Friday, February 4, 2011

FEATURE: A Collector's Guide to Microman and Micronauts

Microman (and his Westernised cousin, the Micronaut) are a great line of toys for collectors, with enough ''common'' figures to allow you to put together a decent-sized collection on a budget and the toys themselves are well-produced, highly-detailed figures with their own unique look. 

If you've ever thought about starting a collection or are looking to expand your Microman army's ranks, then this guide will hopefully give you a few pointers you may find useful.

The Four Ages of (Micro)Man
Microman toys come in four main groups, based upon both design and date of release. You may decide to collect from one group only, or you may decide - as I did - to mix and match. A word of warning, though: if you do decide to collect them all you must first accept that unless you have a lot of cash and a lot of luck you'll never have a complete collection. Obviously collecting from multiple groups offers a wider range of figures to collect but if you're an obsessive completist then stick to a single group, as you've more chance of putting together a complete collection if you do that.

So let's take a look at the four groups:

1. Vintage Microman
The original Microman line was released in Japan from 1974 to 1984*.  

This presents the would-be collector with two major hurdles: geography and age. Although the Internet has done a lot to create a global marketplace (thus partially eliminating the first issue), it cannot reverse time (yet.)  Even though the toys were well manufactured, they were also very detailed and so wear and tear has probably claimed many of these figures and vehicles. Complete, boxed figures and accessories are rare and - in collector terms - that means expensive. And while the geographical barriers that once existed are no more thanks to the World Wide Web, you'll still need to find a way to get that toy from overseas to your home and that can mean a hefty shipping fee.

On the plus-side, though, these figures and vehicles are superb examples of retro-futuristic design. If you grew-up during this period, you'll feel a great affinity with these designs and there's a wonderful sense of nostalgia associated with them. They're also great historic pieces to own and whilst nobody would ever suggest that buying toys is a good financial investment, they are - in their own way - little treasures.

Price-wise, these are some of the most expensive Microman toys. You may sometimes pick-up some bargains (Ebay sellers sometimes have incomplete or worn figures for the sub-$20 mark) but be prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on some of the larger or rarer pieces, especially if they're in good condition.

*  For the purposes of this article, I'm grouping Original Microman and New Microman together under as ''Vintage''  but if you want more details, please see Paul L's invaluable Microman Forever)

2. Replica Micromen
If you want all the charm and aesthetics of the Vintage Micromen but can't afford it, then don't despair - there is another option.

Takara licensed the Microman likenesses and designs to a company called Romando between 1996 and 1997 and - when they saw how successful these toys were - revoked the license, producing their own Replica Micromen from 1999 to 2003. Essentially what this means is that there are a number of high-quality, very accurate copies of the Vintage Micromen now in circulation, making them ideal for collectors on a budget who want to see these awesome designs for themselves.

Although there may be minor discrepancies between some of the Replica Micromen and the originals, it's often difficult to tell them apart without a side-by-side comparison. And given the rarity of the Vintage figures, it's highly unlikely you'd ever be in that situation.

Obviously, as they're not the Vintage toys their pricing is a little more wallet-friendly. Expect to pay anywhere between $10 and $40 dollars for toys from this range. If somebody is trying to charge much more than that (unless it's for a larger piece such as the Robotman Replica) then shop around before making your decision - you may find it cheaper elsewhere.

3. Magne Powers and LED Powers Micromen
When Takara saw the interest in Microman toys generated by the Romando Replicas they not only created their own Replica line but also began production of a new series of Micromen, the first of which were the Magne Powers Micromen.

These figures were much more ''toy-like'' than the previous Replicas, being a little more robust and less detailed. Their level of articulation is quite limited compared to earlier Micromen, for example. The production quality is perfectly fine, though, despite - or perhaps because of - the simplicity of the designs.

The Magne/LED Powers Micromen are actually a lot of fun and have some nice ''play'' concepts behind them, with the idea of the figures being ''actual size'' being at the centre of this.  For example, there are a number of transforming vehicles based upon real-world objects - a noodle cup that secretly houses a micro-helicopter or even a PlayStation console that is in reality a secret base.

Initially released to the Japanese market in 1999, the line was also marketed extensively in South Korea in 2002, so it's quite common to find both Japanese and Korean versions of these toys for sale. Most collectors prefer the Japanese toys (the packaging, I believe, is the only difference) so it's often possible to pick-up the Korean versions at a reduced price due to the lower demand.

