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Archive for May, 2012

Transformers – European Blue Tracks (G1)


When collecting vintage toys from the 1980′s it’s easy to let the spending get out of hand. Way too easy. Especially if you like to collect stuff complete with its original packaging. Oftentimes I have found myself thinking, “Right, I’m not spending a dime more this month on collecting”, but then an opportunity comes along that makes me break this promise I made to myself.

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Transformers – Tracks (1986) Hasbro – Europe

Case in point: I found myself 375 euros poorer about a month ago, when I came across a nice and fresh MISB (mint in sealed box) 1986 G1 Tracks inside European packaging in a French toy store. The culprit is pictured above….

“Take the Red Tracks or the Blue Tracks?”

Tracks was released twice in Europe. The first release was in late 1985 by MB and featured a red Tracks inside styro foam packaging, which has gone on to become a much wanted variant for collectors worldwide. The second release occurred in 1986 and this time Tracks was sold in the correct colour: blue. Blue Tracks also came inside a normal bubble insert as was the case in the U.S. and Canada. Also, the packaging now sports the Hasbro logo instead of the MB logo. Here are both distinguished gentlemen side by side in their European retail packaging for your comparison:

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Red Tracks (1985) MB and Blue Tracks (1986) Hasbro

A typical trait of both of these European releases is the omission of the text “Transforms from vehicle to robot ….”  on the top left of the box, which is usually present on the American and Canadian releases.

“Quad-lingual Quatsch”

Flipping the box over to the back for a moment we can see four languages on the tech-spec card. While the 1985 red Tracks featured German, French, Dutch and Spanish, the 1986 release saw German dropped in favour of English. This happened with most other 1986 releases. My guess is that Transformers were not as succesful in Germany as MB and Hasbro had expected the line to be, so they decided to drop German as a language from the packaging in 1986.

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Tracks (1986) – European tech specs

“Assortment reshuffle”

As you can see from the photo below Blue Tracks has the product code of 9123 26. This is the exact same assortment and product number that MB’s red Tracks had. The problem is, that although this 1986 blue Tracks carries assortment number 9123 on the packaging, this is not the assortment this 1986 Tracks was part of!

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Tracks (1986) – Assortment/product code

According to the Dutch 1986 Hasbro dealer catalog, MB had reshuffled all the European 1985 Autobot cars (together with the new releases for 1986) into three new assortments. So although the packaging of blue Tracks says 9123, it was really part of “Autobot Vehicles Assortment A”, and that’s number 9132. Here’s the actual page from the Hasbro Netherlands 1986 dealer catalog confirming that:

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Autobot Vehicle Assortment A – Hasbro Dealer Catalog 1986 (Netherlands)

Although this info is from the Dutch dealer catalog, it’s pretty safe to assume that this assortment change is also valid for all the other European countries where MB distributed Transformers, because MB employed a Europe-wide assortment and product numbering convention.

“The Robot in Red”

Although this post was primarily meant to be a blue Tracks party, it’s hard to do a post on the blue Tracks in European packaging, without at least some sort of comparison with the legendary red Tracks that came before it. Red Tracks lovers, rejoice! I am preparing an in-depth article on red Tracks, which should be online in the near future. It will be a much needed update to the woefully outdated red Tracks page I currently have on my site and will collect all the latest information that is known about this exciting variant. It should become the definitive article on MB’s red Tracks anywhere on the world wide webs! ;-)

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Transformers – Red Tracks (MB) 1985

Acknowledgements

  • Thanks to Argus for supplying the scan of the page from the Dutch Hasbro 1986 dealer catalog
  • Thanks to James “Bo” Insogna for allowing me to use his incredible sunset photo as a backdrop

 

 

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Transformers and have Comments (4)

Transformers Time Warrior Watch (MB)

Holy crap! Every now and again you stumble upon an item that’s so frickin’ rare that you almost can’t believe your eyes you’re looking at it. This is one of those: The Transformers Time Warrior Watch! And one inside the original and rare Dutch mail-away packaging from MB as well!

