Wednesday, December 31st 2008 3:05pm CST
Category: Site Articles
Posted by: Counterpunch
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I have to start off with something of an apology; it’s been sometime since I was able to put pen to paper and through coffee induced wizardry, draft up something worth either my time to write or, and more importantly, your time to read. Most of the time, writing about the hobby is something that I find to be fun and relaxing, but for the past few months, I have found it to be dreadfully uninspiring. There just did not seem to be anything worth commenting on.
I know, I know that there will be those who disagree with that last statement, but in comparison to last year where there was the magical mixture of new fans plus controversy, 2008 was seemingly rather ‘blah’. Taking task to sit down and drum up the highlights of the year in review, it began to dawn on me just how incorrect that assessment was.
2008 was something of a different game for me and I am going to have to assume a good number of other collectors out there. First off, the 2007 Movie changed, well, everything. For the first time in twenty years, Transformers was getting Star Wars level of attention in terms of media and toy aisle space. The brand moved to something new and different with the Movie look. The Transformers we knew were now distinctly alien to many. When it was all said and done, there was no return to normalcy. Transformers Animated picked up the reins and took the brand back to the other end of the extreme with a softer, cartoon based, and fresh look at both the media and toys.
I can admit it, for the first time since before Robots in Disguise, I did not find any real enjoyment of the main line Transformers being offered. I was not in ‘the thick’ of the hobby and this was entirely new to me. Now before you either 1) Attempt to hang me or 2) Try to defend either the Movie or Animated, understand that I do not dislike either one. I just don’t prefer them. Like choosing coffee over tea, it is just a matter of preference.
Why am I telling you all this? Why the big preface? Because I know, I am not the only one in a similar circumstance. To properly review 2008, I have to start with the things that were important everyone, not only my view on the matter.
As someone who has been around for a while in the hobby, I feel like I have a unique perspective on this matter and I am prepared to lay it all out straight, the good and the bad. Interestingly enough, Animated, it’s success, and the fan reaction reminds me, to the point of acid induced flashback, of Armada. The vivid colors, rounded designs, and orientation towards a younger audience all harkens back to those days. To a point, so does the very divided fan reaction to Animated’s arrival. While many find the designs to be refreshing and the direct representation of on screen characters to toys as the line’s most positive attributes, others decry the line’s lack of details and cartoon representations to lack a degree of “maturity”. I think if I looked hard enough, I could go back a few years and find the exact same thing said about Armada.
Now, no matter how you feel about the style of Animated, the designs are well, revolutionary. For the first time in a few years, the engineering has leaped forward. The transformations maintain the style of the brand in both vehicle and bot modes. The robots are near perfect representations of the on-screen characters and unlike Armada, Animated is able to fully articulate the toys and sacrifice next to nothing in regards to the character. Brilliant releases where the toys are pretty much marvels of modern engineering include Prowl, Ultra Magnus, and Bulkhead.
One interesting side effect of Animated (and its now forgotten about delays in coming to market), was the rise of prototype and test shot figure sales. This had a small start with the Movie line, but 2008 saw an almost rabid competition among collectors to gather these protos up from China and be the first to have and/or review them to their collecting brethren, bringing us to…
For a time, there was a grand standard upheld by many collecting veterans of relying upon our friends in Japan and Hong Kong to provide detailed reviews with pictures. The East simply got everything first and like clockwork, you could count on your neighbors half a world away to review and provide pictures of toys that you wouldn’t see for months. Whether a simple attempt to gather up internet fame or a more substantial desire to provide a ‘first look’, YouTube has become the market place for video reviews, commentary, and all manner of fan-based interaction. Many of these online reviewers were, well, simply not all that good at first. Lighting, sound, charm…well, all those things require a degree of practice and it took time, but there are now, numerous means of seeing your favorite toy (that you don’t own yet) on the small screen well before you find him in the store. Some of them are even quite good. I have to admit to missing the days of pictorial review. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I suppose I prefer to see the pictures without all that pesky sound…
That being said, all those out there who are devoting time, effort, and money to spreading knowledge about our hobby are to be commended. Efforts like these are at the heart of making a fan community grow and are ahead of the curve compared to old goats like me who just punch keyboards until something mildly intelligent comes out of it.
G1 and the Expense Report
2008 was without a doubt, an amazing year for G1 collectors and fans. 2008 was a vicious wallet destroying plague for G1 collectors and fans. I simply can not remember when we have had so many significant, large, and otherwise expensive G1 releases in one year. I do not, as a habit, complain about prices as this is a hobby where I have said on numerous occasions, “pay to play”. I still support that statement, however, please consider: Encore Skylynx $75, Encore Omega $85, Encore Metroplex $85, eHobby City Guardian Omega Supreme (Omega Sentinel) $200+, Masterpiece Thundercracker $105… So, around $550 in large reissue figures all in one year. Takara, Tomy…whatever it is now,…I am at the very least impressed with your faith in the fandom’s ability to absorb all that in one year.
Now, consider this, two of those figures (and kind of three) were thought to be strict no-no releases. Everyone including myself thought that Sky Lynx and Omega Supreme were just off limits. Takara…er, Tomy, whatever, has done an excellent job of kicking collector’s expectations of what they can and can’t do right in the balls this year. Roshambo Takara, Roshambo indeed…
For a long time, knock-offs and bootlegged transformers were something of a spectacle or slight amusement to many collectors. They were of poor quality, odd sizes, and radical colors. When they were not those things, they were clear, black, or vac-metaled to hell and back.
