.css" /> ToyboxDX: Datafiles: Matsushiro
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[Matsushiro]

MATSUSHRIO

text: Matt Alt & Robert Duban, Design & research: Robert Duban

August 2010

Updated: 07.31.11


Image contributions: Greg Lane, Seibertron.com, ToyArchive.com


Unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool toy nerd, chances are you've never heard of Matsushiro. Although they sold a handful of toys under their own brand name, they are celebrated today not for their own products but rather for those they manufactured for others. It was none other than Matsushiro that designed and manufactured that superstar of the 1980s, the iconic "perfectly transforming" Macross Valkyrie sold by Takatoku -- one of the single best-known Japanese character toys in existence.

[1982 catalog cover] [1982 catalog 1] [1982 catalog 2] [1983 catalog cover] [1983 catalog 1] [1983 catalog 2]

Unlike many of the lesser-known companies profiled in the data-files, Matsushiro wasn't a has-been or wanna-be. They were a design company first and foremost. "Matsushiro's design department was filled with talented individuals," explained former Takatoku executive Takeo Mitsui in a 2009 interview posted on Bandai's Tamashii web site.(1) "Their ability to draw up blueprints and diagrams was amazing." Taking a wooden model commissioned by anime designer Shoji Kawamori, Matsushiro drafted a Valkyrie design capable of being produced in mass quantities. And by "mass" we mean it -- Takatoku sold some 1.27 million of the 1/55 scale Valkyries in just a few short years.

[Matsushiro Toy Company logo] Perhaps surprisingly for a company that possessed the know-how to manufacture such complex playthings, Matsushiro released only a handful of toys under its own brand name, mainly air-guns of the sort your mother warned you that you'd put an eye out with. Matsushiro and Takatoku seem to have "run in the same set," as it were, connected from their earliest years; several of Takatoku's first character-toy offerings from 1972 and 1973 were co-branded with Matsushiro's name. Even after Takatoku's success far eclipsed that of their trusty old partner, they never abandoned the little design company that had helped them get their start. Well into the 1980s, Takatoku allowed Matsushiro to quietly run toy guns and cars through its industry sales catalogs, which presumably reached a far broader audience than Matsushiro would have been capable of reaching alone.

[early Matsushiro logo] When Takatoku experienced its epic, Shakespearean-tragedy-esque, Christopher-Walken-in-"King of New York," Al-Pachino-at-the-end- of-"Scarface" style downfall and bankruptcy in May of 1984, its old buddy Matsushiro was there to pick up the pieces.(2) The details of what transpired behind the scenes aren't known, but it's a fact that Matsushiro continued manufacturing both 1/55 Valkries and SDF-1 toys well after its partner-benefactor's untimely demise. In fact, they would at first blush seem to have benefited greatly, as Takatoku's bankruptcy coincided with a swell of interest in transforming toys abroad -- an interest Matsushiro seems to have been more than happy to satisfy.

[patent 287,037 detail] Intriguingly, Matsushiro filed patent applications for the design of the 1/55 Valkyrie and 1/55 Mugen Calibur toys with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office a month before Takatoku's bankruptcy in 1984. It's likely that the move was driven by the fact that American toy company Hasbro incorporated both designs into their wildly popular "Transformers" series of toys. In fact, these early versions of Hasbro's "Jetfire" toy are marked Matsushiro rather than Takatoku or Bandai.

Matsushiro Jetfires can also be identified by several other key features, such as the "UN Spacy" symbol on the wings, as well as small elements like the paint on the cockpit and details on the head-mounted guns that differ from later models. There are also versions of the Matsushiro Jetfires themselves; one version has the UN Spacy logo painted on the wings, and in another the logo is a sticker.

While Hasbro sold the popular “Jetfire” toy, Matchbox incorporated a version of the 1/3000 SDF-1 toy into its "Robotech" series, stripped of missile launchers to meet American safety standards. Whatever the details of the contracts between Matsushiro and these companies, if any even existed, there's no doubt that Matsushiro continued profiting directly off of the designs as well.

[Starforce Series logo] They sold generically-branded 1/55 Valkyrie, 1/100 Valkyrie, and 1/55 "Batrain" toys under the "Starforce" brand in the United Kingdom -- basically, Takatoku toys in new packaging. It is also highly likely that they were behind a suspiciously well made, totally un-branded release of the Matchbox SDF-1 toy sold under the name "Space Battleship," but there is no way to be sure as the usual manufacturer's markings were removed from the feet. Whatever the case, these "gray-market" toys filled the growing hunger for transforming toys abroad in the months between Takatoku's demise and Bandai's acquisition of their assets.

Alas, "the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long," and Matsushiro was burning so very brightly at this point. In spite of the wheeling and dealing with foreign manufacturers, the company slid into financial hardship and took a backseat role once again; by October of 1984, Matsushiro-manufactured and Bandai-branded versions of the Valkyrie toys were hitting shelves in Japan. Unfortunately, Matsushiro found itself struggling even in this behind-the-scenes role. Declaring bankruptcy, their assets were acquired by Bandai, where they remain today... presumably in a massive warehouse of wooden storage crates, being studied by "top men."

1. “Searching for the Origin of the Valkyrie: An Interview With Takeo Mitsui, Former Takatoku Designer.” Tamashii Web. Bandai.
2. Igarashi, Koji. “Macross Products: The Talented Men Who Made Valkyries.” Figure Oh 134.

EARLY MATSUSHIRO - CO-BRANDED WITH TAKATOKU - VARIOUS (1972)
BAROM 1 FRICTION MACH ROD
[toy]
[box] [box back] [toy] [toy] [toy]
BAROM 1 BAN BAN GUN SET
[box] [box back]
KIKAIDER SIDE MACHINE
[toy]
[box] [box]
KIKAIDER BAN BAN GUN SET
[box] [box back]
ULTRAMAN ACE - SPACE CHALLENGER Z GUN
[box] [box back]
EARLY MATSUSHIRO / TAKATOKU - CASSHAN SERIES (1973)
FRIENDER MOTORCYCLE
[toy]
[box] [box back] [inner packaging]
FRIENDER MACHINE
[toy]
[box] [box back] [inner packaging]
FRIENDER CAR
[toy]
[box] [box back] [toy]
FRIENDER JET
[toy]
[box] [box back]
FRIENDER MARINE
[toy]
[box]
FRIENDER TANK
[toy]
[box] [toy]
PULSAR GUNS
[box] [inner packaging] [box]
MATSUSHIRO UK LTD - STARFORCE SERIES
SPACE FIGHTER
[toy]
[box] [box back] [stickers] [instructions] [instructions] [toy] [toy]
MINI SPACE FIGHTER
[toy]
[box] [box back] [stickers] [instructions] [instructions] [toy] [toy]
SPACE LOCO ROBOT
[toy]
[box] [box back] [toy] [toy] [toy]
TRANSFORMERS - GENERATION 1
JETFIRE - MATSUSHIRO VERSION
[box] [toy] [detail] [detail]
GREY MARKET
SPACE BATTLESHIP
[toy]
[box] [box sides] [inner box] [stickers] [instructions] [instructions] [toy]
MACROSS SDF-1
[toy]
[box] [box sides] [inner box] [toy]

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