Or "Toy Only Charisma"
- Ben Watson
The strength of the characterisation in Transformers is one of the reasons the franchise has lasted so long and generated so many successful new forms for itself. Yet behind every grand accomplishment is a nameless workforce, shrouded in mystery. Everyone loves the A-list posterboys but I'm here today to extol the virtues of the unknown - or at the very least those guys you have to wiki to remind yourself about...
|Combiner Wars Killbison|
What first comes to mind when delving into the depths of obscurity in Transformers is the segment of G1 often left off people's cursory mental summation of the series. I caught myself the other day thinking that Action Masters and Micromasters were the end of the G1 road and all that's left for Generations to mine in coming years, but not so! The host of Euro and Japanese exclusive figures holds a veritable smorgasbord of way better design than the flailing death throes of American G1. It seems the team responsible for choosing what gets to grace the gilded plinth of Generations has realised this too, with releases like Black Shadow, Overlord and Liokaiser all precluding the sorry likes of Snarler, Over Run or Erector. Maintaining a focus on what crowded US store shelves in the tail end of the 80's isn't the best way to go about making cool robots for today's audience despite most collectors being very unfamiliar with the characters on offer from overseas.
|Titans Return Black Shadow|
This veil of mystery that distance and rarity cast over these characters is almost palpable and a huge part of their appeal (at least to me). They take the place of the playground legend, that weird toy your friend's friend brought back from holiday with odd writing on the box... "Yeah there's no such thing as a black Thunderwing, Jake stop lying!" you can almost hear. The language barrier itself providing a sense of mystique as character bios and cartoon appearances held their secrets 'til the day of translation. It all adds up to give these toys and subsequently their newer versions since, a real legendary status. Optimus Prime may be an icon to the world but among TF circles other names are spoken in awed tones.
|Titans Return Overlord|
I find myself really able to sink my teeth into this kind of vogue. Many of the figures I covet or cherish are those that I really had to journey deep into the fandom to learn about. Like hacking away at the jungle that fills your senses at first glance to find the ancient ruin within, the process of going from "I didn't know that existed" to "I know everything there is to know about it" is hugely satisfying and confers a sense of possession of forbidden knowledge not privy to the masses. In this way these super obscure characters are lent a kind of power. A variety of mental sway that the likes of Megatron and Soundwave can never hold.
In such a vast fandom orbiting around such a long lived franchise it feels like a sense of metafandom comes along with new releases that tap into this source. When Titans Return Sawback (Lione) was revealed I genuinely had no idea who I was looking at while others instantly clapped their hands to their mouths and proclaimed "Hell naw, Lione?!" It's like a reference was made to something you know and love and you punch the air cos someone else GETS the thing you're into - all while being inside a sphere of nothing but very specific fan references.
|Combiner Wars Hellbat|
All in all, it adds up to make me value something like my Liokaiser way way more than like, Bruticus. It's that added stratum of nerdliness that makes no hardcore collection complete without a sprinkling of it. It may not hold the same kind of awe inspiring I-dare-not-even-touch-it status as the original, but just a portion comes down from its lineage to grace the Combiner Wars figure with a special something - even if it is just a box of repaints I was extremely hesitant to spend on...
|Combiner Wars Liokaiser|
No one should ever drop the words "True Fan" but the appreciation of these kinds of pieces really does show you've done your homework but fear not if the dog ate yours because most of the fun is finding out about them in the first place. There's not many corners of the TF universe I've not peered into, so finding something undiscovered is always a boon. Great untapped veins of character and design potential lie waiting in the toys that never got time on your telly box. And it's not just from the periphery of G1 - G2, Machine Wars, RID 2001 exclusives, Universe 2003, the history of Transformers is peppered with gems lost to time. There's so much more out there than your cartoon, comic or movie cast, all you have to do is look for it.
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Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23