Over at The Sneeze, Mr. Sneeze has a very funny post about the toy he always wanted, and never received, an Inch Worm. In the comments, loads of nostalgia-addled thirty-somethings (sadly, much like Yours Truly) trade hilarious war stories about the toys that got away, or got broken. Reading these comments filled me with a sweet, guacamole-like wave of nausea, as I remembered my own moment of supreme childhood toy horror, involving my beloved Shogun Warrior Gaiking.
Shogun Warriors were Mattel’s first attempt to get American kids to make their parents buy Japanese toys. This would seem to be an inspired idea, since at this time, the seventies, Japanese toy technology was at its most crazed zenith, and American toys, well, just sucked. The Shogun Warriors line consisted of repackaged versions of characters from popular anime shows in Japan. (The fact that American kids had seen none of these Japanese programs at that time apparently escaped the attention of the marketing department at Mattel, but no matter.)
The big guns in the Shogun Warrior lineup were these big, 24-inch missile-shooting badass robots. Known as Jumbo Machinders in Japan, these stiff-limbed, crudely-rendered figures were made from the same greasy plastic as bleach bottles. What they lacked in posability, they made up with firepower. Each of the Shoguns (Raydeen, Mazinga, Dragun and Gaiking) shot various and sundry missiles, projectiles and body parts in a flurry of cornea-damaging action.
Of the four, clearly the most desirable was Gaiking. The American Gaiking, itself a bare-bones version of the far more elaborate Japanese jumbo, featured a helmet with huge horns, a skull-shaped chest with missiles that shot from the eye sockets, and most importantly for our little story, a jointed arm that bent at the elbow, with a fist that could be launched with deadly accuracy towards both family pet and little sister alike. I think you can see why no self-respecting nine-year-old could possibly exist without such a wonderful toy.
The big event in my home every fall was the arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog. I can still remember the smell of the ink and wood pulp of those catalogs as I type this post. I mooned over that damned Gaiking all that fall and winter, and bless my indulgent parents, they actually got one for me. And I promptly broke the fucker.
The details of the incident have been lost in the mists of time, or perhaps I just willed myself to forget. As I alluded to earlier, the weak point of the Gaiking design was in the fist-firing arm that bent at the elbow. The connection point was a flimsy hollow peg that locked into a ball-joint on the forearm. This is where things went awry. The connecting peg snapped off cleanly at the base. I was DEVASTATED. I cannot express to you the horror I felt as the nightmare unfolded. My father tried his best to repair the broken arm, using a wooden dowel and gallons of glue, but sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be. Eventually he manged to cobble it back together into a semblance of normal function, but it was ruined for me, and Gaiking ended up stuck in the back of a dark closet.
Of course, as is seemingly the case with all members of my generation, when I entered my twenties, I had an overwhelming atavistic compulsion to buy back my childhood at a premium. Getting a replacement Gaiking wasn’t enough, however, and I just kept collecting until I had the entire Shogun Warriors line, and finally, a huge collection of Japanese toys that have completely overwhelmed my home and studio. Why? I don’t know.