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Transformers Time Warrior Watch mail-away  - MB (1985) Dutch packaging variant

“Mail Away”

As was common with a lot of toy lines in the 1980′s kids were able to acquire special mail-away items by collecting and cutting out special points from the toy packaging. It was a brilliant incentive to get kids to buy more toys in order to acquire that special mail-away exclusive toy that was not available in the shops! Hasbro dug that and made heavy use of this tactic with their Transformers and G.I. Joe lines.

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You needed 4 of these (and extra cash!) to get a Time Warrior Watch in Europe in 1985

One of the very first, and as such rarest, mail-away exclusives of Hasbro’s Transformers toy line was the exclusive Transformers Time Warrior watch! It was a funky 1980′s LCD wrist watch in the form of an Autobot symbol. By pressing a button on the Autobot symbol it would magically split in two and reveal the time! How awesome is that!!

“Behold: The Time Warrior!!!”

This Time Warrior watch promotion was run in both the U.S. as well as parts of Europe and was only available for a very limited amount of time. I’m still not 100% sure which European countries exactly, but it is confirmed that the Time Warrior mail away was available in the UK and in the Netherlands. There’s an advert for the Time Warrior shown inside an issue of the Transformers comic book series from Marvel UK and it was also run on the back cover of the 1985 Dutch Transformers promotional mini-comic/store catalog by MB, which you can see below (the UK advert is almost identical)

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Transformers Time Warrior Watch offer (1985) MB International B.V.

I remember seeing that advert and thinking I would never own a Time Warrior Watch, because by the time I bought my first Transformer, the promotion had already ended! The cut off date was December 31, 1985, while Transformers only started appearing in stores in Holland around September or October 1985.

“Buyer beware!”

If it is your intention to score one of these for your own collection, here’s a little friendly collecting advice. It’s pretty hard to find a 100% working specimen of the Time Warrior Watch. Most of them come without the original packaging and have some sort of defect. The most common flaws are dead batteries or, even worse, corroded dead batteries that have irreparably damaged the watch. Another common flaw is that the spring mechanism that makes the watch flip open is busted. Many of the watches still remaining will either have one or both of the sides of the Autobot symbol not reacting when you push the transformation button, requiring you to manually move the parts aside. Also, look out for paint wear on the Autobot symbol, especially on the chrome parts.

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Flip-open action (if you’re lucky)

Loose watches with one or more of the defects described above can sell for anything between 100 and 150 U.S. dollars, with boxed specimens going for 250 or more. As time goes by and the number of working, boxed watches ever decreases, this price is sure to increase, so grab one while you can!

“Packaging variants”

The watch itself is probably identical for all the territories where it was available. The packaging is slightly different though. As with most mail aways the packaging is not much to look at with the watch coming in a plain white box with just some text on it. Over the years I have been able to identify four different texts on the Time Warrior packaging. These are, in what I believe to be chronological order, the following:

  1. HASBRO INDUSTRIES, INC. – NO. 12520 – TRANSFORMERS TIME WARRIOR WATCH
  2. HASBRO INDUSTRIES (UK) LTD.- NO. 12520 – TRANSFORMERS TIME WARRIOR WATCH
  3. HASBRO BRADLEY, INC. – TRANSFORMERS WATCH. – NO 12520
  4. MILTON BRADLEY INTERNATION B.V. – TRANSFORMERS WATCH – NO 12520

 

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Transformers Time Warrior (1985) MB International B.V.

There might be more packaging variants, but I have not seen them yet. By looking at the company names we can deduce that numbers 1 and 3 are American, number 2 is the UK version and number 4 is the Dutch version (“Inc” is typically a US legal entity, “Ltd” typically a UK legal entity and B.V. is a Dutch legal entity). Also, “Hasbro Industries” is what Hasbro was called in the US before it bought MB in September of 1984, after which it renamed itself to “Hasbro Bradley” for a while, before just settling on “Hasbro, Inc.” shortly thereafter. So these watches were probably made and/or packaged in 1984 (1 and 2) and 1985 (3 and 4).

The afforementioned Dutch promotional mini-comic was also released in French, German and Spanish. I have the Spanish version of this mini-comic as well as the Dutch version and what I have noticed is that the Spanish version does not have the Time Warrior promotion on the back cover, as the Dutch version has. This would indicate that the Time Warrior promotion was not available in Spain, but it could also be that the promotion was run elsewhere in Spain. I do not have access to the German and French version of MB’s Transformers mini-comic, so I cannot say anything about the supposed availability of the Time Warrior Watch promotion in these countries. If these did exist I would expect them to come in the same packaging as the Dutch version or otherwise with Milton Bradley GmbH or MB France SA on the packaging, respectively.

