Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The Japanese robot explosion of the 1980s may only properly be appreciated by the shock waves it generated on the other side of the world. The swelling pressure of thousands of suppliers creating millions of plastic toys, mounting to alarming strength, could only be relieved by using the children of America as a safety valve- children who hungered for toys from these shows and yet DID NOT EVEN KNOW THEY EXISTED. Is this evidence of the fantastically creative work of Japan's anime designers, or were they tapping into a collective unconscious of juvenile desire that knows no nationality? DO STRANGE FORCES FROM BEYOND THE STARS CONTROL OUR DESTINIES?

Well, I don't know. What I DO know, though, is that years of sifting through trays of toys at garage sales and flea markets have yielded a bounty of Japanese robot plastic that neither knows nor cares of its origins or ultimate destinations. Where did these toys come from? Carnival prizes? Party favors ordered through the mail from the Oriental Trading Company? Bubblegum machine prizes from the local Zayre's or Treasure Island or K-Mart? Let me tell you, when you see a Kroger bubblegum machine advertising GOD MARS robots in a decaying strip mall in College Park Georgia, it will turn your entire worldview upside down.

But enough of that. Allow me to show you photographic evidence of the startling penetration these "orphan" Japanese toy robots had made into American society - circa, let's say 1985.

MAZINGER Z shows off his metal muscles in this tiny super-deformed style inch-high rubber figurine hastily spraypainted a neon green. Yes, the Jet Scrambler is majestically attached to his tiny green back.

Meanwhile a pink Real Robot from FANG OF THE SUN DOUGRAM raises his articulated arm in defiance. in 1984, this two-inch rubber figure was individually wrapped and sold in Spencer's Gifts in the mall with a triangular label reading "Leadworks Taiwan" affixed thereon. I could get an entire column out of the crazy anime stuff I found in Spencer's Gifts, but that's for another time.

Meanwhile, MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM is here represented by a printed cardboard target mounted on a plastic base. This was packaged with a dart gun, encouraging America's youth to regard the "White Mobile Suit" as an enemy. Influence of Zeon spies in the toy industry, I imagine.

If you ever wanted a tiny super robot to wear as a good luck charm to ward off evil, this COMBATTLER V charm fits the bill, coming complete with a little ring for threading and jointed arms and legs. Hard to believe this super robot actually weighs 550 tons, let alone could threaten us all with his super electromagnetic yo-yo.

He never made it to television as part of the VOLTRON series, but DALTANIAS here proudly stands as tall as he can, being only two inches in length. Still, his regal bearing inspires confidence.

For some reason I have a whole bunch of tiny figures from GALACTIC WHIRLWIND SASURAIGAR, the third of Kokusei Eigasha's J-9 series of early 1980s robot cartoons. Unlike Daltanius or most of these other robots, the J-9 never got within a hootin' holler of an American TV release. Not wild enough to be "super robots", way too improbable to be "real robots", shows like Sasuraigar defy categorization by anal-retentive anime fans. At any rate, our tiny inch-high Sasuraigar poses with gun in hand, molded in soft yellow plastic.

The actual mecha from the show is a lot closer to this Takatoku toy. Of course the actual mecha from the show transforms into a space-faring steam engine railway train, the better to allow it to wander freely through space fulfilling the pun in the show's name ("sasurai" means "wandering").

The cast of the show was also tastefully rendered in the medium of multicolored tiny plastic figurines. Why don't more artists express their vision thusly? From left to right we have Rock Anrock, Beat McKenzie, Birdie Show (in pink) and suitably green is I.C. Blues, the computer-genius zillionaire who built the Sasuraigar in order to win a bet. (Character names courtesy C/FO MAGAZINE VOL. 2 # 10, 1985.)

More familiar to American audiences will be this MOSPEADA figure. Is that Stick Bernard or Rook Bartley inside that Cyclone? We may never know. This little snap-together model came in one of those plastic eggs you bought for twenty five cents of your VERY OWN MONEY. The little bit of kneaded eraser at the foot there is to keep him standing up, them little toys aren't so balanced.

And here we have the little GOD MARS robot purchased in the Kroger bubblegum machine. Actually this was a transforming robot, if you got all six robots - Gaia, Sphinx, Uranus, Titan, Shin, and Ra - you could stick them all together to assemble God Mars, just like Takeru does in the show! However, they will NOT, repeat NOT, combine to make a bomb designed to destroy the entire Earth.

Who knows what tiny anime toy treasures lurk in the crevices of automobile upholstery, the corners of toy boxes, under sofa cushions across America? Can the history of Japanese cartoons in America be written in rubber and plastic? We here at Let's Anime say YES.


Anonymous said...

The fact you were able to find tiny neon Sasuraigar figures is breathtaking. Are the fabled feathered earrings of Birdie Show visible in the pink sculpto-plastic?


Chris Sobieniak said...

You make me wish I had paid more attention in the 80's, especially at Spencer's Gifts when it wasn't oggling the adult sections!

Sean said...

I definitely remember that Daltanias toy.

In the late 80s I definitely had a purple rubber Dom and a green Orguss toy, both cheap things on par with these guys. Suppose it says something that the designs stuck in my head long enough to recognize them as I started getting into anime years later.

Tim Maughan said...

Hey man,

Just found your blog - great stuff. I just gave it a shout out on mine:


Also, why we're on the subject of old toys, you might like some of my photos of my recent visit to Akihabara:



d. merrill said...

Are the fabled feathered earrings of Birdie Show visible in the pink sculpto-plastic?

Her earmuffs are there, and there are slight dangly things that are either hair or the feathers, it's hard to tell without my loupe. Man those are tiny figures.

Probably should get some Sasuraigar sometime. If it's like the other J-9 series it doesn't really live up to the promise of the opening credits, but those shows have great opening credits!

d. merrill said...

BTW thanks for the shout-out, Tim! Your blog is an entertaining read and I highly recommend it to all!

Anonymous said...

As always, I am astounded at the amount of anime stuff that secretly infiltrated the US before I was even conscious. That American kids of the past were shooting at Gundam like it was a bad guy kind of makes me feel like crying, though! Maybe that's why nobody in the US likes Gundam, haha.