Updated: Sep 2, 2020
I've been into Transformers since they debuted in 1984. The original Transformers action figures were sold until 1992, and that run is known as Generation One, or G1. These are still the most sought-after toys, to the point of having re-issues produced (officially and otherwise) to fill collector demands. My Powermaster Optimus Prime pictured in this article is a genuine Japanese re-issue from 2001, replacing the one I had as a kid in 1988. When I received my new one from eBay in 2004, I took the unopened box to show my grandfather, who was in the hospital at the time. I don't think he knew what to make of it, but he appreciated my visit.
After featuring my transforming plush Softimus Prime in Retro Injection's stellar write-up on K-B Toys, I was inspired to traverse into Transformers territory. I have an entire room of the house dedicated to my Transformer collection, but the blog has barely touched on them: I featured Rodimus Prime in a farewell to Toys "R" Us, and referenced the iconic figures in my third "article" (more of a blurb), where I posted the Hallmark G1 Soundwave Christmas ornament my wife gave me. I'm putting the photo here, rather than linking you to the original post, because I didn't know what I was doing back then. Some of the early entries should be used exclusively for illustrating my growth as a blogger!
Why haven't I featured Transformers more prominently on Retro Injection? (I know someone must be asking, especially in light of my wanton Ghostbusters posts.) Mainly, because my Transformers shrine, known officially as "Room G1," has been borderline inaccessible for about a year! Getting married can be a big upheaval. Some of my random junk was in limbo, and Room G1 was the recipient. (I'm grateful I found a woman who doesn't complain about a Transformers room! Or for that matter, an arcade.) I've finally gotten to the point where I can semi-maneuver in the space, and I figured a Transformer profile was past due.
I grew up on a steady diet of morphing robots, and I was never particular as to their affiliation: Transformers, GoBots or some random knockoff. (I'll never forget my transforming slot machine figure of indeterminate origin.) Having said that, I always had a special appreciation for genuine Transformers. I think I was ensnared by the mythos of the characters as portrayed through the cartoon, which in retrospect is pretty awful. The Marvel comic books are far superior, but I didn't discover those until my twenties.
Like every Transformers fan, I have a soft spot for Optimus Prime, the leader of the heroic Autobots. When my folks gave me a Powermaster Optimus Prime action figure for Christmas 1988, I couldn't have been happier. Known in Japan as Godmasters, the gimmick behind the eight Powermaster Transformers was their alien partners, known as Nebulons, turning into each vehicle's engine. This enabled the toy to transform into robot mode. (I've been called an enabler, myself.)
You'll notice the Transformers commercials in this article incorporate some comic book-style imagery. That's because Hasbro had a tie-in with Marvel, sometimes promoting the publisher's Transformers comic titles in their toy commercials! The cyclical marketing of Transformers (media promoting the toys and vice versa) is a work of genius. They'll get you somehow!
The Nebulon figure was not technically its Transformer's driver or pilot, as it didn't fit inside. But a similar toyline called Headmasters featured openings for the vehicles' operators, which transformed into the heads of the robots. Once the head was locked into place, it brought up a "heads-up display" (sorry) of the Transformer's strengths and weaknesses! Of course, all this insanity could come only from Japan.
Tomy Takara, headquarted in Tokyo, is the parent company of the Transformers line. In the '80s, before its merger, it was known simply as Takara. When my wife and I visited Japan in 2016, the bus taking us to our hotel drove right by the Tomy Takara offices! (I hear they have a Transformers museum there, but we never saw the building again.) However, stores which sold Transformers were all over the place. Here I am at one of them, at an insanely cool shopping plaza in Nakano.
In my opinion, Powermaster Optimus Prime is the pinnacle of toy engineering, and that holds especially true for my Japanese version, known as God Ginrai. In the Japanese lore, Ginrai isn't Optimus Prime: He was built as a non-sentient tribute to the fallen leader, and needed to be piloted by a human. Enter Hi-Q, the little dude who becomes the truck's engine.
There's so much going on with this figure, that it's really more of a play set. I firmly believe Powermaster Optimus Prime ranks in the top five of the Transformers line, which is likely in the tens of thousands: No one in the fan community seems to know how many different toys in total have been released, as new ones continue to "roll out." (That was for the true Transformers fans. I walk a tightrope with these essays.)
The following figure is basically what kids in the west knew as Powermaster Optimus Prime. Hasbro has always handled the American and European distribution of the toy line. Of course, all the guns can be removed if you want to blend in with traffic, but what fun is that?
As much as I loved my Powermaster Prime, Hasbro would chintz out on its stateside release. For one thing, the God Bomber trailer was not included, even as an optional accessory. This was a pretty big omission, because not only is it a cool add-on to Prime's truck mode, it assembles into a robot in its own right. Included in the Japanese release from Takara, it brings a ton of extra play value to an already great toy. I'll mention more specifics as we go along, but here's the bomber. As a semi, Optimus can haul it either on its own, or as a double tractor trailer!
When this TV spot mentions Prime being "back," it's referring to his death in the 1986 animated Transformers: the Movie, which scarred more than a few kids. (The same could be said of The Care Bears Movie.)
My original Powermaster Prime broke during an epic intergalactic battle, the trailer hitch snapping off into the semi's truck bed. I was devastated, and so emotional about it that I didn't want to play with the toy anymore. I don't know what ultimately happened to it. Well into adulthood, I decided for some reason that I couldn't go on without Optimus, and purchased my current figure.
The main thing I respect about the design of this toy is that no pieces go to waste. With some G1 Transformers, if you don't have the figure in its most elaborate form, you've got parts laying around. Powermaster Optimus Prime utilizes every component, in every mode. It's a thing of beauty.
Now you'll see things start to get intense: Here's Prime transformed, along with the God Bomber in robot form, and the trailer converted into a legit battle station.
I added some smaller G1 Transformers, so you can see how the fortress could be used in a wartime scenario. Keep an eye on Fireflight, the little white dude standing next to Prime. He'll serve as a scale reference for future transformations! (Hint: The robots get bigger.)
A Transformer can even get inside the base, to operate the main artillery! The fate of the universe is in your hands, G1 Seaspray.
The command center combines with Optimus to form Powermaster Prime, who can fight alongside the God Bomber.
Officially, this is as beefed up as Prime got in the States. I have the magnet to prove it:
But now we see the most important factor of the Japanese-exclusive God Bomber: Its components upgrade Optimus Prime into God Ginrai, a truly imposing force!
Back to Hasbro being lame: The Japanese Prime has hands which retract into the figure, giving it a more convincing alternate mode than the US version. You don't generally see a semi trailer with fists sticking out of the top. (Or with giant guns, but I digress.)
Below is Hasbro's redone (read: cheaper) American release from my childhood. (See the high-tech circle.) It may not be a big deal, but having the hands go down is a nice feature. Takara used metal for the front of their cab, but Hasbro's Prime was completely plastic, and there's no chrome on Hasbro's smokestacks. Speaking of which, look closely and you'll notice that in the vintage toy below, the smokestacks on the cab are taller than on my figure. That's because as I mentioned, my Optimus is a re-issue, and the stacks were trimmed down from their original height as a safety precaution.
Finally, one of the coolest things about this Transformer is that its design even takes into account the one loose part of the large Optimus head: It can be stored as cargo in the trailer!
Powermaster Optimus Prime drives me back to my youth. Thanks for delving into this plastic masterpiece with me. It was a great excuse to break out what still ranks as one of my favorite collectibles! And if you like your Transformers to belch real fire, check out my review of G1 Repugnus.