07 July 2013

FWS Military Sci-Fi Toys: The Matchbox ROBOTECH Toy Line

Welcome to the first blogpost in a new series here on FWS that is all about military science fiction toys! While this will not appear as frequently as Forgotten Classics or the Armory, but I think is worth covering a few of the important military sci-fin toy lines. While there were many war-toys devoted to capturing young boys hearts and their parents' cash in the 1980's, none sparked my desire more to throw my money at the toy company like a drunk rapper and his posse in Vegas strip-club, than the 1986 Matchbox/Harmony Gold official ROBOTECH toyline.This blogpost was much more work than original intended, and a labor of love because of my history and emotions associated with ROBOTECH. What you are seeing here is two months of writing and research. There will be more MSF toys blogposts in the future devoted to: the LJN DUNE toys, STARCOM, Battletech and ALIENS. So, if you have a military sci-fi toyline you wanna see FWS cover, send it to me! If you liked this new blog-series than let me know!   

FWS Would Like to Thank...
During the long research phase of this blogpost, I posted up on the ROBOTECH.com official forum that I needed help on some aspects of the Matchbox ROBOTECH toyline. Some really great fans of the series answered the call and helped out FWS. I would like to thank: Renegadeleader and Rand for the solid intel!

The Historical Context of the Matchbox/Harmony Gold ROBOTECH line
In 1984, when I was eight, the US government  dropped the regulation preventing the placement of toys and other items in children's programming, allowing for a toyline-based TV program and cereal ads. Within a few years, it seemed that every cartoon had an accompanying toyline. When the Matchbox ROBOTECH toyline hit the shelves, it was completing with Transformers, GO-BOTS, G.I. Joe, MASK, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, Voltron, LEGOs (the best fucking toy EVER!) and various movie tie-in toys. Also there was the emerging home video game market, battery operated water guns, tabletop RPGs, and various imported toys that were sold at hobby and comic book stores. All and all, it was a great time to be a kid, just not for your allowance or your parents' bank account.

The Story of the Matchbox/Harmony Gold ROBOTECH Line
Before we jump into the history of the Matchbox/Harmony Gold ROBOTECH toyline, we have to discuss the emerging marketplace that allowed for the very creation of ROBOTECH. In the very late 1970's, and early 1980's, the United States was caught in a "big robot" crazy that resulting in a flood of exported Japanese robot toys and models to hit American shelves. I can remember playing with the semi-crappy Shotgun Warrior robot toys, and seeing early Anime imports with even-crappier dub-jobs in the very late 1970's and very early 1980's. There seemed to be no end to the amount of imported toys and model kits, and one company decided to adopt a grand approach to this flood: Revell models. They decided to import models from several well known and well done mecha military sci-fi anime: Fang of the Sun Dougram, Orguss, Macross, and Crusher Joe and blanket them all under one title: The ROBOTECH Defenders. This line of models would the American market in 1985, along with a DC comic limited series. This is how I and others became aware of the term ROBOTECH, and this is why the anime series carries the name. Harmony Gold teamed with Revell to promote the models and the TV series that were in the process of being dubbed, which would make the ROBOTECH name familiar, allowing for the TV series not to go onto the airwaves cold. However, the models and the DC comic were not selling enough, causing Harmony Gold to search out for another partner for a grander line of product. At this time, Matchbox had started production in China and was owned by Universal Toys. There was a new direction taken by Matchbox toys to grow beyond cars.
In 1984, Matchbox began to import the Voltron mecha to the US, and the company was looking for more. In 1985, Harmony Gold and Matchbox, with its Chinese production sites, would move into the big toy line business. One of the reason for production of nearly entire toyline was rooted in the different between American and Japanese boy toys. The native Japanese toy market of the early 1980's, mecha toys and models were big business, but not action figures and associated play vehicles were not. Matchbox could import several types of Macross and MOSPEADA toys and re-band them, however, the three inch action figures Matchbox would have to manufacture along the play vehicles by an American company for an American market. I asked an RN I work with you was is half-Japanese, speaks the language, and spend summers in Japan, and she backed up this theory. By 1984/1985, Matchbox was spending millions on development of the prototypes as ROBOTECH the TV show was hitting the airwaves across America, after breaking out of the original ten key markets. Also helping the exposure of the ROBOTECH name was the Comico Comic Company ROBOTECH series, which was first published in 1984, prior to the adoption of the ROBOTECH name. By the key year of
In 1985, Carl Macek and several other Harmony Gold employees made a presentation to retailers using prototype toys and this is the best piece of evidence we have on the early days of the toyline. Fortunately, this was packaged with the "Protoculture edition" DVD boxset by ADV. On the video, he had several prototype figures, both three and six inch, several mecha, and art. It was during that several facts were established: in 1985, ROBOTECH was in 97 TV markers, Matchbox was committing $15 million dollars to the project, and there the toy line was going to be released in January of 1986, which is a poor time of year in toy sales. Six months after the initial release, in May of 1986, another group of figures were going to be released. this initial shipment in January was going to be ten markets, then nationwide shortly after. 1986 must have one of the best and worse years for Harmony Gold and Matchbox. It is believed that the ROBOTECH toyline sold well initial, spurred on by specialty toy shops, comic book stores, and little ROBOTECH freaks like me. But, it didn't last long. It seems by the time that the second wave of figures for series one were to be release, the line was in trouble and discounts were already being used and the factories slowing down on production. This would give credence to the rarity or non-production of some of the figures in wave two, like Rook, Lunk, Roy, and Minmei.
By 1987, the Matchbox line was condemned to a death sentence in the bargain bins. For the next few years, things look bleak for ROBTOECH as a whole. Due to the failure of the toyline to live up to expected sales numbers, Matchbox pulled out of The Sentients, sealing the fate of that beleaguered project, the ROBOTECH movie was a complete flop, and the series was beginning to disappear from American airwaves, and VHS sales were slow (due to the massive expensive). At the opening of the 1990's, ROBOTECH appeared to be a dead series with only the golden memories of us fans, but suddenly that all changed. Harmony Gold attempted to relight interest in the series with the re-release 1986 Matchbox toyline around 1991/1992. Some of the figures and mecha were repainted, and the Matchbox logo was deleted and replaced with a Harmony Gold logo. This was not a full re-release though, while some of the figures and mecha would reappear, like the Lynn Minmei figure absent from the '86 line. Oddly, the fashion dolls would be released by Harmony Gold to reattempt that line. Information is very difficult to locate on the 1991/1992 re-release, and I never saw these figures, and was unaware of their existence until I began the research for this blogpost. It is likely that the Harmony Gold line failed, and it disappeared off of the shelves quickly.
However, there was some hope for the future of ROBOTECH in 1993, when the new Sci-Fi Channel began airing the ROBOTECH series during the weekly "breakfast" time slot. Then in 1994, Universal Animation Studios and Playmate toys created the Exo-Squad animated TV series and a line of toys. It was during the 1994 run of the series and toys, that some of the Battleoid mecha and vehicle toys were updated from the 1986 Matchbox line and added to the Exo-Squad toys. Why did Playmate add these toys? Well, there are two theories on this. One has to do with a pissing contest between FASA and Playmate toys over mecha designs. In the mid-90's, Tyco, Saban, and FASA were all partnering up to expand the Battletech universe into the realm of toys and cartoons, and the Exo-Squad series had similar ideas and designs causing FASA/Tyco sued Playmate. This is really fucking funny, because FASA used Macross/ROBOTECH mecha designs without permission for their original RPG games in the very early days of Battletech. It is believed that Playmate released the ROBOTECH toys because Harmony Gold came to their aid in the legal fight. The other has Playmate using the old Matchbox toys to pad their Exo-Squad toyline until the shitfight over the mecha designs could be decided by the courts. By 1995, Exo-Squad and the Tyco Battletech had toys on the shelves and shows on the small screen...and before the end of the year, the toys were in the bargain bins and the shows were cancelled. Thus, this was the end of the ROBOTECH toylines until after 2000 with Toynami.  

