Guns. Once upon a time it was more socially acceptable…no seriously, this week we’re digging a little deeper into the Takara Micro Change Series, the range of Japanese toys originally responsible for some of the most recognisable and well-loved Transformers ever to grace our childhoods. However, there’s a little twist, the focus of this week’s article is the Italian range of Micro Change items released by GiG. We’ll look at some of the well and lesser known toys available in Italy in the early 80s under the “Trasformer” banner.
Many different types of toy were available with “Trasformer” labels on the packaging; Diaclone, Micro Change, Transformers and even non-Takara toys. Italian toys are well known for containing safety conscious features such as rubber ‘bopper’ missiles and red paint or caps on gun-based toys. But why Italy? Well, they had a lot of old Japanese cartoons back in the day, and vintage Japanese robot toys are very popular amongst collectors in Italy. Having obtained the necessary licences from Takara in 1983 at the Tokyo Toy Show, GiG set about releasing some cracking MC Series toys.
Orignally the MC-20 Micro Scope in the Japanese MC line (and sometimes referred to as “Black Perceptor”), for the Italian market his red missiles were replaced with orange and black rubber safety missiles and he was renamed “Microscopio Robot”. You can see the quite garish and large red and yellow text that has been added to the packaging, as well as the “GiG” company logo. Naturally, all Japanese writing was removed as well. It is important to stress that the Italian version of this toy is a genuine Takara product, because there are bootlegs of this mould in mock MC packaging which can cause confusion among inexperienced collectors.
An interesting one here. The toy that became Soundwave was of course also a Japanese MC toy originally, “Cassette Man”. Italy also received this item officially, called “Recorder Robot”, complete with the headphones, mouthpiece, cables, tape case and the black and red Micro Cassette Robot (the only MC cassette that Italy would receive). The specimen above is clearly a Transformers Decepticon Soundwave (and Rumble) in the GiG MC-style packaging, however it is believed that as with the Diaclone Skids and Grapple in Italy, a number of later manufactured releases featured early Transformers items in the pre-TF GiG packaging. Once again, this is not to be confused with the bootleg “Cassette Man” with a lot of English writing on the box that is also heavily based on the Takara original. Despite common perception, the “Trasformer” logo is your friend.
Soundwave wasn’t the only Transformers tape deck to hail from Micro Change, unsurprisingly, Autobot Blaster had similar roots. The MC-21 was released in Italy by GiG as “Radio Robot” in both the blue/red type and the all blue type as in Japan. However, there were no micro cassettes included with this toy, it was only after his rebranding as a Transformers toy that cassettes were designed for “Blaster”. Another major difference between the MC Radio Robot and the Transformers Blaster is that both Japanese and Italian versions of this mould came with a cassette-shaped AM radio plugin.
This incredibly cool original feature was never carried over to Autobot Blaster, and required batteries, one set of which could be replaced at the back of the main Radio Robot toy. Radio Robot also features cable accessories that connect to the handgun and main figure simultaneously. Once again there is a noticeable lack of Japanese writing on the packaging, but much of the large red text now synonymous with GiG boxes.
GiG didn’t just release popular MC toys that made the Transformers line-up, they also were responsible for unleashing the Microman Eagle, Robot and Lion Meteors (“Sferiks”), various Watch and Gun Robos and the above MC-17 and MC-18 Lock bots, or “Luchetto Robot” pair, upon Italian consumers. These intricate little moulds fit in nicely with the whole 1:1 scale Micro Change ethos, and found a home under the Trasformer banner too, but unsurprisingly were not taken up by Hasbro for The Transformers.
I’ve mentioned Gun Robos (again) so I guess I’ll just have to elaborate. Last week’s focus on MC Gun Robos from Japan touched on the Italian releases of the same moulds, but the above pictures show those GiG versions of the Gun Robos in glorious detail. The theme on the packaging is “Pistola Robot” and the “Trasformer” branding is everywhere. I’m really not one of those collectors who shrinks at the sight of the Trasformer banner, I love the GiG toys and their appearance.
In case you’re wondering what all this “Trasformer” business is all about anyway, a wise man (Marco) once told me (yesterday) that ‘Transformare’ is the Latin word for transforming, the source of both the English and Italian word for the same meaning. During the speaking of ‘Latin Volgare’ which was very different to classic Latin, certain letters were dropped from words, and ‘Transformare’ become ‘Trasformare’. GiG used “Trasformer” just to emphasise the main function of these toys. There is a school of thought that believe this pre-dates Hasbro coining the phrase “The Transformers”.
Going back to the GiG Pistola Robots, the main difference between these Italian versions and the Japanese ones showcased last week, other than the packaging and paperwork, is their safety adjustments. The red plastic gun caps are very visible on the above MC-12 Walther P38 and MC-11 Magnum 44. They still fire the bespoke bullets as opposed to any sort of rubber bopper, they still come with targets and pretty paperwork, and they still look as sharp as you’d like and shine on display.
The Italian MC-13 UNCLE version of the Walther P38 Pistola Robot still comes with all the trimmings you would expect of the Japanese version, but this toy no longer seems to have the gold tint on the chrome barrel which set the MC-13 apart from other chromed P38 releases down the years. The safety measures employed on the MC-13 consist of red paint on the end of the barrel instead of a cap. They probably did this instead of adding a plastic cap so as not to interfere with the barrel’s attachment to the stock pieces in its various modes, a consideration that was not required for the previous MC-12 toy.
As for the paperwork, it still features the same graphics and photography as the Japanese Micro Change Series toys, with understandable changes to the language of the text. As it is based on Japanese paperwork, there is no evidence of the Italian safety features added. The Takara logo is clearly visible in the bottom right corner of the MC-12 instruction sheet as well.
That’s really the point here, these toys are not fakes, inferior in any way, and in a lot of cases they’re not easier to find either. The GiG variants such as Browning, grey-handled Magnum, grey MC-12 and early version Recorder Robot (if there even is one) are significantly harder to locate than their Japanese cousins. Seeing a comprehensive collection of Italian Micro Change Series toys is every bit as breathtaking a sight and impressive a feat as seeing a Japanese one, evidenced lastly by the final picture in this article. Respect.
Heartfelt thanks to Matteo Pigliucci for sharing pictures of his outstanding and glittering collection. Many thanks also to Marco Salerno for his endless wisdom and kindness.
All the best