Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sparky Robot (Yoshiya / 1957 / Japan / 7 inches)

Many Japanese tin robot were like canvases for some astonishingly creative lithography. Diminutive Sparky was by far one of the most ornate. Somehow, artists found a way to cram a ridiculous amount of detail in this great, six-and-a-half-inch robot.

The mechanical graphics are striking, like something Wally Wood might have concocted for Weird Science. But what really grabs my attention is the subtle shading on the lithoed "panels"; very few toys display this level of detail, and one of the few that does costs just about $10,000. Considering that Sparky costs a mere fraction of a fraction of that, you definitely get a lot of artistic bang for you buck. 

I particularly like Sparky's face, which looks like a mask. It has a dehumanizing effect on the toy, which I think might have been the exact opposite of what his designers were hoping to achieve. But the haunting, blank expression gives the toy a lot of impact.

While Sparky Robot looked like a million bucks, he relies on a basic, wind-up walking mechanism that causes his legs to move back and forth while sparks fire off behind red gels in his eyes. His antenna acts as an on/off switch -- a nice touch, actually. 

Sparky was available in a number of different color and litho variations: Blue with two types of graphics; silver with two types of graphics; two different khaki-greenish-goldish versions; and an unlithoed silver version. The plain silver toy is the most common; mine is rarer than the other lithographed silver version, and perhaps one of the khaki-greenish-goldish toys. But the rest are really rare, and often sell for a lot of money. I know it's a bit confusing, but if you quickly sketch yourself a little chart, it'll all make sense.

It's funny, I never liked Sparky. I was only familiar with the two more common versions of the toy, and for whatever reason, they didn't get the oil pumping through my tubes. But when mine appeared on eBay and I saw the incredible details, I just fell for it.

Coincidentally, on the day the auction ended, I was editing a very short documentary about toy robots for a grad school class. My partners suggested filming me as I put in my bid and (hopefully) won the toy. But no, I couldn't do it. I've a hard and fast rule in journalism that I never appear in my own stories as anything other than a reporter. Sadly, my friends never got the shot they wanted.

I, on the other hand, did get the toy. So it worked out just fine for me. 

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