Microman

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Microman
Microman Catalog 1976 Cover.jpg
A scan of the cover of a Microman catalog from 1976.
Type Action figure
Inventor Takara
Company Takara/Takara Tomy
Country  Japan
Availability 1974–2007
Materials Plastic/Die-cast

Microman (ミクロマン Mikuroman?) was a science fiction toy line created, manufactured and marketed by Takara Co., Ltd. from 1974 to 1984 as well as from 1998 to 2007. At the core of the Microman line was a series of 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) action figures with accompanying vehicles, robots, playsets and accessories. Unlike other toylines at the time, Microman figures were marketed as being the “actual” size of the cyborg beings that were replicas of real “Micro” beings that hailed from the fictional planet known as “Micro Earth” and disguised themselves as action figures to hide on planet Earth.[1][2][3][4]

Description[edit]

A photo of a vintage Microman M101 (George) 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) action figure with capsule in the background.
A photo of a vintage Microman M101 (George) 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) action figure with capsule in the background.

The core of the Microman line consisted of 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) action figures which were known for their high number of articulation points relative to other toys of similar size/scale in the 1970s. The toy line also included vehicles, robots, playsets and accessories. Many of the Microman toys used interchangeable 5-millimetre (0.20 in) connectors and ports that allowed parts to be transferred and connected between different toys.[5][6][7][8][9]

The Microman toy line was licensed and released in the United States by Mego Corporation as the Micronauts from 1976–1980.[1][10][11][12]

Some of the transforming Microman toys and vehicles from the Micro Change series created within the 1980s New Microman toy line were licensed by Hasbro—along with other similar transforming toys from Takara’s Diaclone toy line—in the 1980s to be a part of Hasbro’s Transformers toy line in the United States.[13][14][15]

Microman toy line history in Japan[edit]

Classic Microman (1974-1980)[edit]

Takara first released Microman toys in Japan in 1974 as a smaller version their popular 8-inch-tall (20 cm) & 12-inch-tall (30 cm) 1972 Henshin Cyborg (Transforming Cyborg) line. Henshin Cyborg figures were based on 8-inch-tall (20 cm) & 12-inch-tall (30 cm) Combat Joe figures—which themselves were based on Hasbro’s G.I. Joe figures—with their bodies molded in clear plastic, exposing their inner workings and supposed cybernetic parts.[1][2][16][17]

By downscaling their size, Takara sought to create the Microman line to offset the sheer cost of producing a full line of plastic-based 8-inch-tall (20 cm) & 12-inch-tall (30 cm) figures and related playsets as well as acknowledging that basic living space is limited—and considered a premium—to most Japanese households. Smaller Microman figures would not only cost less to produce during the energy crisis of the 1970s, the line’s smaller scale would also take up less physical space in a household and thus be more attractive to space conscious consumers in the Japanese market.[3][4]

Microman Zone (1974)[edit]

The cover of a Microman Zone catalog from 1975.
The cover of a Microman Zone catalog from 1975.

The first 1974 series of toys was called Microman Zone and included four figures—notable for their unique barefoot design when compared to later releases—and several vehicles such as the MIC-1 Space Buggy, MIC-2 Bulk Lifter, MIC-3 Sky Roader and the M115 Conning Tower Base. Additional vehicles were sold as “Micro-Kit Machine Series” sets which required assembly prior to use.[18][19]

Project Victory (1975)[edit]

Following the success of the first 1974 Microman Zone series, Takara completely revamped and expanded the Microman concept to be a stand-alone line on its own and not merely smaller scale version of their Henshin Cyborg line. The formerly barefoot original Microman figures now were given sturdier “cybernetic feet” and all figures now contained standard 5-millimetre (0.20 in) ports which allowed for interchangeability between sets and figures. Takara also introduced a new line of die-cast figures dubbed Super Steel Microman and even introduced a new line of “enemy” figures dubbed the Acroyears. Additionally, all figures were now identified by a new alphanumeric figure-type designation system—such as M10X, M11X, M12X, M20X, M21X, M22X, etc.…—across the whole line as well being given formal, character names such as George (M101), Jack (M102), Jesse (M103) and John (M104).[20][21]

