IX. TV, Movie and Video Transformations
In Japan in 1985, the legendary Mobile Suit Gundam
series that changed the format of giant robot storylines finally received a sequel series titled Zeta Gundam
. Not surprisingly, Zeta Gundam
introduced transforming mecha to the Gundam universe in the form of the "wave rider" spaceship mode for the Zeta Gundam robot. Other "mobile suits" in the series could transform as well, although the purpose of the transformations was aerodynamic flying forms, not disguise.
The Gundam toy line history was also a change from the traditional Japanese robot toys. When the original Gundam series aired in 1979-1980, a Japanese toy company called Clover had released a diecast, missile-launching Gundam toy. However, the chunky, simplified forms of Clover's robot toys didn't appeal to fans of the Gundam series, who prefered the increased detail and articulation of the Gundam plastic model kits. As a result of this increased demand for realism in robot toys, Clover soon went out of business in 1983 after unsuccesfully trying to adapt to the "real robot" aesthetic by making toys for the anime mecha series Xabungle
. As usual, Bandai was quite willing to step in and take over, and their Gundam model kits remained very popular.
Thus, when the time came to make toys for Zeta Gundam
in 1985, Bandai decided to forego the diecast metal and instead make super-detailed, super-poseable toys that were completely made of strong ABS plastic. Although Bandai continued to produce the diecast "chogokin" robot toys based on the anime and live-action combiner robots, the shift towards high-detail all-plastic collectible toys had begun.
1979 Gundam toy by Clover, 1980 Gundam model by Bandai, and 1985 Zeta Gundam transforming toy by Bandai.
Another change that took place in the world of Japanese robots in 1985 was the introduction of the original animated video (OVA). These direct-to-VHS releases enabled one-shot anime with more adult storylines to be viewed by the anime-hungry public. Certain popular animation design companies like Artmic
soon took advantage of this medium to introduce their own privately created anime and mecha designs during the mid to late 1980s. Popular OVA of this time that featured transforming robots were Megazone 23
, Bubblegum Crisis
Back in the US, 1986 saw the release of Transformers: The Movie
, and a rather large change to the Transformers toy line as well. Not only did TF: The Movie
kill off many of the original generation one characters, but it also introduced many new toys that were newly created and based on the animation character designs for the movie. By this point, Takara had discontinued the MicroChange and Diaclone toy lines and instead marketed the repacked toys as Transformers in Japan. With some exceptions (like Ultra Magnus, Sky Lynx and the large city-base Transformers) the 1986 wave of new Transformer toys based on the movie were created especially for Hasbro, and the difference between these toys and the earlier pre-existing Transformers were obvious for several reasons. The diecast metal parts were mostly eliminated as a cost-cutting measure. Also, the transformation process on many of the new toys was simplified, resulting in less detail. This was a trend that would mostly continue into the late 1980s, along with a marked increase in futuristic or outlandish alt forms.
1986 TF catalog, Decepticon side
In Japan, Takara introduced a series of Transformers spin-off toys called Beastformers
in 1987. These small, non-transformable cyborg animal figures were sold by Hasbro in the US as Battle Beasts
, with no connection to the Transformers series being made.
toy series ended in 1987 after the addition of the Rock Lords
to the toy line and an unsuccessful feature film cartoon. The Machine Robo
series carried on in Japan however as a totally different anime series, Machine Robo Chronos
After the third season of the Transformers TV cartoon, set after the futuristic events of TF: The Movie
, there was a brief three-episode mini-series
that made up season four in late 1987. This wrapped up the animated story of the G1 Transformers. However the Japanese G1 TF anime series continued on in new directions for three more seasons in the series Transformers: Headmasters
(1987), Transformers: Supergod Masterforce
(1988), and Transformers: Victory
(1989). Each of these series used more new characters and less of the familiar G1 characters from the US cartoon.
Characters from the 1989 Japanese anime series Transformers: Victory
Back in the US, the Transformers toy line that would come to be called "generation one" continued through 1989, with the introduction of the Headmasters, Targetmasters, Powermasters, Micromasters and Pretenders.
1989 TF catalog
As the 1980s wore on, Japanese animation became more and more popular in the US and other countries. The only way to see a lot of it was by sometimes viewing grainy, untranslated 4th generation VHS copies, but the anime style was undeniably gaining public attention and a loyal American fan base. In Japan, the Gundam series continued with the often humorous Gundam ZZ
("double zeta") in 1986-87.
1986 Gundam ZZ transformer/combiner toy by Bandai
The Gundam-wannabe trend also continued with anime series such as SPT Layzner
(1986) and Dragonar
(1987), which had great mecha designs, but strictly forgettable storylines. The toy lines connected to these short-lived series were small, consisting mostly of model kits or the occasional deluxe action figure.
In 1989, Bandai officially ended the diecast metal "chogokin" toy series, which had mostly consisted of just live-action Sentai Ranger combining robots for several years.
Although there had been many depictions of live-action transforming super-robots on Japanese television in the Sentai/Ranger series, it wasn't until 1989 that an attempt to produce a live-action feature film with a "real robot" transforming mecha feel was made. The Japanese movie was called Gunhed
, and it featured transforming tank mecha. An American movie called Robot Jox
was filmed around 1988, but wasn't completed and released until 1990. While Robot Jox
provided more traditional humanoid giant mecha, it was definitely a low-budget (but entertaining) attempt, and spawned a 1993 sequel, Robot Wars
Next: 1990s re-imaginings