Takara SF Land Evolution

Updated on 17 January with Metal Jack and Gridman

Takara SF Land celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. The umbrella term used by fans to describe various toy lines with sci-fi elements sold by Takara (Takara Tomy after the 2006 merger with Tomy), Takara SF Land encompasses lines like Henshin Cyborg (a 30cm-tall figure that could transform into other characters and into a vehicle), the groundbreaking Microman (10cm-tall action figures with stunning articulation for 1974) and the Diaclone robots and vehicles piloted by 3cm-tall figures with magnetic feet.

Takara SF Land toys are notable for being original designs as opposed to being inspired by popular manga, anime or tokusatsu series. If some of the resulting toys were stand out designs far ahead of their time, it’s simply because they needed to be — they couldn’t rely on brand recognition as a crutch.

There were, of course, toy-first Takara designs that benefitted immensely from the exposure manga and anime tie-ins provided. The Magne Robo Koutetsu Jeeg figure, for example, certainly got a boost from the Nagai Go manga and the Toei anime but the toy, competing as it was with Popy Chogokin based on other manga and anime, was arguably a huge hit in the Seventies because of its innovative magnetic joints.

The most famous Takara SF Land toy line of them all would be Transformers, the result of a decades-old relationship between two storied toy companies from two different continents. Hasbro coined the term “action figure” for the original G.I. Joe in 1964 and Takara transformed Joe into Henshin Cyborg, the founding figure of Takara SF Land, in 1971. Hasbro then combined toys from two major Takara SF Land lines, Diaclone and Microman, in 1984 to create Transformers and those rebranded toys returned to Japan the following year. The line, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2019, has sold over 500 million toys and other products in over 130 countries.

To study Takara SF Land is to see how toy designs evolve across multiple lines over the course of decades. More broadly, it is to trace how an idea travels from one country to another, gets adapted for local needs, impacted by geopolitical events and return in a completely unrecognisable form. Delve into one Japanese toy company’s history and you will see just how Hasbro’s 12-inch G.I. Joe turned into Mego’s 3¾-inch Micronauts.

The following chart and notes were largely adapted from the fantastic 2017 Futabasha book, Takara SF Land Evolution (ISBN978-4-575-31242-3). If you’ve ever wondered why some Microman Magne Powers figures seem more Magne Robo than Microman, wondered how Takara went from Combat Joe to Cybercop or wondered what exactly inspired Battle Beasts, the book is an essential purchase.

Takara SF Land thumbnail

(Click on the above image for a larger chart that’s more faithful to the source material.)

History

Takara (“treasure” in Japanese) was founded as Satoh Vinyl Industries Ltd by Satoh Yasuta in 1955 and later named after the old Tokyo neighbourhood where it started, Takara-cho. The Japanese toy company may be renowned internationally for its clever action figure designs but it was initially famous for its dolls.

Takara’s first major success was a vinyl doll named Kinobori Winky (colloquially known as Dakko-chan), which was unfortunately based on a racist golliwog caricature and even more unfortunately, inspired the company logo from 1961 to 1990. Its next hit was more wholesome. Licca-chan, a petite doll with a smaller dollhouse for smaller Japanese homes, made its debut in 1966 and usurped Barbie to become the nation’s favourite.

Takara didn’t enter the action figure market until late 1969. (It wouldn’t even have a boys’ toys division until after Henshin Cyborg became a hit.) The company licensed G.I. Joe from Hasbro, had its doll designers redesign the American toy soldier’s head and rebranded the figure as New G.I. Joe for the Japanese market the following year.

The Japanese Joe initially sold well — so well that Takara was emboldened to expand the line with enemy figures. Unfortunately, these figures included SS officers complete with prominent swastikas.

There was also the matter of the war in nearby Vietnam. Japanese parents may have been increasingly uncomfortable about purchasing an American toy soldier for their kids especially when there was growing resentment over the presence of American military bases in Japan. The Koza riot, for instance, took place in 1970.

It’s not clear Takara was responding to this directly but like the American Joe, who went AWOL to lead a life of adventure, his Japanese counterpart turned his back on war. Takara first sold costumes in its Sports Series to turn the toy soldier into inoffensive sportsmen and then, through its Seigi no Mikata (Ally of Justice) series, into Japanese tokusatsu heroes like Ultraman, Mirror Man and Silver Kamen. (Ideal’s Captain Action may have been the inspiration.)

