Comprehensive 1990's G1 Reissue ID Guide
The following are the three types of reissue Transformers that get easily confused with the originals.
- Early-1990's Chinese reissues
- 1991 - 1992 Japanese mail-in exclusives
- Mysterious no-Hasbro copyright releases
For a long time people thought that 1990's Chinese reissues were unlicensed knockoffs. However, they are in fact real Hasbro releases. There's lot of evidence to confirm this including, among other things, Takara selling the 1990's Chinese Aerialbots in Japan via mail order, and 1990's Chinese Transformers being found in the collection of a Hasbro employee. (However, there ARE Chinese G1 knockoffs that began being manufactured in 2005. To learn more about those and how to ID them, use my G1 Counterfeit ID Guide.)
Here's is a relatively complete list of Chinese G1 reissues compiled by TF expert Karl Hartman with some small additions by other helpful G1 collectors:
(Recent additions to the list are in italics.)
1984, 1985, and 1986 toys reissued in China out of order from 1989 - 1992 (AKA Series 1, 2, and 3)
- Optimus Prime
- Autobot cars: Hound, Jazz, Ironhide, Mirage, Smokescreen, Prowl, Wheeljack, Sunstreaker, Inferno, Tracks
- Minibots: Bumblebee, Seaspray, Beachcomber, Hubcap
- Dinobots: Grimlock, Snarl, Sludge
- Decepticon Jets: Starscream, Ramjet
- Constructicons: All of them (individually packaged; not as a giftset)
- Triple-changers: Astrotrain, Springer, Broadside, and Blitzwing
- (Octane and Sandstorm were also available, but only in gold box European Classics packaging)
- Aerialbots: All of them (individually packaged; not as a giftset)
- Stunticons: All of them (individually packaged; not as a giftset)
- Protectobots: All of them (individually packaged; not as a giftset)
1987 toys reissued in China in 1993 (AKA Series 4)
- Autobot Headmasters: All four of them
- Decepticon Headmasters: All three of them
- Horrorcons: Both of them
- Fortress Maximus
- Targetmasters: Pointblank, Sureshot, Crosshairs
- Autobot Powermaster Cars: All three of them (but not Powermaster Optimus Prime)
- Decepticon Powermaster Jets: Both of them
- Autobot Small Headmasters: All three of them
- Autobot Decepticon Headmasters: Fangry, Squeezeplay
- Triggerbots: All three of them
- Triggercons: All three of them
- Grand Slam/Raindance
- Multiforce: All three two packs (no giftset)
- Brainmaster: All three Roadcaesar cars individually (but not Star Saber)
- Breastforce: All six Liokaiser components, including Leozack. (Deszarus was not produced.)
- (Note: There are conflicting reports about Leozack. I've seen photographic evidence of his existence, but first-hand accounts suggest he was basically impossible to find. Perhaps the mold broke mid-way through production, causing only a small number to be released.)
A. Packaging differences
All Series 1 through Series 4 Chinese reissues have one very obvious tell. On the back of the box/card (bottom of the box for Soundwave), where the copyright and manufacturing text is usually written, the part that says "Made and printed in Japan. Manufactured by Takara" (or some variant thereof) is omitted. Sometimes there is a black bar over it, sometimes it is carefully removed--it depends on the toy. But either way, all that is left is the Hasbro copyright part of the string. Here's an example of a 1980's Seaspray and a Chinese reissue Seaspray. Note how much shorter the Copyright info is on the Chinese Seaspray:
Example of a Series 5 Chinese reissue. Note how they both say "Made in China", but the original 1980's one says "Takara" and the Chinese 1990's one doesn't. Plus, the Chinese reissue has the weird "C-168A" number at the end.
- Optimus Prime has two obvious packaging differences. First, the white boxes around the three toy pictures on the front of the box have been turned black. Second, usually the cut of the window is too high, such that it goes beyond the grey rectangle. (Note that the Mexican release, the Mysterious no-Hasbro-Copyright release (see below), and some Pre-Rubs have this change as well.)
- Chinese reissue Autobot cars are factory sealed with thicker tape than original 1980's releases.
- Skullcruncher, Mindwipe, and Apeface came in Canadian packaging with English and French text on the box. (There was a Canadian release in the same packaging, of course, so this alone does not make it the Chinese version. Look for the modified copyright/manufacturing text on the back to confirm.)
- Soundwave came in European quadlingual packaging. (See note in line above.)
- Nightbeat came in Dutch packaging. (See note two lines above.)
Example of a TF Victory Chinese Reissue.
If your toy is out of the packaging or the copyright stamp is visible through the bubble, there's another way to identify them as well. For Series 1 through Series 4* releases, the part of the copyright stamp usually marked "(C) TAKARA Japan/Taiwan/Macau/wherever" is blocked out. (This is the same blocking out that was done on the European Classics releases from around the same time; they were made in the same factory.) Series 5 releases (i.e., Powermasters, small Headmasters), have a slightly different blocking out--they leave the "(C) TAKARA" part as-is, and only block out the manufacturing country.
Example of a 1990's Chinese Series 2 Copyright stamp compared to a US Series 2 Copyright stamp.
Example of Chinese Series 5 copyright stamp. (Note the blocked out country and intact Takara copyright stamp.)
- Soundwave: Buzzsaw has painted details on the cassette side instead of sticker details.
- Ravage/Rumble: Rumble has painted details on the cassette side instead of sticker details.
- Ramhorn/Eject: Ramhorn has painted details on the cassette side instead of sticker details.
- Steeljaw/Rewind: Steeljaw has painted details on the cassette side instead of sticker details.
