This section will be split into 2 sections; the first, dealing with the vintage Chinese cassettes (such as painted-details Frenzy, packages with the small black Chinese sticker on the package) to the more modern Chinese tapes (ie, the 2006 multi-colored clear tapes with new 'vintage' packaging and copystamps).
Vintage HK: Painted Steeljaw, blue-painted Steeljaw, painted Ramhorn, painted Rumble and Frenzy (vintage cards with Chinese/HK sticker in corner).
Modern HK: Clear-colored plastics, new printing of vintage card.
In this section, HK tapes are not to be confused with fake cassettes, such as the vintage KO Transistor Robots. Though these Chinese TFs may in-fact be illegally made (See: China for details) they do possess a standard Hasbro/Takara stamping, and thus are considered to be 'real', in the sense of variant documentation. (The legality of the existence of these tapes, well...) :-)
And they do have variants; mostly they seem to filter out from the UK (See: Steeljaw), but they are in fact Chinese/HK. Special thanks to TGPoss for information and pics of the various Hong Kong cassette variants (both loose and in-package comparisons). Enjoy!
Painted and blue-painted version (of Steeljaw)(Hong Kong). Units came carded with a Rewind print version. As an extra, the Rewind had no tape-roll sticker and is carded. The card came with silver weapons and with Chinese stickers. Since this sample is carded I can't see if it has the rub-sign or not. It has a Hasbro 1986 and a Takara 1986 Macau stamp. It's nice to know this is the only coloured cassette mode of Steeljaw that appeared in the entire run of the cartoon series. Normally the yellow back of the cassette was shown. (It's the shot where he magnetizes himself to someone or something but I can't recall which episode precisely.) The red cassette-print Steeljaw on your site is an even more rare HK/China Macau release. It also had it's text relocated from the bottom to the upper side of the cassette.
To the owner of the Steeljaw cassette, stamped Macau, sticker details, who feels that this might be a USA release: It's not. So far, all other sightings have been traced to a UK/HK source. Up to this point, the only Macau-stamped Steeljaw released was the one that came with Twincast in the Japanese line (Macau-stamped, sticker details, plus the 'weakspot' sticker). read more about that little pissing match if you really want to. I'm just happy that painted Steeljaw exists as a rare HK cassette.
The only thing rarer than a painted Steeljaw would be:
The print version of Ramhorn! (Hong Kong). It has yellow, red and silver cassette details and the tape-roll is much brighter red than the normal one. It has it's MC60 text on the LEFT side of the cassette. It has a Hasbro 1986 , Takara 1986 But no Macau stamp. It came carded with the Macau Eject print version which only had silver weapons. If you look closely at this version and compare him with the print Eject that came with the normal Ramhorn , you can see it is slightly different.
I have a Hasbro 1986, Takara 1986 Macau stamp (Macau) and a Hasbro 1986 , Takara 1986 (Hasbro) print version of Eject. There is a bar on the place where the Macau stamp should be. A weird thing is that this is the version that came packaged with the print Ramhorn, and all other printed versions were the common Macau releases. It's torso details are silver instead of gold. I know it's hard to see on these pictures, but the Macau and the Hasbro versions are really different. The Hasbro version is a bit deeper red than the other one and the numbers and letters are thinner and are definitely no production errors.
The Rumble printed version (Hong Kong): It has silver instead of gold torso-details and no leg and knee stickers . Funny thing is that it has it's rub-sign on it's torso and has plastic feet and shoulders. It came carded with a printed version of Ravage. Print version? Yes, Print version! Because if you look closely, it's a little bit different than all other Ravage's. It came with silver weapons. It only has a Hasbro '83 stamp and no Macau but was carded on a U.S. release with Chinese stickers.
Back of Rumble The Ravage printed version with rub-sign (Hong Kong): It came only with the printed Rumble with silver weapons and states Japan. If you look closely, you'll see that the spaces between the tape-roll sticker and the cassette holes are wider than all other ones. The holes themselves are different too. It is also of a lighter shade of silver, has bigger eyes and a bigger Japan text. The only stamp I can find is on its tail and states Hasbro '83 and no Macau and is the only Jaguar or Ravage version that has a stamp at all.