Henshin Cyborg (1971)

When New G.I. Joe’s sales slowed down, Takara reused the mould to create a clear plastic figure with mechanical innards. Henshin Cyborg 1, now recognised as the founding figure of Takara SF Land, was a major hit and a strong influence on the lines that followed. The figure had grey, silver, gold and blue colour variants.

Taking a cue from New G.I. Joe’s Seigi no Mikata series and the ongoing henshin hero boom on television, Henshin Cyborg 1 could henshin (or transform) into other characters by donning costumes. Henshin Sets sold costumes of Ultraman, Kamen Rider 1 and other popular characters of the day while Chojin Sets sold costumes based on the original character designs Birdman, Fishman and Beetleman. Additionally, Cyborg Sets sold soft vinyl weapons of various designs that could slide over the figure’s forearms.

Like New G.I. Joe, Henshin Cyborg 1 could square off against enemy figures. Thankfully, however, King Walder, a space invader, was much less controversial. King Walder (in blue, green, purple and yellow) had his own Kaijin Set costumes (Dokuro King, Satan King and Shokubutsu Kaijin) and Cyborg Set weapons.

The line was further expanded with Cyborg 2, Henshin Cyborg 1’s younger brother. Being shorter at 20cm tall, Shonen Cyborg (silver, gold and blue) couldn’t make use of his older sibling’s costumes so he had his own. He could also be upgraded with Cyborg Sets consisting of various weapons and gadgets made of hard plastic.

Cyborg Jaguar (silver, gold and blue), Shonen Cyborg’s pet leopard cub turned cyborg, followed the same pattern with Henshin Sets that transformed it into animals like a jaguar as well as Weapons Sets and Cyborg Sets containing weapons and parts upgrades. In addition to those, there were Choju Sets that turned Cyborg Jaguar into Doberman-J (Doberman Jack) and Condor-V (Condor Violence), a flying quadruped with bird-like elements.

(Takara’s designers would revisit the jaguar, doberman and condor design themes frequently over the years and the Cyborg Jaguar mould itself would be reused for Takara’s Yoroiden Samurai Troopers Byakuen-Oh a.k.a Ronin Warriors White Blaze.)

The stylish Cyborg Station CX-1 carrying case for the Cyborg figure was probably inspired by the New G.I. Joe Secret Base and James Bond’s gadgetry. This was a child-scaled attaché case which opened up to reveal a base of sorts. When placed upright with weapons and accessories attached to its various hardpoints, the Cyborg Station had a passing resemblance to the Diaclone Car Robot Battle Convoy robot maintenance dock but what’s more noteworthy is Takara would come up with some creative concepts based on secret agent attaché cases in later lines.

The greatest innovation of the Henshin Cyborg line saw Takara’s designers take the transformation concept beyond cosplay. By attaching parts from the Cyborg Rider motorcycle, sidecar, exploration car, minibike and weapon sets, Henshin Cyborg could be turned from action figure into a toy motorcycle which Shonen Cyborg could ride. Almost half a century later, the Cyborg Rider remains a startling design that demonstrated the young company’s creativity and ambition. From that point on, Takara’s sci-fi toys would consistently push action figure design as far as it could go given the limitations of the era.

Some of those limitations were geopolitical in origin. Various Middle Eastern crises resulted in oil prices spiking in the early Seventies and this caused severe problems for Japan since it imported all of its oil. This naturally had a major impact on the toy industry because the price of oil affected the cost of plastic used to manufacture playthings. Henshin Cyborg, for example, required raw materials that were prioritised for daily necessities and automobiles so Takara’s Okude Nobuyuki had to convince a supplier that children all over the country were eagerly awaiting the toy. He succeeded but the oil crisis continued to be a vexing problem for the Japanese toymaker.

Android A (1974)

Originally meant to be part of the Henshin Cyborg line, Android A (Android Ace) was released in 1974 as its successor instead. Much like the Cyborg Rider, Android A took the concept of transforming beyond costumes. The 30cm-tall figure could replace its head, entire limbs and even its removable chrome-plated chest engine. There were three types of full sets: the standard Android A, the Chojin (superhuman) form and the Robot form. There were also accessory sets to turn Android A into his powered-up variant forms. 