Again, there are a number of quite common figures in this line, some of which you can pick-up for under $10 (plus shipping.)  Even the vehicles and play-sets are incredibly affordable if you invest a bit of time looking for them. I recently found - and ordered - the Micro Trailer with Secret Breater Pilot Edison for $20 and the Mr Grey & Kirin Power Drink (Including Magne Cyber) for $13. It's worth noting though that the prices on these toys fluctuate wildly and many sellers seem to overvalue their worth. I've seen identical sets listed at $25 and $100 on the same site, on same day, so as ever, shop around before you buy.

4. Microman MicroForce
Released to appease the collectors disappointed in the Magne/LED Powers range, the MicroForce series are a return to the concepts of the original figures (high detail, super-poseable toys) created with modern styling and production methods.

There were a number of ''sub-lines'' within the range. The core line, the Microman series, featured new figures with designs inspired by the original series. These are among some of the coolest-looking toys Takara ever produced and they do an excellent job honouring the Microman legacy. 

Takara also used the new Microman body sculpts to produce other ranges of toys, including licensed characters from such lines as Batman, Street Fighter and popular Anime/Manga, plus the Kiguru series, which featured Microman ''actors'' donning rubber monster suits(!) and the Material Force figures, which consisted of ''blank'' action figures intended for customisation by the buyer. Whilst these lines are interesting, I've always found the core Microman series to be the most appealing.

There are some excellent designs, many of which - as previously mentioned - echo the original Microman concepts and even incorporate aspects of Takara's earlier hero, Henshin Cyborg and his nemesis, King Walder.  However the line is not without its faults. The production-quality sometimes suffers, with loose joints and even shattered pieces not being uncommon. The Bio Machines line, for example, was distributed in the US but had a number of issues with the ankle joints of the figures, so whenever you can, try to find the Japanese versions. Some of the smaller figures are also incredibly fragile and intricate, meaning one fall or knock could see you losing pieces forever.

The figures were released in five waves between 2003 and 2007, so their modernity makes them fairly easy to find. However, they only received a limited release outside of Japan, so again, you may find yourself paying a lot for shipping should you find the figures you want.

Whilst their value varies, a price-tag of $10 - $30 is the norm for these single figures. As ever though, shop around before making your decision.

So what of The Micronauts, the Westernised-versions of Microman? Again, we have a few varieties to cover here, so let's start with... 

1. Vintage Micronauts (Mego)
When US toy company Mego saw the success of Microman in Japan, they decided they wanted in on the action and so struck a deal that saw the Microman toys repackaged, retooled and re-branded as The Micronauts for the Western market.

Micronauts were widely released across the US, with a more limited release in the UK and Europe. As a result, they're still surprisingly common but be warned that - like vintage Micromen - you'll be paying a little more for them and the toys are unlikely to be in mint-condition.

The most common problems with the Micronaut figures include wear to the head (the chrome effect rubs off very easily), snapped wrists/ankles, missing parts and loose joints. Battery-operated toys may no longer work and larger sets may be missing parts. However, if you've the patience, you'll find it possible to piece-together a number of these vintage toys by purchasing incomplete lots or parts bags, which often appear at fairly reasonable prices. 

Be warned that some of the rarer toys sold on Ebay will be sold as Auctions, meaning you'll have to bid (and re-bid) to secure them. Also, prices on some of the harder-to-find toys or pieces that are in good condition will run into the hundreds of dollars.

2. Lion Rock Micronauts
Following Mego's demise, Lion Rock briefly distributed a range of figures -  left-over stock from Mego's collapse - each mounted on a card and packed without their full accessories. These oddities are really for the hardcore collector only. In my years of collecting I've never seen any of them for sale, unless some are being sold loose as Mego figures with no knowledge of their origin.

3. Inter-Changeables
Another line of the toy purely for the uber-collector, these figures and vehicles were released solely in the US and Canada five years after the demise of Mego's Micronauts in 1980 and came in two waves. The first saw the figures released in candy-pinks and day-glo yellows, with a more sombre grey and blue release following later. Although they do appear on Ebay now and again, they are quite rare and so are also expensive. The Inter-Changeables are definitely for the dedicated collector only.

