While the toys themselves have been around since the 1970s, Transformers itself as a franchise has only been with us since 1984. However, in the last 30+ years it has reinvented itself and reimagined the toys, comics, and characters countless times to not only continue to appeal to new generation of fans but, taking a more cynical and no doubt more realistic view, to sell more products to its existing fan base.
However, in that time for the most part we’ve seen the same basic formula repeated over the years ad nauseum. It’s been a continual struggle between Autobots and Decepticons, Optimus Prime and Megatron and we all know that no matter how well a TV series or toy range is doing or how popular it may be amongst the fans, it will be replaced every few years with something new and the reset button will be pressed once again. Toy ranges that were once meant to be limited and special such as the Masterpiece range are now producing so many toys that they’re just regarded as being yet another toy line and there are now so many current ranges on the market that fans simply can’t keep up with everything. It’s no wonder that many have lost track of what toys are available, what TV episodes are being broadcast or what comics are being released as there is such an overload of material. Things then take an upward turn for the worse every 2-3 years when a new movie is released sending the license holders into a manufacturing frenzy!
So is it time that Hasbro slowed down their output and gave the brand some breathing room? Too many product lines, shows and comics aren’t healthy for Transformers. What Hasbro seem to fail to realise is that people who love Transformers don’t limit their passions just to Transformers. We crave diversity in our viewing and collecting and in doing so, we can appreciate the best of what each franchise has to offer but a franchise that continues endlessly – regardless of the talent that may be involved in its creation – will eventually go stale and that I believe is what has been slowly happening to Transformers.
When it comes to any major franchise, it’s true when they say that too much of something can be a bad thing. At one point it was believed that Paramount could do no wrong with Star Trek. The studio created one successful spin-off TV series after another, a slew of successful novels from Pocket Books, comics from numerous publishers and an incredible array of action figures and merchandise. And then the bubble burst. Star Trek gained popularity originally not because of its success with the ratings, but from its continual visibility through re-runs. By the time Enterprise was released it was possible – even here in the UK – to watch a different episode of Star Trek every day on television. New material no longer proved to be anything to get excited about because Star Trek itself became part of your daily routine as a Star Trek fan. Regardless of what people thought about Enterprise, Star Trek needed a break. TV, comics, movies… everything needed to stop so the franchise could rest and come back refreshed when people had time to want new material.
It was the same with Doctor Who. Historically the show was in a different position. The BBC wanted to kill off the series and did it’s best at the end of the Colin Baker era. The Sylvester McCoy years really struggled at best but it was clear that the BBC were only holding onto the show to save face and that they didn’t really want to invest in it and keep it running. It was no surprise really when it was cancelled in 1989 and not even the Paul McGann TV movie generated enough interest to bring it back. The fans were there but the willingness from the BBC and the enthusiasm from the fans (having experienced the attitude from the BBC in the past) simply wasn’t there. Merchandise dried up apart from the odd license holder but the relaunch when Christopher Eccleston stepped out of the TARDIS for the first time once again proved that a break was exactly what the show needed. It wasn’t quite the same as when McCoy hung up his umbrella back in 1989, but it was the Doctor Who that was needed for the 21st Century.
Back to Transformers and are we now at that stage where we should genuinely look at what is out there (in all its forms) and wonder if it isn’t time that Transformers took some form of hiatus to enable the brand to reinvigorate itself. While the very core concept of it won’t change and will still feature all of the familiar elements we all know and love even after another reboot, perhaps now is the time once all of the existing lines come to a natural end to slow production down? Do we really need to have several toy lines and television shows running simultaneously? From a fans point of view, it will make collecting easier and less stressful as it will with keeping up to date with shows and comics if there aren’t as many being produced.
From a toy perspective, distribution would be eased significantly. Fans have often complained when certain waves of toys are not distributed outside of the US or only to certain territories but a smaller, more focused set of releases could ensure that this problem is eradicated. In fact, producing fewer toys could also mean that more could be invested in improving quality control in the existing ranges, something that many have had issues with in recent years. Perhaps the production of too many toys has lead to lower standards and this again could be a positive side effect?
The key thing for all of us as fans is how would we cope without Transformers? We’ve had gaps before where there was nothing produced or released. After G2 there was a hiatus prior to Beast Wars and many fans stepped away completely, refusing to accept any part of the Beast era at all, not returning until RiD or the advent of the Unicron Trilogy. We can survive a break and I’m sure that Hasbro and its many license holders would be able to cope for a couple of years without it as well. The only question is whether they would be bold enough to leave their cash cow alone for long enough…