Spy Magician (1976)[edit]

In addition to new vehicles and figures—such as Spy Magician (M13X & M14X)—Takara introduced a new class of figure dubbed the Titans which employed a magnetic ball/joint system that allowed for a new level of interchangeability between toys. Japanese pop-culture character tie-in toys were also released—such as Microman Jeeg, Robotman Gakeen and Robotman Mechadon—which helped expand Takara’s line beyond its own in-house characters and opened the door to greater licensing opportunities for their designs.[22][23]

Microman Command (1977)[edit]

The cover of a Microman Command catalog from 1977.
The cover of a Microman Command catalog from 1977.

1977 was arguably the most successful year for the original Microman line with manga being published in TV Magazine; a children’s oriented magazine published by Kodansha Ltd. It also saw the introduction of the Microman Command line of figures which each came in its own unique capsule case—shaped like Easter Island figures, the Statue of Liberty, etc.…—and even included the first female figure in the line: Lady Command (M18X).[24][25]

Police Keeper (1978)[edit]

With the release of Star Wars in 1977, the market for science fiction merchandise became increasingly filled with competing science fiction related products. New figures such as the Police Keeper (M23X), Micro Knight MC-X and Cosmo Satan Arden (A35X) built on the success of prior Microman action figure releases. But Takara’s attempts to expand Microman line concept with the Micro Hoodman (H70X) and construction/building playset Play Build line of toys with the large-sized Build Base playset were not that well received. Lack of a positive response to the new line was strong enough that previously announced toys in the line—such as the remote control Hoodman spaceship Hoodman's RCB Noah—were cancelled.[26][27]

Rescue Command (1979)[edit]

The cover of a Microman Rescue catalog from 1979.
The cover of a Microman Rescue catalog from 1979.

With the line in a slump, Takara attempted to revive the line with the new Rescue Command series of toys and action figures. At the core of the Rescue Command was the new Rescue Secret Base and a new background story on the Rescue Command that explained the whole “rescue” theme of the whole line.[28][29]

Punch & Blizzard Man (1980)[edit]

1980 was the last year for the original Microman line and showed Takara moving away from the trend of releasing 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) figures and instead focusing on larger sized toys, robots and sets that all contained some sort of “gimmick” to them. Gimmicks included the Microman Punch (P.0X) figure whose arm could be wound up to “punch” and Microman Blizzard (B-X) series of figures that contained a battery powered fan.[30][31]

Microman 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) Action Figures (1974-1980)[edit]

Below is a basic overview list documenting classic Microman 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) action figure releases from 1974 to 1980. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all classic Microman releases/variants but rather a high-level overview of Takara’s 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) Microman line offerings.[32][33][34][35][36][37][38]

New Microman (1981-1984)[edit]

The cover of a New Microman catalog from 1982.
The cover of a New Microman catalog from 1982.

In an attempt to “reboot” the toy line—and attract newer, younger consumers—Takara created the New Microman series which essentially “erased” the backstory/history of all of the toy lines that preceded it. While new figures would be released that superficially looked similar to the older, classic Microman figures their backstory/history was completely different. Additionally the focus of the line switched from the action figures themselves, to the toys and related “robots” themselves.[6][39][40]

New Microman (1981)[edit]

While a line of new Microman 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) figures were released for the 1980 New Microman line, their backstory/history was completely different from the figures that preceded them in the classic Microman line. Instead of each figure type containing 3 to 4 different color variants, there were now simply only 10 Microman figures that all came in similarly molded capsules. And variations in color on any particular figure type was simply an arbitrary choice without any naming or character backstory changes. A greater focus was now on the “toys” such as the Micro Robot series of toys as well as larger robot-oriented playsets.[41][42]

Micro Robot (1982)[edit]

Takara’s focus of the 1982 line was on the new Micro Borg and Micro Robot toys as evidenced by the fact that absolutely no new 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) figures being released for individual sale that year. While—for example—the Micro Robot W Box Set came with a New Microman M004 Eiji (Blue) figured, these figures were only available as bonuses in a box set and not on their own as individual figures.[43][44]

Micro Change (1983)[edit]

The cover of a Micro Change catalog from 1984.
The cover of a Micro Change catalog from 1984.

