For over fifteen years my army of Japanese robots lay undisturbed, boxed and stored in the guest room closet at my mother's house. I had bought them during the late 1970's, but many years had passed since I had thought of them at all. Not until the day of my wedding. It was April of 2000, and I was waiting for my ride to the ceremony. I was pacing all around the living room, flipping through the channels on the TV until I stumbled on to the introduction of a one hour special-the beginning of episodes one and two of Gundam Wing on Cartoon Network. This was the first Japanese animation I had seen since 1964 when I would watch Astroboy, and Gigantor (T-28) on afternoon television. That fall, I took the old robots out of their boxes and photographed them with my sister-in-law's camera. I wrote a pretty good narrative about how I got into collecting Japanese toys in the first place.
When I looked at the collection in the fall of 2000 it reawakened the initial sense of delight that the toys had first inspired in me back in 1977. But memory is colored by circumstance, and in the fall of 2000, I was newly married and delight was abundant in my life. The narrative that I wrote then reflected that glow. Five years later the marriage still glows, but circumstances have settled down some. I have wanted for some time to get a decent camera of my own and re-photograph the robots. It took a while, but I got a camera, took some computer classes, and finally got around to unpacking boxes and taking pictures when the storms of January 2005 kept me indoors for five days straight. I started a new project file: A1 Classic.
What struck me now, is that most of the toys were shabbier than I remembered. The Black King was brittle in places, and one of the four sections of the gear piece peg was cracked. The rubber tank treads on the VoltesV, and the Mecha Robo Gai King have disintegrated. Talking Robocon doesn't work. I know what's wrong, and how to fix it. (Loose wire) My fault for not fixing it properly the last time.
The toys are old. Some chrome has tarnished; some paint looks deteriorated here and there. Many white pieces have yellowed, and some metal has lost its luster. Some robots were just plain dirty. To be fair, some pieces were in better shape than I remembered, but hell, I bought these things over twenty-seven years ago. They were displayed, messed with, and carried from apartment to apartment throughout the restless decade between my twenty-fifth, and my thirty-fifth birthdays. After that, give or take a few years, they were boxed up and stored in a closet at my mother's house. I don't know why it surprised me that they too have aged in a quarter century. And now, looking at the old pieces brought back the reality that they were purchased during some pretty troubled times.
I didn't know what the hell to do in my first years out of high school. I didn't have the self-discipline to stay in college, so I ended up with some crappy jobs and a 1-A draft card in the 1971 lottery. But I drew a very high number and did not have to worry about the draft. In the spring of '73 I took a job as a night custodian for my old junior high school. Shortly thereafter I took up surfing.
The swing-shift job fit perfectly with a surf-bum life style. In the fall and winter when the waves were good I had my mornings free to surf. All summer when the beaches were overcrowded and waves scarce I worked a day shift, and stayed indoors through the worst of the day's heat. It wasn't a glamorous job, but it paid pretty well, and I actually enjoyed doing it. Things are never perfect, but life then was simple, and good. I was having fun, and I knew it. I realized too that I could keep that laid back lifestyle as a career. It was a comfortable niche; I had no reason to want to change. Until I met the first true love of my life.
When I wrote the original narrative back in 2000, I remembered that it was sometime late in 1977 when my girlfriend gave me the talking Robocon. A picture my mother found recently in a bunch of old photos shows me holding the Robocon up in front of the tree at Christmas time. Odd that I remembered late in '77 but didn't connect it with Christmas. But that started the fascination with Japanese toys. Between then and 1979 I bought almost all the 51 items in the collection. And as I said, they were turbulent years.
I'm not going to name names, or dredge up drek from the past. It was a stormy, relationship, but we both liked to party. We drank. We fought. She moved in. She moved out. I surfed less and less and then seldom, and then I wanted to get back into it, but something always came up? And why did I work such a crummy job? I was smarter than that, wasn't I? Couldn't I do better?
Most of the toys are still stored in the cardboard boxes that I took home from the old junior high where I worked. Like hearing an old favorite song on the radio, seeing the old boxes of toys brought back for me the color, the mood, and the smell of those years, the failure of that relationship, and the consequences of the decision that I made in 1979 to leave the ease and security of the school district job to go and ?do something betterwith my life. And as I unpacked the boxes I saw all the subsequent successes and failures that followed that decision down to April 2000, when I clicked on episode one of Gundam Wing as I waited for the ride to my wedding, finding Robot-Japan on the internet, and down to the present as I sit here pecking out my thoughts on the keyboard to share with other aficionados of Japanese toys.
"Sometime late in 1977 my girlfriend gave me a talking robot...."
How often it is, that small gestures begin great trends in our lives, and spin out events in a vast web of coincidence that catches us up, and connects us with others in ways we never imagined possible. It's both exhilarating and sobering to look back and see a thirty-year long network of events that followed from such a seemingly small gesture, and then to realize how tightly those connections are woven into your life story, and then to realize further that those connections are your life story. Such is the web of coincidence in which we live.
So little by little the photography project moves ahead, and with it elements of the narrative evolve. Here are some samples from the work in progress that I have prepared for Collection DX: From the Popy line:
GA-79 Dangard Ace
Mekanda Technical Gassin Set
Just for fun, I reviewed the toys from the point of view I had in 1978, as well as I could recreate it. Hence the references to absurdly low prices, non-existent retail chains, etc. Hope you enjoy.