Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chief Robot Man (Yoshiya / 1962 / Japan / 12.5 inches)

Now this is the robot of tomorrow... as envisioned by mid-century dreamers, of course. Stylish, mid-century futurism meets high-tech bells and whistles; he's the must-have appliance for any space-age bachelor pad. It's no surprise that Chief Robot Man is considered a classic tin toy, one of the hobby's high points in terms of not only design, but also action and play value. If someone wants to know why people love these old space toys, just show them ol' Chief and they'll get the picture.

The Devil's in the details, which I guess makes Chief Robot Man a rolling, beeping vision of hell. Check out the eyes, with their internal, concentric rings. How about that translucent green chest plate, with its grid pattern and ridges? And check out the chromed facial features and scanner rings! Clean lines and uncluttered surfaces -- it's practically a work of art. That you're allowed to play with.

And playing with it is fun! Chief Robot Man rolls around with "mystery action" (a.k.a. bump-n-go), a fundamental piece of vintage technology that caused the toy to spin around and travel in a different direction every time it bumped into something. But that's only the beginning. Every so often, Chief Robot Man stops and moves his head from side to side while making a clanking "space noise" and flashing the light on his head. Then, his mind apparently made up, he'll venture off along a new path. It all gives the appearance that the robot's much more advanced than it is; that there's more going on inside that tin body than brass gears and rods. Maybe a microchip or two? Heck, at least a nice, fat, glowing tube! Right? No? Regardless, it's an impressive toy!

Yoshiya produced three variations on the Chief Robot Man. The first two are simple color variations: Radical Robot, which has a light, metallic blue body; and Mystery Moon Man, which is a striking white with translucent red details. (I tend to think of the latter one as a medical robot -- paint a red cross on it's sides and he's ready to rescue wounded Martian miners.) The third variation is called Mighty Robot, and features a clear plastic head with translucent gears. The head can't swivel from side to side, but the gears all turn and the whole thing lights up. The robot's also got plastic arms, while Chief Robot Man, Radical Robot, and Mystery Moon Man all have tin arms. Of the four robots, Chief Robot Man is by far the most common, while Mighty Robot is the rarest. However, Radical and Mystery Moon Man are tough to find as well.

Chief Robot Man and his cousins are what's known in the hobby as skirted robots (for obvious reasons). This was a popular design among toy companies, probably because it not only looked appropriately futuristic, but the toy makers could cram a lot of gears and lights and motors into the hollow bodies of the larger toys. More mechanics equals more bells and whistles (sometimes literally) and that makes for a more popular toy. The toys were also a bit easier to manufacture, with fewer pieces of tin to stamp and simpler construction requirements.

Chief Robot Man was always a dream robot of mine, one I'd sigh over every time he popped up in an auction catalogue or a collectibles book. He used to be fairly expensive, but as more have cropped up the price has dropped considerably. I remember congratulating a friend who bought one for what seemed like an excellent price. Two months later, I paid about 25% less. Today, only a few years after I picked up mine, they sometimes go for as little as 25% less than that! 

Some collectors would be bothered by this, but not me. I've never been into it for the investment. Sure, I like getting a deal on a toy as much as the next guy, and when I do happen to sell off a piece (it rarely happens), I'm thrilled when I get more for it than I spent. But in the end, I collect toys because I love them. Finding them makes me happy, getting them makes me happy, putting them up on my shelf makes me happy, and yes, taking them down to run them for a bit makes me happy. None of that will change even if they're only worth money for the tin they're made of.

Chief Robot Man is such a perfect example of everything great about this hobby, I'm still as happy to have him as I was the day he arrived.


  1. I'm envious of your vintage collection. Most of my robots are reproductions. I have the recent repro of Chief Robot Man - one of the better efforts actually - and I really like him.

  2. The new Chief Robot Man is one of the best reproductions I've seen in a while. And priced surprisingly fair.

    At some point, I'll have to do a post on the various reproductions that have come out over the years. They're a great way to enjoy these toys without breaking the bank. While some of them are less accurate than others, they're all really fun to own.


Doc Atomic wants to hear from you!