Monday, January 25, 2010

BEYOND THUNDER TOM: I should have known that robot wasn't a Japanese rock star by his lack of Heavy Metal

Sometimes I'll run across an ad for an old toy robot that looks awesome but whose origins and authenticity are questionable. To better illustrate this dilemma one must first imagine the most incredible awesome great guy in the universe. For the purposes of this demonstration we will use Bruce Dickinson. Now imagine if Bruce Dickinson was Japanese and you'd never heard of him before but one day you're at the store and there on the shelves is a toy robot of Bruce Dickinson. Would you buy it? Now imagine if in our scenario where Bruce Dickinson was Japanese you came across the robot of a Japanese Bruce Dickinson impersonator. It would be equally as awesome but would you know? Would you care? Now imagine in our scenario of Japanese toy robot Bruce Dickinson impersonators that there was a real Japanese band named Mosquito Butthole and they made robots of the lead singer and you saw those one day at the store but you never heard of Mosquito Butthole before. Would you still appreciate its awesomeness? These imaginary situations best illustrate two main points-a) that in the world of old toy robots ads, being fake and recognized is better than being original but obscure and b) that I am terrible at writing metaphors.


FAO Schwartz 11/13/77
Just because I don't recognize a robot doesn't mean it's crap, but that doesn't mean crap isn't cool. This first guy up is a good illustration of what I'm talking about. "Construction Super Robot" is from an ad I found in an FAO Scwartz circular from November of 1977. Here's the text which appeared separately from the picture:

"NEW! CONSTRUCTION SUPER ROBOT Tremendous power. Walks & runs on wheels. Construct him in various positions! Length 14" Batteries included. Ages 4 up. 391-30-0 $14.95"

When I first saw this I immediately recognized it had a lousy name but also that it had the innards of a familiar set of robots-the Japanese mecharobos that went on to become the Shogun Warrior Zargon. This toy shares the same style of reconfigurable limbs and accessories attached to a motorized body that Zargon had. I have no idea if Construction Super Robot is some kind of Zargon knockoff or if it's a legit licensed toy based on another less familiar robot in the mecharobo line because my knowledge of the Japanese origins of many toy robots is woefully inadequate. I'm sure there's someone out there banging their head on the keyboard yelling, "Hey! That's the comic relief character from the classic anime Super Milfy Robot Fighter Zargbotendizer-5 you idiot!" To which I respond, Well, maybe if Super Milfy Robot Fighter Zargbotendizer-5 wasn't such a piece of crap he would be more famous and I would know that.


Zayre 11/12/78
Goldblatt's 11/23/78

Eagle 12/14/78
I occasionally come across ads for very obvious bootlegs but there is a special kind of subtle robot ripoff that blurs the line between the traditional direct knockoff of a specific line and toys that are what I call "synchronistically marketed" to capitalize on a general trend. Such was the case with Sonic Sam and Thunder Tom here in these ads from teh Christmas season of 1978. At first glance they looked to me like a couple of Shogun Warrior knockoffs, given that they were unusually tall for action figures and were described as not needing batteries plus being able to fire various projectiles, which were two hallmarks of Shogun Warrior ads. Upon closer inspection the bodies didn't match any existing Shogun Warrior but thanks to a recent eBay auction for Sonic Sam and an old message board post about Thunder Tom I was able to figure out that these guys were indeed bootlegs, just not of the Shogun Warrior variety. Actually they're Taiwanese knockoffs of another Japanese giant robot line based on a cartoon called Blocker Gundan 4 Machine Blaster. The Peace Phantom packaging tried to emulate Shogun Warriors by incorporating Shogun-ish graphics and paralleling the Shoguns' "Invincible Guardians of World Freedom" tagline with gibberish text that read "Peace Phantom of World Freedom". These two robots' names may sound kind of silly but I think Mattel could have learned a thing or two from Peace Phantoms, specifically about westernizing their robots' names. I've always felt the Mattel should have come up with names more relatable to kids who had no idea what a Mazinga or a Raydeen was. All I know is if I was in a fight I'd want a guy named "Thunder Tom" on my side. Coincidentally, official licensed versions of the robots the Peace Phantoms were based on were marketed by Mattel in Italy as a line called Astro Robot. I've seen Italian Astro Robots toys pull hundreds of dollars even in crappy shape on ebay so I'm kind of interested in seeing how well Sonic Sam will do when his auction ends in a couple days, even though he is a knockoff.


GeeBees 12/15/85
I stole this from eBay

This next guy I kind of recognized because I'd seen this robot knocked off before. It's a combiner made up of five motorcycles originally from a cartoon called Galactic Gale Baxinger. The GeeBees ad above left from December 15, 1985 shows one of Baxinger's most common bootlegs, the 5-in-1 Mustanger. (There was also another bootleg of Baxinger sold in the Transistor Robots line where it was called "Cy-Robots".) Since Baxinger didn't make it over to the US officially this is a scenario akin to discovering the lead singer of Mosquito Butthole bootlegged as a five motorcycle robot team. Who cares what it's called, if I had these bikes they would immediately become the vehicles for SCHIZOPHRENIC ROBONINJA COMMANDO DEATHFORCE, my super sentai team made of 3 3/4 inch Snake Eyes, Zartan, Spider-Man, Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi.


Toys & Gifts Outlet 12/15/85
We wrap things up with the case of the Japanese Bruce Dickinson impersonator coming over and saying, Hey I am Japanese Bruce Dickinson! This Toys & Gifts Outlet ad from December 15, 1985 is very awesome because the bootleggers didn't bother coming up with a fake name like Sonic Sam or Mustanger, they just went with what the robot was called originally. "Govarian Robot" is from an old cartoon with the great name Psycho Armor Govarian. While I can't be 100% sure the robot in this ad is a bootleg, it probably is. The original toy was of course Japanese so that toy's box would be in Japanese. Unless Toys & Gifts Outlet had a bilingual ad writer they wouldn't be able to come up with much of a description if they were selling the real deal. However there was a Taiwanese bootleg of Govarian that had a box printed in English so I'm thinking that's the toy this ad is for. One thing bugs me a little and that's how the Taiwanese bootleg had metal feet and legs but no metal anywhere else yet this ad claims this toy has a metal center. Then again this ad claims a lot of things. Govarian is a transforming robot, but only if you consider laying down and pointing its toes a transformation. I give the ad writer lots of credit for coming up with that "transforms from fierce robot warrior to mighty intergalactic battle vehicle" line because it sounds great when in truth Govarian had a transform worse than the GoBot Tank. Who cares if the toy sucks when the line art looks that good, though. So the question here is, if you paid nine bucks to see Japanese Bruce Dickinson and felt ripped off, would you be more or less pissed off if you had the real thing? Well the answer is that here in the real world, Govarian was never really all that famous anyway and the real Bruce Dickinson doesn't transform from fierce robot warrior to mighty intergalactic battle vehicle. Not because he can't, but because you'll never get him to for 9 bucks.

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