[Alen Yen's ToyboxDX]
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Cold, Hard Popy Love

Popy Diecast IndexGA SeriesGB SeriesGC SeriesGD SeriesPA SeriesPB SeriesPC SeriesOther Series

Words: Matt Alt
Design: Marc Raley
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ToyboxDX Guide to Chogokin and Popinika

Popy's legendary diecast toys are a ubiquitous presence on the Japanese toy scene. If you've ever bought a Shogun Warrior, you've bought a Popy toy. If you've ever bought a Godaikin, you've bought a Popy toy. If you've ever bought ANY Japanese diecast robot toy from the 1970s, well, you might as well have been buying a Popy toy. Popy's Chogokin and Popinika diecast toys set the standard that everyone else tried to imitate.

Legendary, defunct Japanese toymaker Popy launched the Chogokin series in 1973. Much like the words "Xerox" and "Band-Aid," the brand name has become a generic catchall term for robot figures molded out of diecast metal. Indeed, the very word itself, a semi-fictional term taken from the animated series Mazinger Z, means "super-alloy." Much to the surprise of many collectors, however, Chogokin toys weren't the first items Popy created and sold.

World-famous toy company Bandai founded Popy in July 1971 as a spin-off devoted to the creation of toys based on characters licensed from films, television, and comic books. Popy scored a grand-slam hit the very next year with their innovative Kamen Rider Henshin Belt, a vinyl-and-plastic replica of the one worn by the hero in the popular Kamen Rider television show.

As popular as the belt became, however, the major reason for Popy's success was a gamble on a material that hadn't been widely used for toys up until that point: diecast zinc-alloy. The British company Dinky had tried selling diecast space vehicles and cars in Japan, but had suffered sluggish sales due to the high price of the imported toys. It was still an open-ended question as to if Japanese children raised on a diet of tin and vinyl would take to solid metal, but Popy took the chance. In April of 1972, Popy released the "Mini-Mini Cyclone," a palm-sized metal and plastic motorcycle based on Kamen Rider's favorite vehicle. The Cyclone proved as successful as the belt and firmly established a market for diecast character toys.

Building on the strength of their previous successes, Popy obtained the rights to a new character, an animated giant robot known as Mazinger Z. Realizing Mazinger Z's charm as a towering robot of justice, Popy released the first piece in what would become a long running series of large-scale toys: the Jumbo Machinder Mazinger Z. Standing at two feet tall and constructed from a nearly indestructible material called polyethylene, the Mazinger Z would rack up sales of an astounding 400,000 units within five months.

It was probably only a matter of time before someone at Popy put two and two together, combining the best aspects of two of their most popular toy lines. In February of 1974, Bandai unveiled what would become a near-universally regarded classic of toy design, the Chogokin Mazinger Z. Molded from nearly solid diecast metal and featuring spring-loaded shooting fists, the five-inch-high figure would set a new standard for character toys. Although not as large as its Jumbo counterpart, the diecast Mazinger Z featured a satisfying metallic heft. And perhaps even more importantly, Popy sold it as a "Chogokin" toy -- that is, a toy that was made from the exact same "super alloy" as the robot in the animated series. Children couldn't get enough, and an entirely new concept was born.

Popy reigned as the undisputed king of the Japanese toy scene throughout the 1970s. Their Chogokin diecast robots and Mini-Mini (later to become "Popinika") diecast vehicles proved so popular in Japan that American toy firm Mattel imported and repackaged many of them as "Shogun Warriors." Parent company Bandai would get in on the act as well, repackaging the Deluxe Chogokin pieces as "Godaikin" for resale in America in the early 1980s. Other Japanese companies -- Takatoku, Clover, Takemi, Bullmark, and Nakajima, among many others -- tried to imitate Popy's diecast paradigm with varying degrees of success. Very few managed to reach or maintain the level of quality maintained by Popy's crack team of toy engineers.

All good things come to an end, however. Children's ever-changing tastes led to decreasing sales of diecast robots towards the end of the 1970s, and by March of 1983 Popy found itself re-absorbed into parent company Bandai. Popy's efforts had legitimized and validated the character-toy industry; the influence of their many innovations can be felt in Japan and across the world even today. And while Popy may be gone, the brand they created endures. Bandai has continued using the Chogokin name near continuously since Popy's demise. In 1997, they unveiled an all-new series of toys, dubbed "Soul of Chogokin," to snare nostalgic adult collectors of Popy's toys of old.

Popy 1974 - 1979

Popy 1979 - 1983
Popy 1983;
Bandai 1983 - 1988
Bandai 1996-Present
Popy 1973 - 1979
Popy 1977 - 1980
Popy 1980 - 1983;
Bandai 1983 - 1987
Chokinzoku, Popy Big Scale Bases, Dash Series Popinica, Bandai Reissues, Soul of Chogokin

Popy Diecast IndexGA SeriesGB SeriesGC SeriesGD SeriesPA SeriesPB SeriesPC SeriesOther Series

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Popy is pronounced "poh-pee."
Popy's successes weren't limited to diecast toys. They also created the "Big-Scale Base" series of giant plastic playsets, the "Pla-Deluxe" series of all-plastic robot toys, and the "Jumbozaurus" series of vinyl monsters, among many others.
What's the first Deluxe Chogokin ever? Did someone say Grandizer? WRONG! It's actually Raideen. It's the same size as other "Standard" pieces, but Popy considered the transforming gimmick enough to qualify as Deluxe.
Who's that scary-looking bloke on the back of so many Popy toy boxes? That's Susumu Abe, a noted Japanese "educational commentator" from the 1970s. Why's he on the boxes? Nobody seems to remember, and his little aphorisms ("It's not good for children to gloss over things with ease; they need to go over what they've done before to learn") are often jarringly at odds with the tricked-out robots pictured on the packages.

"Popinika," Popy's brand-name for their series of diecast character vehicles, is based on the Japanese words for "Popy" and "Mini-Car."


Why do so many of the early Chogokin toys feature box shots of Jumbo Machinders rather than the actual diecast robots? Popy undoubtedly did it in a rush to finish packaging even without camera-ready prototypes, but it sure confused the hell out of me as a kid.


It might not look it, but Popy's product-numbering system was an innovation as well. By using a (fairly) clearly delineated alphanumeric system stamped on both package and product alike, children -- and modern-day collectors -- were able to get a grip on the pieces they were missing. Many other companies introduced similar numbering systems for their products as well.


After Takatoku Toys went out of business, Bandai bought the molds for
their Valkyrie toys. It's a little-known fact that Bandai originally planned
to sell them under the Popy brand-name before changing their minds.


The introduction of the Gold Lightan toys in 1981 caused a 300% increase in teen smoking, accidental fires, and juvenile arson cases . (Okay, I'm just kidding. But it COULD have.)