Guns. Once upon a time it was more socially acceptable and less taboo for children to play with toys that mimicked firearms, the glorification of which has since become considered vulgar and inappropriate for modern society’s values and beliefs. Even listing such items on auction or trying to ship them internationally to collectors and enthusiasts has become a challenging obstacle. From that era when realistic replica firearms or similar children’s toys were more palatable come the genuinely popular Micro Change Series Gun Robos by Takara.
The Micro Change Series was a sub-category of Takara’s famous Microman toy line, with Micro Change toys specifically billed as a 1:1 scale range of more everyday items that transformed into robots, compared to what had gone before. A number of these toys made their way into The Transformers over the years along with many of Takara’s Diaclone offerings. A selection of the MC Series were based on real life firearms, so this is our opportunity to pay tribute to the Gun Robos from 1983 that have stood the test of time equally well, arguably taking on a somewhat antique quality.
First on our list is the MC-07 M1910 Gun Robo Browning, based on Fabrique Nationale’s 1910 handgun designed by John Browning. If you’ve never seen this one in person and you have become used to the size and weight of the Transformers Megatron Walther P38 model, you’re in for something of a surprise because the MC-07 Browning is relatively small in weapon mode. This quite excellent toy comes in dark smokey chrome with red highlights, but also a more light shiny metal (gold-tinted) variant with blue highlights.
In addition to a fully functional bullet-firing mechanism, “Browning” comes with two chromed handguns that can also be mounted on his shoulders. This model also features four robot fists, two left and two right. The right-hand fists benefit from the firing mechanism and therefore are moulded differently to allow for projectile use in robot mode.
A beautifully well-proportioned robot and suitably beefy, Browning displays marvellously in both modes with all those metal and chromed sections on show. The above photo clearly demonstrates the difference between the two shades of chroming on the red (top) and blue (bottom) variants. In my experience the blue MC Browning sells for a little more than the red release, but honestly I tend to see equal numbers of red and blue for the Japanese release.
One variant you will not see for sale too often in your collecting lifetime is the Japanese Micro Change campaign prize Browning, drenched in shiny gold chrome from head to toe. If you are lucky enough to ever see one in person, you’ll never get over its beauty. For now, here’s a scan from the Takara Science Fiction Land book:
That isn’t simply a stock image mock-up, the real campaign prize Gold MC-07 looks just like that with all gold accessories, packaged in a regular release box with standard paperwork. I am not currently aware of exactly how it was offered or the precise nature of the campaign. None of the 3 specimens I do know of are in Japan, though!
Browning was also available as a MC toy in Italy, released by GiG, and in many other European countries as “Diaclone” courtesy of Ceji Joustra. He never made it into the Hasbro Transformers toy line in North America or Europe, but he was released as Destron D-308 in Japan as part of their exclusive Chōjin Masterforce Transformers series in 1988.
And you thought it was just Browning and Megatron! The MC-11 Magnum 44 Gun Robo is a Micro Change only release, having never made it into any Transformers lore or line. With a very different appearance to the Browning, this very slick Takara gem has grown in popularity and desirability over the years. Complete with firing mechanism and printed targets, in my opinion the MC-11 Magnum’s revolver look really sets it apart from the M1910 and Walther P38 designs. The box art for the Magnum shows him with a very Frenzy-like robot head too, but strangely the Browning toy’s robot head resembles it more closely in real life.
The robot mode is very interesting on this figure too, with the revolving section as his chest being a hugely distinctive feature. There are apparently a number of variants, mainly in Italy, such as a chrome barrelled edition with grey handle. It goes without saying that those variants are highly sought-after and, subsequently, expensive.
Now for an introduction to an old friend:
The Micro Change Series MC-12 Walther P38 Gun Robo mould would eventually become the Transformers “Megatron”, infamous leader of the Decepticons. Offered in Japan first of all in black plastic with blue highlights and a brown grip, this toy also came with firing plastic bullets and printed targets. This first iteration of the Walther P38 Gun Robo differed from the American/European Transformers Megatron in that it had no stock pieces, fired bullets and came with a sword in addition to its handgun.
This small low resolution picture does much of the talking as far as the grey variant of the Japanese MC-12′s rarity is concerned. The second version of the MC-12 Walther P38 is a tremendously difficult toy to locate. One step closer to what would become the Hasbro Transformers Megatron, this mould in grey plastic with blue highlights is the basis for the Takara 16 Transformers Megatron released only in Japan; un-chromed, featuring blue highlights, packing a sword and capable of firing blue bullets.
So where did the overall look for the Hasbro Megatron come from, with all its chrome and stock pieces?
From the glorious MC-13 Walther P38 U.N.C.L.E. Gun Robo set, that’s where. This final Micro Change Gun Robo came packaged in a beautiful box made to resemble a leather suitcase with handle. The robot artwork should be familiar to us all, pre-Megatron in all his glory. The rear of the box shows how all the extra pieces can attach to the robot in both modes, even depicting its compatibility with Microman figures. That should answer any lingering questions anyone may have regarding the original alternative purpose of all those bits and pieces that came with Megatron.
A look inside the simulated suitcase packaging reveals the original styro layout that would later be adjusted for Hasbro’s markets. Instead of the all-plastic barrel of the MC-12 toys, the MC-13 was the first Walther P38 to feature chromed sections, another characteristic that was carried over to The Transformers. The MC-13 Walther P38 figure is not precisely the same as a Transformers Megatron though, the chrome has a slightly gold tint, almost appearing discoloured. The inner legs and arms are red like the later Transformers version instead of blue like MC-12, but obviously this release still features bullets, sword, targets and even a bullet-firing mechanism in the stock pieces.
That path of evolution for the Walther P38 Gun Robo mould which eventually became the blueprint for Hasbro’s Decepticon Megatron resulted in so many of us marvelling at the genius of how a realistic looking item of correct scale could transform into a robot (of incorrect scale!). I would be surprised if all those lucky recipients of original MC-12s didn’t feel a little aggrieved at the much more comprehensive MC-13 release so soon afterwards, I know I had little success convincing my parents to shell out for a Targetmaster Cyclonus while the basic version was fresh out the box and in my hands.
As mentioned before, Japanese children weren’t the only ones who had Micro Change Gun Robos available to them in stores, all the above moulds were released in Italy as well by GiG. However, due to safety measures, all the Gun Robos had to have red caps or paint on the end of the barrels clearly marking them out as toys.
It’s not hard to see why these amazing and unique items are so popular amongst different groups of collectors, be they Microman enthusiasts, Gun Robo specialists, Megatron worshippers or pre-Transformers completists. Outside of the hobby, you never know when the admission that you are a Gun Robo collector and admirer will draw a disapproving response, but the love of these Micro Change Gun Robos comes from an appreciation of feats of engineering which must have been truly ground-breaking at the time. I’m certainly no fan of guns and I never have been, but even I can see the appeal of these toys, and that’s what makes them so much more than replica weapons; they make for excellent robots.
There are certainly enough variants and foreign releases of Gun Robos to keep collectors busy and interested, and that’s to say nothing of all the different Transformers Megatron releases. Just another painfully difficult niche of the Transformers and pre-Transformers universe for ambitious collectors to challenge themselves with. Painful, but ultimately, completely worth it.
A great many thanks to Quint Gremmen for so many photos of his outstanding Gun Robo collection, and to Matteo Pigliucci for the GiG Browning image.
All the best