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A World Mostly Transformed
A Philippines-based Transfan point of view

An Editorial by Lastmaximal

MapImagine a world without a single Toys R Us. Or a single Target, KayBee or Wal*Mart. Where shipping is hell and the post office is almost always slower than bad traffic. Where - oh, you know what, never mind. Let's just say you'd be glad to be someplace else. I think that's taxed your imagination enough.

Such is life - well, a Transfan's life, and a big slice of it - on this side of the ocean. While some US-based fans grouse about having to import the J-stuff and other such hard-to-find material, they remain the lucky ones - if only because they're certain to receive a good 80-90% of the product line firsthand. Not satisfied with your dull-plastic RiD Prime, or your painted-window Bullet Trains? Be glad you have them, we says. To paraphrase - er, mangle - a quote from a TF message board, America's really one of the few places in the world where you'll hear such complaints. I doubt anyone in the Philippines loses sleep over how his Armada Optimus Prime isn't the corrected-arm variant. This is probably because they're too busy enjoying the fact that the toy made it to the local stores to begin with.

TOYS IN THE HOOD

Which is not to say we're completely toyless. There's been a lot of pride taken in being a country that is exposed to both Japanese and American merchandise, and I fully stand by that reputation. However, the stuff isn't exactly as prolific as the reports and the buzz make it sound; stores aren't exactly overflowing with the stuff.

Back in the day G1 stuff was pretty much everywhere. They played recorded toy commercials in department stores, and distribution was reasonably good. This trend continued through the end of G1 and the heyday of Beast Wars, with BW having a strong presence on store pegs and shelves.

What I've heard of the local system's workings involves consigners who import the toys for department stores; they go through a list of upcoming toys and pick the more popular figures who are likely to sell, and import just those. This of course puts the figure selection and availability at the mercy of personal taste and economic prudence, and effects would be showing once Beast Machines debuted.

The BM show was not imported by any of the local networks, possibly due to uncertain popularity or because it went from syndication to Fox. [I'd assume it was more of the former, since we're seeing the show on local stations now, IN 2003.] This and some other considerations prompted trouble with toy distribution. Beast Machines took forever to show up in regular-distribution stores, with a mixed bag of waves sitting on shelves in late 2000. Buzzsaw, Mirage, Scavenger and Longhorn were only seen in specialty/collector shops, while the likes of Obsidian and Deluxe Primal were nowhere to be seen. The late arrival combined with the lack of show support and bad stock planning resulted in the toys staying on shelves too long for comfort; it was of little surprise to see that stores would, sadly, ignore the stellar follow-up Battle For The Spark line completely.

However, there was - VERY surprisingly - a sudden 'stopgap' of sorts that had limited BW2 stuff popping up in most stores that shocked the living daylights out of most local Transfans - this writer not least of them. To suddenly have these figures in mainstream stores was a completely unprecedented occurence; this had never ever happened before. And, considering the figures the consigners picked up were mostly the ones from BW - thus producing markedly low sales - it would likely not happen again with another pure Japanese line.

Then came 2001 and a seeming resurgence in local reception to the Transformers. With nostalgia for many things rising side by side with the awareness of an existent fanbase, TFs once again seemed to be a big thing and a smart investment. [BTW, I find it interesting how the US and Japan always get stuff, because it's one of Hasbro/Takara's core lines that always sees release. Here we have to wait until some bigwig thinks it's a 'good idea'.] Whatever the reason, retailers apparently decided to ride the wave and imported the Spychangers, Build Team, Autobot Brothers and Decepticon Commandos - following up with Team Bullet Train, the Pred Trio and Sky Byte. The gambit proved successful - with just the beasts lingering on most store shelves - but many local fans remained perplexed over why stores didn't think to import the big-name RiD players: Prime, Megatron and Magnus.

Armada follows in the offbeat-distribution footsteps of its predecessors, with only waves 1 and 2 seen for sure locally. The messy distribution, the continued markup [as with RiD, deluxe-size figures were now $14 instead of $10], the declining nostalgia wave and continuing lack of a supporting show [despite the localized Cartoon Network Toonami block showing chunks of Beyblade and CrushGear eps] began to stall sales, making future waves' chances of importation bleak.

What happens to the more serious collectors, you say? What of the ones looking for the figures the big stores don't import, or Japanese stuff, or other such non-mainstream goodness? This, fellow 'bots, is where the collector and specialty shops come in.

