The Shogun Warriors
Upon a popular request, I decided that this week’s article will be about a long forgotten series of a licensed toy line. In this case a 1970’s toy line based off of several anime mechas, two tokusatsu mechas and two of Toho’s iconic monsters, Gojira(Japanese for Godzilla) & Rodan. Back in the late 70s to early 80s, Mattel made a series of toys called the Shogun Warriors. Rights obtain from Popy Toy company in 1979 starting with a total of four toys to start off with. Which were Godzilla, Raideen, Mazinger Z, & Dragun. It wasn’t long until they became a hit at toy stores mainly due to kids discovering the toys can fire missiles which was the main reason they became a success at various department stores of the late 70s. Mattel expanded the line up by adding more mechas like Gaiking, Daimos, & Grendizer. Like many toys in the 70s, the Shogun Warriors were a liability towards kid safety requirements. In this case a lot of adults were concern with the spring-loaded missiles that could hurt kids by poking their eyes out or choke on them upon trying to swallow them or any other small parts. After reports of these such injuries, Mattel as well as other toy companies had to comply with the new requirements for their toys to be acceptable for selling. This meant all of the missiles had to be attached to the Shogun Warriors, but not be able to fire them, which made them less fun. Due to this and declining sales the toy line disappeared after no more than two years in production. There was also a comic book series made by Marvel at the time this toy line was made. It was a 20 issue series written by Doug Moench(creator of Black Mask, Deathlok, & Moon Knight) & artwork by Herb Trimpe(First artist to draw Wolverine for publication). The series had Fantastic 4 & Iron Man involved with the Shogun Warriors in the story, however after Mattel lost the rights to the toys so did Marvel. In the final issue, the Shogun Warriors were destroyed and that was the last time Marvel was associated with the mechas themselves. If you remember owning the comic or toys of the Shogun Warriors when you were under the age of 12, then you’re between the ages of 44-37. After lecturing the history on this franchise let’s talk about the toys.
If you already noticed the toy looking weird, don’t worry you’re not illusinating; that’s exactly what the toy looked like when it was being displayed at various toy stores in America of the 1979. Why does Godzilla not look like what he did in the Showa Era Godzilla films? That’s a good question, cause even I’m puzzled why he looks like he had plastic surgery after getting punch by someone like Megalon or Gigan. I’m guessing Mattel didn’t had the rights to use Godzilla’s likeness so they changed his appearance to avoid getting sued by Toho. It’s a similar case to how Hanna-Barabara Godzilla didn’t had the trademark roar due to licensing issues so they hired Ted Cassidy to do the roar of Godzilla. Not to mention that cartoon being one of the reasons people assume Godzilla was originally green when he wasn’t officially green until Godzilla 2000. Anyways besides the toy not being an image perfect replica of the radiated dinosaur, what made the toy so memorable? Well I’m glad you asked, the main reason this toy was so memorable was cause Mattel tried to make Godzilla very marketable by adding some features the real Godzilla didn’t had. The first feature is a long tongue that sticks out of his mouth like a snake by the press of the button(as seen above). The other feature is his right fist having the ability to shoot right out of his wrist like a missile. And no I’m not fabricating this idea of a toy as I have seen it in action in the commercial I found on youtube. Why would Mattel go this far in changing Godzilla’s abilities? Other than making it more marketable, Mattel thought a monster that only breathes radiated fire is less cool than what the other toys in the line up had, so they made him do things he’d never do in the movie. Excluding some physics bending moments that have occurred in a handful of Godzilla films, but it’s sci-fi so it’s ok to ignore the Monday Night Rules when doing a sci-fi.
To prevent this article from being too long I like to describe the other toys in one simple paragraph. Other than them being giant anime mechas, these robots have very little in common with one another. Despite how I’m a big anime fan, I admit I didn’t find the time to watch any of the anime these guys originated from. Mazinger Z was the only one who I am familiar upon once seeing an OAV of the series, but not the original TV series. Never the less, all of these mechas had quite some popularity in their home land of Japan. Except over there they’re not refer to as Shogun Warriors which I bet a Japanese person would be clueless to why these mechas are called Shogun Warriors. My guess is that Mattel wanted the toys to feel very Japanese by using one word from Japanese culture and another any culture would be familiar with. The word Shogun is a term word for a commanding military general who is appointed by the emporer. So I guess these toys are called Shogun Warriors cause they are warriors with more power than any emporer could possess. Rodan along with Godzilla were the only non mecha toys of the toy line, However Rodan’s the only one to not fire any object of any kind. Why was he also included into the toy line? It’s simple he was portrayed as the villain of the Shogun Warrior series and he’s as popular as Godzilla was. It would have been very cool if they obtain rights to other Toho Kaiju Monsters, but it probably would have been too expensive for Mattel since obtaining rights to Godzilla and Rodan might have been pricey to start with.
I could only find four vintage commercials on these toys. The first two featuring the Godzilla toy being played with two kids, while other contains Mazinger Z & Gaiking as well as Godzilla himself. The narrator for these commercials was Ernie Adnerson(b. 1923-1997) a legendary narrator for various shows including the pilot episodes of Power Puff Girls(before it became an actual TV show) and original Annoucer of America’s Funniest Home Videos(and no I lost interest in that show years ago). Since these action figures were based off of Japanese properties, Mr. Anderson used a stereotype samurai voice that’s often used in early English dubs of Japanese live action films. The other two were Japanese made toy commercials for Leopardon, a mecha from the Japanese Spider-Man series & the Daitetsujin 17 series that were both imported over to America as part of the toy line. This was decades before most American comic fans even knew that there was a Tokusatsu genre series on Spider Man back in 1978 that differs from the short-lived American Live Action TV series. The way marketing went for Japanese imported merchandise in America is way different from how it’s done today. Back then a lot of Japan’s entertainment had little exposure outside of its own country. The only things that did got licensed are the ones that are viewed marketable for America and anything that’s too unusual for American customs remains unlicensed. There was hardly any anime in America back then. The only anime kids were able to watch in the 70s was Battle of the Planets(Gatchaman) and the earlier licensed anime like Speed Racer, Gigantor, Kimba the White Lion, & Astro Boy. Unlike today where Japanese media has more exposure to the public as well as more people appreciating it more than how it was treated 32 years ago.
Let’s talk about the commercials for a second. The way action figure commercials were done back then is different from how they’re done today. There was no such thing as expensive special effects or obnoxious narration. Instead these type of commercials play out like it’s advertising a tv show or in this case tv shows of the 70s. I like how back then these ads tell you, you have to use your imagination when playing with these toys, like how Ernie Adnerson tells you to imagine Godzilla breathing radiated fire rather than expecting Godzilla to do so. Also I wonder who that man is in the background who just standing right behind the kids. If it suppose to be one of the kids dad, or a stagehand who got into the shot by accident and the director didn’t bother to re shoot the shot. What ever the case maybe, this type of work for a toy commercial is considered low-budget in today’s business of toy advertising.
My last thoughts on this toy line is just the comment “wow”. The thought that these mechas were licensed in America 32 years ago is an amazing discovery I found. I would bet you that kids back then had no clue that most of those mechas were based off of already popular ones in Japan. The toy line did prove to the American population that Gigantor and Giant Robo weren’t the only popular mechas from Japan. It also was a further step to more anime exposure as the 80s was known as the decade when anime started to flow in more in America with such series like Star Blazers & Robotech. Today Shogun Warriors are now a common ebay item and from time to time, you’ll likely to find some of them at antique stores and conventions. To end this article I present to you the only commercials of the toy line I could find.
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=1993 – Getter Robo G
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daitetsujin_17 – Daitetsujin 17