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[Clover diecast]

Clover: Ground Zero

text: Matt Alt, graphics: Robert Duban

December 2000

updated: 02.26.02

Image contributions: Roger Harkavy, Yutaka Ishida / Kaikodo, Ed Sanford / Robot-Japan, Erik Sjoen, Yappy, Alen Yen
Igarashi, Koji. Gunpla Generation. Kodansha, 1999. pp.34-39, 185-191.
Schodt, Frederik. Inside the Robot Kingdom. Kodansha, 1988. pp. 86-88.
Studio Hard Mix, eds. Super Robot Chronicles. Take Shobo, 1997. pp. 64 - 97.

The last days of disco ushered in a period of tumultuous change for the Japanese toy industry. In the early Seventies, a whole array of small firms had sprung up to service the growing, insatiable hunger for diecast toys of animated and live-action characters. By 1983, however, nearly every single one of these bit players — Takatoku, Takemi, Bullmark, Nakajima, and even the once-mighty Popy itself — had either folded or been absorbed into other companies. The culprit, fittingly enough, was a giant robot warrior known as "Mobile Suit Gundam." And Clover, the toy firm who had played a large part in unleashing the Gundam craze on an unsuspecting industry, would soon be living out the rest of their short corporate life in financial agony for their troubles.

Clover was founded in January 1973 by a former section chief of Tsukuda Hobby. Their first toys were vinyl figures based on characters from childrenís educational television shows. Clover wouldn't take on the role of full-fledged sponsor until the 1977 super robot series "Zanbot III," the first independent production by a fledgling animation studio called Nippon Sunrise.

[Zanbot 3]The designs for Zanbot III were unmistakably Japanese, featuring a title character that bore a striking resemblance to a suit of samurai armor. Perhaps because of the overall complexity of design, Clover relied on the expertise of a third party, Takara Industries, to help them pull off the complicated engineering required for their first endeavor into the world of diecast character toys. Takara Industries was a manufacturing concern affiliated with world-famous Takara Toys that occasionally "freelanced" their design skills and factory space to outside parties.

The show and toys (in particular, the groundbreakingly large "Zanbot Combination Box" deluxe set) were smash hits, and Clover went on to produce a whole host of series with a similar theme, including "Daitarn 3," "Daiojya," and "Tryder G-7". With a series of successes under their belt, it was only natural that Clover would sign on for the sponsorship of yet another show centered around a giant robot: a series tentatively entitled "Gunboy." The designs for Gunboy followed the general trend of Zanbot and Daitarn 3, featuring a giant combining robot with a distinct samurai flavor. Figuring they had another winner on their hands, Clover began designing toys based on these early pre-production drawings. But this time, animation director Yoshiyuki Tomino had grander plans in store for his animated creation. Rather than the standard fare created simply for the purpose of selling toys to young viewers, Tomino planned to push the limits of the genre with an epic "space opera" that focused on human drama and relegated the robots to a sideline role as simple vehicles.

[Gunboy] By the time the title of the series was finally changed to "Mobile Suit Gundam" late in production, the look of the mechanical characters had evolved quite a bit as well. However, for whatever reason -- probably because work on the molds had already commenced -- Clover elected to stick with their "Gunboy"-based toys. Although they couldn't possibly have known at the time, this would prove to be a major miscalculation. Gundam's (eventual) success centered around the loving realism with which its human and mechanical characters were portrayed, and Clover's clumsy-looking, chrome-plated designs just didn't match what viewers were seeing on-screen.

Another problem was becoming rapidly apparent as well. Although previous Sunrise giant-robot shows had been quite successful, Gundam's ratings were average at best. Desperate to revive their investment in the show, Clover began insisting on the insertion of various elements into the Gundam world, such as the combining G-Armor system, that would allow them to more effectively market their toys. Nevertheless, ratings continued to sag -- or so it seemed.