The Original Matchbox 1986 Toy Line

The  3 3/4" inch Action Figures
The heart of any toy collection is the figures, and the Matchbox ROBOTECH toyline was no different. In 1985, G.I Joe was the most popular action figure, and Matchbox used similar technology and size to allow for cross-play. Carl Macek cited this fact in the 1985 toy presentation. Harmony Gold and Matchbox would pick just 16 characters from all three generations of ROBOTECH for their 3 3/4 inch figure line: 7 from Macross, 4 from The Masters, and 5 from the New Generation. There more enemy three inch figures from The Masters than any other generation, with more heroes from Macross. The majority of these figures were packed with some sort of weapon, and helmet, sold for about $2.99 in all manner of big box stores. What is interesting is the clothing that most of the figures wear. Some are dressed in their flight suits, others in their standard clothing, but it is the Dana Sterling figure that is the standout. She is in her full battle armor, complete with shield, laser rifle, and helmet. The packaging came with a data-card, original art, and other available figures in the series, both six inch and three inch...even though some figures were not released. According the 1985 presentation video, Carl said that there would be two releases of figures, one in January of '86, then May of '86. It is that second release of figures that were most of the rare or not produced, given some indication of the line being in trouble.
Out of sixteen figures, fourteen figures arrived to the US market, flooding the big box stores. Back in 1986, I had no trouble finding the majority of figures in my local Toys R Us and K-Marts. The two figures absent were: Lunk and Lynn Minmei. Lunk, for some unknown reason was not released in the United States, but sold by Irwin Toys in Canada. Some specialty Anime toy dealers bought Lunks with Irwin/Matchbox labels and sold in the US at marked up prices. There have been a few signings of Lunk figures in Matchbox packaging, leading to the theory that some were released here in the states. The other unreleased figures was the insufferable Lynn Minmei with her weapon of choice, the microphone. According to some sources, Lynn Minmei was never released in the original 1986 line, but was released in 1991/92 Harmony Gold line. However, there other sources that claim some Minmei figures were issued in very limited numbers in '86. I seem to remember seeing her at Starbase 21 for $50 back in 1986! Figures are very important in the success of the overall toyline because they are situated at the entry-level price point of the product line, allowing for an introduction to the complete line. Also figures are cheaper for introduction of new series than vehicles, Star Wars being a prime example. This gives the action figure a starring role in any toyline. This is one of the reasons why the entire Matchbox ROBOTECH line failed within a year of launch: failure of the figures to hook the market. Why?
For one the head molding on these figures, especially Lunk and Rook is just ugly. Just look at the picture...yep...they really were this ugly back in the 80's. Quality issues plagued the entire line, more so than action figures like G.I. Joe's of the same time. Those plastic helmets ripped, like Dana's, finger breakage, along with unable to hold their weapons, which were also done badly, and paint intended to bleed or rub off on the figure and  especially the flight helmets.  Nowhere was my disappoint more than with the hard-to-find Scott Bernard figure, who was my favorite character in the ROBOTECH saga. I paid $15 for him at Starbase 21 in Tulsa in '86, and while he looked okay in the packaging, I was horrified once I opened the plastic. His ride armor was half of the transformed Cyclone and half the normal ride armor, he came with Rand's particle cannon, and not the heavy duty laser rifle (which was found on Corg...WTF?). While it appears that Scott's powerful armored boots could hold up the world, the sad thing was he was so shaky on his feet, like some sort of drunk, that he could not stand. That was the last ROBOTECH figure I bought, and not too long after that, most of the Matchbox ROBOTECH figures I saw where in the bargain bin.

