These are not your father’s Gobots.
So, just what is Machine Robo? It’s a Japanese toyline released by a subsidiary of Bandai known as Popy in 1982, known as Robo Machine in Europe and Machine Men in Australia. Starting in 1984 these toys were distributed in the UK and the USA by Tonka Toys as Gobots. It’s a toyline with very similar origins and distribution deals to Transformers, and ran parallel to that series, arguably as the Pepsi to Transformer’s Coca-Cola. When Japan got the Marvel / Sunbow animated series in 1985, Machine Robo responded with the 1986 TV show Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos (distributed in the UK as Revenge of the Gobots), produced by Ashi Productions.
Due to a series of convoluted events and buy-outs, in 1991 Hasbro purchased the rights and the names to the entire Gobot franchise, but not the likeness rights, meaning they are free to use the names (as with their Pre-school Gobots range, and the use of Leader-1 with Armada Megatron) but they cannot re-release the toys or redesign them / update them for the current market. There have been a few homages, such as with the eHobby release of the minibotsas GoBots and the TFCC release of Bugbite, but these have all been Transformer’s likenesses carrying re-purposed Gobot names.
These new releases, designed by Lu.K of the Awaken studio and produced and distributed by Action Toys (copyright Production Reed) will only see official distribution in the East. Spencer from Action Toys confirmed (in this great interview) that this new toyline will only feature characters used in the Revenge of Chronos anime, so unfortunately this is not the full Machine Robo / Gobot revival that some people may have hoped for, any many fan favourite characters will see a release, but for this collector, I am happy to take what we get and I am pleased that they have figures planned for the next 2/3 years.
Let’s take a look at what we have so far:
(Note: Machine Robo Series 01: Bike Robo – also known as Cy-kill – has not been released yet as Action Toys are working hard to perfect the mold, rather than released an inferior product. While it’s disappointing for some, I admire the dedication to the quality of product.)
Rod Drill was first released as MR:17 Drill Robo, known better to a lot in the West as Screw Head.
The robo mode of this chap is somehow very cute. Although they feel smaller than expected when you open them up standing at five inches tall, they have a surprising amount of weight to them, including some heavy die-cast feeling parts. No limb feels too heavy for the joint to hold, which means these toys hold fun and complex poses incredibly well.
Unfortunately, these guys are packaged in alt. mode, which means your first transformation is lining things up and compacting them down. However, the transformation on this guy is very clear, and thee instructions go out of their way to further explain potential trouble points. Extra kudos to Action Robo for this attention to detail and making our lives easier. The transformation is very fun, and this guy compacts down in a very satisfying way.
Transforming into a drill tank, this mode features an extra attachment, so you can swap the head out for a more anime accurate extended drill-head. While this extended drill looks cleaner with it’s lack of head molded into it, I can’t help feeling that I much prefer the smaller drill, even if it means the head is visible when you look under the alt. mode. In both modes, he successfully captures the look of his original design, but improves on his original toy in the ways that are needed.
My favourite of the three so far. A lot of people know him as Leader-1 as part of the Gobots franchise.
A very satisfying robot, that doesn’t feel as heavy as the others but has amazing poseability, once again, all his joints are quality and manage to hold poses incredibly well. He has oodles of charisma, and his very unique rounded head mode achieves the look of a humanesque fighter pilot in robot form, and using the air intake ducts as the robot chest gives Eagle Robo a very distinctive look.
His weapon is the combined part of his two missile rigs and side pods which provide extra stability and clever weapon storage, and makes for a very distinct gun.
Transforming into an F-15 Eagle, the same alt. mode as a famous grey jet from the Transformers line, the transformation feels very different to the other two figures released so far; rather than compacting down, this figure opens up unto alt. mode. Once again, everything is surprisingly simple, and quite intuitive, but I would suggest having the instructions along for the ride just for security, as there are a few panels and long stalks (connecting the head and one connecting the cockpit) which feel could easily break if miss-handled. If you take your time and follow the guide you will not have any problems.
The weapons and landing gear complete the look, and the detailing throughout is fantastic for a figure this side. It’s one of the most satisfying real-world fighter-jet transformations I have ever seen in this scale; if not THE best.
Released in Gobots as the unimaginatively named Tank, Battle Robo is probably the most improved figure in this range over his original.
I always found the original toy of this a bit weak, and while there have been a few new designs over the years, this release captures this character for me the most. Although I imagine some people would have preferred a darker blue.
Like the other figures, he has functional, tight joints, which enable the figure to express himself in a multitude of ways. Ever present is his tank turret gun arm (where have we seen that before?), and his shoulder cannons are also very functional in robot mode.
A great, fun transformation which compacts down so tightly, there is zero wasted motion, and everything tabs together perfectly to create a solid little alt. mode, with the arms hiding away better than in previous incarnations.
There’s not loads to say about the alt. mode, it looks like a futuristic non-Earth mode tank thing, it looks like a transfoming robot with all the Transformers influence removed and replaced with Starcom. A vehicle mode with this many guns probably shouldn’t look cute, but somehow it looks like a deform.
I have a feeling these fully modular chain-style bases will be some people’s favourite part of this range. Shown here are three bases joined together with two sets of the backer, but this is just one configuration of potentially thousands. You can use these to make a back-drop, or to display the jet in flight mode, or hold the figures in a hovering action pose. Great fun, and expansive, I feel these chain bases will literally join this collection together and convince collectors to embrace the full range with an in-build display solution. A great touch.
While I have always admired Gobots, it has been from afar, I have picked up the very occasional mold, but never enough to commit to a “collection” as such. With this new line, it might have seemed like the perfect opportunity to get into a Machine Robo / Gobot style collection, and indeed it is, but actually my reasons for collecting this line are completely different. As I mentioned in a previous article about 3rd party Devastators, I am a huge fan of the aesthetic of the Fans Project Causality line and the Maketoys combiner series, while I have yet to have it officially confirmed by official sources, I strongly believe I am right in saying these are all designed by Lu.K, who designed these new Machine Robo figures. It’s not even really a secret as such, it’s more that toy designers are not widely discussed, known, or credited, and I feel that’s a real shame. I’m proud to say; I am collecting the new Machine Robo toys because I am a fan of this designer’s aesthetic.
We live in a world where comic colourists and some letterers are finally getting their names on the cover of comics they produce, and Neca have led the charge in putting the sculptor’s name on their toy products. As the internet, forums, and social media have faded the line between fans and creators, I strongly feel we should see this happen more throughout the toy industry. I would have loved for Eric Siebenaler’s name to have been credited on some of my favourite TF toy releases, just as I would like people to know and understand the full breadth of work undertaken by Kohjin Ohno. MMC have been very good with this, as several of their creators are well known to the fandom, and well done to them, and well done to Action Robo for crediting the designer on the boxes for these guys.
These are wonderful toys, masterfully designed and lovingly produced, and they come with a built-in audience of Machine Robo / Gobot fans, but even if you’re not a fan of the brand, these are quality figures through and through, and well worth checking out!