Being that I'm a 70's baby and a Cold War Kid I remember back when the whole giant robot craze really jumped off back around 1979 and ran through the mid 80's before ultimately dying out. I'm not talking about the bootleg watered down plastic ass toy robots that kids had in the mid 80's, mind you. I going back to the die cast metal heavy joints with the spring loaded fists and shoulder missiles that were puttin' eyes out and causing swallowing hazards for young children across this great nation of ours.
For those of you that can only recall Voltron and Transformers let me tell you about the Golden Age of giant robot cartoons and toys since I was right there on the front lines (kinda sorta). Check this shit out:
Back in 1979, the Mattel Corporation decided to bring a bunch of popular giant robot toys that sold like hotcakes in Asia to North America. They decided to market some of the most popular toys together in a package and call them Shogun Warriors. Mattel had a three pronged attack. They were going to have an ad campaign that would air during the cartoons that little kids watched in America and then they'd have a comic book published by Marvel Comics which pretty much served as a huge print ad for the toys. The last part was that they needed to get the actual cartoons for each giant robot aired in the States...that ended up being a problem.
Danguard Ace was part of a cartoon series that aired primarily on the East Coast and every morning in New England called Force Five. Force Five consisted of several popular Japanese shows by Toei Inc. and licensed by Jim Terry Productions/American Way where the episodes where re-cut and some episodes were completely omitted from each series then they were rescripted and dubbed over in English. Mattel partnered with the shows and aired commercials for their Shogun Warriors line of toys through the telecasts and Danguard Ace episodes aired on Mondays. Just one problem with that...
Danguard Ace's storyline was pretty adult and involved a complex back story without a bunch of flash and excitement to it. My big brother loved it but I thought it was boring because it took so long in the series before Danguard Ace was even finally piloted. Even then Danguard Ace was pretty damn boring for a giant fighting robot. I can barely remember any of it's special attacks. Unfortunately, Danguard was the only robot on the Shogun Warriors Marvel comics roster that actually had a cartoon on the air. He never caught on and was eclipsed in popularity by the other Force Five robots.
Starvengers AKA Getter Robo G was one of the most exciting Force Five shows that aired. It had compelling characters, nonstop action and three ships that configured into three different giant robots based on how they went into formation. The three robots were Star Poisedon which specialized in sea battles, Star Arrow which specialized in air battles or fast opponents and the most popular and powerful incarnation was Star Dragon. When they switched to Star Dragon it was usually a wrap for the bad guys.
Star Dragon was also far and away the most popular toy of the trio as well. It sold pretty well in all of it's forms, especially the 12" jumbo and the smaller action figure version with the spring loaded fists and the hatchet boomerangs. When you shot the fists off they flew so goddamn far that you could lose them forever if you weren't paying attention. God forbid if it flew behind something or got lost under some shit. I remember when we moved out of our apartment of 24 years and we found a gang of old dusty G.I. Joe weapons, various action figures and old projectile weapons and robot fists from old toy giant robots under our furniture. Memories.
Gaiking AKA Great Sky Demon Dragon Gaiking was easily the gulliest of all the Force Five giant robots. Gaiking was housed in a huge ship called the Space Dragon and when it was time to fight it shot out Gaiking in three pieces, they interlocked and formed one giant fighting robot. He was so powerful that he could kill his enemies without going to one of it's finishing moves. The most powerful one being the rarely used attacks that happened when Gaiking went to "mask open" mode.
Gaiking toys flew off of the shelves throughout the late 70's and early 80's but once the Force Five cartoons stopped airing in syndication the demand for the toys died down and the whole Voltron/Transformers/Robotech era took over and Gaiking was all but forgotten about except by those of us that either watched Force Five, owned or coveted them back in the days.
Grandizer was the most popular of all the Force Five shows due to the overall coolness of Grandizer himself but mostly due to the popularity of the main character Orion Quest who piloted Grandizer. Orion Quest was an alien who crash landed on Earth as was taken in by a scientist who helped him hide from an impending alien attack as the same aliens that forced him to flee from his planet were coming to Earth to search for him. He piloted Grandizer, a giant robot that shot out of a huge UFO looking saucer.
The Grandizer toys were hands down the most popular of the lot and it was known in other countries as Goldrake or Goldorok. Figurines and models of this giant robot sell briskly all throughout Asia, Europe and even into the Middle East. I remember looking forward to Friday so I got to see a new episode of Grandizer before I went to school.
