Henshin Cyborg began as an offspring of Hasbro's GI Joe line. Hasbro used the successful formula of creating a doll and making profit from the myriad of accessories made to go with it to create a hit with GI Joe, the first doll made for boys, in 1964.
In 1971, Takara marketed the GI Joe line in Japan under the name Combat Joe. Initially, Takara provided Combat Joe with a number of non-removeable costumes, such as Ninja Arashi, Mirror Man, Kamen Rider, Zone Fighter and others.
As is the nature of toy companies even today, Takara decided to utilize the Combat Joe molds to create an offshoot of the line. This offshoot line was called Henshin Cyborg, which means Transforming Cyborg in English, and was probably created in 1971-72 from the GI Joe molds. It is not known whether Hasbro retained any intellectual property rights over the Henshin Cyborg line.
In addition to the 12" Henshin doll, there were four other figures created: Shonen Cyborg, a shorter 8" boy; Cyborg Jaguar; the evil nemesis, King Waldar; and a Henshin Cyborg ally called Android A or possibly Android Ace. All of these figures were made of translucent plastic that showed the inner workings of the doll, hence the term Cyborg. In this respect, they are the predecessors to the original Microman Zone figures and Time Traveler, which were based on the Henshin line. Each had multiple joints and a good deal of articulation, just as GI Joe had.
There are four different color variants of the main Henshin Cyborg doll, three of which I know. He came with gold, silver and blue inside chest pieces. Shonen Cyborg came in three possible variations with either silver, gold or blue interiors. Cyborg Jaguar also came with either gold, silver or blue interiors. King Waldar is a bit different. Instead of changing the color of the inner workings, King Waldar's actual translucent body was tinted either purple, yellow or green. Android is the only figure in the line that was available in a single color, a smokey grey/black body.
In the original line, there were a great number of accessories and costumes. Among other things, there were gliding platforms, replacement arms of all different sorts, two boxed Cyborg Rider motorcycles which came with a complete figure that formed an integral part of the motorcyle, and more. There were even three different accessory sets to complement the motorcycle, each sporting a variety of weapons and add-on gadgets. You could also separately purchase a sidecar for the motorcycle.
The arm accessories came in a few varieties. You could get colored rubber "monster" arms to go on the figures as well as a myriad of chrome and translucent hand replacement pieces, such as a ball and chain weapon, drills, lasers and more.
There were even foot replacement accessories, such as one set that consisted of a pair of VW Beetle cars with treads.
King Waldar, Shonen Cyborg and Android A all had their own complement of accessories, scaled to fit each individual figure.
Each figure had a complement of costumes as well. The original series contained at least three different superhero costumes for Henshin Cyborg. These were Apolloid Z, Rock Baron S and Shine X. These were unlicensed characters that didn't relate to any live-action or anime show, unlike the costumes that would come later. There were also three stange monster-like character suits made for Henshin Cyborg, one of them being Fishman.
King Waldar had three original costumes which consisted of skulls, demonic breastplates, masks, gloves and boots to turn him into generic evil characters. These costumes didn't include whole body suits, instead incorporating the colored translucence of the figure itself into the costume to great effect.
Even Cyborg Jaguar had his own costumes. Several animal-based costumes allowed the Jaguar to be transformed into a black panther, german shepherd, lion, tiger, gold and white leopard and more. There is also a carded Jaguar/motorcycle set, similar to the Cyborg Rider sets, that came complete with a Jaguar as the main body of the bike.
Behold, Android A
Android A is the only figure that didn't have any costumes, as far as can be told. However, Android A had a number of features and design characteristics that set him apart from the other figures.
The first, and most obvious difference is that Android A's chest opened so that you could get access to the atomic powerpack in his chest. Apparently, this chestpack is removeable and there is at least one accessory set with a replacement chestpack. His chest opened like a pair of hinged doors, splitting in the middle and swinging to either side. The powerpack inside could also fire two small missiles.
There are a few other production differences between Android A and the other Henshin Cyborg figures. Android A's facial features seem to be much more human, including eyes that are painted white. This head sculpting is very similar, possibly even identical to, the head sculpture for Takara's Combat Joe figure. His groin area is structured in a completely different manner as well; instead of the large orbs that can be found on the tops of Henshin Cyborg's calves, Android A's are more humanistically shaped. Rather than being held together by a single structure that tied the legs to the upper body, the legs have their own separate connectors that attach to either side of the groin area. The groin doesn't cover the top of the legs either.
