Origins of an Addiction

by Darren Pierce : Densha Blues : 08.28.03 3:32pm EST


Trip to Japan

It is early in the year 1980. My family has left the United States to go to Japan for at least three years. Military children are used to this: you abandon everyone you know, everything that's familiar to you short of your own possessions, and simply leave. Never before, though, have we moved to a foreign country -- and not to just any foreign country, but to Japan -- a country often described as opposite as possible from the United States.

What lies ahead is a total unknown, especially to a 9-year-old boy who had hardly studied much about his own country, much less the Orient. Lingering anxieties are eased by thoughts of our new home: the standardized, generic sanctuary of a military base, a little slice of America far away from home. With nothing to be afraid of and everything to be curious about, the adventure begins.

The impossibly large Boeing 747 was home for nearly a day. I try to absorb my surroundings. A three-story city with kitchens, restrooms, elevators, movie-screens, flying in the air. Personalized audio at each seat. The stuff of dreams for a child, hell for an adult. We land, once in Alaska for fuel, then in Tokyo. The tiny service tugs scurry around the plane. So many things make an impression ... travel ... vehicles ... transportation ... scale ...

Out of the airport we go, into a car. It is very, very late at night, and raining. I have encountered a new definition of "tired", but visual overload keeps me awake. There are lights and sounds and presence I've never felt. My father's sponsor drives us to Camp Zama, Japan. Home is near Tokyo, but still another three hours beyond the airport. I absorb the different types of automobiles and trucks I see around me. So different from home. So many possibilities I had never discovered.

Temporary Home

You never move straight into your new house. The United States Army prolongs your transition by warehousing you into a "Guest House" until your new dwelling is ready. This is a kind of long-term hotel, and, in the case of Camp Zama's Guest House, an old barracks. I had the run of 15 urinals in my apartment's bathroom. The super-tall ceiling with exposed plumbing, and war-period architecture adds to my disorientation. I spend my first night on the other side of the planet.

It's morning. It is time for our first trip off-base since arrival. I am very, very afraid of what will be available for lunch. During the walk, I adopt a position that will become second nature to me during many hundreds of miles of walking in Japan. I walk behind my parents, following their feet from the corner of my eye while taking in the sights. Umbrella and Member's Only jacket are standard equipment. There is neon and rain and people.

We walk to our closest shopping, Soubudai-Mae's city center. Here is the train station, and the department store that will become forever associated with Japanese shopping in my mind. Named Ito Yokado, it's known affectionately by Americans as "The Dove Store" due to its three-color dove logo. I cannot try to describe the sights, smells, and feeling of the place. If you were to look at a picture, you'd instantly recognize a department store, but being present on the scene yields an entirely different feeling. It is alien, overwhelming, and utterly different. Yet, it is amazing, friendly, clean, sophisticated, and utterly interesting.

Mom heads for housewares. My dad steers me to the toy department. I have no toys in my luggage, so I suppose I'm allowed to beg for a trinket to occupy my time at the Guest House. However, I have no interest in seeing whatever might pass for toys to the Japanese. The display of televisions is much more entertaining. I suppose they'll have little wooden boats to race in the river, or perhaps kites. Besides, this is only a department store, not a toy store.

The Deluge

Coming up the escalator to the 2nd-from-top floor of the store, you begin to hear mechanical sounds. Yipping dogs and monkeys clanging cymbals are recognizable. I begin to see little cars racing around a track. The colors clearly indicate the toy department. I take to the aisles. Scanning for toys should be a quick affair, right? The truth unfolds. I panic. It's overload -- one small boy can't take it all in. The aisles, the shelves, the bins are packed, side to side, as tight as possible, as far as the eye can see, and far as your legs can take you, with toys. Robots are everywhere, and lots of them, and in more styles than can be cataloged.

The robots sit in their individual boxes with bright colors. After frantic inspection, I discover some of these toys transform, or have some other clever gimmicks. The useful pictures are on the back of the box. I start flipping boxes over. They are all loaded with gimmicks. I had walked in on the golden age of Diaclone, MicroChange, and Chogokin. I turned to advise my father that he should soldier on, and retrieve me later. He was already gone. I guess he knew what to expect.

The overload of stimulus cannot be stressed. There were foreign sounds and smells that danced in turn with the sight of robots. I wanted a piece of paper. I felt the need to take notes on what I saw. I didn't realize this scene wasn't an exception and wasn't going to be gone tomorrow. This would be my daily reality ... for years.