Just as Henshin Cyborg had the alien King Walder to contend with, Android A faced off against the Shonen Cyborg-sized aliens Zeros, Zone and Jagra who came with their own weapon sets. (The trio would be reborn as Neo Henshin Cyborg villains in the Nineties.)

The aliens could tool around in a large UFO-7 vehicle with a removable inner cockpit/vehicle. This was a substantial piece of plastic at a time when the cost of it was rising so it’s perhaps understandable Takara decided to sell these components separately.

(This wasn’t an issue affecting only Japanese toymakers. Denys Fisher resorted to selling scaled-down Shonen Cyborg-sized versions of various Henshin Cyborg and Android A figures for its Cyborg line in the UK.)

Takara had a big problem on its hands. The solution was to think small. In doing so, the company came up with its greatest Takara SF Land hit.

Microman (1974)

Takara designer Ogawa Iwakichi had attempted creating a smaller posable action figure as far back as the New G.I. Joe days after his superior recognised that producing vehicles for the 12-inch toy soldier wouldn’t be economically feasible. Ogawa gave up the effort thinking there was no way of making it viable for production but if he had succeeded, the first 3¾-inch G.I. Joe may well have been A Real Japanese Hero in the Seventies. He revisited the idea when the full impact of the oil crisis hit during the production of Henshin Cyborg and this time he succeeded after much trial and error.

Ogawa’s initial Microman figure design was clearly based on Henshin Cyborg but, being one-third of the size, various design simplifications were made. Instead of a removable clear vinyl head with a chromed cybernetic inner skull, Microman had a chromed head. Instead of a clear plastic torso with mechanical innards, Microman had a chrome-plated chest piece on a clear plastic body that tried to evoke the same effect.

What really stood out about Microman was the fact it was a 10cm figure with stunning articulation for the time. Keep in mind the Kenner Star Wars figures released a few years later only had five points of articulation. Like a Star Wars figure, Microman could move at the head, shoulders and hips but the Japanese figure also had elbow and knee joints, an O-ring waist joint (almost a decade before Hasbro’s 3¾-inch design) and even  ball-jointed wrist joints.

It wasn’t just the articulation of the figures that made the Microman line extraordinary, however. The other major reason it stood out was the sheer variety of remarkable toy designs produced over the span of a decade. There were incredible bases, vehicles and robots — most of which could be taken apart and recombined with each other in new forms. The more Microman toys you had, the more possibilities you had. It was a creative and imaginative line that encouraged creative and imaginative play.

The inspiration for this was, of course, Lego. But Ogawa also revealed Microman’s Yukei Block (usually translated as Material Block) approach was meant to get Japanese boys, apparently a particularly urbane and sophisticated prepubescent set in the early Seventies who thought Lego was for babies, interested in block-style creative play.

The Yukei Block approach made block play cool by making each clearly defined “block” element representative (a Microman wing part actually looked like a wing especially when compared to how Lego bricks of that era were abstracted as one) and imbuing it with sci-fi design elements.

The connectivity between parts was based on standardised 5mm-sized pegs and ports so you could freely mix and match parts to create your own variants. (Mego’s Marty Abrams cited Microman’s construction and building play pattern as a key reason for licensing the Japanese line and rebranding it as Micronauts for the US market in 1976.)

Takara’s designers also attributed Microman’s success to the abundance of motifs and gimmicks used throughout its initial run. The Seventies fascination with mysteries and mythologies, the ancient and the alien — typified by In Search Of Ancient Astronauts — was reflected in the Japanese toy line. Speculation about alien visitors inspired the Microman storyline, Rapa Nui mo’ai and Egyptian sarcophagi inspired hibernation capsule designs, Nazca lines inspired chest designs, and so on.

The thing to remember is all this was  before Star Wars, Gundam and the robot anime boom. For many a Japanese kid, Microman was their first encounter with sci-fi and the fantastical. The relative paucity of sci-fi material back then didn’t just affect fans; it was an issue for creators as well. Design Mate’s Higuchi Yuichi, who worked on Microman toy designs and packaging, recounted how there was little in the way of reference material even for designers in those days. Hayakawa’s SF Magazine was the major Japanese sci-fi publication of the day but Higuchi, not being a sci-fi fan or a military buff, turned instead to American department store catalogues. A lawn mower, for instance, inspired some of his mechanical designs.

