Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not-Quite-Transformers Feature: WST Dinorobots

I don't typically feature items that aren't made by either Hasbro or TakaraTomy that nonetheless clearly attempt to replicate Transformers characters. There's a whole line of argument about whether such products are legal or—even if they are technically not illegal—ethical, but the flip side is that fans have gotten some really nifty toys that would almost certainly have never been created otherwise. Generally, I try to avoid that debate these days, but for Dinobot Week, I'm making an exception. Basically, since I don't own any of the G1 Dinobots anymore (my brother has that part of the collection, although I'm sure he'd have happily contributed to the cause, had I asked), but I do own these little guys, this seemed to be a good opportunity to say "I make the rules for my own blog, and that means I can also break them when I deem it necessary!"

A few years ago, a mostly then-unknown company called Justitoys started doing a line that was originally to be called "WST Dinobots." WST comes from "World's Smallest Transformers," a popular (if incorrect) fan name for the "Smallest Transforming Transformers" line. The first toy in the line was even called "Snarl." However, future toys in the line demonstrated a greater awareness that Justitoys was treading on dubious legal ground (at best), and so they decided to play it a bit safer by not using any names that were clearly trademarked by other companies, so the line became "WST Dinorobots," and the other toys tended to be called by the characters' old Tech Spec functions, rather than by their names. Still, they're the Dinobots to me, so from left to right, here's Snarl, Grimlock, Sludge, Slag, and Swoop.

These toys are amazingly faithful (if scaled-down) representations of the original toys (in fact, that's why I put the quarter in the picture, just so it's clear that I am talking about these smaller toys, as opposed to the original ones), which means that the legality of what Justitoys is doing is still in a gray area, at best. One could easily consider these toys "derivative works" of copyrighted designs. But that's the last I'm going to say about legality. I'm not going to get into the question of whether Hasbro or TakaraTomy can or even should do something about this purported infringement. That's up to them.

Although I just said that these toys are "amazingly faithful" to the original toys, Justitoys did make a few deliberate changes. Some, I'm sure, were dictated by the tiny size (some toys have fists that are pegged into the arms, rather than sliding out of them), while others attempted to "fix" things that were considered "flaws" in the original designs (Grimlock's head slides forward just a bit in robot mode, so it's not quite so far back from the torso as it is in the original toy). It also seems that the designers tended toward "cartoon-accurate" colors, as well (Slag's head is red, here, as in the cartoon, whereas the original toy has a black head. I'd have preferred black, myself). In fact, the "main" version of WST Swoop has a blue chest, in keeping with the cartoon version of Swoop, which followed the Diaclone version's coloring. The "red" version of Swoop you see here is actually the TFSource "Stocking Stuffer" version, which I got simply because I preferred the original toy's colors (My brother got the "blue" WST Swoop).

One more note, for the sake of accuracy. Although these toys were sold packaged with stickers, there were early widespread reports that they didn't adhere to the toys well, so I never even bothered with them. Instead, I got stickers from Reprolabels, designed to go with these toys. I even got the WST "rub symbols" to make them as G1-like as I could, although you really can't see any of the rubsigns in these pictures (Grimlock's is on his foot, and you can kind of make out the one on Swoop's dino mode, if you know where to look).

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