Armagideon Time

Life’s what you mech it

December 5th, 2017

It doesn’t matter that my interest in anime faded a decade ago or that I don’t need anymore fragile plastic constructs collecting dust on my shelves. Put a little mad money in my pocket and a an idle hour to browse eBay listings, and I will eventually fall down a rabbit hole filled with Japanese robot toys.

The fascination is pure nostalgia, through and through, honed and cultivated by a childhood that ran alongside Star Blazers, Force Five, and Robotech. The aesthetics of the designs are as much an integral part of my conception of that era as any pop song, ad jingle, or questionable fashion choice might be.

There was also a mysteriously exotic quality to the mecha-mania which briefly spilled onto these shores. What we did get felt like the shadows in Plato’s metaphoric cave, imperfect and incomplete fragments of something much grander. This was reinforced by the material artifacts which flooded toy aisles Transformers‘ becoming the top toy line in the country, a bewildering display of imports and bootlegs sporting bizarre names and existing outside the smallish circle of localized familiarity.

No part of the Mekton II rulebook captured my attention as the campaign ideas section did, as it was liberally sprinkled with references to Aura Battler Dunbine, Super Attack Speed Galvion and other nonsensical-yet-evocative titles. That tantalizing taste filled me with a burning desire to know more, but world of bootleg VHS rips and imported “roman albums” was well beyond my suburban sphere and modest means. I had to content myself with the occasional fanzine that filtered its way down to my local comic shop.

My interest in anime and manga has waxed and waned over the years, but my love of mechs has remained fairly constant. There’s at least three crates of Japanese robot toys in my attic (not counting the remnants of Maura’s long and abiding Robotech fandom), and a dozen or so “most favored” examples scattered around the rest of the house. I already own nearly every figure of interest to me, have tapped out the lines and franchises with the greatest personal appeal, yet it continues to be a default “what should I check out” mode for me.

I’m also really fussy when it comes to mech designs, being a hardcore partisan for the Eighties-style “real robo” aesthetic. I’ve got nothing against the Getter Robo/Shogun Warriors style, but it lacks the intricate detail and illusion of plausibility of later mech franchises. (It’s also why I never got into Transformers as anything but a means to get localized copies of appropriated mecha toys.)

The pinnacle of that “look” is Robotech’s “Alpha Fighter” (aka the “Legioss” from Genesis Climber Mospeada). It’s a hefty and visually striking war machine that can convert from a futuristic space fighter to a badass battlesuit, and the design is damn near perfect.

It’s exactly the type of thing I’d seek out…if I didn’t already own one. It was originally one of Damian’s prize possessions, which he traded to my little brother for for a guitar strap (don’t ask) and was handed off to me when my sibling went off to college. I also have G1 versions of Roadbuster (re-purposed from the Special Armored Battalion Dorvack anime) and Dinobot Sludge from Transformers, the top-hatted Tux from Go-Bots, and a “masterpiece edition” Veritech fighter I got from a Funcoland clearance bin for twelve bucks (which I’m sure was a mistake on their part, but I didn’t bother correcting them). There aren’t many Holy Grails leftfor me in the mecha realm.

The only thing I do regret missing out on were the Dougram toys. The series never got a stateside release, but the mech designs were used in Revell’s pre-cartoon Robotech Defenders line of model kits and pre-assembled toys collected dust on the local TRU’s shelf for years. They were decidedly upscale compared to the other imported trendhopping merch. Not only were they solidly constructed from die-cast parts, the came packaged in a spiffy slipcase along with a host of accessories and armaments. I wasn’t crazy about the designs at the time, but have since come to regret not picking a few up when I had the chance.

Finding them at a reasonable price is next to impossible, though the “related items” sidebar did end up pointing me to the next best thing…

…a slipcased-packed “Walker Galliar” from Combat Mecha Xabungle.

I wasn’t that familiar with the series, apart from catching a couple fansubbed episodes a few years ago and the fact that it’s “cute” character designs were at odds with the series’ grimly violent overtones.

The Gailliar figure is aces, though, and has the heft, accessories, and articulation of something from the mid-Eighties golden era. My lack of knowledge about Xabungle actually works in its favor, as it channels that old familiar vibe of knowing fuck all about the franchise while marveling at the merchandise.

It also set me back all of seventeen bucks, which was also nice.

3 Responses to “Life’s what you mech it”

  1. athodyd

    Someone’s been fan-translating Dougram over on youtube with fairly good results:

    It’s a pretty good cartoon! Less kid-focused and toyetic than Gundam and handles the old space colonialism trope in a more sophisticated fashion. It’s very much “real robot” style storytelling–the mechs typically have pretty limited range and tend to cover long distances on flatbed trucks just like tanks.

  2. bitterandrew

    Oh, nice! Thanks for the heads up!

  3. Kris

    Back in the mid 80’s the local Kay Bee carried a pretty decent assortment of the Dougram toys. Pretty sure I’m the only one who bought any of them. The rest are all long gone, but despite 30 years of questionable life decisions I’ve managed to hold onto this bad boy. He’s a little beat up after all this time, but he’s still spry.

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