22 August 2020

Military Sci-Fi Oddities: The Mighty Orbots (1984)

 Memories are an odd thing, especially from childhood. For years, I half remembered this big robot/mecha Saturday morning TV series that I barely watched due to the time slot it came on and I wondered about it from time to time. With the advent of the internet, I went searching  for the identity of these memories, like some Replicant. It took months, but in 2014 I located the identify of this long lost big robot Saturday morning cartoon: 1984's The Mighty Orbots. It is finally time to discuss of one of the oddities of 1980's Saturday morning cartoons.   

Just What the Hell is "The Mighty Orbots"?
This was a very short-lived American-Japanese giant robot TV series that aired for 13 episodes between September and December 1984 on ABC on Saturday mornings. This series featured some heavyweights in the animation industry on both sides of the Pacific and was noted for the catchy theme song that still echoes in the ears of fans. The series was created by Barry Glasser, with Fred Silverman & Yutaka Fujioka as executive producers. Tons of talent, love, and attention were poured into the series, making this short-lived show and one of the best looking at the time. Airing between September 8th, 1984 and December 15th, 1984 on the ABC Saturday Morning lineup at 9am Pacific time, it was a show that firmly followed in the steps of similar giant combinator robot shows.
The show takes place in the 23rd century, with an Terran engineer constructing six robots that have various powers and abilities on their own, but can combine to form the giant Mighty Orbot with greater power to protect the members of the United Planets. The format was episodic, not serial in focus, but did feature an end of sorts when the big bad of the series was defeated when the Orbot team decides to throw their lives away when they discovered new Orbot models on the drawing board by their creator on their collective one year birthday. One interesting note, the pilot for the show done by TMS had the show titled “Broots” instead of The Mighty Orbots. This simple change may have avoided the Tonka GoBots lawsuit that ended the show.     

The Orbots and their World
It is the 23rd century and Earth is the headquarters for the Galactic Patrol, the militarY, police, AND exploration arm of the United Planets, which is also headquartered on Earth as well. This is a time of aliens and robots living along side Terrans, and it seems to be a paradise. Beyond the borders of the United Planets, is the crime/terrorist syndicate known as “Shadow”, which is commanded by the organic computer known as Umbra. The Shadow organization is bent on domination over the galaxy and destruction of the United Planets. Living on Earth is the cybernetic engineer Dr. Rob Simmons, who is a secret employee of the Galactic Patrol, and he develops the six members of the Mighty Orbots for use by Galactic Patrol to defend the member worlds.
Dr. Rob Simmons has a Clark Kent/Superman identity when not saving the United Planets from harm as the leader of the Mighty Orbots team in his fancy “beam car”. His love interest is an alien female commander in the Galactic Patrol, Agent Dia (The Lois Lane of the series) and her father, Commander Rondu, oversees the Galactic Patrol.
The Mighty Orbots team is comprised of six humanoid robots that form the more power and large Mighty Orbot:
1. Ohno: small fembot child that is the “heart” of the Mighty Orbot
2. Tor: The center of the Mighty Orbot, and the leader with a heart of gold and vast strength.
3. Bort: is the right leg of the Mighty Orbot and a shape-shifting Swiss Army Knife robot
4. Crunch: the left leg of the Mighy Orbot and able to consume metals and ores into energy.
5. Bo: is the left arm of combined Mighty Orbot form and is one of the fembots that controls the four elements of nature.
6. Boo: is the right arm of the combined Mighty Orbot form and ithis Fembot s able to channel energy. 

The Historical Context of the Mighty Orbots
When the series was first created, it was at a very special time-period known as the early 1980’s. As we peer through the mist of time and nostalgia, we must remember that Saturday Mornings were like the Thunderdome, were cartoons and their toylines battled for survival. Often a series would get its first order of 13 episodes and not survive to earn more, like STARCOM: The US Space Force. Backing up the production cost of these cartoons were toy companies, using the cartoons as a 30-minute advert. This concept was pioneered by Mattel’s Master of the Universe. At this time as well, the titan of the toylines, Star Wars, was winding down and other toylines were jockeying for the space that Star Wars left on the shelf. Another tread existing along side was the Giant Robot Craze.
This fueled the importation of Japanese robot toys, model kits, and anime into the US shores. This about the same that when Harmony Gold and World Event Productions were making deals to import anime TV series for syndication. American TV was starting to take serious notice of the power and beauty of the anime style and some American firms were turning to noted Japanese animation firms to jazz up their planned cartoon. The Mighty Orbots aired on ABC on September 8th, 1984, just one week prior to one of the juggernauts of the Robot Craze, The Transformers. For the 8 year old me, this was a great time to be alive and I was spoiled by choice to satisfy my hungr for giant Japanese robots at the comic book store, at the toystore, and on TV. 