The Printed Buzzsaw version. Nominally considered a UK version (*if* it comes with the proper sticker on the side flap of Soundwave's box, indicating as such...otherwise, it's HK). It has a Takara co. ltd. Japan stamp 1983 . It has it's rub-sign above the tape-roll sticker. The gold of the wing stickers and the body are a bit more intense of colour than the other ones I have.
Ratbat sticker version with rub-sign: silver weapons. It has a Hasbro 1986 on the left and a Takara 1986 Macau stamp on the right side. It came carded with the Macau Frenzy sticker and print versions which had both silver weapons. How rare and expensive everyone thinks Ratbat may be, it's the most seen printed version of them all.
Notice the slightly different shades of purple between both versions.
Ratbat print version (Hong Kong) with rub-sign: had silver weapons. It has a Hasbro 1986 on the left and a Takara 1986 Macau stamp on the right side. It came carded with the Macau Frenzy sticker and print versions which had both silver weapons. How rare and expensive everyone thinks Ratbat may be, it's the most seen printed version of them all.
The printed Frenzy: Most popular and most sought-after of the cassettes, due to its mistkenly being thought of as an American release for a number of years (thanks for nothing, Lee's AFN). it had light blue cassette details and a rub-sign on its torso. It came packaged with silver torso details and weapons and has no leg and knee stickers. It is also one of the four cassettes with black plastic feet and shoulders. It came carded with a printed version of Ratbat and only has a Hasbro '83 stamp and no Macau but was carded on a U.S. release with Chinese stickers. Which is confusing because all other Hongkong versions (exclusive printed Rumble and Ravage) have the Macau '83 stamp too.
Other, less-important Frenzys: There is the Frenzy sticker version without rub-sign but has no leg and knee stickers. It has plastic black feet and shoulders and is brighter blue than the other TF sticker version , almost purple. It came carded with a printed version of Ratbat and had silver weapons. I think it's an U.S. release. The cassette has a Hasbro '83 stamp on the upper left side, a Takara co. ltd. stamp on the lower left side and a Macau 1983 stamp on the lower right side . This is pretty much on one cassette, so somehow I think it's some sort of release compromise between both companies and the missing or un-noticed piece of the HK puzzle.
The wrap-up, by TGPoss: "My theory on the printed versions is that they were a sort of tryout by Takara to make the common sticker versions of the first TF. toy-line look more authentic or just cheaper to produce. But the weird thing is that the Frenzy, Rumble, Buzzsaw, and Ravage versions have 1983 stamps. So they existed from the beginning and they can't be ment to be a Japan only-release because they all have Hasbro stamps too. Maybe the people of Macau could not satisfy Takara and Hasbro's wishes? So they were not ment for release on the market but were released anyways. They definitely are more rare and expensive than the common sticker versions. That is , until someone in Asia pulls open a box of brand new ones. Which happens way to much nowadays! -Best regards , Quint Gremmen 29-3-'05 Oss NL."
China is at it again. :-) Someone, somewhere is producing naughty pairs of cassettes in a vintage carded format. By far our favorite in 2006 has been the Frenzy and Laserbeak in clear Orange, Clear Blue, and just plain Clear plastic (in addition to their normal colors, a set in white, and a chrome gold set). Considered illegally produced material, these toys, like all other naughty Chinese TFs, do sport manufacturer copystamp and nifty new vintage cardbacks.
An interesting item of note: I've seen both normal and error card backs on the vintage tapes. That is, Frenzy/Laserbeak can have their card back...or a Ravage/Rumble card back. :-) I've also seen Ravage/Rumble tapes sporting the Frenzy/Laserbeak card *fronts*. Makes for a fun way of collecting them, huh?
(Editor's Note: It's a pickle. It's been accepted that vintage TFs with normal packages but Chinese-sticker overlays are considered somewhat 'legitimate' by the fan community. Even I accept that perhaps the painted versions of Steeljaw and Frenzy might have made it to the USA, had the product line for those continued.|
But they didn't make it to the USA. Only Chinese-carded versions have been found. Loose versions scattered to the winds of a lone painted Steeljaw, unfortunately, prove nothing. Their source gets traced back to the HK time and again. Still, they are accepted as somewhat legitimate, if not to the world, then at least to one part of it.
However, later modern versions of items without the sticker (or without the proper Chinese embedded overlay) are nothing more than illegal toy runs done without permission of the parent company.
Or so the the various product reps have told. I have no opinion one way or the other. :-)