Animation fans of all ages think of just one line of Japanese mecha when they see that catchphrase, but it applies equally well to something else that existed several years before any semi-truck even considered changing into a robot: The Gattai Redhawk Yamato model kits. Space Battleship Yamato fans who occasionally trip over one of these kits may be tempted to laugh it off as yet another lame attempt to leech some excess fame, but a deeper look into the Redhawk line reveals quite a lot more going on.
Created by Japanese model and toymaker Aoshima (which is still in business today) the Redhawk line is worthy of respect for its sheer volume if nothing else. The number of models and variations of models is simply staggering, certainly an indictor of strong support from the Japanese children they were aimed at. And as silly or eccentric as they may look at first glance, they were wildly inventive to the point where they quickly moved past the source material that inspired them.
Another point in their favor is that though Aoshima was clearly riding the coattails of Space Battleship Yamato, the first of their models rolled out in 1976. By that time, the first Yamato TV series had largely faded into memory, and few suspected that it would make a thunderous return just a year later. With all that in mind, let’s give Aoshima the benefit of a doubt and have a look at the single most successful faux-Yamato anyone ever invented…
Gattai Kyokan Yamato (1976)
The gimmick: it was composed of four smaller mecha that combined into one battleship with a giant robot (called the Gattai Robot Musashi) in place of a bridge tower. Each of the four sections had its own name and purpose, which will be revealed below. Two boxes are shown here, the original 1976 version (left) and a later reissue (right). Note: “Gattai” is the Japanese word for “Combine” and “Kyokan” means “Giant Ship.”
Giant Carrier Redhawk: Red Cosmic(1977)
The second (and even more colorful) ship in the line, this carrier was also designed to split into four subsections numbered R1 to R4. When divided up, they had their own names: the R1 Derrick Machine, R2 Parabola Machine, R3 Commander Machine, and R4 Cosmos Machine, all shown on the bottom row above. This was in addition to numerous smaller mecha that could launch from various attachment points. Aoshima had released other kits before this one, and “Red Hawk” had become the umbrella title for everything in the lineup. At right: a 1978 magazine ad for two of the Red Cosmic‘s support vehicles (click to enlarge).
Gattai Redhawk Yamato (1978)
The third warship was the one actually called Yamato, and it’s no coincidence that it bears a much stronger resemblance to the anime Yamato than either the Gattai Kyokan or the Red Cosmic (which, incidentally, can be seen in the background on the box art). 1978 was the year of Farewell to Yamato and anything even slightly similar to the real thing was guaranteed to capture a fan’s attention. An earlier version of the box art is shown at right in an ad that appeared on the back cover of a Galaxy Express 999 book and was absolutely meant to capitalize on “Yamato Part II” mania.
In keeping with the gimmick, Redhawk Yamato could break up into four subsections that functioned as independent vehicles. Promoted at 1/500 scale, this whopper of a kit stretched to almost 21 inches when completed, easily nosing past the 1/500 Bandai Yamato released in the same year. Because of its well-timed release in 1978, this kit became Aoshima’s biggest seller and is thus the one most remembered by Japanese fans who were lucky enough to be there. At right: a “clean” version of the impressive box art (click to enlarge).
Click here for detailed photos of a completed kit.
Now that the introductions are out of the way, we can examine the next part of the lineup: a complex series of smaller models that “Gattai” (Combine) to form the three capital ships shown above. Get out your scorecard, it’s quite a family tree…
Gattai Machines 1-4
The first four support mecha combine to form the 1976 Gattai Kyokan Yamato. In order, they are the A1 Zero Sen Machine which stays airborne, the A2 Tiger Machine with treads that turn it into a mobile fortress, the A3 Bridge Machine which takes to sea with the Musashi Robot, and the A4 Turbo Machine which races along at super speed (that’s a race car attached to its front). If all that weren’t complicated enough, the Musashi Robot borrows parts from all four units to gain its full humanoid shape and become yet another independent component. It’s visible in the background on each box.
