Classic robo-toy favorites are new and improved with updated models.
Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of an 8 part series running all this week on GeekExchange.com! Check back every day to reach a little further back into the history of ’80s Mecha!
The 1980s gave birth to many pop culture icons whose influences are still felt today. We can thank the decade for the rise of Michael Jackson, MTV, The Empire Strikes Back, Mr. T and Knight Rider. But as awesome as those things are, there was another movement that for this writer, as a kid growing up during this time, seared itself in my mind. I’m talking about the advent of iconic robot action figures.
I vividly remember waking up on Saturday mornings to catch a couple of mind-blowing cartoons. The year was 1984. The Transformers and Voltron: Defender of the Universe were unlike anything my 8-year-old eyes had seen before. As you probably now know, The Transformers featured everyday items and vehicles that changed into robots, a novel idea at the time. Voltron, on the other hand, featured five mechanized lions that came together and formed one giant robot. I couldn’t get enough of the stories, characters and robots — especially the robots.
These cartoons featured a groundbreaking concept in design, which were vehicles that actually changed forms, typically from a fairly standard car, truck or aircraft into some sort of awesome robot mode. These robots, or “mecha” as they are now commonly known, opened up an entirely new genre of toys. A great majority of these figures already existed in Japan and were imported to the States by enterprising companies.
Looking across the Pacific, American toy companies caught wind of the trend of mecha figures brewing in Japan and realized that they could create a market for them here. After restrictions that had previously prohibited commercial marketing within children’s shows were lifted, the companies were free to produce original as well as import existing cartoons that featured the very toys that they sought to sell.
This week’s new character was conveniently available at the local toy store the following week. New toy after new toy kept coming out as each new episode introduced new characters. Kids like myself couldn’t get enough of them. The problem with such an onslaught of toys was that unless you were one of the fortunate (read: spoiled) few, there was little chance of your getting every figure that you wanted.
Nearly 30 years later, fans of these nostalgic cartoons are actively collecting the figures that they didn’t have as children. The good news is that this trend isn’t lost on the manufacturers. Many have rereleased the old toys and some have even produced entirely new and improved versions of favorite characters. With updated manufacturing capabilities, most of the new offerings easily outstrip the originals in terms of sculpt, detail, articulation and quality. That’s great for us collectors. We can finally snap up reissues of originals or newly improved versions of mecha that we missed out on, lost or broke decades ago. We’ll take a look at a few of our favorite classics and see their updated counterparts all this week on GeekExchange.com! (check back tomorrow for part 2 – The Transformers!)
NOTE: Due to fluctuations in the collector’s market, listed availability and prices are subject to change but deemed reliable as of press time. If no official URL is included in the listing, eBay, Amazon or your local collectibles store is often your best bet.
Photos by Jerry Tsai
Figures courtesy of Tony Yao