VIII. The Continuing Japanese Invasion and "Robotechnology"
American fans of Japanese robots were in hog heaven during the mid-1980s, and it seemed like every toy store shelf was full of imported transforming goodness. In 1985, Hasbro released the second (and some might say the greatest) wave of generation one Transformers to the public.
In addition to the other new robots that came from sources other than Takara, the 1985 Transformers release included Shockwave, whose Japanese origin was as a toy called "Astro Magnum" released by the lesser-known company ToyCo. Although Shockwave's hand-held laser gun alt form fit in well with the MicroChange theme, the large size of the toy, along with the increased articulation and non-humanoid head made it resemble the Takatoku-based Transformers a little more closely. A non-Transformers version of Astro Magnum made in China was also sold at Radio Shack at the time, indicative of the market saturation of transforming robots that was taking place.
Original Japanese Astro Magnum (AKA Shockwave)
^ 1985 TF commercial featuring Shockwave and the only animated version of Jetfire that resembled the Macross Valkyrie toy it was based on.
Indeed, outside the Transformers brand, there were plenty of other Japanese robot toys to be had. Tonka, perhaps feeling the need to compete with the larger and more detailed Transformers toys, continued to beef up its Super GoBots
line to include bigger versions of the Machine Robo/GoBot characters.
Bandai, who by this time had absorbed its subdivision company Popy, continued to license the Machine Robo line to Tonka, but also had distributed some of its other robot toys directly to the US market as Bandai America since 1983. The "Godaikin" toy line from Bandai America was much like the Shogun Warriors brand from the 1970s, in that it was basically a random gathering of Japanese robot toys repackaged in English for the US market. The Godaikin series was mostly made up of larger diecast metal combiner robots from various anime and "Super Sentai" live action series. The toys were very high quality and were unchanged from their Japanese releases (complete with those lethal firing plastic missiles). However, the high prices of the Godaikin toys coupled with the fact that most Amercian consumers were not familiar with the TV programs the robots came from resulted in sluggish sales. Hasbro's Transformers stole away much of the Godaikin target consumers and by the mid-to-late 1980s, Godaikins were being marked down in the bargain bins of stores like Lionel Playworld (a great bargain for robot collectors).
Godaikin toy robot series catalog
On the subject of combiner robots, Matchbox toys had distributed the Bandai diecast robots from Golion
, Dairugger XV
, and the unaired-in-America anime Albagas
as part of their Voltron
series of toys. Unlike the earlier Godaikin release of the Golion combiner, the Matchbox release
removed all the missile launchers and sharp weapons.
Matchbox "Voltron" toys
Matchbox also went on to release a toy and action figure line based on the American Robotech
TV series. Matchbox used some existing Bandai toy molds from the Macross
anime series that comprised part of Robotech
, including a transforming SDF-1, small Destroid robots and a series of "super-deformed" transforming Valkyries. Matchbox also created its own series of action figure-based, mostly non-transforming plastic Robotech toys that were of a much lower quality.
Two Bandai Macross toys recycled by Matchbox for "Robotech"
Distribution of the Robotech
brand and mecha designs outside of Japan had always been a bit confusing. The "Robotech" brand name was originally used by Revell models in 1983 as a general title for a variety of Japanese plastic model kits Revell took from different series and put together under one product line. Most of the kits in Revell's "Robotech Defenders" series
were from the anime series Dougram
, although there were a couple from other series like Orguss
as well. After a brief DC Comics mini-series based on the Robotech Defenders model kits failed miserably, the brand name "Robotech" was bought by US animation company Harmony Gold for its English-language animated series that would combine Macross
, Southern Cross
^ US opening for Robotech
(1985), incorporating three different Japanese anime series
Meanwhile, many of the "Robotech" model kit designs taken from Dougram
were incorporated into the popular BattleTech
mecha table-top wargame published by FASA. So during the mid-1980s, the Robotech brand and its Japanese robots were seen in several different formats and storylines. Eventually, FASA would have to change all of the anime-based robot designs in the BattleTech
game for legal reasons.
game showing a Macross
"Destroid Tomahawk" robot in the box cover
To add even more confusion to the Robotech toy situation, the toy company Excite distributed some of the transforming toys made by Japanese company Gakken from the Mospeada
anime series (AKA 3rd Generation Robotech
) in the US under the Robotech label as well. The Excite releases of the Gakken toys removed the missile firing springs, but other than that the toys were a direct import. In addition to the Gakken transforming "Alpha" fighter jet from Mospeada/Robotech, there was also a deluxe transforming "Ride Armor" motorcycle that converted into battle armor. This amazing item was one of the most complicated transforming toys of the 1980s, and is still a desired collectible to this day.
Robotech/Mospeada transforming ride armor by Gakken
Next: Gundam and the 1986 Transformers Movie bring changes