The List:
  • Rick Hunter 
  • Roy Fokker (rare) 
  • Rand 
  • Lisa Hayes 
  • Scott Bernard (rare) 
  • Lunk (not released in America, released in Canada by Irwin, and not r-reeleased in 1992)
  • Micronized Zentraedi Warrior 
  • Miriya
  • Lynn Minmei (not released in the '85 line, released in the 1992 reissue, but still rare)
  • Rook Bartley (rare) 
  • Zor Prime (with mallet!)
  • Dana Sterling 
  • ROBOTECH Master 
  • Bioroid Terminator
  • Corg (released in 1985, but not in the 1992 re-release)
  • Max Sterling (rare).  

The 6" inch Zentraedi Figures
In an interesting move, Matchbox/Harmony Gold designed a line of six 6 inch Zentraedi figures that were sold in packaging similar to the three inch figures. This was designed to highlight the size difference between the normal Zentraedi and the micronian they were fighting. All of the Zentraedi were unable to use the Zentraedi mecha vehicles, did not come with any weapons, only the warrior had a helmet. Of course, in the Anime, the Zentraedi were much larger than the difference between the three and six inch figures. Some sites had said that it would be the difference between a normal sized human and the six inch figure. This was addressed by Carl Macek in the 1985 toy presentation, and he called a realistically scaled Zentraedi would be unpractical. Unlike the normal figures, there is little on the 6 inch figures, I do know that they sold for $5.99 originally. I cannot recall seeing them in stores, only in printed ads for specialty toy stores. These were not reissued by Harmony Gold in 1991/1992.

The List
  • Dolza
  • Exedore
  • Miriya
  • Breeti
  • Khyron
  • Armored Zentraedi Warrior
The Fashion Dolls...ugh...Do I Have to Talk About This?
It may seem an odd fit, but Matchbox invested heavily into the girls' ROBOTECH fashion doll line of 1986, to the tune of $5 million dollars, and were betting on the female audience of ROBOTECH buying into these unique line. Since ROBOTECH featured several major "relationship" plotlines in each generation, there was some depth beyond giant robot action, the love triangle between Lisa/Minmei/Rick being the most developed (I was totally Team Lisa!). This gave some added for the female watcher, and Matchbox was going to take their cash along with their brothers via a line of fashion dolls, similar in size (12 inches) and concept to Barbie (Watch out Barbie, here comes Dana Sterling on her Hover-bike to take Ken away!), but not based on the Barbie doll technology. Surprisingly there was market for the dolls. According to Carl Macek in the 1985 toy presentation, ROBOTECH audience was 50% females, and 40% of all fan mail to the Comico comic adoption of the TV show were from female fans. This was the fuel for these fashion dolls, and one of the more unique anime toys of all time. Four dolls (Rick, Lisa, Minmei, and Dana) were released with a Masters Hoverbike, several outfits, and various combs and costume pieces for each doll in the original January 1986 release.
In that 1985 presentation, the female Harmony Gold employee displayed concept renders of a Minmei fan-jet and two level Chinese Restaurant. There was also many doll outfits not produced for all of the core dolls, like the Rick suit with scarf, the Miss Macross outfit, and a very-1986 Dana workout outfit. In this video, there was prototype box-art for the hover-bike, and it said "the ROBOTECH Odyssey". If the Matchbox ROBOTECH toyline had continued for a second series, than it is rumored that Max Sterling and Miriya dolls would have been released. There was images of a "Dana's Story Gift Set" that would have included a VHS tape, the doll, and two outfits. I never really saw this dolls in the 1986 release, but the dolls were on the other end of the Tulsa Toys R Us. However, during my Freshman year in high school, I dated this girl named Julie, and she had a few of these in her room, and these were only time I've ever seen the dolls in the real-world. Since these are dolls and most die-hard ROBOTECH toy collectors are male, these are remnants lost in purgatory. These were reissued in 1991/992 Harmony Gold toy release.

