Tuesday, July 21, 2015

'85 Tokyo Toy Show Guide PART 1: GodJesus versus DevilRobot

I have long maintained that while I hold a bachelor's degree in Fundamentals of American Roboplasticological Toynology, my knowledge of actual Japanese toy robots is sorely lacking. So I was overjoyed to score the '85 TOKYO TOY SHOW Guide To The Leading Toy '85~'86 even though I have no idea what it is and I can't even read Japanese. But this being the 30th anniversary of 1985 I thought a look through a book with a bunch of old Japanese toys would be a nice celebration of the anniversary. It is actually a 200 page catalog full of puppies, cars, guns, dolls, and kiddy electronics, but unless those puppies, cars, dolls, guns, and electronics turned into robots you won't see them here in my robot themed highlights collection. So follow along as I go alphabetically by manufacturer through this catalog, pointing out the most interesting (to me) toys in a virtual trip through some of the best stuff to come out of Japan during one of the greatest years in toy robots history-1985!

バンダイ [BANDAI]

ロボテック リトルウオーカー
[Robotic Little Rocker(?)]

Is that a Walkman with legs? I think this marvelous looking thing is called the 'Robotic Little Rocker' but I could be wrong. It's a fantastic little contraption that looks like it might have lights and sounds and maybe it can move but I don't know exactly how. I find its design captivating with its 'Zoids meets home electronics' style.

ピコピコテン と ゴッドヅーザス
[Pico Pico 10 and God Jesus]

Like Pico Pico 10, a lot of the robots in these pages have been lost to obscurity but God Jesus the fortune telling robot is an internet superstar. You can see a video showing how he nods or shakes his head when you clap, making him a sort of high tech interactive Magic 8 Ball. For most people the novelty of the robot's name and crucifix staff is enough to generate some lulz and call it a day, but I enjoyed this deeper explanation of how GodJesus fits into Japanese culture for those that are curious how something like this isn't actually a sign of the Roboplastic Apocalypse. Since this is a Bandai toy robot after all, it is not surprising that GodJesus is actually a piece of tie-in merchandise from a three episode cartoon called God-Jesus and the Cyberama Seven. So the next time you are in a debate over whether GodJesus exists and the origins of creation, remind people that the question is not who made GodJesus, but who made BANDAI.

チビコン ロボ コング [ChibiCon(?) RoboKong]

I'm not sure of my translation 'ChibiCon' or if it applies to all three of the above remote control robots, but that black one named RoboKong at the far right is awesome looking. Maybe the ChibiCons are the two dorky looking guys on the left? There's definitely some stereotypical Japanese goofiness going on in the head designs of the other two, but when they do scary and powerful like RoboKong they get that right, too. Seeing the brutish RoboKong makes me wish this was the direction Robo Force would have gone with in its post 1985 future. RoboKong actually did get included in the Machine Robo line in Europe as evidenced by the Robo Machine catalogs at Counter-X. RoboKong is what I imagine K.I.T.T. would turn into if it could transform. (And if K.I.T.T. was a monster truck from hell.)

トキマツリーズ [Tokima series watches]

While Takara was selling their blocky Robot Time Machines, Bandai was staying in the robot watch race with their lesser known (to me anyways) and curvier line of Tokima watch robos. The base model is pictured at the far upper left, the Alarm Tokima is in the center, and the AquaBoy model is on the far right. Popy/Bandai had been putting these out since 1983 so this catalog isn't all stuff that debuted in 1985. It's an interesting line with a rich history that just had a 30th anniversary limited relaunch in 2014. To learn more about the watches in the Tokima series, check out Which Watch Today's Tokima article.

DX 超合金 チェンジマン
[DX Chogokin Changeman]

[Power Bazooka Set]

ビッグスケール シヤトルベース
[Big Scale ShuttlBase]

At left are Chogokin DX Changeman and some of the associated hardware from the show it came from. The problem I have with a lot of sentai show mecha is that the vehicles are obviously dismembered giant robot body parts only superficially disguised with wings, propellers, and tank treads. Then to apeal to kids they're decked out in awfully bright rainbow colors. I can forgive all that if the combined robot form is good but Change Robo from Changeman actually ends up looking more bland than its component vehicles. Judging from the show's intro, Dengeki Sentai Changeman is like Power Rangers if Power Rangers were elite paramilitary commandos instead of teenagers with attitude. The only thing I really like here is the Big Scale ShuttlBase. Definitely check out this BSS review in Portugese because you will fall in love with the toy if you're like me and have a thing for beefy roided out space shuttle dollhouses.