MAKE DEALS, NOT WAR

Where regular toy stores fail, expect 'specialty' and collector stores to try and succeed at any cost. As altruistic as this ideal may seem, once one figures out it's the consumer who foots that cost there will be a lot of thinking twice about that particular facade.

Don't get me [too] wrong; the atmosphere is almost always great inside one of these shops. Especially the way they're kept in these parts, either with stuff in glass cases or with boxes upon boxes of the stuff one is really looking for. Sometimes I walk into a shop for the express purpose of breathing in the figures. It's one of the most refreshing things to pop into one of these stores after an hour or so of putting up with the blandness of a department store. These shops have character, and they often have your characters as well.

These shops figure out ways to get the stuff people want. On a trip to one specialty store I might see Transformers stuff I'd never see in an ordinary mall's toy department: a reissue God Ginrai, BW Metals Silverbolt vs Rampage 2-pack, the book reissue Megatron, a Clear Hot Rodimus reissue, a Car Robots Fire Convoy [one of each packaging type - window and non-window], hell, even a TRU Store Exclusive Reissue PowerMaster Optimus Prime. And there's more on the shelves on the other walls. Each sealed box, of course, is also lovingly wrapped in medium-gauge plastic. For protection against fanboy drool.

There are some great deals to be had, too. In 1998 I found a G1 Rampage, with the figure and inserts in good condition in a rather waterlogged box, for above $5 and under $10. I still can't bring myself to part with the damn thing, even though termites got into the box and he now stands weaponless next to my other find, a UK Exclusive Thunderclash [which i snagged sealed for what, $14?].

Yes, much of it is very sweet. BW2 Dirgegun for what amounts to $15? BW Metals Convoy vs Megatron [with videocassette] for around $40ish? Don't mind if I do. They're also a good place to find older stuff [which, as one of my theories puts it, they may have hoarded while waiting for the toyline to hit it big - which may never have happened, or at least not like they wanted], which is usually priced fairly - er, fair.

What gets me about some of these stores is the scalperiffic way they sometimes do things. It never fails, given that they follow the principle of 'sell it, and they will come - no matter the cost'. That same store is the one that imported Armada stuff ahead of the regular department stores, and proceeded to sell the stuff at TWICE the US store price. This is the store that got a hold of the aforementioned BM figures and proceeded to sell them with a markup the size of Trypticon. Given little to no recourse - where else are they to go? - some local Transfans go ahead and pick things up anyway. Admittedly, the prices still don't amount to total outrage [at least not to persons with stronger currency], but the system of 'find something hot the stores don't have/ran out of, jack the price tag to the moon and watch people make you rich[er]' doesn't really appeal to me. Or maybe it would if I could actually afford to pick up some of the stuff I want and laugh at those who can't.

But yeah, there's a lot of things to love about the local collector shops still. Odds are they'll have what you're looking for and more, if you can face up to the price tag. And while some price tags can be a little daunting, they can also be remarkably fair.

BACKWATER BACK MARKET

This metropolis also holds several back doors and back alleys toward completing a collection, fortunately. While we're not without skyrocketing prices, we're not exactly without good solid Transfandom either.

I haven't met too many fellow local fans, but I've seen enough to get a reasonable spectrum of things. We've got the same kinds of people as anywhere else, pretty much: the ones in it for the money, the ones in it for the toys, the ones in it for the kewlfactor [you know, bragging rights] of having two or more of every figure ever made, even ones in it for their kids. In my trading and selling experience I've met Transfans who took stuff off my hands, sold/traded me stuff I needed, and/or directed me toward others who could do either or both. Either way I've always found my fellow locals to be of some help and rarely ever none. If nothing else, they provide interesting TF conversation.

Then there's the junk shops, which would be good collector shops if the selection were only consistently good and the stuff were not consistently in pieces. One particular shop I frequent has good-condition junk of all kinds and a bin of sorts set aside for old toys. My first find was a McDonald's Tankorr for around 45c [as opposed to one collector shop's $4-$5], and I recall one of my friends finding a Wreck-Gar [!] in good condition but without weapons for around $1.50. I've heard of people piecing together entire figures from the parts strewn through the mess, but it doesn't always work out as nicely as it could. The place remains my best source for loose spark crystals though, and there are parts and figures from other lines to be found too.