The Vehicles/Mecha 
Often cited by modern day collectors of mecha has one of the more the unique elements of the Matchbox line was the large-scale mecha and vehicles that allowed for 3 3/4 inch figures to be placed inside. These were unlike anything on the market at the time either here or in Japan. The key piece of plastic mecha was the Hover-tank form The Masters, that transformed from the guardian tank to the battroid, with a figure being able to set inside both modes, unlike the vehicle in the series, it does not transform into a tank. Pity. Given the cancellation of the original anime Southern Cross series, there were very few items produced, and the iconic hover-tank was not one, making this hover-tank the only one ever made. One funny note, during Macek's presentation of this toy to the buyers in 1985, his prototype snapped at the snipe during transformation! One of the misfits of the vehicle line of 1986 was the Skull-One Veritech. It outfitted like a super Veritech with the extra boosters, and holds one three inch figure, but it cannot transform, and its dimensions are off form the F14 fighter. In the presentation video in '85, Carl Macek transformed the Veritech from fighter to guardian, but the final version was a static design. This was the only change, the battle pod and officer pod were to have spring-loaded legs to enable hopping. These toys sold for anywhere from $29.99 to $39.99 in the stores in 1986, and were reissued in the 1991/1992 Harmony line and the 1994 Exo-Sqaud Playmate toyline.

The List
  • The Skull-One Veritech 
  • Invid Shock Trooper 
  • The REF Armored Cyclone
  • Officer's Battle Pod
  • Tactical Battle Pod
  • Bioroid Hover Craft
  • The Hover Tank 
The SDF-1 Playset
If there is a Holy Gail for collectors of old ROBOTECH items, than the SDF-1 playset is certain one of them. While the original Macross model and toy line in Japan offered very cool items, there was nothing like this. It seems that playsets are more of an American item, and Matchbox was attempting to live up GI Joe standards. Originally sold for $79.99 back in 1986 in a massive two foot box and the playset was broken down in four parts with 80 stickers! The playset was able to be used with the three and six figures, and was composed for four levels, two cannons, working elevator for the tower that was composed of several bridge-like rooms, crane for transporting mecha, refilling station, and a small cart vehicle.
The value on this item is around $700 in the box (sometimes much more), and about $300 loose, but is very rare to the the original price tag and limited disruption. During the original run of the toys, I never saw this, save for catalog ads. that changed in 1991, when I dated his girl named Julie in high school that had this. Her brothers and her asked for it for Xmas of 1986, and they had in a box, but it was still amazing, and much cooler than my Castle Greyskull or GI Joe base.  Wish this had been sold with a Gloval and bridge bunny figures.

Various Die-Cast 1/144 Mecha
Much of this very cool line of die-cast mecha was Transformer line. More on that below. Produced by Takatoku Toys of Japan in 1983, and repackaged under the ROBOTECH Matchbox line of Die-Cast Collectors Series. My brother and I collected these, and they were the single coolest items in the entire Matchbox line, because they were the forbidden fruit only a few years ago. Mecha like this was very expensive in the specialty toy stores and catalogs when these 1/144 mecha were under the "Macross" label. There were two lines of these 1/144 die-cast mecha by Matchbox, one called the "tactical corps" and the "civil defense unit". The only differences between the two lines were color scheme and box art. Some of the box art is pretty sweet, with displays of battles on Mars, Macross city, and the ice field near Pluto after the failed space fold operation. Also in this line were the Japanese imported deformed three mode transformable Valkyries in 1/100 scale, while more were seen in the 1985 presentation, I could verify that three, Skull-One and Max in a blue scheme, and Miryia in a red scheme, were imported and boxed in Matchbox packaging. These were the only transforming Veritechs imported by Matchbox for the 1986 line due to legal issues with the Hasbro Transformers line. Most of these mecha sold for around $8 in 1986.

The List
  • GLADIATOR Civil Defense Unit (Red/Green)
  • GLADIATOR Tactical Corps Battoid (Green/Red)
  • SPARTAN Tactical Corps Battoid (Blue/Grey)
  • SPARTAN  Civil Defense Unit (Khaki)
  • RAIDER-X Civil Defense Unit (Khaki)
  • RAIDER-X Tactical Corps Battoid (Grey/Black)
  • EXCALIBUR Tactical Crops Battoid (Grey/Red)
  • EXCALIBUR Civil Defense Unit (Khaki)
  • MAC-II Monster (Green only)
  • The Deformed Veritech fighters (Skull-One, Blue-Max, Red-Miriya)
  • Miniature SDF-1 Battle Fortress (non-transformable and I had this one)
Various Plastic Large-Scale Mecha
Matchbox and Harmony Gold made an interesting move with the mecha collections. While they imported the smaller die-cast mecha from Takatoku of Japan, Matchbox also imported the large 7inch tall battoids, adding these mechs to original Matchbox produced items. These were a different price point than the smaller diecast mecha.
I had a few friends that owned the larger-scale mecha, and they were badass, but rather pointless for some reason that couldn't put my finger on. Out of these mecha was a rather unusual piece, the ROBOTECH Masters Bioroid Invid Fighter that was an original item . A full scale red Bioroid would have made for a nice vehicle piece for the Zor figure, especially with the swing down chest piece, but that was not what Matchbox decided to produce. Instead we fans of ROBOTECH got the Invid Fighter Bioroid, not the normal, widely seen Bioroid mecha. This was only seen in a few scene of The Masters, and once again, it seems that Matchbox didn't do their research, much like the box-art for the Bioroid Hover Craft vehicle, which featured the "worker" variant of the Bioroid. Among all of this mecha was the triple transforming Gekkan-made Alpha fighters offered in all three colors. These were a repackaging from the Japanese toys, and were poorly made, often snapping under transforming...all of mine broke. Also, in the art for the SDF-1 playset, there was a VF-1 Armored Veritech seen on the mecha platforms...was there going to be an armored Veritech?

