Welcome back to ALLSPARK LIST WARS! This week, we’re presenting a countdown of the wackiest repaints in Transformers history. Repaints, redecos, and remolds have been part of the Transformers brand since before there WAS a Transformers brand, when the original Diaclone Car Robot Countach was released in both red and Police decos. Later, Hasbro and Takara repainted existing toys to give us memorable Transformers characters from Prowl to Tigatron to Nemesis Prime. But occasionally, Transformers deco artists have come up with repaint concepts that are surprising, creative, or just plain bizarre. Keep reading for some of the most unusual–and sometimes inexplicable–standouts in the long history of Transformers repaints!
A common snarky refrain among critics of brightly-hued Transformers repaints is that they look like they were colored by a child. Well, this one actually was! Japan’s “TV Magazine” held a coloring contest for kids to submit their renditions of G1 Optimus Prime. From the looks of the entries published in the magazine, the kids took to the challenge with gusto, wearing all 64 crayons in their Crayola boxes down to waxy nubs in their rush to create color schemes so outlandish they could never have been conceived of by any adult this side of Willy Wonka. The winning color scheme was applied to a Robot Masters G1 Convoy toy, seemingly with excessive force, and only 10 copies were produced and given out to “Lucky Draw” contest entrants. The toy was packaged in a plain white box, presumably because all the colors were on the inside. Kids do the darndest things.
13. Cybertron Cannonball (2005)
Very few boats have appeared in Transformers toylines. The 2005 Cybertron series bucked the trend by introducing not one, but two: Thunderblast and Shortround. So naturally, when Hasbro revealed Cannonball the pirate in the Cybertron “Primus Unleashed” subline, no one was shocked that it was a repaint of… an SUV. That’s right, it was the Cybertron Red Alert mold, light bar and all, decked out in swashbuckling black and gold, with a smear of shoe polish on one side of his helmet to (presumably) approximate an eyepatch. But the coup de grace was the ghostly teal skeletons and skulls stamped onto the vehicle mode, surely striking fear in the hearts of all those lily-livered commuters in the carpool lane. The dread pirate Cannonball was such a left-field delight that he became a fan-favorite, serving as a mascot of sorts for this very site in our regular “Ask Cannonball” feature in the late 2000s, and receiving an homage in the 2014 BotCon box set called, what else, “Pirates Vs. Knights.” Avast!
There have been an awful lot of extremely limited Japanese magazine contest Transformers repaints over the years (and a lot of them have been awful). Perhaps no one Transformer has been honored with “Lucky Draw” repaints as much as Lio Convoy, one of only two new toys from the Japanese “Beast Wars II” anime series. Takara pulled an Oprah with this guy, practically dropping a Lio repaint under every chair in Japan. In addition to his original colors and sparkly “Flash” and “Black” store exclusives, Lio also got Lucky Draw contest versions in gold, gold chrome, black (again, for good measure), multi-colored (another coloring contest version, like the G1 Convoy above), and even one painted up in purple like his nemesis Galvatron, presaging BotCon’s “Shattered Glass” mirror-universe repaint concept by a decade. Even the later, smaller “Robot Masters” version of Lio Convoy got regular, shiny, and black (seriously what IS it with black) releases. That’s enough Lio Convoys to make a whole pride! If you have a few million yen laying around…
11. Masterpiece Convoy Mode “Eva” (2014)
Transformers repainted as homages to previously existing Transformers are common–they sustained fifteen years of BotCons, after all. But Transformers that homage other toylines/properties entirely are exceedingly rare. There was that “Sanford & Son” pickup truck in the movie line, some side-lines like the Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars crossovers, and cheaper curios like the Sanrio Q-Transformers, and then there was the time the flagship Optimus Prime mold of the collector-oriented Masterpiece line was repainted to look like a mech from the anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” That’s purple, bright green, and black, not too far removed from the BotCon “Shattered Glass” Optimus colors, with logos on the trailer indicating this Optimus is part of a secret organization fighting invading Angels. The connection to a “competing” nerd property makes this Masterpiece stand alone in Transformers history. At least, until we get a Macross repaint of Jetfire, or maybe a time-traveling DeLorean that turns into a robot (seriously Hasbro literally EVERYone wants that).