In terms of gimmicks, Microman ran the gamut. There were rubber-band-powered plastic model vehicles, a remote-controlled vehicle, motorised robots, robot-vehicle hybrids, transforming cars, transforming robot cars, combining robots, etc.

And then there were the toys powered by magnets.

Magne Robo (1976)

It’s generally assumed Takara based the Magne Robo Koutetsu Jeeg toy on Nagai Go’s design and later reused Jeeg’s Magnemo gimmick for its Microman Titans figures but Magnemo’s origins are a little more complicated than that.

Takara’s Okude revealed Magne Robo and Microman were developed simultaneously but Magne Robo (another invention of the underappreciated Ogawa) was put on the back burner in order to focus on Microman’s product rollout. Company president Satoh Yasuta later asked TV Magazine editor-in-chief Tanaka, who was working with the toy company on the Microman manga, to come up with a similar treatment for Magne Robo and passed him the prototype. Tanaka then handed it to Nagai who came up with the final design.

The Jeeg manga debuted in March 1975 and the Toei anime began that October. Okude noted Takara was one of the first Japanese toymakers to sponsor a television show based on its product. This was a gutsy move for the small company considering its initial reluctance to spend money advertising Microman on television for its nationwide release a few years earlier.

The investment paid off handsomely. The Jeeg toy was a major hit and the Magnemo gimmick was a major reason why. The Magnemo-powered Jeeg used magnets in the figure’s torso to connect magnetically to iron spheres affixed to limbs and other parts. (The spheres came in two diameters: the larger 11mm Magnemo-11 was used for Jeeg while the Magnemo-8 size was later used for the smaller Microman Titans figures and cheaper toys.)

The resulting articulation was superb for its time (particularly when compared to the Popy Chogokin Mazinger Z it was competing against) but on top of that, the magnetic connections meant parts could be easily attached and detached. Jeeg’s Mach Drills, for example, could be placed on Jeeg’s back or they could replace limbs. Panzeroid, Jeeg’s simple but elegant steed, could be transformed into a goofy wheeled mode politely described as a tank or combined with Jeeg to form an impressive centaur. Magnemo’s connectivity, while less expansive than the Yukei Block approach, followed the same mix-and-match play pattern that made Microman such a success.

Magnemo toys were also released by Takara licensees, Mego and GiG, and since Takara didn’t patent the gimmick, competitors quickly produced Magnemo-like toys of their own.

Takara itself reused the gimmick for its Magne Robo Gakeen and Chojin Sentai Balatack toys as well as a few other lines. Decades later, the toy company would include Magnemo joints in its revival of Microman and Henshin Cyborg to produce some of its best action figures.

Timanic (1977)

Space Traveler Timanic was a short-lived line consisting of visually impressive figures and peculiar vehicles. The Timanic 1, Timanic 2 and Timanic 3 figures had opaque armour pieces which could be removed to reveal translucent and chrome-plated cybernetic parts. At 18cm tall, the figures stood between Henshin Cyborg and Microman.

The story line, set in the distant future of 2004, was novel and perhaps befuddling for the elementary school kids who were the target audience. The Timanic were Neo Cyborg — human consciousness controlling a cybernetic body capable of withstanding the rigours of hyperspace travel. They travelled light years to battle aliens who were after Earth’s water.

(If the recurrent theme of fearsome alien aggressors with advanced technology seems overdone in Takara SF Land, consider Japan’s historical experience with the same.)

The Timanic figures included an underwhelming non-Magnemo magnet-powered gimmick: the head lit up when the figure was disassembled and combined magnetically in a variety of odd ways with the motorised Time Machine vehicles.

(The Timanic 3 Deluxe figure variant set included a battery pack that enabled the same feature. Interestingly, the battery pack seems largely identical to that for Takara’s Gimca FMB System diecast minicars.)

It’s perplexing Timanic didn’t make extensive use of Microman-compatible 5mm joints or Magnemo-compatible magnet joints. If there had been cross-line appeal, perhaps it would have fared better. Today, it’s largely overlooked even by Takara’s fans.

