Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mechanical Moon Robot (Yonezawa / Early 1960s / Japan / 9 inches)

Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot was quickly adopted by toy makers, and subsequently released in a dizzying array of copyright-dodging redesigns. The Mechanical Moon Robot is one of my all time favorites.

Mechanical Moon Robot is better known to many collectors as Ribbon Robby, thanks to the three twists of metal inside his dome. Wind the key, throw the switch on his chest, and then watch as he walks forward while sparks light up his two head gels, and the metal ribbons change color as they rotate. It's a simple, subdued effect -- especially compared to the bells and whistles of his battery powered cousins -- but that's what what I love. The robot's kind of primitive, charmingly whimsical, and altogether fun.

The ribbons come in a couple color variations; the most common of them replaces the red -- I think -- with green. Something like that. None of these is more common than any other, and I can't imagine most collectors care too much about which they own. That said, I'm glad I've got the ribbons in red, yellow, and blue. Classic colors in the vintage toy world!

Yonezawa made some interesting decisions when designing the Ribbon Robby. First, there's that bright pink dome. Many examples of the toy appear to have clear domes; in reality, the color faded over time, and when looked at from the proper angle, you can usually pick up a slight tint. Interesting detail: Two screws lock the dome into place, one in the back and one on its right side. Why only the right side? I've got no idea.

Next, Yonezawa chose to paint the toy a strange, blueish-greenish-blackish color that changes ever so slightly depending on the quality and color temperature of the light. It's really quite lovely, especially when combined with the toy's light hammer-tone finish. Yonezawa apparently used slightly different batches of paint when doing the various runs of this toy. The color doesn't change, but one batch cures oddly over time, leading to a covering of fine lines known as "spidering." It doesn't really detract from the toy -- in fact, it adds a little character to what would have otherwise been a simple paint scheme -- and rarely effects the price. It's just the way some of the toys are. The other batches are more like mine, and have a slightly different paint composition that for whatever reason remains shiny and relatively smooth. There's a bit of spidering, but nothing like what you find on some of the Ribbons. Frankly, I think they both look nice, and I suppose it'd be valid for a hardcore collector to own one of each. I'm not that hardcore a collector, though, so I'll remain satisfied with my one, mint robot.

Finally, Yonezawa made the interesting decision to use a hard, blue rubber to form the toy's hands and "ears." It looks great, but time isn't always too nice to these rubber parts. Cracking and splitting is common, and even under the best of circumstances, the rubber hardens. Reproductions are available, though they never feel or look quite right.

The Ribbon Robby is definitely an uncommon toy, and downright rare in this condition, and I've wanted one since first entering the hobby. Soon after I'd joined Alphadrome, the online forum for robot and space toy collectors, Steve Jaspen invited me to his house to see his collection. He didn't know me from a hole in the wall, but we lived near each other and Steve's always been the type of guy to reach out to new collectors. I was just thrilled to have a chance to see some robots I'd only read about up until that point.

Steve's collection was -- and still is -- pretty darn amazing, with some toys that are so rare, even if you had a fortune in your wallet you still probably wouldn't be able to get your hands on them. But the piece that really jumped out at me was a strange looking Robby, a fairly simple robot with odd little ribbons behind a pink dome.

"Oh, you like that one?" asked Steve.

I sputtered some sort of affirmative. Maybe I drooled.

"You should see it in action," he replied. He wound it up, placed it on a table, and within seconds I was hooked. I knew that one day I'd get to own one.

Well, that day took longer than I thought it would, I'll admit. I almost snagged a Ribbon Robby at the Morphy auction last November, but instead I decided to bid on a rare Cragstan Ranger Robot. I didn't regret my decision -- the Ranger Robot was so clean that I knew I'd never find another as nice. But still, there was a little Robby-shaped hole in my heart that I really wanted to fill...

Finally, a few days ago, I made contact with a long-time dealer/collector named Jay Brotter at Robot Island. (I've known Jay for a few years.) It turns out he had this 'bot for sale, and at a price I couldn't possibly pass up. I immediately decided to buy it, and two days later -- a record for the Post Office, I'm sure -- it was sitting on my shelf. Given the condition, I'd say it was definitely worth the wait.

It's always nice when a toy that had taken up residence on my Want List finally ends up in my collection. There's a feeling of satisfaction that I don't always get when I pick up robots that I only just learn about. Of all the robots on my Want List, this one was sitting right up at the top. It makes getting it that much sweeter.


  1. I read your blog the other morning, bleary-eyed, about 3:30 a.m., and meant to post a comment, but I guess coffee called my name and I got distracted lol...

    This is a very cool robot. "Ribbon Head", a perfect description! The clear dome and the twisting twists... Great combo.

  2. Hi Doc!
    I was watching your collection on this blog with greatest sympathy - but now I'm becoming jealous ;-)
    It's my all-time- favorite too! Congrats!


Doc Atomic wants to hear from you!