An interesting effect was at work in the Gundam fan-base, a brand-new trend that would influence the face of animation and character toy licensing for years to come. As sponsor, Clover measured the success or failure of a show based only in terms of how many toys they had sold. Unlike its predecessors Zanbot and Daitarn, however, Gundam's emphasis on plot over action was attracting a totally new type of animation viewer: older fans. In spite of the fact that Gundamís popularity continued to grow, it was growing in an audience comprised mainly of junior and senior high school students who didnít have much interest in Clover's blocky toys. Unable to justify any further expenditures as sponsor, Clover pulled the plug on the show after only 43 instead of the originally planned 52 episodes in mid-1979.

[Gundam movie]Big mistake. Gundam fans were just getting warmed up, and began a campaign to bring their favorite show back on the air. Eager to cash in on the enthusiasm, Nippon Sunrise re-cut the television series into three theatrical features, each of which became a smash hit in and of itself. And Clover quickly re-released portions of their Gundam toy series, sensing a chance to recoup some of their investment. In spite of the hoopla surrounding the films, however, Clover's sales remained mediocre. Although their flagship item, the feature-packed Deluxe Combination Set, sold well, the rest of Clover's clunky toys stagnated. On the surface, it seemed that Gundam fans weren't particularly interested in toys of their favorite characters.

And that's when the first Gundam plastic model kits hit the shelves.

Cheap to produce and manufacture, the plastic models from the Gundam series were a surprise hit. Produced in standardized scales that heightened the sense of realism of the robotic warriors, They first hit Japanese stores in early 1980. Shortages quickly created a feeding frenzy that sent several fans to the hospital, injured in riots to purchase the kits at Tokyo department stores. When it came to Gundam, fans demanded attention to detail, and the most realistic portrayals of the characters were only available as plastic models. Unfortunately for Clover, however, only Bandai had had the luck and foresight to acquire the exclusive license to produce them.

Bandaiís Gundam models, with their fresh new take on the portrayal of giant-robot characters, would revolutionize the Japanese character-toy industry. Try as they might to adapt, old-school toy companies found it difficult to make the grade anymore. Clover limped along for several years after the Gundam fiasco, but repeatedly failed to adapt their designs to the demands of the discriminating older toy consumer. For example, in comparison to other contemporary toys of the period, such as Takara's dark and military-themed "Dual Model" toys from the "Dougram" series, many of Clover's "Xabungle" pieces seemed to be childish throwbacks to the super robot era. [Dunbine]Release times also began to lag; the deluxe Xabungle Irongear toy didn't hit shelves until the television series had nearly ended, crippling potential sales. And compounding the situation were Clover's poor choices with regards to licenses. From a sponsorship standpoint, 1982's "Aura Battler Dunbine" suffered from much the same problems as Gundam had, and 1983's "Srungle" -- well, the less said about Srungle, the better.

Times were changing. Super robots were out; realistic "mecha" were in. Clover's sponsorship of Gundam had made the newly-emerging genre a reality, but their failure to adapt to the changing marketplace was tantamount to signing their own death warrant. Clover folded in late 1983, a relic of the bygone days of disco-tized,sparkly super robot creations.

aura battler dunbine
for more info, see the Dunbine article
Dunbine - 1/86 [box] [box back]
Dana-O'Shee - 1/86 [box]
Virunvee - 1/86 [box]
Drumlo - 1/86 [box]
Aura Battler 4 Set - 1/86 [box]
Dunbine Joint Model - 1/60 [toy] [box]
Dunbine - 1/58 [toy] [box] [box back]
Dana-O'Shee - 1/58 [toy] [box]
Dunbine & Dana-O'Shee box set - 1/58 [box]
Virunvee - 1/58 [toy] [box] [box back]
Drumlo - 1/58 [toy] [box] [box back]
Dunbine - 1/46 [toy] [box] [box back]
[dunbine logo]

