The story so far;
In 1982 Popy (Bandai's
find us cool things to release branch) issued the first twelve figures
in Japan under the title
'Machine Robo Series' and they were
popular. Each figure was given a traditional Bandai/Popy model
number such as 'MR-01' / Machine Robo 01.
These model numbers
were stamped on the figures along with the manufacturing details and
on some of the stickers. For example Buggy Robo's
model number is MR-08 and it has an '08' on the bonnet;
in later US
Tonka releases these Machine Robo Series specific stickers were
dropped along with the pack-in sticker sheets.
The figures bore
simple names directly relating to their alternative mode (eg. 'Cycle
Robo') and retailed for around 600 Yen
leading to their almost
official name, the 600 Series; approximately $3.50USD / $6.25AUD 1982
After years of success, in late 1982 Popy was struggling
financially leading to it being absorbed by the parent company
Bandai and Machine Robo Series along with it.
1982 - 83 Bandai
re-released the first twelve models along with a string of new figures
still sporting the same naming and
model number convention. The
small scale yet high quality of the toys with a comparatively low
price saw popularity
continue to rapidly grow.
released most the current figures as 'Robo Machine' in Europe and this
too was a success. Robo Machine models
were stamped with new 'RM'
model number (eg. RM-37) that was stamped on the toys. They were given
even more simplistic
names seeing Cycle Robo released as ‘Bike’.
Robo Machine figures for the most part retained the colour scheme of
Machine Robo Series releases and more often than not
had the Machine Robo Series sticker sheet included;
with the original MR model number.
Bandai Australia (later to
become Bandai) released most of the series as 'Machine Men' which also
showing the MR model numbers and having their own simple
names; eg. Cycle-Man.
At around the same time Machine Men were
released to the US and Canada by Bandai America where unfortunately
embraced in the same way and pretty much failed as a
Keep in mind that robots that turned into things was a
new idea in the West and that Hasbro's Transformers (initially mostly
copies of the Japanese Takara 'Diaclone' and 'Micro Change' lines)
didn't emerge until 1984.
1983 Bandai needed help to crack the
US market and Tonka were keen to take a piece of the change-o-robot
toy pie that
was predicted to be swamped by Hasbro's Transformers
in the following year. Bandai licensed the Machine Robo Series
models to Tonka who released them local to the US as 'Gobots'. With
more US suitable advertising, new figure names
(Cycle Robo becoming
'Cy-Kill') Gobots quickly became a success.
they had new names and were released by Tonka, figures were still
stamped with the original MR model
numbers and Bandai.
with the Robo Machine and Machine Men lines some of the Machine Robo
Series figures were not released as Gobots;
MR-06, MR-12, MR-27,
MR-30, MR-38, MR-53 and MR-747.
Shipping diecast toys to the US
from Japan was killing Bandai's profit margin on earlier toy lines so
to more local areas such a Macau and Hong
1983 - 84 Bandai re-released the first run of figures (16
I think) in Australia. They were still Machine Men, however this time
with their US Gobot names This linked them nicely to the
Hanna-Barbera 'Challenge of the Gobots'
cartoon released in 1984
even though the title sequenced needed to
be changed to reflect the Machine Men branding.
In Europe the
same naming convention change occurred for Robo Machine, however
without the re-release and they retained
their unique RM model
1985 (early) As Machine Robo Series sales were
flagging Bandai started to wind the line up. This was in response to
Japanese market losing interesting in Super Robots and focused
on Gundam-style robot military hardware. Hasbro had also
with Takara to release the Transformers cartoon in Japan with the
related toys. This allowed Takara to reuse their
and Micro Change moulds with updated colour schemes, names, packaging
and marketing. It was extremely
cost effective and low risk for
Takara making them the market leader and killing off the Machine Robo
Series. Machine Robo Series
didn't have a supporting cartoon in
Japan like The Transformers because basically Challenge of the Gobots
was really not
up to scratch. There was a test screening of a
dubbed Challenge of the Gobots episode in Japan but the response
saw it not go any further.
Other nation customers were still
begging for new robot-change-o-toys and Tonka were desperate to keep
their market share.
Tonka needed new figures but they didn’t
have the in-house talent to make their own. Bandai had stopped
designing them and
so Tonka convinced Bandai to license them a
number o rejected prototypes. These rejected figures made up much of
Gobots Series 3 release leading to many of them being a little
on the odd side.
