Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Zob's Thoughts on Bumblejumper

Bumblejumper, or Bumper, is one of the oddest little Transformers toys ever produced. There's nothing particularly unusual about his design—indeed, he's markedly similar to two other well-known and widely-produced Mini Autobots—but what makes him so unique is the fact that even though he was packaged and sold as an official Transformers toy, his entire existence went completely unacknowledged by Hasbro!

A little history is required to fully appreciate the significance of this toy. Most fans already know that all of the original Transformers toys from 1984 came from two different robot toy lines produced by Takara in Japan. The vast majority of the original Transformers originated from Diaclone, a toy line featuring scale vehicles with tiny driver figurines. The other toy line was called Microman, which was a little different from Diaclone in that the transformable toys , part of that line's "Microchange" assortment, were meant to represent real-life objects at 1:1 scale—microscopes, guns, combination locks, and digital watches that all turned into tiny robots. All of the Mini Autobots were actually intended to represent toy cars—specifically, three of them were modeled after the Penny Racers (also produced by Takara), motorized super-deformed cars that could do tricks when the extra weight from a coin was added behind the plate in the back of the vehicle. The transforming Microman versions weren't motorized and couldn't hold a penny, but their styling was identical to the Penny Racers, right down to the fake coin slot in the back of the car that revealed the robot's head. Of the seven Microrobot Cars produced, three of them—the Volkswagen, the Porsche 924 Turbo, and the Mazda Familia 1500XG—all shared the same vehicle-to-robot transformation sequence. Unlike the others, these three toys were sold in multiple color schemes; each of them was available in a blue, yellow, and red version.

Hasbro made a handful of changes to the Japanese toys for release in the Transformers line. They assigned names and team allegiances to each of the robots (who previously had unimaginative designations like MC-02 Jaguar or Attack Robo Jet Type), including the addition of Autobot and Decepticon symbols to each toy. They also established the back story that these were living alien robots from another planet (which necessitated the removal of the Diaclone pilots, despite the fact that many toys were designed with obvious cockpits). Not every toy from Diaclone and Microman was used for the Transformers line; many were left out because they may have lacked play value (there were toys that turned into binoculars and a working flashlight) or were a bit redundant (there was a police car version of Sunstreaker that Hasbro never used, and differently-colored versions of Wheeljack and Skids with alternate head sculpts). By far the most important contribution Hasbro made, however, was the creation of the unique personalities and abilities for each character, which really helped to breathe life into the toys and made each one unique and distinct from each other. Jim Shooter and Denny O'Neil, both editors and writers for Marvel Comics, were assigned the task of creating 28 different characters for the toy line's initial launch in 1984. The only problem here is that there were actually 31 toys available when the toy line made its debut!

It's possible that the confusion was due to the fact that several Transformers toys were sold together (Soundwave came packaged with Buzzsaw, while Ravage/Rumble and Frenzy/Laserbeak were sold in two-packs), essentially making each package a single product for Hasbro's purposes. You only had to make 28 different purchases to collect the entire set, after all. In any event, there were three toys that were not assigned their own names or personalities. Hasbro had approved five of the nine Microrobo color variations—the yellow and red Volkswagen, the yellow and red Porsche, and the yellow Mazda. The yellow Volkswagen became Bumblebee, of course, and the red Porsche became Cliffjumper, but the other three toys were somehow forgotten about. They didn't get their own package artwork—in fact, they didn't get their own packaging, period. My theory is that Hasbro had originally intended these toys to represent different characters, just as they had done with Ironhide and Ratchet or Prowl and Bluestreak. If unique names had been assigned to these toys at one stage, we may never know what they were. Instead, Hasbro just sold the red Volkswagens in packaging that had been created for the yellow Bumblebee toy; they did the same thing with the yellow Porsche, selling it in packaging created for the red Cliffjumper. The lonely Mazda Familia, however, had no other equivalent in the Transformers line. Hasbro could have delayed the toy's release until proper packaging was prepared, but instead they snuck the Mazda into the existing assortment by stuffing it into Cliffjumper packaging; the shape of the cars was similar enough that they were able to reuse the same plastic bubble. (The name "Bumblejumper" implies that the toy was sold in Bumblebee packaging as well, but this has never been confirmed.)

A lot of fans believe that these three toys were overstock from Japan, unsold Takara toys that Hasbro stuffed into Transformers packaging—pointing to the lack of a Hasbro copyright stamp on the early toys as evidence. In fact, all the original Transformers toys lacked a copyright stamp, even toys that we know were never sold in Japan. This includes the green version of Brawn, whose Microman equivalent was tan; the modified version of Soundwave, whose original Japanese toy had a logo that said "CassetteMan" on the tape door; and Skywarp, a Hasbro creation who had no Diaclone equivalent. (Hasbro copyright stamps didn't begin to appear on the toys until late 1985 following a lawsuit with a rival toy company, who claimed that the lack of copyright information on the early Jumpstarters gave them a free pass to copy the toys.) Further discrediting this theory is the fact that there are no examples of other Takara toys in Hasbro packaging—if overstock had been used, surely there would be some leftover blue Bumblebees and Cliffjumpers as well, but no such packaged examples exist.

