Takara SF Land Evolution

Updated on 15 May with Transformers Zone

Takara SF Land celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022. 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 1972. 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 timelines were compiled from the Omocha Johou Net site, Takara Tomy’s corporate brochure, Takara corporate history, Henshin Cyborg history and Tomy shashi.

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 1967 and quickly became 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, Mirrorman and Silver Kamen. (Ideal’s Captain Action may have been the inspiration.)

Henshin Cyborg (1972)

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 1 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 toy maker.

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 Shonen Cyborg-sized alien opponents of his own. The Aliens — the scientist Zeros, the vicious Zone and the mysterious sorcerer, Jagra — could increase their threat level with weapon sets sold separately. (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.

(Japanese toy makers weren’t the only ones affected by rising costs. 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 realised early on this was a key advantage and made sure kids understood this connectivity extended to interchangeability between Takara lines. The 1974 Microman and Android A catalogues provided a brief writeup of how Microman encountered Henshin Cyborg 1 and Android A, and formed an alliance to repel the alien invaders menacing Earth. The cross-line appeal of this “Victory Plan” borne of this alliance was made clear by illustrations of combinations made from Henshin Cyborg 1, Shonen Cyborg, Cyborg Weapons, Cyborg Rider, Cyborg Jaguar, Android A and Microman parts. This was arguably the moment Takara SF Land came into its own.

The most notable toy resulting from this Victory Plan crossover was the Microman Robotman. The packaging pointed out Robotman’s “helbrain” was derived from Henshin Cyborg 1’s brain and, toy-wise, the Robotman’s cockpit enabled the 10cm-tall Microman figures to interact with the 30cm figures from the Henshin Cyborg and Android A lines. The prominent “V” and “S” on Robotman were from “Victory Series” indicating it was intended to be the first of many such crossover toys. As it turned out, the Henshin Cyborg and Android A lines ended even as Microman went from strength to strength.

Microman’s success was partly attributed 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 handed him the prototype. Tanaka then passed it on 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 toy makers 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 was largely identical to that for Takara’s Gimca FMB System diecast minicars. However, the contact widths differed so they weren’t interchangeable.

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 Icurus 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 KiguruMicroman 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 (the size of Shonen Cyborg) initially had realistic clothing like Combat Joe and was intended to have several outfits 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 suave 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.

The Super Cyborg project 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. Takara designer Takaya Motoki revealed in the Futabasha book the cancelled Super Cyborg project served as a starting point for Cybercop’s development but there might be more to the story.

Design Mate’s Higuchi Yuichi made an extraordinary claim in a 2018 Hobby Japan Mook interview: Cybercop began as an idea for the Jenny line. Although he didn’t specify the timeframe, this would most probably have been in 1986 when Takara began preparations to rebrand its version of Barbie as Jenny after Mattel terminated Takara’s Barbie license. Higuchi’s wife suggested creating a male “fashion cyborg” for the Jenny line to make it stand apart from the other boy dolls in the market (e.g. Licca-chan’s Wataru-kun). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “fashion cyborg” concept was deemed a little too unusual for a line of dolls but Takara’s boys’ toys designers apparently adapted the concept for Cybercop. Higuchi noted the basic details of Cybercop were more or less “fashion cyborg”  aside from the head which was redesigned for the Toho show. He expressed frustration Cybercop was seen as a Robocop-derivative when the “fashion cyborg” concept predated the American movie. (It’s worth noting the tokusatsu Metal Hero series began before both Robocop and “fashion cyborg.”)

The two origin stories are not irreconcilable. The initial concept for Super Cyborg was a cyborg secret agent who could dress up in different outfits — something that could have certainly been inspired by an offbeat design concept for a fashion doll line. Furthermore, Takaya took over the Super Cyborg project (under supervision from his seniors) after many concept sketches and prototypes of the figure and a supercar had already been completed so that doesn’t rule out the possibility Super Cyborg was derived from the unused “fashion cyborg” idea and Cybercop was then inspired by the cancelled Super Cyborg project.

Regardless of its origins, Cybercop, like Super Cyborg before it, should ultimately be considered an 80s update of Henshin Cyborg. The Cyborg Weapons concept from Henshin Cyborg was updated as Cybercop’s stylish Cyber Arm and Cyber Weapon arms and accessories. These weapons could then be stored in Black Chamber cases, which were inspired by Super Cyborg’s accessory containers.

The figures were well-articulated with unique head and shoulder designs for each character 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, Takaya 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 first 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 but introduced some new elements. The Cyber Police Dog Lander, for example, could either transform into the hover bike, Jack Speeder, or combine with the main character to become the 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.

Dangarn-V (1985)

Dangarn-V (Dangarn Five) was an unproduced line intended for overseas markets. Takara designer Takaya Motoki, who was shown photos of the prototypes when he joined the company in 1987, considers the line to be the missing link between Microman and Battle Beasts/BeastFormers.

At least six prototype figures were created along with several vehicles. The roughly Microman-sized figures had human and anthropomorphic animal designs. The most notable of these was the Dangarn-V Heavy Machine Gunner figure, a visored anthropomorphic serow which influenced the design of Battle Beasts Deer Stalker a.k.a. BeastFormers Big Serow.

Dangarn-V would also later inspire Takaya’s early character designs for Microman Magne Powers Arthur, Odin, Izam, Walt and Edison and is even reflected in the final design by the characters’ animal-influenced helmets.

It’s not apparent why Dangarn-V was cancelled but considering Battle Beasts consisted of smaller and simpler figures, it’s possible Hasbro, always cost-conscious, asked Takara to come up with a cheaper line for the US market.

Chojiryoku Robo Magnators (1995)

Takaya Motoki’s first entry for Takara’s internal idea contest, Takara no Takara (Treasures of Takara), was a plan to reboot Magne Robo. It won and Takaya was given the go-ahead to begin the project.

Chojiryoku Robo Magnators (as the project eventually became known) made use of powerful neodymium magnets which enabled new play patterns that were impossible for the Magnemo figures from the Seventies.

The line revolved around three Magnator figures which could pass for early design drafts for the Magne Powers Robotman Ace, Baron and Cross figures. The major difference was the Magnators were also designed to be transformable Magne Robo-style into vehicle modes. This was accomplished by transforming the Magnator’s torso and head into a Magne Core Unit and replacing the limbs with machine mode parts.  Each of the Magnators had a specialised role: land, sea and air.

In addition to those, there were Power Unit Machines in the form of mecha animals with the same land, sea and air design theme: a big cat, a shark and a bird. Like the Magne Powers Magne Animals, these mecha animals were meant to power-up the Magnators by combining with them. (The art for the Magnator Aeros and the bird mecha combination had a striking resemblance to the combined form of Magne Powers Robotman Ace and Hurricane Bird.)

On top of that, a large Mechagodzilla-esque figure was designed to combine with the three Magnators to form a Super Magne Robo. One Magnator would fit in the torso and form part of the head while the other two would replace the arms.

Takaya and his colleagues were in the process of refining the Magnators designs for an anticipated anime tie-in when the Magne Robo reboot project was itself rebooted. The designers were ordered by the company president to incorporate Microman elements into the modern Magne Robo line and this eventually led to the long-overdue revival of Microman.

Gattai Senshi Blockman (1984)

While Blockman was a Diaclone offshoot, it could also be considered the ultimate realisation of the Yukei Block concept introduced a decade earlier with Microman.

In Blockman, each individual block was a 5.7cm-tall robot action figure made of plastic and die-cast metal with four points of articulation and 14 5mm connection points. The smallest sets included a solitary Blockman and accessories while the larger giftsets contained over a dozen Blockman figures. The latter also included fixed-pose chromed silver figures which, at 3cm tall, were the size of Diaclone pilots (discounting the magnetic platform shoes).

By combining several Blockman figures, parts and accessories, you could construct sci-fi vehicles and larger robots. The official combinations described in the instructions, catalogue and packaging were bland but the real appeal of any Yukei Block toy is mixing and matching parts to come up with your own creations.

Sadly, the line was shortlived due to lacklustre sales. It’s a real shame because Blockman could have been the linchpin for Takara SF Land in the mid-Eighties. The line had numerous parts that could take advantage of Microman’s 5mm pegs and ports, and the vehicle and robot cockpits could accommodate Diaclone pilots. The combination of those elements also meant Blockman had crossover appeal with the first few waves of Transformers.

Takara never saw fit to revisit and update Blockman but Bandai’s Machine Robo Mugenbine was very Blockman-like and indy toy designers like Matt Doughty and Ben Mininberg have certainly taken inspiration from it.

Microman Magne Powers (1998)

Magne Powers represented the major return of Microman after being in hiatus for over a decade. On the face of it, it might have seemed a no-brainer for Takara: take a once-great, now-moribund line, update it to reflect modern trends and rub your hands gleefully as the money pours in. But it just wasn’t that simple. What might have been successful in the Showa-era Seventies might not pass muster in the Heisei-era Nineties because as times change, so do kids and their attitudes towards toys.

The major problem affecting Takara and other Japanese toy companies was demographic in nature: there were far fewer kids due to the declining birth rate. Matters were made worse because those kids were quicker to outgrow their toys and turn their attention to other amusements like videogames. As toy industry analysts of that era kept nervously pointing out, the kids were getting older younger. Aside from this “age compression” aspect affecting their already-dwindling domestic market, the Japanese toy makers also had to grapple with the fact the kids who did get toys were mainly content with figures which meant peripheral products like bases and vehicles weren’t likely to sell as well as they did in the Seventies and Eighties. If that wasn’t enough, Takara’s designers also had price restrictions to consider. Their superiors suggested keeping the toys below the 3000 yen price tag if possible since that was considered a key reason for Beast Wars’ success in Japan.

The designers had to keep all that in mind as they set about reviving Microman for a new generation. In order to keep production costs for vehicles and bases low, the line revolved around a smaller figure design. To ensure the 8cm figures interacted well with peripheral products, the designers emphasised gimmickry based on magnets. The core figure would have magnets on the feet (much like Diaclone pilots) to allow it to easily attach to metal surfaces on bases and vehicles as well as magnets on the chest and left hand to activate gimmicks on those items. Since Takara had to target a younger demographic, the figures were designed to be durable to prevent the magnets being dislodged and ingested.

(The stylish Super Microman figures, released in a later wave, ditched the chest magnet, replaced the arm magnet with a magnet on a weapon accessory and improved the articulation.)

Magnets were also a key part of the Robotman designs, some of the finest figures Takara has ever produced. Like the cancelled Magnators figures, the Robotman figures’ stronger neodymium magnets enabled more ambitious interchangeability options compared to the original Magne Robo figures.

There were, of course, obligatory nods to previous Takara SF Land lines. Some of these relatively overt. The Giant Acroyear component, AcroBeta, was immediately recognisable as an homage to the Microman Micro Robot 1 (a.k.a. Micronauts Microtron). Other references to older Takara lines were so subtle as to be barely discernible. The combination of Robotman Ace and a pair of Magne Titan JetMogura did superficially resemble Drill Jeeg; the combination of Robotman Cross and Hurricane Bird parts did make him look like he was cosplaying Death Cross; a Robotman Baron powered up with a pair of Rocket Punch parts wasn’t that far off from Emperor, the Baron Karza variant by GiG. Considering the younger designers’ penchant for callbacks to their predecessors’ work, it’s likely these faint resemblances to classic Magnemo-11 toys were intentional rather than coincidental.

There were several toys in the line that were designed to interact with both the smaller Microman and the larger Robotman figures. The Magne Animals Hurricane Bird, Magne Jaguar and Magne Cougar, for example, could either be mounts for the Microman figures or Magnemo-11 power-ups for the Robotman figures.

The traditional 5mm ports and pegs, initially downplayed in the line, were abundant in the U-Borg accessories released by Media Factory. These were school stationery items that also functioned as Microman accessories. The Microwing 10 ruler, for example, served as a flight pack, a compass doubled as a Power Sword and a pen, fittingly, was the even more powerful Unit Shell Laser.

There were also numerous 5mm connectors in the Microman Kit — mechanical creatures sold as plastic kits that could be transformed into Microman vehicles — and these kits could be combined into something  that could pass for a mecha if you tilted your head to the side and squinted at it intensely for several minutes.

The centrepiece of the Magne Powers line, the Microstation base, was a combination of the classic Road Station base and a Playstation-type console. Aside from being an impressive piece of design, it was a clever way of acknowledging the major obsession of modern kids and integrating it into the toy line. The Microstation transformed between non-functional game console, flight mode and base mode, and included various gimmicks that were activated by the figures’ magnets. Its Road Station-inspired tracks could be used by the goofy Zenmain toys and those tracks could be extended with ChoroQ rails.

The initial marketing for Magne Powers played up the fact this was the Showa-era Microman fans, now adults, passing on their love for Microman to their children. However, when Takara marketing man Itagaki Kozo visited stores on release day, he discovered the older fans were purchasing the entire line-up for themselves. He went so far as to suggest Magne Powers’ initial success was partly due to the enthusiasm of these older collectors. The Studio Pierrot anime series, Chiisana Kyojin Microman, proved popular when it debuted in 1999 but toy sales soon began to stall. Itagaki attributed this to the slow rollout of bases and vehicles for the figures.

There were other factors involved, however. Takara was experiencing a lot of problems internally during this time and this would affect the development of the Magne Powers sequel as well.

Microman LED Powers (2000)

Takara was in bad shape in 1999. The company announced a loss for the half-year period ending September and it was nearly bankrupt. Satoh Hirohisa resigned as president and his father, Takara’s founder, returned briefly to save the company. It would not be an easy task. Feeling creatively stifled under the previous president, employees had left and those who remained were in low spirits.

The 2000 Microman line was developed under those conditions which explains why it was a strange mishmash of interesting new designs and desperate recycling of old ones.

