One of the most infamous cartoons of the 1980s was Hanna-Barbera's Challenge of the Gobots. This cartoon, which adapted Tonka's Gobots toyline, was like the plastic source material rival to Hasbro and Takara's The Transformers. Remembered by many as a lower-quality franchise, Gobots is more made fun of than fondly remembered by nostalgic fans. However, in Japan, the franchise took on a much cooler form.
Machine Robo was the Japanese franchise that Tonka used to create Gobots, but its anime Revenge of Cronos was night and day compared to Hanna-Barbera's cartoon. Combining space opera and mecha anime action, Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos is a metaphorical look at what the Gobots franchise could have been. Beyond spawning several sequels and spin-offs, the original series is now being brought to the West through anime licensing company Discotek. Here's what anime fans should know about Japan's take on the Transformers' forgotten cousins.
Revenge of Cronos
The original Transformers cartoon was very much a collaboration between the East and West, with the Japanese exclusivity of later shows making them officially anime. For the first three seasons, however, the show was merely dubbed into Japanese and brought to the land of the Rising Sun. That wasn't an option for Popy/Bandai and their Machine Robo line, as they didn't want to dub the Challenge of the Gobots cartoon due to its dubious quality. Having run the transforming toy franchise for several years without a media arm, Popy finally decided to have Ashi Productions, known for working on mecha shows, create a Machine Robo anime.
The resulting show, Revenge of Cronos, remixed what little franchise narrative had previously been introduced, setting the show on the planet Cronos. There, Machine Robo robots lived in various tribes, with many of these machines such as protagonist Rom Stol being humanoid androids that resembled robots such as Mega Man or Astro Boy. They fought off the invading aliens known as the Gyandlar, who were made up predominantly of show-exclusive foes with no toys. Since basically all of the Machine Robos were heroes, this meant that Renegades from Gobots such as Cy-Kill and Cop-Tur (known in Machine Robo as simply Bike Robo and Gyro Robo) were good guys.
Starting off as fairly episodic, the show eventually began to focus more on longer arcs, with different tribes of heroes and villains being introduced. These included the stony transforming Rock People, known in the West as the Rock Lords. Rom Stohl would also combine with the larger Kenryu robot and take on his final Baikanfu form, making the series a true giant robot show.
The Legacy of Machine Robo
The series lasted for 47 episodes, although it's believed it was meant to have a total of 52. This span of episodes speaks to the show having been at least marginally popular, although it was never quite as well-known as Transformers. Ironically, Revenge of Cronos lasted from 1986 to 1987 -- the final waning years of popularity for the original Generation 1 Transformers cartoon in the West.
This version of the franchise would continue with two OVAs and a light novel featuring Rom and his sister Leina. Reborn into another world as humans, the duo eventually meet versions of their familiar Machine Robo friends. This essentially made the series into one of the earliest examples of isekai anime. In later 1987, a new anime was produced titled Machine Robo: Battle Hackers, which told an original story with all new characters.
2003's Machine Robo Rescue was more child-oriented, remixing old-school Machine Robo designs for Earthbound emergency-adventure stories. The next and so far last permutation of the franchise was the toyline Mugenbine, in which the Machine Robos transformed into different modes via powered transforming cubes. Although it didn't receive an anime, it did get several CGI commercial trailers.
The now retro original Revenge of Cronos anime and its fiction are what the franchise is still most known for, so it's no mystery as to why Discotek chose to finally fully localize this entry. Planned for an early 2022 release, Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos will be getting a Blu-ray print in the West, with every episode featuring English subtitles. This is the first time the entire series has come out in the West, finally giving fans a look at how the Japanese handled the Gobots. The later OVAs with Rom and Leina will also be included, as well as a pilot animated film. While these robots may not be quite as well-known as the Autobots and Decepticons, the legacy of Machine Robo proves there's still much more than meets the eye to the robots that would become Leader-1 and Cy-Kill.