|The MONUMENTAL world of Mego's Micronauts|
|At the landmark MegoCon 2004 in NYC, toy industry legends Marty
Abrams and Neal Kublan of Mego were asked which toy line - of all the ones
they have developed in their long careers - was their favorite creation.
Both men took less than a heartbeat to say, simultaneously:
|Perhaps a bit dated in their shiny sci-fi deco and possibly not as elaborate-looking as today's richly painted and textured action
figure toys, the late 1970s' Micronauts line represents an appealing combination of idealistic design and practical solid playability
which few toy lines have ever mastered so well. At once complex yet surprisingly simple in execution, the Micronaut line offered a
colorful array of characters, robots, space ships and alien creatures that gave kids a wealth of playtime opportunities. Best yet, Micronauts offered a world of futuristic cities and inhabitants that thrived solely on the imagination of their young owners, defined without allegiance to a motion picture or television property. While Star Wars' marketing brought its legendary universe to dominate the fantastic toy isles of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Micronauts also thrived there on the strength of sheer innovation and a delightful insight by their designers into just what makes a good "space toy".
|In 1975 and '76, a good space toy was just what Mego wanted, and Takara's MICROMAN line from Japan suited the bill perfectly. Mego
staff had encountered the amazing Japanese action figure series, and after some globe-trotting had secured exclusive rights to release the line in the US in whatever manner they saw fit. Takara was happy to have finally acquired an international market for one of their most costly ventures, and gave Mego access to Microman as well as many other toys from their sci-fi collection that is known today as "Takara SF-Land". After a flurry of development by Mego and Takara's US representatives, "Micronauts" was unveiled at the October 1976 Toy Fair in New York City, ready to take orders.
|A History of the Micronauts:|
|At that point in Mego's history, the company was doing well and had extensive resources to invest in toy development and production. In
the case of Micronauts, Takara provided manufacturing service in Japan for the first year or so of the toys' production. Early Micronaut
examples are marked "Japan", and feature details, coloration and materials arguably a bit brighter and better-fitting than those seen in most Mego-produced stock. Most Micronaut designs are virtually identical to their Microman counterparts - even following Microman's box patterns featuring occasional small changes in design or decoration. For example, Takara re-tooled some of their existing toy elements to allow for more safety-conscious projectiles at Mego's request - replacing sharper plastic Microman missiles with the now-famous "Mushroom Bombs" that became a prominent feature of many Micronaut toys!
|The famous "Magno-power" toys of the Micronaut line - Baron Karza, Force Commander, and their steeds Andromeda and Oberon - were actually re-colored versions of a unique Takara robot hero toy known as "Kotetsu ["Iron Robo"] Jeeg". Originally a colorful super robot designed by Goh Nagai, famous father of robot characters that American collectors would know of as Mattel's Shogun Warriors, Jeeg was recast in new colors and developed into a straightforward White Knight versus Black Knight
motif and adorned with two new heads styled like a gothic medieval warrior and a space-helmeted sci-fi warrior. Similar new colors were applied to Jeeg's robotic warhorse companion, Panzeroid. Several years later Mego would expand on the Magno-Power warriors and their Star Stallions with additional new heads and colors to create three more sets of characters.
|Very early in the Micronauts line, however, production in Japan proved too expensive, and Mego created their own molds for the toys and
moved Micronaut production to their newly established Lion Rock factory in Hong Kong. Interestingly enough, one toy was left out of the
relocation the battery powered Gyrotron. Much debate has been heard among Micronaut collectors about whether this green, pod-like toy seen in early Micronaut packaging catalogs was ever released in the US. At the aforementioned MegoCon, however, Marty Abrams assured collectors that it indeed was released, although in small quantities of perhaps several tens of thousands. Retailers, he explained, were not as interested in that toy as others during the line's initial offering, so it was deleted early in the line in favor of other products more popular with store owners. As of this writing, no packaged or Mego-marked examples have been documented by the toy collecting press.
|micronaut and microman|
|Micropolis: TV Commercial #2|
|Mego-manufactured Micronaut toys vary slightly at times in color and detail from their Takara predecessors, providing a wealth of
interesting variations for detail-oriented Micronaut collectors. The reduced costs of Hong Kong based production also gave Mego the opportunity to invest resources in the development of many new toys unique to the Mego
Micronaut line, including the fantastic Micronaut Aliens! These creatures were truly bizarre and - as some collectors recall their
parents' reactions - very frightening for the time of their initial release in 1978. Their exposed brains glowed in the dark, and their
bodies and massive robotic vehicles were a combination of sci-fi archetypes and a weird fusion of the organic and the mechanical.
They were the unique product of American toy designers letting their imaginations run wild with the possibilities inherent in the Micronaut
line. Mego also modified other Microman toys to develop new Micronaut figures, vehicles and robots with results that - like the Magno-Power toys - differ greatly from their Japanese origins. Interestingly, Mego even used Takara and Microman toy elements in their other toy lines, like Pocket Heroes, World's Greatest Super Heroes, and The Black Hole. Mego even developed elaborate Micronaut building sets and a transportation system from designs that Takara had partially developed but abandoned as too expensive.