Takara’s designers, however, ever cognisant of their company’s rich heritage, would give a nod to Timanic with the Microman Magne Force Achilles, Theseus and Icarus figures in 2005.

Combat Joe (1984)

Combat Joe: Real Action Figure Series was a line of 1/6-scale military and law enforcement figures for the nascent adult collector market. Though it wasn’t quite in accordance with the 20-year-old rule, it seems safe to assume the line was aimed at Japanese men who grew up with Takara’s New G.I. Joe in the early Seventies.

Combat Joe’s inclusion in Takara SF Land seems anomalous until you consider the figures were based on the Henshin Cyborg 1 mould (which was in turn based on New G.I. Joe) with redesigned heads.

Combat Joe was notable at the time for the relative accuracy of its cloth uniforms. Oddly enough, the line also had a non-military issue Godzilla costume set. This coincided with the release of the 1984 Godzilla film (The Return of Godzilla) and the included Combat Joe figure represented the original Godzilla suit actor, Nakajima Haruo.

(Two decades later, the Microman Kiguru Microman Series Godzilla set was released to coincide with Godzilla: Final Wars.)

Super Cyborg (1987)

Super Cyborg was an unreleased line developed for overseas markets.  The 20cm figure (roughly the size of Shonen Cyborg) initially had a realistic cloth outfit like Combat Joe but that feature was dropped after the clothes looked baggy on the smaller frame.

The line was meant to update Henshin Cyborg but the emphasis would be on subterfuge rather than transformation. Super Cyborg was a stylish business suit-clad secret agent who could replace his forearms with weapons retrieved from attaché cases. He could also make use of Container Bike, a foldable scooter, and Container Gyro, a gyrocopter, which were hidden in a container and trailer respectively. (The Microman Magne Powers Spy Heli set, which had a Microman-sized gyrocopter stored in a noodle cup, is an interesting take on this concept.) A larger trailer, which unfolded to become a playset, was also planned.

Super Cyborg was cancelled when Takara switched focus to the domestic market with Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru, Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (Ronin Warriors) and Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop. This was probably the result of the 1985 Plaza Accord which set in motion a complex series of events whose repercussions are still being felt in Japan today. The rapid appreciation of the yen following the signing of the accord made Japanese products less competitive in foreign markets and there was a concurrent effort by the Japanese government to spur domestic demand. Takara Tomy chairman and CEO Tomiyama Kantaro noted in the company’s 2020 annual report the Plaza Accord caused a major crisis at Tomy  because the company relied on exports for most of its sales so it’s likely Takara faced major problems back then as well.

Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop (1988)

Cybercop was Takara’s first foray into the world of tokusatsu. The Toho live-action television show looks cheesy by today’s standards but the Bit Suit action figures were phenomenal designs for the era.

The cancelled Super Cyborg line served as the starting point for Cybercop’s development. The concept of powering up with weapon attachments inspired the stylish Cyber Arm and Cyber Weapon arms and accessories and, in another nod to Super Cyborg, Cybercop’s gear was stored in containers called the Black Chamber when not in use.

The figures were well-articulated, each character had unique head and shoulder designs and most had removable armour pieces. Lucifer Bit was the most striking of the figures and came with a remarkable assortment of cool accessories and gimmicks. The multifuctional Gigamax, in particular, was a standout design and a harbinger of complex transforming accessories to come. This was a flying drone that could also be a flight pack or shoulder-mounted heavy cannon and could split apart to become a gun/sword and shield. Being a Green Ranger-style adversary turned ally, Lucifer Bit had a menacing facemask that could be removed to reveal a face design resembling the other characters.

There was also a sleek futuristic vehicle, the Cyber Machine Blade Liner, with an odd gimmick for a very specific purpose: there were auxiliary wheels that extended sideways to enable the vehicle to drive up vertically between buildings.

There are three other things worth noting about Cybercop. First, Jupiter Bit‘s mystifying horned antenna and beetle-style wings, deployed for his underwhelming power-up form, were remnants of an abandoned insect-themed character design. Second, animal-themed support mecha — a doberman (in the tradition of Henshin Cyborg’s Cyborg Jaguar and Microman’s Dober Machine) and a bird-like Scout Falcon — were planned but not produced.

