Monday, March 08, 2010

TRI HARDER: Tomy's triple changing toy robot...llamas?

Hasbro and their Japanese co-conspirators Takara got much credit for winning the toy robots wars of the 1980s but the crown for producing the most varied truly robotic toys of the time goes to Tomy. Unlike Bandai or Takara who were Japanese companies operating through American partnerships to market their toys in the US, Tomy found success here handling marketing and distribution themselves. Not only did they come out with popular 80s toy robot lines like Zoids, Starriors and Robostrux, but Tomy also sold electronic toy robots outside of the action figure genre that could do amazing things like breakdance and hit on your vacuum cleaner. Their giant selection of beeping, rolling, talking entertainment robots with names like Omnibot, Dingbot and Robie was unmatched by any toymaker in the US. They even had entry level robots for preschoolers called the Popoids, my favorite of which was called the Cosmic Crackbot. The amount of Tomy toy robot product I find old newspaper ads for is staggering. So it's not too hard to understand why a small line of robots they released in 1985 called the TriBots is oftentimes overlooked. Although they hail from the mighty Tomy lineage, TriBots are mostly forgotten even amongst 80s toy robots fans probably because they weren't as popular as Zoids or Starriors and they'd never be caught humping your vacuum cleaner. Also, they turned into llamas.


Carrs 12/01/85
Thrifty 12/15/85

As it is with most toy robots released in 1985 that were not Transformers, info on the TriBots is a little hard to dig up on the internet. Usually if they do make it to a message board it's because someone is trying to figure out what the heck it is they just found. The best page I've seen so far is a Japanese one with reviews of three of them and a picture of a boxed TriBot along with a shot of the back of the package showing all six in the set. Super Toy archive also has a couple pictured on its for sale page. The line can be summarized as three triple changers in two different colors each for a total of six figures. The robot and animal modes are rather generic so I differentiate them based on their vehicle modes-one is a hovercraft, one is a jet and one is a Cobra HISS-like tank. Neither the packaging nor the newspaper ad text make mention of a mythology or fiction associated with any kind of backstory for the line, but half the robots have color palettes that could be interpreted as heroic red white and blue while the other three figures are somewhat more sinister black, grey and yellow. The names also have heroic or dark connotations. While the red, white and blue jet mold is named "Shut-L", its black and grey recolor has the more militaristic name "Mis-L". The vibe I get is that there is some sort of implied story here. Just like every other 1980s toy robot action figure line, I could imagine TriBots being marketed as two opposing robot factions fighting over whatever it is transforming robot llamas fight over.

Children's Palace 11/28/85
ToyCity 12/05/85


These figures were interesting because through the incorporation of transformation their design combined the humanoid robot aesthetic Tomy established with Starriors in 1984 and also the robot dinosaur-like style of Zoids. Plus they had sci-fi based land, sea or air vehicle modes. Yet in a very unTomy move they don't have any sort of motorized feature, which I find shocking. I guess the gimmick is the transformation but not having the trademark Tomy wind up motor incorporated into the design seems sacrilegious. I give Tomy much respect for trying something different but it seems like they sacrificed too much of what a traditional Tomy robot was in order to jump on the transforming robot bandwagon. The triple transformation concept is what dooms them. The robot modes are classic Tomy and the vehicles are passable but turning into llamas knocks the awesome down a couple pegs. I would totally have given up the animal mode if it meant they could have kept some kind of motorized weapon or walking/rolling feature. Instead, TriBots end up putting the "llama" in "llame-o".

SuperRx 11/03/85
ToysRUs 12/12/85


I think TriBots would have fit better in the Starriors line, maybe as robot-to-vehicle Super Starriors but trying to pass them off as a line unto themselves seems a bit forced. They came at a strange time, too, introduced after Starriors was over but alongside Tomy's RoboStrux line which was way more popular. With the introduction of the original Zoids in '83 Tomy established a pattern whereby they would begin the next year with an entirely new toy robot figure line. Starriors replaced Zoids in '84 and was in turn replaced by Robo Strux in '85. So to have TriBots released simultaneously with their next big thing meant the line was overshadowed by even other Tomy robots. Still, TriBots are kind of cool and this is their 25th anniversary year. So if you happen to come across a guy trying to figure out just what that mysterious triple changing Tomy robot is he unearthed from some box of old toys he pulled out of his mom's attic, remember what to tell him-¡CUIDADO, LLAMAS!

Thrifty 12/22/85


Anonymous said...

I demand one in red, gold and green.

-Zebong Scandonga

Evil King Macrocranios said...

In the world of the TriBots, every day is like survival.


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