The List
  • The Bioroid Invid Fighter
  • The Excalibur Mk. VI
  • Spartan 
  • Gladiator
  • Raider X
  • Zentraedi Power Armor
  • Invid Scout Trooper
  • SDF-1 Battle Fortress (Transformable)
  • The Gekkan Alpha fighters (Blue,Red, Green)

The "ROBOTECH WARS" Playset. 

At this time in the '80's, toy companies were experimenting with including media into toy play, Captain Power being a prime example, and Matchbox tried with the oddball clip-show complication of combat scenes, allowing for play along side the video. This item was called the "ROBOTECH WARS" playset. It was might  This was shipped between the first and second shipments of Matchbox toys, in October of 1986, and it was offered in a playset with a Veritech fighter and battlepod. According to Macek in the presentation video, this was to feature two "wars", one in deep space, and one on the ground. This is a rare ROBOTECH item, especially with VHS being a dead media, and prices are very high for it, mainly because it didn't sell.

What is the Difference Between the 1986. 1991, and 1994 Toy Lines?
Since 1986, the Matchbox and Harmony Gold ROBOTECH toyline has been released no less than three times, with variations each time. The 1986 release is the genesis of the other two, and the largest of the three, encompassing mecha, vehicles, playsets, doll, and figures, with all manner of other products thrown in. During the 1986 run of the Matchbox toys, Lynn Minmei was not released, and Lunk was only released in Canada. During the 1991-1992 Harmony Gold reissue, much of the toys were repainted, and the Matchbox logo deleted for the Harmony Gold logo. Corg and Lunk were not in the Harmony Gold reissue, along with some side product elements of the 1986 toyline, like birthday supplies and crappy cheap plastic toys.
Think of the Harmony Gold 1991/1992 line as more focused on the core elements of the 1986 line with pretty paint and stiff joints. From the images online, the Harmony Gold figures had Chinese writing on the packaging. In the Playmate 1994 reissue, the ROBOTECH logo was featured below the Exo-Squad title, and this reissue was focused on the mecha of the 1986 line. The Matchbox die-cast and seven inch mecha were touched up with new paint, sticker sheets, and taken out of their little boxs for blister packs. Some of the large toy vehicles from the 1986 line were also reissued, like the Hover-tank and Invid Shock Trooper with new brighter paint. Most collectors view the original 1986 Matchbox line the only one with real value.   

Why is there a Lack of Masters (Southern Cross) Toys?
One of the benefits of ROBOTECH toys was the addition of other model/toy lines being produced in Japan. This allowed for a continuous flow of toys and models, even when Harmony Gold was hibernating. Even up until today with companies like Yamato and the American Toynami, offer new ROBOTECH goods, empty the wallets of die-hard fans. While the Macross and the New Generation portions of the saga enjoy widespread models and toys even dating back to their original releases on the Matchbox line, The Masters (AKA Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross) only received a few figures and mecha during the Matchbox/Harmony Gold toylines, and even today, The Masters is shut out of product development. Why?
Toynami has basically said that their own research has concluded that any toys or models based on The Masters would met with less sales than the other two ROBOTECH generations. Also mentioned is that there would be less variation of the same mecha toy, unlike the various Veritechs and Cyclones available in different color schemes, allowing for one plastic toy mold to service for toys. The most basic issue facing any Masters toys is that it is less popular of the three ROBOTECH generations, and even the original 1984 Japanese Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross anime was cancelled after only 23 episodes, forcing the animators to rush the storyline forward at warp speed to resolve the plot. After I learned this about Southern Cross, it explained the rushed and confused nature of the dialog in the ROBOTECH Masters. In Japan, there are very few Southern Cross items produced, mostly small figure models of various armor designs. This made the American toyline some of the best Southern Cross/Masters toys ever made.

What Happened to the ROBOTECH Toyline?
When one googles the great toys for boys from the 1980's, the competitors of ROBOTECH are often loving praised in a golden hue of nostalgia, but the Matchbox ROBOTECH toys is never mentioned. Why? After all, ROBOTECH is one of those touchstones of Amine in America and beloved by Anime fans, and often cited has one reasons that Anime was able to gain a foothold in the American marketplace. So why are the Americanized toyline forgotten about or disregard as a whole? Because it was a failure. Simply has that. Unlike its competitors' cartoons that blanketed the American airwaves, reaching nearly everyone in the western hemisphere, ROBOTECH was not. Some felt that it was too mature for children, too violent, and too unknown to risk airtime for a surefire hit. There were markets that did not air ROBOTECH but the toys were at their local big box retailer. When that kid comes down the toy aisle with his allowance, what toy is he going to buy? LEGOS? They are fucking awesome and well know. He-Man? Yep, that's a choice because of that damned TV show. Transformers? Also good choice, too, and show along with the toys is popular with all of his friends as well. G.I. JOE? The more joes you have the more fun you have staging mock wars. ROBOTECH?! What the fuck is ROBOTECH?! If that kid had never seen the show, than why is he going to buy the merchandise with his hard earned money?
That was one of the killer blows to the toyline, lack of exposure to the series which often drives the toy sales...just look at the Star Wars formula: mega hit movie=mega hot toys. With the lower sales associated with the line, these big box retailers did not refill their shelves with ROBOTECH toys, causing the line to die on the vine, and the remains tossed into the bargain bin. Most of the ROBOTECH figures I've seen on ebay still in their package often have marked down prices on them, and at their end, these figures were sold for about a buck. Sad.
 Another factor that even I noticed back-in-the-day was the quality of the figures, which we've talked about, but really stands out even against action figures of 1986. Not only were the figures looked like botched plastic surgery victims, but they broke easily, and the guns didn't fit half of the time. Anyone that happened to receive a ROBOTECH figure at random, may not have bought another when the figure's damned hand broke. By the time ROBOTECH was leaving the American airwaves, the figures were already long gone. Of course, Harmony Gold would reissue the toyline with some unproduced figures, like Lynn Minmei, but Lunk and Corg were not in 1991/1992. Then there was yet another re-reissue with a partnership between Harmony Gold and Playmate for the Exo-Squad toyline around 1994-1995. I saw these at Toys R Us back when I was a senior in High School, and I just wrote them off as a cheap way to cash in on the ROBOTECH name.

