I was digging through my toy chest the other day, looking for a spare TV remote, and I chanced upon a number of toys preserved from my childhood and, until that moment, forgotten. It was quite the trip down memory lane.
When I was around ten I loved Starriors, which were a line of plastic robot toys produced by Tomy, which, in retrospect, were remarkably prescient of Lego’s Bionicle. The franchise featured a somewhat-before-its-time storyline about a post-apocalyptic Earth in which two “races” of machines–“Destructors” and “Protectors”–vie for control of the planet. According to legend, both races were created by Man and left behind when he forsook the Earth’s surface, the Protectors to salvage, reconstruct, and protect the natural environment, and the Destructors to eliminate nasty mutants and aliens and other out-of-control beasties. In Man’s absence, the Destructors have taken over, enslaving the protectors and trying to blot out the memory of Man so they can rule without obligations. The Protectors keep the faith and do what they can to bring about the rebirth of Man, who is said to be concealed in hibernation in an ancient battle station. Most of the Starrior toys featured a tiny silver humanoid “pilot” figure apparently “riding” in the head which, in the story, was known as a “control chip.” These contained the essence of each Starrior–his or her robosoul, if you will. Supposedly the chips were shaped by Man in his image so that the Starriors would never forget their obligations to their Creator. Although the mini-comics that came with the toys were somewhat ambivalent on this point, if the control chips were scale replicas of human beings then the Starriors themselves were giant mecha by our standards.
In proper collect-them-all spirit, the packaging inserts listed all the available toys in the franchise, and I owned every one that was sold in the US, including the super-cool Armored Battle Station playset, for which I worked odd jobs to earn the necessary $20. The toys were not all released at once, with at least two “generations” appearing months apart and two particular toys, I recall vividly, never coming to market at all. These two were humanoid-type Starriors (known as “Wastors”) whose names were Flashfist and Bolar. Flashfist was a Protector and Bolar was a Destructor. They were listed and pictured in the packaging materials but never sold, a fact which frustrated me to no end. I even wrote a letter to Tomy asking when they would be released. I got some sort of canned response, as I recall.
One of the many cool things about the toys, in my opinion, was that the bits were interchangable. One could swap heads and arms and torsos and legs back and forth among the Wastors, and some of the other parts from the non-humanoid varieties. In truth there were few aesthetically satisfying combinations, however, as the colors from different toys tended to clash garishly and thus cause the hybrids to look exactly like what they were–bits and pieces of other toys stuck together. I experimented with lots of permutations before I discovered the red-and-black guy pictured below. I know I gave him a name, but I can’t now remember what it was. I do remember that I loved him intensely, and that I obsessed over him in a way that probably wasn’t healthy. I carried him around with me everywhere and would lose track of time staring at him from every angle, admiring the way all the bits fit together and complimented each other and considering myself pretty clever for having dreamed him up. He has the legs of Slaughter Steelgrave (the Destructor leader), the torso of Slice (a 2nd-gen Wastor with wind-up arm-weapon), and the arms and head of Saw-tooth (a 1st-gen Wastor with wind-up chest-weapon).
I remember quite clearly, when I was 11 or 12 years old, swearing to myself that when I grew old I would not put aside my toys and would continue to play with Starriors. They brought me so much happiness that I could not then bear the thought that I might ever part with them. In the end, of course, I did put them aside. They were dumped into a plastic barrel that lived in the attic of my parents’ house until I went off to college, and subsequently donated to charity when they moved out of that house. Only my little custom guy survived, and as an adult that seems right to me. Now, as a grown-up, I understand that the magic I experienced with these toys was not in the toys at all–it was in my head. And that’s why it’s right that the only one still with me is the one I made.