Patent, Design Registration

It's been almost a year since I last contributed to the blog. I'd only recently acquired an original Toyco Astro Magnum, and I felt the need to revisit its origins again.

I've been largely obsessed with finding the patent for the toy, but so far it has been a fruitless investigation. On the back of the packaging there is 意匠登録 58-037528 which is a 'design registration' number.

The Japan Platform for Patent Information allows a search of the design number. Punching in the details, we return that in Showa 58 (1983), a design application was made with the Japan Patent Office (JPO).

I'm still hoping to track down the actual patent and schematics. The search continues...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Quick Look - Commemorative Series I Reissue Optimus Prime Prototype Prize

I saw this go under the radar on auction in August 2017, under title:
 アメリカ版 試作 景品用 コンボイ オプティマス
(American version prototype for prize Convoy Optimus)

My gut feel was that it was a legitimate prototype/prize figure. I've read previously about similar items - clear plastic versions of reissue figures, and vacuum metallized reissue Seekers - that either served as test-shots (for inspection, fault-finding) or created for promotional prize draws, (or utilised ultimately for both purposes). Read about them here, herehere and here. When it comes to purpose, hearsay is involved, but there is definite, albeit scattered documentation of these types of figures themselves, and they appear to be truly scarce, which actually supports legitimacy (as in not mass produced counterfeits). At the very worst, this is a 'lunchtime special', a clandestine product borne outside official factory hours. At best, this an extremely rare and possibly unique prototype figure that received some extra preparation - custom decal application, additional accessories - in order to be offered as a prize figure

This item was auctioned by the same seller sharbicc who had sold what appear to be contemporary prototypes nearly 10 years ago. Many other signs pointed to it being a legitimate reissue figure, that is it has all the hallmarks of an official reissue Optimus Prime, from the unique wheel pins, bumper moldings and sticker cut, down to the part stamping, and none of the hallmarks of a KO figure (which all are based on a T2/#3 French or Japanese Prime). Also there are no short-stacked counterfeits on the market, so I jumped. Fortunately, nobody else bid and I got it for a song.

The figure comes in Hasbro Commemorative Series 1 packaging. The mass retail figure was released in 2002.

Opening up the clamshell, you can see that it is the US version cab, with the shortened smoke-stacks for safety. The cab forgoes the die-cast chassis and leg parts, replaced with plastic. The cab is almost entirely a translucent amber plastic. The typically chrome parts remain - wheels, stacks, grill. The trailer is rendered in standard grey plastic, and the amber plastic replaces all the trailer parts that are normally blue. Across the cab and trailer is a glossy chrome sticker trim. Tyres are standard black rubber.

Zooming in a little, one can see the Autobot logo on the trailer has been hand-cut and placed on top of the chrome decal. Roller is a clear plastic, and the standard rifle is amber.

Taking a look at the baggie, we have clear plastic wheels for Roller, clear missiles, gas pump and nozzle. There is also a clear bloated rifle and an amber matrix, which were included with the Japanese release 2002 New Year Special Convoy. The hose is a regular black flexible plastic. What is interesting is that a set of 4 black 'safety' missiles are included, which are the longer version exclusive to the US release. This would allow the prototype figure to be potentially offered to different markets, but perhaps the parts considered less safe would have been removed if the figure was used as a prize in the US. Let me tell you, the trailer launcher is absolutely nerfed - there is no spring installed in the launcher at all.

What else was included? The sticker sheet that originated with the 15th Anniversary Convoy of 2000, and a US instruction sheet. I believe this is the standard set-up for the Commemorative Reissue of 2002. I haven't actually owned one until now!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

File Notes - Astro Magnum, Toyco, Intecs, Shockwave, Galactic Man

Many websites that discuss Shockwave's origins state that the original manufacturer, Toyco was and still is a Korean company, and infer that Shockwave is notable for being somewhat of a 'Korean' Transformer, often due to the fact that there is a Toyco Korea website in existence today. It is true that Shockwave was manufactured in Korea for the Hasbro toyline, among others, however we will explore the history of the toy in more detail here.

In fact, the Toyco in question was and still is a Japanese company. This is the actual website

Toyco was established in Tokyo, November 20, 1981 and its operations are the business planning, manufacturing and sale of boy's toys. A bit of Trivia, though the head office address has changed several times, Toyco is still located in Tokyo, and has maintained the same telephone number until today, as per the original Astro Magnum packaging of 1983.

The original Astro Magnum clearly shows a Toyco head office address in Tokyo on the packaging, and both the original 'laser gun' packed version, and the latter 'robot' packed version were manufactured in Japan (as per the box and stamping on the battery cover). The trademark is of course, unmistakable.

The Astro Magnum toys were manufactured and distributed in Japan by Toyco. The figure was then licensed to other parties. As we know, Shockwave was initially released to western markets as a Transformer by Hasbro prior to Christmas 1984, and was part of the Japanese toyline in 1985. Radio Shack, a subsidiary of Tandy, also released a version known as Galactic Man at roughly the same time internationally through its network of stores. When the figures were licensed to Hasbro and Tandy, (as well as other US toy companies), it appears that manufacture was off-shored to Seoul, to a manufacturing partner called Intecs, Ltd.. Both Shockwave and Galactic Man are stamped 'MADE IN KOREA', and there are references to being made in Korea on the packaging and papers included. However only on the back of G1 Shockwave is it clear who the manufacturing partner was.

I can only surmise that the manufacturing was moved to Korea for reasons of production capacity or economics. No doubt the contracts with American companies called for high volume at low cost. Hence, Shockwave, Galactic Man, and other licensed versions were all made in Korea, but still bear the Toyco stamp. 