The Magne Powers sequel downplayed magnets (the new figures only had them on their feet)  and focused instead on LEDs. Each figure had one on its chest which was activated by a battery-powered backpack.

Perhaps anticipating the possibility a child of the new millennium might not find a light turning on and off to be a tremendously entertaining diversion, a subsequent wave introduced Secret Breast versions of the characters. Kids were invited to rub each figure’s chest vigorously to reveal a colour that indicated the secret mission the character was embarking upon. This probably would have been more suspenseful if a sticker on the back of the package didn’t give the colour away. If the figures’ colour schemes seemed murky overall, it’s because they were a nod to the old Microman Real Type toys (which were influenced by the Gunpla boom of the early Eighties).

The Shining Tector wave had the best-looking figures of the line. Perfect Shining Solomon, in particular, was a beautiful design with the gold, metallic green and translucent yellow of the figure enhanced by the translucent blue accessories.

In terms of innovation, the standouts were the Microboy sets. These were Game Boy-inspired toys that transformed between non-functional handheld game console, piloted mecha, vehicle and base modes. The Microman pilot figure included in each set had a modified backpack with an infrared transmitter that could flip open several panels on the Microboy. That may seem fairly underwhelming as gimmicks go but keep in mind the severe constraints the designers were working under.

These constraints were more apparent when it came to the other peripheral products. If these vehicles and bases seemed to be an awkward fit for the line, it’s because they were refurbished Transformers moulds hastily thrown into the mix. (Considering Microman contributed some noteworthy Transformers toys back in 1984, this could also be construed as Takara SF Land’s greatest brand repaying an old debt.) The 1990 Action Masters Armored Convoy Optimus Prime set was turned into the Microtrailer, the 1995 Generation 2 Laser Cycles Road Pig and Road Rocket were modified to become Micro Bikes and the 1989 Micromaster Countdown set was now the flagship item of the LED Powers line, the Micro Rocket Base. Takara was presumably forced into this course of action because of a limited development budget and the need to fill retail space reserved for the line.

The lack of funds also meant there was no anime tie-in for LED Powers so Takara had to make do with storytelling through in-package pamphlets and a manga tie-in. While this approach may have been successful for Microman in the Seventies, it did not go over well with Heisei-era kids and LED Powers fizzled out.

But even as the line ended, Takara’s situation improved under the leadership of its fourth president, Satoh Keita. The youngest son of the company founder would not only turn things around, he would take Takara to new heights. He did this partly by asking his demoralised employees, “What do you really — really — want to do?” The Microman designers’ answer to that question produced some of Takara SF Land’s most ambitious figures.

Microman 200X (2003)

When LED Powers ended in 2000, Microman seemed finished as a brand as well but Takaya Motoki was not prepared to give up on it. His plan to reboot Microman won Takara’s internal idea contest the very next year.

The “Microman 2001 Rebirth Plan” involved creating a 10cm figure with as much articulation as possible. However, the target market would now be adults rather than kids. There were several possible reasons for this change in direction: Magne Powers and LED Powers didn’t seem to resonate with Heisei-era kids, Takaya had success with the 2000 Cool Girl line aimed at older toy fans and this approach was in line with Satoh Keita’s goal of expanding Takara’s customer base.

In order to broaden Microman’s appeal, the plan also called for licensing popular characters in the beginning before eventually developing a “Takara SF World” story background aimed at adults. For some reason, Takaya was never approached to be a part of the development project but the lines resulting from his 2001 plan would eventually be collectively known as Microman 200X.

As the 2005 Microman Perfect Works book makes clear, however, the origins of the reboot predate this. Designer Ichikawa Hirofumi had been working on an 8cm Microman figure design with dramatically improved articulation in early 2000. Although it was the size of a Magne Powers figure, it had double-jointed knees, ankles and shoulders. The prototype based on this design improved the articulation even further — the elbows were now double-jointed as well.

This base body was dubbed the “Hadaka Microman” (Naked Microman) but despite the outstanding articulation, Takara had trouble deciding how to use the figure. One slightly mystifying suggestion was creating customised figures as souvenirs for local tourist spots.

In 2002, the prototype figure was reworked to become 10cm tall — about the size of the Showa-era  Microman figures — but there was little desire for a simple nostalgia-driven retread of classic designs from the Seventies. After meeting with prominent Microman fans in June, Takara finalised plans to use the new figure design for a modern Microman line as well as a line of licensed characters. The emphasis would be on producing superbly articulated, gimmick-free figures with cool designs.

The initial design sketches were extraordinarily ambitious. At one stage, the designers were planning on creating a Microman-sized Neo Henshin Cyborg. This would have neatly paralleled the 1974 Microman line which was essentially Takara’s attempt at shrinking the 30cm-tall Henshin Cyborg 1 figure to a more cost-effective size.

But the 21st century version would see Takara taking the idea to the next level. The Microman-Cyborg would have a removable head that revealed a cybernetic inner skull (like Henshin Cyborg 1) and could replace its forearms with weapons (like the Cyborg Sets of old). If that wasn’t enough, there were plans to create Henshin Sets to transform the figures into characters like Dokuro King.

Most astonishing of all, the 10cm-tall Microman-Cyborg would also transform into a Microman-scaled Cyborg Rider. A fusion of action figure and vehicle, the Cyborg Rider was an ambitious design for a 30cm-tall figure in the Seventies; to attempt to do the same with a 10cm figure was mindboggling. While none of these ideas made it even to the prototype stage, it provides a clear indication of the designers’ mindset: they were intent on pushing this 10cm action figure design to the limit.

Since the Microman 200X figures were aimed at toy fans aged 15 or older, the designers were less restricted by concerns over safety and durability. Thus, the line had a lot of chrome-plated parts (which might be easily scratched by rough handling) and the accessories were relatively small and delicate. Designer Shinohara Tamotsu, being a toy fan himself, estimated each figure would be handled lightly for about two hours on the day of purchase, 2 to 3 times more in that same week before finally being placed on display.

(On the downside, the figures were perhaps a little frustrating to handle. Move a limb here and an accessory would fall off there. Reattach that part and another tiny piece would decide this would be an opportune moment to detach and find itself a hiding place. Unlike the Magne Powers and LED Powers figures, the 200X figures simply weren’t meant to be fiddled with absentmindedly.)

The first of these all-new, all-different Microman-branded lines was MicroForce. Commander, Ninja, Gunner and Spy were released in May 2003 for about 980 yen in Japan and about 5 dollars in the US. Those were remarkably low prices considering what you got. Takara did stint on packaging — MicroForce came in a flimsy plastic cannister containing a paper insert and plastic baggies for the accessories — but you forgot all about that once you had the figures in hand. The articulation for these 10cm figures were as jaw-dropping in 2003 as that for the original Microman figures must have been in 1974. Most of the joints may seem unremarkable today even on similar-sized figures but back then the MicroForce design had no real competition. A ball-jointed chest joint was simply unprecedented on a figure this size.

The superb articulation lent itself well to the Tatsunoko Fight series of licensed characters based on Takara’s 2000 Playstation fighting game. These figures used the MicroForce body but lacked the traditional Microman elements like the chromed head. This line would eventually morph into the Micro Action Series and be expanded with the goal of attracting more casual toy fans who weren’t familiar with Microman. Accordingly, Takara licensed characters from various anime, movies, comics and games.

Microman fans weren’t content simply buying figures of licensed characters, however. Takara’s Abiko Kazutami, who took charge of the Microman 200X lines after the release of MicroForce, was aware fans were customising MicroForce and Tatsunoko Fight figures to turn them into other characters and were even coming up with their own creations. Seeing the demand for Microman-sized blank figures, Takara teamed up with Toys ‘R’ Us Japan to sell the Material Force line based on the MicroForce body design. These plain, unadorned figures with unsculpted faces made a perfect base body for customising and the 499 yen asking price was very agreeable. Unsurprisingly, they immediately sold out so Takara produced more in a variety of colours.

There was a lengthy 10-month gap between the release of MicroForce and the next wave of original Microman designs, and Takara spent some of that time contemplating how to proceed. Customer survey responses suggested fans would be partial to accessories that could not only attach to the figures but could also be combined into a vehicle of some sort. There were complications, however. Market research done back when Takara was selling replicas of classic Microman figures also revealed collectors in general were less enamoured of large vehicles. (The only large Showa-era Microman mecha or vehicle to be reissued was Robotman.) The typical Japanese domicile wasn’t designed with a large action figure collection in mind and vehicles, in particular, took up a lot of space. Shinohara himself had to get rid of his G.I. Joe vehicles when he moved because he just did not have the space for them. He firmly believed Microman vehicles ought to be small, be able to combine into a more compact form like the old Armoured Machine Cosmic Fighter and Transfer Fortress vehicles, and their component parts should double as accessories for the figures.

With all that taken into account, the MicroForce follow-up should really be seen as Takara’s tentative, nervy attempt at introducing Microman 200X vehicles. MasterForce originally consisted of three figures representing land (Groundmaster Alan), sea (Divemaster Roberto) and air (Skymaster Hayate). Automaster Ryan was almost an afterthought but proved to be the most popular of the four. This was perhaps unsurprising since his futuristic bike was the best-defined vehicle design.

The success of Masterforce inspired the designers to develop the vehicle/accessory concept further for the next Microman wave. The BioMachine vehicles, little larger than the figures themselves, could be combined into an exceptionally shiny chrome-plated BioSuit mecha to take up even less space. This approach proved popular and would later lead to the Automaster Ryan-inspired Road Spartan vehicles combining into something vaguely Transfer Fortress-ish. Both these waves would also have parts that detached from the vehicles to become armour and accessories for the figures.

The Microman figure designs, meanwhile, grew incredibly diverse over the next few waves as Takara experimented with different styles. The BioMachine wave figures were notable for their beautiful chrome plating and more mechanical design. The Road Spartan wave figures, on the other hand, had minimal chrome plating and were more anime-influenced.

The Military Force figures were apparently the result of several ideas: Ichikawa’s sketch for a Soldier Microman troop builder figure, Shinohara’s idea for a mass-produced android, Abiko’s suggestion for a lightly-armed and inexpensive Acrosoldier grunt, and customer feedback requesting cheap generic troops with lots of weapons. Space Rescue, Techno Wave, Lava Planet, Virtual Task, Night Recon, Stealth Camo, Forest Hide and Sand Storm were intended to let fans easily personalise the figures by mixing and matching parts — something very much in line with Microman’s traditional Yukei Block appeal. The design had numerous 3mm ports all over the body and the body itself could be disassembled relatively easily. (The body design would later be reused for Samurai Armor Batman and other figures.)

Aside from different looks, there were different body shapes to provide even  more variety. Acroyear-X2 AcroMedalg, for example, introduced the “massive” male body which added more bulk without hindering posability.

Microman 200X was also notable for its large number of female characters. Ichikawa felt older collectors would be more receptive to them compared to the young boys who were the target market for previous Microman lines so he had sketched a female body design even before the release of MicroForce. However, development only began in earnest after Abiko took charge.

The female body was shorter at 9.5cm, had a different shoulder structure, thinner arms, a tighter waist and even the screws holding the figure together were thinner and had a smaller diameter. But the designers took pains to ensure whatever changes were made didn’t sacrifice posability in any way. The thigh swivel joint, for instance, was moved closer to the knee in order to maintain the correct proportions for the lower body. Interestingly, the designers had specific poses in mind for the female figure and reworked the design to ensure the prototype was capable of those poses. The body design was then adapted for different characters. GaoGaiGar’s Swan White was noticeably more voluptuous compared to the svelte Utsugi Mikoto.

As popular as the female characters were, there was some spirited debate at Takara over the design direction. Abiko and marketer Yasuda Takahiro were initially opposed to Quanto magazine’s proposed design for Xiang-Ni, worrying that going the cute route would damage the Microman brand but as it turned out, the Quanto Zero One magazine exclusive figure proved to be so popular it influenced Takara’s own design for AcroElsa and likely the Micro Sisters as well.

The Magne Force Microman were arguably the best figures of Microman 200X. Code named “Magne Titan” during development, Achilles, Theseus, Icurus, Phobos, Atlas and Metis had striking looks, superb articulation and were, all in all, a brilliant update of the Magnemo gimmick. The use of magnetic Magnemo-8 joints for limbs meant the 2005 figures were interchangeable with the Microman Titans from 1976 but the new designs went further. The 11mm iron ball connecting the upper and lower halves of the body (unique to this series of Magnemo figures) not only provided phenomenal torso articulation for a Microman figure but the 11mm size also gave the Magne Force figures compatibility with Magnemo-11 parts from Magne Powers from the Nineties as well as Magne Robo toys from the Seventies.

Shinohara was asked to give the Magne Force figures a Titans-like mechanical design (which was the obvious direction to go) but he opted instead to differentiate the characters with unique armour pieces. Since these detachable armour pieces reminded him of Timanic, Shinohara then decided to base the final designs of Achilles, Theseus and Icurus on the obscure Takara SF Land line.

The designers also experimented with different materials for the 200X line. The KiguruMicroman figures, for example, came with soft vinyl monster costumes while the Thunderbirds figures had cloth costumes.

Not every experiment was an overwhelming success. AcroPhantom‘s coat, for example, impeded posability despite being made of more pliable material. More disappointingly, the use of translucent plastic for some figures’ elbows and ankles sometimes resulted in those joints cracking or breaking outright while posing the figures. But then attempting the ambitious with a 10cm figure was always going to involve taking some risks and not every gamble pays off.