バイクロツサー DX 超合金 ブレイザーカノン ヤット
[Byclosser DX Chogokin Blazer Cannon Set]

The ridiculous looking guy holding a motorcycle on his arm in the picture below left is a toy from Kyodai Ken Byclosser, a short lived obscure Japanese show about two dudes and their high tech motorcycle. "Kyodai Ken" translates into "Brother Fist"so this may be the first instance ever of the term 'brofist', although clips from the show are so rare that I cannot determine if any brofisting actually happened in it. What I can determine is that at some point when the going gets tough, the two bros suit up in their Power Ranger armor and then one bro hops on the brotorcycle and proceeds to jump it and land ON TOP OF the other bro's right shoulder! The bike then assumes its Blazer Cannon mode and they broblast the shit out of stuff using the bike as a sort of brozooka. Someone at Bandai must have thought this concept was toyetic genius gold so they made a Chogokin out of it. After GodJesus and this, I wonder if there's anything left so sacred or stupid that Bandai won't make a toy out of.

DX ポピニカ ガービン
[DX Popinica Garbin]
DX 超合金 ダイレオン
[DX Chogokin Daileon]

Blazing Broblasters aside, for the most part Bandai would get things right and the other two toys above right are pure robotastic awesome. That big multiwheeled monstrosity is the Popinica PC-54 Juspion Tank Garbin and the robot is DX Chogokin Battle Giant Daileon, both of which are from Kyojuu Tokusou Juspion. The Garbin splits apart into a jet and a drill tank, and Daileon transforms into an awesome spaceship. Of course Juspion was a show, and Wikipedia says Kyojuu Tokusou Juspion translates to 'Special Megabeast Investigator' Juspion. I think that sounds badass in an X-Files kind of way. I imagine the show's about a special agent Megabeast Investigator trying to uncover the truth about megabeasts. Since he pilots a giant tank and killer robot, he investigations predictably go really really bad and he finds out that the Megabeast truth is they hurt you a lot.

DX 超合金 ダンクーガ
DX Chogokin Dancouga
DX 超合金 Ζガンダム マーク II
DX Chogokin Zeta Gundam Mark II
DX 超合金 ビスマルク
DX Chogokin Bismark

I don't know much about Japanese toy robots but even I can recognize Dancougar, Zeta Gundam, and the Bismark. These guys are pretty much superstars due to their popular cartoons that made the toys look a lot better than they do in real life. For whatever reason people still love these guys even though their feet are kind of big. Honestly I find all three of these robots lacking in execution with some great ideas but some pretty lame transforms. I think they were all a bit conceptually ahead of their time and thankfully Bandai has redone Dancouga and ZGundam with much better engineering (and nicer feet) in the years since. Nobody has the guts to tell robot Clint Eastwood he needs an update, though.

Machine Robo Series
Battle Armor 5
Battle Base Robo

We finish off Bandai with Machine Robo-my absolute favorite line of theirs (sorry GodJesus). The push here is on Battle Armor 5 and the Battle Base Robo, which from the wording makes it sound like they intended it to be a robot itself although they don't call it that on the box. Or maybe they meant to call it Robo Battle Base. Whatever the case, this is a really cool GoBot collector case/playset that transformed and did all sorts of cool stuff. I wonder why they didn't just release the Tonka Guardian Headquaters and Thruster in in Japan. I can see cues from those reflected in the design here, as it looks like it combines Thruster's spaceship alt mode with the multi level garage/cafeteria theme of the Guardian Headquarters. We did get the Battle Armor 5 released here as the GoBot Power Suit, although it never looked quite as good in the Hana Barbera cartoon as it did in the promotional Japanese animation. I guess the GoBots are always greener on the other side of the ocean.

エポック ロボフアイター [Epoch Robo Fighter]

I have never seen an angrier looking toy in my life than Epoch's Robot Fighter (above lower right). That thing looks like a remote control mohawked terror whose sole purpose is to kick the asses of all your other toys. It makes those Sherman tanks above it look like cute little ducks by comparison. I guess this robot was made for kids who were too lazy to break their own toys so they needed another one to do it for them. When I was a kid I used to imagine all my other toys would welcome any new ones I brought home and they'd all hang out and be nice to each other. If I ever brought this one home I think all my other toys would develop anxiety issues from living with Robot Fighter's evil angry face. If I had Robot Fighter as a kid I wouldn't be afraid of ghosts or under the bed monsters or anything. Hell if I had one NOW I wouldn't be afraid of anything.

