The penultimate figure in the Machine Robo Series, Apollo Robo was first issued in Japan in 1985. The series was beginning to shift direction, to respond to Takara's successful blending of their toys with Western-inspired media tie-ins (i.e. Transformers) and the 600 Series was quickly becoming too expensive, especially considering Takara were getting away with simply repackaging their older toys.

By 1986, Bandai were doing the same, and the Apollo Robo was chosen to be reissued as part of the Revenge of Cronos tie-in line, now promoted as a member of the Jet Tribe. The figure was never issued in the West - possibly because Tonka felt the NASA ground had been adequately covered by the two versions of Spay-C or possibly because a Saturn V rocket was just too old to attract any sales.


ALTERNATE MODE

If any figure illustrates the original idea behind the Machine Robo line, it's this one. The figures were posited as puzzle toys rather than action figures (which is why, until Western ideas began creeping over, lines like Machine Robo and Diaclone had very little tie-in media, with only brief back-stories provided) and it's really only in this context that a Saturn V alt mode works. Imagine Tonka had imported this guy into Gobots; now imagine him appearing in a cartoon. Even Hanna-Barbera's nominal approach to reality would have trouble with a massive alt mode that's manoeuvrability is limited to going straight up. And even if they worked that into the plot somehow, what about the fact 95% of him would be jettisoned? Visuals of a Saturn V chasing Fitor or Cop-Tur across the sky are hard to picture.

However, it's a well-rendered rocket, I'll give them that. Granted, there's not much in theory that could be done wrong, but you've got to factor in that somewhere in here is a robot. That the rocket is sleek and largely accurate (only the pin ¾ of the way up and the separation tabs between the rockets really give the game away - that and I'm pretty sure NASA didn't use silver bands with 'MR' inscribed on them) is a credit to Bandai's designers.


ROBOT MODE

Getting a Robo out of a rocket is a difficult job, but considering Bandai's sterling work with Submarine Robo, it's not that much of a surprise that they manage it. The transformation sequence is rather slick, and the resulting robot is a lot better than it has any real right to be.

There are a few cheats - like Dive-Dive, Apollo isn't a figure that looks good from all angles. The backs of the legs are flat, while the arms are hollow and curved. But overall, he's a very neat piece of work. Some clever engineering gives him a bit of width, although the legs are perhaps a little close together and the feet are a little odd (more a way of folding the boosters away than giving him extra balance). Nevertheless, he looks rather good. Unusual and slightly ungainly, but the proportions are passable. It's not the best looking robot the line produced, but he certainly is a fantastic piece of engineering.


SUMMARY

Apollo is perhaps too idiosyncratic to really be a great figure. He's not the best of the Japanese exclusive moulds, but he's not the worst either, and in the grand scheme of the series he's safely mid-table. The vehicle mode is a bit from left field (though I rather like it, mind-bogglingly impractical though it may be), but the robot mode has a lot of charm to it. And as I say, the actual design and engineering is an absolute marvel. They got a robot from a space rocket. As with several later Machine Robo Series figures, the Revenge reissue seems to come up more often, though neither is common. However, he's well worth a look if you're in the market for a Japanese exclusive, being a very pleasant surprise. Once again, they got a robot from a space rocket.


THE FACTS
[Corrections? Let me know!]

RELEASES:
1985, Machine Robo Series - MR-53: Apollo Robo
1986, Machine Robo Revenge of Cronos - MRJ-3: Apollo Robo

PARTS:
None

WEAK POINTS:
None