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July 21, 2003

The Grail

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 4:29 pm

(with apolgies to Steve H)

There was a time in my youth when Japanese toys were things that I revered from a vast distance.  Price, language, geography and accessibility all conspired against me.  Life was frustrating for this budding chogoholic in the early 80’s.

I lived in rural Canada in a tiny town of 2500.  None of my friends gave a crap about anything that wasn’t a Star Wars action figure. Of course none of them had ever been to Toronto and visited the holy land that was the Silver Snail. With walls lined with Gundam, Dougram Macross and Xabungle kits, glass cases with Godaikins and other imports, the place blew my mind every year at Christmas when we made the trek.  Of course, I couldn’t hope to pretend that I would ever be able to afford any of that stuff on my dollar-a-week allowance.  The occasional 1/144 Gundam kit was all that I could manage, and of course that left me hungering for more.  Every year I would place the Godaikin Tetsujin 28 atop my Christmas list, and every year I would be disappointed.  Who the heck was I kidding?  The thing ran over $90 and there was no way in hell that my folks could ever have afforded to shell out for it.

My father did, however, realize the sort of thing that I was interested in.  So, thanks to birthdays and the like, I did manage to amass a small collection of lesser gokin; 1/72 scale Dorvack, small Xabungle toys, and even a Destroid Phalanx.  It was the latter that really sent me down this dark road.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  Unless you’re a Macross completist, there’s not much reason to give the Takatoku Phalanx a second look.  The design itself is rather goofy and without its related Destroids to keep it company, it looks even more ridiculous by itself.  But it wasn’t the toy that held my interest.  It was the catalogue.

The old Takatoku catalogues were curious things to a child.  They represented a tiny slice of that ineffable Japanese toy mystery that only a juvenile gaijin can experience.  Here were a few postage stamp-sized pictures of crazily designed toys that I knew from the moment I first laid eyes upon them, I would never see on this side of the ocean.  These were the days before the Transformers stormed down the toy aisles, mind you.  I remember feeling party to some secret knowledge when I first spied a Jetfire and recognized it immediately as the VF-1S pictured on the reverse side of this very same leaflet; I knew where all the cool new toys were coming from.  In fact, I correctly predicted that Mugen Calibur and friends would make their appearance soon after.  Not that anyone else cared, mind you.

Early on, I realized that the Transformers and GoBots lines would never re-brand the stuff that I longed for; Super Robots just didn’t jive with the concept of intelligent transforming robots.  Eventually, the Godaikins and other Japanese imports disappeared from the comic stores and importers and I was left awash in domestic bastardizations.  Then “maturity” came along and banished all toys and robo-related thoughts along with them…

Of course in the late ’90’s I fell off the wagon and was back into the Japanese robot toy collecting scene in a bad way.  I was hunting down my childhood grails with fierce determination backed by a .com salary.  My memory was spotty at best, but I was grabbing stuff left and right at toy/comic shows and making my first tentative purchases on eBay.  Strange days when every purchase was the “last one” and ToyboxDX didn’t even have a DNS entry.

Of course all that changed as the “scene” became more organized and communities started to form online.  As I was confronted by gratuitous jpegs of other collector’s displays, I came to realize just how spotty my memory was.  I would often spy toys that I’d spent hours with or drooling over as a youth tucked into a small corner, crowed-out by Jumbos and Godaikins.  Dai Battles, Gats Blocker, Xabungle, VOTOMS…the memories all faded, like chrome on a well-loved gokin…

So it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to me when I stumbled across a scan of a Takatoku Toys catalogue similar to the one that I had spent all those hours obsessing over 15 years before.  Of course I still didn’t have any clue what it was, but a call for help on the BBS was quickly answered.  Close on 15 years later, I finally had a name to attach to my “elephant gattai thingy”.  Now I just had to find one.

The Sankan-Oh Mammoth Gaisshin represented a new area of collecting for me; a toy that was truly rare, obscure and much sought-after by Japanese Z Gokin completists.  Having never collected things like vintage vinyl, jumbos or tin, I had never experienced the frustration of checking eBay and Yahoo daily for days…weeks…months…years without even so much as glimpsing the object of my desire.  Occasionally, a C-5 would show up on Yahoo missing both fists, the mammoth and an arm (I can’t read much Japanese, but I bet it was “great for display!”).  It would close at 40,000 yen.  Sigh.

Then, after 2 years it happened.  An MIB example showed up on Yahoo.  It zipped past 100,000 yen on the first day and I resigned myself to the fact that I would never actually see one of these guys in person.

Six months later, it shows up on eBay.  Hell, I’d even forgotten that it was still in my search string.  I realized that there was no way in hell that I would win with all the eyes of the Takatoku Otaku on it, but I went ahead and bid anyway, remembering that most domestic fanboys have no idea who Sankan-Oh is…

There’s not much more to tell.  I bid; there wasn’t much competition and I won easily.  The toy arrived a couple of weeks later from Hong Kong and I was as happy as a little girl for at least a week.  I would like to tell you all how this is the greatest toy ever and how it cured my alcoholism, and how you must track down one of these puppies for your very own…  But I can’t.  Like so much in this hobby, Sankan-Oh’s appeal lies in what he represents, rather than what he is.  For me, the mystery, the unobtainability, the coolness, the soul of Japanese toys can be found by simply staring into two clear blue, googly eyes…

My friends think I’m nuts for dropping that kind of dough on “the worst toy I’ve ever seen”, but I just sit here grinning at my Visa statement like Tom Smykowski in his body cast from the movie Office Space; “You see, good things can happen…”

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