I received Dog Blood author David Moody’s entry on the Transformers franchise just a day past the end of Transformers Week here at Unbound Worlds. Still, I thought that his observations regarding the enduring popularity of the toys and associated properties were too good not to share. Hope you enjoy them.
I never really liked Transformers.
I was the right age, in the right part of the target audience, I was obsessed with all things science-fiction… but I just didn’t get it. I think it was because, looking back, the toys simply looked like planes and cars and cranes and trucks to me, and I wasn’t into all of that. But now, thirty years later, the franchise is going stronger than ever. Intrigued by its lasting appeal, I recently tried to get closer and understand – to try and see what I’ve been missing. To help, I enlisted an ex-work colleague – a collector so rabid in his desire to own everything Transformers-related that he makes the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy look like nothing more than a casual Batman fan.
As a kid, my friend told me excitedly, it was all about the toys. After being given ‘Grapple’ (an orange crane, I’m informed) by soldiers staying at his parents’ guest house, he was hooked (pardon the pun). But apart from the obvious passion of building up an ever-expanding collection, as an adult it was another aspect of the franchise altogether which captivated him: the characters and the mythos – that immense, epic, galaxy-spanning, never-ending battle between the Autobots and Decepticons.
As a casual observer, I was surprised by the sheer number and range of the toys produced over the years, and also by the quality and depth of the backstory. Sure, I’d heard stories about kids becoming attached to Optimus Prime and how they’d reacted when he died in the cartoon, but I wasn’t prepared for the full scope of the Transformers universe, nor for the rabid passion of its fans. I listened to my friend wax lyrical about his prized Generation 1 Japanese exclusive Rairya Pretender from the Dinoking set, and saw his eyes mist with emotion when he talked about the Generation 1 Zaur cassette transformer he still dreams of owning one day.
So what is the appeal? I’ll be honest, I’ve not been converted and I’m still not a fan, but at last I think I understand why so many people are and why such an apparently simple premise has evolved into a long-lasting phenomenon. On one side, the ‘product’ is a marketing man’s dream – a toy which appeals to both science-fiction fans and those who get their thrills from earth-bound machines like cars, boats and planes (and cranes and tanks and cassettes etc. etc. etc.). It’s a product that has unlimited potential – show me a franchise, I can hear the Hasbro bosses saying, and we’ll Transform it.
But it’s much more than that, and glimpsing the passion my friend has for Transformers has made that clear to me. On first glance, the obvious supposition is that the toys tap into the love between man and machine, but I think the connection is even deeper. The men are the machines. To the lovers of the franchise, the Transformers are far more than just R2-D2-like sidekicks, and they’re definitely not Wall-e or The Terminator… as clichéd as it might sound, the Transformers are our equal, our allies and our friends. They’re like your best mate, I’m told, who just happens to be made out of metal and who can turn into a car.