Friday, June 05, 2009

VINTAGE SPACE TOAST TOUR PASADENA (CONCLUSION): Mired in the past like a wooly mammoth in the La Brea tar pits of roboplastic history

Digging through the reels and reels of library newspaper microfilm searching for 25 year old toy robots ads is like fishing for fossils in the La Brea tar pits. Deeper and deeper I dove into the tar of time to find fossilized records that stand as the only proof these invincible guardians of world freedom and robot cars from the future roamed the southern California plain ages ago. As I waded through the amassed murky microfilm depths of the Pasadena Star and Los Angeles Times, I wondered what great catastrophe caused all these mighty robots and mighty vehicles to become extinct? Why is it that only the Transformers survived today, the coelacanth cockroaches of toy robot space toaster evolution? Considering the colossal marketing failures of many of these lines it's a miracle that toy robots ever found an audience. As I dug deeper I realized these ads weren't the fossilized historical record of a great catastrophe that wiped out toy super robots, they were more like the Darwin awards of la evoluciĆ³n roboplastico.


Toys International 11/29/84
I noticed that early GoDaiKin ads tended to not specify the cost of individual figures but instead included a general range of prices for the whole line, or not mention price at all. The cost of these figures is often cited as the reason GoDaiKins became extinct, but what a beautiful failure they were. I've found that during the early years of the line, GoDaiKins were advertised mostly by department stores and independent toy stores who were trying to cater to a more discriminating toy robots buyer-someone who didn't mind paying extra for imported Japanese robots significantly larger than what Transformers or GoBots had to offer (and with crazier helmets). By 1985 Toys R Us began advertising them but they were still amongst the most expensive robots TRU carried. I once talked to the husband of a former toy store owner here in Rapid City and he said the market was just not ready for GoDaiKins because there was no reasonably priced entry level robot-they only came in "expensive" and "more expensive". But boy were those ads pretty. GoDaiKin was the only way you could get a Voltron toy in 1984 and oftentimes during Christmas season of '84 retailers would take full advantage of this, prominently placing GoDaiKin GoLion at the center of attention. One such example is this November 29, 1984 ad from Toys International. There are no prices stated but it features a great lineup of robots including the GoDaiKin Gardian, Combattra, GoLion, Daimos and a Scopedog from Armored Trooper VOTOMS. Here's to you, GoDaiKin and all the other early 80s high end imported Japanese super robots-the world has never seen a finer display of ornate robots with complicated space hats.


The Guild 12/14/83
I've been doing this ad looking thing for a while now and in all my travels I only ever found one for Takara's Diakron Robot Cars of the Future. That was during Vintage Space Toast Tour Denverado and boy did I almost die of excitement that day. After running a couple rolls in Los Angeles it became clear to me that there wasn't a Circus World there in '83 so I wasn't expecting to find Diakron ads. I thought it was possible Diakron was exclusive to that chain, since George Dunsay said it was exclusive to Toys R Us and I figured maybe he just meant Circus World because they were the only place I've ever found running an ad for Diakron Robot Cars. But lo and behold, a store I've never heard of called "The Guild" had 'em and they even mention a competitor selling them for $11.95. That makes at least three places in '83 selling these things. Now that I've got ads for the cars, the Multiforce 14 and the Robot Watch, the only Diakron ad I'd like to find now would be one for the Power Dashers. Normally I'd say my chances of finding those wouldn't be that great, but who knows what the future holds? (Besides robot Lamborghinis, of course.)


Karls Toys 12/18/86
Last time on Spacy Vintage Pasadena Toasters I was writing about how some good stuff from Robotech wasn't in the Robotech toy line. There was at least one great piece, though-the large Robotech SDF-1 by Matchbox. But ads for it have proven to be the most elusive 'moldy grails' I've searched for in my career as a toy robots archaeologist. The large SDF-1 was the Omega Supreme of the Robotech line and I know I saw it at Playworld lots of times as a kid, but why why WHY couldn't I find anyone amongst all the different 80s toy retailers advertising it? Well leave it to Karls Toys in Los Angeles to come through, and not only once but a couple of times. Thanks to Karl I now have ads for the SDF-1 at both regular price and this clearance "coupon" for $12.99. Karls was always a bit on the high side, though, and Kay Bee ended up trying to give these away at 10 bucks. I think it's funny how in the cartoon they could never get the SDF-1's spacefold system to work but ultimately it did do one last successful hyperspace jump-to the clearance bin galaxy.


With the licensing frenzy that surrounded Transformers in 1985, one would think Hasbro had the monopoly on crazy transforming licensed merchandise. But while there were Transformers robot wristwatches and some TF radios with detachable figures, that was as far as the Transformers went in terms of transforming mechanical or electronic merchandise not part of the figure line. Actually it was other toy robots lines that way outdid the Transformers when it came to tie-in transforming robot products that had real world applications. GoBots had the transforming radio car and Voltron went all sorts of crazy with flashlights, binoculars, calculators and even 110 film cameras, all of which had an element of Voltronic transformation to them. In the study of roboplastic evolution this gaining of extra functionality demonstrates how toy robots were extremely adaptive to their environments. However, just because you can make a Voltron that turns into binoculars doesn't mean you should. Toy robots archaeologists have a term for these failed adaptive mutations as demonstrated by Voltron's willingness to turn into just about anything-it's "bad third party licensing".