Satoh Keita would understand that well enough. By 2005, his risk-taking, go-with-the-gut management style — a marked contrast to his older brother’s stolid and stifling leadership — led to heavy losses after he made one gamble too many in his bid to turn Takara into a “life entertainment company.” He was forced by Konami, Takara’s biggest shareholder, to relinquish the presidency but his risk-taking didn’t stop there. As Takara’s chairman, he approached mobile company Index to purchase Konami’s shares and then broached the idea of a merger with Tomy. The negotiations between the two toy makers were brief but heated. It’s telling Satoh had to be repeatedly reminded by photographers to smile during the press conference announcing the merger because the terms were not favourable for Takara. Indeed, the merger would be deemed by some to be a de facto bailout. The merged company would be known as Takara Tomy domestically and Tomy internationally as the latter was adjudged to have more brand recognition outside Japan. The merger was clearly one last roll of the dice for Satoh but the goal may simply have been to save Takara, the company founded by his father in 1955 and helmed by his family for half a century.

It would be overstating matters to assert Takara’s fate was intertwined with that of Microman. For one thing, Microman didn’t show up until well after the company had major hits like Licca-chan, and moreover, the brand was on hiatus for most of the Eighties and Nineties as Takara focused on Transformers and the Brave series. It is possible, however, to make a case Microman’s fate was intertwined with that of the Satoh family. Takara’s founder, Satoh Yasuta, encouraged his designers to improvise and it was during his tenure that Takara turned the 30cm Henshin Cyborg into a 10cm Microman to great success even as the full impact of the oil crisis hit Japan. His eldest son, Hirohisa, ordered the revival of Microman during the Heisei era which resulted in Magne Powers and LED Powers. And it’s doubtful the groundbreaking Microman 200X line would have been approved without the impulsive youngest son, Keita, at the helm. It’s therefore fitting Microman slowly came to an end as the Satoh family lost influence once Takara became subsumed in Takara Tomy.

Microman 200X represented the last Microman figures recognisable as such released by Takara. As the last hurrah for the legendary brand, it did reasonably well and there were certainly stellar designs produced during that run. The question of why it ended is an interesting one. Did it simply run out of steam like most toy lines eventually do or was it a casualty of the post-merger reorganisation? Whatever the reason, it seems fairly evident Takara Tomy doesn’t rate Microman very highly given the company’s indifference to the line’s 40th anniversary in 2014.

Yet it’s hard to believe the influential line is completely done with the 50th anniversary approaching. Considering how well the Diaclone reboot is doing as a premium-priced collector’s line, it’s possible Microman may return in the near future in a new form.

Cool Girl (2000)

Cool Girl was Takara’s attempt at merging dolls for girls and action figures for boys with the aim of creating 1/6-scale cool and sexy figures targeting the adult collector. That was unusual in itself but the project’s origins were even more startling: it began as an idea for a military version of Jenny, Takara’s fashion doll. To fully appreciate just how absurd that was, it’s necessary to look at Jenny’s history.

While Takara is usually associated with Hasbro when it comes to partnerships with American toy makers, the Japanese company once had a working relationship with Mattel. Barbie, Mattel’s crown jewel, was originally manufactured in Japan but the doll didn’t dominate the Japanese market. In fact, Mattel withdrew from the Japanese market a few years after Takara released Licca-chan in 1967. By 2017, Takara had sold over 60 million Licca-chan dolls.

Although it’s tempting to attribute Licca-chan’s popularity solely to the fact it was a Japanese doll by a Japanese toy maker geared towards the Japanese market, the story is a little more complicated than that. Takara initially intended to create a portable dollhouse for Mattel’s Barbie and Ideal’s Tammy but realised Japanese rooms wouldn’t have much space for a dollhouse scaled for American dolls. A smaller dollhouse required a smaller doll so Takara designed the 21cm-tall Licca-chan.

Licca-chan’s features, with a side-glance and an ambiguous expression, were also said to be more appealing to Japanese sensibilities. But Licca, the character, wasn’t purely Japanese. She was biracial (the prototype doll was named after Takami Emiri, a mixed-race child model) and her fashion sense reflected the Japanese fascination with all things European and American. That said, she was undeniably a product of her culture. Her manga-inspired big eyes — an artifact of Tezuka Osamu’s obsession with Walt Disney — marked her as such. The Japanese doll, in its fusion of East and West, made the West appealing to Japanese girls in a way Barbie did not.

Acknowledging Takara’s dominance of the Japanese doll market, Mattel licensed Barbie to Takara in 1980. Just as Takara localised G.I. Joe with New G.I. Joe, the Japanese toy company altered the American fashion doll for its domestic market. After spending 19 months and 100 million yen during development, Takara’s Barbie, with  a rounder face and bigger eyes, was released in 1982. The fashion doll was targetted at upper elementary school girls and nicely complemented Takara’s own Licca-chan, which was popular with younger girls.

In 1986, Mattel and Takara’s doll partnership came to an end, as these things tend to do, over giant robots. Mattel had a sneaking suspicion Takara was more invested in selling Transformers than selling Barbie because Takara reportedly sold 26 million dollars’ worth of Barbie dolls in 1984 and sold 165 million dollars’ worth of Transformers to Hasbro that same year.

There were other reasons for Mattel to believe the Japanese company was less than fully committed to selling Mattel toys. For instance, Takara hadn’t bothered getting the Masters of the Universe cartoon aired on Japanese television and Mattel believed MOTU needed the cartoon to sell the toys. (Takara, for its part, had had a lot of success with Takara SF Land lines that sold without a media tie-in.) Mattel was also nervous Takara’s relationship with Hasbro would lead to trade secrets being leaked.

However, the likeliest reason for the tensions between the two companies may have been Takara’s reluctance to set up a joint venture company with Mattel to sell Barbie in Japan because the first thing Mattel did when it abruptly terminated the partnership with Takara was to set up a joint venture company with Takara’s major competitor, Bandai, to sell Barbie in Japan.

Takara promptly filed a lawsuit alleging the Ma-Ba (Mattel-Bandai) Barbie, which also had a rounder face and bigger eyes, was a little too similar to its version of Barbie. (Mattel, for its part, has a long history of thoroughly entertaining lawsuits involving Barbie.) The upshot of all this is Takara later rebranded its version of Barbie as Jenny and continued selling the doll.

So, when Takara’s designers proposed creating a military version of Jenny, picture a beaming Barbie (with a rounder face and bigger eyes) brandishing an accurately modelled assault rifle.

One of the reasons Takara attempted this unusual project was the overseas market for 12-inch figures aimed at adult collectors was growing at that time. Companies like Dragon, 21st Century and BBi, surpassing ancient standards set by Hasbro with G.I. Joe, were producing 1/6-scale figures with improved articulation and detail. After analysing those figures, Takara must have been reasonably confident it could raise standards even further given its experience with dolls and action figures in that scale. (Combat Joe, a 1/6-scale military figure line aimed at the adult collector market, was released back in 1984.)

Although Takara initially planned to create a doll with a military theme that could also use the clothes, shoes and accessories of its other dolls, the company quickly switched focus to creating an original 1/6-scale female figure aimed at adults. The overall design concept was a figure that was cool rather than cute, one more likely to have a handgun rather than a handbag.

In terms of figure design, the Cool Girl body was intended to be a movable statue — a depiction of the human form that looked good on display but with sufficient articulation for dynamic poses. The inevitable problem that arose was a realistic depiction of the human form would preclude unsightly joints making it little more than a statue whereas a superbly articulated figure would look like a cyborg with joints, hinges, rivets, screws and seams everywhere.

Takara briefly considered a seamless skin over wire internals — a method used for some dolls back then — but the technology was deemed insufficiently developed for the company’s purposes. It was also a little too suggestive of a bendy figure.

(Companies like Phicen/TBleague have since come up with some absolutely stunning 1/6-scale seamless figures using a metal skeleton.)

Takaya Motoki, who was responsible for the figure designs, character backgrounds and story setting for the line, considers the Cool Girl series to be the ultimate challenge for him as a toy designer as it required the sewn clothes and rooted hair common in dolls along with the sculpting and articulation of action figures.

His first challenge was getting a prototype ready. Development took place around 1999 — right about the time Takara was experiencing a lot of internal issues. (This would also affect the development of the company’s other 2000 lines like Microman LED Powers and Transformers Car Robot.) Takaya, without much of a product development budget, had to come up with the prototype himself. He even taught himself sewing after buying a book on handmade doll dresses in order to create clothes for the prototype.

Takaya’s solution for covering up the Cool Girl figure’s joints was a form-fitting catsuit — an idea with origins dating back to 1987 when he worked on a swimsuit for the cancelled Super Cyborg project. (The catsuit for the first Cool Girl figure, CG-01 Ice, was blue in tribute to Super Cyborg.) To avoid using screws, the figure was put together with ultrasonic welding.

The prototype designs were unveiled at the 2000 Tokyo Toy Show and the first three figures, Ice, Ash and Raven, were released that November. These were well received and sold well both in Japan and overseas. Encouraged, Takara expanded the line with male figures and even a villain.

Cool Girl was divided into two sublines: the first was based on original character designs while the other was based on licensed characters reinterpreted in the Cool Girl style. (Takaya would later propose taking the same approach for his Microman 2001 Rebirth Plan which eventually led to Microman 200X.)

On the face of it, Cool Girl seemed to have little to do with Takara SF Land. However, close inspection would reveal some interesting connections. The X-Borg (Cross-Borg) male figures, for example, were completely unrecognisable Neo Henshin Cyborg figures. Takaya would describe these figures — X-01 Guard of CG, X-02 Burai-Maru and X-03 Gekiryu-Maru — as his take on Henshin Cyborg. The figures had improved ankle articulation but more interestingly, their accessories were interchangeable with those for Neo Henshin Cyborg. (In another nod to Takara SF Land, the background story for X-01 namedropped Android A.)

Meanwhile, the CG-13 V.I.S. (Violent Interception Squad) Codename: Eris figure paid tribute to Cybercop (among other things). The figure was released on October 2, 2008 — the 20th anniversary of the Toho show’s debut — and the Battle Integration Trooper Suit armour and Fire Slugger II weapon were references to Cybercop’s Bit Suit armour and Cyber Weapon Fire Slugger.

Like many other Takara SF Land properties, Cool Girl was released without a media tie-in at the outset. Takaya, however, slowly developed the storyline and world setting as figures were released. The Cool Girl characters were part of Cardinal Garrison, an organisation which traces its history all the way back to a group of medieval female knights. Their task was to combat global conspiracies propagated by that dastardly organisation, XIXOX (Sixox).

Like many other Takara SF Land properties, Cool Girl had a media tie-in once the line developed a following. Konami, then Takara’s largest shareholder, released a videogame in 2004 to great indifference.

Despite that, the Cool Girl series lasted for 11 years, making it, somewhat improbably, the longest-running Takara SF Land line after Transformers.

GenX Core (2006)

GenX Core was a series of 1/6-scale male action heroes based on the GC Body, a “next generation core” body design. It was described by designer Takaya Motoki as Takara’s fourth generation 12-inch male action figure design. (Assuming Henshin Cyborg 1 was the first, Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 and Cyborg 99 would be generations 2 and 3.)

If GenX Core seems a particularly awkward name for a series of 1/6-scale figures, it’s probably the result of desperate scrambling to come up with something that would have “GC” for initials. Takaya would later deadpan in an interview it’s purely coincidental the acronyms for Cool Girl and GenX Core mirrored each other.

Unlike the Cool Girl series, though, the GenX Core lineup consisted solely of licensed characters. The overarching goal for the line was to achieve such a level of realistic detail that a photograph of the 12-inch figure would look like a real person wearing that outfit.

The project was a Cool Girl spin-off that was conceived when Takaya was consulting with Oshii Mamoru, the writer and director of Kerberos Saga, during the development of the Washio Midori Cool Girl figure. Oshii expressed a desire to see a male version of the Protect Gear with the same level of detail and quality. Instead of a one-off figure, Takaya proposed a series of figures to showcase the history of the Protect Gear as a way of justifying creating multiple variants.

Although the Protect Gear figure was first GenX Core project to be worked on, it ended up being released after the Batman Begins in GC figure due to Takaya’s commitment to getting the details on the Protect Gear figures right. The heat vents on the MG-34’s barrel jacket alone apparently required an expensive six-way slide mould.

The Protect Gear figures sold well despite the higher price tag but the GenX Core series itself was relatively short-lived.

Battle Beasts (1986)

Battle Beasts was a Takara-developed line of cheap collectible figures that was first released  in the US by Hasbro in 1986 before returning to its country of origin as Beastformer the following year. It was initially marketed in Japan as a Transformers spin-off. In addition to Battle Beasts’ Wood, Fire and Water heat rub symbols, the Beastformer figures were also designated as Cybertron or Destron on the Transformers-influenced Japanese packaging and the characters even appeared in an episode of Transformers: The Headmasters.

In terms of design, however, Beastformer’s main connection to Takara SF Land was the cancelled Dangarn-V project which also featured armed and armoured anthropomorphic animals. It’s worth noting the 5cm Beastformer figures only had swivel joints at the shoulders which made them smaller, less posable and thus cheaper than the Dangarn-V figures would have been. A kid could quickly amass a veritable army of the 200 yen Beastformer figures with a weekly allowance and could refine that collection by trading with others to get specific figures with specific symbols.

Also noteworthy was the fact the Battle Beasts line appeared in the US shortly after M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere), another Japanese toy line repackaged by an American company. The Mattel line was originally released by Bandai in Japan as Kinkeshi in 1983 to tie in with the popular wrestling anime, Kinnikuman. Mattel simply grabbed the rubbery figures, ignored the manga and anime storylines and then partnered with Ogilvy & Mather to create ads to market the line.

The precursor to both Beastformer and Kinkeshi was the supercar-shaped rubber eraser called keshigomu which was popular during the supercar craze in the Seventies. The craze began with the publication of Circuit no Ookami (Circuit Wolf) in 1975 and peaked in 1977 with the release of the movie based on the racing manga. The supercar keshigomu were obtained through gacha gacha vending machines for a mere 20 yen which made them appealing to kids who couldn’t afford a plastic kit or die-cast scale model of their favourite supercar. The added bonus was the 3cm-long keshigomu could be stored in a pencil case and taken to school. These rubber racers were actually rubbish at erasing and were used instead as playthings. Some of them even had janken symbols on the underside — a more traditional approach to resolving disputes compared to Beastformer’s Wood, Fire and Water symbols.