Why is the Mighty Orbots an Oddity?
One of the FAQs mentioned on the best Orbots fansite, is “Why am I the only one who seems to remember this show?” and this brings us to our first oddity, it seems that few if anyone seems to remember The Mighty Orbots. Why is that? This show only aired on one American network (ABC), aired for 13 episodes in the fall of 1984, and aired earlier in the Saturday Morning Cartoon time schedule. According to some databases, The Mighty Orbots was aired at 9am Pacific time at the same time as The Smurfs and The Muppet Babies, both titans of Saturday Morning TV at the time. While the ratings were relatively good, they were not beating those two shows in their timeslot and with the Tonka lawsuit, it was decided by ABC, MGM/UA Television, and TMS to give up the fight, and not order any more episodes, allowing The Mighty Orbots to die.
One of the most interesting oddities of this 1984 cartoon was that is was a rare Japanese-American Hybrid cartoon. This show was developed with noted Japan animation studio, TMS in conjunction with MGM/UA Television and was unlike other similar TV shows at the time and soon after. Some Japanese animation TV shows were imported and dubbed during the 1st Wave of Anime into the West, like Astroboy and Speedracer. Unlike the Mighty Orbots, Astroboy and Speedracer were dubbed, but were made and designed in Japan for a Japanese audience. When the 2nd Wave of Anime into the West started in the mid-1970’s. with titles like Space Cruiser Yamato and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, these were, again, made and designed in Japan for a Japanese audience. The Mighty Orbots was made for both the Western and Eastern audiences, and The Mighty Orbots was released in Japan by TMS on home media with some evidence of Japan-only Orbots toys. More on that later. As far as I know, The Mighty Orbots, maybe the first American-Japanese partnership series in history that were both made for both audiences. TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) had some experience with this, due to their work on Ulysses 31 in 1981. Another series like this as well, also with a French firm was the Mysterious Cities of Gold that aired in 1982. Another project that TMS was involved with was being in the running for working on the Star Wars Droids animation series.
With this being a American-Japanese project, there was considerable talent behind The Mighty Orbots. The director was Osamu Dezaki, who was involved in Astroboy and Space Cobra, and was later involved in another American TV series: Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. The character designer, Akio Sugino, also worked on Astroby, Goigo 13, and Space Cobra. The animator was Shingo Araki, who worked on Arcadia of my Youth, Ulysses 31, and Tomorrow’s Joe. On the American side of the production, the people involved with the show, where involved in most of the iconic 80’s and 90’s cartoons. For example, George Singer was involved with nearly everything, including the Transformers and the Smurfs. Lastly, one of the oddities was that The Mighty Orbots fate lays squarely on not the ratings or the fucking Smurfs, but one of the worst robot cartoons of all time: The Challenge of the GoBots.

The Tonka Corporation vs. TMS Entertainment 1985 Lawsuit
Just how and why did The Mighty Orbots get caught up in a lawsuits with the fucking GoBots? First off, the GoBots were the cheaper, less cool, Transformers of their day and are mocked today generally as they were then. The Challenge of the GoBots was the TV show that premiered on the same damn day as The Mighty Orbots (9/8/84) and running until December of 1985. This show was a combination between the noted American studio of Hanna-Barbera, the Tawinese studio of Wang Films, and Tonka Toys.
The imported transformable robots toys were repackaged and sold by Tonka between 1983-1987 under the title of “GoBots Mighty Robots, Mighty Vehicles!” The original marker of the toys was none other than our friends Popy Pleasure, and those toys were released under their 1982 “Machine-Robo Series 600” in Japan. Now, the Lawsuit by Tonka Corporation was filed in the US District Court of Minnesota on May 20th, 1985 against TMS. It the case was filed in the home state of Tonka, which was headquartered at Spring Park, MN against the TMS offices in L.A. According to the court papers and the Toy Galaxy YouTube video, Tonka was playing an interesting game with their lawsuit against The Mighty Orbots TV show. Tonka alleged that TMS was using the term “Mighty” to piggy-back on the “success” of the GoBots toyline and that TMS was fully aware of this, and violated the trademarks that Tonka had for their Japanese imported transformed robot toyline. In addition, Tonka wanted to count every viewer of the Mighty Orbots TV show from September 1984 to February 1985 as a separate trademark violation! This 697,659, according to rating figures.
Tonka was also making the case that these trademark violations could be extend to nationwide…which could be millions. Tonka was seeing dollar signs in damages and the possibility of taking one of the major threats against their GoBots. This theory comes from Toy Galaxy and it makes sense. Tonka’s transforming robot toys were losing against the Transformers and Voltron, and if Mattel did indeed created or import toys for The Mighty Orbots (which was a much better cartoon than the Challenge of the GoBots), it would be that much more powerful than Tonka’s offering.
Tonka needed to strike down The Mighty Orbots, now before the toys came into play. If successful, Tonka could sue the Mighty Orbots out of existence along with getting some much needed cash to offset the losses from the cracking GoBots empire. Given all of these factors, it was decided to end the Mighty Orbots and offer some sort of settlement to Tonka. Karma reaped its payment on the GoBots soon after, and the Transformers became the dominate robot cartoon/toy masters of the 1980s’.