Finally, Cybercop designer Takaya Motoki would pay tribute to the line years later in a completely unexpected format.

Cyberman (1989)

Cyberman (or Cyber 3), the follow-up to Cybercop, was developed while the Toho show was still being broadcast.

The main character would transform into a human-sized hero and then into a giant cyborg which could then combine with combat vehicles to form a giant robot. That might seem like overkill but this was intended to improve upon Cybercop Jupiter Bit’s uninspiring power-up form.

The hero had a knight motif (with a Gridman-esque head design) and was accompanied by non-transforming android sidekicks with heavily-armed fighter and ninja design themes.

Cyberman’s dramatic shifts in scale resulted in some interesting design concepts. A large hoverboard used by the hero in human-sized form, for example, would double as the sword for his giant cyborg form.

Prototypes of the giant cyborg form, air combat vehicle and the land combat vehicle (which resembled Gridman’s God Zenon God Tank) were created and were sufficiently developed to form the giant robot. The combined form broadly resembled Gridman’s Thunder Gridman with the upper body reminiscent of Metal Jack’s Silver Jack Armor.

It’s not clear why Takara halted development  on Cyberman. Cybercop fan sites report the toys sold poorly so that’s the likeliest explanation for cancelling the follow-up.

Once again, however, Takara would take ideas from an unproduced line and develop them further in later lines.

Kikou Keisatsu Metal Jack (1991)

The Metal Jack toys were produced for Sunrise’s anime series. Although it’s considered by some to be the animated sequel to Cybercop, Metal Jack began development as Outer 3, Sunrise’s own sci-fi police project.

Takara did submit Cyberman prototype samples to the animation studio for consideration and it’s also likely Metal Jack’s Lander and J Bird were influenced to some degree by Cybercop’s unproduced mecha animals.

The final Metal Jack designs clearly took inspiration from the Cyberman concept of powering-up by combining with vehicles. The Cyber Police Dog Lander, for example, could either transform into the hover bike, Jack Speeder, or become the main character’s Red Jack Armor power suit.

When considered from a Henshin Cyborg perspective, Takaya noted this was akin to having a Henshin Set that could also transform into Cyborg Jaguar and Cyborg Rider.

Denkou Chojin Gridman (1993)

Gridman was Takara’s tokusatsu collaboration with Ultraman series producers, Tsuburaya Productions. The toy line took the Chojin Set power-up concept introduced in Henshin Cyborg to the very limit.

The line was essentially built around the DX Gridman figure. It had sound and light effects which were fairly unimpressive on their own but remarkably, they were activated depending on what pose the figure was put in. Raise an arm skywards, for example, and the Gridman figure would give an Ultraman-ish battle cry. (Takara’s best-selling Tetsujin 28-go FX toy had similar gimmickry.)

Takara, being Takara, went further. The Gridman figure could combine with the support robot God Zenon (itself a combination of the Thunder Jet, Twin Driller and God Tank vehicles) to form Thunder Gridman or combine with Dynadragon (a mecha dragon combination of two jets, King Jet and Dyna Fighter) to form the massive King Gridman and his Dragonic Cannon. Astonishingly, Gridman’s sound and light effects could still be activated even with all those complex combinations.

Aside from the brilliant toy engineering involved in creating all that, it’s notable how the humanoid Gridman figure was scarcely recognisable once transformed into the boxy robotic powered-up forms. This effectively transformed an Ultraman-style tokusatsu hero into a Takara SF Land-style giant robot.

Next week: Dangarn-V and Magnighters.

Notes:

1. This should be treated as a work-in-progress with a lot more to come. Please do not hesitate to submit corrections and clarifications.

2. There are a lot of dates in the Futabasha book that conflict with other sources. For example, a Takara Tomy corporate brochure states Licca-chan was released in July 1967 and Henshin Cyborg was released in October 1972 whereas the book goes with 1966 and 1971 respectively. However, the book also mentions small-scale releases and nationwide rollouts — Microman, for instance, was tested in Hokkaido before its nationwide release — so that might explain the discrepancies.

