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July 20, 2003

Oh, Danny Boy

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 11:41 pm

If you’re an American, chances are you’ve never heard of Dancougar. Actually, if you’re anyone other than a twenty-to-thirty year old resident of Japan with a fond memory of ’80s anime, chances are you’ve never heard of Dancougar. So let’s start with a little description of the show, courtesy of Japanese toy historian Koji Igarashi’s “liner notes” in the Soul of Chogokin Dancougar’s instruction manual:

Dancougar’s first televised run was in 1985. It featured a bold structure for a robot anime, weaving the appearance of the the individual capabilities, transformations, and combinations of each of the “beast machines” into the show’s overall storyline. This meant that the show unfolded at quite a slow pace: the machines didn’t even make an appearance until episode 5, their first transformation into “humaroid” forms until episode 11, and their first combination into Dancougar until episode 16, which served to cement Dancougar’s appeal as an indestructible robot all the more… In essence, the show was a re-examination of the combining robot genre based on concepts from “real robot” shows. Dancougar is the representative giant robot of the late-’80s Japanese anime scene.

And there you have the answer to the burning question of “why Dancougar?” Like so many things in life — old jeans, schoolgirl sailor outfits, and used panty vending machines — it may not sound like much to us, but it’s a big deal in Japan.

If you’re an American and DO remember Dancougar, chances are it’s from the dorky mid-80’s Godaikin release, which is a shame. A shame because that particular toy is, quite possibly, the ugliest and most finicky diecast robot toy ever created. In contrast, you have the Soul of Chogokin Dancougar, which is, quite possibly, the coolest-looking and most finicky diecast robot toy ever created. This is the transforming robot to end all transforming robots. It is the robot you show your “Transformers“-fan friends to prove your superiority as a collector and human being. It is an engineering marvel. It is a transforming puzzle wrapped in an enigma packaged in gloriously old-school styrofoam. It is origami in diecast and plastic.

The towering (nearly 15″, fully loaded) Dancougar is comprised of four smaller robots: the delicate, bird-like “Eagle Fighter,” the chunky and elephantine “Big Moth,” and the supple, feline “Land Liger” and “Land Couger” (sic). Each of these is capable of transforming into three distinct forms (“aggressive beast,” “aggressive tank,” and “aggressive humaroid”) in addition to forming one of the components of the aforementioned towering Dancougar. Most transforming toys are two-fers. This one’s a thirteen-fer!

Head spinning yet? It should be. If nothing else, Dancougar is easily the single most complicated robot toy you’ve ever handled. Besides the individual transformations, it’s loaded with features. Translucent plastic for the cockpits. Fold-away missile batteries. Rotating and elevating cannon barrels. And an enormous, detachable “Booster” with a wingspan as broad as the robot is tall. Even the enormous “Daigan” (literally, “big gun,” natch) features four separate components; it’s built up from the individual small-arm “wepons” (sic again) of each of those pathologically aggressive “humaroids.”Dancougar is a robot toy as envisioned by the guys who brought us the Rubik’s cube. Or the jigsaw puzzle. Or mind-altering drugs.

Alas, you can’t have your mind-altering drugs and eat them too.This complexity comes at an extreme price. If you’re expecting a fun-to-fiddle-with “action figure,” ala the previous Soul of Chogokin toys, you are cruising for a major disappointment. Dancougar isn’t something to just pick up play with. Oh, no. You’d better block off some time in your schedule book, because wrestling it into a pose often entails limbs flailing, feet detaching, and/or heads rolling — and more than a fair amount of swearing. (The connection mechanism — or lack thereof — for the head is a surprising blight on an otherwise outstandingly engineered toy.) Placing the Booster on the already overloaded back virtually guarantees a face-first tumble. And good luck getting Dan to take any sort of pose while sporting that bazillion-ought-six Daigan hunting rifle of his; it literally needs to be bolted into sockets under one arm for support. In fact, once you get the damn thing looking the way you like, you’ll probably collapse in exhaustion and call it a day. It’s that kind of “toy”: more of a beautiful display piece than any sort of a plaything. (Three cheers for Tim, who had to fight his way through every single mode in an attempt to get usable shots.)

In short: this is the ultimate Transformer. A testament to the sheer insanity, willpower, and ambition of Japanese toy-designers. A combining Eighth Wonder of the Robot World. If that sort of thing doesn’t float your boat, you’re probably going to find yourself more than a little ways up frustration creek without a paddle — seething at the many, many trade-offs in balance and sturdiness required to bring this engineering marvel to fruition.

A very special thanks to HobbyLink Japan for their assistance with this Rumble!

Matt Alt & Tim Brisko
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