Beetras Beet-GugalArmoured Battalion Insect Beetras a last gasp from the innovative Japanese company Takatoku Toys.

Takatoku had spent much of the late 1970s competing with Popy in the Super Robot market. Their Z-Gokin series featured licensed diecast robots from series such as X-Bomber, Daikengo, Goshogun, Captain Harlock and the J-9 trilogy. Unlike Popy (and most of their contemporaries), they were able to shift when the success of Mobile Suit Gundam moved the goal posts, replacing fantastical super robots with science fiction style military hardware.

Their big success in this area was Macross. Not only was the series (made in association with Big West) a huge hit, but Takatoku devised the classic Kanzen Henkei ('Perfectly Transforming') 1/55 scale VF-1 Valkyrie mecha. This was arguably the first transforming robot toy to pay equal attention to the accuracy of both robot and vehicle modes, and was hugely popular - the mould was so well received Takatoku were able to base the line around it, selling six variants with slight changes.

Buoyed by this success, the company partnered Big West again for Orguss. However, the storyline and mecha designs weren't as popular, and Orguss would be an expensive flop for Takatoku, even if the anime retains a following. Takatoku then tried to revisit the realism of Macross, linking up with Ashi Productions to make the action/hardware orientated Dorvack. The line was another disaster, with the relatively basic storyline of the anime failing to find many fans and the merchandise failing to sell accordingly.

So, by the time of Beetras, Takatoku were on the skids. They persisted with the real robot/Kanzen Henkei ethos, and engaged Artmic Studios to design mecha for a new line, Beetras. Designer Shinji Aramaki devised five transforming insect mecha for the primary characters - Beet-Gadol, Beet-Gugal, Beet-Papil, Beet-Vadam and Beet-Zeguna. However, Takatoku's financial situation was worsening at some speed. No anime was ever produced, while the toyline was scaled down first to four figures (with Beet-Papil seemingly abandoned at the design stage), then to three (with Beet-Vadam never entering production). Even these cutbacks weren't enough, and shortly after the figures were released, Takatoku finally folded completely.

Convertors Insector CrawlerThat wasn't quite the end for the Beetras figures, however. Mark (who had an ongoing agreement to produce budget versions of Takatoku toys) produced simplified, all-plastic Beetras figures under the name of Zectron. I'd guess, having paid the fee for use of the basic designs, Mark then saw no reason to tie the things in to a dead brand with no TV support. Two of these figures were then licensed to American manufacturer Select, who used them as Insectors in the second year of their Convertors brand (the Beet-Zeguna design being used for Crawler, and the Beet-Vadam design becoming Morphus).

Transformers Deluxe Insecticsons: [l-r] Venom, Chop Shop, Barrage, RansackThe moulds themselves were acquired by Bandai, who were mainly after the Macross Valkyrie mould and had little interest in the others. In 1984, Hasbro had licensed Takara's own series of Kanzen Henkei figures, the Diaclone Real Robot and Microman Microchange series, and reformatted them into the Transformers brand. This had been a massive success, and by 1985 Hasbro were unable to match the demand for new Transformers figures. While Takara worked on brand new moulds, Hasbro leased the Takatoku figures from Bandai as a stopgap. The result were the Deluxe Vehicles (two Dorvack figures) and Deluxe Insecticons (the four Beetras figures). The deal (which would seem to be separate from that made for the Macross Valkyrie to be Jetfire) was for a North American licence only, as Bandai had interests in Europe and (obviously) Asia. The four figures were recoloured and renamed - Beet-Gadol became Venom, Beet-Gugal became Chop Shop, Beet-Vadam (the first proper release of the figure) became Ransack, and Beet-Zeguna became Barrage. Whether for licensing reasons or just because they were a stop gap, the Deluxe Insecticons didn't feature in the cartoon series or the American Marvel comic - though Chop Shop and Venom would randomly show up in the UK version of the comic four years later, albeit as unspeaking cannon fodder. Since then they've made occasional appearances in Dreamwave and IDW's comics in much the same role, usually heavily redesigned. Because Bandai are now a major rival of Hasbro on the American market, there's no way they'll be reissued any time soon.

Takatoku Beetras Beet-GugalThe Beetras figures that did ship didn't sell well, and while they're hardly common they're not exactly the most sought after of vintage robots, mainly being of interest to Takatoku lovers and more hardcore Transformers fans (the Deluxe Insecticons are probably the most obscure releases from the line's mid-1980s glory days). However, I managed to find a boxed Beet-Gugal on ebay. An Italian seller seemed to have come across a case of the figure left over from 1984 (it's possible Italy received unsold stock; the packaging is identical to the Japanese version, with a small sticker bearing a safety warning in Italian slapped on the top). The box just looks marvellous - I've had vintage figures in well-looked after boxes before, but the way this looks like I'd just picked it up in the shop... It's like crack. But probably more expensive in the long run, if a little less illegal.