3. It’s difficult to reconcile Microman’s original run being touted by the Futabasha book as Takara SF Land’s biggest hit when Takara Tomy’s corporate overview states Transformers has sold over 500 million toys in over 130 countries since it debuted. It’s possible the book is only taking into account Showa-era Microman and G1 Transformers sales in Japan.

4. The continuity between Henshin Cyborg and Microman extended to the storyline. The Microman manga by Kodansha’s TV Magazine depicted the adventures of Katagai Akira — the younger sibling of Henshin Cyborg 1 and Shonen Cyborg — alongside his Microman companions. The adult Akira would return in the Nineties as Professor K in Pierrot’s Chiisana Kyojin Microman anime.

5. Takara released a more Lego-like line of block toys, Bloccar, in the early Eighties. The blocks were smaller than Lego bricks, included a pull-back motor in each set so you could have your Bloccar vehicles darting around ChoroQ-style and the blocks could be rearranged into robot forms vaguely reminiscent of Diaclone Car Robot designs. Takara sold Bloccar in the US as Robotroid and like Diakron, its pre-Transformers repackaging of Diaclone, failed to make an impact.

6. The Micro Hoodman figures have an interesting origin. Higuchi Yuichi revealed he created the Kit Machines first in order to encourage kids to get into plastic models but in order to incorporate the kits into the Microman line, he needed a smaller figure design to ride the constructed vehicles. The 8cm-tall Hoodman were given their signature hoods to give them more of a presence.

7. Microman incorporated just about every toy gimmick around at the time and this tradition would continue in the Magne Powers revival of the brand in the Nineties. According to Higuchi Yuichi, the spring-powered Zenmain transforming toys initially had nothing to do with Microman but were included in the line to take advantage of the brand name. Conversely, there were toys that started out as Microman designs but were spun off as an independent line. B-Daman, for example, was originally conceived as a way to combine action figures and marble play but eventually proved to be so unlike Microman during the course of its development, it was sold separately.

8. Magnemo inventor Ogawa Iwakichi, expecting a classy colour scheme along the lines of Nagai Go’s black and silver Mazinger Z, was taken aback by Koutetsu Jeeg’s garish colours but conceded the biggest hits in the toy industry tend to buck convention.

9. Aside from the common Magnemo gimmick in Magne Robo and Microman Titans, there were Magne Robo/Microman crossovers in the form of the diecast Microman Jeeg and Gakeen figures as well as the Robotman Gakeen figure.

10. Takara’s Combat Joe is frequently mistaken for its predecessor from the Seventies, New G.I. Joe. To further muddle the issue, Medicom Toy released Godzilla costume sets years later as part of its Real Action Heroes line which included a new figure design licensed from Takara dubbed New Combat Joe. The New Combat Joe figure was essentially Combat Joe but its limbs were removable (like Android A).

11. The Super Cyborg prototype was created by Kobayashi Dan, the same designer who worked on the Henshin Cyborg 1 prototype.

12. Takara’s initial concept for the Cybercop Blade Liner was a Cyborg Rider-inspired fusion of man and machine. Like Super Cyborg’s Container Gyro, the vehicle was to be stored in a truck trailer (the Mega Chamber) when not in use. The design was simplified at Toho’s request to make it convenient for the show.

13. Cyberman’s swordsman/fighter/ninja design template was first seen in Cybercop’s early design drafts for unproduced Knight, Ranbo (sic) and Ninja power-up armour. This template would later be reused for the Microman Magne Powers Robotman Ace, Baron and Cross figures.

14. Takaya Motoki revealed the Metal Jack Shadow Jack Armor combination of the human Shadow and his blocky support robot, Bolter, served to prove the feasibility of the Gridman and God Zenon combination.

15. The God Zenon component, Thunder Jet, was originally packed to the brim with batteries, sensors and speakers for various electronic gimmicks in order to make the set a must-have item even without Gridman. Unfortunately, the resulting Thunder Gridman combined form proved to be much too back-heavy to stand on its own so the Thunder Jet was redesigned in a hurry to meet deadlines for the show’s costume production and the toy release.

16. Takaya Motoki had a part-time job during his student days creating a giant robot costume for a live-action series. The process involved gluing urethane foam pieces shaped like robot parts on an actor in a wet suit. This would later inspire his Gridman toy designs which in turn inspired the costumes for the Tsuburaya show.