A buddy and I recently were talking about our favorite toys and cartoons growing up. Transformers came up and we found ourselves talking about The Transformers: The Movie and Optimus Prime dying. We then tried to list what other Transformers died but couldn’t quite remember.
I went home and looked it up. Besides Optimus Prime kicking the bucket the Autobots also lost Ironhide, Prowl, Ratchet, Brawn, Windcharger, and Wheeljack.
These weren’t normal deaths either. After going home and watching this cartoon every single day I had grown attached to these Transformers – especially Wheeljack, Prowl, and Ratchet (because I had their toys). I read the Marvel Comics as well. I loved this cartoon. It didn’t matter that really the episodes just reiterated themselves (Decepticons went Energon – Autobots go out and stop them. Rinse. Repeat). I just loved them. And then? In the Movie? The Decepticons just show up and murder them. It is like a one minute sequence. Suddenly they were gone. Dead. The Decepticons who could never, ever land a shot killed everyone.
Decepticons were changed in that 1986 movie. Constant whiner Starscream was killed off. Many of the Decepticons were rebuilt into totally different Transformers. Megatron? Gone. Replaced by Galvatron. Who cares about Galvatron!?!?!? I WANT MEGATRON!
The reason for killing everyone off? Toy sales. Yup. Hasbro thought to themselves, “Well we need to make MORE money so we need NEW Transformers for the stupid kids to buy.”
I looked on Wikipedia and they actually had a great quote from Transformers cartoon story consultant Flint Dille who said, “In the next season (3), we were going to have all these new characters, and people are going to be wondering what happened to the old characters that they liked so much. What we knew, in a business sense, is that they had been discontinued, because they were the 1984/1985 (toy)line – but, we needed to tie them off. So, we had this one scene where the Autobots basically had to run through a gauntlet of Decepticons. Which basically wiped out the entire ’84 product line in one massive “charge of the light brigade”. So, whoever wasn’t discontinued, stumbled to the end. That scene didn’t make it into the finished movie. But if you think kids were locking themselves in the bedroom over Optimus Prime, basically in that scene they would’ve seen their entire toy collection wiped out.”
The cartoon changed basically because Hasbro had all these new Transformers they wanted to sell. Who cares about Optimus Prime when you can have…Hot Rod! Ultra Magnus! Rodimus Prime!
You know what happened? I got bored. I stopped watching Transformers. I stopped buying the toys. Eventually they figured out they had made a horrible mistake and at least brought Optimus Prime back to life in the cartoon. But the damage was done. The cartoon didn’t last for too much longer (in America at least) because by the next season it was cancelled. It may seem like 4 seasons of an 80s TV series isn’t so bad – they did crank out 98 episodes. But to put it into perspective the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon only ran for 2 seasons but had an amazing 130 episodes. They cranked those bad boys out.
They did continue the cartoon over in Japan. The Marvel Comics at least continued to 1991. The cartoon did eventually come back and they kept selling new Transformers until they realized they could make DIFFERENT VERSIONS of the same toy and sell it. THOSE the kids would buy. And the teenagers/adults who grew up on the cartoon would buy them too.
Here’s the thing about Transformers. Autobots and Decepticons, in the cartoon, would come and go. You wouldn’t see Windcharger for a couple episodes and then he’d show up. They would feature whichever Transformers they just wanted in an episode and not even mention the ones they didn’t show.
WHY kill off all those Transformers to introduce new ones when you could have just introduced the new ones and continued to rotate the characters…just like they had been doing? Was it because things felt stale? It was Hasbro who pushed all these new Transformers toys so maybe the cartoon writers felt they had no choice but to just reboot everything. Too many characters…no clear way to tell that story without removing some baggage? But why not just have some of the Transformers be like, “Okay we are going to make an Autobot base over in Japan. Call us when you need us!” and off they go???
You don’t understand these things as a kid. When you are ten and you really dig all of these characters you run home from school to watch – you just don’t get that all of your characters were killed off so you would have to go out and buy new toys.
He-Man had it figured out. You keep releasing new toys but you can still release new versions of the older toys. Do you know how many versions of He-Man I had? Of Skeletor? They released that Battle Armor He-Man where if you hit the chest the chest would rotate and show DAMAGE done to He-Man and I BEGGED my mom to take me to buy it. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So I kept buying the same toys over and over again. I was a loyal kid. I had allegiance.
Transformers failed me with the release of that movie. I’m still bitter thirty years later. I’M STILL BITTER, HASBRO!
They’ve rebooted He-Man. They’ve rebooted Thundercats. Even Voltron got a few reboots. And all these years later I’ve still watched those reboots because I still loved those characters (especially the He-Man 2002 series – it was simply amazing). But as for the Transformers they’ve had multiple cartoons over the years that I’ve never watched. They lost me forever. They keep releasing new versions of Bumblebee (the first Transformer I ever bought…cause he was super cheap) and I keep buying them. But I doubt I’ll watch another Transformers cartoon again. They scarred me for life. Thank you for the PTSD, Hasbro.