Takara would later release its own Beastformer-themed  keshi in the form of pencil-toppers. They were done in the Super Deformed style, were even smaller than the Beastformer figures, had no articulation whatsoever yet retained the heat rub symbols.

The Beastformer line was expanded further with vehicles and mobile fortresses. This was more in the spirit of Takara SF Land properties like Diaclone which emphasised diorama-style play combining figures, vehicles and playsets. The Beastformer Wood Beetle forest station, for example, transformed from beetle mode to a base that included a capture claw and a prison cell aside from the obligatory weapon emplacements. The Beastformer vehicles, meanwhile, had pullback motors and a mouth-chomping action.

The 250 yen Laser Beasts (known as Shadow Warriors in the US where it had a limited release), which came out towards the end of the line, replaced the heat rub symbols with an orb on the chest that revealed hidden symbols when held up to a light source. Their Battler Cruiser vehicles were significantly less impressive than their predecessors indicating perhaps Takara recognised interest in the line was waning.

Neither Battle Beasts nor Beastformer were wildly successful but someone pays tribute to them every once in a while and Takara Tomy would eventually reboot Beastformer 25 years later.

Beast Saga (2012)

After spending a decade working on the Cool Girl line, Takaya Motoki switched to the boys’ toys division to remake Battle Beasts/Beastformer. This was a return to basics of sorts for the designer because when he  joined Takara in 1987 he did his on-the-job training working on prototype drawings for the last wave of Laser Beasts.

Beast Saga was originally intended to be a line of inexpensive toys exclusively for overseas markets. With that in mind, Takara Tomy tapped Guido Guidi, the Italian comics artist best known for his Transformers work, to contribute some designs. As might be expected, there were callbacks to Battle Beasts/Beastformer figures — Big Serow and Goldar, for example — but the designs were updated for the new line.

Aside from increased sculpted detail and paint application, the Beast Saga figures had double the articulation of the older ones — which sounds impressive until you remember the original figures only moved at the shoulders. Takara Tomy’s gacha and candy toy subsidiary, Takara Tomy A.R.T.S. (formerly known as Yujin Co.), even sold fixed-posed Gacha Booster figures in gacha machines. These gave kids a cheap way of bolstering the ranks of their Beast army.

In another nod to the original line, there would be Wood, Fire and Water symbols but instead of heat rub emblems, the gameplay was now based on dice fired from each figure’s chest.

In internal discussions with colleagues during the development of the line, Takaya stressed Beast Saga would be Takara SF Land-like in its emphasis on diorama play featuring figures, vehicles and playsets. In what was a very odd move, however, the vehicles and playsets weren’t scaled for the 6cm-tall Beast Saga figures but came instead with unpainted, unposable 2cm minifigures which were roughly the size of Diaclone pilots.

(A Beast Charger vehicle scaled for the larger Beast Saga figures was prototyped but never released. It included a dice-shooting gimmick of its own that worked in conjunction with the figure’s.)

The most interesting thing about the vehicles and bases was the designs were apparently influenced by the shape of the dice: both the Zip Lot Machine vehicles and the Zip Lot Base mini-playsets transformed from compact 5cm-sized cubes. The bases, once transformed, could be attached together to form a larger playset.

The flagship item was intended to be a large cube that transformed into a temple base playset. According to Takaya, it would have storage space for the smaller cubes and its gimmick would be linked to their’s. This was the reason why the Zip Lot Machines had activation switches in the same spot. There were also plans for more vehicles — a hovercraft and a drill tank — as well as a giant robot dubbed the Beast God made of combining cubes.

Beast Saga was later reoriented for the domestic market for unstated reasons. The designers scrapped plans for the more ambitious toy designs, replaced the simple janken-type play based on Wood, Fire and Water symbols with a more complex ruleset and the line was marketed as a battle hobby game. Takara Tomy promoted the line with anime and manga tie-ins but it did not seem to catch on.

However, Takaya’s work on Beast Saga did get him thinking about Diaclone and how to update that 80s Takara SF Land line for the 21st century.

Neo Henshin Cyborg (1998)

Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 was a redeco of the DX Henshin Cyborg Shishioh Guy figure from the 1997 Takara-sponsored series, Yuusha-Oh GaoGaiGar (or The King of Braves, GaoGaiGar). Guy, in turn, was inspired by the Henshin Cyborg 1 figure from the Seventies to the extent he had a similar origin in the Sunrise anime: he was severely injured in an encounter with alien invaders and turned into a cyborg by his father.

The Shishioh Guy figure itself had most of the signature features of the 1972 Henshin Cyborg 1 design. It had visible mechanical innards (once the armour was removed), a light-up feature for the chest and even the Cyclone Mark embossed on the torso. The key missing feature was the translucent head and the cybernetic inner skull but these could be acquired through upgrade kits sold as Wonder Festival event exclusives.

Regardless of whether the DX Henshin Cyborg Shishioh Guy was a subtle attempt to gauge interest in a Henshin Cyborg revival or simply a case of Takara’s designers paying a quiet tribute to the founder of Takara SF Land on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, it eventually led to Neo Henshin Cyborg the next year.

The storyline, recounted in pamphlets and magazine articles, described how Henshin Cyborg 1, Katagai Kenichi, was attacked by the remnants of the Walder army while on patrol in the distant Red Galaxy, had his nuclear reactor destroyed and was left incapacitated. Years later, he somehow managed to send a signal to Earth whereupon his allies, Android A and Microman Tom, were despatched to retrieve his broken body. Happily, his father, Dr. Katagai, a man whose immediate response to any problem, no matter how complex, is to turn something into a cyborg, knew exactly what had to be done. Using the Cyborg Station CX-1, he turned his cyborg son into another cyborg. And so Henshin Cyborg 1 was reborn as Neo Henshin Cyborg 1.

Like the Showa era original, the Heisei era update had multiple colour variants. There was the default Silver form as well as variants representing Neo Henshin Cyborg 1’s various powers and abilities: Gold (for hyperspace travel), Yellow (superstrength), Smoke-Silver (with Android A’s abilities), Blue (superspeed), Red (with all the abilities of the other variants), Copper (tunneling underground) and Gunmetal (a chipper personality apparently counts as a power or ability).

Each colour variant came with a piece of the clear NeoTector suit along with a weapon or gadget. Silver, gold and black versions of the full NeoTector Henshin Set costume and Cyborg sets featuring weapons and accessories were also released.

Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 would need all the gear he could get because he not only had to contend with his old foes Dokuro King, Satan King and Shokubutsu Kaijin but he also faced Android A’s opponents, the Invader Aliens. Zeros, Zone and Jagra were taller but like the King Walder Kaijin, they were now underwhelming soft vinyl figures.

As Takara lines go, the collector-oriented Neo Henshin Cyborg was relatively modest in scope — there would not be an improbable and probably prohibitively expensive update of the Cyborg Rider — but it did kickstart the revival of other Takara SF Land properties.

The Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 figure design would later be modified and released as Guard of CG for the Cool Girl line in March 2002 with more dramatic redecos, Burai-Maru and Gekiryu-Maru, released in June the following year.

Henshin Cyborg 99 (1999)

The original Henshin Cyborg, for all the Takara touches, was still recognisably a G.I. Joe derivative and Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 was a relatively conservative update despite being produced a quarter-century later.

With Cyborg 99 (Double Nine), Takara’s designers had the opportunity to step back, reassess the Cyborg concept and come up with a modern take which was more representative of the company’s action figure designs of the Nineties. This desire for a fresh start was even reflected in the storyline: this Cyborg wasn’t a Katagai.

That’s not to say the new Cyborg was intended to be a complete break from the past. The Heisei era designers, being first and foremost fans of their predecessors’ work, would have been keenly aware of the significance of 1999 in Henshin Cyborg lore — it was the year of Cyborg 1’s birth. Thus, there were references to the Takara SF Land founder right on the Cyborg 99 package. The Cyclone Mark was prominently displayed as part of the logo on the front flap and there were graphics heavily influenced by the Cyborg Station CX-1 on the inside. Once the figure was taken out of the package, however, it quickly became clear this was a brand-new Cyborg.

Cyborg 99 featured a sharp character design by Shinohara Tamotsu but it was in terms of engineering that the figure really stood apart from its predecessors. It was especially notable for the way it incorporated magnets into the design — something Takara’s designers were very much into at that time. Cyborg 99, like the Microman Magne Powers Robotman figures released that same year, featured Magnemo-11 joints in addition to the traditional 5mm joints. In theory, this enabled Victory Plan-style interchangeability between the two lines. In reality, these figures ended up in the hands of collectors who were content to relegate toys to shelves rather than doing something so demeaning as play with them. Anyone who presumed to do such a thing would have appreciated Cyborg 99’s improved articulation. The arms, for example, had a greater range of motion compared to Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 thanks to double-jointed shoulders.

Collectors who focused on the thrill of the hunt might have felt let down by this line as there were far fewer variants to track down compared to Neo Henshin Cyborg. Cyborg 99’s gunmetal and blue variants were widely available at retail while the silver variant, Cyborg Satake, was a Hyper Hobby exclusive Henshin Set based on the martial artist, Satake Masaaki.

Other Henshin Sets paid homage to Thunder Mask and P Productions characters like Spectreman, Denjin Zaborger, Kaiketsu Lion Maru and Tetsujin Tiger Seven. If those old tokusatsu characters seem like particularly odd choices for licensed Henshin Sets, it’s probably because Takara lacked the wherewithal to obtain the rights to more popular characters. (The company would announce major losses for the half-year ending that September.)

The new Cyborg had his own nemesis, King Walder II, who had the same figure design but with different colours and head sculpts, and more organic internals and weaponry. Takara released a Walder Henshin Set a few months later to transform him into the Spectreman villain, Uchuu Enjin Gori.

If that wasn’t enough, the following year saw the debut of King Walder, Jr., a Shonen Cyborg-sized villain. Thankfully, Shonen Cyborg was reissued right about then to help deal with him. (In case anyone was oblivious, Takara made sure to point out Shonen Cyborg was born in the year 2000 according to the Showa era storyline.)

The Cyborg Team was further reinforced when Henshin Cyborg 1 was reissued in 2003. This time around, Takara had the means to acquire licenses for more recognisable characters. After releasing an Ultraman Jack Henshin Set for the 40th anniversary of Tsuburaya Productions, Takara went on to release sets for Mirrorman, Casshern, Mazinger Z and Devilman. Cyborg 1’s old foe, King Walder, followed with a Kaijin Set featuring the much-requested Dokuro King.

Though the period between 1998 and 2004 has been described as the second golden age for Henshin Cyborg, Cyborg 99 did not do particularly well. One indication of this is several Cyborg 99 and King Walder II figures were announced but later cancelled. It’s been speculated fans and retailers were overwhelmed by the numerous Neo Henshin Cyborg variants the previous year to go through the whole process again with Cyborg 99.

Unfortunately, Takara Tomy has steered clear of Henshin Cyborg since then. Perhaps the company doesn’t quite know how to position it for the current market. (It’s worth noting Hasbro hasn’t done much with its 12-inch Joe line either.) Or it may well be Takara Tomy, without a sentimental member of the Satoh family in charge, has little interest in its Takara SF Land heritage.

It will be interesting to see what happens in 2022. The fact Microman’s 40th anniversary in 2014 only saw homages by third-parties doesn’t suggest a major tribute to Henshin Cyborg is in the offing for its 50th anniversary.

Still, it would be a shame to simply mothball the brand given its significance. Takara, being more known for dolls like Licca-chan back then, didn’t even have a boys’ toys division until after Henshin Cyborg 1 became a hit. This was the figure that started it all.

Transformers (1985)

Yoke Hideaki joined Takara in 1977 and, as part of the Microman team, he designed toys like Microrobot and later the Microchange series. He named Microscope Robo as his favourite creation for its transformation mechanism, robot design and fun play features. At the same time, he made it a point to acknowledge the contributions of famed designer Aramaki Shinji who helped refine his rough sketches for the toy. Yoke would spend the next few decades of his career overseeing the development of transforming toy robots in close collaboration with others.

Like the Microman Microchange team, the Diaclone team was working on transforming toy robots. According to Yoke, this made for a lively work environment as the young designers of both teams, brimming with energy, imagination and inspiration, competed with each other to develop ideas for new products.

The two lines did have different concepts, however. The Microchange toys, like the Microman line as a whole, were 1/1 scale and were, by and large, based on items you might find in a Japanese household. The Diaclone toys, on the other hand, were initially original sci-fi designs revolving around 3cm-tall figures dubbed Inchman. The smaller size of the figures made it cost effective to produce larger robots, vehicles, bases and playsets scaled for them. This was, in fact, why the line was conceived.

In an organisational shake-up, the Microman and Diaclone teams were later merged in Takara’s development department. Ohno Koujin, who joined the company in 1980, the year Diaclone was launched, was transferred to this group after nearly a year of sales promotion training. This, he said, gave him the opportunity to work on both Diaclone and Microman during the last, best years of those lines. As the new guy on the team, however, Ohno was treated almost like an errand boy. He was assigned menial chores like creating silicon moulds for Robot Fortress X and retrieving the latest design drafts from Studio Nue. Although his first toy designs, the Diaclone Walk Insecter and the Microman AcroSatan, were fairly unremarkable, when Ohno was given greater responsibility and a free reign, his Car Robot designs not only proved to be the most successful Diaclone toys of them all but the reason for the line’s demise.

It was only fitting Ohno’s first Car Robot design was based on the Lamborghini Countach LP500S. The supercar boom had already peaked in Japan by 1977 (the high-point was said to be the Sunstar Supercar Show that year) but fast cars are a perennial favourite of boys and the Countach, in particular, remains a headturner to this day. There was another reason why this model was the perfect choice to kick off Car Robot: it was a natural evolution of the 1977 Microman Cosmo Countach. The Microman toy may have been a transforming toy but it lacked a fully realised robot mode. Ohno simply took the final step.

