|November 2002 - Updated: 02:01:06|
he early 1980's marked a fundamental shift in the Japanese character toy
industry. Starting with the groundbreaking success of the animated Mobile
Suit Gundam films, a veritable legion of gritty, realistic robotic dramas
began to invade Japan's movie theaters and television screens. No longer
satisfied with the colorfully funky "super robots" that had captivated the
youth of the previous decade, an older and rapidly more discriminating fan
base clamored for precise realism in their robotic heroes -- and the toy and
model portrayals of them. Perhaps no other toy company embraced this
changing of the guard with as much style as
Takatoku had been a major player in the Japanese toy scene since the early 1970's, most famously producing a large and successful series of "Z-Gokin" brand diecast toy vehicles, robots, and characters from popular television series of the day. Their turning point would center around a 1982 animated show called "Super Dimensional Fortress Macross." Initially conceived as a comedy series, "Macross" evolved into a sci-fi drama set to an engaging pop-music score. From a toy standpoint, the main sales point was a futuristic vehicle known as a "Valkyrie," which resembled an F-14 fighter jet but could seamlessly transform into a towering robot.
Staking their company fortune on the groundbreaking design, Takatoku's engineering staff managed to translate the complex Valkyrie into a sturdy, engaging toy. The Valkyrie wasn't the first toy vehicle that transformed into a robot, but it was the first that managed to pull off the switch without sacrificing the look or style of either form. Thus was born the legend of the "kanzen henkei" ("perfectly transforming") toy. Perhaps sensing the change in the air, Takatoku revamped the entire look of their product line. Dropping their '70's-era "Z-Gokin" brand name, they re-designed their packaging to appeal to an older demographic, a group rapidly eschewing toys in favor of the precisely detailed "Gun-Pla" (Gundam plastic models) sold by arch-rival Bandai.
From the opulent embossed cardboard used for the boxes to the obsessively complete sticker sheets to intricately detailed cover art, Takatoku spared no expense on the presentation of any of their products. Their new look seemed deliberately designed to give the burgeoning model industry a run for its money. Plastic models still held the edge when it came to precision. However, Takatoku wooed detail-hungry fans with advertisements and box art that openly encouraged buyers to customize their new purchases, effectively blurring the line between the two categories. They emphasized the real-world scale of the robots on many of the packages and described their products as being "diecast / plastic models" rather than toys. Aggressively competitive pricing that brought the deluxe 1:55 Valkyrie toys into the range of other hobby products sealed the deal.
Takatoku had struck gold with the Valkyries, but all was far from quiet on the far-eastern toy front. The company poured large amounts of money into the development of "fully transforming" toys for subsequent series, including "Galactic Gale Sasuraiger," "Armored Soldier Dorvack," and the successor to Macross, "Super-Dimensional Century Orguss". None of these shows proved as popular as Macross, however, and sales stagnated. Takatoku found itself in such deep financial difficulty so quickly that it couldn't manage to stay afloat for an upcoming movie based on the Macross series, which would have virtually guaranteed further sales of their Valkyrie toys. The firm went belly-up in early 1984.
Takatoku's legacy lives on through the enormous quantities of toys they produced: the company manufactured a staggering 1.27 million units of 1:55 Valkyries alone. The enduring popularity of the 1:55 toy led Bandai to acquire many of Takatoku's old molds, which they then used to create new color variations from 1985 through 1990. In 2002, Bandai revived the Valkryies for yet another ride, re-issuing modified versions of the original 1:55 toys in response to sustained demand on behalf of Macross toy collectors. Takatoku may be gone, but their contribution to Japanese toy history is far from forgotten.