Saturday, June 02, 2012


The 45th episode of the Roboplastic Podcastalypse combines the fantasy of outer space with the creativity of interlocking building modules and the fun of a powerful, pull back motor! Yes it's a Robotroidian Podcastalypse as the Nostrodomatron reflects on Takara's 1984 line of Diacloneish, Legonian toy robot building block sets that were neither Diaclone nor Lego but that really kind of reminded you of them. Wasn't knocking off Legos to make robot cars in 1984 a trademark violation? Wasn't EVERY Takara robot car toy in 1984 some kind of trademark violation? What were the differences between Robotroid and its Japanese counterpart, Bloccar? Did Robotroid inspire famous erotic poetry in the late 90s? And what the heck is Kre-O supposed to mean anyways? All this and more brick-a-brac than you can fill a galactic trailer with in this BLOCK ON! edition of the podcastalypse!

Or download it directly


The best visual documentary series on 70s sci-fi action figures
At the dawn of the Modern Roboplastic Age (around 1977), the Japanese toy robots Picassos otherwise known as Takara had a partnership with American action doll makers Mego, providing Takara a North American distribution network for their Microman line of sci-fi robot figures (that for whatever reason had fabulous hairstyles). The resulting rebranded Micronauts started out strong but Mego died after eduring fierce North American competition from Star Wars, Shogun Warriors,Starroid Raiders, Star Team and about a billion other lines with 'star' and/or 'war' in their name. Possibly because metrosexual robots were not as big a hit as they expected, Mego went bankrupt in 1982. Undaunted by the loss of their North American distribution partner, Takara still had future hits Blockman, Bloccar, Dougram and Diaclone ready for overseas markets. So they found alternate means of distributing their sci-fi robots in North America, usually involving US based toy companies who shared Takara's philosophy that the key to marketing robots was to use lots of glowing grid patterns on the boxes.

Robotroid boxes evolved from the previous year's Diakron, which had a packaging design that would be adopted for Transformers. Robotroid packaging is radically different from its Bloccar counterparts.


Takara eventually let Revell take Blockman and distribute it as Robolinks and let Hasbro rebrand some Diaclone and Microman toys (the ones that did not have fabulous hair) as Transformers. Their partnerships with other companies didn't stop their direct distribution business, though. North America's appetite for toy robots was so ravenous and Takara was so prolific at making them that they continued directly distributing their remaining lines throughout much of the critical period of history known as the Toy Robots Wars of the 1980s. Initially Takara took Diaclone and sold it as Diakron in the US and in '84 their Bloccar line (which was pretty much Diaclone reborn in Lego) became Robotroid. Hasbro's Transformers (a.k.a. 'Super Grid Robots Package Diakron') line went on to attract an underground cult following thanks in large part to masterful usage of grid patterns but unfortunately Bloccar/Robotroid's grids were not powerful enough to sustain it beyond one year.

The Bloccar 201 / Robotroid Space Station was the largest set produced in both lines


To note the differences between the way Takara packaged Bloccar and its American counterpart Robotroid is to get a glimpse into their perceptions of the two different cultures they were marketing to. One would imagine Japanese children would be obsessed with robots and American children would be obsessed with cars, but Takara played against cultural stereotypes and featured car modes prominently on their Bloccar packages and robot modes on the Robotroid ones. It is as if they are saying to Japanese children, "Yes you can use these to build robots, but you're a Japanese kid and you can already build a robot out of anything, so check out this CAR." And to the American kids the message was, "Yes you can use these to build cars, but you're an American kid and you can already build a car out of anything, so check out this ROBOT." They even incorporated 'car' and 'robot' into the brand names, emphasizing two entirely different aspects of the same toys depending on which market they'd be sold. But would they have been more successful if they'd swapped the two approaches and pushed the car aspect in America and the robot angle in Japan? And what the heck is 'Kre-O' supposed to mean anyways? Really, what's a Kre-O?


Here's my best attempt at compiling a list of all the sets released under both Robotroid and Bloccar. My Japanese is terrible so I may have screwed up some of the name translations (or not even attempted them). The following pictures are from the backs of the packages of the larger Robotroid and Bloccar sets.

Robotroid Robot 001-Enforcer
Robotroid Robot 002-Space Racer
Robotroid Robot 003-4 W D
Robotroid Robot 004-Command Turbo
Robotroid Robot 005-Space Coupe
Robotroid Robot 006-Ambulance
Robotroid Robot 101-Space Camper
Robotroid Robot 102-Galactic Trailer
Robotroid Space Station / Klonar Robot

Bloccar 001-American Patrol car / Patrol Robo
Bloccar 002-F1 Racing Car / Racing Robo
Bloccar 003-Off Road Car / Off Road Robo
Bloccar 004-City Car / City Robo
Bloccar 005-Open Car / Open Robo
Bloccar 006-Ambulance / Doctor Robo
Bloccar 101-Camping Car / Space Craft
Bloccar 102-Trailer Truck / ???
Bloccar 201-(possibly) Space Station

This'd be better if I had the Diaclone yellow Hi-Lux, red Ligier and red City Turbo, but you get the idea


The awesome thing about the six Robotroid mini sets is that they have parallels in terms of their vehicle modes with models used as alt modes for Takara's other line of transforming robot cars, Diaclone. This speaks strongly of their Takara lineage (and also of my insistence on finding Sunstreaker in every yellow car I see).

They're triple take-a-parters!


The Robotroid deluxe sets don't have direct parallels with Diaclonian alt modes but they hint at an interesting transforming concept-triple changers with spaceship modes. Imagine a robot with a traditional, super mundane vehicle mode but then another form that's a wild, sci-fi spaceship of some sort. It's like if the Millennium Falcon transformed into a school bus or like if the Macross transformed into a garbage truck. It's like if a space shuttle turned into a train!

From the 1984 Takara toy catalog thingy


Seriously, what does Kre-O even mean?


Sean said...

Wow, I totally don't remember these at all nor did I know about them until this post. Of course, I was two when the Transformers came out in 84 but I still remember them and remember seeing the pilot with my brother (which prompted us to persuade our parents into buying as many G1 figures for us as they could). But yeah, I had no idea these existed until now.
As for Kreo, it means "sucks."

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Yeah, same here. I never knew they existed until around 20 years after they came out. With all the old newspaper ad looking I do I am quite aware of a lot of different old toy lines but I'd never seen a Robotroid ad in any paper so their existence was a bit of a shock. I know they hit retail because a lot of them have price stickers and that's led me to speculate about why people like us in toy robot circles are unaware of Robotroid's existence.

Collectors may know Robotroid is out there, just not the collectors that care about it. I think this may be one aspect of 80s robot collecting that is actually more well known by Lego collectors, but since Lego fans generally have a low opinion of what they perceive to be knockoffs, they ignore or suppress knowledge of the existence of this line through their indifference towards it.

I've also noticed something about every set I've found with a price tag. All price tags so far have been from Child World/Children's Palace. I think it's possible that they were only carried by the Children's Palace chain and only people who lived near one would have had access to Robotroid sets.


Minibox 3 Column Blogger Template by James William at 2600 Degrees

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.