Living in Sweden (although having given up on Transformers after their Action Master blunder, turning to Dino Riders and TMNT instead) I never experienced any disappearance of Transformers, as my younger brothers and cousins kept on getting new toys. In Europe, Generation One was not discontinued after the 1990 fiasco in the US, but carried on with both reissues of classic early Transformers toys, as well as new ones.
Above, left: European 1991 poster with repuposed Brainmasters in the foreground, Overlord looming in the background Above, right: Action Master battle panorama, box backside art, same year
This year saw a number of new Action Masters being released, of which some were actually transformable! Among these “Action Masters Elite”, three were basically Omega Supreme, Scorponok and Bruticus with new names, whereas one, Windmill, was a completely new character with an original transformation scheme. It was also a year of re-releases, of which many were early G1 classics, but there were also a number of toys imported from Japan, most notably Overlord, but also the three Brainmasters originally forming Road Caesar, but without the combiner parts for doing so, additionally, they had new color schemes and names and were called “the Motorvators”.
Above: Windmill, an “Action Master Elite”, and Overlord, the perhaps most notable release in the 1991 European assortment
This year got real interesting, with the two teams Turbomasters (Autobots) and Predators (Decepticons). The Turbomasters all had guns with spring-fired projectiles, guns that could be integrated into their vehicle (car) modes. Their Leader Thunder Clash transformed from a truck, with the cab becoming the robot and the trailer an imposing battle station, not unlike Optimus Prime. Thunder Clash was also dubbed the new Autobot Leader. The team also had an airborne member, Rotorstorm, transforming into a helicopter with the same kind of spring-firing guns as the others.
Above: Turbomasters; Flash, Scorch, Rotorstorm and the mighty Thunder Clash
On the Decepticon side there was the jet fighter team the Predators, also with spring-fired projectiles, but more notably, with a gimmick were each of the small jets could be mounted on one of the bigger members, Skyquake (leader and jet) or Stalker (tank) upon which their primary Turbo Master rival could be seen in the scopes for the weapons of the bigger toys. Further, the Predators were the first Transformers toys making use of light-piping, where part of the head of the toy is made out of transparent plastic, allowing for light to shine out of their eyes, giving the illusion of them being lit up. Both the Turbomasters and Predators would be reused in the sub-brand Machine Wars in 1997, but renamed to classic Transformers characters with new color schemes.
Above: Predators; Falcon, Snare, Stalker and Skyquake
On a side note, five out of four Breastforce members from the Japanese Victory sub-line were also released with new color schemes and names, but unable to form Liokaiser
This year was exclusively comprised out of new toys, of which some would see release in the US, where Generation 2 took off in 1993. Many of the toys would however be remain exclusive to European markets.
Above: Zap, an Axelerator (in the US unfortunately enough renamed “Windbreaker” and Hawk, a Skyscorcher (later renamed Eagle Eye in the US)
First off we had the Autobot car team Axelerators, with weapons integrated in their car modes, and the Decepticon jet team Skyscorchers, both of which were released with slightly different color schemes in the US G2 as Color Flashes. Second, we had the Aquaspeeders and Stormtroopers, Autobot and Decepticon car teams, respectively, who had weapons that could shoot water, and plastic parts which changed color upon getting water on them. Some of these would see US releases, but not all of them.
Above: Speedstream, an Aquaspeeder (“Deluge” in US G2) and Drench, a Stormtrooper (Never available in the US)
Third, we had the Obliterators, the Autobot Pyro and the Decepticon Clench, both of whose back half of the vehicle mode formed large weapons for the robots. The Lightformers and Trakkons in turn had large weapons with see-through functions simulating laser being fired at enemy targets. All of these never saw US releases and are this considered something of rare curiosities on the international market today.
Above: Obliterators; the Autobot Pyro (Later “Spark”) and the Decepticon Clench (later “Colossus”)
So, what is the significance of this short, obscure era? First, the toys carry a distinct esthetical style, not least in terms of often gaudy color schemes. This might be attributed to the fact that the Japanese designer Takao Ejima had at least a hand in designing all of the above mentioned European toys. Second, the sub-group the Predators introduced light-piping, a gimmick adding rather than detracting from toy design, widely used up to this day.
Above: Pyro, a Lightformer, and Calcar, a Trakkon.
Third, and foremost, I perceive the toys of this era as something of a return to the roots of the Transformers franchise. Sure, all of them have some kind of weapons gimmick, but again, the gimmick is in the weapon, whereas the main toys have their identity not from a gimmick, but from their overall design. Although the toys of this era did not have any medial support and thus never had real characters established for them, they nevertheless dared to exist simply as transforming robots on the merit of their design only, something that was sorely missing during the last years of the G1 US run. And their designs are appealing and quite unique, seemingly with great potential for providing a foundation for appealing and interesting characters.
Above: Overlord, Rotorstorm, Ironfist and Pyro, as they appear in The Last Stand of the Wreckers
In fact, this assumption was proved correct through the highly popular IDW comic miniseries The Last Stand of the Wreckers, where a number of the characters of this era, including the Turbomaster Rotorstorm, the Lightformer Ironfist, the Obliterator Pyro and the Predators made their first proper medial debut as characters, resulting in the value of their until then often overlooked toys skyrocketing in second hand markets. Overlord, who was the main villain of the story, has even become a modern Transformers icon in the West, despite his toy never having been released in the US market. While Overlord debuted in the Japanese Masterforce sub-line, the other Japanese exclusives of the time has never become quite as iconic as characters, and Last Stand of the Wreckers arguably celebrates him as being part of the European transitional era more than anything else, an era whose significance thanks to the comic has finally become rightfully solidified.