The origins of popular and recurring trends in pop culture can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint, especially trends that have gone on for so long that they become an accepted fixture of everyday life. For this post, I'm talking about Japanese robot toys that are imported and sold in the U.S. I'm sure robot fans who are around my age will remember how Japanese robot toys dominated the shelves of toy stores during the 80s, but the trend of U.S. toy companies securing the rights to sell Japanese robot toys in North America actually began in the 70s with Mattel's Shogun Warriors. While the Shogun Warriors line didn't last long, its influence would impact the toy industry for decades to come. Read on for my retrospective of this trend-setting toy line.
The idea of importing toys from one country and then selling them in another is not a new idea unto itself. However, what made the Shogun Warriors different was that included merchandise from many different points of origin but was sold under a single brand name. Mattel marketed the robot toys as if they all inhabited the same shared universe but they actually originated from over a dozen different Japanese "Super Robot" anime series, series such as Brave Raideen, Gaiking and Voltes V.
To encourage the perception of a unified product line, Mattel gave the licensing rights to Marvel Comics to create a Shogun Warriors comic book series, where the robots coexisted as a single force for good against an evil alien force. There was also a syndicated cartoon series called Force Five that was set up to show five of the anime series upon which the Shogun Warrior toys were based. Unfortunately, the Shogun Warriors line was winding down by the time Force Five made it to the air and only a handful of TV markets carried the series for the brief time that it ran.
Not to limit itself to Super Robot anime, Mattel also secured the rights to Godzilla and Rodan, two monsters from famous Japanese Atomic Age kaiju movies, so that they could be added to the Shogun Warriors line as monsters for the giant robots to fight. As far as I know, Shogun Warriors is the only toy line that has combined Super Robot anime with live-action kaiju films; from that perspective, Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim (2013) could also have been named Shogun Warriors: The Movie.
A Godzilla figure from the Shogun Warriors line, complete with
launching spring-loaded claw and extendable tongue of fire.
Shogun Warrior robots came in three different sizes: 24 inches, 5 inches, and 3.5 inches. Even though the 24-inch robots are what most people remember about the Shogun Warriors line, you could see some items from the robot toys' original anime series in the Shogun Warriors' "Action Vehicle" toys. For example, the Rydoto Action Vehicle was actually from the Brave Raideen anime series and the Kargosaur Action Vehicle was from Gaiking.
Curiously, some of the Shogun Warrior Action Vehicle toys had nothing to do with any Super Robot anime series; they were just toys that Mattel apparently decided to include in the line anyway because they looked similar enough to the robots. After all, none of the anime series upon which the Shogun Warriors toy line was based aired on U.S. television during most of the line's release, so it wasn't as if the kids who were buying the toys would know the difference.
The Shogun Warriors' Heli-Capter Action Vehicle
(Japanese TV show of origin unknown).
The Shogun Warriors line didn't last long and completely disappeared from toy stores within a few years of its launch. Regardless, its approach to licensing Japanese robot toys in bulk was also used by other toy and model kit lines that were released in the U.S. during the 80s:
* Hasbro's Transformers line was a combination of Takara Tomy's Diaclone and Microman lines, and the Transformers marketing campaign depicted the robots and sentient beings from another planet.
* Matchbox's Voltron line was a combination of robot toys from three anime series: Beast King GoLion, Armored Fleet Dairugger XV and Lightspeed Electroid Albegas. However, when the Voltron cartoon series was assembled to help promote the toy line, footage from Albegas was not included.
* Revell's line of Robotech model kits combined robot kits from three anime series as well: Fang of the Sun Dougram, Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Super Dimension Century Orguss. Yet when the Robotech cartoon was assembled, footage from Dougram and Orguss were not used and Macross was edited together with footage from Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA.
One of Revell's Robotech model kits that's originally from
the Fang of the Sun Dougram anime series.
Over time, the concept of mashing together Super Robot anime series into a single line of merchandise eventually made it back Japan itself with the arrival of Super Robot Wars in 1991. Super Robot Wars is a series of tactical role-playing video games where players can choose from a selection of Super Robots from various anime and manga series. This selection also includes the titular robots from Mazinger Z and Getter Robo, two of the robots that were also featured in the Shogun Warriors toy line. The Super Robot Wars game series continues to this day, and has since expanded to include anime and manga series of its own.
To learn more about the Shogun Warriors, check out the following fan sites:
* Wildtoy's Shogun Warriors Page
* Weird Science-Fantasy's Shogun Warriors Page
* Ted Terranova's Robot Page.
A Shogun Warriors Halloween Costume.