Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Chogokin Memories: A Look Back at the Miniature Voltron I Action Figure from Matchbox
Last Christmas, I did a retrospective post about the massive influx of Japanese robot toys that hit U.S. toy stores during the Christmas season of 1984. In the time since that post, I've learned that Japanese robot toys have their own system of taxonomy to classify the toys according to build, features, and material composition. For example, the term "chogokin" specifically refers to Japanese robot toys that were made during the 70s and 80s and featured a significant amount of die-cast metal. Chogokin toys were usually produced in one of two sizes: "ST" (or "standard"), which meant that the toy was around 5 inches high, and "DX" (or "deluxe"), which meant that the toy was much larger than 5 inches in height and came with more complex features.
This post is devoted to one of the ST chogokin toys that I had as a kid: the miniature 6 inch Voltron I action figure, which was released by Matchbox in 1984. There's quite a history regarding the Voltron anime series and its related merchandise--namely, that "Voltron I" was actually the super robot combiner from the anime series Armored Fleet Dairugger XV and that the Matchbox Voltron toys were actually repackaged toys that were made by Popy, the subsidiary of Bandai that is credited with the creation of chogokin-style toys. Click below to see a Voltron I picture gallery and to learn more about this imported version of a Japanese toy phenomenon.
The miniature Voltron I action figure isn't a bad toy at all. It's made from a combination of plastic and die-case metal parts, so it's very durable. I've had mine for over 25 years and the only part that has ever broken was one of the nose cone wings on the figure's head. Voltron I also has a colorful paint scheme, particularly a metallic blue that glistens brightly in sunlight.
If you look at Voltron I's back, you can still see the original Popy logo in Japanese lettering.
The Voltron I figure doesn't have as many features as its larger deluxe counterpart. It doesn't disassemble into 15 separate vehicles, although the red space ship that's mounted to its chest can be removed. Overall, it has about the same range of motion as its larger version, although there are a few differences: the larger version had joints in its elbows, while this version has joints in its knees. Both could rotate their arms at the shoulder.
Where this toy differs greatly from the original Japanese ST chogokin version is in the area of features. All the Matchbox Voltron I has to offer is the removable space ship and the movable joints--that's it. In contrast, the Japanese version of this chogokin came with its own sword, spring-loaded fists that could be launched from the figure's arms, and spring-loaded missiles that could be launched from the figure's shins. (Click here to read a review of the original ST Dairugger XV toy at the CollectionDX site.) The Matchbox Voltron I had none of these things--presumably for safety reasons--but you can still see holes in the figure's arms and legs that indicate where the fist and missile launch buttons were supposed to be. In short, the Voltron I action figure is the neutered version of its Japanese counterpart.
The vehicles that form Voltron I's feet have wheels, and the wheels move on the Voltron I action figure as if they were roller skates. I've seen other super robot combiners that also have wheels in their feet; unfortunately, I doubt that we'll ever see a super robot combiner roller derby. Dammit.
Matchbox also released another ST chogokin, a 6 inch version of Voltron III (a.k.a. Beast King GoLion). I didn't get that figure, although I suspect that its weapons and spring-loaded features were also removed for its release in the U.S. It's a shame that these two figures were released in 1984, because they would've fit perfectly with the Shogun Warrior lines of ST chogokins and action vehicles that were released by Mattel in the U.S. during the late 70s. That said, Toynami recently released 24 inch tall Shogun Warrior versions of both Voltrons.