What's interesting is that Hasbro never acknowledged Bumper in the 1984 toy catalog, which was supposed to showcase the entire product offering for that year. (The red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper were conspicuously absent from the catalog, too.) Furthermore, in 1985 when Hasbro initiated a marketing campaign to set their product apart from competitors and knockoffs in order to identify their transformable robots as the only "true" Transformers, the entire first year's product line was revamped to include the heat-sensitive rub symbols—except for Bumper! Even the red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper saw production that year, complete with rub symbols and new packaging with photographs showing the toys in the correct colors (even if the package artwork was still wrong). It's almost as if Hasbro realized their mistake, and quietly swept poor Bumper under the proverbial rug. Needless to say, he never appeared in any cartoon episodes or comic books during the limited time the toy was in stores—why advertise a toy that, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist?

There's a lot more to say about the toy's history than about the toy itself. Bumper is superficially similar to Cliffjumper (and shares the same sticker on the back of his head plate that Cliffjumper's got), although the large black front bumper and much larger side windows are quite distinct. His transformation is identical to that of Bumblebee and Cliffjumper—though unlike Bumblebee, the way his arms are designed prevents them from rotating until they're pulled outwards. His helmet design is interesting—while a lot of the Mini Autobots had fairly nondescript faces with featureless masks, Bumper has a more human-looking face. Indeed, he already fits the design aesthetic from the Transformers cartoon so well that it's difficult to imagine that his face would need to be significantly redesigned in order to fit in. Had he appeared in the cartoon, the wheels on his arms would no doubt have been absent, and it's quite likely that his black colors would have been depicted as grey (which was also the case with characters like Cliffjumper and Wheeljack), but he certainly wouldn't have suffered from the complete disparity between the show and the toy that befell characters like Brawn or Ratchet or Megatron.

Bumper is comparatively rare these days, due in no small part to the confusion that his very existence creates. He's frequently identified on eBay as yellow Cliffjumper by sellers who simply don't know any better (and the fact that Cliffjumper was retooled into Hubcap, who's also yellow, doesn't help matters much). In a way, Bumper is more of a collectible than a character, since he's largely absent from the Transformers lore (he did appear in some of the Dreamwave comic books before the company went bankrupt), and we don't even have an official Hasbro biography to give us a hint of what this character might be like (indeed, Hasbro has stated that they have never assigned an official name to the toy, not even retroactively). Despite this, he's one of the cutest of the Mini Autobots, and no collection is truly complete without him.



Mark Baker-Wright said...

Interesting article. Oddly enough, this is the first time I can remember someone writing about Bumblejumper's existence in a way that places it in common with Red Bumblebee and Yellow Cliffjumper, although it obviously (especially in retrospect) makes sense to do so.

Jimtron said...

It's a shame that YellowJumper and RedBee never got the same level of attention from the fandom that Bumper (I always preferred that name) would eventually get. THEY MUST HAVE NAMES & BIOS!!! Of course, since Hasbro has decided that Bumblebee in red is Cliffjumper, that becomes a bit harder.

Zobovor said...

Jim, I actually came up with my own names and biographies for the red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper, whom I've named Ladybug and Blowout, respectively. (I insist that everyone else adopt these names immediately.)

Jimtron said...

As Blow-Out was an early name for Cliffjumper, I approve wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

I think there were 30 toys available in 1984, not 31. I also think that Frenzy and Buzzaw got bios and appeared in the cartoon so all 30 toys were still represented in the cartoon, not 28.

I wonder why Hasbro didn't just save Bumblejumper, a different mold, for the third season instead of reusing Cliffjumper as Hubcap.

I thought I was well-versed in TF facts but I didn't know that the Minibots were modeled after the Penny Racers. I will go check the coin slots on the Minibots I have.

Do you have a link to the Penny Racers?

Zobovor said...

Anonymous, admittedly I do screw up my arithmetic from time to time, but I think I got it right this time:

1) Optimus Prime
2) Jazz
3) Ironhide
4) Ratchet
5) Prowl
6) Bluestreak
7) Wheeljack
8) Trailbreaker
9) Mirage
10) Sunstreaker
11) Sideswipe
12) Hound
13) Brawn
14) Gears
15) Windcharger
16) Huffer
17) Bumblebee (yellow)
18) Bumblebee (red)
19) Cliffjumper (red)
20) Cliffjumper (yellow)
21) Bumper
22) Megatron
23) Starscream
24) Thundercracker
25) Skywarp
26) Soundwave
27) Rumble
28) Frenzy
29) Laserbeak
30) Buzzsaw
31) Ravage

The three toys from this list that didn't appear in the cartoon are red Bumblebee, yellow Cliffjumper, and Bumper. So, there were 28 toys from this year that appeared in the cartoon.