学研 ロボゴロン [Gakken Robogoron]

There were three Robogoron-Caterpilas, Volzos, and Tagolas. Now be amazed:

カワダ スーパーアドベンチャー [Kawada Super Adventure]

I love it when I find out an unknown to me toyline exists and then there's someoone on the internet who's an obsessed collector of it and has all the bases and everything. This is the case with the Super Adventure Space series, which was part of the Diablock line and was launched in 1983. With badass robots like the Gun Baron and other awesome sets, Super Adventure sounds like it would have been right up my alley as a kid. The dark colored space sets with names like Dragon Fleet and Space Crawler look super awesome.

マルカ マヅックロボ [Maruka Magic Robo]

ドクロロボット [Dokuro Robot] and デビルロボット [Devil Robot] are a skull and Dracula head that turn into robots! What more could you want out of life? Well Collection DX has a nice series of reviews of these and other Maruka transforming toy heads including Frankenstein and...a gorilla?


Tune in next time for part 2 of the Tokyo Toy Show Guide where I go over more toy robots and some toy guns and even toy robots that turn into toy guns! Yes we still have the rest of the alphabet to go and that includes at least a couple of Japanese toymakers you may know that begin with 'T'. If you thought GodJesus was awesome, wait till you see the Japanese toy debut of one robot that's come back from the dead more than a couple of times already!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fine Scale Combaticonner-The Destrong Issue

I remember being in a total state of paralyzing culture shock when I first arrived in South Korea in 1998. Everything was so different from any place I had ever been to before. The language was different, the alphabet was different, the 31 flavors of ice cream at their Baskin Robins were different, and they even got different toys in their Burger King Kid Meals. But then the most shocking difference of all was the best-they had different Transformers! To be a toy robot loving kid growing up in South Korea must have been totally awesome. They played fast and loose with copyrights and trademarks and their toy industry worked hard at producing some really crazy knockoff toys. Best of all, lots of robot toys from their wacky version of the 80s were still on the shelves at little mom and pop toy shops all over the country. It was like a bizarro toyland untouched by scalpers, a lost paradise of classic toy robot bootlegs preserved in time. One of my favorite discoveries from there is a set that stands out in my mind as one of the finest examples of bootleggery from the country that did it best. It's something I call the Destrong Combat robot 2 pack model kit (mostly because I can't read Hangul to find out its real name).


South Korean toy bootleggers really loved their Destrog Combat Robots, which was their name for what were officially called Combaticons in english speaking Trasnformer markets and Combatrons in Japan. Bootlegs of this team of five transforming military themed vehicles could be found in multiple colors, packaging styles and giftset combinations in South Korea. Usually the large missile trailer robot was packaged separately and the other four members were split up into two packs. All of the examples I saw were oversized compared to their official Takara/Hasbro versions by a factor of 1.5 to 2x as big. One of my favorite South Korean bootleg Combaticon items is a two pack containing the M-1 Abrams Tank and Jeep robots that's unlike any other giftset I've ever seen even there. What makes this set weird is that the robot toys are completely unassembled and the parts are mounted on plastic trees! It's like a model kit where the parts are not meant to be glued, but instead screwed together and all the necessary metal screws, fasteners, rods, and pins are included. There are even assembly blueprints showing how to assemble the toys from their component parts. It's like playing the home version of exploited toy robot factory worker!


The plastic bags call them models but that's really just semantics. These are really toys with their parts still sprued that you have to cut out and assemble yourself. There were official G1 Transformer releases that contained parts on sprues but those were mostly accessories like Optimus Prime's fists, Wheeljack's wings, various missiles from most of the boxed toys from 1984 and '85. Early versions of the Seacons came with their black weapons and accessories still on a small parts tree, but that was the greatest amount of sprued parts G1 ever saw. No official release shipped with the entire robot unassembled in model kit style. Every other bootleg Destrong Combat Robot 2 pack I found contained toys that were completely assembled. I do not know if any other Korean Combaticons came in this format as this was the only set of its kind I ever found.


So just what are these things? Can we infer from their existence that this is how the actual parts from the official versions are molded? Not exactly. A comparison of these parts against the official versions reveals that they are not just upsized versions of the exact same molds. These larger Korean toys are different molds entirely. The best example of this is in examining the two versions of Brawl's twin sonic cannon. The Korean version has an upper and lower part of the main cannon assembly whereas the official Takara version is one hollow piece. There are a great number of similarities with where the sprue detachment points are on both versions, but even those differ slightly. The smaller offical version has some sprue marks that the larger Korean version does not, and the dimensions of many details differ so that the larger pieces are definitely not just upsized versions of the smaller ones. Larger questions arises then-just why did the Koreans go through all the trouble to create extra parts and remold so much of these toys? Wouldn't it just have been easier to do same scale copies? Just what are these upsized G1 Combaticons? I have never been able to get these questions answered and I don't know that I ever will.