In 1983, Takara introduced a new kind of Microman toy line called Micro Change. The Micro Change toys were seemingly ordinary items—such as cassette tapes, a microscope, watches and even guns—that could transform themselves and “change” into other forms to help Microman in their fight against the Acroyears. While the focus of the line had clearly shifted away from the original Microman figures, Takara did release one last figure dubbed, Salam (M011).[45][46]

Micro Change to Transformers (1984)[edit]

A scan of a promotional sheet of stickers from Takara’s 1984 Micro Change line of toys.
A scan of a promotional sheet of stickers from Takara’s 1984 Micro Change line of toys.

1984 saw more releases in the Micro Change line of toys but also saw the end of the Microman action figure line itself with no new figures—not even bonus “gift set” pack-ins—released that year. And after seeing the success Hasbro had combining Takara’s Diaclone and Micro Change line into the Transformers in the U.S. market, Takara decided to end both the Diaclone and Micro Change toy lines and instead focus their efforts on releasing their own Japanese versions of the Transformers.[13][14][15][47]

New Microman 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) Action Figures (1981-1984)[edit]

Below is a basic overview list documenting New Microman 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) action figure releases from 1981 to 1984. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all New Microman action figure releases/variants but rather a high-level overview of Takara’s 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) New Microman line offerings.[6][40]

Microman 21 Series (1996-1997)[edit]

From 1996 to 1997—about 12 years after the New Microman line ended in 1984—a small Japanese hobby toy company named Romando acquired a provisional license from Takara to reissue vintage Microman figures. This series was known as the Microman 21 series since the release of these reissues coincided with the 21st anniversary of the original Microman series. Action figures reissued as a part of the Microman 21 series were figures in the Microman Command (M15x), Microman Command (M16x), Microman Rescue (M25x), Micro Knight MC-X, Spy Magician (M13X) lines of figures.[48]

Micro Millennium Series (1998-2003)[edit]

In 1999 Takara—for the first time since 1984—produced whole new line of Microman toys as well as officially reissued classic Microman figures. The new Microman series was divided into two distinct lines: the Magne Powers and LED Powers series and the Replica Microman series based on the success of Romando’s previous reissues under their brand name.[49][50]

Replica Microman (1998-2003)[edit]

A scan of the front of a Microman Rescue M271/M272 e-Hobby re-issue box from 2002.
A scan of the front of a Microman Rescue M271/M272 e-Hobby re-issue box from 2002.

The Replica Microman series was mainly aimed at adult collectors and older fans of the original toy line. This series launched in 1998 with the Microman Founder (M10X) series which reissued the Microman (M10X) figures. That release was soon followed by the reissue of many other classic Microman figures such as Acroyear (A30X), Spy Magician (M14X), Lady Command (M18X) and others. In addition to reissuing versions that adhered to the original, vintage Microman color combinations, Takara also released several limited edition, newly created color variants—and even gave them new Microman character names and designations—to add to the canon of the old series.[51]

As the series progressed in the 2000s Takara continued to release more Replica Microman reissues as well as even more limited edition and exclusive color variants. While increasing variety of available product, this resulted in the Microman market becoming saturated with so many unsold, variants that by 2001 Takara decided to significantly scale back the release of the Replica Microman. By 2003 the Replica Microman series continued to put out releases but only on a very limited basis and mainly through Takara’s e-Hobby Shop.[52][53][54]

Magne Powers & LED Powers (1998-2000)[edit]

A photo of a Magne Power Microman 001 (Arthur) action figure.
A photo of a Magne Power Microman 001 (Arthur) action figure.