Of Transformer Veritechs, Deformed Veritechs and F14s?!
Without a doubt the coolest and most popular mecha seen in the series was the Macross VF-1 Veritech or Valkyrie fighter, but somehow, Matchbox never produced a fully transformable Veritech, but somehow in the Christmas of 1985, I opened one of the best presents of all time for a ROBOTECH fan...the Transformers Jetfire! Wait...what the frak is there a ROBOTECH Transformer? Jetfire was relabel of the Takatoku 1/55 Macross VF-1S Super Valkyrie fighter from the original run of the Macross in 1982, and Hasbro had secured the rights to very cool toy prior to Harmony Gold securing the rights to those three separate MSF anime series. This blocked Harmony Gold/Matchbox from importing Valkyries from Takatoku, due to the agreement with Hasbro. The cool thing about Jetfire, which I had one, was the insane prices on the important Macross Valkyries...2x as much, and 3x for the Skull-1!
But, it only gets stranger, Hasbro was prevented from showing Jetfire has a Valkyrie in the animated series, causing the Transformer version of Jetfire (called Skyfire in the show) to be more like a cartoon star-fighter. Harmony Gold and Matchbox would create their own non-transformable Veritech/Valkryie play vehicle for the 3 3/4 inch figures, the Matchbox Veritech Fighter Super VF-1S in Skull-One livery. Matchbox would also import a rather oddball chubby looking Super Valkryie toys made by Takatoku or Bandai, and repackage them for the Collectors line with Rick, Max, Miryia livery. I knew one person that had these, and they were uncommon in the stores, even if the rest of the Collector battoids were on the shelves. This made these little fat veritech rare and expensive on today's market. Very nice copies in the box go for $150, loose for $85.

Here is a great video on the history of the western veritech

Revell was critical in the development of what we now know has "Robotech", and their model kits offered us fans some interesting kits for our passion and cash. Revell cross the line of models with the ROBOLINKS line in 1985 just before the drop of the Matchbox toys. One website described this as "a halfway between Legos and Transformers", but were heavily based on the Takara Blockman Japan toys that were made between 1984-85. These kits allowed the owner to make all manner of mecha out of this one box or other sets. This line would die quickly because it not really related to the ROBOTECH TV show and be heavily discounted and pass into the realm of lost toys. I remember these at local hobby stores in the Tulsa area, and was confused by what these were, they reminded me, at the time, of the ROBO-Strux and Robotix toylines.  

The ROBOTECH Laser Blaster Toy...or is it from V or Masters of the Universe?!
One of the strangest and unknown ROBOTECH toys that I've come across during the original run of the series is the 1985 Laser Blaster Target Game Set by Arco Toys. Arco Toys made a lot of crappy toys for the ROBOTECH toyline, most of it relabeled crap, but this laser blaster was one of the standouts. I originally believed that the Laser Blaster toy was an IR based system, but it turns out to be a simple plastic dart shooter with all manner of attachments...like the scope, shoulder stock, and barrel extender. If the central gun looks familiar, it's because it is the Visitor Laser Pistol (and rifle) from the NBC 1983 V TV mini-series and short-live TV show. This toy-gun has an interesting history, it was originally developed as V toy, but had a very short run as a official V toy gun (had a friend in Bartlesville that had one!).
While there is no information indicating the reason behind the toy guns short life as a V toy, I could venture that because of the mature subject matter (for the 80's) of the V series and its time slot. Given how cool this toy gun was, Matchbox bought it, slapped some new package, new paint to the toy, and added to the 1985 Matchbox ROBOTECH toyline. I saw this toy gun at my local Tulsa Toy R Us a few times in the mid-80's, but I wasn't really interested. From the little information on the ROBOTECH toy gun that there is, this was a rare toy, and sold poorly. Arco Toys managed to sell it to yet one more sci-fi project: the dogshit 1987 Masters of the Universe movie. Yep. These toy guns were bought and repainted by Laird Studios to be used as a background prop gun by Skeletor's men.That little toy gun gets more around than Lindsay Lohan! Some pieces were changed to make the toy gun look more realistic...well, as realistic as a laser rifle does in a He-Man movie! There is some conflicting information that these toy guns were going to be marketed with other Masters of the Universe movie toys. Here is the link: http://www.movieprop.com/vrobogun.htm

The Other Crap...And I do mean Crap
In any massive toyline, especially in the 1980's, there was a lot of crappy cheaply made Chinese toys that cashed in on a name. Arco and LarGO  toys both made a variety of relabeled cheap robotic toys for the ROBOTECH 1986 toyline that had nothing to do with the mecha seen. In addition to these toys, there was going to be walkies-talkies, Halloween costumes, bedding (that was never released), a giant cardboard SDF-1 in cruiser mode. Some of the oddball toys were cool Macross Japanese imports, like little Veritech figures.