“European MB version”

The earliest waves of Transformers toys released in Europe were released by MB and carried an MB logo on the packaging. I’m an avid collector of said line and I never really thought I’d ever see the European version of this mail away watch from MB. Imagine my surprise when my good buddy Maz tipped me about one being on the market! (Yes, I know, I keep mentioning Maz, but credit where credit is due! This guy has been such a help!!) It came inside a box labeled as “Milton Bradley Internation B.V.”,  which is “short” for Milton Bradley International B.V., the Dutch subsidiary of MB that was responsible for the distribution of G1 Transformers in the Netherlands.

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Transformers Time Warrior (1985) MB International B.V.

“Mint In Box!”

Not even does this watch come inside its original European mail away packaging, it is also a perfectly working watch, with no wear and a perfectly working spring mechanism! The original owner had thoughtfully removed the original battery to prevent damage from battery leaks. He also included a brand new CR2032 battery which worked just fine. The only thing that is missing is the instruction booklet. The original owner cannot remember if one was included at all, which makes me wonder: did MB simply include a copy of the English instructions or did they create a specific European quad-lingual version of the instructions booklet?

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Transformers Time Warrior (1985) MB International B.V.

If you’re a completist, mail aways cannot be missing from your collection. The Time Warrior Watch is one of the earliest and hardest to find G1 Transformers mail aways, so if you see one don’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity! :-)

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in MB Transformers,Transformers and have Comments (8)

G.I. Joe – Havik and Dragonfly

Two vintage G.I. Joe items in Dutch packaging that I added to my collection recently. First off, another action figure on a Dutch backer card! Woohoo! This one is Havik, which is the Dutch name for Hawk (a literal translation). “Havik” is basicly the same figure as the U.S. release of the v2 Hawk from 1986.

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G.I. Joe – Havik (1988) MB International B.V.

I bought Havik from a very cool collector from Spain (thanks Manu!!!) Havik’s packaging has been opened, but the bubble has been so neatly cut that it’s easy to put him right back inside. The only real damage is to the back of the card, where the promotion point was cut out. Fortunately, this has been done very carefully, so there’s hardly any damage visible on the front of the card. It’s a great display piece!

“Series 2″

Havik was part of the second wave of G.I. Joe toys to hit the Netherlands and most of the rest of Europe, west of the Iron Curtain in early 1988. The back of the card has a 1987 copyright notice, although the toy was probably primarily sold during 1988 and 1989 when it was re-released. It might have been available in late 1987 in some places, but for convenience sake it is referred to as a 1988 character.

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G.I. Joe – Havik (1988) MB International B.V.

Oh man, some friggin’ awesome art work on the packaging right there. I know I’m a bit biased, but fuck, the 1980′s gave us some of the most awesome looking toy packaging designs ever! Damn, to me Hasbro was really at the top of their game in those years.

“Sweet 16″

Here’s a look at the back of the card, which shows the complete 1988 line up. A total of 16 sweet new action figures and 14 re-released action figures from 1987 make a total of 30 action figures to choose from in 1988:

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All the characters available in 1988

“File card”

Havik’s Dutch file card is pretty much identical to the American version. He’s got the same rank, same place of birth and the short biography is a straight translation from English into Dutch. The only peculiarity is that his last name has been changed. In the U.S., Hawk’s real name is Clayton M. Abernathy, while the Dutch file card says he goes by the name of Clayton M. Springfield.

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Havik, a.k.a. Clayton M. Springfield

“Dragonfly XH-1″

Next up is the Dragonfly XH-1 helicopter! This was a 1987 release in the Netherlands (and the rest of Europe) and was part of the first wave of G.I. Joe toys to hit the market! Just like Havik, it was distributed in Holland by MB International B.V. This particular Dutch packaging variant might also have been available in Flanders, Belgium where it would have been distributed by MB International B.V.’s Belgian subsidiary Hasbro MB N.V./S.A. (Belgium also had their own specific, dual language French/Dutch packaging variants, by the way).