Redhawk Gattai Machines 1-4 (not pictured)
Starting over with the numbering, Aoshima released four kits that could combine to form the Space Carrier Red Cosmic. In accordance with the names on the all-in-one kit, they were the R1 Derrick Machine, R2 Parabola Machine, R3 Commander Machine, and R4 Cosmos Machine. It’s likely that each of these four kits were reissues of parts that came in the complete kit, priced down to within the reach of a weekly allowance. It therefore follows that all four could combine to make the full kit.
Redhawk Gattai Machines 5-8
The next four kits in the sequence are the subsections of the 1978 Redhawk Yamato. In order, they are the R5 Sparrow Machine (bow section), R6 Titan Machine (belly section), R7 Shuttle Machine (bridge section) and R8 Falcon Machine (stern section). Like machines 1-4, these were probably repackaged parts of the 1/500 Redhawk Yamato. It’s tempting to imagine kids getting these one at a time and salivating at the thought of eventually piecing the entire ship together. A more detailed look at these kits can be found here.
Mini Gattai Machines 1-4 (not pictured)
Aoshima’s next step was inspired by the phenomenal success of Bandai’s Mechanic Scale model kits for Space Battleship Yamato: highly miniaturized kits priced at an allowance-friendly 100 yen each. The first four Mini Gattai kits exactly followed this format and kicked off an enormous new product line. They were support vehicles scaled for the Red Cosmic, called the R1 Mini Jet Machine, R2 Mini Glide Machine, R3 Mini Carrier Machine, and R4 Mini Pulsar Machine. Regrettably, photos of these four are hard to come by.
Mini Gattai Machines 5-8
These kits repeated the pattern of the first four in the R series, scaled down to combine into a smaller version of the Red Cosmic Carrier. They were the R5 Mini Derrick Machine, R6 Mini Parabola Machine, R7 Mini Commander Machine, and R8 Mini Cosmos Machine. See the finished Red Cosmic here.
Mini Gattai Machines 9-12
Now it gets a little confusing. As we saw above, the 1976 Gattai Kyokan Yamato was divided into four sections. The first of these was the A-1 Zero Sen Machine. As it turned out, the Zero Sen also divided into four sections, each of which had its own name and function. In order, they were the R9 Mini Kamikaze Machine, the R10 Mini Raiden Machine, the R11 Mini Shiden Machine, and the R12 Mini Hayate Machine. All four of these kits could combine to form a complete Zero Sen Machine.
Mini Gattai Machines 13-16
Photos have not yet surfaced for every single kit in the Aoshima lineup, so here we see only three of the kits in this fourth batch, which repeated the sequence of Gattai Machines 5-8: the R13 Mini Sparrow Machine, R14 Mini Titan Machine, R15 Mini Shuttle Machine and R16 Mini Falcon Machine. All four of these mini-kits combined to form a smaller version of the 1978 Redhawk Yamato.
Mini Gattai Machines 17-20
Dropping the ‘R’ from the line, Aoshima continued with an even smaller version of kits 13-16: the R17 Sparrow Machine, R18 Titan Machine, R19 Shuttle Machine and R20 Falcon Machine. These combined to form an even smaller version of the Redhawk. Ideal for children will smaller allowances.
Mini Gattai Machines 21-24
Following the lead of kits 13-16, this set could be combined into a smaller version of the 1976 Gattai Kyokan Yamato. They followed the same sequence as ‘A’ kits 1-4: kit 21 was a Mini Zero Sen Machine, 22 was a Mini Tiger Machine, 23 was a Mini Bridge Machine and 24 was a Mini Turbo Machine.
Mini Gattai Machines 25-28
For some elusive reason, the final set in this lineup matched the previous set, box art and all: kit 25 was another Mini Zero Sen Machine, 26 was a Mini Tiger Machine, 27 was a Mini Bridge Machine and 28 was a Mini Turbo Machine. They may have been reissues with different numbers, but more likely they were micro-scale like kits 17-20. A fan dedicated enough to buy all 32 of the Gattai Machine kits would end up with three full Gattai Kyokan Yamatos, two full Red Cosmics, three full Redhawk Yamatos, and a full Zero Sen Machine, all at different scales. Decades before the invention of Pokemon, that “gotta catch ’em all” impulse was already a driving force.