4. Nouvi Micronauti

Nuovi Micronauti - as the name may suggest - are a line of Italian toys, released - like the Inter-Changeables - after Mego's demise. Italian manufacturer GiG had already successfully marketed the licensed i Micronauti line for a number of years, even licensing toys directly from Takara that did not appear in the US range. But when the line finally folded in 1980, the Nouvi Micronauti stepped in to fill the void. The range was limited to six releases, all based upon the Magno-style figures such as Baron Karza. Again, although they may sometimes appear for sale online, they're quite rare and so a little more expensive.

5. Palisades Replica Micronauts
In 2002 US toy firm Palisades - no doubt inspired by the success of the Microman Replica lines - introduced a series of Micronaut Replica figures.

Like the Microman line, they recreated the original figures from the range using modern manufacturing techniques. However, it didn't end there. New colourways were introduced and additional accessories were created to augment the original designs.

Unfortunately, Palisades ran into problems when the Hong Kong factory they were working with secretly employed a sub-standard manufacturing plant to handle production. As a result, quality-control was non-existent and production errors were rife with many figures not completed to the standard promised. Although Palisades did their best to rectify the problems of the first run and managed to produce some excellent figures for Waves 1.5 and 2, the damage was done and the line - as well as Palisades as a company - came to an end shortly afterward.

It's a real shame, as the Palisades Micronauts were clearly a labour of love: they enhanced each original design with new accessories and didn't limit themselves to the predictable choices, even introducing new figures. These replicas also grant collectors to get their hands on figures never released in their home territories - the Galactic Defender and aliens range being a prime example of toys previously unavailable to UK fans.

Again, given that these figures were produced within the last decade or so, they're relatively easy to track down. Granted, finding specific colourways and - at times - even certain figures may be difficult, but there are usually a number of these toys available online in one form or another.

Be warned that the production problems of the first release are - obviously - still present in figures from that line and even the later waves had a few issues that were never ironed-out. This guide by Ray ''Acroray'' Miller sheds more light on the matter and should be consulted before buying any of the Palisades toys.

Prices vary wildly on these figures. If you have a local specialist toy store, you may well find these figures relegated to the bargain bin, so check there first. I was able to purchase a Red Falcon (brand-new) for $7 from a local comic store, where it was sat, tucked-away on a shelf. Then again, some of the sets are listed online with prices in excess of the vintage toys, so as ever, compare before you buy.

Further Reading
Microman Forever should be the first port of call for any would-be Microman collector. As well as giving a full time-line of releases, it also features photo galleries and background information on the line that's as entertaining as it is educational.

For Micronaut fans, the excellent Inner Space Online covers all things Microversal and AcroRay's guide is also essential when buying Palisades toys.

I would also suggest reading our Online Shopping Guide for tips on where to find Micronaut and Micromen toys.

Special Thanks to Bryan ''Microbry'' Wilkinson for clarifying some points regarding the non-Mego Micronauts.

So there you have it. If this article has inspired you to seek-out these awesome toys, then I'd like to wish you some success with your quest. Not every success, mind, as my collections are still incomplete so I need some measure of that luck, too!


  1. This is one fantastic guide you put together sir and plan on using it this summer as move through the flea markets,antique shows and comic book shops.

  2. Glad to be of assistance. I've only ever found one store around here that sold Microman/Micronauts, though, but you might hit it lucky. Most of mine are/were ordered online, as it's sometimes the only way to get them.

  3. I spotted some last year at a "Antique Show" but they were in such rough shape i felt it wasn't even worth my time so i passed on them.

  4. My wife and I often frequent Flea Markets and Antique places and I always go in hoping to find something. As of yet though, I've never had any success but here's hoping!

  5. I go to as many of the thrift stores and flea markets i can these days and started adding comic book shops too.

  6. The only toy I ever snagged at a flea market was a bag of old Gogo's Crazy Bones - unless you count getting some stuff from HD Comics & Toys/Billy's Place at the Pendergrass Flea Market.

    As for comic shops, I did find today - purely by chance - that the store I used to go to (which had closed-down) has actually moved to a new location. I was looking at toys in Walmart and a guy doing the same struck-up a conversation with me about Marvel toys then recommended the comic store. So although I came away empty-handed, at least I got a new lead!


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