Now, we have bootlegged Transformers that are almost indistinguishable from vintage items. Mirage, Gnaw, Slag, Wheeljack, Metroplex and several other difficult to obtain G1 toys have become forever wrapped up in a set of events which will drive vintage collectors to the deepest catacombs of the internet to document the differences between the originals. With the dawn of this new collecting challenge, there has also been a significant number of people ready and willing to support this new market. The battle lines on the matter are clearly drawn, those in favor of the bootlegged Transformers see this as an opportunity to own formerly impossibly expensive and difficult to find pieces. They feel strongly that these releases have no effect on the collecting market. The other side finds these bootlegs to be a real problem which tarnishes the vintage market. Recent news of Encore Reissue Metroplexes having been replaced with Chinese bootlegs and the subsequent vomit reflex most collectors encountered in regards to this all indicates that the Almighty himself has sided with the anti-KO/Bootleg crowd.
In other somewhat related news, the City Commander Upgrade Armor set for Classics Ultra Magnus descended from Heaven in October of this year to rowdy applause and a flurry of adulation. A handful of people claimed to either not like, or have no interest in the armor, but it is assumed that they are taking this stand on things to simply up their ‘street-cred’.
Where as years past have seen similar attempts at home-brewed Transformers merchandise and add on sets, most of those attempts where borderline disastrous or otherwise quickly forgotten. The City Commander set marks a turning point by doing two very crucial things for these garage companies. 1) It’s garnered attention from the community and established a critical mass of people who are willing to pay and eager to be amazed. 2) It’s brought about an element of trust between the community at large and these smaller businesses. We aren’t talking about fragile or poorly made materials here, this new wave of DIY Transformers products are just a shade off of what Takara/Tomy and Hasbro are providing in terms of quality. Most interesting, is that the level of engineering is already equal to the Official Transformers product and is in many ways more responsive to what collectors want to see. Where Takara/Tomy and Hasbro come up short due to cost concerns, fans now have a slight hope that this alternative product will provide.
Henkei-a-go-go and the return of Classics aka Universe
Takara/Tomy really gets a bit more credit than they deserve…in a way. Hindsight is always 20/20 and with the release of Henkei Transformers, the Japanese counterpart to US based Classics, Takara/Tomy is able to spend a good deal more on paint apps and reconfigure colors and decos to give fans an even more G1-y experience than before. Henkei has been somewhat of an incredible and yet overpaid 6th man, leaping up from the bench to perform on-court miracles when the home team is just not delivering. Henkei gave collectors another shot at each of the Classics toys, with an alternate deco, and a price tag with 100% mark-up. Where it is great, it is incredible, where it fails, it gets ugly.
Henkei Megatron and Astrotrain provided beautiful alternatives to the somewhat garish US releases of those toys while Bumblebee and Mirage really only provided inflated price tags. Speaking of inflate price tags, USA editions of Powerglide, Silverbolt, and Onslaught were available on the Japanese market, each of the three sporting a very G1 look in comparison to the US releases, each one also carrying a hefty price tag.
Henkei went and did something that for a while, we thought would never happen based upon everything told to collectors at various BotCons and from various panels over the years. Henkei provided collectors a second bite at the apple with the release of a Japanese exclusive Thundercracker. In comparison to the pure outrage that struck many collectors when Thundercracker was released as part of the very limited BotCon set, the fan response to the Henkei release of Thundercracker was quite mild. It was not the kind of victory that those who had been clamoring for Thundercracker’s general release were hoping for, the $75-80 price tag saw to that. Then again, dispelling the force behind what ‘BotCon Exclusive’ meant took the wind out of several collectors, this one included. The interesting thing that became evident to anyone who kept on top of the information, was the revelation of exactly how and to what extent, the term ‘exclusive’ applied to the collector’s market.
Completing the trend, Classics came back to the US and Western markets with the advent of the Universe line. G1 fan favorites Sunstreaker, Prowl, and Octane ushered in the new line in July of this year followed by the Ultra Class Powerglide, Onslaught, and Silverbolt. As with Animated’s release earlier in the year, quality control issues were prevalent much to the aggravation of fans everywhere. Hope for classic characters like Ironhide and Hound have finally come around and those who managed to keep faith in the idea that Classics would return were rewarded with some outstanding as well as mediocre figures.
So, perhaps 2008 was really not all that boring when I reconsider it. It was a different year in almost every regard. New toys, new designs, new lines, yet still some of the old favorites continued. Somehow I managed to sit out a lot of the year in terms of buying things as a result of being uninterested in Animated, but all the same I managed to buy a lot, and I mean a lot of toys. This strikes me as being very cool, if I may use that sacred term so loosely. 2008 was indeed a good year because even if it did not beat us over the head with the Movie’s release, heated arguments, or expensive toys…wait, it definitely did do that last one, it gave us a range of options and a selection of awesome that was quite wide.
Here’s hoping for a great 2009, a continuation of interesting and surprising releases from Hasbro & Takara/Tomy, and hopefully a raise or two so that we can all afford it.
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