Although I don’t have many vintage space toys, I do have some, mainly in the flying saucer and space ship category because they tend, for some reason, to be less expensive than the robots. The toys pictured (right) are just part of my vintage collection, but a fair representation.
Hell, as long as I'm going overboard, here's robot spelled backwards man. And finally, if Oscar-worthy acting, amazing special effects, scintillating dialogue and wasting 13 minutes of your life you'll never get back are your thing, then you gotta get on board with Johnny and his Giant Robot
One of the first robots I purchased, Super Astronaut walks, swivels around, and has two doors that open in front to reveal flashing, ray guns, Way cooler than Arnold Schwarzenegger ever was.x
One of my favorite flying saucers, the Flying Saucer 8 is the kind of saucer I can only dream an alien culture would be cool enough to design. I actually wouldn’t mind being invaded if a fleet of these babies were hurling death rays at me.x
This was kind of the Trivial Pursuit of its day. The Magic Robot would answer all your questions (or at least the 100 contained in the game) by swiveling to the answer from it’s magical magnetic base. Maybe it can answer where all the TARP money went to. Of course, you can check out the video below (actually, the British version with a different, more hilarious box cover) to check out how the game worked (or didn't, in this case), and ask yourself the burning, all-consuming question I asked myself, "Really? A video of the Magic Robot Quiz game?"x
Mr. Machine is a wind-up, plastic robot. Pretty tall at about 18”. Conceived by the famous Ideal toy designer, Marvin Glass, he moves, rings a bell, and his mouth opens and closes while his arms go back and forth. He can be disassembled and put back together again, which leads me to believe there are many scattered piles of Mr. Machine in many attics. Sweet top hat, though. Mine is the second edition of Mr. Machine, which came out in the 70's. A little more plastic and a lot less cool. Check out the original in this rare commercial from the 60's.x
A very cool space toy that moves while varying colors light up inside the nose cone. The graphics are bright and colorful and somewhat disturbing. For among the regular helmeted human passengers pictured in the windows, there are helmeted dogs and monkeys. Isn’t it bad enough that the guy next to me on the bus smells of urine and vomit, without compounding it by allowing scat-throwing monkeys and self-licking dogs on public transport, too?x
I really love these saucers. The white Yoshiya Sky Patrol, is the rarer of the two, with the red Cragstan being more ubiquitous, but nonetheless just as cool. These two saucers were made by the same company (Yoshiya), but the red one was distributed by an American company called Cragstan. What I really like is the vaguely androgenous all-tin pilot who could either be a pretty boy or a masculine girl. In space, nobody can hear you scream, “FAAABULOUUUUUS!”
Check out this video of the Sky Patrol and you will know why it is rare (surely, the screaming teapot noise it emits caused many a parent to toss it from a speeding Chevy's window.)x
I like the Space Frontier Rocket because it is big. Oh, and I got the box with it, and, oh yeah, the astronaut on the top pops out of the green dome then elevates on a gantry loaded with a huge camera. Leave it to the Japanese to think, “Okay I’ve just lifted off in this huge liquid-filled, rumbling bomb with about 60 G’s pressing against me. Man, I gotta go outside and get a picture of this!”x
Definitely, this design was influenced by the Mercury and Apollo missions, and in fact, I wish the actual Apollo capsule had had more of this “Pimp My Ride” feel to it. What makes the New Space Capsule really awesome is that when it is moving, the top hatches will swing open, revealing an astronaut with a gatling-like ray gun (some peaceniks might say, ‘Oh, no that’s a camera,’ but I’m not buying that for a second). Neil Armstrong would have moved from American Icon directly to Godhead if he had been hooked up with a set-up like this. Yeah, I got your Prime Directive right here, pal.
Check out this video clip which really should be entitled, "Plan 9-Ball from Outer Space." x
Like many of the Japanese space toys manufactured in the late sixties, Space Patrol 2019 is equal parts plastic and tin litho. What makes this saucer exceptionally cool is the yellow fan or “cowling” on the back which not only rotates while this baby is running, but makes you feel like you should be huntin’ gators or at the very least cavorting with Flipper and Sandy in the Florida Keys. What I really like about this toy is that the manufacturers placed the specific date of “2019” on the saucer so we could be disappointed by yet another prediction of a bright near future of flying saucers and vacations on the moon that had about a snowball’s chance in hell of actually happening. According to the Mayan calendar, we’re all going to die in 2012 anyway, so at least I won’t be alive to witness the horrible truth.
