Popy is the literal "soul" in the Soul of Chogokin series, the company that started it all. Dozens of contenders manufactured robot toys in the Seventies. Popy reigned supreme. Founded as a Bandai subsidiary in July of 1971, it quickly grew from an unknown spin-off into an elite organization dedicated to a solitary purpose: making some of the greatest character toys ever created in Japan (or anywhere else, for that matter.)
The company's name - a play on the words "Hope" and "Happiness" - set the tone for more than a decade of toy love that was to follow. In an effort to adapt to an ever-changing, often fickle marketplace, Popy's handpicked team of designers and engineers had to devise new toy concepts at a breakneck pace, emphasizing a combination of creativity and speed. But the fledgling toy company wouldn't score its first major hit until 1972, with the "Henshin Belt" from the live-action show Kamen Rider. A kid-sized replica of the high tech belt worn by actor Hiroshi Fujioka in the television series, it also featured a battery-powered light-up feature and spinning fan blades. Released in December of 1971, it sold sluggishly at first due to Popy's newcomer status and the toy's relatively high price. By spring, however, it had risen to the top of kids' wish lists, regularly selling out in toy and department stores. And by the end of 1972, it had become one of the hottest-selling toys of the year, firmly establishing Popy's reputation as a crack team of toy designers.
Popy's breakthrough product came out the same year, when someone came up with the then-untested idea of creating a diecast metal character toy - a portrayal of the "Cyclone," the tricked-out motorcycle from the "Kamen Rider" television series, to be precise. Popy wasn't the first company to produce diecast vehicles, but it was one of the first to use the material to make toys of characters from popular television shows. The "Mini Mini Cyclone," as the toy came to be called, proved a top seller and firmly established a market for diecast character toys. Realizing they were on to something, Popy quickly expanded the series into an entire line of vehicles called "Popinika" (a contraction of "Popy" and "Mini-Car," the latter being the term for pocket-sized diecast cars in Japan.) Within two years, Popy needed to manufacture a stunning one million Popinika toys every month to keep up with demand. Diecast toys, it seemed, were serious business.
Hot on the heels of the success of the Mini Mini Cyclone came the "Jumbo Machinder," a literally jumbo-sized plastic portrayal of the popular animated giant robot character Mazinger Z. Originally conceived as a "buddy" for the kids who played with it, the prototype Jumbo Machinder Mazinger Z towered a meter - nearly three feet - off the ground. Even after it was scaled down to 60 centimeters (two feet) out of safety concerns, its bright colors and impervious polyethylene plastic skin made it a quick favorite among Japanese children. Popy sold some 400,000 Jumbo Machinder Mazinger Z toys within just five months after its release in 1973, establishing a brand name that would prosper for more than a decade. The series would eventually encompass dozens of giant robot and hero characters.
Taking his cue from the spectacular success of the Popinika diecast vehicles and the Jumbo Machinder robots, product manager Katsushi Murakami hit upon the idea of combining the concepts for the following season. His aim was to utilize diecast metal to create a compact, pocked-sized action figure with an unparalleled sense of weight and precision detail - something that, when held in the hand, would blur the line between the toy and the actual animated character. The result was the Chogokin Mazinger Z. Molded out of near solid diecast zinc alloy and touted as being made out of "Chogokin" -- "super alloy," the same fictional material used to build the robot in the television series - it was an immediate sensation when it first hit toy stores in February of 1974. Kids couldn't get enough, and competitors rushed to sponsor other robot TV shows so that they could sell their own diecast robots. A veritable toy robot arms race was on. The Chogokin Mazinger Z didn't just fly off of store shelves; it succeeded in creating an entire new market for robot hero characters. Eventually encompassing more than 200 robot and hero characters, "Chogokin" grew from brand name to buzzword, quickly becoming a synonym for the highest quality diecast toys the industry had to offer.
The toys proved so popular, in fact, that they began attracting attention abroad as well. In the late 1970s, the American toy company Mattel repackaged versions of several best-selling Chogokin, Popinika, and Jumbo Machinder toys as the "Shogun Warriors" for sale in the United States and Europe. And in the 1980s, Bandai America released a selection of DX (Deluxe) Chogokin robots under the "Godaikin" brand name, making the toys a worldwide phenomenon.
Popy was absorbed back into its parent company in a 1983 reorganization, but its spirit of continually pushing the envelope of toy engineering lives on in the Bandai Collectors Division. The Soul of Chogokin series is a tribute and a crystallization of Popy's decades of experience and passion for making great toys.