The Philippines in the late 1970’s: I was in elementary school, and super-robot shows had just become the rage. Mazinger Z, Voltes V, and Daimos led a super-robot invasion of the airwaves that would later be suppressed by a dictatorial government. I was caught in the 5:00 p.m. habit, when each day the two major TV stations battled for ratings with a daily fare of different super-robot shows.
Chogokin and godaikin toys were also taking over the department stores, eager to siphon off the hard-earned income of parents wishing to please their Rocket-Punching and Laser-swording kiddies. But they were mostly awesome playthings only the few and privileged kids on the block proudly showed off to the rest of us mortals. I wanted them, too, I was a kid after all. But that was a problem: my folks couldn’t spend so much on toys. My daily allowance was about a peso a day, which back then was worth 50 US cents; that already included my lunch money. Even when my allowance increased to 5 pesos a day in high school, I couldn’t satisfy my thirst for super-robot toys.
What was I to do?
From the pushcart-store vendors that regularly plied our school grounds, my craving found sustenance. I couldn’t collect toys, but I found something that provided equal fascination and encouraged endless hours of imagination: stickers.
I don’t know where they came from, or who made them, what the arcane characters written on them meant, and often, what was actually shown on them, but they were 5 pesos per 7” x 10” sheet, or less than a peso for just one picture/stamp: they were within my very limited reach. The Japanese sticker-sheets contained artwork from all the super-robot shows of the time, and opened my eyes up to an imaginary world even bigger than what was being shown on TV. The art was of many different styles, made by many different and unknown artists, from manga-like renderings to those that look like museum aviation-paintings. They showed stylized interpretations of various cartoon characters; arcane cut-away drawings of the machines; or dynamic images of famous fight scenes; photos and collages from live-action proto-sentai, masked rider, and ultraman shows; professional-looking paintings of memorable events in the cartoons; photos of the toys; and more.
I collected either small cuts of stickers of various sizes, no smaller than a regular stamp, or entire sheets. Some I used and stuck to my old desk, but most I carefully kept hidden away lodged between the pages of a diary. I must have over 150 assorted little postage stamp-sized stickers. In addition, I accumulated 40 complete sheets, and they are well-preserved and are as beautiful and captivating as ever. Later on, I found mini-booklets devoted to a single series or character, and was able to collect 10. Each is unique, having different drawings and subjects; each is like a puzzle waiting to be solved. In my childhood, I could identify maybe only 30% of the characters portrayed. Now, they still pique my curiosity.
They are toys of a different sort. Just as the solid 3-D die-cast sculptures held a child’s attention, these 2-D images captivated me and kept me busy for hours, looking and admiring every drawing and photograph, trying to discern the tiny details as if they would reveal the secrets of the universe. I used to spend a lot of time just looking at them over and over. And more than 2 decades later, with the help of the Internet, I have just begun to unlock the mysteries they contain…