On December 26, 1998 Takara officially launched he Magne Powers series which was followed in 2000 by the companion LED Powers series. The Magne Powers series and LED Powers series were designed for children with brand new toy designs and a new story line which included—for the first time in Microman history—a Microman anime series. In addition to the anime, Takara also commissioned manga serial for Comic BomBom magazine.[55][56][57]

These new toy lines achieved only a mild success with children and even less with adult collectors who felt the new series was far too different from the old, vintage Microman line—especially with the new 8-centimetre-tall (3.1 in) sizing and limited articulation—to fit in with their vintage pieces. By 2000, Takara—which was dealing with financial issues—reduced their new LED Powers series to just a few dozen of toys and canceled the Microman anime series as well as the manga in Comic BomBom magazine. Soon afterwards Takara would put all of their new Microman properties on an indefinite hiatus.[58]

Microman Force Series (2003-2007)[edit]

In 2003 Takara decided to test Microman market again with a brand new—but relatively small in number and scope—series of action figures called Microman 2003 which was aimed more towards the collectors and older fans.[59][60]

In the late 2000s, Takara expanded the overall Microman brand and Microman 2003 line to include various licensed brands, including Batman (both comic-based and from Batman Begins), Superman (both comic-based and from Superman Returns), Evangelion, Street Fighter, Godzilla, Alien vs Predator and Kinnikuman. A Spider-Man toy was announced at one point and a photograph of a prototype does exist. However, the figure was never produced; its product number eventually went to one of the Predator figures.[61][62][63]

Microman toy line influence outside of Japan[edit]

Micronauts (1976-1980)[edit]

Further information: Micronauts
A scan of the 1977 cover of an official Mego Micronauts catalog.
A scan of the 1977 cover of an official Mego Micronauts catalog.

In the 1970s Mego in the U.S. acquired the license for some of Takara’s Microman 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) toys—designs, articulation and modeling—and released them in the United States as the Micronauts. Mego manufactured and marketed Micronaut toys from 1976 to 1980 but discontinued the Micronauts line in 1980 prior to the company’s bankruptcy and dissolution in 1982. But years after Mego’s demise other toy companies—such as Palisades Toys and SOTA (State of the Art) Toys—have attempted to revive the toy line over the years.[64][65]

Transformers (1984-present)[edit]

Further information: Transformers

In 1981 Takara produced a new Microman line appropriately called New Microman. A few years later—in 1983—Takara launched a new Microman series within the New Microman line dubbed Micro Change. The line featured toys that were seemingly ordinary items—such as cassette tapes, microscopes, watches and even guns—that could transform themselves and “change” into other forms to help Microman in their fight against the Acroyears.[42]

In 1984 Hasbro acquired the license for the transforming object toys from Takara’s Micro Change toy line as well as similar transforming Takara toys in the Diaclone toy line and the two were combined by Hasbro to create the Transformers toyline.[13][14][47]

Below is a table showing which Transformers were based on which Micro Change toys and their variants:

