I was dragged to Hell last night, sort of. I was dragged to a midnight screening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I, like the rapist-sociopath, yet endearing main character, Alex, of A Clockwork Orange, felt strapped down in the Ludovico technique and was forced to watch the flickering, headache-inducing, screen. I watched it and now today I am desperately trying to unwatch it. By what felt like the three-hundreth hour of a movie filled with slow-mo running and robot explosions I longed for the adventure of my childhood, for the adventure of an 80’s animated series of transforming robots. In this series, voice artrist Frank Welker and Peter Cullen performed brilliantly to a story of warring robot aliens that disguised themselves as human-made motorized vehicles. Of course I am speaking of the Gobots. What else did you think I was talking about?
When you were a male child growing up in the eighties you would claw out the throat of your best friend if your parents just promised to get you a Transformer toy. You wanted one more that air, food, water or life itself, so naturally my parents got me Gobots. My family was extremely poor so they naturally got the cheaper item and passed it off as the real thing. They failed to realize that not only can children tell the difference, but they were also little Sarah Jessica Parker label whores when it came to toy branding. I was always wrecked with embarrassment when the toys were brought out at play and I had to pull out Cy-Kill instead of Megatron because kids were cruel little savages. Invariably there would be jokes made involving my family needing the use of food stamps. I do look a back on Gobots with some fondness now because they were really great toys. Gobots were actually constructed better and made of mostly diecast metal unlike Transformers, which had some diecast but mostly plastic parts. That kid with the Transformer may have made fun of me but Gobots hurt more when you used them as projectile weapons.
The 80’s were a magical time where American companies made millions off of the creativity of Japan. They did this a lot. Of course there was a mild freak out when Tonka, through some kind of industrial espionage, found out that rival toy company Hasbro was going to import Japanese toy makers’ Takara Diaclone and Microman Microchange lines of toys to the States as Transformers. What was Tonka to do but to do exactly same thing as their competitors. I mean exactly the same thing. Tonka imported Popy’s (Another Japanese manufacturer who would later become Bandi) toy line, Machine Robo. Hasbro would change the concept of the toys being nonliving machines piloted by people to sentient robots that had personality and souls; Tonka did the same. Hasbro would advertise their toys through a hypnotic, brainwashing, series of animated half and hour commercials, thinly veiled as children’s programming; Tonka did the same. Hasbro’s toy line would become a household name, carving a home for itself in the mind of children and in the pop culture lexicon; Tonka did not do the same.
Tonka went about systematically ripping off every move Hasbro made. A few “similarities” included:
1) In Transformers the robot home world was named Cybertron, in Gobots their home world was named Gobotron.
2) Frank Welker and Peter Cullen, famous for their voice talent as Megatron and Optimus Prime, also worked on Gobots.
3) Both main story lines for the cartoons involve a robot civil war.
4) They both had better Japanese names for their series Eastern counter part. Transformers was called, Tatakae! Cho Robot Seimeitai Transformer: “Fight! Super Robot Life Form Transformer” and the Gobots was originally a totally different anime called, Machine Robo: Chronos no Dai GyakushÅ«.
In spite of being the knock off, Tonka managed to beat Hasbro’s release date and got to the American market first. Of course rushing shit out just to beat the competitor sometimes works, but sometimes the corners cut could do more damage than good. (Kind of like the movie Antz and A Bug’s Life or Dante’s Peak and Volcano or Deep Impact and Armageddon.) When Gobots were originally released they enjoyed the sweet narcotic taste of finacial success –for about two months until Transformers came along with their better fancy names for their toys and well thought out business plan and kicked Tonka’s ass back to Gobotron. The Gobots toyline debuted in 1983 and ended in 1987 and the cartoon series lasted for 63 episodes with a feature length movie, Gobots: Battle of the Rock Lords released in 1986.