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Transformers toys are amazing right now - and they’re gonna get weirder

Transformers toys are amazing right now - and they’re gonna get weirder

Optimus Prime and Megatron will always star, but there’s no limit to where Hasbro can go now

Thew Adams has been talking about Transformers on YouTube for 15 years. Incredibly - as much to him, seemingly, as anyone reading this - it’s his job these days, as he left behind the old nine-to-five to focus on robot content in 2018. His channel has almost 75,000 subscribers and his videos - reviews, unboxings, general chit-chats about the collector community he’s a part of - regularly run to mid-five-figures in terms of views, and sometimes peak higher. And it was one video in particular, which comfortably cruised past 200,000 sets of eyeballs, which made him think that maybe there was a full-time calling in this.

“I don't know what happened, but one of my videos just completely popped off, the video for Stratosphere, the big f*cking cargo plane boy,” Adams tells me. “I think it was just a blip in the algorithm, because it's a mystery to me how these things work. But sometimes you catch a wave. And I got so many new viewers from that. At the time I started a Patreon - I made an account so I could support somebody else, I think it was Chris McFeely for his Transformers: The Basics channel. And then I kind of thought you know, just for banter, I’d try it myself, just to see what happened. And it exploded in two weeks. So I'm like, right, I can make my living from this.”

Thew Adams reviewing Legacy Bulkhead in 2022 /
Thew Adams, YouTube

That it was a character like Stratosphere that blew up for Adams, and not an Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream or any other top-tier, evergreen, totally-mainstream-known icon of this veteran multimedia franchise says a lot about where Transformers finds itself in 2022, and where it’s been in the last few years. In particular, where its toys are at, and where they’re going. Because as the headline up there makes clear: these store-available figures, largely pluckable from shelves around the world (with some notable exclusives as painful exceptions), are not just the best they’ve ever been when it comes to articulation and accuracy to their cartoon and comic counterparts, but they’re also getting pretty leftfield.

Transformers Legacy Jhiaxus stock photo /
Hasbro Pulse

“I never thought in a million years we would get to put a Marvel UK comic-created Simon Furman character into the main toyline,” says Ben MacCrae, the associate brand manager for Transformers at manufacturer Hasbro (who these days design and produce all mainline figures in cooperation with its Japanese counterparts, Takara Tomy). “But my favourite character we’ve done in 2022, by far, has to be Jhiaxus. It was super fun when we saw he was coming out.”

Adams shares in the delighted surprise that we’re now at a point where villains from the Furman-penned ‘Generation 2’ Marvel comic, which ran briefly between 1993 and 1994, are appearing in anyone-can-buy-this numbers: “It’s weird enough that this happened in the first place - a mass-retail Voyager-class (Transformers come in different size/price classes, Voyager being around the £30 mark) version of f*cking Jhiaxus. Are you kidding me?”

Watch Hasbro’s video of its Studio Series 86 Hot Rod and Kingdom Galvatron figures, both released in 2021, trying to recreate a key scene from the 1986 animated movie…

And there’s more to come: recent announcements for upcoming regular-retail figures have included Tarn, a charismatic Decepticon who can kill with only his voice and who forged a fan-favourite reputation through IDW’s comic series (and who’s pictured in the main image, up top); and Leo Prime aka Leo Convoy, a Beast Wars II era leader brought back to contemporary relevance through the current Generations: Legacy toy line and who is basically Optimus Prime but a lion. Don’t overthink it.

Already on shelves are modernised takes on characters first seen not only in the 1980s ‘Generation 1’ (G1, henceforth) cartoon et al - like Blitzwing, Skids and Elita-1 - but also Transformers Prime, Beast Wars and Armada. “It's really the magic of Legacy that is letting us do this,” says MacCrae. “We're able to pull from that 40-year fandom and recreate these characters that haven't had updates in a while.”

“There are universes that we will touch on that we can't talk about yet. It's gonna be a lot of fun over the next two years.”

But that isn’t all. MacCrae, naturally choosing his words carefully, adds: “There are universes that we will touch on that we can't talk about yet. It's gonna be a lot of fun over the next two years.” Adams is already there, mentally, telling me: “There’s really no limits at this point. Any wild shit you can imagine, [we could get]. We are into the wild shit, now.”

