There was a toy store in an out-of-the-way mall in downtown Sarasota that Mom would occasionally take us to. I have a preternaturally clear memory of heading up the escalator one Saturday, turning, and goggling at the display in the window. It had been transformed from the staid wooden rollercoaster and Playmobile dioramas into an epic sci-fi scene where giant robotic T-Rexes (the kind that stomped slowly and dragged their tail on the groud, thank you very much) faced off against robot Stegosauruses and Triceratops with gun platforms on their backs. I had found Zoids. And they were Awesome.
Well, I’d found ROBOTSTRUX, if we’re being super-anal (and I’m writing about obsolete toys that no one here has ever heard of, so why not). TOMY brought these build-it-yourself wind-up models at a time when kids were deeply obsessed with everything coming out of Japan (namely, Transformers), so they renamed the kits, stripped out any semblance of a story, and just sent them out there to sink or swim.
They didn’t do all that well.
My dreams of wind-up dinosaurs destroying my G.I. Joes ultimately were dashed when the store staidly kept the prices crazy high until they got tired of carrying the torch, slashed the prices, and blew them out the door all in the space of a week. All before we made our weekend pilgrimage, of course.
Fast forward to current, toy-obsessed me. A few years back, I started wondering what ever happened to those wind-up sci-fi dinos and discovered that not only were they still around (as Zoids, now), they were thriving (in Japan)! Backstories about the Planet Z (really) and anime featuring ancient semi-sentient robotic animals (I might have wept when I discovered the giant robot gorilla) with enough firepower to take out cities illustrated an insane alternate universe that 11 year-old me would have peed himself with joy over. A few import fees later and I was looking at a box full of some of the most detailed, under-appreciated (Hasbro did try to bring them back but they died on the shelves), and ultimately maddening toys to creep slowly across my living room floor.
Gojulasgiga, was my first new-style Zoid and he didn’t disappoint. Zoids are all model kits – you’ve got to break the parts off plastic sprues, then follow a set of aggressively obtuse instructions to piece everything together just so. It requires a fair amount of patience and precision work (and a lot of deep breathing as you try and will together two pieces that just. won’t. FIT!). All models work from a base structure and build out, usually with panels that fit together to let the previous layer show through. The result is a surprisingly realistic (as realistic as robo-dinos can be) toy that has a visual depth of detail that’s just not found in most toys.
The play features for Gojulasgiga are impressive as well – he can stomp around and roar in and old-school Upright T-Rex mode, or you can extend his neck and tail, adjust his hips, and he’s tearing off like a raptor in Jurassic Park. He lights up, roars, chases the cat (slowly, but it’s still enough to freak her out) – everything that a growing man-child could wish for.
But remember that part where you put the whole thing together yourself? Yeah, turns out that part of the problem with shipping your toys in a million pieces is that they have a tendency to fall apart when subjected to the power of a motor (the big sets all sport AA battery packs), often violently (I had GG’s legs explode off his torso at least twice when I took these pics). And once one piece goes (usually a leg), progressively smaller pieces let fly and go skidding to places that you won’t discover until you remodel or move (I still don’t know where his neck spines got to). While I’m a fan of build-it-yourself toys and am addicted to that little hit of self-achievement you feel when you get a model together; the exact opposite feeling kicks in when you see the toy you just spent an evening building shaking itself apart on its maiden run.
Still, Zoids have a dedicated geek following that grab everything from the original ROBOSTRUX to the latest Zoids Genesis models and spend days customizing, creating dioramas, and trading the best methods for building and preserving this almost-forgotten corner of the toy world. Can’t say that I’ll be joining them, I just don’t have the patience for endlessly tweaking a toy that’s working its hardest to thwart me; but they do look cool as hell (as long as you don’t turn them on). 11 year-old me is sated and can make his own stompy noises, thank you very much.