This leg/groin difference is significant. Because the entire legs were removeable, they could be replaced with boxed accessory leg kits that Takara sold. On the other hand, these accessories are not compatible with Henshin Cyborg, as his leg connections are totally different. However, this did make Android A the most interchangeably versatile of the Henshin figures. In all likelihood, costumes made for Henshin Cyborg would fit Android A, though I've not tried this.
As mentioned above, Android Mark A had some accessories to go with him. Some of the accessory kits include semi-bionic and totally robotic replacement legs, different types of chest pieces, entire arm replacements as well as bionic forearm replacements, and at least two styles of robotic replacement heads. There were also weapons that could be utilized in place of Android A's hands.
Suit Up and Take Action!
Takara quickly utilized the idea of providing licensed character costumes for the Henshin line, just as it had started to do with the Combat Joe line. Before the line had run its course, Takara produced approximately 45 different super hero costumes for Henshin Cyborg. All of these costumes were sold carded, each with its own serial number for identification. Some of the initial costumes were of somewhat lower quality, but this quickly improved. Takara also produced regular and DX (or deluxe) versions of some of the costumes. The main differences between a DX and a regular costume are the quality of materials used and the amount of detailing involved.
These costumes also came on two different varieties of cards, one much larger than the other. I do not know if this was related to the size and complexity of the costume or was just a production change that occured at some specific time during the production of the line.
As some of the original costumes were made with masks sized to fit over the Combat Joe's slightly larger head, these early costumes did not fit well on the Cyborg line. This was eventually taken care of by producing replacement heads for the doll. This is the reason some costumes came with a replacement head as part of the costume.
Nearly all of the costumes were replicas of live action characters from the glut of such shows that were popular in Japan at the time (and still are). Supposedly five costumes were based on cartoon series; two of them being Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger.
To my knowledge, no large playsets were ever created for Henshin Cyborg. However, Takara did make a Command Station. This station is actually a small sized hard plastic suitcase in black and silver/grey. It has a fold down handle, two sliding locks and is hinged on the opposite side. Once open, it reveals a recharge station, replete with a place to stow a standing Henshin figure, including a plastic restraining belt to hold him in place, and a large circular, battery-powered light ray device which can spin and "recharge" Henshin's nuclear chest apparatus via flickering blue and red lights.
The Command Module also contained a few weapons mounts as well as peg holes for the storing of accessory parts. According to the directions it was also supposed to serve as a general storage locker for multiple figures and accessories. It is possible that this is where the idea of producing Microman figures in capsules came from.
From the Deepest Depths of Space; the Invaders!
Oh, did I forget to mention the other bad guys? Apparently King Waldar wasn't alone in opposing the forces of good arrayed against him. Takara also produced three alien Invaders figures, each with a different head and of a different color. There were yellow, green and blue Invader figures and each had evil, grotesque facial features embedded in their chests and stomachs! Each also had unique hand implements and weapons.
To aid the Invaders in their presumably eternal battle with the forces of good, Takara also made a Flying Saucer vehicle for them to ride in. The vehicle is scaled to the size of the 12" Invaders, allowing them to fully sit inside the Saucer, completely covered by the translucent canopy. From the photographs I've seen, it looks as if the Saucer had at least one, probably two, missile launcher(s) mounted on the side that fired projectiles. The Invaders were most likely released later in the Henshin line, but I don't know exactly when they came out. It was definitely before 1976, as we shall see in a moment...
Operation: Invade England!
In 1975-76, the Denys Fisher Toy Company Ltd. of England licensed and marketed a limited subset of the Henshin Cyborg line. Interestingly, they decided to scale the figures down to 8" in size! Apparently they couldn't handle the full 12"! ; )
Denys Fisher released 8" versions of Henshin Cyborg, Android A and King Waldar. they renamed all of them, preferring the monikers Cyborg, Android and Muton respectively. Cyborg came with two arm attachments, detailed further below. Muton came with two arm attachments as well; the fiendish Scorch Bore and the vile Venom Injector! Poor Android just came with his chest firing rockets.
As far as I know, only three costumes were released, all for Muton. These costumes are referred to as Muton's Subforms! Each one is an embodiment of an elemental power to help Muton suck the life energies out of planets.
These Subforms are the Torg, Amaluk and X-Akron. Torg is a skull-like costume, basically the same as one of the original King Waldar costumes with the addition of a jumpsuit and belt. Next up is Amaluk, the fishman costume that was originally intended for Henshin Cyborg. Lastly is X-Akron, which is actually the Red Baron costume!
