With Machine Man at the controls, this racing car can be changed to a soaring jet or a robot.

LeopardonTokusatsu shows have long been a staple of Japanese children's' television, and they didn't all feature Super Robots. One such divergence was Toei's 1984 series Seiun Kamen Machineman.

The show was devised for a younger audience than the Super Sentai series of the time, and focused on a superhero, the titular Machineman (often parsed as Machine Man). While he was nothing to do with Marvel's never-popular purple robot Machineman did lift a few elements from Western comics; Machineman was an alien called Nikku who 'disguised' himself as bespectacled clod Ken Takase, and even had a female reporter friend who functioned as a sidekick without ever realising they were the same person (though at least Machineman wore a helmet). Ring any bells?

Machineman ran for 36 episodes, and was a moderate success in Japan. Dubbed into Portuguese, the show was then a big hit in Brazil - indeed, the easiest way to find Machineman episodes on YouTube is in this form. The show has a lot of the staples of other Tokusatsu series such as obviously recycled footage (the Machine Dolphin seems to fly over every villain's head), exploding quarries and wobbly model work. However, it also has some very unique ideas such as Machineman always making an 'M' with his blade on the chest of his victims Zorro-style, Nikku's alien sidekick being a sentient baseball, very weird villains and absolutely psychotic editing. Hey, unique and good aren't necessarily the same thing. Seriously, though, check some of it out. Don't worry if you don't speak Portuguese, though - I doubt it makes much more sense that way. For a much better write-up on the series, check out Francisco Duarte's smart summary at Japan Hero .

Of course, there were toys as well. A poseable version of Machineman was released in the ageing Chogokin line following much the same layout as Popy's earlier figures based on the Super Sentai team members. A smaller version complete with his transforming car was then released as part of the Popynica range of vehicles. The latter was picked up for the third series of Godaikin in 1985, presumably after suffering low sales in Japan. The figure seems to be one of the rarest of the third series - though this could just be because I've been looking for one. The one I got cheap has no feet and no accessories (it's meant to have a pair of sabers for the little Machine Man figure).


MACHINE MAN

The Machine Man figure stands 4.75" tall, and is made from a mix of diecast and plastic. The chest and thighs are all one solid metal part while the rest is plastic. Machine Man's head can tilt back (mainly for piloting the vehicles) while the arms can rotate at the shoulder and hinge at the elbow and the knees hinge.

It's very much a scaled-down version of the Sentai figures or like a slightly larger version of Gaia from God Marz, albeit without the opening chest - there's the same pointless knee joints (also seen on a grander scale with the DX Gardian figure which incorporated three pairs of the useless connections). Beyond the arms there isn't much fun to be had with him, though the design is rather striking. The head is all chromed, and a good reproduction of the on-screen helmet at this scale, though the lower face is silver and thus not very close to that of Nikku. Which isn't really a problem when you think about it.

Godaikin Machine Dolphin
Godaikin Machine Dolphin

MACHINE DOLPHIN

This is quite a large toy - the Machine Dolphin (i.e. car) mode measures 8" by 3.5". It's actually rather a nice design, heavily influenced by sportscar prototypes of the time with a sleek aerodynamic shape and a rather snappy colour scheme. In places the latter is compromised by its' makeup - some of it is coloured plastic, some of it is stickers, some of it is paint apps. Overall though it's a nice slice of retro design, very much in the same vein as Abega.

Where it really falls down sadly is the construction. The Machine Dolphin is mainly plastic, which means it lacks much rigidity in the back end. This might just be due to the played-with nature of mine but it's something I could see rapidly becoming a problem with any example. The back end is all folding panels for the Dolphin Jet mode and there are no clips to connect them together. Thus the two halves of the engine block and the two halves of the spoiler just rest against each other - or not, as the case seems to be once the hinges start to sag.

Godaikin Machine Dolphin
Godaikin Machine Dolphin

DOLPHIN JET

The Dolphin Jet configuration is a very simple expansion on the car mode. The nose extends slightly to give it more of a jet look, the engine block flips aside to reveal a pair of tail fins, the front wheels move into the sides of the vehicle and the sides fold down and open out to make a pair of wings. It's actually a neat conversion.

The downside is there's a gaping hole in the back of the jet that just looks bad and means it never really looks like much more than a hastily modified sportscar. It does eliminate the problems that the rear end of the Machine Dolphin had, however. One thing worth noting is that - as in the show - Machine Man pilots the vehicles in a prone position - there's even a control panel in the cockpit in front of him and two small nooks for the fists to slot into. The head of the pilot can also tilt back, a passable attempt to make him look at the screen without making it seem his neck has snapped.

Godaikin Machine Dolphin
Godaikin Machine Dolphin

DOLPHIN ROBOT

Now this, this is a real puzzler. From my extensive research for this article (i.e. watching random segments of the Brazilian episodes and laughing my arse off at how truly insane the series is - wait until 1:20 for it to really kick off) as far as I can tell the Machine Dolphin doesn't have a robot mode, instead seeming to turn into a cellophane cape when not hurtling over the heads of the villains. So quite why Bandai added one to the mix is beyond me. As far as I know, they didn't bother adding random modes to any other Popynica vehicles. That said, this came towards the end of the series so it might have been a desperate attempt to jazz up the thing.

It's more of an exo-suit than a robot mode, reminiscent of that thing from the Alien films (I can't remember which one, my interest waned when John Hurt was written out) or those Raizer suits from Machine Robo: Battle Hackers. There's probably some earlier precedent I'm totally ignorant of, though. This is an odd variant on the theme - the arms and legs are straight from a standard Super Robot, and then there's just this chap standing in the middle of it up to the knees. Bizarre. The only articulation is in the shoulders, which rotate. And that's about it for things to do. As you can see, mine is missing the feet - I'm guessing these were salvaged for something else, as removing the things would no doubt require taking the legs apart. Oddly the 'robot' mode - which I'd guess wasn't a big selling point - is generally the most solid of the three, with the only iffy bit being the spoiler halves left flapping pointlessly behind the legs.

Godaikin Machine Dolphin
Godaikin Machine Dolphin

SUMMARY

Machine Dolphin is one of the strangest figures I own. It's really not recommended for robot fans, being more one for die-hard Popynica collectors or nutters who like the series. It lacks the production values of earlier vehicles and doesn't come across well as a transforming figure, despite some nice touches. The deal breaker would seem to be that Machine Dolphin can be relatively expensive compared to other Series 3 figures, seeming to command around £50. I got my slightly knackered one for £20 and felt a little short-changed, but also relived I'd got outbid on a MIB example that went for something like £80. An acquired taste.