Gold Lightan at full sizem with Hiro on the leftTatsunoko Productions had began screening the anime series Golden Warrior Gold Lightan in 1981, about a boy called Hiro who discovered a broken cigarette lighter that was in fact the heroic robot Gold Lightan from the Robot Dimension.

The transforming Gold Lightan was obvious fodder for Popy, who had made a success of licensing robots and vehicles from successful tokusatsu and anime series. A licensing agreement was promptly drawn up, and Popy released transforming toys based on Gold Lightan and his five comrades from the show - Denji Lightan, Time Lightan, Scope Lightan, Mechanic Lightan and IC Lightan.

The One Pack Rangers look on as the downsized Lightan tend to Gold Lightan's woundsTechnically there wasn't a Lightan toy line - the figures were all released as part of Popy's Chogokin line of robots, with the same box graphics used and the series' overall numbering system used.

Each figure was scaled to be the same rough size as a chunky, luxury cigarette lighter (in practice, they're about twice the size you'd expect), and they were among the smallest Chogokin robots, standing at between 4 and 5 inches tall.

Each also had some sort of special feature, either mimicking or representing their special skills in the Anime.

The cover to the Hong Kong DVD releaseThe series itself pitched the sentient Lightan robots (an unusual twist for the time, when most Super Robot series had the robots as mecha with pilots) against King Ibalda and his alien robots, who were bent on invading Earth. They were further aided by Hiro and a group of his friends who named themselves the One Pack Rangers. Gold Lightan would finish off the alien robots with an astonishingly violent move that would actually see him tear the mechanical heart out of them. The robots could either grow to a full thirty metres for battle, or stay at lighter size when discretion was needed.

The show ran for 52 30-minute episodes, showing in Japan, Hong Kong and Bulgaria amongst others. The fact that the show revolved around a kid owning a cigarette lighter even in 1981 probably severely limited the export market (for reasons of child safety as well as glamorising smoking). I haven't actually seen any of the series - it was released on DVD, but this now seems to be out of print, and the prices are a bit steep when I'm skeptical as to whether it'll be any good - the kids especially sound rather irritating.

Plex's 1982 Print Lightan figureThe Lightan toys were successful enough for five more to appear in 1982, now designed by Bandai's Plex studio as Popy began to wind down. I'm not sure if these were even in the anime - the Super Robot craze was starting to dwindle by then, and Bandai might have just fancied having a few small toys modelled after a good seller.

Since then Lightan has retained something of a cult following. In Hong Kong especially the show remained in high esteem, with indigenous manufacturer Hung Hing licensing the series from Bandai and producing a reissue series of figures in 2005. These featured several changes to both the moulds and colour schemes, and were joined by a massive limited edition 11.5" version of Gold Lightan.

GSX-32 Gold LightanIn 2006, Bandai decided to remake Gold Lightan for their Soul of Chogokin prestige line.

This 5" version, coded GSX-32, is at first glance similar to the original 1981 figure, but is all-metal, with vastly improved articulation, a wide range of accessories (even including a robotic heart that can be held in the robot's palm), a display stand and a coating of 18k gold.

The toy was acclaimed by collectors for its' high quality.

The reissue giftset of the first six Lightan reissuesThe increased interest led to Bandai Hong Kong reissuing the six original figures in 2007. Each came in a card slipcase, containing a facsimile of the Chogokin boxes and a red, velvet-effect tray to hold the toy. A wooden presentation set containing all six was also issued.

The following year the company reissued another six Lightan figures - four of the five Plex designs (Print Lightan was scheduled, but cancelled for reasons unknown), an 'anime' version of Time Lightan (in silver, as opposed to the gold of the original release - though the silver version was pictured on the box from the start) and a gold version of Scope Lightan (this was something of an inverse - the original was silver, as on the show, but the original box had featured photographs of a gold version).