Transformers to Microman/Micro Change Connections
Transformers (Hasbro) Microman/Micro Change (Takara)
Name Affiliation ID Name Variant Release Date
Frenzy Decepticon MC-01 Micross Blue 1983
Frenzy Decepticon MC-01 Micross Red 1983
Ravage Decepticon MC-02 Jaguar 1983
Laserbeak Decepticon MC-03 Condor 1983
Cliffjumper Autobot MC-04 Mini Car Robo 01 Porsche Turbo 924 1983
Bumper Autobot MC-04 Mini Car Robo 02 Familia 1500 XG 1983
Bumblebee Autobot MC-04 Mini Car Robo 03 Volkswagen Beetle 1983
Gears Autobot MC-04 Mini Car Robo 04 4WD 1983
Brawn Autobot MC-04 Mini Car Robo 05 Jeep 1983
Windcharger Autobot MC-04 Mini Car Robo 06 Transam 1983
Huffer Autobot MC-04 Mini Car Robo 07 Truck 1983
Reflector Decepticon MC-05 Camera Robo Microx 1983
Soundwave Decepticon MC-10 Cassette Man 1983
Megatron Decepticon MC-13 Gun Robo Walther P-38 U.N.C.L.E. 1983
Eggbot (Beast Wars) Decepticon (Predacon) MC-14 Metal Man 1984
Dark Eggbot (Beast Wars) Decepticon (Predacon) MC-14 Metal Man 1984
Binocular Transformer Decepticon MC-19 Binocular Robo Scope Man 1984
Perceptor Autobot MC-20 Microscope Robo Micro Scope 1984
Blaster Autobot MC-21 Radi-Cassette Robo 1984

Microman related anime & manga[edit]

Microman Kodansha TV Magazine Manga (1978-79)[edit]

The cover of a Kodansha Ltd. TV Magazine Microman manga compilation from 1978.
The cover of a Kodansha Ltd. TV Magazine Microman manga compilation from 1978.

In 1977 TV Magazine—a children’s oriented magazine published by Kodansha Ltd.—began publishing an official, Takara approved serialized Microman manga drawn by well-known manga artist Yoshihiro Moritou. This serialized manga was compiled into six volumes released from 1978 to 1979. Additionally, a set of 30 Menko cards featuring Moritou’s manga versions of Microman characters and vehicles was released during that period as well.[66][67][68]

Microman Secret File Volume 1 Catalog and Manga (1984)[edit]

The cover of the Microman Secret File Volume 1 catalog/manga from 1984.
The cover of the Microman Secret File Volume 1 catalog/manga from 1984.

By 1984 Takara was continuing the trend of focusing their New Microman line away from the core 3.75-inch-tall (9.5 cm) Microman action figures to robots and other items. Specifically, their new focus was on their line of transformable items in the Micro Change line. Technically Microman Secret File Volume 1 was not a traditional, stand-alone manga one could purchase on their own; it was a combination catalog and manga that was packaged with a few of the new toys in the 1984 Micro Change toy line such as MC-19: Binocular Robo Scope Man. Its purpose was to establish the new direction of the Microman toy line and place the new Micro Change line in proper context within the larger Microman universe. The manga portion of the Microman Secret File Volume 1 contained artwork by Yoshihiro Moritou; the manga artist who created the original Kodansha TV Magazine manga in the 1970s.[69][70][71][72]

That said, Hasbro’s new Transformers toy line—and related storyline—would soon supersede many of the concepts and ideas presented in Microman Secret File Volume 1. So this catalog and manga combination serves as unique glimpse into what direction the Microman line might have gone had Hasbro and the Transformers concept not come along.[69]

Microman: The Small Giant Comic BomBom Manga (1998-1999)[edit]

From October 1998 to December 1999 Comic BomBom serialized a new manga based on Takara’s new 1998 Magne Powers & LED Powers Microman toy lines drawn by manga artist Hisashi Matsumoto. This manga was subsequently compiled into stand-alone volumes and released by Kodansha Ltd. The plot focused on a school boy who receives an unexpected package that contains five small action-figures inside that—surprisingly—begin to move on their own and start to talk to him. They introduce themselves as Microman hailing from the planet “Micro Earth” and were sent to Earth to help save the planet.[73][74]

Microman: The Small Giant Studio Pierrot Anime (1999)[edit]

The 1999 anime adaption by Studio Pierrot is based on the toys and the manga created by Hisashi Matsumoto and serialized in Comic BomBom. The series ran from January 4, 1999 to December 17, 1999 on TV Tokyo and was subsequently released on VHS and DVD by Pioneer LDC. A companion theatrical movie based on the Studio Pierrot TV anime series was released in 1999 as well.[75][76][77][78]

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External links[edit]