We see this question pop up from time to time and we think it’s about time to answer it.
We don’t want to go into the convoluted and complicated mythology of Transformers today. Several other places have done an excellent and detailed job bringing that together. The mythos has changed a lot over the years after all. It’s a wild time, and maybe one day we’ll have the time and patience to get into that, but today we’re talking about the toys. Particularly the G1 toys.
See Transformers are American. That is clear. They are made by the American toy company Hasbro and are no toy before them was established under the Transformer brand. But that isn’t all there is to the story. See, just because nothing was made that was branded as a Transformer, doesn’t mean that these toys did not exist before Hasbro obtaining the license.
Confusing right? Let’s clear it up! There was a company named Takara in Japan (now TakaraTomy after a merger) that had a pair of toy lines called Micromen and Diaclones that arrived in 1980. The Diaclone toys featured, you guessed it, robots who transformed into mostly vehicles. They were piloted by smaller, magnet shoed robots from the Micromen line. These Diaclone figures may look a little familiar to avid G1 Transformers fans because they are almost identical.
In the early eighties, Hasbro approached Takara to take a joint venture into the US Market. They wanted to relaunch the line in America as Transformers. Hasbro worked with their partners at Marvel Comics to create the history and formed one of the most successful franchises ever.
The original G1 releases were near perfect repaints of their Diaclone predecessors. Diaclone fell into obscurity as Transformers grew in popularity. The launch of the cartoon and comic books for G1 helped to push the popularity of the toy and people began to collect the Autobots and Decepticons.
Transformers wasn’t even the first transforming toy to hit US shelves, Tonka beat them by six months. See, Tonka had the idea to import Bandai’s transforming line MachineRobo toy line and renamed it GoBots. However, Tonka didn’t launch a cartoon or comic to go with their toys and eventually they were overtaken by the semi-truck that was Transformers. Finally, Hasbro even bought out Tonka, proving their transforming dominance once and for all.
Now, almost 35 years later Transformers live on and continue to produce incredible toys. Through the years there have been countless additions to the series, and exciting new takes on the characters, but G1 will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Now, the franchise continues to flourish with comics (now made by IDW), shows, and toys. We couldn’t be happier with the continued success of our favorite robots. With Bumblebee just having premiered we can’t wait to see what happens next. So the long answer is yes, Transformers are American, but their roots (or should we say gears?), are Japanese.