For a short time Zoids were as big in the UK as Transformers, and just as expensive. Created by Tomy in 1983, they were essentially a range of dinosaur-inspired robot fighting machines, constructed from plastic, and powered along your sandbox / bedroom floor / desk by small wind-up motors. They were and remain extremely fascinating, their designs noticeably more inspired than contemporary 'Battlemech' robots.

Instead of coming fully-formed, they arrived in component form, and had to be assembled with the aid of little rubber stoppers which held the Zoid together. Although Zoids lacked the interchangeability of Lego, they were nonetheless quite fun to put together, and their bitty nature made it easy to simulate battle damage. The Zoids were piloted by little gold and silver men which were not posable, although they did lend the machines a sense of scale.

For fight they did - the initial batch consisted of a few small Zoids, with no 'backstory', but by the second wave the Zoids had been split into red and blue varieties, each the mortal enemy of the other. The blue zoids were led by the mighty 'Zoidzilla' (a toy clearly based on Godzilla, and by far the most impressive of the range), whilst the red zoids were led by 'Redhorn the Terrible', a stegosaurus which resembled one of Syd Mead's wet dreams. These larger Zoids, and others, were propelled by battery-powered motors, and were beyond the pockets of most children. They were also wicked cool, and wiped the floor with other toys. Truly, children were lucky to be alive in the 1980s. Nowadays they are hideously expensive collector's items, particularly Zoidzilla, as a generation that couldn't afford Zoids as children has grown up and now earns money.

Although the toys remained obscure in the US, a Marvel comic was produced in the UK, combining reprints of the American adventures of Spider-man, during his 'black, symbiotic outfit' phase, with original Zoids strips concerning the fate of a team of human beings crash-landed on the Zoid home planet, with a third strip which usually didn't last very long (there was a brief Iron Man story, and something called 'Strike Force Morituri'). In typical Marvel fashion the comic was called 'Spider-man and Zoids' and ran roughly from 1985 - 1986. The Zoid storyline was a mish-mash of the two 'Alien' films and 'Flight of the Phoenix', with the Zoids cast as the remnants of a gladiatorial society, locked in mindless, mortal combat for all eternity, with some shipwrecked human convicts thrown into the mix. It was surprisingly engaging, although due to the declining popularity of the toys it stopped in mid-flow. There was an annual, too. All of this would be worth something nowadays if I had kept it.

As a side note, it often struck me that grown men were being paid money to write stories about little plastic toys - did they ever get embarrassed?

A computer game appeared in 1986 from long-forgotten software house Martech. It had a confusing, icon-based interface and was dreadfully boring, although the C64 version had an excellent, 'Laibach'-esque soundtrack from Rob Hubbard. It did provide this amusing quote, from an interview in Crash magazine, however:

[I asked the lead programmer how long] it would be before we could all be killing red Zoids at home. 'Not KILL', he reprimanded me. 'No?' 'No, definitely not kill. Kill is a banned word, anything but kill... destroy, mutilate, incapacitate, put out of action, rend apart - even tear into strips, anything but kill'.

Although Zoids vanished from Western shelves by 1987, Tomy continued production in Japan until 1995. It would appear that some of the range has been re-released but, as I lack knowledge of the Japanese toy market, I must pass the baton on...

I was also lucky enough to own a Zoid when I was a kid, one of the Godzilla-looking ones. It ran off a few "C" batteries (remember those?). A friend had one back way back when as well, and recalls them being interchangable to a degree. Hit the big power switch on it's back, and it's plodding gait and grinding of gears was enough to keep any healthy kid occupied for hours. I recall loosing those rubber caps (whenever he got "hurt") being a problem though. And in these post-80's days some brat would surely eat one, get sick, and the whole Zoid concept would be sued into oblivion. Modern Zoids would have to be dumbed down into pre-assembled Nerf-bots, with saftey bumpers, lengthy disclaimers and a hand rail.

