Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Transformers: Remembering Diaclone and Microman Micro Changers
Ho-hum ... another summer blockbuster season, another mediocre Michael Bay Transformer movie making dumpster loads of money at the box office.
I understand what the Transformer movies are supposed to do: Like the cartoons and comic books, they're intended to help sell Hasbro's never-ending line of Transformer toys. Yet when I look at the movie's robot designs, they don't look like they'd be very fun as toys. Sure, all the moving parts and multi-layered armor make for flashy CGI effects, but the toys that are based on these designs look extremely awkward and clunky in comparison.
Personally, I think that it's best to leave robot toys to the people who started it all: the Japanese designers at Takara who created the robot toys for the Diaclone and the Microman Micro Changers toy lines, toys that would later be rebranded and sold as Transformers in the U.S. Yes, Hasbro's repackaging job (along with the help of writers from Marvel Comics) was what eventually catapulted these toys to international stardom, but I think that Hasbro's management of the line lacks the wondrous creativity and fun that Takara originally put into its products. Read on for a look back at the toys that made the Transformers possible.
To put it simply, Diaclone featured giant transforming robots that were controlled by pilots, while Microman Micro Changers featured robots that would transform into smaller objects (e.g., guns, microscopes, cameras, cassette players) to keep in scale with the other "micro" figures in the line. The Microman Forever site provides a succinct overview of how these lines morphed into Hasbro's Transformers:
"By early 1980's, both the toys and anime world were fast changing with the introducing of realistic robots with shows like Gundam and later Macross taking over the super-robot series. Takara designers seized on this "real" concept and spin it into their sci-fi lines. This was something that Takara seem to always excel at, taking the popular concept and adapted them to their line. Before 1983, most of the Diaclone and Microman toys featured futuristic designs, but that was all changed with the introduction of two new series - "Car Robot" for the Diaclone and "Micro Change" for the Microman. The "Car Robot" featured realistic looking cars that could transformed into robots for the Diaclone pilot while the "Micro Change" (also known as Chameleon Good) featured realistic object that transformed into robots and vehicles that interacted with the Microman figures. These two new lines were dubbed the "Real & Robot" line - a combination of "real" world object with the fictional "robot". The "Real & Robot" would flourished for couple of years until Hasbro (a US toy company) took these two "Real & Robot" lines and combined them together and gave them a whole new story called "The Transformers" for the US market."
Here's a selection of photos from various catalogs and product stills for Diaclone and Microman Micro Changers. Even though Hasbro helped itself to quite a few of the designs, there were still plenty of fun items left over.
Microman Micro Changers:
I think that the Diaclone and Microman lines were fun robot toys just the way they were. Flexibility and modularity were built into their designs, features that most other sci-fi toys lacked. Furthermore, the transforming robots were just one aspect of the toy lines, so kids could mix up their imaginative play sessions with something more than the usual rock-em sock-em robots.