This branch of the Redhawk family tree was broken into two subgroups. The first consisted of twelve kits in the “RH” series. The “RH” simply stood for Redhawk, and these were a triumph of creative repackaging. They were 3-in-1 kits; each box contained the same mecha in three different scales: full size, mini, and micro. Shown here are the RH-1 Redwing and RH-5 Redhawk Yamato. This one was undoubtedly a combination of twelve “Gattai Machine” kits in a single package.
Shown here are the RH-6 Eagle Yamato, the RH-7 Tiger Yamato, and the RH-8 Zero Sen Yamato. These all could have re-used four of the “Gattai Machine” kits, but the others would have been new.
The second Oyako Machine subgroup was made up of four enormous playsets with a ship and a support base. The Super Destroyer (above) was no. 2 in the line; it was actually the RH-5 Redhawk Yamato set repackaged again along with dome-shaped satellite base. See photos of this unusual kit in action here. The other three were Eagle Fighter, Zero Wing, and Tiger Crusher.
The fourth branch was occupied by these impressive battery-powered models, of which there were six. Numbers 1 and 2 were a Red Cosmic and a Red Panther. No. 3 (above left) was a Redhawk Yamato which was actually red. No. 4 was a Zero Sen Yamato, No. 5 was a Turbo Yamato (check “Gattai Machine” A-4 for a matchup) and No. 6 was the entirely new Eagle Yamato. Each kit included a bumper wire up front to avoid fatal, plastic-mangling collisions.
Bringing up the rear was an oddly-out-of-place (even for Aoshima) racecar/spaceship hybrid called the Ginga (Galaxy) Machine 3 Procyon. This would suggest the existence of Ginga Machines 1 and 2, and possibly higher numbers, but this is the only one to have surfaced. The only visible connection to the Redhawk family is the background ship on this box art, which is all a loyal fan would have to see.
Aoshima Comics manga
Naturally, there was a manga series. As the “Redhawk” world grew with each new model, it practically exploded with each new manga volume, inventing characters to operate the ever-expanding fleet. The series began in 1978 with writing credited to numbered “Aoshima Groups,” which is as good an indication as any that this was a story written by committee. A total of six such committees created all the manga stories, which eventually filled sixteen action-packed volumes. See cover art for volumes 1-5 here.
Aoshima Comics Series Model Kits
As new vehicles were devised in the comics, Aoshima released plastic versions to keep up with them. There was no interconnectivity with these, but each had a transforming feature. In order, they were (1) Red Hawk Zero Sen, (2) Red Hawk Porsche, (3) Red Hawk Tiger, and (4) Red Hawk Harley.
Whether you love it, hate it, or simply laugh at it, it’s hard to write off Aoshima’s Redhawk Yamato series as a mere knockoff when all the above is considered. It would be just as easy to peg it as a pastiche of the many giant robots of the 70s with their multiple combining vehicles. But multiple machines that combined into a giant flying battleship were at least as original a concept, and it’s easy to imagine the hours of excitement that could be had from a toy that you had to build from the ground up. And if you were ready to buy fully into Aoshima’s vision, an even larger fleet was ready to sweep you away.
However, if you’re still not prepared to cut the Redhawk Yamato some slack, there’s one more angle to the story. And of all things, it was to be found on a dining room table.
Can a knockoff still be considered a knockoff when it, in turn, spawns a knockoff? That’s exactly what happened when the Takara Company released this dishware upon an unsuspecting public. They were unashamedly labeled Battleship Yamato, and for whatever reason sported a Cold-War era jet fighter alternately colored green or blue. But right there on every piece was a flying vessel that could only have been clumsily copied from the Redhawk box art, the subsections renumbered so as not to make it actionable.
Or maybe it was all just one big coincidence…
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