Regarding the Penny Racers, they were marketed in Japan as Choro-Q so you should be able to find more information about them under that name. (The weight of the penny in the back makes them pop wheelies and stuff. It's awesome.) A while ago I took a Penny Racers toy and painted it into Cliffjumper:

I agree with you that Bumper would have been ideal to hold back for a more proper release (they must have known they would be releasing more toys in 1985), but maybe they didn't want to hold onto their existing stock for that long? Coupled with the other mistakes surrounding the toy line's initial launch, I think the biggest priority was not to work out all the kinks, but to get the things on the shelf before Christmas.

Hubcap was clearly far better planned from the start, though he caused his own fair share of problems, too (like Hasbro mistaking him for Cliffjumper when he was offered through mail-order).

Anonymous said...

sorry Zob,

I stand corrected about the 28 toys. I thought you were leaving out Frenzy and Buzzaw (who are commonly forgoten because they got packaged with other TF and who were underexposed in the cartoon)when you were talking about the confusion as a result of several TF being sold together when counting them. It seems I was confused. Somehow, I added two to your original 28 count to arrive at 30. I was too lazy to count the 1984 toys myself. Sorry.

We only had to make 26 purchases to get all 28 1984 toys, not 28.

I am not sure if Hasbro really intended red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper to be different characters. It seems redundant to reuse the same mold the same year unless Hasbro were planning to package them with other TF. It is possible they were errors in production and so Hasbro sold them anyway in the wrong colors.

Anonymous said...


I think you only had to make 25 different purchases to get all 1984 toys.

Zobovor said...

It's true that there were 25 products in Hasbro's 1984 checklist, but since Bumper, red Bumblebee, and yellow Cliffjumper didn't appear in the catalog, you still had to make 28 purchases to get the whole set. Make sense?

I agree that it does seem redundant, but Hasbro was already selling the same toys that year in multiple colors (Rumble/Frenzy, Ironhide/Ratchet, Prowl/Bluestreak, etc.) so what's a couple more? They even invented color schemes for the Transformers line that didn't have a Diaclone/Microman equivalent, like Skywarp and Buzzsaw.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense now. I misunderstood your post. Sorry Zob.

I still think that Hasbro never intended to release red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper as separate characters. Ironhide/Ratchet; Bluestreak/Smokescreen/Prowl; Sideswipe/Red Alert; and Grapple/Inferno may share the same mold but one is always an emergency vehicle of some sort than the other, making them less redundant. They are also not just straight recolours; they all even have slight mold changes such as rooftop lights for Ratchet, Red Alert and Prowl and a ladder for Inferno.

As for Starscream, Thundercracker and Sywarp, Hasbro managed to make each mold look different enough by applying different stickers to each making each toy that is distinctive enough to distinguish them.

I know that Buzzaw and Frenzy are straight recolours but they were packaged with other TF, forcing customers to buy them in order to get the other TF. If Hasbro intended to release red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper as different characters, then I think that they were planned to be packaged with other Minibots to force customers having a yellow Bumblebee and red Cliffjumper to buy the molds again in order to get the other TF packaged with them. Either Hasbro changed its mind in packaging Minibots together or didn't plan red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper to be separate characters.

I still think red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper were errors in production because they were both so alike.

Onslaught Six said...

You also didn't mention that Bumper actually *does* have official Hasbro art. Sort of.

I forget where I saw it, but a Bumper recolour was sold in Brazil or Argentina or somesuch and had real boxart and everything. So, yeah, there's that.

cagey said...

Extremely informative and very well-written post. Thanks.

Hans said...

@ Onslaught Six: here is the designated boxart for Bumper:
Botch has the same boxart on his site in yellow as well. I'm absolutely positive this boxart was done by Mark Watts, the same artist who also did Bumblebee and the other minibots, so that must indicate that Hasbro was planning on releasing Bumper as an individual figure at some point (probably early on, later dismissing the idea and putting him on Cliffjumper cards).

By the way, some Diaclone overstock was sold in Transformers packaging, but this happened only in Europe, if I'm correct. It had to do with the Joustra Diaclone line (which also included some Micro-Man toys such as Browning) which was fabricated in France. For example, red Tracks was sold in the Netherlands in a blue Tracks box. This was overstock from the red Corvette Diaclone toy from Joustra. Perhaps this is why fans assumed the same thing happened with Bummper.