One set of boxes stood out amongst the others. It was "the big one", the featured toy robot. The giants were stacked sitting on a table in the middle of the aisle, with a display diorama on top. I grabbed one. It said "Tryder G-7". The rest wasn't in English. I could not put it down. My dad walked up behind me, took the toy, and walked it to the cashier. Am I dreaming?

The Long Road Home

My mission, of course, was to bee-line straight back to the Guest House, and open Tryder. My parents conspired against my plan. We had to eat (Ah! There's the consequences of all this fun), and we had to stop at the bookstore to please my dad. He sought out books on collectible fountain pens, and I went for the children's section.

But what a discovery! Books! Dozens of thick, fat books filled with robots! Blueprints, images, transformations, animation, weapons, and enemies are all inside. I was overwhelmed again. I would buy some of these books with my own money. I could not believe I had the world's coolest robot in my left hand, and a stack of books about dozens of others in my right. This was only my first day here.

Lunch, thankfully, was a stop at McDonalds. My parents, as it turned out, were not any more interested in eating seaweed-wrapped insects and worms than I was. At least, that's what I suppose the Japanese must've eaten. We started walking home. I began reading a book under my umbrella, following my parents' feet. The image packed pages were mesmerizing.

A moment of minor crisis erupts from the book. It's a picture of Marvel Comics' Combattra playing with a pair of spiked discs. I had always wondered what those discs, which were normally mounted on his hips, were supposed to be used for. The American comics never mentioned them, but this Japanese book had presented a perfectly good explanation. They were weapons. The proverbial light bulb went off in my head. I suddenly realized what our beloved Shogun Warriors really were -- a collection of unrelated Japanese cartoons.

I slowly begin to put things together. The Shogun Warriors, the Micronauts, even Speed Racer, are all Japanese. Buddha had suddenly awakened into enlightenment. I wanted nothing more than to shout the news back to the US, but the Internet had not yet been invented.

Many revelations are yet to come. It's a good thing I don't start school for another week or two. Tryder is guarded close underneath the umbrella. The box, wrapped in dove logo paper, had collected a few drops of water. How did they know the toy was a present? The base's "train station" gate is ahead. The Guest House is not far away now.

Unrivaled Robot TRYDER G-7

What makes Tryder G-7 so cool? He's one of the less popular hero robots, and he rarely gets mentioned on Toybox. Tryder hails from that familiar era of "red and blue robots trimmed in yellow" -- another variation on a theme of the transforming super robot with the boy genius pilot, supported by a cast of nutty professors and weekly enemy robots. While he's forgotten by the Japanese and largely unknown to the Americans, he and Daitarn-3 are huge in Italy.

To my young eyes, Clover toy company's Tryder was the celebration of all the good things robots and toys should be about. He came in an enormous window box, with still-shots from the anime ringing the sides, and highly detailed, king-size blueprints of Tryder in all modes on the back. Scenes of splashing hellfire cover the lid. Fresh off the boat from America, I had never seen such a presentation, and thought I had my hands on something truly unique in the toy world.

The robot is almost entirely diecast metal and quite heavy. Only his arms, head, and trim pieces are plastic. The arms rotate at the shoulder under crisp, firm detents. The fists fire powerfully clear across the room. The hips and ankles have some play. From a poseability standpoint, Tryder G-7 is a brick, but I can honestly say I never noticed.

I didn't know at the time I owned the "Henkei Gattai Set" (Transform-Combine Set) version of the toy. They could've packed things into a much smaller box, but Clover chose to spread the robot's mighty arsenal of weaponry out far and wide in the styrofoam container, perhaps to make a better window display.

Tryder G-7 was a creation of Sunrise studios. The hardware was designed by Kunio Ohkawara, whose resume includes titles such as Daitan 3, VOTOMS, Vifam, Muteking, Daiojah, Xabungle, Dougram, and series such as Gundam, Time Bokan, Gatchaman, and the Brave Series.

Included are a spiked shield, winglets, missiles, a missile launcher, a couple of ugly things you might find on the business end of a flail, something that looks like Raideen's bird missile, a lance, a spiked club to attach to one end of the lance, and a trident blade to attach to the other. The trident's blades spring open with a touch of a button.

