Tuesday, March 6, 2007

[Review] It's Not Crap

I can hear you all now. Double you tee eff Gobots?? Why would you put up a picture of rare Transformers cassettes and post an article about freakin' Gobots???

Because I CAN.

But seriously, this is not just any Gobot, this is a Machine Robo. See? Add a Japanese twist to a crappy American toy, and suddenly it's desirable. Like rolling a dog turd in sugar.

To be fair, Gobots were really the result of a mismanaged product line, I think. It's hard to otherwise explain why a line that went on for several animated series and innumerable toy lines in Japan (currently in its incarnation as Machine Robo Mugenbine) faltered and died in the 'States after a few years. Part of the problem was that Gobots became the weaker, uglier version of Transformers when they were imported- they were the toys that your parents bought to shut you up, when you were whining for a Transformer. The TV show and nomenclature of the series did nothing to help its fade into disfavor either, with characters that were, at best, weak photocopies of their more iconic Transformer brethren. I mean, shit, the leader of the good guys is named "Leader-1."

Although I'm not familiar with the Japanese animated series for the original Machine Robo toys (if there was one), they really took the right direction in their packaging of said toys at least. These came packaged not on cheap cardbacking, but in little cardboard boxes with good ol' styrofoam packing. For kids of the time, this probably reminded them of the great little Micro-change cars from Takara (which you probably know better as the toys that would become Bumblebee and company). And really, the two were contemporaries and equals- Machine Robo had extremely accurate vehicle modes and questionable robot forms, while Micro-change had great robot modes, and cutely-deformed vehicle modes. Anyway, before I lose your attention, Gobots are really unfairly maligned, and as a result of their relative unpopularity, they can be a fascinating genre to collect.

Case in point is tonight's review: MR-26, Garbage Truck Robo.

(I had originally believed it to be named, "Dump Robo", which would have made for a much more amusing review. Alas, it was given the rather ungraceful name of Garbage Truck Robo. There IS a toy called Dump Robo, however, much as there is a Dumper and Pumper in the Gobots line.)

In America, MR-26 was known as the Renegade robo, Fly-Trap, and given an orange body. Japan was home to a much rarer white-bodied version of the MR-26 toy with Japanese text on its side. I somehow managed to acquire a specimen of this individual, probably from the Ala Moana Shirokiya, waaaaay back in the day. MR-26 has been kicking around my closet for years now, unceremoniously dumped (har har) in a box full of assorted parts and melting rubber figures. Surprisingly, he is in fairly good condition.

For such a small toy, MR-26 has a very nice vehicle mode. Even the little lifter arms on the back are articulated! As I noted before, Machine Robo has always excelled in its vehicle design, and- if you can ignore the floppy joints- MR-26 could almost be mistaken for an old Matchbox or Hot Wheels toy in its vehicle mode.

As for the robot mode, it's well, actually not bad. Much better than the horrid tricycle Gobot, anyway. It has sort of a cool ASIMO blockiness to it. Given that it's such a small toy, there's not much I can say, but its aesthetic has really grown on me. I was always a fan of the small, uncomplicated toys when I was a kid- accessories had no place in intergalactic wars. And as such, I can definitely get into this guy; he can be transformed in a second and has a nice, clean, minimal look in robot mode.

With respect to coloration, I think I prefer MR-26 to Fly-Trap. As with most older toys, time has matured his original white to a vintage cream. Again, very nice and clean colors. I could totally see this guy rolling along on a country road in Japan.

Given the relative obscurity of Gobots and Machine Robo when compared to Transformers, it's the unknown rare pieces like this that make them really worthwhile toys to collect. That is not to say that there are not hardcore Gobot/MR collectors out there- there are. I recently saw an MISB Spy-Eye (one of the rarest Super Gobots) go for over $300 on eBay. I have no idea what this particular toy is worth, nor do I really care. All I know is that it is a pretty rare piece, and that I found it floudering in a pile of childhood junk in my closet.

I think that makes it the best kind of treasure.


Anonymous said...

Many of the Machine Robos, particularly the first generation of them, were designed by Katsushi Murakami, the same man who designed most of Popy's Chogokin toys. At their best they're really ingenious variation on the Hot Wheels sized vehicle toy. It's a shame they were marketed so poorly in the USA -- and that retarded Hanna-Barbera cartoon didn't help, either!

Have you checked out "Machine Robo Wedge"? It came out in Japan last year and is an entire book devoted to the toys:


RobotXMonster said...

I blame the Rock-Lords. They killed the Gobots. That's an interesting tidbit about the designer of MR, though.

I've seen the 'Machine Robo Wedge' book on HLJ before. Do I want to know about all the MRs that I'll probably never be able to find? Hmmm...

Darkfire said...

Yes there was an animated series for Machine Robo back in the 80's in Japan, you can search it through Youtube. So so better than the crappy Gobots and it can even rival the Transformers in terms of TV ratings.