Karls Toys 12/12/85

What's great about this Karls Toys ad from December of '85 is how it features many of the more interesting products from the world of transforming Voltron calculators and other wilderness survival gear. But as I look at these things I'm beginning to understand why a primary license holder like Hasbro would be reluctant to let other companies make transforming figures outside of Takara. Some of these Voltron transforming things don't communicate effectively the core aspect of Voltron-combining space lions-and they don't fit well within the established Voltron fantasy. Sure there were Voltrons in multiple places throughout the fictitious Voltron galaxy, but in what universe could you count on calculator Voltron to save the day? Hasbro doesn't seem so wrong now for not licensing everything that came their way (but I think that 110 camera would have been the basis for a great Reflector). HASBRO KNEW SOME THINGS JUST DON'T MAKE SENSE WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A TRANSFORMING ROBOT SPACE WAR.


While I'm searching through the old newspapers I come across a lot of announcements promoting 'live' appearances by many action figure celebrities. Darth Vader is the king of these types of celebrity appearances, followed closely by He-Man and then probably Spider-Man. So when I saw this ad for a Mattel "Mighty Toys Explorama" being held at the Glendale Galleria from October 31-November 3 1985 I figured it was just another He-Man appearance. But then I looked closer and holy crap was I surprised!

It was also a Wheeled Warriors live appearance! Oh what I would give to see pictures of a golf cart sized Saw Boss! Knowing that once there was a time when giant talking, spinning Wheeled Warriors roamed the California basin is almost too much to take! Since the Wheeled Warriors online fandom is super small and powerless I don't know where to even begin looking to find out more about these or see if they even still exist. Chances are they were probably lost, destroyed or people working at Mattel still use them as personal mobility scooters to ride around their offices.


Toy City 12/03/90
Finding Zargons buried in those reels was every bit as tough as freeing a mammoth from the tar but Vintage Space Toast Tour Pasadena was a great time with many exciting new things learned about the toy robots wars of the 80s. It was also pretty hellacious because the library was open 12 hours in a row and boy was I tempted to stay that whole time. Of the three days I went, the longest shift I did was 10 hours and boy was I dying. Old microfilms don't turn into robots ads by themselves so I just had to power through it. Even on the days I only did 8 hours straight I never took a break for lunch. I think I lost some weight. I was in danger of being fossilized by my work just like the La Brea tar pits turn sabretooth tigers into bones. And the already old and busted microfilm machine even broke down halfway through but I just took the lens apart and taped the broken bits back together and kept going. It was a marathon endurance test of man and machine but I came away with a couple hundred new* ads of long since extinct roboplastic species for the Vintage Space Toaster Palace. I'm happy with what I found and as I flew back home I was reminded of that last scene in Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum is looking out the window of the helicopter. As he watched the birds fly over the ocean I know he was thinking two thoughts: a) the past can suck you in like the La Brea tar pits and b) like the dinosaurs, man and toy robots weren't meant to live together.

*over 23 years old


Mick said...

Toy robots sure were expensive. Looking back at the prices, I am surprised my parents actually bought me any in the 80s. I guess I was lucky after all to have sunstreaker.

Dr. Geektarded said...

Love the SDF-1 advert. I was one of those lucky kids who got the $10 SDF-1 at Kaybee Toys. Still have it. It's a beauty. Even back then, I knew it was a pretty special item and mostly just left it displayed in battle mode on my dresser, so it still looks great.

KB must have bought a bunch of the left over Robotech stock because that's where I got most all of my collection; all on clearance. (Children's Palace provided the clearanced Godaiken Mechas, though :)

Thanks for the kick-butt, nostalgia-inducing posts.

Dr. Geektarded

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Oh boy Mick, when that Devastator for the new Transformer movie comes out it's supposed to retail at $100. And with stores starting to charge more lately, people who buy toy robots today are creeping ever closer to what our moms paid in the 80s, even adjusted for inflation.

It's great to see you're around Doctor G. I wish I could remember GoDaiKen stuff at all, and even moreso on clearance. Thanks for the kick butt, nostalgia inducing comment.

Weasel said...

$1.99? For Actionmasters? Jeez, I paid 40 bucks when I got a pair of AM 'Bees in the late 90s.

I'm gonna go cry now.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

That was most likely a clearance price so I wouldn't feel too bad. Or maybe I would because I missed out on the clearance. But maybe I wouldn't because I don't really care about Action Masters. Don't they still cost around $5.99 even today? I don't keep up on secondary market Action Master prices much but on my way back from Denver last year I did run into a comic store with an AM Shockwave and they only wanted $6 for it. If your Bumblebees were sealed for $20 each I'd say that wasn't too bad.

You know, I don't know who that Action Master in the ad is supposed to be. I think it's Banzai-Tron but the illustration has all these horns coming up from the shoulders. Maybe it's one of those early promotional images of a prototype Banzai-Tron or even possibly a character that was never made. I just can't quite figure it out.


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