One of Tonka's biggest problems with the Gobots line was the supply of figures coming in from Bandai, as appetite in Japan for new figures was sated much more easily than it was in America. So after Bandai's initial spurt in 1983, a year which saw them add twenty figures to the Machine Robo Series (alongside the dozen already released by Popy in 1982-83), just 22 would follow over the next two years.

Tonka, meanwhile, issued 24 figures in the first series of Gobots, and once you factor in that several moulds were skipped as being unsuitable for the Western market (while a further half-dozen were discontinued in America due to poor sales) and that the second series consisted of 29 figures, it's plain to see that Tonka were catching up fast. This was the case with Block Head, who came out only a matter of months after his Japanese release as Mixer Robo. The US version had a minor sticker change, with the character's name-emblazoned drum being revised. The toy was a moderate seller, boosted by a handful of appearances in the Challenge of the Gobots cartoon, but failed to secure a European release.


ALTERNATE MODE

The cement mixer vehicle mode has an odd patchwork look to it - I don't know enough about construction vehicles around the world to judge, but silver and red seems like a very odd scheme. The standard orange could have been avoided to make the figure more visually interesting (remember - Dumper, Dozer and Crain Brain had all been recently released), but all-red apart from the mixer drum probably would have looked better.

With the black front and the unpainted windows (on the Gobots version; the Machine Robo figure did include window stickers; I pinched the ones on this example from a knockoff), the overall feeling is of an unfinished vehicle. Which is a shame, as the design's not bad at all. There's a fair amount of detail, even if the wheels look a shade too small. There are a couple of goofy touches - the circuit sticker on the roof (one reason why a more conventionally coloured cab wouldn't work, I suppose) and a giant strip around the drum with 'BLOCK HEAD' written on it - just as well Gobots never really pushed the 'Robots in Disguise' angle; in Japan this said 'MIXER ROBO'. The drum can turn, but the underside has the robot head on it, so this is a pretty useless feature. Overall, though, it's an odd, clashing render.


ROBOT MODE

Block Head does have one of the best transformation sequences of the entire line, though. Bandai could have just gone with the world "arms come out the side, head comes out the grille and you stand him on his end" route, but they haven't. The arms do come out of the side, but here the similarities to the other trucks in the line end. The cab flips forward (and, in a stroke of genius, the front of the cab slides up behind this), the drum moves up and sits in place behind the cab, and the rear supports fold down onto what's left of the chassis, forming the legs. Very good fun.

The resulting robot isn't bad, either. The red shins and arms, chromed head and thighs, silver chest and black waist all mesh nicely, making Block Head visually interesting, and going some way towards justifying his rather arcane vehicle mode scheme. The head design is pretty good - I like the round head, and the face looks good set into it. Best of all, it can turn, making Block Head the only small Gobot with a rotating head. The arms have the usual amount of movement, plus can extend to give him a really great set of proportions.


SUMMARY

Block Head lacks the all-round class to be one of the very best Gobots, but he's good fun to transform, and looks great in robot mode. While the colour scheme is a bit mad, it does look good in robot mode, and the transformation sequence really is fantastic. The toy displays nicely, and is pretty unique-looking. Block Head is a bit of an oddity, and can be tricky to track down this side of the Atlantic, but he's certainly worth owning for the inventiveness involved.


THE FACTS
[Corrections? Let me know!]

RELEASES:
1984, Machine Robo Series - MR-36: Mixer Robo
1984, Gobots Series 2 - 17: Block Head

PARTS:
None

WEAK POINTS:
Drum assembly base