Once again, this is a saucer that came in at the very end of the Golden Age of Space Toys. There is the brightly colored tin litho and the “stop and go” action (which in the jargon of Spacetoyese means if it rolled into a wall it stopped, turned and kept going until it hit another wall, ad infinitum. Personally, I would have lost interest way before then and turned on “The Brady Bunch.” Of course, there are always the flashing lights. But, as you can see, the toys are starting to lose their charm a bit. There is A LOT of plastic going on. The pilot is plastic and the entire bottom is plastic also (just like Heidi Montag’s. Ba dum Ching!) Don't get me wrong, I still think this is a cool space toy. But it’s kind of like David Beckham coming to play for the L.A. Galaxy. You have the sneaking suspicion you’ve just paid sky box prices to sit in the nose-bleed seats.x
Hands down, I love Yoshiya space toys the best. Why? All you have to to is look at the pilots. Like with the KO and Cragstan saucers, there is something utterly transcendent about the pilots they put in the cockpits of their toys. Whereas the Cragstan and KO saucer pilots have a distinctive unisex look to them, the X-8 Tank pilot leaves no doubt that he is male, grumpy and goes to the bathroom in his space suit while downing a Tang without batting an eye. This guy means business. You can tell his idea of “first contact” is to roll over your head with his space tank treads. All this plus a funky, well-designed crank-up toy to boot (a crank! God You gotta these guys.)x
Apparently the folks at Horikawa got the term “space jockey” mixed up with the term “horse jockey” which can only explain the design of the pilot in this capsule. Don't get me wrong, I kind of wish the real astronauts had been dressed up in fanciful jocky uniforms, resplendent in their multi-colored pantaloons. Alas, our astronauts ended up looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Of course, as you remember (yeah, right) the real Mercury Friendship 7 was the name of the first manned American spacecraft to orbit the earth in 1962. The astronaut? Sure it was John Glenn, but Horikawa would have you believe it was actually Willie Shoemaker.
Astro Boy, if you didn't know was created by Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989). He first appeared in the comics in 1951 and was called Tetsuwan Atom (I think I can speak for everybody when I say that changing his name to Astro Boy was about the smartest move since Marion Morrison changed his name to John Wayne.) In the 60's, Astro Boy became the first comic to be animated in Japan and ended in 1966 after 193 episodes. Blah, Blah, Blah ...That's the educational part. The weird part is that my wife, unbeknownst to me, until about our third year together, told me she had a crush on Astro Boy when she was a kid. Not being the jealous sort, I said, "Big Deal. What does he have that I don't?" To which she replied, "Eyes that double as search lights. Ears able to magnify sounds 1,000 times. Oh, almost forgot about the laser fingers. Umm... arms and legs that can become rocket jets. And he has hips that house a machine gun." To which I replied, "Yeah, but I bet he can't burp the alphabet!" She walked away and never spoke of it again. Stupid Astro Boy.x
Originally called Tetsujin-nijuhachi-go (Iron Man 26 ... and you thought Astro Boy's original name was lame), Gigantor was created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama in 1953. Gigantor was later made into an animated series in 1963. Jimmy Sparks, nephew of Dr. Bob Brilliant (you don't even want to know the actual Japanese names) is a kid crime fighter who carries a gun and happens to have a giant remote-contolled robot at his command (parents were pretty permissive in Japan back then.) When it first ran in America in January of 1966 in New York, Variety magazine called it a, "loud, violent, tasteless and cheerless cartoon." It went on to say it was, "strictly in the retarded babysitter class." In other words, it was guaranteed to be a huge hit for kids like me who were firmly in the "developmentally-disabled babysitter camp," thank you.x
Tobor (robot spelled backwards), was the brain-child of science fiction writer Kazumasa Hirai and artist Jiro Kuwata. According to sources, he was considered Japan's first cyborg superhero and is considered the inspiration for RoboCop. Bascially, Tobor (8 Man in Japan) starts life out as Detective Yokoda who is later murdered by criminals. A Professor Tani retrieves him and takes him to his lab to attempt to transfer his life force into an android body. Mind you, he has tried and failed seven time before. Of course he's successful this time (thus, 8 Man, get it?) Tobor's special powers include super-strength (a given), super-speed, shape-shifting and apparently, anonymity (only the Professor and his boss at the precinct are in on his little secret. His girlfriend doesn't even know ... and no, I'm not going there, even though it's very, very tempting.) He also smoked "energy" cigarettes to rejuvenate his powers. I mean, a super-strong, super-fast, shape-shifting, energy-smokin' android with a girlfriend? What's not to like?x
Truth be told, I was never really into Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot until I was much older and had gained a well-developed sense of irony (well, perhaps that coupled with a well-developed sense of college experimentation.) It just took me awhile to appreciate that really bad, could sometimes be really, really good. Obviously, this live-action television import from Japan was a precursor to franchise shows like, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which was based on the Japanese show Super Sentai. If you don't watch this clip and thoroughly get into the tasty, gooey cheese of it, then you are dead to me. Do you hear me? DEAD!x