What’s Old is New Again: Battle Beasts by Jerry Whitworth
The 1980s of the United States was a huge time for television animation, giving birth to franchises with toy and comic book tie-ins and whose effect is seen even today with properties like G.I. Joe (with an upcoming live action adaptation G.I. Joe: Retaliation), Thundercats (an updated television series currently on Cartoon Network), Masters of the Universe (a new comic book series recently announced for DC Comics), My Little Pony (a wildly popular new animated series on the Hub network), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (upcoming live action film and a CGI animated series for Nickelodeon). One such series is Transformers, currently airing an updated CGI animated version on the Hub in Transformers: Prime and three blockbuster live action films with a fourth announced in the future.
Transformers started out as a partnership between American toy company Hasbro and Japanese toy company Takara. Wanting to expand to the American market, Takara offered Hasbro figures from their Microman and Diaclone lines to produce stateside and Hasbro created an entirely new franchise from these toys in Transformers. To help sell the line, Hasbro went to Marvel Productions to create a comic book and animated series (having previous success with updating their G.I. Joe toyline in this way). Just as with G.I. Joe, Marvel went to Sunbow Productions who would again go to the legendary Japanese studio Toei to create the animated series (a process repeated with later series including Jem, Inhumanoids, and My Little Pony). Transformers would prove to be a monstrous hit all around in America, but interestingly enough, the animated series would also be broadcast on Japanese airwaves with equal, perhaps even more, success. Unfortunately, the franchise largely died in America with the theater release of Transformers: the Movie where series star Optimus Prime was murdered and replaced, off-putting fans. While a brief third season and three-episode fourth season (setting up the line’s new expansion Transformers: The Headmasters) of the television series aired, it appeared interest had waned and the show was canceled. On the other hand, the series remained strong in Japan and Takara expanded the line with BeastFormers.
As Headmasters featured humanoids using Transformer technology to wear exo-suits and merge with their robotic allies (expanded also into Targetmasters), BeastFormers were feral aliens that appeared as anthropomorphic beasts discovered by the Transformers and incorporated into their war with their own exo-suits. They would be introduced in the Transformers universe in the episode “Rebellion on Planet Beest” as part of the Headmasters series that went unaired in America. Takara approached Hasbro about bringing BeastFormers to America but they were hesitant to invest in the series, inevitably agreeing to produce the toys but distanced it from Transformers under the name Battle Beasts and opted out of any tie-ins to the line. The figures, two-inches tall, were similar in scale to the Kinnikuman toyline (known in America as M.U.S.C.L.E.) but featured suits of technological armor with a heat-sensitive hologram sticker on the front that changed to symbolize either fire, water, or wood making play with the figures similar to rock, paper, scissors. The line never took off in the US but did fairly well in Japan, as did its parent Transformers which lived on in follow-up animated series Super-God Masterforce, Victory, and Zone. The series would be resurrected on different occasions in both America and Japan, the earliest with the former in 1992 with Generation 2 and the latter in 2000 with Car Robots (known in America as Robots in Disguise).
BeastFormers would live on in Japan becoming Laser Beasts with its fourth and final line before going into Limbo. Battle Beasts would make cameo appearances in the American comics for Transformers under publishers Dreamwave and Devil’s Due Press and starred in a four-issue comic book series from Blackthorne Publishing in 1988. Hasbro would allow the property’s trademark to lapse and in 2009 the rights were bought up by Diamond Select Toys, known for its Minimates toyline, who have infrequently produced figures since. It was recently announced at the C2E2 convention a new comic series for Battle Beasts will be produced by IDW Publishing written by Bobby Curnow and drawn by Valerio Schiti. For more information, visit the Battle Beasts website below: