There are two kinds of space toy and robot collectors. There are those guys who have all the impossible-to-get, mint-condition, super-expensive robots and space toys locked up in their cavernous private basements in Xanadu.
You see them featured on tv shows like, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Childless.”
As for the rest of us Hoi Polloi, we often have to collect the more affordable reproductions of old-school designs, usually made by Japanese and Chinese companies who have discovered this profitable niche. The repros can run from expensive limited-edition runs (usually made by the Japanese) to low-end, dirt-cheap, but fun repros (almost always made by the Chinese.)
Although not literally a reproduction of an old robot, the R-1 robot has the feel of the old “Gang-of-Five” robots. I purchased the Red, Yellow and Bare-Metal R-1. The toy dealer I bought them from assured me that the bare-metal would one day be the most valuable. Then again, he also asked me if I wanted to smoke some weed with him in the store using his “special pipe”, so I can’t exactly verify the veracity of his claim. And no, I didn’t take him up on it, not especially wanting to find out just what he meant by “special pipe."
If you had read the History Section of the site, you would know that Atomic Robot Man is a knockoff of one of the first of the Japanese Robots. If you haven’t, well shame on you. Robot 2000 is a large battery operated robot that came out (get ready) in the year 2000. It’s based on a myriad of old school Japanese robots. Likewise, Astronaut Robot is loosely based on many of the “astronaut-robots-with-human-faces” that were popular in the day.x
To get your hands on an original Sparking Robot from the fifties would literally cost you … well, at least one of your hands, possibly two. The Astronaut, with its bright litho and old style looks, is not a design based on an original model, but looks as though it could have been. It was manufactured by Metal House and distributed by the Osaka Tin Toy Institute, the kings of high-end repros.x
Back in the late nineties, a distribution company called Rocket USA offered original Japanese retro-themed space toys at a decent price. The Mars Explorer, while not based on an original, retains the feel of an original 50’s or 60’s saucer, while giving it a slightly modern twist with a Martian at the helm. If I were a suspicious person I'd say this toy might have been influenced by Tim Burton's “Mars Attacks,” which came out in 1996. Fortunately, I’m not a suspicious sort who ever infers anything, so please pass that on to your lawyers, Rocket USA.x
There must be a million Robbie the Robot-like knock-offs floating around. Robbie became iconic after starring in the movie “Forbidden Planet.”; The original Robbie was 6’11” tall and was not really a robot at all, but was designed to run with an actor inside. (I keep wondering if there is a special Actor’s Guild department that specifically handles guys in robot suits. I can see Robbie, R2D2, C3PO and Robot from “Lost in Space” hanging out near the catering truck, smoking and berating their agents on cell phones.) But, I digress. Although this is not an actual Robbie repro, it has the same Robbie-vibe to it. The actual repros of Robbie vary wildly. Some are huge and expensive. Some are smaller, limited-edition runs and moderately expensive. Some are cheap gifts for Father’s Day from family members who are panic shopping an hour before Father’s Day brunch and yelling to some hapless, pimple-faced kid in a store, “Do you have ANY robots? I’ll take anything!” Can you guess which one I have?x
Well, after looking at the picture above of these robots, I realized I had accidentally put “Machine Man” in twice. So, right now you’ll have to settle for the Gang of Five — minus one. Pictured from left to right are: “Radicon Robot,” “Machine Man,” “Sonic Robot,” “Machine Man” again, which should be “Target Robot,” which looks a lot like “Machine Man,” only with a big red target on his chest and “Non-Stop Lavender Robot.” These are tiny robots, each measuring about 4 inches high and based on the huge original “Gang of Five” robots manufactured in the fifties. The original “Sonic Robot" was 15” tall. Owning the entire set of the original “Gang of Five” is the holy grail of robot collecting because finding all five in mint condition is exceedingly difficult (one of the original Go5’s, “Target Robot” just went for $52,900 at auction).
Don’t let anybody tell you that size doesn't matter.
C’mon, how cool are these robots? The one on the far left reminds me of Gigantor, which if you bought the Japanese model would cost you gigantically. You gotta love the insane caffeine-addled smile, which says “I am a visitor from another planet. Take me to your Starbucks.” Space Man (middle), is based on a few different old school Japanese models and is just plain wicked with his gun and colorful astronaut gear which looks like it ws designed on “Project Runway.” Electra Robot just looks crazy and has metal breasts, which is always a good thing in a robot. It is highly doubtful that any of these robots will be valuable down the road, but I just plain like them. So sue me.x
This repro robot is based on a the original and highly desired original from Japan. Yes, I highly desire the original. No, I can’t afford it, so I have this one instead. This wind-up robot, as most of the reproductions made in China, was distributed by Schylling. Rover the Space Dog is one of the limited-edition toys to come out of China. It comes with a certificate that looks official and fancy and will prove to be utterly worthless in the future. It’s goofy-looking just like the original and, unlike my dog, isn’t interested in drinking out of the toilet or eating cat poop.x
Robot 7 is a reproduction based on one of several vintage robots produced by the Japanese as part of the “Robot 7” group in the 60’s. This one is rare for me, because it was produced in Taiwan and sends me back to the good old days when all of our cheaply made crap was produced in Taiwan and not in China. Of course, if the Chinese have their way, cheaply made crap from Taiwan will once again be made in China, but that’s a discussion for another day. Regardless, this is a nice little addition to my reproduction collection and looks older than it is because of the cheaply-made, crappy box made in Taiwan.
I don’t have many Korean-made robots. Captain the Robot is one of them. Produced by MTU, Captain the Robot is based on the original 1976 Japanese version of Captain the Robot produced by Yone. Why on earth the Koreans would make a reproduction of a robot that was kind of lame in the first place is a little beyond me, but then again, my cell phone is a little beyond me, so I’m probably missing the big picture.
These tiny (and I mean, tiny — the robots are about three inches tall — the spaceships, as you can see, are even smaller) were also made in Japan and distributed by Rocket USA in the late 90’s. The robots pictured in the middle are based on the much larger, classic “Smoking Robot” designed by Rikizo Miyazawa for Yonezawa in the 50’s. You would think these little guys smoked too, given their stunted growth, but alas, they don’t. You can buy larger, more expensive “Smoking Robots” that actually do smoke now. The spaceships, both super-small are not based on any old school spaceships that I know of, but they’re bright, feel retro and adhere to the spirit of the older Japanese designs.
Following in a long line of Chinese produced robots with exceptionally original names, “Space Man” is exactly like my other “Space Man” robot, except that this one is bigger, has a different color space suit and is (drumroll, please) battery operated! Back in the days before true radio controls, “remote control” meant you were about six inches away from your toy, controlling its actions from a box attached to the robot’s backside by a wire (insert your own distasteful joke here.) Hewing to the original retro line, this is how this robot operates. According to the box, you have a space gun that “chatters.” I'm unclear as to why a space gun would be talkative, but you don’t argue with a gun.