Tonka sold them in the US while Bandai
released some in Europe and Australia. A few of these Series 3 figures
MR / RM convention and adopted MRT (probably Machine Robo
Tonka) identifiers (eg. MRT-43). This confuses things further as
the new codes do not appear on the packaging and were just stamped on
1986 The fairly tidy anime 'Machine Robo: Revenge
of Cronos' was released in Japan and Bandai re-released a number of
600 Series figures... again with different number; MRJ-1,
MRB-1, etc. – however they kept the original Machine Robo names.
the same way Challenge of the Gobots hadn't helped Bandai in Japan,
Revenge of Cronos did nothing help Tonka in the US
as it needed to
be dubbed into English (pre-subs 80s) which I'm guessing they didn't
want to pay for.
Which is a shame really as it may have saved the
1992 The Gobots Battle of the Rock Lords film was
re-released on VHS in Europe. In the wake of people going
over Gobots, Bandai wanted to re-re-leased the
figures again on that continent. The issue was that by then Tonka had
taken over by Hasbro and they owned all of the Gobots names
and intellectual property. As Bandai still had the rights to the
models a decent selection were released, however this time with even
more basic names. Robo Machines 'Eagle Robo' later
'Leader-1' was re-re-released simply as 'F-15'. It's unclear why
marketing didn't revert back to the first
Robo Machine names to
attract original fans.
Robo Machines wasn't the success Bandai
had hoped it would be. This may have been in part due to the marketing
as all of
the fronts of the backing cards were identical bar a
unique name sticker. This gave the whole line a cheap, bootleg feel
matching with the overall build quality of the toys that feel
cheaper than the originals. This was especially noticeable in the
quality of the plastic and overall finishing of the pieces; moudling
dags, wheel axle pins not properly pushed in, etc.
suddenly realised that their license on the Gobots intellectual
property was about to expire so as a joke they
gave Megatron a
little Mini-Con personal slave named 'Leader-1'. Oh the humiliation!
...and that's about it for now for the 600 Series. This does not
take into cover Brazil's fully licensed Mutante or Convert lines
any other official releases that I'm not confident about yet. Text
will be updated as more information is found.
Tonka VS Hasbro /
Gobots VS Transformers
To get it out of the way, there were
certainly some rubbish Gobots AND Transformers.
have often been seen to be the poor neighbour to Hasbro's Transformers
regardless of their moulds being
sourced from the same toy line
(unlike The Transformers) and released two years earlier. Most of this
stems from them
being simply cheap and small and a US market at the
time pushing bigger is better.
This was all part of varied
marketing plans by Hasbro and Tonka that consumers at the time (and
especially one sided
Transformers fans) bought into.
marketed their Transformers line from the top down. Every kid wanted
Optimus Prime, Magatron, Soundwave, etc.,
who were prominent
characters in the cartoon, larger figures and expensive. For kids with
less well off parents there were
smaller, more affordable figures
that Hasbro and the cartoon for the most part barely focused on. Kids
WANTED the big ones.
They were cool, you were cool if you had them
and parents wanted their kids to be cool.... cool.
comparison worked from the other way up by issuing LOTS of small
figures at a cheap price making them widely
affordable. Low profit
margin with high turnover equaling lots of product with consumers
helping it selling itself. The toys of
the main characters in the
supporting cartoon where no bigger or more expensive than any other
figure in the line. So while
only select kids ended up with an
Optimus Prime, any kid who could afford a Gobot could get Leader-1.
There were more
expensive Gobots toy but they weren't the marketing
focus and were produced in far lower numbers.
If Challenge of
the Gobots had been a lot more like 'Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos'
there's a good chance that Gobots
would have given The Transformers
a real run for their money. Keep in mind that there were a lot more
Gobots on the
market by 1985 than Transformers and lots of the
Transformers were well out of many child's budget.
Negative comparisons are often made between figures
such as 'Road Ranger', a $3.00 USD Gobot and 'Optimum Prime' a $40.00
USD (almost triple the size) Transformer. A more fair comparison
would be to Transformers Huffer who has no diecast parts,
arms and death pipes for hands. Whereas Road Ranger's chest and back are
makes a decent robot and has hands; and I quite like Huffer.
Transformers 'Gears' VS Gobots Small Foot or Scratch would be
another good example.
When making a comparison, consider that
many of the Machine Robo Series / Gobots are only three and a quarter
have a large amount of quality diecast metal in their
bodies and joints and often greater complexity in their transformations
than their usually more revered, fair comparison Transformer chums.
For the most part smaller vintage Transformers don't look like any
specific vehicle while the Machine Robo Series and related
mostly hold a close likeness to actual vehicles; something only the
larger, more expensive Transformers do
Which is a better toy?
Most of us played with both as a kid and those
of us that can see the merits in both as adults still do!