Wednesday, December 07, 2011

How to make Rocket Punch (and other lessons in Combatra-tive Dissonance)

The 36th seal of Roboplastic Apocalypse gets ground into a great big juicy super alloy flavored smoothie like a giant robot's arm caught in a blender! Yeah it's another round of Heavy Mattel Mania in the Kingdom Roboplastico as we fire up the GoBackatron 1978thousand on a mission to complete my list of 10 things Shogun Warriors did before or better than the Transformers any other American Toy Robots of Japanese Toy Robots! It's a celebration of everyone's favorite invincible guardians of world freedom and all their milestones in engineering, marketing, cross merchandising, and even porno magazine appearances. What cost more in 1978-a Shogun Warriors Combatra giftset or the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars? What costs more now-a 1978 Combatra giftset on eBay or a $375 fruit juicer from Bed Bath and Beyond? Find out all this and more in this ARE YOU READY FOR SOME ROCKET FISTING edition of the Podcastalypse!

Or download it directly


Today's podcastalypse was inspired by the life changing event also known as eBay Auction 250943800281 where some guy decided to sell five toy spaceships in a box, causing me great emotional distress and much retreating deeply into the pages of my intro to psychology textbook. The psychologists who wrote it have a term they call "cognitive dissonance" which describes the tremendous feeling of mental anguish brought about when your actions must conflict with your beliefs. There are many great examples of cognitive dissonance throughout history, like when Jesus had to go through with the crucifixion, when Lee had to surrender to Grant at Appomattox, when Luke had to fight Darth Vader, and when I had to not bid on eBay auction 250943800281 because I was saving up money to get my wife a fruit juicer for Christmas.


Of course like all American toy robots of Japanese toy robots, the Shogun Warriors has their roots in Japan where all great toy robots start out with better cartoons and better names. One robot in particular, the 5 spaceship combiner Combattler V, was created by the same guys who would go on to do GoLion. It's like vehicle Voltron done right-only five vehicles and some really fantastic ship designs. Plus in the cartoon he does some crazy things with lightning and yo-yos. But the greatest significance of Combattler V was that unlike the three spaceship combiner Getta Robo which preceded it, Combattler's combination was physically possible and could be adapted into toys. By the time Popy's DX series Combattler V was imported into the US in 1978 under the Shogun Warrior line as the U-Combine Combatra, the Micronauts' combining spaceship robot Giant Acroyear had already been released. So Combatra wasn't technically the first robot combiner in the US, but Giant Acroyear's individual components were never released separately. Combatra then was the first combining robot spaceship team to be sold both individually and in a giftset, which would be the traditional method of packaging combiner teams from that point forward. That is why Combatra is historically significant and highly sought after on the secondary market and why in my household kitchen appliances are named after him.

Hecht's 13 December 1978


This Hecht's ad from the Washington DC area came out in newspapers on December 13, 1978. I call it a "high fiver". High fivers are those rare ads I come across every now and then that are of such great roboplastilogically historical significance that when I find them I get so excited I want to run around the library giving high fives to all the homeless people, vagrants and college kids there with me. It's truly a rare piece and one I didn't think I'd ever find given the Combatra giftset's extreme rarity. Finally I have evidence of at least one store's original retail price for the Combatra giftset, which is quite elusive in old newspaper ads. Considering that $49.99 when adjusted for inflation is $165.19 in 2010 dollars it is not hard to imagine why these are so rare nowadays. At regular retail of $49.99, the Combatra giftset is not only the most expensive Shogun Warrior of the 70s, but the single most expensive action figure of the seventies!

Meanwhile, back here in 2011, individually packaged Combatra vehicles have been popping up on eBay. This boxed Battle Jet went for $135 on November 18th. The seller also linked to a nice gallery of big clear pictures of the box and the toy, which is essentially the dismembered head of Combatra. I find it interesting that the Battle Jet from the auction was originally sold at Macy's, which further supports my theory that only upscale department stores carried this subset of Shogun Warriors. I don't think it's coincidence that all the ads for Combatra vehicles I've ever found come from those kinds of hoity toity stores instead of discount retail outlets like Kmart. Also worth mentioning is that recently a Battle Tank went up on eBay but only pulled $61.