(This was perhaps spurred by the Real Robot boom resulting from Kidou Senshi Gundam‘s unexpected success after the series ended. Gunpla, robot anime and toy robots were very much in demand as a consequence. Takara, for example, released the hybrid Dual Model toy and model kits based on the Gundam-inspired Dougram. There were even Diaclone model kits but oddly, these were produced by another company, Nitto.)

Viewed through modern lens, the Diaclone Car Robot Lamborghini LP500S Super Tuning’s robot mode had a primitive look due to the odd proportions but the toy set the tone for what would come.

The decision to base the Car Robot vehicle modes on real world vehicles alleviated the problem of constantly coming up with new sci-fi vehicle designs. There would, of course, still be the problem of coming up with a robot design constrained by the need to transform into an identifiable real world vehicle. But here Takara had a key advantage: it could draw on the prodigious talents of Studio Nue.

One of those talents was a Gundam superfan and wunderkind designer named Kawamori Shoji. Though he had worked on mecha designs even as a teenager, he was rarely credited because of his age. Kawamori’s breakthrough design was the VF-1 Valkyrie, which debuted on Super Dimensional Fortress Macross in 1982 and was released in toy form by Takatoku Toys that same year. There had been transforming toys since the Popy DX Chogokin Raideen but nothing quite as sophisticated as the Valkyrie. The F-14-inspired fighter mode seemed like a real aircraft; the intermediate GERWALK mode with its reverse knee joints was unconventional; the Battroid humanoid mecha mode was superbly articulated for the time; the transformation between the three modes didn’t require the parts replacement common back then. Kawamori’s creation reflected his preference for sci-fi designs grounded in reality as well as his ability to perceive the potential for the extraordinary in the everyday and mundane.

In an interesting turn of events, the Takatoku Toys Valkyrie would later be bundled together with Takara Diaclone Car Robot toys in a single toyline. This, too, was only fitting as Kawamori had a hand in a number of Diaclone designs. Indeed, Ohno’s favourite Car Robot designs, the Nissan Fairlady Z cars, was a collaboration with Kawamori. Ohno’s other favourite was the Honda City, a popular vehicle in Japan at that time, and as it happened, one Ohno owned. Not content to simply rehash the car-to-robot formula, Ohno went on to create combining robots and triplechangers. While neither concept was truly groundbreaking (Takara itself had earlier released Microman combiners and multimode robots), the combination of real world vehicles and Studio Nue’s mecha designs made the toys stand out.

A less appreciated reason for Car Robot’s success was the toys sat comfortably in the sweet spot between Popy’s cheap Machine Robo line and the more expensive DX Chogokin toys. The Car Robot toys were seen as more sophisticated versions of the 600 Series Machine Robo — a dynamic which would repeat itself when both lines reappeared in the US — but were more affordable than the high-end die-cast toys. This was intentional.

Takara’s goal with Diaclone was to create an affordable alternative to Chogokin — something in line with the company’s overall philosophy of creating enjoyable products at reasonable prices. There was a more pragmatic reason for taking this approach. Being a smaller company, Takara didn’t have the means to splurge on expensive ad campaigns — something that would be required to promote big-ticket items. This would be a factor when Takara decided to sell Diaclone in the US, the world’s biggest toy market.

Takara USA had been established in 1980 and sold the Choro-Q line as Penny Racers but the cheap minicars did not sell as well as they did in Japan. The company fared worse when it briefly sold the Diaclone toys as Diakron in 1983. The line simply made no impact whatsoever. The lack of marketing was clearly a problem but Takara didn’t have the budget to mount an effective campaign in the US  as the costs were much higher. If Takara wanted its toys to go over well in the US, it needed an American partner.

Fortunately, Takara’s toys had already attracted the attention of Hasbro. Here the story gets muddled with some question as to how this actually happened. A Hasbro representative apparently spotted them at the 1983 Tokyo Toy Show in June but it’s also been stated Henry Orenstein, founder and former president of Topper Toys (which went bankrupt in 1973 in shady circumstances), notified Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld after spotting the Diakron toys at the New York Toy Fair earlier that February.

The next part of the story is better established. Hassenfeld despatched George Dunsay, then head of Hasbro’s R&D section, to Japan where Orenstein introduced him to Takara. (Takara had sold Topper’s Dawn doll in Japan in the early Seventies and sold the Dawn-like Pico-chan in 1974.) Dunsay looked over the Japanese company’s products and picked out toys that might be suitable for the US market.

Back in Rhode Island, Hasbro’s management team reviewed Dunsay’s selection and immediately identified a sure-fire future hit: the Turbo Magnum rechargeable minicar. Hasbro signed a licensing deal with Takara in November 1983 for the toy along with a bunch of transforming toy robots the Japanese company had also submitted for consideration. As it turned out, the rechargeable minicar was much too costly for Hasbro to manufacture. The transforming toy robots, not considered a major part of the Hasbro-Takara deal at the time, proved to be more significant to the fortunes of both companies.

With the rights to Takara’s toys secured, Hasbro made three key decisions as it set about adapting the Japanese toys for the American market. The first was to combine the Microman Microchange and Diaclone Car Robot toys in a single toyline and the second, a natural outcome of the first, was to discard the Diaclone pilots. The differences in scale between the two lines meant the 3cm-tall Diaclone pilots would have looked out of place next to the Microchange robots that were designed as sidekicks for 10cm-tall Microman figures.

Ohno and his colleagues at Takara were nevertheless incredulous when they heard about this. To understand why, just imagine some Japanese toy company had combined the vehicles from the 12-inch and the 3¾-inch G.I. Joe lines and sold them together without the drivers and pilots.

More to the point, the Diaclone and Microchange toys had play features that were designed specifically for the Diaclone pilots and Microman figures Hasbro had ignored. Diaclone Car Robot Battle Convoy was a playset with numerous seats for Diaclone pilots while Microchange MC-13 Gun Robo Walther P-38 U.N.C.L.E. Set’s accessories combined to become a howitzer complete with a seat equipped with a 5mm joint to hold a Microman figure in place. From the viewpoint of Takara’s designers, Hasbro had diminished the play value of the toys.

Hasbro, however, was adding immense value elsewhere. The third decision the company made, the one that was crucial to Transformers’ enduring success, was to create a brand new setting for the line. Although Diaclone had a barebones storyline and Microman had a long-running manga, Hasbro felt both lacked standout characters and the American toy company believed, with good reason, that characters sold toys.

Hasbro already had a go-to formula for creating those characters. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, released in 1982, was a major success for Hasbro at a critical time in the company’s history and provided the springboard for Hasbro’s astonishing rise in the Eighties. The company naturally relied on the same playbook for Transformers. This involved getting Marvel Comics to create the background for the line (and in the process turn the Japanese toy robots into American comic book characters), providing Marvel a licence for a comic book, advertising that comic book on television and finally, creating an animated show for syndication to serve as a program-length commercial for the toys.

Hasbro put up 8 million dollars in total to market Transformers in 1984. Tonka, by contrast, had an introductory ad budget of 2.5 million dollars for its rebranding of Bandai’s Machine Robo, GoBots. But then GoBots also had the advantage of a five-month headstart over Transformers.

Bob Prupis, the marketing manager of Hasbro’s Boys’ Toys, was still upbeat about Transformers’ chances and forecast the line would make 30 million dollars in its first year. To put that figure in context, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero sold about 51 million dollars’ worth of figures in 1982 and Coleco’s Cabbage Patch Kids set the record for first year sales, 65 million dollars, in 1983. Hasbro’s management thought Prupis was much too optimistic and revised the forecast downwards to 15 million dollars.

Transformers exceeded everyone’s expectations. The line made a reported 111.6 million dollars in its first year and lost out on another 70 to 100 million dollars in sales simply because there wasn’t enough product to meet demand. In 1985, its biggest year, Transformers had 333 million dollars in sales and contributed 27 per cent of Hasbro’s net revenue. (By 1990, Hasbro had earned a total of 950 million dollars from Transformers and, although sales had understandably slowed down after seven years, the line was still making 35 million dollars the year it ended in the US.)

That success had a major impact on Takara as well since the Japanese company was earning royalties from Hasbro’s Transformers sales. According to the Takara no Yama book, 1985 was a record year for Takara with Transformers royalties from the US market contributing most of the company’s profits.

It was therefore an easy decision for Takara to bring Transformers over for the Japanese market. The decision was made even easier as Hasbro had given Takara the rights to Transformers marketing materials – this included the animated show, itself a collaboration between Marvel Productions and Toei Animation — as compensation for reneging on the Turbo Magnum deal.

Unfortunately, the decision to bring Transformers to Japan also led to the cancellation of Microchange and Diaclone. Ohno was understandably disappointed as he had a personal attachment to Car Robot in particular but he became incredibly enthusiastic about Transformers once he saw the animated show. The bad guys were portrayed in such an interesting way that he thought even their toys would sell well.

This was one of the reasons the Transformers series stood out in Japan. Okude Nobuyuki (a Takara executive who played a vital role in the development of Takara SF Land in the Seventies and Eighties before becoming Takara’s fifth president in 2005) pointed out the Japanese hero robot genre typically focused on a single robot character who would also be central to product marketing efforts but Transformers had a large cast of robot heroes and villains.

Yoke, meanwhile, had misgivings about selling the same Microchange and Diaclone toys in Japan albeit in different packaging and colours. Still, there were upsides to this. As there was no need to invest in new moulds, Takara could devote more of its budget to marketing the line. (Some of these marketing attempts included creating a Convoy costume and more eccentrically, Convoy-shaped household goods for department stores.)

Transformers kicked off in Japan with 24 items in late June 1985 but a young Ichikawa Hirofumi (a future Transformers mecha designer) first spotted the toys when they were test-marketed as imported toys in the fall of the previous year. It wasn’t until he later saw the animated show, renamed Tatakae! Chou Robot Seimetai Transformers for the Japanese market, that he was absolutely blown away. The background setting crafted by Marvel Comics left a deep impression – Ichikawa would become a major fan of American comics — and despite the Japanese origins of Transformers, the animated series appealed to him as an American product. While acknowledging it was clearly a kids’ show aimed at selling toys, he appreciated the differences between the American and Japanese representations of the same toy robots. In Japan, he noted the piloted robots were a stand-in for superpowers whereas the American approach was to treat the robots as characters with distinctive personalities.

Anime critic Hikawa Ryusuke, on the other hand, argued the Transformers show, though Americanised, was still in the tradition of Japanese robot anime with roots that could be traced all the way back to Tetsuwan Atom in 1963. Yet the robots in Transformers were unusual in that they were neither Super Robot like Mazinger nor Real Robot like Gundam. These were strange alien robotic life forms with moving mouths that just happened to transform into real world vehicles and household items. They were at once exotic and familiar.

Future Transformers designers Kobayashi Hironori and Hasui Shogo had a similar reaction to the toys when they first encountered them as kids. Transformers came across as strange variants of the Diaclone and Microman toys they had already seen. Even so, the Transformers toys sold like hotcakes in Japan and the animated show was a major reason for that success.

Hikawa attributed the show’s popularity in Japan to two related trends. The first had to do with timing. Transformers was a robot anime aimed at kids that appeared just as the Real Robot anime boom ended. There had been a surfeit of robot anime geared towards middle schoolers and high schoolers during the boom which left younger audiences underserved and just waiting for a series like Transformers to come along.

The other thing Hikawa noted was Transformers, with its Marvel Productions scripts being animated by Toei Animation, was a textbook example of the co-production trend of the mid-Eighties. Japanese anime studios and top-tier creative talent were keen on partnering with foreign studios to tackle lucrative overseas markets at a time when the Japanese yen was undervalued.

(Unfortunately, there was a corresponding decline in the quantity and quality of robot anime produced specifically for the Japanese market. This was one of the reasons cited for the end of the Real Robot boom in Japan. The situation only improved once the rapid appreciation of the yen made these co-productions untenable.)

Although it’s generally not regarded as such, Transformers ought to be considered the most successful of these East-West collaborations due to its international impact and lasting influence. Its potent, if peculiar, mixture of Japanese toy craftsmanship and American marketing muscle, robot anime culture and American comic book characterisation could have only been possible through the combined efforts of Takara, Hasbro, Marvel Comics, Marvel Productions and Toei.

American toy companies had adapted Japanese lines prior to this — Mego had turned Microman into Micronauts and Mattel’s Shogun Warriors had combined Bandai’s Jumbo Machinder and Chogokin – but Transformers was still notable for being a close collaboration between multiple companies from two countries. Hasbro wasn’t content repackaging Takara’s toys and Marvel Productions wasn’t simply redubbing anime by Toei Animation.

These close relationships did, however, increase the friction between the different parties. Each not only had ideas of how it should perform its assigned task but sometimes had opinions about how its partners should do theirs.

But they had to first get the message across. Besides the language barrier, there was the challenge of communicating across vast distances. In the days before video conference calls and e-mail, the main mode of communication was through handwritten faxes.

At Takara, Yoke was given the responsibility of coordinating the communication with Hasbro. It was a challenge for him because his command of English wasn’t stellar. At first, he passed his Japanese writing to the supervisor of Takara’s overseas business development to be translated before faxing the results to the States. Frustrated by how much time this took, he eventually resorted to communicating directly to his counterparts at Hasbro. It was difficult but in time, he not only forged a good working relationship with the Americans but grew interested in interacting with people from different cultures who had a different way of looking at things.

And Hasbro and Takara certainly had different ideas of what Transformers should look like. Take, for instance, colours. Hasbro complained Takara tended to restrict itself to a mere three colours whereas the Americans favoured a larger palette which occasionally resulted in colour schemes reminiscent of poison dart frogs. Ohno was especially shocked by Hasbro’s Devastator redeco but recognised the new colours made the Constructicons look like a unified team which stood out among the large cast of characters. He was more effusive in his praise for the new colours of his all-time best designs, the Triple Changers.

