Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ranger Robot (Daiya / 1965 / Japan / 10 inches)

And here it is, the mighty Ranger Robot.

I've already recounted -- in my typically breathless, overwrought fashion -- the story of how I won this toy at the recent Morphy Auction. So there's no need to go into it again. Instead, I'm going to wax rhapsodic on the toy's design, its functionality, and discuss why I completely love this robot.

In action, Ranger walks forward on shuffling legs while a multi-colored light rotates under the dome on its head. Every few steps he pauses, lets out the kind of screeching of noise that guaranteed parental rage, raises and lowers his arms, and blows smoke. Ranger's one of the few 'bots from the Fifties and Sixties to do so; the appropriately named Smoking Spaceman was another, and probably the most famous.

So many of these vintage robots were built on the designs of their predecessors, and you'll often see bits and pieces from one toy show up in others; sometimes they're used in the same manner, sometimes they're repurposed and turned into a different body part or technological wing-ding. Don't get me wrong, most of the time the toy engineers added enough new elements that the final product was something new and full of its own unique charm. But still, as a collector, it's hard not to notice some repetition here and there.

Check out the translucent, neon battery box!

That's not an issue with the Ranger Robot, though. It doesn't look like any of the toys that preceded it, and it never really inspired any of the toys that followed. First, of course, there's the crystal clear outer shell. Plastic became pretty common in the middle- to late Sixties, but for the most part, it was used as a cheap, easy-to-manufacture alternative to tin. In the case of Ranger Robot, though, it's a design decision, pure and simple. Some toy maker got it in his head that it'd be completely cool to make a robot with a see-through body.

Of course, that toy maker was correct. See-through bodies are freakin' awesome.

Many tin robots have gears lithographed on their bodies. However, the Ranger Robot's clear shell allows it to show off the actual gear box that drives the arms and legs; the bellows unit in the back of the head that pushes the smoke out from the robot's mouth; the rotating light that bounces colors around inside the head. Everything's on display.

The engine is on the bottom of the gear box. You can just make out the wires leading up to the light in the toy's head, as well as the smoke mechanism.

The wide, yellow piece inside the head pushes forward on the white, translucent bellows to make the toy blow smoke. The longer yellow peg with the circular tip is the on/off switch.

Since the transparent body doesn't allow for any litho (beyond some simple, internal tin panels colored yellow and red), designers instead took advantage of the material's ability to capture and disort light by sculpting scallops and ridges into the various plastic parts. Who needs ink when photons can create a shifting, ever-changing look?

The legs are connected to the motor by the red, tin struts that run inside the front and back of the leg assembly. This hollow construction allows light to shine through the sides of the legs.

One of the charms of vintage toy robots comes from how much humanity they convey with their expression-filled faces. But Ranger Robot has a minimalist quality to it; it looks kind of like a cheekily designed computer interface for a Sixties science fiction flick. There'd definitely a coldness to the robot that flies in the face of typical toy design. Which, of course, is one of the things I like so much about it.

Both the ears and eyes are made of a softer, rubber-like plastic.

Ranger Robot is definitely an uncommon toy, especially in this condition. The plastic is incredibly fragile, and more often than not, the toy is found with a fine web of cracks running up and down its body. It's so common, in fact, that most collectors accept at least a little bit -- if only until they can manage to find a nicer one (however long that may take). The ears are also susceptible to droop -- it has to do with the way the rubber-like plastic interacts with both the glue and the clear plastic of the head. In fact, I've never seen this toy without at least a little bit of droop to the ears, so don't freak out too much if all the ones you find have the same problem. Finally, in some cases, the clear plastic yellows over time. Obviously, with so many common ailments, I was pretty thrilled to find one in such great shape. Well worth the few extra bucks I paid fror it at auction!

In the end, Ranger Robot is almost as much a sculpture as it is a toy, an artistic expression of the future that happens to have immense play value, too!

1 comment:

  1. i read your article about the auction of this robot and i am very amazed about it.keep on this fascinating storytelling.
    i am very sad that we don´t have such a great vintage robot scene here


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