The Knock-Offs
With the popularity of ROBOTECH coupled with the flood of the Japanese Macross and MOSPEADA products that did not find a home within the Matchbox line forged an interesting time. There were some toys imported for the sole purpose to cash in on the popularity of the TV show with or without Macross or MOSPEADA labels. Some knowledgeable retailers sold important Macross and/or MOSPEADA toys that Matchbox was not. If you examine the advert in the Comico ROBOTECH comics for the "Robot Store" in New York, they were selling a large-scale Cyclone, tripe-change Alpha and Veritech, all were not being sold originally for the Matchbox line.  Back in the day, I had a fair amount of experience with these "knockoff" ROBOTECH toys in 1985 and 1986. In Batlesville, Oklahoma there was this very nice Skaggs Alpha Beta store that had a toy section.
Stocked in the section were several Japanese toys that I bought because of their connection to ROBOTECH. One was based on the iconic Mospeada/New Generation Cyclone was sold during the run of ROBOTECH under the name of "VR-052Battler transformable Henshin Robo" with Mospeada labels and sold in all three colors (I had the Scott Bernard). Then there is the knock-off SDF-1 seen in the picture and was made in Taiwan, that actually a cool plastic toy for the low price point. Lastly, there was the two Orguss Orgroid 1/40 scale triple-transformable mecha I bought because I had seen them in Macross and they were cool. So, I guess those companies got their money's worth out of me.

The Most Rare & Expensive ROBOTECH Toy is....
While there are some color variation of the Matchbox Miriya 3 3/4 inch figure that are rare, they are nothing when compared to the original 1980's Beta Fighter made by Gakken. Many fans of ROBOTECH and MOSPEADA love the ugly duckling Beta or T.R.E.A.D Booster in Japan (TREAD stood for TRans-EArth-Deployment). However they were not made until recently...or so we thought. In the 1970's the Japanese children's book publisher company Gakken went into toy making, and during early 1980's, Gakken had the licence for Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. During the run of the toys, Gakken of Singapore and Japan made a number of MOSPEADA items, including the tri-mode transformable 1/35 Alpha Fighters that was exported to America under the ROBOTECH banner (I had them and they were crap). Gakken decided to develop a linkable TREAD (AKA Tred) fighter-booster to their 1/72 Legioss (Alpha) fighter. These toys would have been sold in the same color scheme as the Legioss fighter in blue, red, and green.
These 1/72 scale  TREADs were cancelled by Gakken prior to full production with only a few samples made in blue for the sales staff and promotional photos. This would have been the end of story of the 1980's TREAD until Lansay Toys of France decided to export the TREADs from Gakken of Singapore to the French market under the title of "Henshin Robos." Here is were the story gets muddied and there few answers online due to conflicting information and contemporary releases of TREAD toys. Every accord says that these 1/72 TREADs are very rare, but how many TREADs did Lansay exported to France? Most of the TREADs were always packaged together and always the TREADs were blue. But were some TREADs packaged without the Legioss fighter? Where some packaged in MOSPEADA boxes?  I've read, which could be false, that the most rare of the original run of Gakken of Singapore 1/72 TREADs were actually packaged in MOSPEADA boxes. Even among these TREADs, there is the most rare prototype "salesman" blue TREAD is sampled "made in Japan". Then even among these original prototypes, is the rumored green and red TREADs. Price? If you have an original Gakken produced 1/72 TREAD fighter, it is worth a few thousand of dollars. In mint condition with the stickers, about $10,000. The rumored prototypes of red and green, that would be one-of-a-kind and be priceless in the eyes of any ROBOTECH collector. The funny thing is that the modern TREAD/Beta fighter toys are much better quality than the original Gakken toy that is valued at the price of a used Civic!