While Hasbro was relaxed when it came to colour schemes, it was much stricter about production costs. As a result, the Transformers toys released after the first two years of the line had plastic instead of rubber tires, less die-cast and a less complicated transformation to reduce the number of parts.

At the same time, Takara also had to incur extra costs to meet the more stringent safety standards of the American toy market. According to a Takara designer, the Diaclone and Microchange toys that made up the initial batch of Transformers didn’t actually meet Hasbro’s quality standards but were nonetheless released as they were.

The toys designed after that had to pass American strength tests that far exceeded Japanese ones. One of the more unusual safety tests the toys had to undergo was dubbed the “dreaded crotch tear test” by Takara’s designers. It involved using 20 pounds of force to pull apart a figure’s legs to determine if anything broke into dangerous shards. The designers’ crude workaround to pass the test was connecting the lower legs of the robot mode with a horizontal piece of plastic. Unfortunately, this additional plastic not only increased the cost of the toy but also prevented Transformers of that era from having better articulation.

Some of the better articulated Transformers toys from that era weren’t, in fact, Takara designs. Hasbro began acquiring the rights to every Japanese transforming toy robot it could in order to fulfill the seemingly insatiable demand for them as well as to prevent competitors from snagging them for themselves.

(There were still enough transforming toys produced by Japanese companies to go around. Matchbox sold the Popy Chogokin Golion as Voltron in 1985 and Mattel incorporated Bandai’s Tamagoras into the Masters of the Universe line in 1986.)

The most notable of these non-Takara Transformers was the Takatoku Toys Valkyrie. Hasbro had an agreement in place with Takatoku to sell the toy in the US but the Japanese company went out of business in May 1984. The Valkyries were still being produced for overseas markets by Takatoku Toys’ manufacturer, Matsushiro, until it suffered financial problems of its own. The Vakyrie moulds ended up being owned by Bandai. This was an uncomfortable situation all around because Bandai was also producing Tonka’s GoBots. To its credit, Bandai decided to honour the agreement with Hasbro and the licensed Valkyrie became the Transformers Jetfire (formerly Fireball). Takara was presumably miffed at the thought of having a major competitor’s toy in its co-developed line and promoted by the animated series so the character model, initially faithful to the toy, was altered. Even then, the story bible noted the character, known as Skyfire on the show, should only be used sparingly.

By November 1985, it was clear Transformers was popular on television as well as in the toy aisles. It was the number one syndicated cartoon available in 139 markets covering 91% of the US. There were occasional problems in this area as relations between Marvel Comics and Marvel Productions were strained and Hasbro sometimes meddled in the process. At one point, Hasbro insisted the names in episode scripts be left blank until the toy company had decided which products would be promoted. According to the book Toy Wars, the story editors complained to Margaret Loesch, the head of Marvel Productions, who demanded more creative freedom from Hasbro and got it.

Hasbro had other bright ideas that didn’t quite pan out. Flush with success and the number one toy company in the US in 1985, it decided Transformers ought to hit the big screen even before the first season of the series had completed airing on television. Like the toy line itself, the 1986 animated movie was a rush job, taking only 1½ years to complete.

Crucially, the movie character designs were the creation of Marvel Productions rather than Takara and it turned out giving the American animation studio greater creative freedom caused problems for the Japanese toy company. For one thing, the toy designers had to figure out how to make transforming toys out of the character models. It would have been particularly challenging for the new guy on Takara’s Transformers team. Kunihiro Takashi had joined the company in 1984 and Hot Rodimus (Hot Rod) and Rodimus Convoy (Rodimus Prime) were among his first Transformers designs. He got as far as the prototype stage for both before he was told the price points had been changed which meant he had to go back to the drawing board to design toys with simpler transformations.

Then there were problems with specific characters in the movie. Yoke took exception to the older-looking robots in particular. How was Takara supposed to market toys of geriatric robots to Japanese boys, he wondered. Some of the characters looked like they were about to drop dead at any moment. (He felt sufficiently strongly about this that he was still complaining in interviews decades later.) He tried to make his objections clear to his Hasbro counterparts – a process made difficult because again, his English wasn’t great. A compromise was eventually reached: the animation models would remain as they were but the toys wouldn’t have such wizened faces.

The movie debuted in August 1986 and did poorly, earning a mere 5.8 million dollars. It did, however, change the direction of the toy line, which continued to do well both in the US and in Japan. The movie and post-movie toys were notable for their futuristic vehicle designs – a reversal of Diaclone’s switch from sci-fi designs to Car Robot’s realistic vehicle modes. The upside was it would be easier to distinguish the Transformers’ vehicles modes — next year’s model of a realistic car wasn’t going to be that dramatic a departure from the current one – but it also meant Takara’s designers had to once again come up with futuristic designs that appealed to kids.

Takara also had the difficult task of coming up with designs that appealed to a small group of demanding adults. The executives at Hasbro now had a greater say in the line’s development and would not only pick and choose product concepts to refresh the line but would sometimes expect transforming toys be made out of the oddest of ideas.

Ohno recalled one particularly difficult product development meeting in Tokyo during which Hasbro’s executives kept rejecting proposal after proposal by Takara. The Japanese designers regrouped, had an all-night brainstorming session and Ohno finally drew upon another Takara SF Land hit for inspiration. What if, he thought, Koutetsu Jeeg was a Transformer? And what if that Transformer’s detachable head also transformed into a minifigure? This led to the creation of the Headmasters.

It also led to the creation of the figure that would be, for decades, the tallest Transformer toy. The ultimate Headmaster, Fortress Maximus, was a massive triplechanger whose head detached to become another robot whose own head detached to become a minifigure. It could not have been produced without the involvement of Hasbro, Ohno asserted. He never expected an item that large to be released in Japan as well but his superiors at Takara decided to risk it and Fortress Maximus sold well despite the hefty price tag.

On another occasion, Takara’s designers were completely stumped when they were asked by Hasbro to create toys of human and monsters that transformed into giant robots (which also transformed into something else). The designers considered every approach before settling on having the robot ensconced within a human or monster shell. The Pretenders were robots in disguise (in disguise) but awkwardly, the giant robots on the Cybertron (Autobot) side had, by necessity, to be smaller than their outer human disguises. Takara nevertheless committed fully to the Pretenders by making them the focus of the line in Japan. The company went so far as to create a Japanese exclusive, Metal Hawk, with a more heroic appearance to serve as a recognisable leader character for the good guys. Unfortunately, the Pretenders sold poorly.

After conducting market research, Takara determined there was greater demand instead for another toy that had been developed exclusively for the Japanese market that year. Super Ginrai was notable for several reasons. The toy was inspired by Optimus Prime and looked like Optimus Prime but wasn’t actually Optimus Prime. The character wasn’t even Convoy, the Japanese equivalent to Optimus Prime.

It all started when Hasbro received phone calls and letters from distraught kids who had seen Optimus Prime die in the movie. (It was dubbed “Instant Childhood Trauma: The Movie” for a very good reason.) After being made aware of just how upset the customer base was, Hasbro hastily ordered the return of the character in the series. If Bobby Ewing could do it, why not Optimus Prime, mused one executive. Hasbro then decided to produce a new toy of the character for the line.

It was the first time Takara remade any Transformers toy. In terms of appearance, Ohno designed the robot mode so that it better resembled the character model seen in the series. It was by no means show-accurate but with its triangular-shaped chest and reworked waist section, it was closer to the show version than the original toy.

When it came to play features, the new Optimus Prime toy had three gimmicks of note. The first, the Powermaster gimmick, saw the included minifigure transform into a key that unlocked the truck’s transformation to robot mode. Takara realised kids might lose the minifigure so the transformation could also be unlocked by pressing a button on the toy.

If the first gimmick was novel, the second took inspiration from the past. Much like the Diaclone Battle Convoy that became the first Optimus Prime toy, the new toy’s trailer section could transform into a base. The minifigure could even man the weapons emplacements Diaclone pilot-style although in this case it meant straddling the seats rather than sitting down.

The toy’s third gimmick, the most ambitious, was seemingly another nod to Diaclone. Much like Powered Convoy (the toy that became Ultra Magnus), the new Optimus Prime could combine with the trailer for a powered-up form. Powermaster Optimus Prime wasn’t featured on the show – a puppet of the character did appear in new sequences bookending reruns – but the toy still did so well that it was sold in the US for two years.

In Japan, however, Toei decided the Convoy-lookalike would be a new character, Ginrai, in the Transformers Masterforce anime, which was in the Japanese tradition of having a new main character for every series in long-running franchises. Thus, Ohno was handed the unusual opportunity to remake his remake to make the toy more appealing for the Japanese market. The Powermaster Optimus Prime design was retooled so that Super Ginrai would have die-cast for the front of the cab, clear plastic parts for the windows and retractable fists.

Takara went further. The company released another toy, God Bomber, which was designed specifically to combine with Super Ginrai so that Ginrai’s power-up form would have its own power-up form. As Super Ginrai was not originally intended to combine with another toy, it was a tricky piece of engineering but Takara’s designers pulled it off. God Ginrai proved popular enough that the toy designers returned to the concept of the ultimate power-up combination to create impressive flagship items for future lines.

There were other Transformers concepts suggestive of older Takara SF Land lines. The Micromasters, for example, harkened back to Diaclone with downsized Transformers now standing in for Diaclone pilots. The Action Masters, on the other hand, were awfully close to Microman in size and construction, and the fact each figure sported a 5mm port on its back and the accessories had 5mm pegs made the connection between the two lines stronger. (The connection was strong enough that Action Master Optimus Prime‘s vehicle was later reused for Microman a decade later.) Whether this was a case of Takara quietly reinserting elements Hasbro had discarded back in 1983 or simply coincidental, only the Japanese designers know for sure.

One of those who might know is no longer at the company. Described as the only person who had some contact with every Transformer from every generation, Yoke was inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame in 2010. After retiring in the spring of 2017, he visited Hasbro to bid farewell to his American colleagues. He used the occasion to give a presentation that recounted the history of the collaboration between Takara (now Takara Tomy) and Hasbro. At the end, he posed a question: why have these two companies been able to work so well together? The answer, he suggested, came down to the way each company exploited its respective strengths without riding roughshod over the other. In order to accomplish this, he said it was important to respect each other, take into consideration each other’s intentions and keep a close eye on the results.

The unusual decades-long collaboration between Hasbro and Takara Tomy, two companies that actually compete with each other in some segments of the market, continues to be the driving force behind the success of Transformers. If anything, the relationship has grown even closer over the years with a former Hasbro employee describing the Transformers creators as one team that just happens to be paid by two different companies.

Although current numbers are hard to come by, Hasbro reported in 2016 Transformers had brought in more than 10 billion dollars since 2004. The brand is now strong enough to support multiple toy lines aimed at different demographics and is promoted by a variety of shows and comics. That Transformers has not only survived but thrived is due in no small part to its Takara SF Land lineage and that spirit, passed on from one generation of Transformers designers to the next, is still evident in the line today.

Transformers Zone (1990)

The first Transformers line, retroactively named G1, ended in the US in 1990 after sales had dwindled to a mere 35 million dollars — about a tenth of what the line brought in at its peak five years earlier.

Transformers still chugged along in Japan with the release of Transformers Zone. The line was relatively small in scale with only a single OVA episode to promote it and it mostly revolved around toys previously released in the US as Micromasters.

The Micromasters are an interesting example of how Takara and Hasbro diverged in how they positioned products for their respective markets. It’s generally assumed Hasbro released Micromasters in 1989 in the US with the intention of countering Galoob’s Micro Machines. Galoob had introduced its line of 1¼-inch vehicles in 1987 and according to Toyland, sold 200 million of them in two years. Their cheap price — 10 dollars for a pack of 5 — made them appealing to parents who were also expected to splurge on pricey videogames back then. Hasbro’s answer to cheap tiny vehicles was cheap tiny Transformers.

Takara, on the other hand, viewed Micromasters in Takara SF Land terms. The Transformers Generations book reported the company briefly considered adapting Micromasters as a Microman line in 1989 – and preposterous as that may seem at first, a Micromaster toy was indeed turned into a Microman item a decade later – before opting to sell them as Micro Transformers.

Although it’s unclear what inspiration, if any, Takara took from Diaclone when designing Micromasters, there was no doubt at all that Diaclone was a major influence when Takara planned to market Micro Transformers in Japan. Takaya Motoki, who worked on Transformers Zone after the Cyberman project was ended, revealed Takara wanted to revitalize Transformers by emphasising Diaclone-style base-play and dioramas.

Conveniently, there already were vehicles and bases designed for Micromasters when the figures were released in the US the previous year and this included an obvious centrepiece, the Micromaster Rocket Base. However, Takara was set on having a brand-new Japanese-exclusive toy as a flagship item for Transformers Zone so the designers studied the play features and transformation of Diaclone toys like Robot Base, Cosmo Roller and Diatrain with the aim of producing a gimmick-heavy motorised toy.

The result would be Diatlas and his fellow Powered Masters, Sonic Bomber and Road Fire. The Powered Masters were triple-changers with robot, vehicle and base modes but on top of that they were designed to combine with each other in various ways to form different vehicles. Sky Powered, for example, was a combination of Sonic Bomber and Diatlas while Land Powered was a combination of Road Fire and Diatlas. All three Powered Masters could also combine to form a massive jet named Big Powered. The name had a dual meaning: in addition to signifying it was a big-sized Powered Master vehicle, Big Powered was a reference to the Diaclone toy of the same name.