Mini Diecast - 80mm series [box]
Daiojya M1 [toy] [box]
Daiojya SD [toy] [box]
Daiojya Basic Fundamental (ST) [toy] [box]
Cross Gattai Junior [toy]
Cross Eida Set [toy] [box]
DX Cross Eida Set [toy] [box]
Daiojya Ohsha (King) Gattai [toy] [box]
Ace-Redder (part 1 of DX) [toy] [box]
Aioda (part 2 of DX) [toy] [box]
Cobalter (part 3 of DX) [toy] [box] [box back]
DX Ohsha Gattai [toy] [box]
[daiojya logo]

daitarn 3
Mach Attacker [toy] [box]
Deluxe Mach Attacker [toy] [box]
Diecast Daitarn 3 (ST) [toy] [box]
Push Daitarn 3 - box version 1 [box]
Push Daitarn 3 - box version 2 [toy] [box]
Daitarn 3 Deluxe Set/Deluxe Daitarn 3 [toy] [box]
Daitarn Dendou Kyodai ("Electromotive Giant") Set [toy] [box]
[daitarn 3 logo]

Gundam Mini Diecast - 80mm Series [box]
Gundam Diecast Model - 80mm Series - set no.1 [toy] [box]
Gundam Diecast Model - 80mm Series - set no.2 [toy] [box]
Gundam Diecast Model - 80mm Series - 4 item set [box] [box back]
Gundam Diecast Model - 1/132 scale - box ver 1 [toy] [box]
Gundam Diecast Model - 1/132 scale - box ver 2 [toy] [box]
Gundam - Real Type 1/225 Scale Diecast Model
Dom - Real Type 1/225 Scale Diecast Model [toy] [box]
Zaku - Real Type 1/225 Scale Diecast Model
Diecast Gundam Variation [toy] [box]
Diecast Guncannon Variation [toy] [box] [box back]
Variation Combination 2 [box]
Diecast Guntank Variation
Variation Gattai 3 [toy] [box]
Combination Junior - green box version [toy]
Combination Junior - grey box version [toy] [box]
ABS Gundam [toy] [box]
Hokou Kidou Senshi Gundam (Walking Mobile Suit Gundam) [toy] [box]
Diecast Gundam [toy] [box] [box back]
Diecast Gundam - version 2 [toy] [box] [box back]
Diecast Gundam - version 3 [toy] [box]
Diecast Guntank [toy] [box] [box back]
Diecast Corefighter [toy] [box]
Diecast Space Carrier White Base [toy] [box]
Gundam Gattai Set - toy photo box [toy] [box]
Gundam Gattai Set - art box [toy] [box]
Gundam Super Combination DX Gattai Set - toy photo box [toy] [box]
Gundam Super Combination DX Gattai Set - art box [toy] [box]

for more info, see the Srungle article
Srungle 1/100 - System Mecha Collection No.1 [toy] [box] [box back]
Brit Jetter 1/100 - System Mecha Collection No.2 [toy] [box] [box back]
Srungle - Srung Change Model [toy] [box] [box back]
Srungle - DX Srung Change Model [toy] [box] [box back]
[srungle logo]

tryder g7
Tryder mini set [toy] [box]
Mini Diecast - 80mm series [box] [box back]
Tryder mini diecast [toy] [box]
Wind-Up Tricycle Tryder G-7 [toy] [box]
Henkei Shuttle [toy] [box]
Tryder G7 DX (ST) [toy] [box] [box back]
G7 Bird Attack - window box version [toy] [box]
G7 Bird Attack - solid box version [toy] [box]
Henkei Shuttle Gattai [box]
Henkei Gattai Set [toy] [box] [box back]
Kanzen 7 Henkei Gattai ("Completely Transforming 7 Combination") [toy] [box]
[tryder g7 logo]

Diecast Collection [box]
Irongear mini [box]
Irongear Set - Machine Henkei Gattai ("Machine Transforming Combination") [toy] [box]
Irongear Henkei Deluxe [toy] [box]
Walker Garrier SD (ST) [toy] [box] [box back]
Walker Garrier DX Henkei Gattai [toy] [box]
Xabungle mini [box]
Xabungle Pura-Robo [box] [box back]
Xabungle Basic Fundamental [toy] [box] [box back]
DX Machine Henkei Gattai Xabungle [toy] [box]
[xabungle logo]

zanbot 3
Diecast Zanbot 3 (ST) - toy photo box [toy] [box] [box back]
Diecast Zanbot 3 (ST) - art box [toy] [box]
Combination Program Junior [box]
Combination Program [toy] [box]
Combination 3 - Zanbo-Ace [toy] [box]
Combination 3 - Zan-Bull [box]
Combination 3 - Zan-Base [box]
Combination Program DX / Zanbot 3 Gattai Set - toy photo box [toy] [box]
Combination Program DX / Zanbot 3 Gattai Set - art box [toy] [box]
[zanbot 3 logo]