May Company 17 October 1980


Sadly, Combatra's final battle was fought in the clearance aisle as shown by this May Company ad from October of 1980. I've found one other deeply discounted Combatra vehicle clearance ad from a Los Angeles area store called the Broadway that ran in March of 1980. It's kind of crazy now to imagine these toys just sitting on the shelves at super deep price cuts all year long waiting for someone to buy them, but such is the power of the Force I guess. The individual vehicles were probably a hard sell since they didn't do much on their own and the only fiction supporting them was the Marvel Shogun Warrior comic, which wasn't mentioned at all on the boxes. You pretty much had to complete the set to get the most fun out of them, which was still relatively expensive even at clearance. To complete the set you'd still have to pay 20 dollars and who wanted to pay that when you could get all sorts of cool Star War stuff for around half that.

The Broadway 30 November 1978


Speaking of The Broadway, they ran this absolutely gorgeous ad back in November of 1978. It's a celebration of Mattel's two big science fiction/fantasy toylines of the time-Shogun Warriors and Battlestar Galactica. I find it interesting that the Battle Jet and Battle Tank are priced slightly less than the other three. This would lead me to believe all the vehicles may have been shipped in their own separate case assortments instead of together in the same case. Back when I tried to construct a chronology of release for the Shogun Warrior line I hit a wall trying to figure out exactly how these Combatra vehicles were shipped and I still haven't got it straight today. If it is true that the ships shipped in separate case assortments I wonder how the stores were able to ensure that enough of each vehicle were stocked so that people could complete their Combatras. If most customers were buying the ships separately it wouldn't make sense for stores to order more of one kind of ship than the other. But if you've ever seen the individual boxes for the vehicles you know they are all different sizes and it'd be difficult to fit multiples of complete sets of the ships in one shipping case without doing some serious cardboard voodoo magic.

Before we leave the subject of Combatra, here's some great covers of the theme song from Combattler-V. (You gotta skip to the 1:04 mark on the one to the right.)


Back in 2009 I started a list of trailblazing events in toy robots marketing and merchandising that all first happened in the Shogun Warriors line, or at least before they happened in Hasbro's Transformers. But I only got halfway through the 10 things Mattel's Shogun Warriors did in the 1970s before or better than Hasbro's Transformers did in the 1980s (but just the first five) before I realized I was dumb about Shogun Warriors and I ran out of ideas. I figured I'd need to do some more research and get a little more experience with the line so that I could do the list justice. Well it's two years later and I'm still dumb about Shogun Warriors but I'm finishing the list anyways because I found this inspiring ad from the now defunct retail chain Barkers that ran 26 November 1978 featuring some truly incredible Shogun Warriors artifacts. Shogun Warrior bop bags! I saw that ad and I immediately knew the time had come to finish that list (or at least get to number six). And so without further adieu, here are the ten things Shogun Warriors did before or better than the Transformers (and almost any other line of toy robots, too!):
Barkers 11/26/78

  • #1-They sold the same robot character in different sizes-This is a no brainer nowadays but Shogun Warriors were the first to have the same robot characters concurrently on the shelves with larger or smaller versions of themselves.

  • #2-They took robots from different Japanese licenses and marketed them all together under one banner in the US-The Micronauts were Japanese but they were all from Takara's Microman (before the aliens). Shogun Warriors were each stars of their own cartoons with their own merchandising empires in Japan.

  • #3-The Shogun 2-in-1 subline introduced transforming robots to the US, including Raydeen the first transforming toy robot ever!

  • #4-Combiner robots-Combattra may not have preceded the Micronauts' Giant Acroyear but Combatra's combined mode and individual component vehicles were way nicer designs. Since the list is "before or better", combining is included here.

  • #5-Comissioning new robots-Mattel had the three inch line of Collector's Shoguns made to fill out the line, much like Hasbro would have to do when they ran out of original Takara molds in the third year of the Transfomers.