Takatoku Beetras Beet-GugalThe box is well presented, primarily white with a tasteful band of four colours running around the bottom half - it's quite reminiscent of the 1984-86 Machine Robo packaging. The front has a plastic window showing off the figure, and artwork showing both modes of the Beet-Gugal. There's also a little blurb in English ('SUPER REAL DIE-CAST/PLASTIC MODEL & HIGH TECHNOLOGY PRODUCED BY TAKATOKU TOYS' - fantastic!), and a little list of stats as seen on other Takatoku Kanzen Henkei lines. The back includes a blurb, which I think is the Beetras storyline (a translation of which can be read at the ToyboxDX Datafile on the series), a picture of the four figures in a underground diorama (as seen above), and character models of the four mecha and their pilots. I'm guessing these were planned for the anime that never happened. I couldn't tell you which pilot is which, sorry... I think the mecha are presented in the order they were numbered for the toyline, though - Beet-Gadol as #1, Beet-Gugal as #2 (hence the large silver '2' on the spine of the box), Beet-Zeguna as #3 and the unreleased Beet-Vadam as #4.

Takatoku Beetras Beet-GugalAll of which makes it a bit of a shame that Beet-Gugal isn't particularly impressive. I've owned a heavily damaged Chop Shop in the past (during an abortive attempt to collect the Mayhem Attack Squad... I had him, Carnivac, Catilla and half of Battletrap before realising what a dreadful bunch of figures they made), and knew more or less what I was getting - an interesting, if rather flawed figure that shows its' age. I'm not sure the flatter 'real version' colours are much of an improvement. While the dark grey/light grey colour scheme might appeal to mecha fans a bit more, at least the Transformers brown/orange scheme had a bit more impact.

Takatoku Beetras Beet-GugalThat said, the design itself is quite nice. Disregarding their unusually strong characterisation, I always felt the Deluxe Insecticons were better-looking figures than their more famous Diaclone-sourced predecessors. There's more balance to both modes, and the robot ornamentation looks a lot more natural as a result, whereas the original Insecticons always looked like normal robots with a few antennae and legs grafted on.

Takatoku Beetras Beet-GugalBeet-Gugal is probably the most impressive of the lot, with the giant horns sprouting out of the shoulders and framing the excellent head design, and the thick, sturdy beetle legs coming out of the arms. The robot legs are a bit more if a qualified success - the work to hide the last two insect legs inside them is nice, but the two shell halves hanging off the sides are less impressive.

Articulation is at the shoulders, hips and knees. The leg movement isn't bad, but sadly the arms can only rotate up or down parallel to the body, which makes his lovely little weapons practically useless. It's a baffling limitation considering Takatoku's standard in past Kanzen Henkei lines, maybe hinting at a tight design budget and no resources to work out how to get more normal movement out of them without having to redesign the whole chest. It seems quite churlish to pick on a figure for not having its' arms move in a certain direction, but aside from a handful of very sloppy Transformers, I'm struggling to think of many other robot toys that can't move their arms in front of them. The other slight frustration is that the two chest-plate/shoulder parts don't really lock into place on the torso. Still, Beet-Gugal is nicely proportioned and looks mighty impressive standing to attention, even if his range is somewhat limited.

Takatoku Beetras Beet-GugalThe transformation process is surprisingly complex for such a small figure, with some ingenious touches. As well as the chest halves moving to cover the head and the leg arrangement mentioned above, the compacting of the spring-loaded arms is a neat touch. However, Beet-Gugal is delicate. The plastic is thin and brittle in places, especially on the legs, and this cuts down on the fun quite a bit - nothing worst than handling a figure that feels like it's going to break in your hands.

Takatoku Beetras Beet-GugalAgain, though, the toy looks impressive. The mode is based on a stag beetle, but a mechanised version. It's less abstract than the Diaclone Insecticons, while retaining a mechanical look - I especially like the little jets on the back. It just looks coherent, which is nice. The real surprise is that all six insect legs are mounted on ball joints - surely one of the earliest uses on a transforming robot, and something which makes the mode quite poseable. Nearly all the light grey parts are hidden in this mode quite neatly, even from underneath. It should be noted that Beet-Gugal comes with a sticker sheet containing 18 tiny detail symbols that I've yet to summon up the courage to tackle...

While flawed, Beet-Gugal is an interesting figure that certainly deserves to be a bit better known. While the design probably deserves a better fate than being effectively a footnote in the history of both Takatoku and the Transformers brand, at least it means someone's still heard of it. You could do worse than hunting one of these guys, or their Hasbro/Bandai successors, down.


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Armoured Battalion Insect Beetras links

ToyboxDX's excellent Datafile on Takatoku's Kanzen Henkei lines by Matt Alt and Robert Duban has a section on Beetras that's well worth a read.