His accessories are like war-oriented Legos. Most weapons can attach to one another in some fashion to create your own fearsome armament. There are also a handful of mounting points on Tryder's body, including three sockets on each fist. Projectiles may be fired from his missile launcher, fist sockets, or from his feet. That's right, not only do Tryder's fists launch, but so do his toes.

Standing with a compliment of attached weaponry, blade-like yellow wings, and a horned, winged helmet, Tryder is visually balanced against bulbous missile pods with red fins on thick legs. The robot is excitingly rich in detail while remaining uncluttered and preserving his Ohkawara signature body line.

The quality paint job is punctuated by a small flurry of pre-applied decals. This decoration is not faithful to the anime, and perhaps a little excessive, but was never hideous to my younger eyes. The chestplate is a silver bird logo on a beautiful, translucent blue shield. You can make out the thoughtful detail and stout jointwork in the chest mechanism through the plastic.

Quality of design, materials, and workmanship insure this toy will survive intact for many years.


What would a robot be without gratuitous transformation gimmicks to inspire the imagination? Tryder G-7 delivers.

The legendary Go Nagai (having nothing to do with Tryder) had a gift for designing robot technology with the child in mind. For instance, children might like to stand away from their enemy while remotely firing a powerful fist. Thus, the Mazinga Z rocket punch was born, now an icon of Japanese robots, one of many such precedents he established.

Ejecting your robot's head and flying away is another Super Robot cliche, and is very appealing to children's sensibilities. The "spaceship head" idea is refined in Tryder G-7. Not only is Tryder Hawk a great looking design and powerful mecha on its own, but it gave the pilot good utility value throughout the anime.

Tryder's head detaches with a magnetic snap, and can be converted into a small craft called Tryder Hawk. In the animation, the head also had rarely-used car and boat modes. The toy, at least, has drop-down landing gear.

Tryder's main body may assume three different vehicle modes. The least impressive is Tryder Beagle, the tank. For this incarnation, he simply sits (or alternatively stands) on a set of treads found in the box. Looking like a reject Guntank, the treads are at least impressively detailed, and feature a set of jet engines on the back.

After removing the mighty Bird Attack symbol from his chest, and squeezing spring-loaded clips on his sides, Tryder's body folds into a multi-jointed puzzle of diecast origami and may become either Tryder Cosmic, the spacecraft, or Tryder Eagle, the fighter.

None of the vehicle modes are especially convincing or practical, but, more importantly, they are all excellent fodder for the imagination. Tryder Cosmic has a wonderful "big ship" feel, and looks like the bastard cousin of Yattodetaman's Kyojin-go, not surprising considering both share a father.

Including his robot form, Tryder features seven modes. Perhaps this is why he has a "7" in his name.


There you are. One of my first impressions of Japan was a large, diecast, transforming, combining toy bristling with spring-loaded weapons -- something totally foreign to me. Further, Tryder looked as if he could kick your ass.

I was in a dreamland of limitless creative engineering genius aimed at kids. Weapons, vehicles, robots, and bases in ceaseless variation. Every mode of transportation represented. Transforming, combining, reconfiguring feats of lesser science. Perpetual variation in an artist's rendering of a geek's fantasy.

Unrivaled Robot Tryder G-7 ran for fifty episodes from February of 1980 to January of 1981.

During the day, I could think of nothing but hunting down fresh stores at unvisited train stations for new toys. There seemed to be a waterfall of new product every other week. At night, I spent my time reading all about the toys and robots that had come and gone before we arrived.

This, then, is the origin of perhaps a life-long obsession studying and enjoying Japanese robot toys. We would remain in Japan almost six years, as it turned out. I was in high school when we left, but I never stopped loving robots.

Not the Only Tryder on the Block

The old anime featured a Tryder Shuttle, which was a mobile base for the boy pilot's support crew and family while Tryder was away from home. The shuttle could dock with Tryder Cosmic to form a combined ship (Tryder Fortress). At one point in the anime, the shuttle was replaced with an improved version, the Shin Tryder Shuttle.

There is a more complete Tryder set, the "Kanzen Henkei Gattai Set" (Perfect Transform-Combine Set), which features the new shuttle. Thankfully, I was recently able to procure a second-hand shuttle so that my Tryder could be "kanzen", too, at least in spirit. There is also a "Bird Attack" version of the Tryder toy, that features Tryder's sure-kill finishing weapon, the fiery bird on his chestplate.

This isn't a complete catalog ... there are many other Tryders, large and small ...