Friday, January 30, 2009

Reflections on a Talking Robot (part five) Bullmark Barges In

Click for Mekanda Robo/ Daibaron private auction info

I was going to call it quits, except...The Bullmark sets weren’t selling well at Toys International.
"Obsolete". That’s what Tony, the salesman over there said. "They’re not making these things anymore. Besides that, nobody keeps buying Japanese robots. Except for you." No one seemed to want to spend over forty bucks for a dangerous toy that didn’t blink, beep, or move.So I got a break on the price of the Gift Box Mekanda Robo Technical Gassin, and Dai Baron sets, the finest pieces in the defunct Bullmark line.

But even at a discounted price, buying Mekanda set me back about forty bucks, and Dai Baron was another thirty dollars that didn't go to rent, food, or dates. Compared to the Popy issues, the Bullmarks were primitive. They were heavy, clunky, mostly unposable. Sharp edges. Loose joints. Parts that almost fit. But like outdated science fiction, they had a kind of corny charm that I found irresistible. These guys don’t actually transform. Rather, they break down for transport on the super-vehicles that come with the sets. This, undoubtedly, was in keeping with the storyline of the animated serials that inspired the toys. The Mekanda plane and the car each consist of two modules that separate to carry their respective segments of the disassembled robot.

Dai Barron had a similar configuration, breaking down for transport as a plane and a tank.

And when I opened the big gaudy boxes, removed the inner box cover and looked inside, the same word recurred: Obsolete. Toys were becoming more and more sophisticated. Computer equipped gizmos like Simon could actually out smart the people who played with them. Pinball tables were being replaced by electronic games like Pong, and Asteroids. Bullmark's technology was old thirty years ago. Mekanda just doesn’t do much, and much of what he does, he does poorly. The wrist shield spinners don’t work very well, and when they do work, the plastic blades rub against the black paint on the shoulder. The wind up mechanism in the head barely lifted the spinner off the ground. A dial on the back of the robot fires the four spring loaded missiles in the chest like a Gatling gun. Mostly it either jams, or misfires as soon as it’s pointing at your face. Same with Dai Baron. Fists popped out without warning. Missiles likewise either jammed, or tried to put your eye out by surprise.
An entire bookcase had fallen to the robots. Friends rolled their eyes, and made jokes. I don’t remember that my girlfriend actually yelled at me over this, but she shook her head a lot. She preferred to see books on bookshelves. She wanted to finish college too. Then Kunimatsuya arrived in La Habra.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reflections on a Talking Robot (part four) Combinational Combat

Before I knew it, the machines had taken a second shelf, and were threatening a third. New acquisitions were greeted with mockery from friends, and dry comments from my girlfriend - “You don’t have enough toys already?” Well, no. There was still Combattler. This set was just too cool to be believed. It had five modules: two different fighter jets, a battle tank, a twin-hulled battle cruiser, and an armored transport.

They all clicked together to form a juggernaut battle tank.

And the battle tank transformed into a giant robot warrior.

It was fantastic, but way more expensive than I could afford- eighty one bucks and change, counting tax. Remember, this was the seventies. I don’t remember what my wages were, but I do recall that the rent on my apartment was a hundred and twenty five dollars. Eighty-some bucks for a toy robot? I went for it anyway. Friends rolled their eyes. My girlfriend shook her head. I was going to call it quits, except… The Bullmark sets weren’t selling well at Toys International.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reflections on a Talking Robot (part three) Popy Appears

And Toys International had a lot of other cool stuff as well…

Robocon opened the door to let the Arkrons in. The Arkrons, in turn, drew my attention to the Popy series. These small toys were marvels of precision engineering and quality, executed in die-cast metal and high grade plastic. Each robot made some sort of amazing transformation. And even though I couldn’t read them, it was obvious from the tech-sheets that came with these things that their designers took them very seriously.

It was that same kind of ostentatious imagination that had spawned Godzilla. Based on animated "super-robot" serials (none of which I have ever seen) these machines were working models of genuine weapons of outer-world warfare.

Like the No.17: a robot who folded neatly into a compact space station complete with landing strips and launchers.

Or the Dangard Ace: A latch here, a lever there, and the Mechanical Samurai separated into two modules which clicked together to form a perfect space ship. Secret hatches on the legs revealed tightly folded landing gear.

You’d never know it had been a humanoid robot.
And I had to have the demon warrior Gaiking, who for some odd reason could only turn himself into a robot skull. (More on him later)

The invasion was on.
Part Four


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reflections on a Talking Robot (part two) Arrival of the Arkrons

"They had some other Japanese robots at the toy store," my girlfriend said. "But they were complicated looking things with a million parts, so I didn’t think you’d be interested."
I had my second Japanese robot within the day.

This one was like a mecha-dinosaur crossed with a Lego. It was a blast to mess with.

But the Black King (I know. He’s not black) was only one of a series, and I found out that they had most of the others at Toys International, which was not far from where I lived.

The Red King came home to fight, and then combine with the black.

Soon King Joe (right) and Gomorra joined the fray.
I have fond memories of sitting up late watching movies on TV and reassembling those little guys in all sorts of ways.
Sometime later Baltan Seijin, and King Kong completed the set.

I didn't know it at the time, but all these monsters were villains from the Japanese television show Ultraman. Here's a clip of King Joe and Gomorrah in action. (The Black Joe is an ally.)

It wasn’t long before the top of one bookcase was set aside to display the Arkron family.

And Toys International had a lot of other cool stuff as well…
Part Three


Monday, January 26, 2009

Reflections on a Talking Robot

Sometime late in 1977 my girlfriend gave me a talking robot. It was partly a gag, and partly a not too subtle dig at my lack of maturity. I was twenty-five. I had a laid back job working swing shift, and I was more concerned with surfing and partying than career, and marriage. The box was all in Japanese. The robot was a silly looking thing like a bright red trashcan on stilts, and when you pushed a button on his chest he sang a little song, or yelled at you in Japanese. The talking mechanism was a tiny phonograph, with three different records. The thing was a crackup. You couldn’t push the button without laughing.

Robocon was the name of this ridiculous creature, and he turned out to be a Trojan horse. He would soon open my imagination, and my home to an invading army of interplanetary war machines.

"They had some other Japanese robots at the toy store," my girlfriend said. "But they were complicated looking things with a million parts, so I didn’t think you’d be interested."
I had my second Japanese robot within the day.