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G.I. Joe – Dragonfly XH-1 (1987) MB International B.V.

Yeah, the packaging has seen better days, but I think I can flatten out some of the dents by putting some heavy weights on top of it for a couple of days. I’m pretty excited with the addition of the Dragonfly helicopter, because now I finally have all of the boxed items that were released in 1987 in my collection in either Dutch or Belgian packaging! That’s everything that is pictured in the 1987 catalog here. My goal is to ultimately have all of them in Dutch only packaging. Currently, my G.I. Joe Checkpoint, Silver Mirage Motorcycle, Armadillo Mini Tank and Skystriker jet are of the Belgian variety (with French and Dutch on the packaging).

The toy itself is in much better shape than the packaging, although it suffers a little from hanging blades, which is a very common “problem” with all vintage Dragonflies. It’s easily fixed by bending them back or hanging the helicopter upside down for a while, but eventually gravity will do its work and pull the blades back down again. I don’t really mind though, because I think it gives the blades a more realistic look when stationary.

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G.I. Joe – Dragonfly XH-1 (1987) MB International B.V.

“Wilde Willem”

The Dragonfly came with helicopter pilot Wild Bill, who is called Wilde Willem in the Dutch translation. Again there’s a slight change to the character’s bio compared to the U.S. release. In the U.S. Wild Bill’s real name is William S. Hardy, who hails from Brady, Texas. Yeehaw! The Dutch file card says his real name is Wilhelm Müller and that he was born in Düsseldorf, Germany.

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G.I. Joe – Wilde Willem (Wild Bill) Dutch file card

The rest of his biography is a fairly accurate translation of the American text, but with another small exception. Wilde Willem did not follow Flight Warrant Officer School in the U.S. as is implied in the American text, but in Germany. He was trained by U.S. troops who were stationed in Germany. This is a nice and realistic twist to the translation, because there’s a huge number of U.S. military bases in Germany since the end of World War II.

Until next time… “Yo Joe!”  :-)

“Gallery”

 

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in G.I. Joe and have Comments (2)

Dutch 1980′s Toy Industry Trade Magazines

I’m a total sucker for everything that has to do with the fantastic toy lines that were available in my youth in the 1980′s. I’m especially interested in everything that went on “behind the scenes” and by that I mean is when did these toy lines exactly hit toy stores here in Holland, where did these toy stores get these toys, who distributed them, what types of assortments were available, etc.

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Transformers dealer catalog (1985) – MB

“Dealer Catalogs”

That’s why dealer/trade catalogs are so interesting. They contain extra information about a toy line that is not available in the consumer catalogs. Sometimes these dealer catalogs will also contain photos of prototypes, because these catalogs are often made at a very early stage, before the toys are available at retail. Sometimes they can also hold information about things that “might have been”, but did not occur, because of legal issues or other complications. I absolutely love that type of stuff.

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Toy store catalogs from the 1980′s

“Toy Store Catalogs”

Another great source of information are toy store catalogs. As you might have noticed I’ve acquired a great deal of Dutch toy store catalogs from the 1980′s recently and I’ve posted some photos of those in the past couple of weeks.

“Trade Magazines”

There is a third source of information that I stumbled upon a couple of months ago and that is trade magazines! A trade magazine is, as the name implies, a magazine that is published for a specific industry. A trade magazine is made not for consumers, but specifically for the industry or type of trade it targets.

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Article from a Dutch toy industry trade magazine

My first exposure to trade magazines came from my good buddy Maz from TF-1.com, who had acquired a few Dutch toy trade magazines from the 1980′s. The good guy that he is, he gave them away to me for free! These magazines contained tons of cool information about the toy industry in Holland and featured articles about Transformers, Masters of the Universe, M.A.S.K. and too much more cool stuff than I can recollect right now. It goes into detail about retail release dates of toy lines, broadcast dates of commercials for these toy lines and everything a toy store retailer needs to know to make a decision on which products to carry. I was in nerd nirvana!

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Mattel trade advert announcing the launch of Mattel Netherlands BV (1985)

“The Hunt is On!”

