Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[Hero, Jam & Wing] Original Mecha

Wing - W Rider (box art)

As if we needed another reason to be jealous of kids in Japan! While your parents may have kept you quiet with Zybots, Moto-bots and Convertors at the drug store, your counterparts in Japan received... well, extremely fancy versions of those cheap robot toys. The main producers of these unlicensed mecha were relatively unknown companies; Access, Hero, Jam and Wing were probably the most prolific.

More intricate toy designs were typically re-manufactured several times in varying colors and quality levels, often ending as cheap(er) grocery store candy toys. Some even still appear to be in production, although I have yet to see one for sale in modern-day Tokyo.

I have taken to using the moniker "train station toys" to refer to these original robots, since they were very likely bought at train platform kiosks and small toy shops by harried salarymen, to be used as gifts for their neglected children. So I imagine, anyhow. When I visited Japan in 1990 with my family, I was in awe of the fact that you could buy transforming robots (that I had never seen) from the grocery store. I wanted to take them all home! Their presence in grocery stores by the early 90s just goes to show how long these have been around.

Misc. mecha by Hero, Wing and Jam

This is an assortment of some of the more common train station robots.

From the top left, clockwise, there is (1) Three-Lancer by Wing, (2) Seed Goliath by Hero, and (3) Battle Speeder by Jam. Three-Lancer and Battle Speeder are likely older models since the packaging still uses a styrofoam insert (rather than vacuformed plastic). Probably higher quality as well, though I've yet to open them and find out.

Jam - Jumbo Skyhawk

Jumbo Skyhawk by Jam. This one might still be in production... somewhere out there. Tell me if you see a new one!

The artwork on some of these cheap toys is nothing short of astounding- this one being a particularly good example. Although it is obvious that it is a composite of separately produced illustrations, the quality rivals some of the best Transformer box art.

Jam - Saikyou Mecha 7

Last, the crown jewel of my tawdry collection: Saikyou Mecha 7 by Jam. This is a gift set featuring 3 combiner mecha (L to R): Road Rider, Road Boxer and Survival Monster. Given the cheap nature of these toys, a deluxe gift set is rather unusual... and a rarity.

Again, the box art is fantastic, although openly recycled- the contrast between the newer, 'anime' style art of Survival Monster and 70s-era art of Road Boxer is rather apparent. Although Jam produced the set, the designs were originated by Wing. Perhaps Jam acquired Wing or Wing became Jam. Who knows?

Because of their cheap construction and general disposable nature, train station mecha toys are a challenge to collect. I must give credit to the Triebflugel website, which is perhaps the only repository of information on this topic. Great place to lose a few hours browsing. The above items are just the tip of the chrome iceberg, and there are plenty that I have NEVER seen for sale. Maybe your best bet would be dead stock in a small country toy shop...

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