How niche was mecha in America before Transformer?

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Fireminer
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How niche was mecha in America before Transformer?

Post by Fireminer »

I know that Gigantor was aired in the 60s, but between that point and the mid-80s when shows like Transformers and Voltron were aired, how niche was mecha to the larger American audience? Like, I think I've seen pictures of Japanese mecha figures being sold in America in 81-82, but how widely were they sold? Or just how accessible was mecha anime during that period?

While we're at it, how popular were toys that were mecha-adjacent? Like, Star Wars and Star Trek models must have had sold like hot cakes, right? And then there were things like Thunderbirds and G.I Joe vehicles.
George W
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Re: How niche was mecha in America before Transformer?

Post by George W »

It's a mixed bag.

Star Wars stuff flew off the shelves.

Other stuff (example: A large xenomorph from the Alien movie) that I remember seeing on our shelves at JC Penney's when I was a stockboy in the early 1980's - didn't sell, but if you bought one - oh boy, are they valuable now.

Transformers were selling (for example, Starfire was a VF-1S with red and black paint instead of the yellow and black with the Jolly Roger theme that Roy Fokker's VF-1S had, was selling as "a Transformer"."

If you went to conventions, you could pick up mecha.

Battletech was running in Navy Pier, and you could go in 1984 and rent time in their "battle simulator" and battle others.

By the late 90's, Transformers had really taken hold due to more marketing and better shows. Then you had aisles FULL of Transformers (TM) branded stuff to buy.

There were things rolling around - the live action Captain Power was a US invention of J. Michael Straczynski, and the TV show marketed Lord Dread and Captain Power fighters, and guns that would shoot light beams and cause things to "explode". Then you had Wheeled Warriors around, which wanted to sell all the various attachments for that stuff (more of using a cartoon for marketing - I wrote a thread about that here I think, and how frustrating it was for the writers.)

So I guess the short answer is "it depends." If a series had "legs" (was popular) generally, the toys followed. If a series was being used to market toys, the toys were present, but did as well as the series did. Personally, from what I heard and saw of Wheeled Warriors, I think the Marketing got too much of a voice, which killed the stories.

Thunderbird and UFO stuff was around. Thunderbirds was too expensive for my budget as a kid, but later I took a liking to UFO, so I bought a metallic green Moonbase Interceptor (which I repainted in the correct white with red stripe) and a Mobile (the ubiquitous Mobile 2. I never found SkyDiver, Sky 1, or SID, and at this point, I don't think I'd buy them if I did.

When I was into Macross, I grabbed a bunch of Macross stuff, including several transformable SDF-1s (1 large, 1 tiny), several VF-1A, VF-1S, etc, and a ship from Mosepeda (Alpha fighter, never having found a Beta fighter to match up with it).
Fireminer
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Re: How niche was mecha in America before Transformer?

Post by Fireminer »

George W wrote: Mon Dec 27, 2021 6:59 am It's a mixed bag.

Star Wars stuff flew off the shelves.

Other stuff (example: A large xenomorph from the Alien movie) that I remember seeing on our shelves at JC Penney's when I was a stockboy in the early 1980's - didn't sell, but if you bought one - oh boy, are they valuable now.

Transformers were selling (for example, Starfire was a VF-1S with red and black paint instead of the yellow and black with the Jolly Roger theme that Roy Fokker's VF-1S had, was selling as "a Transformer"."

If you went to conventions, you could pick up mecha.

Battletech was running in Navy Pier, and you could go in 1984 and rent time in their "battle simulator" and battle others.

By the late 90's, Transformers had really taken hold due to more marketing and better shows. Then you had aisles FULL of Transformers (TM) branded stuff to buy.

There were things rolling around - the live action Captain Power was a US invention of J. Michael Straczynski, and the TV show marketed Lord Dread and Captain Power fighters, and guns that would shoot light beams and cause things to "explode". Then you had Wheeled Warriors around, which wanted to sell all the various attachments for that stuff (more of using a cartoon for marketing - I wrote a thread about that here I think, and how frustrating it was for the writers.)

So I guess the short answer is "it depends." If a series had "legs" (was popular) generally, the toys followed. If a series was being used to market toys, the toys were present, but did as well as the series did. Personally, from what I heard and saw of Wheeled Warriors, I think the Marketing got too much of a voice, which killed the stories.

Thunderbird and UFO stuff was around. Thunderbirds was too expensive for my budget as a kid, but later I took a liking to UFO, so I bought a metallic green Moonbase Interceptor (which I repainted in the correct white with red stripe) and a Mobile (the ubiquitous Mobile 2. I never found SkyDiver, Sky 1, or SID, and at this point, I don't think I'd buy them if I did.

When I was into Macross, I grabbed a bunch of Macross stuff, including several transformable SDF-1s (1 large, 1 tiny), several VF-1A, VF-1S, etc, and a ship from Mosepeda (Alpha fighter, never having found a Beta fighter to match up with it).
Hey, thanks for the answer! But I want to ask if there is a big different in price between the Transformers and other American toys compared to the Japanese imports? From what I've read, at this period of time Bandai and other Japanese toy manufacturers were still making toys in Japan. It was only from 1985 onward that they moved production to China.
George W
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Re: How niche was mecha in America before Transformer?

Post by George W »

I see. There was a price difference. I'd be paying $70 for a Bandai VF-1A.

A similar Transformers branded (Starfire) VF-1S was $39.95 at the same time.

So yes, there was a premium for toys from Japan.

Also, the toys from Japan shot missiles. The US toys did not due to safety concerns.
davemerrill
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Re: How niche was mecha in America before Transformer?

Post by davemerrill »

The license you're looking for is "Shogun Warriors." Starting in the late 1970s, American toy company Mattel licensed a really wide variety of different robot and vehicle toys from Bandai / Popy under the Shogun Warriors name - everything from tiny 3-inch plastic robots, 5" diecast metal "chogokin" toys, and some of the Jumbo Machinder line of robots, from anime/tokusatsu series like Voltes V, Mazinger Z, Danguard Ace, Getter Robo G, Grandizer, Gorangers, Daitetsujin-17, Daimos, Message From Space, etc. The Shogun Warriors line was extended to non-toy items like puzzles, Colorforms sets, model kits, and a comic book license with Marvel Comics. Mattel even licensed released their own "Jumbo Machinder" size toys of Godzilla and Rodan.

There wasn't an anime license to go along with these toys - there never was a Shogun Warriors TV cartoon in the United States. In 1980 Jim Terry Productions released a syndicated series titled "Force Five" that featured episodes from anime series whose mecha were also seen as Shogun Warriors toys, but there was not a formal arrangement between the two licenses.

As a kid at the time, I loved both the Force Five TV series and the Shogun Warriors toys, and the toy line was definitely popular among my peer group. I still have some of the Shogun Warriors toys I received at the time.

This all happened years before Transformers existed in any form at all.
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