- Ratbat/Frenzy: Both Ratbat and Frenzy have painted details on the cassette side instead of sticker details.
- Pounce/Wingspan: Instead of specialized rubsigns, they have normal non-rubsign faction symbols.
- Fastlane/Cloudraker: Instead of specialized rubsigns, they have normal non-rubsign faction symbols.
- Punch/Counterpunch: Instead of specialized rubsigns, he has normal non-rubsign faction symbols.
- Triggerbots/Triggercons: They each have a rubsign where the original toys did not have a rubsign.
- Nightbeat: His flame stickers have a thicker border and are metallic.
C. Obvious giveaways -- Be careful!
Obviously, if it has Chinese name sticker in the corner on it, it's the Chinese release. However, these were apparently very easy to remove, since a lot of Chinese reissues show up without them. So be careful--just because it doesn't have Chinese stickers on it doesn't mean it's not a Chinese release. If it doesn't have a Chinese sticker, use the toy and box differences above to sort them out.
Also, another reason to be careful: if it has a big half-Chinese/half-English sticker over the logo, that's a Taiwan release. Some Taiwan releases are 1980's US releases, and some are 1990's Chinese releases. You'll have to look for the other differences in order to tell for sure. For example, even though this Nightbeat has the big Taiwanese sticker over the logo, it's clearly not the 1990's Chinese reissue (it doesn't come in a Dutch box, it has the normal copyright string on the back, and it does not have the thick silver-bordered metallic flame stickers).
These were imported into a lot of different countries. Notably, a lot of these were imported into Europe. For example, the minibots were available at Woolworths in Britain, and there also appears to be a high concentration of Chinese reissues in the Netherlands. Other countries known to have sold Chinese reissues include Korea, Portugal, and Australia.
- 1991 Aerialbots: All five of them.
- 1992 Dinobots: All five of them.
The Dinobots are a bit more of a mystery. According to the list above, only three Dinobots were reported to have been reissued in China, so at minimum the extra two (Swoop and Slag) may have been made exclusively for Japan. Recent feedback from Chinese fans suggests that Slag and Swoop may have been released in China, which would solve the mystery. One way to tell Japanese mail-in Dinobots apart from the original 1980's releases is that they do not have rubsigns. (Note that I'm not sure if the Chinese Dinobots didn't have rubsigns as well.) They also have the same abbreviated Copyright information on their boxes as the Series 1 through 4 Chinese releases (I've confirmed this.)
There were also US-packaged Insecticons offered from 1987 to 1990, but it's presently unclear to me whether there are any differences between these and the original US releases. After all, several other US-packaged TFs were available as mail-in exclusives one or two years after their original release. The only thing strange about the Insecticons is that Takara continued to offer them as mail-ins for 4 years! I don't have any information that says they're any different from the US releases, but if I find out that they're different in any way, then I'll update this page accordingly. Recent feedback from Chinese fans suggests that the Insecticons may have been released in China. I'm skeptical of this, though. The timing doesn't real seem to fit, since the mail-in Japanese Insecticons were just in the process of ending when the Chinese line was starting up. After all, it could have just been old stock that was showing up in both China and Japan. But on the other hand, from 1987 to 1990 more and more Transformers in general were being made in China. So for now I'm still not really sure about the Insecticons.
So far there are only two of them: Optimus Prime and Astrotrain. Optimus Prime has "(C) Hasbro" blacked out on the back of the box. Astrotrain has ALL of the copyright/manufacturing information removed. Here are pictures of the altered Copyright strings of the two toys:
- Optimus Prime has black boxes around the the toy pictures on the front of the box. This is the same as the Mexican and Chinese releases, both of which came out around 1989. A strange Pre-Rub release I recently saw also had the black boxes.
- The cases say "Made in Japan" and the seller claims they were originally purchased in Japan.
- The cases that they came in are marked "PEL" instead of "Hasbro". (Some normal Springers, Octanes, and Astrotrains also came in the cases, strangely.)
Since these were, apparently, made in Japan, they had to have been made between 1984 and 1987, since starting in 1988 almost no Transformers were being made in Japan anymore. The black boxes on the Optimus Prime suggest a later release, so these were probably made in 1986 or 1987. Given that they were made and purchased in Japan, maybe PEL is a subcontractor that Hasbro and Takara used to manufacture Transformers. Maybe as their contract was expiring, they manufactured and sold a few TFs under the table, but altered the Copyright markings in an attempt to avoid getting into trouble.
Another theory I recently thought of is that these could be transitional variants not intended for release. That is, when Hasbro transitioned from "(C) Hasbro" to "(C) Hasbro Bradley", they had to alter the backs of their boxes by erasing the old copyright info and printing the new copyright info on top of it. On Optimus Prime in particular, this involved adding a black bar over the old copyright info, just like the mysterious version. Of course, the difference between the mysterious version and the Hasbro Bradley version is that it says "(C) Hasbro Bradley" on the Hasbro Bradley version. So maybe during the change, they printed out a couple test boxes to see what the erased copyright looked like before adding the new copyright. If that's the case, these aren't later reissues at all, but just weird not-intended-for-sale versions.
Anyway, whatever they really are, at least they're easy to tell apart from the originals. Just look for "(C) Hasbro" missing from the back of the box.
- Special Thanks to Fighbird/Martin from Autocon for providing me with the comparison images of Seaspray and Nightbeat. They were a big help in putting together this guide. Thank you!
- Thanks to Karl Hartman for letting me use his extensive list.
- Thanks to Megatoron from the Allspark for adding many toys to the list.
- Thanks to George Bee for discovering the Chinese Sunstreaker.
- Thanks to patobot for discovering the Chinese Tracks.