Then, If you're feeling adventurous - and a bit odd-nostalgic - you can take a trip to a nearby bazaartown to rustle up some bootlegs. The bootlegs, oddly enough, usually make it to the cheaper mainstream malls but this town in particular is the local source for the stuff. Deluxe Nightscream, the all-original BM Primal mold, Deluxe-ish Depth Charge, and all the mini Optimal Optimi you can shake a stick at have their homes here. Many bootlegs from other lines [one friend of mine found a Pegasmon and a KO Mach Kick, Corahda and G1 Brainstorm here] are also present if you look everywhere. And everywhere's exactly where you want to look if you want to find some really interesting stuff: I once saw a Power Rangers DX Ninja MegaFalconZord bootlegged from the less common Japanese version [the Falcon had the wing lights and a light-up button on its back]. Of course, while all this doesn't really compare to bringing a fresh store-bought TF home, it's still really good fun of a completely different shade.

FAN THE FLAMES BUT DON'T FLAME THE FANS

As one might expect, the local fandom does more or less balance things out. Most of those I've met have been fans since G1 rolled around, and there are plenty who just have Transformers as a sub-hobby, under the [more locally popular] general mecha-hobby umbrella. There are those, however, who are Transfans first and fans of other things second, and it's a very refreshing thing to be interacting with them.

Of course, it's not a perfect world, and there are some annoying elements. I once told a friend that if we were to ever organize a big convention for Transfans, half the room would be scalpers and similar 'collector' salespeople trying to capitalize on the Big Money possibilities, while one-fourth would be the know-it-all fanboys [yes, I believe there ARE those here who exist to tell others things they already know], and the remaining one-fourth would be mecha fans lured in by the concept of robot toys [and while they have some good eggs, those shores aren't exactly the calmest, levelest ones I know of].

But by and large I have found that in most fans, there is a sincere interest in all things Transformers - yes, in most cases, ALL things Transformers - and a lot of respect for the lines and the things they entail. Interestingly, we leave most of the du jour debate up to the online, worldwide Transfans, and we just enjoy what we get.

Which isn't to say there's no intelligent discussion there: I've also come across fans with interesting fanfic ideas, unique collecting styles and ethics, and engaging opinions on many Transformers matters. For the most part, though, we don't take our hobby too seriously, and we've managed to keep it from overcoming us. Well, mostly.

It's an interesting thing to note that I've come across very few MISB collectors locally, and those that may exist would likely be regarded with a puzzled look. The same kind of look [with less intensity, perhaps] that may greet a strict-dieting runway model in Ethiopia. As I've mentioned above, most are content enjoy what is there and not be so focused on maintaining figure value and whatnot [which is honestly one of the few reasons some local fans even ARE MISB collectors]. We recognize that toy distribution can be very touch and go, and we more often than not look upon even HAVING Transformers here as a privelege or a big windfall.

SHIP HAPPENS

Of course, this shouldn't be taken to mean we're ALWAYS content with what manages to claw itys way across the ocean to us. Many local fans, myself included, have elected to make deals with fans from the other side of the world in order to share the wealth of Transformers from either end. The cool bootlegs, plenty of BW2 stuff, and other things that were at one point readily available here have been shipped out, and various US-based store exclusives, Playskool TFs and other consigner-overlooked figures [only available here at insane markup, and that's not even all of them] have been shipped in. This of course comes at what is often GREAT shipping cost, and plenty of waiting for either end [depending on what mode of shipping they could afford].

Of course, the high shipping and long wait have often discouraged foreign Transfans from going throug hthe trouble of dealing with fans based on this end. Throw in [understandably] high shipping prices and restrictions from most online retailers, and the fact that most PO personnel would lose their own noses if they weren't attached, and one can see what we're up against. The trend toward charging high shipping from these shores has even been misinterpreted of late as something that partly smells of markup and even cheating; this is an unfortunate misunderstanding that seems to tarnish most local fans' stellar reputations.

A WORLD TRANSFORMING

Imagine a world without a single Toys R Us. Or a single Target, KayBee or Wal*Mart. Where shipping is hell and the post office is almost always slower than bad traffic. Yeah, I know, it's still a little hard.

Imagine the denizens of that same world finding ways to bring their own TFs in their own way. Imagine them gladly participating in Transfandom along with fans from across the globe. Imagine these fans looking forward to every TF that comes down the line for what it is - a new toy, whatever its weaknesses and strengths. Imagine having new Transformers showing up in stores to be a pleasant surprise as opposed to something expected, where the thrill is at least partly faded.

Yes, it's home to me all right. It's not exactly the penultimate fan paradise, but it's one of the few places where fans learn to really appreciate their fandom. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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