The Diaclone-influenced Transformers Zone line would later influence Diaclone in turn. Takaya took inspiration from the way Sonic Bomber’s head popped up during transformation when designing the first toy of the 2016 Diaclone reboot, Diabattles v2. The Futabasha book went so far as to describe Transformers Zone as the missing link between the two Diaclone lines and while that may seem like a stretch, the relatively obscure Transformers line does serve as an example of how Diaclone continued to inspire Takara’s designers and Takaya Motoki in particular.

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. According to the book, Henshin Cyborg was released in 1971 whereas every other source goes with 1972. Takara itself stated the figure was released in either August 1972 or October 1972. The book does note Microman was tested in Hokkaido before its nationwide release — and this is confirmed by the Microman Perfect Works book — so the different dates for trial sales and nationwide launches might be a possible explanation. However, there aren’t any sources that corroborate the Futabasha book’s release dates for Henshin Cyborg (1971), Licca-chan (1966) and Beyblade (1997).

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 Studio 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 resembling 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. Tom, the only Microman identified in the 1974 Victory Plan catalogue story, would later reappear in the 1997 Neo Henshin Cyborg catalogue story. Curiously, Takara never released a toy of the character until 1999. An Android A-esque clear black M10X-series variant, M100 Tom was a mail-away prize for the Chiisana Kyojin Microman Playstation game. Microman garage kit makers, Oriental Technology, helmed by Microman superfan, Sashida Minoru, later teamed up with designer toy outfit Gargamel to produce a Tom-inspired vinyl figure for Wonder Festival 2008.

7. 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.

8. 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 later 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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).

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

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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 onto an actor in a wet suit. This would later inspire his Gridman toy designs which in turn inspired the costumes for the Tsuburaya show.

18. The Takara BeastFormers Big Serow figure was updated for the 2012 Takara Tomy Beast Saga line.

19. Takara’s president during the development of Magnators was Satoh Hirohisa, the by-the-book eldest son of the company founder. His tenure from 1994 to 1999 was described by employees as “the dark time.”

20. Revell repackaged and sold Blockman as Robotech Robolinks in the US and Robotech Changers in France but didn’t fare any better than Takara. Interestingly, there was no Blockman equivalent to the Robolinks Force 50 and Force 51 sets. Equally interesting was how the French packaging ensured the line had no appeal whatsoever by placing photographs of the worst combinations possible front and centre.

21. In 1996, a Saitama-based garage kit maker named Romando obtained the surviving Microman moulds from Takara, repaired them and began producing licensed reproductions of classic figures for collectors under the “Microman 21” label. Romando’s license was controversially revoked after a year — this would have been after Satoh Hirohisa gave the order to revive Microman — and Takara began selling reproductions of its own in 1998.

22. There’s some speculation Takara originally intended the Microman revival project to be a Micronauts-inspired line aimed at overseas markets. It’s not completely implausible. For one thing, there’s an unexplained gap between the cancellation of Magnators in 1995 and the one year Takaya Motoki and the rest of the strategic development team took to develop the “Microman 1999” project before handing it over to the boys’ toys division for refinement in early 1998. Then there are the Micronauts references in Magne Powers — Endeavor, Baron, etc. The most compelling evidence is the fact Takara trademarked Micronauts during that period. However, there’s no acknowledgement of any of this in the Futabasha book.

23. The Magne Powers project, previously known as Microman 1999, began as The King of Braves GaoGaiGar was about to end. While the Brave (or Yuusha) series was always profitable toy-wise, Takara ended its sponsorship in order to focus exclusively on Beast Wars since it was aimed at the same demographic. A collaboration between Takara and the Kenner team at Hasbro, Beast Wars was a hit first in the US and then in Japan.

24. Takara’s Yuki Hisashi was working on designs for the ninth Yuusha series, tentatively titled “Photograiser“, when the project was cancelled and he was transferred to the Beast Wars team. Photograiser designs included a digital camera, a pair of binoculars and a handgun which transformed first into 1/1-scale “Super Deformed”-style robots and then combined with other mecha and vehicles to become larger Yuusha-style robots with “Real Robo” proportions. The Takara SF Land connection would be Microman Microchange which featured child-scaled items like a camera, a pair of binoculars and airsoft guns which transformed to robots.

25. Some of the early Microman 1999 character designs were dramatically different from the Magne Powers release versions. While two of the characters were more or less Arthur and Izam, the other three were completely unrecognisable. The early versions of Walt and Edison were closer to Dangarn-V anthropomorphic animals than anything resembling Microman while the Odin counterpart was a heavyset robot that apparently took a wrong turn leaving Cybertron.

26. The Microman 1999 designs were much more ambitious compared to the Magne Powers release. The Robotman, for instance, could turn into a wheeled vehicle when combined with a Machine Changer support robot or power up with weapons from an Arm Changer support robot. These support robot designs would eventually be simplified to become the Change Troopers. In addition to that, there was a Microman-piloted Magne Machine core unit that could combine with the Robotman to form a classy update of the original design. The Magne Machine could also turn into vehicles, either the Cannon Machine tank or the Gyro Machine aircraft, with parts from the Changer support robots.

27. The Magne Powers Robotman designs were refined by Transformers superfan-turned-designer, Ichikawa Hirofumi.

28. The Microman 1999 version of Microstation apparently lacked the flight mode of the final release and had instead a Crane Robo reminiscent of the classic Conning Tower.

29. In 2001, Takara released a line of remote-controlled ChoroQ toys, DigiQ, based on Konami’s Micro IR technology. Takara’s 2001 Web Diver and 2002 Daigunder lines, which awkwardly combined toys and videogames, also featured IR gimmickry.

30. Takara also dug into its archives to pad out the 2000 Transformers Car Robot line. The 1995 G2 Laser Optimus Prime was turned into Black Convoy, the 1987 G1 Fortress Maximus became Brave Maximus, the 1997 Machine Wars Hubcap became Wrecker Hook, etc. Takara had previously reused moulds for Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo but not to this extent.

31. The LED Powers versions of Arthur, Isamu (formerly “Izam”), Walt, Edison and Odin did appear in the credits of Magne Powers’ final episode. On a side note, Motown hits are just as irresistible in Japanese.

32. Satoh Keita was appointed president in February 2000 and took some drastic steps to change the company’s fortunes. He reduced headcount by a third, pursued a capital tie-up with Konami a few months after taking charge (the videogame company would become Takara’s largest shareholder) and used the capital infusion to diversify the company’s offerings. Success soon followed.

33. Beyblade, a line of battling tops, was released in 1999 but languished in the market. After consulting with his employees, Satoh Keita took the risk of sponsoring an anime tie-in in 2001 and was rewarded when Beyblade became a massive hit. It’s worth noting Takara had been diligently working on modern updates of traditional beigoma tops for years. Suge Goma, for instance, was a forgotten mid-Nineties attempt. The 1999 Magne Powers Giant Acroyear set included another example. The combiner’s shoulders were functional tops and the serrated swords doubled as ripcords. The idea was Magne Powers figures could be placed on the tops to battle each other but it didn’t catch on.

34. Takara’s other hits early in Satoh Keita’s tenure were quirkier. These included a banana phone, e-kara (a toy karaoke microphone) and Bowlingual (a dog translator). These weren’t conventional toys for Takara’s usual target markets but Satoh was intent on turning the toy maker into a life entertainment company. This, among other things, meant creating playful products for adults. The irony is these successful forays into non-traditional markets would also lead to his downfall.

35. In 2002, Bandai released BetaMidget, a series of cheap Microman-like gashapon capsule toys designed by a Microman superfan named Enari. Although work had already begun on Microman 200X by then, it seems likely this move by a major competitor would have spurred Takara’s own efforts.

36. Commander Microman‘s head design was inspired by the M10X design.

37. The desire to create cool designs for MicroForce extended to the hairstyles. Ninja Microman‘s distinctive coiffure was probably inspired by David Beckham’s faux-hawk at the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Japan. Gunner Microman, meanwhile, was meant to have Rastafarian dreadlocks but it came out looking more like a bob on the released figure. Ichikawa Hirofumi conceded he should have made his intent plainer in anticipation of his design being misinterpreted.

38. Takara considered expanding MicroForce before the release of MasterForce. One proposed design was a “Doctor Microman” with a protective “lab coat” that could flip open to form something wing-like. This accessory design seems to have been reworked to become the wings for the Batman Flight Gear figure.

39. Takara marketer Yasuda Takahiro had never even heard of Microman before being transferred to the company’s Boys’ Marketing Department Next Hobby Team responsible for the Microman 200X line. (This would be akin to someone joining Mattel’s marketing department thinking a Barbie was some sort of cookout.) In his mid-twenties then, Yasuda was too young for the Showa-era Microman and too old for the Heisei-era Magne Powers and LED Powers lines but in some ways he was target audience for the Micro Action Series. Described as the chief strategist for the Microman 2004 lines, he suggested licensing Chun Li and Sakura from Street Fighter as these characters were well-known to his generation. Abiko Kazutami credited the Micro Action Series for not only attracting new fans but introducing them to Microman lines old and new.

40. Shinohara Tamotsu’s original concept for Magne Force was a magnetic figure with a mid-torso pachinko ball. The 11mm iron ball was intended to have decorative tampo print on it but that feature was dropped before release.

41. The “Space Traveller” variants released by Toy’s Dream Project provided another hint of Magne Force’s design inspiration. Shinohara Tamotsu, the Magne Force designer, later named the Space Traveller Achilles variant his favourite 200X design in comments published in his 2006 artbook, Icon.

42. Magne Force Theseus‘s green colour scheme was inspired by the 1975 Microman figure, M123 Miller.

43. The Microman Perfect Works interviews dropped some hints about a Microman 200X base that was never released. Shinohara Tamotsu mentioned Takara had an idea for a CD player that transformed into a base while marketer Yasuda Takahiro revealed Takara had a base prototype in 2005 that could record voices.

44. Abiko Kazutami was unimpressed by Shinohara Tamotsu’s head design for BioMachine’s Xeku at first but Shinohara sold him on the Bruce Lee-inspired design by claiming it was Son Goku. This led to the Journey to the West theme for BioMachine.

45. The BioMachine Machine Stinger and Machine Tiger vehicles were inspired by the old Spy Magician vehicles, Marine Condor and Drag Tiger. Machine Stinger (derived from “stingray”) was codenamed “M Condor” during development but renamed due to trademark issues.

46. The BioSuit was named after the New Microman model kits sold by Takara during the Gunpla boom of the early Eighties while the BioMachine line took its name from a bird-like mecha resin kit awarded as a prize for a New Microman modelling contest.

47. Abiko Kazutami revealed the BioSuit’s articulated fingers and all-chrome plating required a lot of fine-tuning of molds during the production stage and indeed the production staff was initially reluctant to take on the job. The chrome plating, in particular, was a challenge to execute as there were relatively few examples of a robot combiner that was completely chrome-plated aside from a few prize figures.

48. The KiguruMicroman line was inspired by the 1984 Combat Joe Godzilla set and like the set’s Combat Joe figure, Microman Harold from the KiguruMicroman Godzilla (1964 version) versus King Ghidorah set was based on the original Godzilla suit actor Nakajima Haruo.

49. AcroMedalg, the odd Acroyear villain with a lug nut for a head,  was one of the more unusual Shinohara Tamotsu designs for Microman 200X. Although Abiko Kazutami likened Medalg to a macho American comic character, the character’s silhouette closely resembles Shinohara’s Noppera-bo design for the sentai series, Kakuranger.

50. AcroElsa was originally meant to be a male centaur but the design was changed to accommodate requests seen in customer surveys.

51. Satoh Keita was appointed the vice-president of Takara Tomy after the merger and seemed poised to eventually take over as president but he was asked to step down in 2012. His father, Satoh Yasuta, a man described as the King of Toys, passed away in 2019.

52. The most significant releases commemorating the 40th anniversary of Microman in 2014 were licensed figures by Sentinel and ThreeA.

53. There were a few Transformers crossovers of note in Microman 200X. Takara released a set consisting of Super Link Grand Convoy and Microman Kicker in 2004 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Transformers and the 30th anniversary of Microman and followed it up the next year with the exclusive Ga’mede and Magnificus set.

54. Takara Tomy did release the Microman Arts figures almost a decade after the merger but it would be more accurate to call them spin-offs of the Micro Action Series since the Microman elements were so downplayed by that point as to be almost non-existent.

55. The Licca-chan portable dollhouse must have been the inspiration for the New G.I. Joe Secret Base which was in turn the likeliest inspiration for Henshin Cyborg’s Cyborg Station.

56. Takara partnered with Hong Kong-based BBi for Cool Girl. Takara was largely responsible for the planning and development of the series and BBi concentrated on the production. The line was rebranded by BBi as Cy Girls for overseas markets with different packaging but the figures were initially identical. BBi later came up with its own Cy Girls body design, dubbed “Perfect Body”, while Takara produced its own improved 1.5 and 2.0 updates of the Cool Girl body.

57. There was only a single (BBi-developed) villain, Bloody Rose, released for Cool Girl. Development of another, karn evil-9, was halted at the prototype stage.

58. There’s some confusion over when Takaya Motoki joined Takara. He stated it was 1987 twice in the Futabasha book but a 2021 interview goes with 1988 instead.

59. If Beast Saga’s figure-scale issues weren’t exasperating enough, Kabaya sold 3.5cm-tall Beast Saga W shokugan figures that stood between the minifigures included with the Zip Lot machines and the larger Beast Fight Collection figures.

60. Takara Tomy’s biggest hit in the battle hobby category, Beyblade, sold over 470 million units in over 80 countries. The company’s latest attempt to reproduce that success involves shooting bottlecaps. Bottleman sold over 300,000 units since its debut in October 2020 and won the Excellence Award in the Communications Toy category at the 2021 Japan Toy Awards.

61. A number of Beast Saga characters who appeared in the anime were unreleased as figures but were available as minifigures included with the Zip Lot vehicles and bases or Kabaya shokugan.