During my short time in Korea I was not able to get any first hand accounts of what it was like growing up as a toy robots fan there in the 80s. I didn't know enough Korean to talk to the shop owners and the bilingual Koreans I did know were not the right age group nor did they have any interest in toy collecting. But I had scratched the surface of what was to me an unknown market of fascinating toy robots. Before 1998 I never knew there were any Transformers bootleg or otherwise in Korea so finding them there was a complete shock. I can only speculate what it must have been like when these toys originally came out and what all was released. I imagine the Korea as I knew it from almost 20 years ago doesn't exist anymore but I wouldn't mind going back. Sometimes I wonder if there's still some tiny, hole-in-the-wall toy shop in a small Korean city off the beaten path with a giant wall of toy robots models just waiting for me to find some answers.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Brite My Litest Hour! PART I:Electric Light OrchesTronians


The other day I found a beat up old Lite Brite at the thrift shop for two bucks. It was one of those old school ones with a wide aspect ratio and not the square sided Lite Brite cube they sell nowadays. It reminded me that I had a pack of Lite Brite Transformer patterns from 1985 buried in the garage somewhere. So I bought it and I grabbed my patterns and then I sat down and remembered why I was never into Lite Brite when I was a kid in '85. Back then it seemed like too much work for little payoff. All the pegs and patterns were
intimidating to me, and I felt like the final result didn't have the same electric excitement as other stuff you plugged into the wall outlet like slot racing sets or video games or forks. My 11 year old caveman brain saw Lite Brite as little more than pretty pixel pegs for creating time consuming connect the dots colored constellations. Now all these years later I realize how cool the concept is and how grateful I am that Hasbro did a set of Lite Brite Transformer patterns at all. I also realize I am still lazy and it is still way too much work. Luckily I have an eight year old who did not inherit my lazy caveman gene and has no problem doing hellacious time consuming tasks like plugging endless pegs into Lite Brite patterns. Thankfully he hasn't figured out the fork thing yet.

Snarl in Action Constructicon: Bonecrusher

What I can appreciate now that I did not see back when I was a kid is that Lite Brite is a medium with constraints, and working within the limitations takes and inspires imagination. I used to be critical of the '85 Transformer Lite Brite patterns because they were so colorful and didn't stick to my preconceived notions of what a certain character's color pallet should be. I wanted the Lite Brite patterns to look like cels from the cartoon and they fell way short of that. Then as I began working on these with my kid, I realized what the Lite Brite artists were up against. They had to deal with a screen resolution of approximately 45x39, they only had eight colors (nine if you considered the black sheet), and there were only about 45-50 pegs of each color to work with. Understanding the constraints made me really appreciate some of the patterns for the masterworks of color and design they were. I ended up falling in love with some of them exactly because they were so colorful and didn't stick to my preconceived notions of what a certain character's color pallet should be!

Decepticon: LaserbeakDecepticon Leader: Megatron

I am still critical of the character choices made. I think they could have done a nice Optimus Prime or Bumblebee instead of second stringers like Bonecrusher or Laserbeak but they did pretty good with what they had. Who knows if Hasbro had certain robots they wanted featured over others. And maybe it was too tough to break away from a color scheme as iconic as Optimus Prime's read and blue because there weren't enough pegs of the right colors. It's also tough to capture all the necessary details of a certain character and not have it look like a jumbled mess. For the most part the color choices they did make break up the different sections of each robot so you can tell what you're looking at. The "Decepticon Leader: Megatron" pattern is really good example of that. I also liked the scenes that did a good job of conveying a sense of dynamic action like 'Constructicon: Bonecrusher' and 'Snarl in Action'. Others like Decepticon: Laserbeak' kind of fell flat for me. There was one that really blew me away, though, and that was the appropriately titled 'Bombshell Blasts Away'.

Bombshell Blasts Away

I don't remember seeing Bombshell ever use his twin ion impulse blaster in the cartoon or anywhere but boy is he blasting away here. His blaster and the explosion at the end of it is a wonderful mix of the brighter colors (including the violet I would have used for his chest) while the darker red and blue are used to outline his body. Although these colors aren't what I would have used I think they work nicely. I guess the violet is a bit too bright to represent Insecticon purple so they worked around that. Regardless, this is one of my favorite patterns. You could say I found it hypnotizing hypnotizing.

But we are only halfway through! In part two I will cover the other patterns in the set, including some beautiful Dinobot pieces that transcend the medium and are just great art, and two other patterns that really really suck. Be here next time for Brite My Litest Hour II: Electric Boogatrons!


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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.