Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
I got back into collecting Transformers about six years ago after a rather long hiatus and never looked back. In fact, I’ve since discovered way more kinds of transforming robot toys, from high quality knock-offs to unofficial third-party toys based on licensed characters (without the license). But here’s the thing: for as much as I’ve enjoyed all of them, it ended up being a line of children’s toys from a South Korean cartoon series that I’ve had the most fun with.
The Tobot series (no, that’s not a typo) has been going for over a decade now, with each season of the CGI cartoon introducing new characters, and of course producing a bunch of toys. Those toys, though. Toys for literal children – yes, I know Transformers toys are also for kids but most of the main line stuff also tries to appeal to collectors – aren’t usually this good. The early stuff is comprised of vehicles that feel like Tonka toys (i.e.: very sturdy), and they turn into some really unique looking robots that, while fairly limited in articulation, are wonderfully chunky and colorful. And barring a few exceptions (every toy line has its duds), they’re also fun to transform back and forth in a simple-yet-satisfying way. Some of them are even downright inspired, like Tobot Adventure Z’s “ratchet injection system” or whatever the official name for it is, which turns the hubcaps of the front wheels into functional ratchet joints.
Even the combiners, which, yes, of course there were combiners, were clever. Unlike most gestalts made up of several vehicles that are also robots and can all come together to make one big robot, early Tobot combiners skipped the individual robots altogether. Instead, you had an assortment of vehicles that would only turn into pieces of a larger figure – that you could then combine. It resulted in larger toys that didn’t have to sacrifice the combined mode or try to shoehorn in an awkward-looking smaller robot mode.
It’s only gotten better from there. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a few of the earlier figures (Tobot Terracle, who turns into a tractor and I think might also be a gardener, is a particular favorite). But things really took off when it got a reboot in 2018 under the title Tobot V. I may love Tobot toys, but I adore Tobot V toys. They’ve skewed a bit smaller than the earlier stuff (likely due to inflation and other production costs), but the level of craftsmanship on display is remarkable.
The puffy, rounded smoothness of the earlier cartoony designs were replaced with added details and more futuristically stylized looks. Color palettes got more colorful and varied. Combiners started to get individual robot modes in addition to their vehicle and combined forms (shoutout to Tobot V Big Troll). And some of those robot designs are incredible. I mean look at Tobot V Classic and tell me that’s not a unique and interesting robot design. Now tell him he’s pretty. Oh, and the articulation has gotten better (mostly), with enough posing power to rival a lot of modern Transformers toys.
The only real problem with Tobots is the cost, because until recently you could only get them via importing from Korea. Granted these are large (even once they started getting smaller), dense, sturdy toys that I feel are worth the extra cost but paying less is always preferable. Some (and I do mean some) of the earlier toys have been made available in the US through Amazon, so they don’t cost as much, but pretty much all of the newer stuff is a no-go unless you’re willing to pay a premium.
It’s a premium I’ll gladly continue to pay if it means I get to keep enjoying unique, interesting, and straight-up fun transforming robot toys that could very well survive the inevitable heat death of the universe.
Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.