Monday, June 22, 2009

Gear Robot (Horikawa / Early 1960s / Japan / 8 inches)

With his jaunty, red cap, the Gear Robot wins the prize for best-dressed robot in my collection. Admittedly, it's not much of a contest -- robots, as a rule, go through life naked. Or maybe with a coat of paint, which, let's be honest, doesn't leave a hell of a lot to the imagination. Toy porn, indeed.

With its boxy shape and industrial grey finish, the Gear Robot is a classic example of a mid-century robot. His techno-tastic chest panel and brightly colored gears give him a playful pop, and the round, red eyes lend him some pleasing personality. Wind him up, and he walks forward while his gears spin and sparks shoot from his chest and burst against the clear front panel. This is a toy any kid (and, ahem, certain adults) would be proud to own.

The Gear Robot is an early release by perhaps the longest-running toy company, Horikawa. For something like 50 years, their robots have appeared in many shapes, sizes, and materials, with all sorts of different actions. Most collectors have at least a few of the toys, and because there are so many different ones, many people actually create mini Horikawa collections within their main collections.

I'm particularly fond of what are known as the "small scale" Horikawas, like the Gear Robot. These toys generally top out at about nine and a half inches tall, though they maintain the dizzying variety of features found throughout the Horikawa line. Some are extremely rare, but most are common and inexpensive enough that they provide an easy entry into the hobby for new collectors. 

I'll be honest, it was a while before I began to appreciate Horikawa robots. Many of them, especially the later toys (which featured a larger proportion of plastic parts), left me kind of cold. See, a big reason I love vintage toy robots is that they provide a window into an era I never got to experience. But I grew up with some of the Horikawas, and that familiarity made them boring. 

Now, ask any collector who's been around for a while, and they'll talk to you about how their tastes have changed and developed over time. Toys they loved in the beginning sometimes lose their allure; toys they hated eventually become obsessions. In my case, I never lost interest in the toys that initially attracted me to the hobby, but I began to pay more attention to some of the toys I'd previously ignored -- particularly the Horikawas. Their lines, their actions, the little details that made them unique.  

The Gear Robot was the first one I added to my collection. It's as old-school as you're likely to find and easy for me to wrap my head around. Frankly, it was only my strange resistance to Horikawas in general that kept me from noticing it in the first place. Since then, the Gear Robot has become one of my favorites.

Which just goes to show that every robot deserves a second chance. Even if they've just gotten out of prison.

Wait, what?


  1. One has to wonder if the shapes of current Japanese robots are influenced memories of their childhood robot toys. Sure, there are only so many ways to mimic the human form, but it can't be an accident that something like Honda's Asimo looks as if Mr. Gear isn't that far up his family tree.

  2. I'm sure there's a connection, just like the JPL and NASA scientists and engineers in the 1960s and 1970s were -- to a certain extent -- influenced by a lot of the science fiction imagery in the 1940s and 1950s. It's hard to escape the stuff we grew up with...


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