Raydeen AKA Yuusha Raideen was one of the Shogun Warriors toys that Mattel hawked through Marvel Comics. While Raydeen was super popular in Asia it was hard for him to gain anywhere near the same success in this market. One of the things that really prevented having Raydeen take off was that his cartoon never aired in North America. This meant that those huge Raydeen toys that were in the window at Mr. Big's Toyland weren't going anwhere any time soon.
I heard once that they tried to secure the rights to Yuusha Raiden and adapt it to the North American market but fell short. In about 2 years time the whole Mattel Shogun Warriors campaign was on it's last legs and it was too late to try to resurrect it. The Marvel Comics series was discontinued after 20 issues and low sales and Force Five didn't spread past the East Coast in syndication. The Japanese giant robot invasion was still far from over.
Tranzor Z AKA Mazinger Z & Great Mazinger first aired in North America back in 1985 when 3 B Productions severely chopped up the 92 episode series down to 65 episodes and re-edited it for length and gratuitous violent content. The show looked dated when it aired because many of the episodes where from the early 70's as Mazinger was one of the earliest giant robot shows made and it's success opened the floodgates for the next generation of giant robot cartoons and toys.
Great Mazinger failed to make as large an impact in the North American market due to the popularity of Transformers and Robotech. The shoddy production quality of the 3 B Tranzor Z series and the lack of availibility of quality Mazinger toys (the cheap plastic bootleg versions pervaded the market by then) prevented it from ever gaining a real foothold in the marketplace. Even to this day different versions of the Mazinger robot sell briskly the world over.
Voltron captured the imagination of the North American market shortly after World Events Productions introduced it's heavily edited English dubbed version of Beast King GoLion in 1984. The concept of a bunch of lions forming a big ass fighting robot with a blazing sword that cut Robeasts in half really caught on with the youth of America. Forget that an overwhelming amount of violent material was obviously cut from the series.
There was also an unpopular vehicle version of Voltron that the fans absolutely abhored and no kids wanted the toy of (but that didn't stop it from getting bought!). For more information about Voltron and it's different versions just read my old Revenge Of The 80's presents Voltron post from Summer 2007.
Ramrod was the giant robot featured in the 1987 syndicated World Events cartoon series "Saber Rider And The Star Sherrifs". When they got out of their regular vehicles and got into their big vehicles they could transform into Ramrod and fight the giant robots the enemy sent after them. Saber Rider and the Star Sherrifs did okay in the ratings but the toys never caught on due to lack of availability even though they were pretty ill.
Yet another ill fated show was the "The Mighty Orbots", a 1984 network television show that was made in association with a Japanese animation studio but produced in English. It aired on ABC at the same exact time as "The Smurfs" and "The Muppet Babies" which is the worst possible time slot for an 80's cartoon to air in the history of television. After 13 episodes (that damn near no one saw) the show stopped production with no hope for a second season.
Five different robots transformed to form one ultimate robot called Mighty Orbot. Problem was the not only did the show not get seen by anyone unless they were tweens or teenagers back in 1984 (or just huge fans of Japanese animation about giant robots). The toys sucked ballsacks like Belladonna and there are some reports that they were never actually even released. Ironically enough, the toys were made by Mattel (the same company that started the giant robot invasion just 5 years earlier). They were sued by Tonka who claimed copyright infringement because the toys supposedly resembled their wack ass GoBots. The suit was thrown out but the damage was done already.
Macron-1 AKA Goshogun was adapted by Saban Entertainment and it first premiered in North America sometime between 1985 and 1986. It had a tough time trying to gain a foothold as it failed to get a good timeslot in several major syndicated markets (it often aired between 5 and 6 AM) so it never caught on the way cartoons that aired just before kids went to school or when they got home from school. It also didn't help that Macron-1 was really fuckin' boring. I remember watching whole episodes where they were just planning attacks or getting ready for an assault.
This was because the show was actually a mishmash of two different series lending to the weird storyline about two different teams in two different dimensions fighting two different enemies (?) simultaneously. I never remember seeing a Macron-1 toy anywhere ever. Not in a toy store nor in a catalog of any kind. Even to this day I'm not sure if any ever made it to North American shores or not. Variations of the GoShogun toy are still popular amongst collectors to this very day.