Mini Diecast Hero Set - 80mm series (Zanbot 3, Daiojya, Gundam) [box] [box back]

(Holy Warrior Dunbine)

2/5/83 - 1/21/84
Known as "Aura Battler Dunbine" in English, this fan-fave series was set in the other-dimensional land of Byston Well, a doppelganger of Earth populated by dragons, castles, kingdoms, and of course, gigantic robots. This SF-Fantasy cross-over was a huge hit among anime fans in Japan, but unfortunately, this older crowd wasn't all that interested in buying Clover's toys of the characters.
(Strongest Robo Daiojya)

1/31/81 - 1/31/82
This early-eighties series was a throwback to earlier "super robot"-style shows. Dioja itself, which is often romanized as "Dioger," "Dioja," and "Diogia," among many others, was a giant robot created through the combination of three smaller robots. The show's general plot is loosely based on the story of Mito Koumon, a famous figure from the Tokugawa Shogunate of feudal Japan.
(Invincible Man of Steel Daitarn 3)

6/3/78 - 3/31/79
Daitarn continued the colorful tradition laid out by the success of Zanbot 3, although it featured a super robot that transformed into three distinct modes ("Dai-fighter," "Dai-tank," and "Daitarn 3") rather than splitting into three vehicles. The show featured a spacy theme; the (human) main character and his family escaped from an alien concentration camp on Mars, hotwired Daitarn, and took off for Earth. Think of it as "Gone in Sixty Seconds" with robots instead of cars. Or maybe not.
(Mobile Suit Gundam)

4/7/79 - 1/26/80
One of the most influential Japanese animated works ever created, the Mobile Suit Gundam series has spawned dozens of sequels and is often described as Japan's answer to the "Star Wars" franchise. Creator Yoshiyuki Tomino has said that he was inspired by Robert Heinlein's novel "Starship Troopers." Although the mechanical characters set a new standard for detail and realism at the time, the show's roots in traditional hero-robot design can be seen Gundam's bright color scheme and samurai-esque "helmet."
(Outer Space Mission Srungle)

1/21/83 - 1/27/84
Conceived as a giant-robot version of the "Mission Impossible" series, Srungle featured mechanical designs so focused on realism that they resembled household appliances or construction equipment rather than giant robots. Featuring the tactical exploits of "The Gorilla," a guerilla (get it?) team for hire, Srungle featured a young Tom Cruise in his first leading role. Just kidding.
(Invincible Robo Tryder G-7)

2/2/80 - 1/31/81
Named for the seven gravity-defying transformations embodied in the title character. The fact that the pilot was supposed to be an elementary schooler was an interesting twist (or annoying, depending on your point of view). Although it aired in the wake of the Gundam phenomenon, Tryder G-7 was a "super" rather than "realistic" robot series.
[walker garrier] SENTOU MEKA XABUNGLE
(Battle Machine Xabungle)

2/6/82 - 1/29/83
Often described as "Gundam set in the Wild West," Xabungle features the exploits of cargo-carriers battling for business and profit on Planet Zora. Relying on giant robotic vehicles called "Walker Machines" for combat, the main cast lived on board a giant transforming "landship" called Iron Gear. Xabungle was unique in that it was the first anime show to feature two (rather than the standard one) protagonist robot characters -- halfway through the series, the Xabungle robot was joined by a newly-developed robotic homeboy called "Walker Machine Galliar."
(Invincible Superman Zanbot 3)

10/8/77 - 3/25/78
The first independent production of world-famous animation house Nippon Sunrise (later known simply as "Sunrise,") Zanbot 3 is considered to have been a sort of "dry-run" for the Gundam series. Featuring spectacularly colorful and unique mechanical designs (a smaller robot called "Zanbo Ace" combined with two vehicles to form the titanic "Zanbot 3"), the fresh look and feel of the series made it a smashing success.

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