As soon as I had read the two issues that Maz had sent me cover to cover, I was hungry for more! Maz had acquired these from the son of a purchasing manager for a large Dutch high street department store, who had acquired them at Dutch toy fairs in 1985 and 1986. Because these publications are trade only, they were never available to consumers, so it was virtually impossible to find these anywhere. Through a bout of luck I found out the original publisher of this trade magazine and contacted them to see if they had any back issues from the 1980′s.

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Article on newest pre-Mattel MOTU line up in Holland (1984)

“Nerdgasm!”

Not expecting to get any response, and if at all a negative one, I was contacted by a very friendly employee of said publisher. She said she would dig into their archives to see if they had anything left. The result was more than I had could ever have hoped for. I casually asked if they had anything from 1984 to 1987, because those are the years I remember buying and seeing the coolest toys when I was growing up. She came back to me a few days later and could offer me the complete runs of all four years, bound inside hard covers! Mega nerdgasm!!!

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Bandai Dutch trade advert for their Robo Machine line (1985)

“The Start of a Good Weekend”

Last Friday the package with four volumes of Speelgoed+Hobby arrived and since then I have frantically been reading and reading. There’s tons of cool inside information on the toy industry in the Netherlands during those years, with lots of cool photos of toys, never seen before trade oriented advertisements and photos of toy stores from the 1980′s!

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Interior of an Intertoys toy store (1985)

My mind is currently reeling from an information overload. I plan on taking all the interesting info and photos apart and publishing the most interesting info here as soon as I get a grip on all the info I have absorbed.

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Article on introduction of Blackstar toy line in Holland (1985)

“Heavy Load”

These four volumes weigh in at a total of 10 kilos (approx 20 pounds), so the poor mail man almost broke his back when he delivered these at my door. :-) I paid a pretty penny for these publications, but they are so totally worth it, because they paint such an accurate picture of the time they were originally published and contain so much nerdy info that will keep me going for a long time to come. I am very excited at the prospect of sharing the many cool photos and info inside these magazines here on my blog so stay tuned!

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Speelgoed+Hobby magazines volumes 1984-1987

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Toy Store Catalogs and have Comments (5)

Transformers – Jetfire

A couple of weeks ago I scored a nice vintage 1986 G1 Jetfire inside European packaging from a seller in Belgium. I already have a Jetfire inside 1985 European packaging, but the difference between the two is the branding on the packaging. The 1985 Jetfire comes with an MB logo on the box and the 1986 Jetfire comes with a Hasbro logo. I understand that collecting packaging variations is not everyone’s cup of tea, but as someone who likes to collect vintage toys in their original packaging it makes total sense to me! :-) I mean, how can you resist a G1 Jetfire in his original packaging! Such an awesome toy and such impressive packaging.

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Jetfire (Hasbro Europe) – 1986

“Hasbro rebranding”

In 1986 Hasbro decided it was time to introduce their own brand in continental Europe and Jetfire was re-released, but now with Hasbro branding and that’s the Jetfire pictured here. I haven’t made any detailed comparisons yet, but as far as I know both the 1985 and the 1986 Jetfire are the same toy made by Takatoku/Bandai.

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Jetfire (Hasbro Europe) – 1986 – Hasbro logo

“Me Jetfire, Leader!”

In continental Europe Jetfire was originally released in 1985 inside MB branded packaging. This European Jetfire also had the oddity of being designated the leader of the Autobots, instead of Optimus Prime! There’s a long and interesting story behind that, which you can start reading here if you have the inclination and the time.

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Jetfire vs Megatron (MB) – 1985

Long story short, when MB was preparing to release the Transformers in Europe in 1985, Takara had already given away the exclusive distribution rights to Optimus Prime (and several other Transformers) to a company called Ceji, which released them as Diaclones. So initially Optimus Prime was off limits to MB. Megatron was not part of this deal so we got Megatron as the leader of the Decepticons, but for the Autobots MB needed a new leader and Jetfire was chosen.

At some point later in 1985 MB and Hasbro managed to secure the rights to Optimus Prime after all and released him as the leader of the Autobots. The funny thing is that if we look at the back of this 1986 European Jetfire and check out the tech specs, we still see Jetfire listed as leader of the Autobots in Dutch!

