It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … Supershish?

Silvan the cat, manufactured by Dakin in the 1980s. This picture is from a recent eBay auction.

“Vintage Dakin 1980 Japanese Artists Black Cat Silvan,” the listing says, “He has a slight musky odor but due to his age I do not want to wash him–he was surface washed with disinfectant wipe and sprayed with allergen spray lightly.”  Next to the description is the price:  $179.10. In another auction with a similar discription, Silvan is wearing a Santa hat and the seller is asking for $129 [note: these prices were in 2010 … another look at eBay in 2017 sees prices run from $10-$75].

I was looking for a gag gift for my sister’s 30th birthday, which happens to be today.  It was an old tradition of ours–give a “cheesy gift” with a real gift for birthdays and Christmas–that we gave up a couple of years ago after running out of good ideas that weren’t going to cost too much money.  I brought it back because when your younger sister turns 30, you bust her chops as much as possible.

Finding her gift meant combing eBay for something that was appropriate or reflected whatever idiotic inside jokes we’ve shared over the years.  I spend the better part of an evening doing so, and in the midst of my searching, I typed in “Silvan cat” and found the listings I described above.

Had I been able to afford such a high-priced stuffed animal, I’m sure I would have sent it her way because she would have laughed her ass off (I know she did when I sent her the link to the auction).  Back when we were kids, Nancy had a menagerie of stuffed animals, most of which were gifts from grandparents and other relatives, and with the exception of some Pound Puppies or various stuffed Garfields and Odies, none of them were really from a series or line of characters.  Most, I believe, were purchased at random from toy stores or stationery stores.  Silvan, however, was a little bit different and wound up being a little more important.


Legions of Power: Guardians of the toy closet

The Legions of Power "air team" set, complete with thermonuclear warhead. (graphic courtesy of Virtual Toy

I have often wondered what goes through the heads of those aunts who seemed to give you the most random toys for Christmas every year.  You know the ones I’m talking about–they seem to be able to find the last remaining Star Wars figures five years after anyone stopped collecting Star Wars figures, or hear you like He-Man and buy you a figure from a completely different line of toys that sort of looks like He-Man but isn’t.  During my childhood, I had several of these relatives, both aunts and great aunts, who bestowed upon me figures, vehicles and playsets from toy lines that were out of style or had never really been heard of.  It’s how I wound up with the Castle of Lions playset as well as much of the Panosh Place line of Voltron toys.  And It’s also how I wound up with several vehicles in the Legions of Power.


Cars and Trucks and Things That Go!

The vehicle Voltron, an also-ran in 1980s anime-based giant robots.

When the casual observer hears the word “Voltron,” he definitely thinks of the famous robot that was formed from five lions; however, those of us who watched the show religiously every afternoon know that “Voltron” can be either one of two robots: the famous lion robot and one made of many vehicles (and the truly hardcore know there was a third Voltron, but I’ll get to that later).

The vehicle Voltron snuck up on the country as quickly as the lion Voltron did.  One day, we were sitting down to watch the mighty Voltron fight King Zarkon and Prince Lotor and the next, there were a bunch of people we’d never seen and a completely different robot.  This one had fifteen characters to follow, all of whom made up a Voltron force that fought against the Drule empire.  It was kind of like a mash-up between Voltron and Robotech, and it would have made sense if it seemed like it had anything to do with the other series (like Robotech did — each series took place after the other), but there didn’t seem to be much of a connection except that both robots were named Voltron and the people who piloted the vehicles were cheap knock-offs of characters on the other show.

So the introduction of the vehicle Voltron after the lion Voltron never really actually ended seemed abrupt, like they were interrupting everything to push something else on me, or trying to Coy and Vance me.  I think that’s one of the reasons this one never caught on; the other was that with fifteen characters behind fifteen parts of Voltron, it was really hard to remember who was who.  Sure, there was a land, sea, and air team that altogether formed the mighty robot, but whereas I could recite the entire lion transformation scene and knew exactly who I wanted to be when we “played Voltron” on the playground, telling my friends that I wanted to be “Cliff” from the land team seemed really awkward.


Go Lionbot Force! Wait … that doesn’t sound right.

The Matchbox-produced lion Voltron. According to the package, he's the "king of the space jungle."

In your childhood, I guess there are phenomena and there are milestones where toys are concerned.  And then there are flash in the pans, those toys that are insanely popular for most of a school year but get shoved to the back of a toy closet by the summer.  My first experience with a flash in the pan was Voltron.

 In a couple of weeks, I’ll talk about the cartoon series that spawned this particular toy, but it’s worth mentioning that I only know what voltron was because an early episode was on at my neighbor’s house one afternoon when I was in the second grade.  I didn’t know what the cartoon was, just that five robot lions that formed a much larger robot were pretty kickass.

 Soon after watching those first few episodes of the lion Voltron (the vehicle Voltron came later), my schoolmates and I were compoetely hooked.  We played Voltron just about every day and very often I was Keith or Lance and on at least a couple of occasions, my friend Lori wore her hair like Princess Allura.

Still, the tie-in toys alluded us, which was weird considering that every single cartoon we watched in those days was essentially a 30-minute toy commercial.  Even some of the movies—Star Wars, for instance—had a toy line.  But nobody, when those first few shows aired, owned a Voltron.  That’s probably because we never saw television commercials for Voltron toys.

In fact, I would not come across any toy related to Voltron for the better part of six months, when I would be at a local stationary store, Sayville Card and Gift (which may have been known as Unique Cards and Gifts at the time), browsing through the toys while my dad was two doors down buying Chinese food, and spotted something called “Lionbot.” 

But what was inside the “Lionbot” case was a die-cast metal Voltron lion.


Catch the RAGE!

You know, when it came to toy commercials in the 1980s, very few of the toys advertised actually delivered on their promises.  This is to be expected — after all, there’s a certain amount of deceit in advertising and kids are pretty gullible.

Take the Nerf turbo football, for instance.  It was black and pink and had aerodynamic grooves that were supposed to help you throw a perfect spiral all the way around the world, or at least according to the commercial.  I didn’t expect to be able to throw it that far, but I did expect it to improve my spiral.  Alas, it didn’t–to this day, my football throws still look like shot ducks.

The Orbi, on the other hand, was one of those rare toys that lived up to its potential.  It came out in the late 1980s and was a heavy rubber orange ball with plastic “wings” that had two ribboned flags on their ends.  You grabbed the ribbons, swung it around, and then flung it through the air.  It sounds like it was based on some sort of medieval weapon.  But, you know, neon colored.