There is currently a Zoids anime as well, which you can see at Monday to Thursday 4pm central on Cartoon Network. It is in English. The relationship to the toy is obvious, as well as the basic premise. Large mecha-animals constantly engaged in wars. I've seen a few episodes so far and idea boils down to several Zoid teams (each consisting of up to four individual Zoids) fighting competition-style in a large secluded space of a continent. This game is regulated by a cache of ref-bots dropped from space in capsules from satellites. Also supervising are a group of people in a huge brachiosaurus-type robot.

No clear struggle to thwart evil or save the dolphins, just a robot match so far. The main conflict seems to be when an outside party (and there are several that try to do so) attempt to interfere with the game somehow, to cheat or take control of it.. The animation is pretty exciting, looking like some mix of CGI robotics and lighting with hand spun characters and backgrounds. The robotics, fighting and weapons are all a lot of fun, but since it's just a game in itself it's really hard to care about anything. After a few episodes you become familiar with the Blitz team (our home team) and others. But I rarely find myself really worried about any one competitor, just waiting for when the Godzilla-looking bots are going to fight again.

Whoever came up with the idea for Zoids, it was probably their single stroke of genius in this lifetime. I can just see them now, lying in the bath one night, thinking "Kids like robots. Kids like dinosaurs. Kids like stuff you can take apart and put back together. Kids like guns. I wonder..." - and then the blinding flash of inspiration - "CONSTRUCTABLE ROBOT DINOSAURS WITH GUNS!" Not quite as catchy as GIANT MECHANICAL SPIDERS WITH HUMAN HEADS maybe, but, as Ashley Pomeroy notes in its excellent writeup, it was enough to take the UK toy market by storm.

I don't remember who bought me my first Zoid, but I remember putting it together. It was a Trooperzoid, built to resemble the upright stance of a predatory dinosaur such as Allosaurus or Tyrannosaurus Rex. At first I thought it would be too complicated for me, but the instructions were good and the plastic pieces were durable enough that you didn't have to worry about breaking them if you tried to force a leg into an arm socket, for example. It was all held together by small rubber caps that fit over plastic nubs. I put the tiny gold man into the cockpit (which was also the head of the Zoid), and I wound the little black motor up, and put it down on the table and let it go. It walked slowly, the motor making a hissing sound. It was actually pretty amazing to see something that I had just built moving like that, with no glue or batteries. I mounted the guns on their pegs and made a game where the Trooperzoid would stalk through a platoon of my Star Wars figures, wreaking havoc until a tragically decapitated Boba Fett managed to detonate his jet pack next to it, blowing the zoid to bits.

I didn't think too much more about it, even though I thought it was a pretty cool toy, until someone, obviously noticing how much I liked the first one, bought me a Scorpozoid. This one was even cooler - it had a spider/scorpion kind of vibe going on, with guns of course, and it and the Trooperzoid fought many epic battles, sometimes side by side, and sometimes against each other. My Zoid epiphany came when I was assembling them both one day, and tried attaching the Scorpozoid's legs to the Trooperzoid's body. It didn't quite work, but an idea was born, and I spent the rest of the day splicing the two creatures together in various different and probably horrific ways.

I needed more raw material, and my parents bought me more Zoids. I got the Spiderzoid (the weak cousin of the Scorpozoid, it always got its ass kicked by the others), the Hellrunner (extremely cool evil Red Zoid, looked like it wouldn't be much good in face to face combat until it revealed its fucking huge hidden gun), and the Znake (very cool snake design, unfortunately in my imagination it was only good for betrayals and spreading of confusion). One Christmas all my wishes came true when I woke up to find the legendary Zoidzilla outside my bedroom door. Unfortunately all of Zoidzilla's parts were bigger than the normal Zoids', so he couldn't be cannibalized or spliced together with them into my growing army of Spider-scorpo-trooper-snakezoids, but this minor disappointment was more than made up for by the discovery that he roared and his eyes lit up and he had HUGE FUCKING TURBO LASER GUNS. I spent an hour building him, he spent a half hour blowing all the other Zoids to pieces to establish his supreme authority over them, and they all went on to bigger and better things, like scaring the shit out of the cat.