|microman to micronaut|
|By 1980, however, sales of Micronauts waned and after almost 5 years the line was canceled. This was due as much to competition from Star Wars as to the sheer overwhelming number of Micronaut products already on the shelves. Most toy lines typically delete earlier years' toys, replacing them with new products. In the case of Micronauts however, each successive new year of designs shared shelf space with the on-going production of previous years' Micronaut toys. The result is that earlier Micronaut toys are actually more common. With the exception of the vehicle Gyrotron, early Micronauts like Space Glider, Giant Acroyear and Photon Sled are much, much more common than later Micronauts like Kronos, Star Defender and Sharkos. Micronauts were produced in such quantity that new stock could be found in North American retail toy stores as recently as the 1990s.|
|Taurion & Solarion|
|Fascinatingly, the Micronauts' odyssey was far from over in 1980. Micronauts were released in large quantities in Canada by Grand Toys,
and in Europe in editions from the UK, Germany and Italy. While most of these offerings are typical of the most common US-released
Micronauts, Italian collectors found themselves the lucky recipients of several Micronaut designs that were canceled before their release by Mego in the US. By 1981, Italy's GiG [pronounced "Gee-eye-gee"] Toys released the magno-powered Micronauts Green Baron, King Atlas and their steeds Pegasus and Lantaurion, and the elaborate Emperor and his steed Megas. The complex and amazing Red Falcon another Magno-Powered toy adapted from Takara's "Death Cross" super robot character - was also released by GiG, as well as a unique repackaged battery powered Microman robot called Blizzard. Italy also saw the release of several rare later vehicles like Hyperion, Sharkos and Ampzilla, which until only recently were thought to be unique to the Italian "I-Micronauti" line. Examples in Mego-edition packaging, however, have recently surfaced from North American sources and can be found in prominent Micronaut collections.
|Lionrock and Grand Toys|
|Mego's bankruptcy and the liquidation of their resources actually lead to even more Micronaut products. The Lion Rock factory released
quantities of leftover - and in some cases incomplete - Micronaut toys under their own Lionrock label in traditional Micronaut packaging
which enjoyed release in North America and the UK. When ownership of Mego's Micronaut molds was transferred to the short-lived PAC Toys in the mid 1980s, some of the molds were briefly "hijacked" by ex-Mego production personnel and used to create the very-unauthorized and very unusually colored FANTASTIC WORLD OF INTER-CHANGEABLES line of toys by Hourtoy.
The scheme also apparently resulted in the release of Micronaut magno-power toys in Italy by GiG as the "Nuovi Micronauti" ["New
Micronauts"], as well as a rare set of Magnos released by a Greek company called ElGreCo as the "Astro Warriors". While not
specifically Mego toys, these were all produced from Mego Micronaut tooling, and as such could be considered true Micronauts.
|After that, the Mego Micronauts line and its tooling disappear from the toy industry. Some of the original molds still exist for playsets
like Micropolis and the less than successful Rocket Tubes. PAC Toy's owner had claimed to have destroyed the entirety of the Micronauts mold resources after the Inter-Changeables affair, but anecdotal evidence as well as common industry wisdom disagrees with the truth of that statement. Speculation that may not be too wild suggests much of the tooling is in storage, locked away from manufacturing by factors as simple as old feuds and the inexorable advances of rust and metal fatigue. Some may have been used in recent toy products from China that resemble the Micronaut Red Falcon. The popularity of Magno-Power toys in Italy even lead to the creation of bootleg Nuovi-Micronauti in combinations of flourescent resin and scavenged vintage parts in reprinted boxes, sold to unwitting collectors for exorbitant sums nearly three years ago as lost examples of a promotional magazine offer.
|In the intervening years, Micronaut collectors have had new opportunities to expand their Micronaut collection. Internet-based
collector groups, collectible retailers and auction services around the globe have made available a wealth of vintage Micronauts to
collectors looking to obtain those toys lost from childhood or which were never offered in their countries. Japan's Microman line was discovered to have been much more extensive than Mego's Micronaut version of the line, offering over three-hundred fully compatible toys for collectors - most of which were never offered by Mego. It is now common knowledge that many early members of the legendary Hasbro TRANSFORMERS were actually Microman toys, giving the legendary 1980s robot warriors a kinship to
Mego's Micronauts. Transformers and Micronauts can even exchange accessories based on their shared Takara 5-millimeter interchangeable parts system. Recent reproductions of both Micronaut and Microman toys by Takara in Japan and by Palisades Toys in the United States offer collectors even more options to build on their childhoods' favorite interchangeable toy line.
|The Archaeology of the Micronauts:|
|Not Mego Microman|
|And yet, the Micronaut and Microman designs of the 1970s and 1980s still don't tell the whole story to those enamored with these tiny
space travelers. Takara's 1999 "Magne Power" Microman line offered much of the compatibility and playability of the previous line, and Takara is currently offering a new whole new Microman line, full of complex detail and elaborate interchangeable accessories for the "serious" action figure hobby market. This year's Toy Fair 2005 revealed a surprisingly new evolution in the Micronaut concept, a unique take on classic Micronaut characters undertaken using the latest in modern action figure design standards by SOTA Toys! This proves once again for kids and collectors that Micronauts represents a combination of design and playability - and longevity - that few toy lines have ever matched!
|1999 Magne Microman|
|For more information about Micronauts, please visit these key Internet Micronaut and Microman websites:
"Innerspace Online", for detailed and exciting histories of every generation of Micronauts products:
"The Micropolis Embassy" (at Yahoo Groups): the web's longest running and most successful BBS for Micronauts and Microman information and community:
"Micro Forever": absolutely the best source of information on vintage and modern Microman toys in English - or any language:
For a look at SOTA Toys' Micronauts:Evolution, stop by their website at:
This Mego Central Article by:
Ray "AcroRay" Miller
Micronauts collector, historian, consultant
Special thanks to Collette Bachman for photographic assistance
|click HERE to check out the amazing Micronaut collection of Alexis Dyer, as featured on Mego Central!|
|Micropolis: TV Commercial #2|