text: Matt Alt, graphics: Robert Duban
Sega Enterprises' history in Japan can be traced back to the early 1950s, when a trio of Americans moved their company from Hawaii to Tokyo with the aim of providing occupation military bases with pinball machines. (Those so inclined can read more on Sega's corporate history page.) In just over three decades, Sega Enterprises would be known the world over as the manufacturer of cutting-edge arcade and home game systems. Rather than video games, however, this Datafile is dedicated to the game manufacturer's attempts to launch a small but fondly remembered (among die-hard toy collector freaks, anyway) series of anime character toys in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sega Enterprises created character toys for two animated series, Red Photon Zillion (4/12/87 - 12/13/87) and Supersonic Warrior Borgman (4/13/88 - 12/21/88), and one live-action series, Super Light Warrior Changerion (4/3/96 - 12/25/96). While we have listed more than fifty toys below, by far the most well-known and sought after toy in the company's "oeuvre" is the deluxe Tricharger toy from the Zillion series. This fragile yet striking toy, which features a relatively complex transformation system, pretty much outshines everything else in Sega Enterprises' line up. Fittingly, Zillion's story begins with a game, as Sega Enterprises sponsored famed Tatsunoko Studios to create an animated version of the home video game of the same title. (As a side note, Zillion represents the debut production of the famed animation studio Production I.G., which was at the time a minor Tatsunoko subsidiary; "Ghost in the Shell" director Mamoru Oshii even scripted a handful of the episodes under a pen name.) The merchandising hook came from the fact that characters in the show sported weapons nearly identical to the light-gun accessory that came packaged with the Sega Master System video game console, and Sega also produced a lineup of detailed plastic toys of the characters and their vehicles. In spite of high hopes, neither the game system nor the toys gained much popularity, leading the company to cancel the series after just thirty-one episodes. The year after Zillion, Sega sponsored another animated series called Borgman. The toy merchandise for this series consisted of "cloth" figures of the main characters -- "cloth" in this case referring not to material but rather the concept that the figures were designed to be "dressed up" with armored suit accessories. Several of the Zillion toys were re-packaged and re-branded as Borgman toys: the Zillion Shooting Set and the Borgman Sonic Bazooka. The year after Zillion, Sega sponsored another animated series called Borgman. The toy merchandise consisted of "cloth" figures of the main characters -- "cloth" in this case referring not to material but rather the concept that the figures were designed to be "dressed up" with armored suit accessories. Several of the Zillion toys were re-packaged and re-branded as Borgman toys (such as the Borgman Sonic Bazooka, a re-packaged version of the Zillion Shooting Set.) Although neither of these attempts to break into the toy industry proved particularly successful, Sega Enterprises was far from down for the count. Buoyed by the massive success of their arcade and home video game systems (particularly that of the Mega Drive, known as the "Genesis" in the United States), Sega Enterprises purchased famed Japanese toy-maker Yonezawa in May of 1994, re-christening it Sega-Yonezawa and breathing new life into the company's attempts to make toys. In spite of another ill-fated sponsorship attempt in the form of the obscure 1996 live action show "Changerion," Sega enjoyed far more luck with toys in the late 1990s and early 21st century than it had in the 1980s. In the mid-1990s, Sega introduced the "Real Model" series of action figures for the smash-hit "Neon Genesis Evangelion" television show. The series would quickly grow to include characters from the video game "Virtual On" and the animated series "Sakura Wars" and "Utena." In 1998, Sega-Yonezawa officially changed its name to Sega Toys, the name under which it operates today as a wholly independent subsidiary of its parent company, Sega-Sammy Holdings. Although (or perhaps because of) none of the staff involved in Sega's early toy merchandising efforts work at the company, Sega Toys currently enjoys great success with products from the "Mushi-King" series of stag-beetle fighting games. And in an ironic reversal of fates, its parent company has completely abandoned the home video game marketplace due to lackluster sales of (then) next generation systems that followed the Mega Drive in the 1990s, including the "Saturn" and the "Dreamcast." Fortunes change quickly in the fickle toy industry.