10. Matrix Glow Ultra Magnus (2001)
This toy was ostensibly an homage to that scene in the 1986 Transformers animated movie when dying prankster-to-the-end Optimus Prime taunted poor hapless Ultra Magnus with the laughable idea that he was worthy of the Matrix of Leadership. See, the Matrix emitted a yellow glow when held, which the toy deco artists interpreted by making the entire Ultra Magnus toy… yellow. Really, really, yellow. The “Optimus” cab was yellow, black, and silver, which was actually a pretty appealing starting point. But then the entire “Magnus” armor, that is the trailer and all add-on components, was simply clear yellow. Yellow, yellow, and more yellow. Incredibly, eye-searingly yellow, with just three small swatches of silver on the helmet. And if this translucent shower of gold reminds you of something vaguely scatological, you’re in the majority. When this toy was released, the Internet overflowed with jokesters lining up to be Number One to take the piss out of it. So to speak.
9. Linkin Park Soundwave (2013)
Nu-metal band Linkin Park (R.I.P. Chester Bennington) became associated with the Transformers brand when it contributed songs to the soundtracks of the first three live-action movies. The byproduct of that metal-on-metal marriage was the Linkin Park Soundwave, limited to 2000 pieces in 2013 yet somehow still available at many online retailers. Soundwave and four of his cassettes were cast in dull brownish-gold plastic, making the whole pile of toys look like… well, let’s just say something that might pair well with Matrix Glow Magnus. The gold plastic was also reminiscent of the type used in G2 toys that had a tendency to disintegrate over time, perhaps worrying potential Soundwave purchasers that this expensive collector’s item was forever one step closer to the edge, and about to break. In the end, this set failed to bridge the great divide between LP fans and TF fans, and left most people numb.
8. Universe Prowl (2003)
While not the most outlandish repaint on this list, the Walmart-exclusive Prowl from the 2003 Universe toyline is surely one of the more puzzling. The black and white base is roughly the same as its original release… but then the Hasbro deco artists went nuts with red paint and random stencils. On the doors, Prowl has dragon heads mixed with the kind of tribal pattern that lurks under the laser-removal scar tissue of every bro who was in a frat in 2001. On the windshield, a seemingly-meaningless “105” in a sort of 1980s dot-matrix typeface. On the spoiler and sides, squares. Just… squares. Several of them, like, in a line. Finally, on the hood, an Autobot symbol that’s visible from space. Seriously, it’s like they took a vinyl sticker intended to be used on a real car and slapped it on this 5-inch toy. And how ironic that all this red nonsense, including that unmissable “HEY I’M AN AUTOBOT” symbol, ended up on a toy that was originally released in a line called “Robots In Disguise.”
7. Platinum Edition Astrotrain (2015)
For the last few years, the on-again off-again “Platinum Edition” subline has featured an unpredictable mix of premium redecos, G1 reissues, and completely off-the-wall flights of fancy. In the premium/reissue corner, you’ve got some really nice versions of the G1 Insecticons, movie Dinobots, and Predaking. In the… other corner, you’ve got Astrotrain. Astrotrain appeared in a two-pack with a fine new version of Blitzwing, and his color scheme was primarily four colors: in addition to his commonly used white, black, and purple, key bits were cast for no apparent reason in safety orange. When first revealed, fans looked for any potential clue as to why: Perhaps they matched up to create a cohesive color layout in one of his three modes? Nope. Homage to previous Transformer? Maybe 1989’s Japanese Machtackle, but… nope, he was more red, white, and blue. Homage to existing train? Nope, no one could find a solid match, even among Japanese bullet trains. Then the Platinum Editions continued to roll out, including “Year Of The Goat” sets that somehow honored the Chinese Zodiac by featuring Laser Prime and Masterpiece Soundwave in all clear plastic with orange highlights, another set featuring Classics Optimus Prime with strange clear blue doors, and another set with a Scourge with even more clear parts and a Devcon head, and everyone just got all Zen about the whole thing and stopped trying to figure any of it out. Platinum Editions still seem to trickle out here and there, and it’s anyone’s guess what baffling ideas they may still have in store.
6. Binaltech Meister – Mayuko Iwasa Edition (2004)
Another in the series of astonishingly-limited Japanese Transformers in astonishing colors, this one-of-a-kind repaint of Binaltech Meister (aka Jazz) was designed and autographed by model Mayuko Iwasa. This toy is like an Easter egg: pastel-colored, impossible to find, and no one knows what’s inside–the robot mode has never been shown in public. Meister was created specifically to be auctioned off for charity, but the real charity would be if whomever bought this unique piece shared a couple of photos with the rest of us.
5. Pepsi Prime (2007) & 7-11 Masterpiece Convoy (2018)
Transformers is inherently a commercial enterprise. Every Transformers toy was created to be sold, and every Transformers story was told to sell more toys. But the toys themselves have rarely been more blatantly commercial as the times Optimus Prime was painted up to promote completely unrelated companies. During the G1 reissue craze of the mid-aughts, Hasbro put out a limited “Pepsi Prime,” adapting a contest prize from the 1980s into the choice of a new generation. The 1980s promo was a regular ol’ Optimus toy with extra Pepsi stickers, created for a contest by the soda brand, but this one slapped swooshes and fizzy blue stickers and branding all over Prime’s robot and can modes. He even got a brand-new trailer designed to haul one 20-oz. bottle or six cans of Pepsi (sorry, no Coke). Pepsi Prime was sold at BotCon 2007 and online.
