In 1986, there was an easy way to show how cool you were; it revolved around the size, and the particular content of your Transformers collection. It was a complex affair; you needed to have the right balance of Mini-Autobots, Decepticon fighter jets, and mid-size Autobot vehicles. Bonus points were awarded for the gimmick-based robots that were beginning to appear (tripe-changers were good, but it needed to be an Autobot tripe-changer for proper Wreckers bragging rights). And everybody seemed to have Optimus Prime. There were two main ways to get your collection declared the best. Firstly, if somehow (an uncle or aunt overseas, or plain dumb luck), you managed to get hold of a toy that was never officially on sale in Britain (e.g. Swoop, Reflector, the Deluxe Insecticons, I could go on, but you'd probably think less of me), your collection instantly rocketed up the list. However, the easiest way of making yourself king of the castle was Jetfire.
Jetfire was a little odd, as Transformers go. The toy didn't look anything like the character in the cartoon. By itself, that wasn't too weird; you only need to look at Ironhide and Ratchet to see how often the cartoon deviated from how the toys really looked (in most cases because the toy was hideous), but Jetfire was even given a different name: Skyfire. The reasons for this may never be fully known, but it was probably a legal hang-over from the creation of the Transformer toyline. For the first few years of Transformers, Hasbro/Takara took toys from various different Japanese lines (this is why many of the first toys have cockpits and seats, as they originally came with figures to sit inside them). Jetfire was originally a Valkyrie fighter from the Japanese anime series Macross and was made by Takara's main Japanese rival, Bandai. As Takara couldn't sell the Jetfire toy in Japan, they got the animation model and name changed to Skyfire. In the rest of the world, Hasbro sold Jetfire for a short time, before the distribution rights to the Valkyrie toy got increasingly murky.
But the real appeal was the toy. Now, the sad fact about the early years of Transformers is that most of the toys were rubbish. Giant lumps of metal that, if you were lucky, you could move the arms up and down. And perhaps to the side on very rare occasions. Jetfire, though, was different. Knee and elbow joints, full arm movement, and a moveable head made him the most posable Transformer toy until the advent of Beast Wars over ten years later. Plus, he came with clip-on armour to make him even cooler. All the kids wanted him.
I didn't have Jetfire when I was seven, although I bought him off my friend about eight years later when he wanted to get rid of his toys. However, when I turned eight, I discovered Smash Hits via one of my aunts (we had fights on the playground over the lyrics of Heaven Is A Place On Earth, for goodness sake. Belinda Carlisle would have been proud of us), so it didn't matter much really.
Recently, Hasbro launched a mini-line called Transformers: Classics. It's a small assortment of figures designed to keep fans happy until the film toys come out later in 2007, the idea being that they've used the toy technology of the 21st century to remake some of the original characters of the 1984 line. So yes, we get an Optimus Prime and a Megatron, but also new versions of Starscream, Mirage, Grimlock, Astrotrain, Hot Rod, Bumblebee, and…Jetfire.
The new version is quite impressive, merging the Macross and the cartoon versions of the character into one toy. It has the full range of movement of the original, includes armour (with movable booster rockets!), but the best bit is that it comes with a removable helmet, so you can choose whether you want the cartoon or the original face! Awesome. I'm off to be seven. Tomorrow, it's Tiffany and The Reynolds Girls. Consider yourselves warned…