Let it be clear, Toyco was the licensor, responsible for the design and manufacture of the original toy, and have acknowledged it here in a roundabout way, although there are questions as to what parties have rights to produce and market the toy today, even if the mold's whereabouts were known. Hasbro of course would have strong interests in the intellectual property and likeness of Shockwave, though it does not have exclusive rights to the Toyco-G1 toy itself. Hasbro/Takara continues to make toys in the likeness of Shockwave today. And of course the mold appears to be missing.

As a matter of rebuking further the idea that the figure originated in Korea instead of Japan, it doesn't make sense to me that Intecs of Seoul owned the mold in the first instance, or that Intecs and Toyco were in some way a subsidiary of the other, and that the first Astro Magnums were manufactured in Japan, only to revert to Korea when international demand exploded. During the 80s Japanese toy companies generally made toys in Japan, for Japan. The Takara-developed Transformer toys were all initially made in Japan, and in accordance with the operational and financial realities of distributing the toyline internationally in partnership with Hasbro, certain toys were produced in countries such as Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Macau, France, and eventually preominantly in China and recently Vietnam. The idea that Toyco is Korean seems to be the result of flawed deduction supported (understandably) by a single piece of erroneous data - the website. 

Regardless of whether the the figure was produced in Japan first, or Korea second, all the versions considered to be legitimate licensed toys are so because they bear the Toyco stamp on the figure, and Toyco is a Japanese toy company that has been in existence since 1981 until today.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sketch - G1 Wheeljack Fanart

Autobot Engineer Wheeljack
The Transformers, Hasbro Industries, Inc., 1984

Car Robot Lancia Stratos Turbo

Diaclone Real & Robo Series, Takara Co., Ltd., 1982

Italy 1985 Release

Monday, December 26, 2016

Quick Look - Diakron DK-1

In the later half of 1983 Takara had established a spin off of its Japanese Diaclone toyline in the United States through its subsidary Takara US (Takara Toys Corporation), based in New York. The toyline was called Diakron and featured a very limited number of toys from the Diaclone Car Robot series, Dasher series, as well as the multi-vehicle robot Guts Blocker. A Toys-R-Us exclusive, the toyline didn't do particularly well, ostensibly because Takara did not well understand the US market. Ultimately, Takara US's rights to market and distribute the transforming Diakron toys in the US were acquired by Hasbro Industries along with the rights to the bulk of Takara's transforming Diaclone and Micro Change toys in late 1983, to be released as The Transformers the following year. And so marked the the end of the very short and obscure Diakron toyline. Takara US would re-enter the US market with Kronoform, comprising various toys that Hasbro had not used for The Transformers, some featuring Transformers branding, but in the end another unsuccessful and obscure foray into the US toy market.

One of the featured toys, and sequentially the first, was DK-1. Fittingly, it is the same toy as the the first of the Diaclone series, indeed historically the first transforming car-robot ever, the Lamborghini Countach LP500S Super Tuning version. Like the Diaclone, DK-1 was released in red and is the only other release to have done so, making a red variant considerably rarer than it's yellow incarnation; typically G1 Sunstreaker; but also found yellow in the Italian GIG and French Joustra releases, as well as in the Milton Bradley Sideswipe box.

Diakron DK-1 (Front)
Diakron DK-1 (Back)

One of the interesting things about the Diakron release, is that though unsuccessful, many of its packaging details appear to have made it into The Transformers line. The box dimensions are identical in length, height and width to the G1 Autobot cars packaging. Only the height of the box flap differs, being 1 cm shorter on the Diakron. The window placement is identical from the bottom-left co-ordinates and is only slighter taller on the G1. The G1 adopts some of the grey bordering between the window and the character cut-out. And finally both share similar copy, where the Diakron's 'Changes from Racecar to Robot and back!' becomes 'TRANSFORMS FROM RACECAR TO ROBOT AND BACK!' on the G1 packaging.

G1 Sunstreaker (Front)

The internal packaging is quite horrendous. It is a soft, almost vinyl-like plastic tray. It engulfs the toy, making it difficult to see anything more than the side view. In this regard the clear blister arrangement of the G1 is superior. From the back you can see that the tray is in some places only as thin as a supermarket bag. For this reason I haven't dared to remove the toy, as I fear I will do irreversible damage to the tray.

Circle stamped figure with 'Diaclone' pilot
Back of tray

In an interview with Hasbro R&D VP at the time, George Dunsay (Source), he recalled that Diakron did not have many of the elements that made The Transformers successful as a brand - marketing, conflict, commercials. Certainly, the packaging is overloaded with copy, bombarding the viewer with messages about what is inside and how to enjoy it. It is evident that Takara didn't have a good handle on what was required for the market. Hasbro knew how to get people storming into the toy aisles. Diakron looked like a foreign curiosity that you'd be lucky to come across in the first place, let alone be compelled to buy.

Diakron DK-1 (Top)
Diakron DK-1 (Side)

If Takara had scant idea how to sell toys in the US, they certainly acknowledged they needed to find out. The toy was accompanied by a feedback card to ascertain some very rudimentary information about buyers and their impressions of the toyline.

Toy decal sheet and feedback card
Yes, they were really there.

The catalog that doubled as the instruction sheet interestingly didn't feature any other toys from the toyline. Instead, it featured a bunch of penny-racer pull-back cars, known as Choro Q in Japan. Catch some old school commercials for them here, and here.

DK-1 instruction sheet
Penny Racers. A whole different breed of speed.

Even as an example of a poorly executed campaign, the subsequent success and longevity of The Transformers as a global brand have elevated its Diaclone and Diakron predecessors to legendary status. For collectors, the scarcity of the red variant and its historical significance as the pioneering car-robot transforms this obscure piece into an unlikely holy-grail.