What Would Have Been: Series 2 and the Sentients Toylines
What if is a great game to play, and a majority of us ROBOTECH fans play it. So, what if there had been a Series 2 of the Matchbox toys or even Sentients' toys? Over the years, I've been to a number of Anime Cons and websites devoted to ROBOTECH, and over those years, I've heard rumors of a second line of toys and fragments of what would have been the Matchbox/Harmony Gold Sentients toyline. Keep in mind, most of the information is hearsay and rumor, take it for what it is worth. It is believed that Matchbox would have pulled back on the amount of crap within the Matchbox toyline and there would have been less mecha, similar to the Harmony Gold 1991/1992 reissue, Series 2 would have more figures, some from the first line with new bodies, much like Star Wars, and some of series two would have been repainted for the Sentients toyline. Pulled from Macross would have been these 3 3/4 inch figure: Rick, Lisa, Minmei, and Roy all in different outfits, Ben Dixon, a possible special sent-away or exclusive Captain Gloval, Lynn Kyle, Claudia, Zentraedi in space armor, Khryon, Azonia. From The Masters would could have seen Bowie (a prototype figure was made for series one but never released according to rumor), Marie Crystal (could have been packaged with the Logan fighter vehicle), Nova Satori (could have been packaged with a compatible 3 3/4 hovercycle vehicle), there were ideas about a Sean Phillips or even Dante figure, there was talk of a generic hover-tank pilot in blue armor and bioroid pilot.
Culled from the New Generation would some core characters in new outfits, Scott would have been in his REF uniform, Rand and Rook in their ride armor, Sera, the Regis, Invid soldier, Lancer in ride armor (some rumors say that there was a figure for the 1986 release planned and a prototype made), Colonel Wolfe in ride armor (with sunglasses!), and rumors of a Yellow Dancer exclusive figure for send-away. When it came to vehicles, the second series would have included more of that cool mecha. Rumors point to a Royal Command Battloid for the Corg and Sera figures, Lunk's Jeep (with gun), two-mode transforming Alpha fighter similar to the Veritech released in series one, rumors of a shadow fighter from Gakken, an Invid Enforcer similar to the shock trooper, importing of the Gakken Alpha/Beta fighters, the missile battlepod (upgrade of the series one release). There is good evidence of more REF Cyclone bikes being made for series two. During the 1985 toyline presentation by Carl Macek, he talked about red, blue, and green cyclone bikes, even a prototype boxart showed this, but only the Scitt Bernard type was produced. If this had gone ahead for series two, than Matchbox would have matching figures for the bikes.  
If Harmony Gold had been able to product the Sentients there would have been toys and models accompanying the syndication. Revell and Matchbox were originally onboard until jumping ship sometime in 1988 or 1989, dooming the series. What would these toys looked like? Some believe, like me, that some the series one and two toys would be recycled for the Sentients line. There is only rumor and conjurer based on the Matchbox toyline, because there is no evidence of possible the toys. Some I've talked to over the years contended that drawings and cruel prototypes exist of line. According to some of the rumors, Matchbox would produced the core figures of the series of the REF, Sentient Alliance, and the Invid Empire with about 20-25 figures in 3 3/4 inch. Some said that the Invid Regent and Praxian Amazonian warrior would have a bigger figures than the normal three inch size. Along with these core characters, there would have a generic REF cyclone ride armor soldier, a generic REF soldier in a space suit, and Invid soldier from the aborted series two figures.
Vehicles would have recycled vehicles from the original saga toys, repainted Cyclones, a repainted series tow Alpha, hover-tank, Logan fighter, and Invid enemy mecha. These rumors also say there would have a new die-cast collectors line of mecha, and "fleet battle" line of combat vessels from the Sentients series, along with a big SDF-3. The design and color scheme of the SDF-3 created some issues for toys and models according to rumors, and there was a possible redesign of the SDF-3 considered by the production crew. The big item, similar to the SDF-1 playset, was the REF GMU monstrous space-drop vehicle designed to be a mobile command post for the ground forces, and mounted a massive particle cannon. This would be have been on the scale of the GI Joe USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier     

The Legacy of the Matchbox/Harmony Gold  Toyline
There is no doubt that the Matchbox/Harmony Gold toyline of 1986 was a bold experiment of fusing Eastern animation with Western toys that did fail no less than three times via reissues. Despite the failure in the stores, these ROBOTECH toys are long-remembered by us fans alive at the time, and allowed a path for other toy makers to follow and sometimes not follow. The mid-1990's toyline of Exo-Squad and Battletech are a direct result of the 1986 line. Some believe that the current crop of high-end Marcoss and MOSPEADA toys as well as the Toynami ROBOTECH line are a result of the failures of the toyline to stratify fans of the series, especially in the area of the Veritechs. In the mind of this original ROBOTECH fan, the legacy of the Matchbox/Harmony Gold toys is the memories. I can still remember the excitement and joy at seeing honest-to-the-gods ROBOTECH toys in my local Toys R US and K-Mart. Opening birthday and Xmas gifts with ROBOTECH mecha goodness inside, and waging wars between my ROBOTECH and GI Joe toys. Sometimes that is the best legacy that any toy can have, fond nostalgic memories of days gone past.


One of the best Resources for the ROBOTECH Toys

Great indepth reviews on some of the ROBOTECH Toys

One of the best older Resources for MACROSS Toys

The achieved site for the defunt ROBOTECH Museum


  1. I'm a long time fan of robotech and yes I have my fair share of the 1985 toy line. I have to say this is a great article and I really enjoyed reading it. You did a great job of answering some of the more interesting questions surrounding this series and toy line. If your up for one more challenge there is one 1985 robotech toy question that has always bothered me. On the back of the 1985 Invid Shock Trooper box it shows a figure sitting in the cockpit of the trooper. Yet that figure is not in the released set nor do I even recognize the figure from the cartoon (they were crappy sculptures so it could just be a bad rendition). Any idea who that is? [Link to image: http://web.archive.org/web/20051029121519/http://www.robotechmuseum.com/toys/115b.jpg]

  2. Sorry for the delayed response...just saw the comment. I am very glad you enjoyed the blogpost...it was a beatdown writing it...but I felt that there needed to be the history of the MATCHBOX toys somewhere on the internet.
    On your question...I've got an answer! That figure, believe or not was the
    3 3/4inch Corg prototype. Hard to believe, but that is part of the sloppiness that plagued the MATCHBOX line. Why didn't MATCHBOX and/or Harmony Gold put the production Corg figure in the invid play vehicle?
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  5. great article, i am a robbotech matchbox collector from Tijuana Mexico, please visit my facebook page, robotecollector base tijuana, cheers