62. Aside from the Henshin Cyborg-inspired figure, Shishioh Guy was released in Microman form for the Microman Action Series in 2005.

63. The Neo Henshin Cyborg Gunmetal variant, a Toys ‘R’ Us Japan exclusive, included a Cyber Giraffe Gun which had the ability to detect arrivals and sales at TRU stores and allowed the Cyborg to communicate with giraffes worldwide. It’s unknown whether this was the reason why the Gunmetal Cyborg had a chipper personality. Other variants of note were the all-clear Hyper Hobby-exclusive Stealth Cyborg and the Katagai Kenichi set that depicted him in human form.

64. Aside from the Cyborg 99 Henshin Set, Satake Masaaki was released in Microman form as Super Satake and Laser Satake in the Microman LED Powers line. It’s also absolutely imperative to point out Satake is an avid toy collector himself, is deeply and sincerely inspired by Ultraman, who he likens to Mother Teresa, and has released Ultraman-inspired soft vinyl kaiju figures under his own label. He later ran for local office and despite impeccable qualifications — he was a Henshin Cyborg, a Microman and has a huge toy collection — he somehow lost.

65. For the 2004 reissue of Dokuro King, Abiko Kazutami purchased an expensive vintage set, passed it to Takara’s Chinese factory to use as a paint sample and insisted that every minute detail be reproduced to perfection. He was baffled by some white spots on the prototype he received from the factory and eventually discovered the painter at the factory had faithfully reproduced the mould on the old toy. This was fixed for the production version.

66. For those anxiously wondering, Yoke Hideaki’s second-favourite design is Camera Robo (Reflector).

67. A fringe company in the Bandai group founded to sell character toys, Popy became a major player with hits like the Kamen Rider Henshin Belt and the Chogokin series. The first Chogokin toy, Mazinger Z, was so well-received when it was released in 1974 that it was revised and re-released multiple times within a short period of time. The fourth version was released in 1978 — two years before Takara would release Diaclone Diabattles.

68. The more realistic depiction of  war in Kidou Senshi Gundam drew an older audience compared to the “robot pro-wrestling” of Super Robot shows like Mazinger. This scuppered the chances of the Clover Gundam toys which were closer to the Super Robot chogokin aimed at the younger set. Displeased by poor sales of its toys, Clover pulled its sponsorship of the series thereby prematurely ending it. Gundam exploded in popularity only after the compilation movies (which excised elements demanded by the toy company) were released theatrically and the series was reaired on television. Clover, meanwhile, declared bankruptcy in August 1983.

69. Kawamori Shoji was a stickler for details who complained about the implausible aspects of the Ultraman series even as a young child. He did magnanimously decide the MAT Gyro from Return of Ultraman was an acceptable design, if a little on the bulky side.

70. Kawamori’s favourite design as a kid was the Thunderbirds heavy air transport, Thunderbird 2, and he was an aircraft enthusiast even before his father took him to an air show when he was in the third grade. After designing a transforming mecha inspired by the F-14 in 1982, he would supervise the design of the F-15-based MP-3 Starscream two decades later.

71. Kawamori was given a fischerteknik set in the second grade. With only a few pieces to create models with, he built transforming variations with parts that shifted about. This led him to believe it was only natural for toys to transform.

72. Bandai ended up with an American partner as well for Machine Robo though it happened in a more circuitous manner. According to the book Toyland, Bandai’s American subsidiary had attempted to sell Machine Robo as Machine Men in the US and was showing off the products to trade buyers before the 1983 Toy Fair. While the buyers were upbeat on the line at first, they ordered only 40,000 units once they learned Bandai America’s television advertising budget had been eliminated after its parent company suffered losses in the electronics market in 1982. Tonka got wind of Machine Robo after hiring a former Bandai America executive and decided to license the line in 1983. Bandai, meanwhile, sold Machine Men in Australia from 1984 to 1986.

73. Interestingly, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was originally intended to be an “action vehicle line” with the figures meant as accessories for those vehicles.

74. Microman superfans, Paul Lorphanpaibul and Bryan Wilkinson, observed that Hasbro’s move to combine Microman Microchange and Diaclone Car Robot paralleled Takara’s own Victory Plan effort to create a unified worldview for Henshin Cyborg, Android A and Microman in the Seventies.

75. Transformers was something of a rush job. Hasbro got hold of Takara’s toys in June 1983, started developing the line around July and had to hustle to get something ready for trade previews in October/November. George Dunsay credited Hasbro’s ad agency, Griffin-Bacal, for doing 16 months work in about four or five months.

76. In his book, The Real Toy Story, Eric Clark credited Griffin-Bacal’s Joe Bacal for coming up with “Transformers” during a 3¼-hour car ride from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to New York City. Others brainstorming in the car were his colleagues Tom Griffin and Paul Kurnit, and Hasbro’s Stephen Schwartz. Clark also claimed “Autobots,” “Decepticon” and more controversially, “Optimus Prime” and “Megatron” were also named during that ride. There’s reason to doubt this account because Marvel Comics Editor (and later Transformers comics writer) Bob Budiansky specifically mentioned he named “Megatron” and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter suggested Denny O’Neil probably contributed “Optimus Prime.”

77. Hasbro objected to a couple of names Budiansky came up with during his five-year run. “Megatron” was deemed to be too scary as it brought to mind the megatons associated with nuclear bombs. Budiansky retorted Megatron was a bad guy and was meant to be scary. Hasbro backed down. On the other hand, “Highbeams,” which Budiansky thought was rather clever, was rejected because a Hasbro executive notified him tactfully it was slang for part of the female anatomy where she came from.

78. Although both lines were neck and neck at one point, Transformers ended up outselling GoBots almost 2-to-1 in 1984. Transformers did even better the following year and still had 214 million dollars in sales when GoBots ended in 1986. Looking back, Tonka executives attributed Transformers’ success to three factors. First, kids preferred the more complicated Transformers toys and parents gave in despite the higher price points. Second, the Transformers regular series aired first on television on a weekly basis whereas Tonka waited until it had enough episodes to air Challenge of the GoBots on weekdays. Finally, Tonka, a 100 million dollar company at that time, simply couldn’t compete with Hasbro, which was a billion dollar Fortune 500 company by 1985.

79. The first title Takara came up for the Japanese Transformers series was “Henshin Sentai Transformer.”

80. The success of Transformers and its sequels in Japan would lead to a revival of robot anime for kids in the Nineties. Takara would be at the forefront of this with its sponsorship of the Transformers-influenced Yuusha series produced by Sunrise.

81. Hikawa Ryusuke and others in Japan found the moving mouths of Transformers unusual which is unusual in itself. Tetsuwan Atom featured a robot (though human-like and human-sized) with a moving mouth all the way back in 1963. It’s possible Japanese audiences had become accustomed in the Seventies to piloted Super Robots that were generally masked or didn’t speak.

82. Freelance writer and anime researcher Igarashi Koji got his first Transformer, Bumble (Bumblebee), as a kid after watching Transformers on a local station in Aomori three months after the major stations had started airing the series in Japan. He only realised the Microman connection when he bought a discounted Microman Gun Robo toy the next winter, took it out of the package and recognised it as Megatron. Over a decade later, Igarashi authored Takara SF Land Daizenshu, the first major book tracing all the interesting Takara SF Land links.

83. At George Dunsay’s instigation, Yoke Hideaki moved to America with his wife (a designer of girls’ toys) to work at Hasbro for a few months (or a year). Yoke’s stint at Hasbro gave both companies a deeper understanding of each other and made the Transformers partnership even stronger.

84. Takara’s Ejima Takio revealed in Beast Wars Generations that he presented a Densetsu no Yuusha Da-Garn toy customised with joints from a 3¾-inch G.I Joe figure at a meeting with Hasbro in 1994 to demonstrate the feasibility of a more posable Transformer design. Hasbro executives were cool to the idea until their late-arriving superior swept in and marvelled at the concept at which point they immediately agreed it was, in fact, wonderful. Thus the G2 Laser Rod figures were born. From that point onwards, Transformers figures had better articulation and were still able to pass safety tests as the ball-jointed legs would pop off cleanly.

85. Attitudes towards elderly robots had changed in Japan by the time the crotchety old coot, Jetfire, appeared in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Takara Tomy marketing manager Yamazaki Masahiko was initially shocked to see the character but praised it as a memorable if unconventional design.

86. Since the 1986 movie Transformers were designed before the toys, the animators took a lot of liberties with the transformations between modes. For example, Hot Rod transformed five different ways in that one movie. When Onishi Yuya designed the Studio Series version of the character, he focused on the first time Hot Rod transformed.

87. The idea of a city transforming into a robot was proposed towards the end of Diaclone as part of the Scramble Gattai (combiners) project. It was intended to keep alive the base-play concept seen earlier with Robot Base and Robot Fortress X. Hasbro found the idea appealing so Transformers had large- (Fortress Maximus), medium- (Metroflex/Metroplex) and small-sized (Transformers Zone’s Micro Transformers Rocket Base) designs as part of the city-transformer project. Curiously, Trypticon and Scorponok didn’t seem to be part of this effort.

88. Ohno thought the colour scheme Hasbro picked for his Metroflex (Metroplex) design was bland at the time but later came to appreciate its simple elegance. He picked a Diaclone-inspired colour scheme for Metrotitan, the Transformers Zone redeco of the toy.

89. An early design draft for Powermaster Optimus Prime included a Roller which had its own robot mode and also transformed into the head of the powered-up form.

90. Transformers Masterforce’s greater emphasis on Super Ginrai brought Transformers closer to the Japanese hero robot genre and the next anime, Transformers Victory, did even more to play up the heroic character of its lead, Star Saber. Ohno considers Ginrai and Star Saber to be the progenitors of the Yuusha series of hero robots that succeeded Transformers in the Nineties.

91. The release version of God Bomber was less impressive than the prototype because Takara cut corners to reduce the price of the God Ginrai giftset. The God Ginrai formed from the God Bomber prototype had wings jutting out from the chest, larger wings on its back and pointed toes.

92. Though Takara personnel never bring it up in interviews, the poor relationship between Mattel and Takara during the making of the Japanese Barbie in the Eighties is an example of what happens when one company throws its weight around in a collaborative effort.

93. Designer Akitaka Mika, best known for his Gundam and MS Girls designs, once worked at Takara although most of his designs never made it to production. Unfortunately, the one that did, Predaking, inspired a lawsuit. Bandai accused Takara of ripping off the Popy Chogokin Daltanious toy, tracked down Akitaka and immediately hired him because Predaking sold extremely well in the US. Akitaka worked at Bandai for about a year designing toy robots including Machine Robo.

94. When Yoke Hideaki retired, Hasbro presented him with a Perceptor, his favourite design, which had a simple inscription: Thank you.

95. Bob Prupis, who was instrumental in adapting Takara’s transforming toy robots for the American market, still believed in Transformers after Hasbro ended the line in the US. Then based in England as part of Hasbro’s European marketing operations, Prupis convinced Takara the brand was still strong in the UK and Germany so Takara’s overseas Transformers team – now reduced to Ejima Takio and his supervisor Yoke – began collaborating with Hasbro Europe. Transformers’ international success led Hasbro to relaunch Transformers in the US in 1993.

96. Ejima joined Takara just before Transformers ended in the US. As the only Transformers designer at Takara working on products for the European market, he played a big part in keeping the brand alive internationally in its leanest years.

97. Notable European exclusive designs included Ejima’s Action Master Elites which took the radical Action Master concept of non-transforming Transformers and took it in an even more radical direction: the Action Master Elites were Action Masters that transformed. Ejima designed Action Master Elites intended to be Black Zarak and Bruticus but they ended up being named Double Punch and Turbomaster for unknown reasons.

98. Nintendo had a significant impact on the American toy industry. After the NES was test-marketed in New York and Los Angeles in 1985 and released nationwide in late 1986, the action figure market went from 1.06 billion dollars in 1986 to 702 million dollars in 1987 and then shrank further to 523 million dollars in 1988 because eight- to ten-year-olds turned their attention to videogames.

99. Hasbro responded to the videogame threat by taking it head-on in 1986. NEMO (Never Ever Mention Outside or possibly Nintendo Ends Mid-October) was described as an original, internally developed gaming system in Toy Wars and described in Toyland as the brainchild of Atari co-founder, Nolan Bushnell, who sold the idea to Hasbro. Hasbro killed the project in 1988 after spending 10 million dollars (Toyland) or 20 million (Toy Wars) because the designers couldn’t bring the system down to the 199 dollar price point. When another outside inventor sold Hasbro the idea of a sophisticated VR system in 1991, the company spent about four years and 45 million dollars developing it before deciding the system, codenamed “Sliced Bread,” would also have been prohibitively expensive.

100. Takara, which had previously sold handheld electronic games in the Seventies and a rebranded gaming PC in the early Eighties, had some interesting ideas for incorporating technology into Transformers in 1987. The Transformers Generations Deluxe book featured design sketches of a triple-changer that transformed into a futuristic vehicle, a robot or a light gun that reacted to action on television. (Mattel’s Captain Power toys were released that same year.) There were also ambitious proposals for tech-powered Transformers that made use of light and motion sensors as well as remote-control technology but none were produced. The one Transformers-related idea that did make it to market that year was uninspired: Takara’s Video Challenger light gun could detect visual effects in the opening credits of Transformers: The Headmasters. Takara and Takara Tomy did eventually produce impressive techpowered toy robots.

101. At one point, Takara intended to release a Transformers Zone giftset containing both Rocket Base and Galaxy Shuttle, which would have been a suitably impressive flagship item for the line. Galaxy Shuttle was a Japanese exclusive released for the previous line, Transformers Victory, but it seemed to have been designed with the Micromaster Rocket Base in mind. The shuttle mode could not only fit the Rocket Base launchpad but its compartments could accommodate both Brain Masters and Micromasters. Although the giftset idea never came to pass, Galaxy Shuttle was re-released for Transformers Zone.