Now, a decade later, Japan is about to get a limited-release “7-11 Convoy,” dressing up Masterpiece Optimus Prime as a convenience store delivery truck, complete with a squeaky-voiced teen clerk Spike figurine. Look for that toy exclusively in (duh) 7-11 stores in Japan sometime in 2018.
4. Generation 2 Combaticons (1994)
The Generation 2 toyline was an attempt to resurrect the then-dormant Transformers franchise at the beginning of the 1990s. As music became more grounded and raw with grunge and alt-rock taking over the mainstream, toys eschewed realism in favor of ever-more-garish color schemes to fill the hair-metal void. Even G.I. Joe’s Destro infamously picked up some digs from David Lee Roth’s garage sale. While the end of G1 had dabbled in these unspeakably bright color schemes (see #2 on this list), G2 embraced the “Extreeeme” with gusto, and nowhere was this more evident than the Combaticons. This military combiner team went from olive drab to neon fab, adding yellows and oranges and blues and some sort of grape-soda camouflage pattern, presumably in case a space shuttle needed to blend in during the Holi festival. The Combaticons’ wild new look was celebrated contemporaneously with the infamous “Big Bad Battlin’ Bruticus Rap” toy ad, and then again decades later with not one but TWO homage box sets, in both the Generations and Combiner Wars toylines. This Dudicus is a survivor.
3. The Knights Of Unicron (2014)
Speaking of hair metal (and we rarely do), the Knights of Unicron set from San Diego Comic-Con 2014 had to be the most unexpected official convention-exclusive toys ever. It’s Optimus Prime, Soundwave, (Smooth) Jazz, and Megatron, aided by Ratbat and Laserbeak, and they wanna rock! This motley crew was fully glammed up in zebra-print tights, real cloth scarves, and long hair. Like, *actual tiny wigs*, which is a first and surely a last in Transformers history. The set also included some fake merch, a backstage pass, and more, all packed inside a special “gear crate” box. Concert tees were also available for purchase at the show. Hasbro really went all-in for this exclusive, and made sure everyone in San Diego and beyond could feel the noize.
Well, obviously we had to get here eventually. 1991’s Action Master Thundercracker is everyone’s go-to-example for “what were they thinking” deco choices: He’s the Action Master Starscream mold, with Thundercracker’s name, but any similarity to any previous Transformer ends there: its colors are a psychedelic mix of hot pink, neon green, gold, blue, and purple, applied with wild abandon to create a Transformer like the world had never seen. Action Master Thundercracker was so bright it made glow sticks jealous. Scientists said Action Master Thundercracker should only be viewed through a pinhole projector to avoid permanent retinal damage. Action Master Thundercracker was originally sold with a free packet of Dramamine. Tipper Gore campaigned for Action Master Thundercracker’s card bubble to be covered by a Parental Advisory sticker. The Soviet Union disbanded because Gorbachev saw Action Master Thundercracker and thought the United States had won the nuclear arms race. …Okay, we’ve made our point. Action Master Thundercracker is beyond legendary in the oeuvre of Transformers repaints, and for sheer boldness of color, he may always stand alone.
1. Keroro Starscream (2011)
In the realm of strange and unusual Transformers repaints, only one toy can claim the #1 crown of ultimate dear-god-what-is-that-thing wackiness. In this case, the crown is on the head of a frog prince. Or, a frog sergeant. In December 2011, every issue of the Japanese Kerokero Ace magazine included a special repaint of the tiny Legends-class toy of live-action movie Starscream–already a pretty weird design, with its diamond body and gorilla arms that don’t really go anywhere in jet mode. This toy followed a comic story in the magazine where Keroro (also known as Sgt. Frog) creates a vacuum to suck up Starscream’s essence to make clones. The plan goes awry when the vacuum transmogrifies the frog into a Starscream doppelganger, explaining the toy’s cartoonishly bright green and yellow base color scheme. But the included sticker sheet for the toy is where this release reaches maximum weird: you can decorate “Keroscream” with hearts, frog eyes, hot-rod flames, or because why not, buxom anime girls in bikinis. Really.
So there you have it, the wackiest repaint in Transformers history: a tiny bright green Starscream clone who’s really a frog and is covered in hearts and flames and cartoon boobs. Beat that, HasCon.