However, underpinning any Transformers toy line are those immovable foundations that simply have to be present, in some form or other. So while the Legacy line is dipping a toe into Armada, it’s doing so with Starscream. There’s a new Optimus Prime teased in Legacy artwork, and it’s also the Armada model - a stockier, chunkier fellow compared to his relatively lithe G1 self. Legacy’s third wave of releases contains a Megatron, but this one’s the ‘Transmetal II’ version, which becomes a dragon rather than the one-shot-Brawn-killer pistol seen in the old cartoon.

Ben MacCrae, known to Transformers fans as Bmac /
Ben MacCrae

Which begs the question: are the current G1-style mainline versions of Optimus, Bumblebee, Starscream, Soundwave et al about as good as they’re ever going to be? Without significantly ratcheting up the cost to the consumer of course, or altering the scale of the figures so that they’re a more premium product.

“Earthrise for me is the definitive retail version of, you know, a £45 Optimus Prime,” Adams says, referencing the recognisable truck-and-trailer version of the Autobot leader that was initially released in 2020 and repacked for the Kingdom line. “I don’t see how it could be improved. Apart from, maybe, give it a Roller (a drone-like wheeled companion, familiar to anyone who had the 1980s toy), but that was included in an accessory pack already. But it is tricky to know where to go, isn’t it? Because there’s decades of stuff to chew through.”

Earthrise/Kingdom Optimus Prime stock photo /
Hasbro Pulse

“G1 is always going to be on the table, right?” offers MacCrae. “It’s our longest-running fandom. But we’re honestly looking at everything - there’s potential to do something from Armada, potential to do something from Animated, and there’s potential to grow the Studio Series line (a range focused on screen-accurate figures from both the live-action and animated Transformers movies) into bigger scales, to get better characters. Like Siege Jetfire (an £80-ish Commander-class interpretation of the ‘80s Autobot, released in 2019) is basically a Masterpiece-level (Masterpiece is the super-premium range of Transformers) Generations release. We really like that Commander-class price point, and it affords us a lot.

“We were originally looking at putting (Transformers Victory Decepticon) Deathsaurus in the mainline - he was going to be the Commander-class release for that wave. But then he became the [recently revealed] new HasLab project (crowd-funded releases, aimed purely at collectors) after (Transformers Victory Autobot) Victory Saber because we really wanted to do him justice. Transformers Victory, [as a Japanese-exclusive show], would never be a series you would think could become a Commander item in the mainline - but because of the fandom and these higher price points, we’re now able to do these characters.”

“If you go to a toy shop currently, there’s just this f*cking wall of Transformers products, where each one looks like it'll make your week.”

Whole lotta parenthesis up in those last couple of paragraphs, huh - but that’s illustrative of just how below-the-radar some of these characters receiving mainline toys have been in the last few years. As a collector myself who tends to focus on characters appearing in the G1 cartoon series and 1986 movie - up to ‘The Rebirth’ but not beyond it - even I’ve found it hard to resist some of these amazing new versions of ‘bots I was only half aware of growing up, the likes of Spinister, Impactor (a legendary character to UK Marvel comic readers) and the ‘Generation Selects’ redeco of the classic big bad Megatron in his rarely seen ‘Combat’ colours (like, camouflaged, but with his own name written across his chest - totally ridiculous, but brilliant). The TL;DR here is very much: it’s a terrific time to be picking up these toys, whether you’re a fairweather follower of the converting robo-friends or someone with ‘Con tats all up their arms who won’t shut up about their Cyclonus’s Armada theories.

“I feel like there's a lot more buzz around Transformers now than there has been,” Adams says. “The Michael Bay [live-action] movies, they brought a lot of new viewers in. But in terms of the toys themselves, I think they just look really good nowadays, and the way they work, the experience of it, they're very thoughtfully created. If you go to a Smyths (UK toy shop) currently, there’s just this f*cking wall of Transformers products, where each one looks like it'll, you know, like it'll make your week. They’re just such a treat to pick up.”

“We do have to be subjective about what is and isn't going to sell,” MacCrae says, “but at the same time, we're trying to make the best versions of the characters that have ever been made. So we want to continue to do that. It really has been a lot of fun.”

Featured Image Credit: Hasbro

Topics: Transformers, Interview