Tonka’s GoBots began life in Japan as Bandai’s Machine Robo toyline. After achieving success in the Japanese market on a rising tide of transforming robot toys, Bandai decided to export the Machine Robo toys to the West. After a relatively failed attempt at marketing the first several figures in the US as “Machine Men” in 1983, Badnai partnered with US toymaker Tonka to market the toys as GoBots: Mighty Robots / Mighty Vehicles. Each figure sported an often pun-filled name (as opposed to Bandai simply designating figures by the alternate mode), an allegiance to either the Friendly Robot Guardians or Enemy Robot Renegades, and all-new package art. The earliest GoBots were sorted into two categories: either “regular” carded figures, or Super GoBots. The “Regular” GoBots were based on MR’s “600 series” , so named for the 600 Japanese Yen price point (about $2.50 at the time). Forming the bulk of the line, Regulars retailed around $3.49 and came on flashy blister cards using the iconic sunrise (for Guardians) and lighning (for Renegades) backgrounds. Super GoBots were sourced from MR’s Machine Robo DX / Scale Robo and Big Machine Robo sublines. All of the designs in these classes used die-cast metal in varying degrees, and often featured chrome parts and rubber tires. Many of the designs were closely based on real-life vehicles, while others were futuristic. Some of Tonka’s later exclusive offerings were based on World War II fighter planes. Most figures did not include any accessories, but some had detachable weapons, most often seen with the larger Supers. The line eventually expanded to include two combiner teams (sold individually or as sets), combining battle armor for Regular figures, and larger motorized figures sourced from other Bandai toylines. Tonka included several of their own offerings. Most of these were vehicles or playsets for the regular figures to interact with. The Tonka designs are notably less intricate, all-plastic, and often electronic. To meet the growing demands for more transforming robots, spurred on by rival Transformers’ success, Tonka licensed Arco toys under the GoBots brand. The Arco toys were mostly redecoed from their own series, Ro-Gun. They appeared totally inconsistent with the other GoBots entries, but sported large GoBots logos to associate them with the main toyline. By 1987, the sales peak of Transformers culminating in their animated movie hammered the last nail in GoBots’ coffin. Though its parent series Machine Robo continued (buoyed by the Revenge of Cronos anime) the GoBots franchise could not withstand the marketing onslaught from its main competitor. Designs toward the end of the line were not released in Japan, and saw only scarce availability in the US and, to a wider extent in Europe, where the end of Robo Machine: GoBots came later than the domestic Tonka line. The GoBots legacy is a mixed bag, and highly subjective. While many collectors view GoBots toys as inferior to Transformers, Bandai-produced models retained many qualities popular among Transformers collector circles until the end of their run. Transformers dropped traits like chrome, die-cast, rubber, and realistic alternate modes as their success drove sales higher and costs lower. It could be argued that GoBots lost out because of a lower-quality (far from the anime-like style of most other “80s robot toys) TV series, or that GoBots competition caused Hasbro to push harder for Transformers’ commercial success with better branding traits like Tech Specs and rubsigns. Either way, when Hasbro acquired Tonka Corp. in 1991, they also obtained all rights to domestic GoBots intellectual property, and have been using the brand name for many purposes ever since. Transformers has used GoBots character names and licenses to make several references and homages, sometimes citing the characters as extra-dimensional travelers fleeing from their own destroyed universe.
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