Muton, just as his Invader brethern across the ocean, was helped along in his journey by the Flying Saucer vehicle. I assume it is a scaled down version of the original, but I don't know for sure. There also was apparently a Flying Chair! This Flying Chair is actually the seat from the Saucer itself, marketed separately, most likely boxed.
Not to be outdone, Cyborg had his own vehicle and weapons. While not as stylish as the Flying Saucer, Cyborg had the CyboInterceptor to tool around on. This vehicle is basically a seat on wheels with a large engine strapped on the front and some controls in the center.
War, huh, What is it Good For? Killing Mutons!
Cyborg's weapons were referred to as the Cybonators and billed as Muton destruction equipment. The Cyborg figure came with two Cybonators: the Liquidator miniature water pistol and the Eliminator, a plastic bolt-firing gun. In addition to these two weapons, there were another three sets that were sold separately, each detailed below.
Set One contained the Cybo Cutter, Cybo Mobile and Cybo Paralyser. The Cutter and Paralyser were both arm attachments while the Cybo Mobile was actually a hover platform.
Set Two consisted of the Cybo Laser, Cybo Phaser and Cybo Tracks. The Laser was a standard arm attachment, but the Phaser contained a small removable projectile attached to a string. The Cybo Tracks are the most interesting, being a pair of VW Beetle cars with working treads!
Set Three was probably the most interesting. It was made up of the Cybo Rocket, the Cybo Mace and the Cybo Scanner. The Cybo Rocket was a large back or chest fitting projectile launcher; the Cybo Mace an arm attachment replete with an extendable chain and ball; and the Cybo Scanner was an arm attachment with a detachable scanner head.
Android also had accessories. His mirrored those of the original Android A, consisting of at least three different carded sets composed of replacement heads, legs and arms. For whatever reason, these are carded, unlike the original Japanese Android A accessory sets which were window boxed.
The End of Henshin Cyborg?
Well, not quite. Recently a small company called Medicom licensed the Combat Joe body from Takara and has been producing a series of suited dolls under the title Real Action Series. Medicom has licensed a number of both current and classic live action and anime characters as well as a few British and American movie and comic characters.
While similar to the concept of Henshin Cyborg, there are notable differences. For one, you can't buy just the suit. Each suit comes with a figure. This is significant because it raises the cost of each character substantially, which is already high as these are geared more towards mature collectors than children. Another major difference is that there is no figural head under the mask/heads of the costumes.
Some of the non-Japanese costumes created include various versions of the Alien creature and Predator. Medicom also produced a Judge Dread character after the British comic book character.
Other characters include Getta 1 Robo, Captain Harlock, Great Mazinger, Mazinger, Cyborg 009, Kikaider, Hakaider, some Devil Hunter characters and many others.
While these are very nicely detailed figures and costumes, they simply don't have that classic, cheesy 70's feel to them like the original Henshin costumes do!
Takara has also released a collector's edition of a new Henshin Cyborg figure. It apparently comes with some snap-on body armor and a replacement head featuring a human face within a mech-style head/mask.
The Spawn of Henshin, or Six Degrees of Separation
Just as Barbie inspired G.I. Joe, which in turn inspired Henshin Cyborg, so too did Henshin Cyborg inspire other toys.
While in the midst of the Henshin Cyborg line, Takara decided they needed to make a scaled-down version of Henshin so that they would better be able to design playsets and vehicles for the figures. This was an especially important social and marketing issue for the company because, as you might have noticed, Japan is a series of small islands and space is a commodity.
From this concept was born Microman Zone, the first series of Microman figures ever made. The early figures are almost exact replicas of Henshin Cyborg. Microman took off and ran concurrently with the Henshin Cyborg series for a number of years, outlasting the Henshin series. During this time, Mego licensed a subset of the Microman line and introduced them to the US as Micronauts. The Micronauts became Mego's bread and butter all through the mid to late 70's replacing the waning popularity of Mego's cloth 8" Super Heroes line. From the Micronauts' demise was borne a whole slew of different toy lines, including the Lords of Light, the Inter-Changeables, the Fantauti and the AstroWarriors.
Meanwhile Microman begat New Microman in late 1980 or early 1981. New Microman went on for a number of years until 1985, at which time it was discontinued and part of it's later product line, called Micro Change, was retooled and repackaged as the Transformers. And of course, the Transformers are still with us, currently as Beast Wars.