I was a ten-year-old zoidcrack addict. When my family went to London my biggest excitement was going to the giant toy store, Hamleys, to get the rarer Power Zoids. I built up an impressive collection of the bigger Zoids, including Zoidzilla, Krark (scary pteranodon-like flying Zoid), Redhorn (giant red mechanical triceratops with enormous weapon. How cool is that?), Gore (think King Kong with lasers), Zabre (black and silver saber-tooth tiger) and Mammoth (actually he was my sister's, but he knew where his true loyalties lay). I hid the little gold drivers all around the house and held search and rescue missions for them. I took the guns from three small Zoids and loaded them onto the Trooperzoid until he was so badass that he fell over when he tried to walk. I laid them all out in battle formation on my bedroom floor and took photographs.

I even bought the comics, because I was a Spiderman fan already, and the Zoids strip had started running together with Secret Wars for a while before it moved to Spiderman. It started out pretty cheesy, and obviously intended for kids, but within a few issues something had happened - suddenly the storylines were getting more sophisticated, the artwork was better, and the Zoids strip was becoming the main reason I was buying the comic. The original plot was ditched (Who created all those robots in the first place anyway, and why are they all fighting?) in favour of a more human-interest one (space freighter crashlands on Zoid-infested planet). The comic ended just as it had reached its finest hour with the Black Zoid story, in which an unhinged cyborg creates an uber-Zoid and tries to kill - well, everyone really. It was Terminator meets Jurassic Park, and the good guys won, of course.

After a couple of years enough hormones got into my body that I didn't find the Zoids as interesting any more, and started discovering pornography, 2000AD and cigarettes. My mother refuses to throw them out - "I think those toys are better than any others out there, they teach kids all kinds of things while they're putting them together" - and its impossible to tell her that even though she's right - they were the best toys ever - toys like that have their day and then pass, and you can't resurrect them. Intact, fully functional Zoids are now collector's items, not as valuable as Star Wars figures but still enough to keep the toys within the hands of devoted collectors. I don't know if any collectors would be interested in my mutated, mutilated and much-played-with army, and I don't think I even have any of the instructions any more - I threw them out because I knew how to assemble and disassemble each Zoid, and probably could have done it blindfolded for most of them. It's a toss-up which were my favourite toys of all time - Zoids or Star Wars stuff - but there's no doubt in my mind who would win a fight between them. Zoids kicked ass.

Cartoon Network shows two anime series pertaining to Zoids: Zoids Chaotic Century and Zoids New Century/0. Both series take place on the planet Zi, and in both the Zoids are metallic lifeforms which are used by people as workers and weapons.

Zoids Chaotic Century follows a boy named Van Fleiheit who is being chased by bandits and finds a girl named Fiona and a small silver zoid, which he names Zeke, in old capsules in some old ruins. Zeke, who is later found to be an Organoid, helps Van and Fiona escape the bandits by reactivating a broken Shield Leiger and helping Van pilot it out. As the series progresses, Van meets various opponents, such as Raven, and friends, like Moonbay and Irvine, and eventually ends up helping Fiona in her quest to regain her memory and to find the Zoid Eve.

Zoids New Century/0 takes place several centuries after Chaotic Century, where zoid battles have become a form of sport and battles are sanctioned by the Zoid Battle Commission. The series starts with a junk dealer named Bit Cloud, who gets caught up in one of the sanctioned zoid battles and ends up almost ruining the Blitz team's chances of scoring victory, and ends up getting the match rescheduled to the next day. Bit decides to help them win the battle by piloting the unusual Leiger Zero, a zoid which noone seems to be able to pilot. The next day he pulls off an amazing victory in the resumed battle with his new partner, the Leiger Zero. Later, as Leon goes off on his own to hone his skills, Bit ends up joining the Blitz team and helping Brad, Lena, Jamie and Dr. Toros (father of Leon and Lena and leader of the Blitz team) score victories in their continuing adventures leading up to the Royal Cup match.

Cartoon Network times (EST):
Chaotic Century: 6:30 AM, 4:00 PM Mon-Fri
New Century/0: 11:00PM, 11:30PM Sat


P.S. I wonder why no one posted this earlier... These have been on Cartoon Network for at least 2 years now.

P.P.S. Zoids Fuzors is a new series in this same universe that takes place after both the previous series.
This writeup is under the GNU Free Documentation License

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.