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Jetfire – “Leader of the Autobots”

My guess is that MB and Hasbro were too lazy to bother with updating the tech specs or that it was just an oversight. They only changed the MB logo on the front of the box to a Hasbro logo, updated the copyright notice and that was that. What does puzzle me to this day is that Jetfire is only listed as leader in the Dutch translation. The German, French and Spanish texts are all more or less a translation of his proper designation, that of “Air Guardian”. There is ample evidence that Jetfire was initially considered leader of the Autobots in those territories as well.

“MB distribution”

Although the branding has changed, the distribution of Transformers in most of continental Europe was still being handled by MB at this point. This is made evident by the product code that is printed on the lower right of the packaging. Jetfire has number 9114 98, which is exactly the same number that the 1985 MB version of Jetfire has. Makes sense of course, because although the branding on the packaging has changed, the distribution process remained the same.

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Jetfire’s MB product code

“Artwork”

Let’s explore the rest of the packaging for a moment. I have often praised the beautiful design of the original G1 Transformers packaging and Jetfire is truely one eye catching piece, not in the least because of its size! But size is not all that matters, I mean, just look at this awesome, awesome rendition of Jetfire.

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Jetfire box art

One more close up of the awesome packaging design. Here’s a shot of Jetfire in alternate mode, both with and without the added armor, along with the signature European quad lingual texts.

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Jetfire – packaging design


“Licensing issues”

Although most Transformers originally came from Takara’s Diaclone and Microchange lines, several Transformers were sourced from rival Japanese companies. Jetfire was originally made by Takatoku Toys as a Macross toy (the VF-1 Valkyrie). Takatoku went bust at some point and Bandai apparently acquired the rights to Jetfire’s mold and licensed it to Hasbro for use in the Transformers line. We can also see a reference to Jetfire’s origins on his packaging, in the form of the name “Valkrie” which seems to be a misspelling of his original name.

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Jetfire – “Valkrie” (sic)

 

Also, if we look closely at the packaging of Jetfire we can spot the logo of Tatsunoko, a Japanese animation studio on the front and the back of the box.

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Tatsunoko logo – back of the box

Apparently at some point it was decided that a logo on the back of the box was not enough and a second logo was added to the front of the packaging as well. How do we know it has been added afterwards? Well, because it’s a sticker! Oh the joys of licensing, copyrights and lawyers. ;-)

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Tatsunoko logo – front of the box

“Skyfire”

Because Jetfire was a competitor’s toy to Takara in Japan and because Hasbro and Takara had an agreement which would allow Takara to distribute the Transformers cartoon in Japan as well, Jetfire could not be used in the cartoon. Also, it might be that Tatsunoko owned the rights to animated model of Jetfire in Japan (just theorizing here). So instead, Hasbro introduced a character called Skyfire, which looks a little like Jetfire, but is really different.

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Skyfire – Transformers cartoon (Sunbow/Marvel Prod.)

A shame really, because imagine how kick ass it would have been if Jetfire had actually featured in the Transformers cartoon?! Well, we need not wonder, because there is a relatively unknown portion of animated Jetfire available from the 1985 U.S. commercial! Here’s a screencap from that very commercial.

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Animated Jetfire – (1985) U.S. Transformers commercial

As you can see, this is what Jetfire would have looked like if licensing issues hadn’t prevented him from appearing in the original G1 Sunbow cartoon! Although the toy itself has red eyes, you can see that the animators have given Jetfire cartoon accurate blue eyes! (In the cartoon Decepticons had red eyes and Autobots had blue eyes). This makes me wonder if there might exist a proper cartoon model for Jetfire, which was (sadly) never used. The U.S. Transformers commercials were created by advertising agency Griffin-Bacal, a company that had strong ties with Hasbro. Griffin-Bacal was also the owner of Sunbow Productions, the company that produced the Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons for Hasbro, together with Marvel Productions. You can find the complete commercial of Jetfire on YouTube (just search for “transformers g1 jetfire commercial”).

“Gallery”

And that’s Jetfire! An awesome looking toy with a very interesting and complex history. Here are some extra snapshots that I made of the packaging. Enjoy and hope to see you back soon!

Credits:

Screen cap of Skyfire from the Transformers cartoon courtesy of Seibertron.com

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Transformers and have Comments (6)