X-Bomber was another Japanese Super Robot show. But it was a bit different from its' contemporaries - instead of using animation or actors, the series mainly used puppets.
Marionettes, in conjunction with miniature sets and traditional model work, had gained considerable success in the UK in the late 1950s and for much of the series, most notably in Gerry Anderson's string (lawl) of science fantasy hits - Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons - and then been buried by the failures of the dire Joe 90 and the irritatingly obtuse Secret Service. At which point Anderson flounced off to produce 'proper telly', including the sterile, joyless white elephant Space: 1999 (it's worth noting that each Anderson show has a glorious, thumping theme tune - the actual quality of the shows rarely match them).
Thunderbirds had been successful when exported to Japan in 1966. At the time Dinky tried cashing in on this by selling its' range of lovely diecast vehicles from the series, but were nobbled by the cost of shipping the heavy toys over. However, their quality did inspire indigenous company Popy to make their diecast Popynica vehicles, which led to Chogokin and via a convoluted series of events basically every toy mentioned on this site. So fair play.
But I'm straying from the point. Go Nagai, a legendary Japanese manga writer (who created, amongst others, Getter Robo, Mazinger Z and Grendizer) worked with Fuji TV to produce a science fiction Super Robot show using updated marionette technology. Whereas the Anderson puppets were controlled by strings held above them (that were visible quite often), those used for Super Space Machine X-Bomber were manipulated by rods from underneath (a similar system was used by Anderson himself for 1986's Terrahawks). This did, however, mean the characters are only seen from the waist up. This was mixed with modelwork, while most of the scenes featuring the X-Bomber's robot form (Big Dai X) utilised that old tokusatsu standby, a lucky studio employee in a big suit kicking the crap out of models.
Takatoku snaffled the merchandising rights for their Z-Gokin series, concentrating mainly on Big Dai X. Three figures were made - the ST, the DX (which transformed into a single spacecraft not seen in the series) and the Blitzkrieg Combination, which actually split into the three ships seen on screen. The DX is an expensive figure; the Blitzkrieg Combination version is so stupendously rare that only the five richest kings in Europe can actually afford one. Solid fact. For plebs like me, the recommended option is fluking onto an ST with a load of bits missing that costs a tenner on ebay.
X-Bomber achieved a certain cult following when it was imported to the UK, dubbed and shown in ITV as Star Fleet. This was a considerable success, spawning an annual, a comic strip serial in Look-In magazine and jigsaw puzzles. Unforgivably the toys weren't imported, making them just as scarce here. Star Fleet has a dedicated core of several marvellously presented British fan sites (one of which is developing a freeware PC game, while another is planning a CGI continuation), links to some of which follow at the end of this article.
Indeed, there's enough of a following in the UK for Fabulous Films to have released a lavish DVD box set of the show. New toys seem less likely - YuJin appear to have produced at least one Gashapon figure, but there's no sign of something proper. It's possible that X-Bomber suffers from Golion Syndrome - the original is largely forgotten in Japan, and someone there holds the rights but has no interest in exploiting them solely for the export market.
X-Bomber/Star Fleet links - I might not know what I'm talking about, but these fellers do: -
- contains an
FAQ, details on planned fan continuation Star Fleet - Genesis,
and scans of the Look-In comic strips.