I, Optimus

In the city of Kunming, located in southern China, there’s an area in the north of the Wuhua district that is the home to a handful of car dealerships and other automotive services. It’s an area not unlike many others in China or around the world except for one glaring exception: It’s also the home of a life-size, six story tall statue of Optimus Prime.

Ever since the inception of the Transformers toy line in 1984, the leader of the white hat Autobots has been the giant, authoritative but just Optimus Prime, a sentient robot with the ability to transform into an ordinary-seeming semi truck. Thanks to a popular Saturday morning cartoon show, once the most popular method of marketing toys before it was discovered $300 million theatrical films were much more profitable, the Transformers were a huge hit for Hasbro, the American toy company behind the line. And the best selling toy was unquestionably Optimus Prime, the inconspicuous red and blue long-haul expedited shipping truck that became a fearsome robot fighter.

Over the years, Transformers have become a pop-culture institution, and Optimus Prime has popped up not only in the aforementioned statues and summer tent pole blockbusters, but also in comic books, video games and a 1986 animated film in which he was voiced by no less an authority than Orson Welles, director of the greatest film of all time (and at least a couple very good ones).

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