  • #6 Bop Bags-This one is a bit of a personal indulgence due to my fondness for toy robot themed bop bags, but in the Barkers ad from 1978 we are shown the first toy robot based bop bags released in the U.S.

  • #7 Zargon-The mechanized, self propelled, battery operated robot death machine released years before Omega Supreme! Of course pretty much every toy line that had robots pre-1978 had a mechanized guy like Zargon so it's not really that big a deal. Heck, the Micronauts Biotron and Microtron precede Zargon and even remote controlled R2-D2 came out the same year as Zargon, but were Micronauts and Star Wars truly toy robot lines? Discuss amongst yourselves!

  • #8 First (and probably last) toy robots in a porno magazine!-Gallery magazine's October 1977 issue features some real rocket fisting!

  • #9 The first combiner giftset made up of toys that were also sold separately-Sure the Micronauts' Giant Acroyear's arms and spaceship torsos separated and turned into robots or vehicles but they weren't sold separately! That counts somehow I think.

  • #10 Beastification-Shogun Warriors was the first robot line to jump the shark by letting animals in as part of the line. Thankfully Mattel canceled everything before Godzilla and Rodan could do much damage.

This auction put the MAN in Mazinga


  • A very CombAttractive CombatrAuction
  • The (rocket) fists and firsts of Shogun Warriors
  • Being thankful this holiday season for Shogun Warriors
  • Making Godzilla American
  • Chronological irrelevance
  • Auction update-$371 w/ 55 minutes to go
  • Predicting what the end price will be
  • The most expensive Shogun Warrior at retail in the 1970s
  • That Hecht's ad with Santa on a Viper
  • The danger of becoming a Combatra museum
  • Auction update-$371 still w/ 43 minutes to go
  • Shotgun Warriors
  • The crown jewel of Combatra ads
  • The hoity toityness of old department stores
  • Auction update-$371 still w/ 26 minutes to go
  • Finishing off the list
  • Visiting the Mcallen library on its last day
  • Shogun bop bags-technological breakthrough or toy robot blow up dolls?
  • Auction update-$430 w/ 17 minutes to go
  • How to make a fruit juicer with common household materials
  • Shogun "Bob" bag featuring ROBERT PUNCH!
  • Mr. Machine vs. Mister Zargon
  • Invincible Guardians of World…Vagina?
  • Auction update-$520 w/ 8 minutes to go
  • Combatra cost all your groceries in 1978
  • Auction update-$597 w/ 6 minutes to go
  • Pulling auction pics from eBay at their original resolutions
  • Great Mazinga was just regular Mazinga with cheese
  • Auction update-$618 still w/ 51 seconds to go
  • The end of the auction
  • BREAK-Combattler V Opening English ver.
  • The perspective dangers of being too Shogunny
  • Early Shogun Warrior memories
  • BJ and the Bear vs. Godzilla
  • Merry Godzilla Christmas
  • There should be a Shogun Warriors Thanksgiving
  • Don't Rocket Punch Your Friends!


Ted Terranova said...

What an awesome read. I so wanted to win that auction :) I had a friend who got a few of the combattler shoguns. He beat them to hell but I managed to trade him the tank for some other toy. Good memories. And thanks for all the cool history. $50 was a lot back then like you mention.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Thanks, Ted. It really means a lot to me that you took the time to let me know you liked the show notes. Sometimes I feel like just chucking some pictures up and calling it at that but I keep telling myself there's gotta be someone out there who's on the same wavelength. There's gotta be someone out there who digs the silliness. I'm just surprised sometimes who exactly those someones are!

Thanks again for the comment and thanks for all the work YOU'VE done. Talk about great read, your Shogun pages are some of the greatest on the internet. So it means a lot that you found this stuff awesome.

Kingboy D said...

Yeah, great job, Steve. Definitely a fun read. Sorry, but I need to try to find the time to listen to the podcast too. Time is not a luxury these days. :P


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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.