Was There Going to be Mighty Orbots Toys?
Yes, there was going to be. In scans of an 1985 Mattel toy catalog, a prototype of an aborted The Mighty Orbots combinator robot toyset was seen prior to the plans to scrap the TV series likely due to the Tonka toys lawsuit. This prototype toy was likely a repaint and slightly modified variant of the Popy Pleasure Chogokin GB-68 DX Godmarz that came out in 1981. This combinator robot came from the 1981 TV anime series called Rokushin Gattai Goddomāzu (AKA Godmars).
As we know, six different Popy robot toys were imported for the iconic Voltron TV series by Matchbox and it seems history would have repeated itself for Mattel Orbots line. While never released, some fans have modified some of the Popy Godmarz Chogokins and there have been some knockoffs by Korean firms that feature the Orbot name and these are rare in of themselves. There no rumors or prototypes of any other of the characters from the show, like Dr. Simmons or Ohno. It is likely that the Mighty Orbots toyline would have been like the original Voltron toyline from Matchbox from 1984 with a deluxe set and a miniature set for different price points.          

The Impact and Legacy of The Mighty Orbots
Despite the quick cancellation, The Mighty Orbots did make an impact with kids and fans of Japanese animation due to the arresting and bold style. Even today, it still looks great. However, the impact was limited and without any toys, it made less than other series at the time. With advert of the internet and members of my generation going onto the world wide web to scour for pieces of nostalgia, the Mighty Orbots found a home to finally be remembered. The legacy of The Mighty Orbots is complex due to its short lifespan and being sued by Tonka over the GoBots. For some, it was a beloved part of their childhoods, for others, it was a barely remembered memory. For others, it is a example of the Japanese influence into Western animation. Of the oddest legacies has been some of the art created by fans concerning two of the shows characters: Boo and Bo. These fembots are depicted in some very NSFW, and it is not limited to a few. I found way too many of these robotic pornography artworks for my comfort level. Bad internet! While the show may have been limited in lifespan, it was finally released on DVD in 2018 by Warner Brothers.              

- Next Time on FWS...
Near the end of the Soviet Union, their very successful space agency pushed out one last program that stunned the world in how much the USSR had copy-&-pasted the NASA Orbiter for their own space shuttle, the so-called "Buran". The single launch of the Buran space shuttle under autopilot was an event I clearly remember and it is time for FWS to discuss the oddity that is the Soviet Union Buran Space Shuttle. Please note: this article is going to be massive and it will take time to research and write it up. It could take up to one month before we see it. Thank you for your patience and stay frosty!   


  1. I too remember the Mighty Orbots and it’s ridiculous to have had them cancelled because of fear basically. But dude, did we really need the f word in the article? As smart as you are you could make your points without it.

  2. I had just returned from two years' duty in Japan (and watched God Mars while I was there) when I saw the Orbots on tv and rejoiced "God Mars has a cousin in America!!" Alas, it was not to be. I recorded the episodes on my VCR, and down the years I showed it to others: "No, you didn't dream that. It really existed."

  3. Another great article, That Saturday morning line up picture is great, I remember watching Spiderman and Thundar but that was about it. The giant robot craze you mentioned reminded me of the shogun warriors. Could you do a post about them at some point?

  4. I'm watching Might Orbots right now on YouTube. It was one of the last good Saturday morning cartoons.