Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Femmebots: Why All the Fuss?

 - Erica Walsh

Female-aligned Transformers characters have existed since the dawn of the franchise's hay-day. Similarly, women fans, contrary to popular belief, have been with the line since its inception. However, many fans still call the need for characters like this into question.

What originally drew me to the franchise as a wee young'n was my interest in the source material. You cannot deny the long-lasting effect it has on drawing in children and young people - case in point, robots being cool as hell.

However, a unique point for Transformers is that each robot is a character with depth and personality in and of themselves, which is not only awesome but also inspires a level of empathy in non-human characters that most kids wouldn't find anywhere else (except for like Gargoyles or something). For me, as with lots of other people, this interest in the characters of the TV shows and associated media is what made me want the toys. This of course leads into why the franchise has stuck with us this long; the toys are some of the best engineered and most fun for kids that you can get. But you know all that, lets get to the meat and potatoes.

Now I know all that guff just now about relatable characters and stuff probably seems really irrelevant, but trust me, it's important setup. See, when I was growing up (around the time the Unicron Trilogy was the dominant source of Cybertronian entertainment), it was pretty much just Boys Toys on the TV constantly. I loved Transformers, but as a child with budding realisation of her gender, I held the distinct notion in my head that somehow my favourite thing Wasn't For Me. But that all changed when Transformers Cybertron began airing and my tiny baby eyes widened at the sight of Override, Leader of Velocitron.

At the time, I was not aware of there being any prominent female Transformers characters and seeing a character on screen who was cool, took part in a lot of action, was a Kickass Red Sports Car and also a GIRL really gelled with my preferences. The long and short of it is that Override made me feel like hey, maybe this kind of stuff is for girls too! From here I was smitten, and have been ever since.

Being a kid at the time, I couldn't have known what the general consensus on girl-bots in TF was but as I grew older and ventured into the online world of fandom it became pretty clear that Transformers fans (and yes, mainly the men) didn't have a high opinion of the phenomenon. It was either “this is a BOYS toy-line, no girls allowed” or “well they're ROBOTS so why have gender anyway?”. There was even a time where, despite my absolute love of girl-bots, I even aligned with this latter viewpoint. After all, they ARE robots, why should gender even matter? It's all about the toys anyway.

But in remembering my roots – OUR roots, my opinion changed. The reason we as kids were drawn to Transformers instead of say, Zoids or Gundam (although there was a lot of crossover in our ranks) is because the robots THEMSELVES were people we could relate to and see ourselves in. Because despite robots not having gender in the technical sense, you can't deny that the reason many boys saw themselves in characters like Bumblebee or Hot Shot or Red Alert or whoever is that they are obviously SUPPOSED to be read as male, as boys. And if boys can have cool puzzling robot toys of characters they relate to, why not us girls too? Especially since a lot of femmebots have had a really good stint as toys.

This brings me to something that friends of mine will know as The Girl Shelf.

Steadily, I've found my collecting habits skewing towards the feminine persuasion when it comes to which Transformers I want and which ones I don't. Obviously there will always be a place in my heart for Optimus Prime and Megatron and Soundwave, but right now (and I suspect for the foreseeable) I'm mostly interested in femmes. And frankly, it's much more interesting to me to find out which characters are, in the modern setting, considered to be girls, and which toys from the brand's long history are up to snuff to represent this facet of their character.

The best part is that current trends in Transformers marketing (albeit slowly) seem to be moving in favour of more girls filling out a robot nerd's toy shelves. More toys of classic Femmebots are coming out lately (like Arcee and Chromia in the Generations line) and original characters that hail from more modern cartoons (such as Strongarm from RID2015 or Slipstream from Animated) are feeling the love too.

Fan votes have given us characters and groups such as Windblade (who is a key player in the modern IDW comics and a mainstay in the current cartoon) and the Rust Renegades/Torchbearers (six new femmes that combine into the first original full female Combiner, Victorion).

Even 3P offerings have tapped into this well of potential in recent years with releases like iGear's Roswell and the truly amazing MMC Titanika!

Toy collecting is a tough habit to keep up in today's economic climate, I find. Toys cost more than they used to, and although many love the return to the franchise's beginnings as of late, I understand the frustration of paying more to get a slightly updated version of a figure we might already have. Because of this kind of G1 fatigue, I feel like femmebots are always something we have to fall back on as something fresh, new and interesting. Like let's face, it you can't rehash old girl-bot toys if they didn't exist back then to begin with!

And yeah it gets tedious, what with obscure one-shot characters ret-conned to be female and overpriced convention exclusive ladies a hundred-fold. However, I can't say this has ever threatened my enthusiasm. In the end, it will always come back to these amazing female characters I've related to since I was a kid, and as long as that throughline remains strong, I'll be as smitten with the toys of these characters like I was when I was nine.

As always, keep it #Refined.

 - Follow Erica on Twitter @TransSoundwave

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