3.75, the Magic Code in the History of Toys

 2020-11-05
by Lil Wah Sing
October 6th, 1973, while Israel was still in the mood for Yom Kippur, a torrent of Syrian armor has been rolling toward the Golan Heights, thus began the fourth Middle East War.


The Syrian tank crews got into their T-55 tanks thinking of recapturing the Golan Heights for their country, but they were not expecting a major oil crisis... To their surprise, this will affect and change the childhood of countless children.

The whole story begins 14 years ago, in 1959.

......

In 1959, Mattel released Barbie, a doll with mature body, delicate appearance and countless beautiful costumes.

The world's 1st Barbie doll

No one had ever seen a toy like this before. It was an instant hit in the toy market, redefining not only the concept of dolls, but also the standard of toy size.


Due to the limitations of the handicraft age, dolls that preceded it often came in various sizes. Even with the advent of the industrial age, there was no standard proportions for the Shirley Temple dolls that became popular across North America in the 1930s.


Mattel's Barbie set her height at 11.5 inches, a size that has since become the industry standard for dolls and earned the name "Playscale".

More than one company has been jealous of Mattel's huge success, and as well as all manner of imitations, some have wondered why not make the same kind of dolls for boys?

Barbie and her boyfriend Ken

Of course, boys are not going to play with Barbie, so give them a "doll" in military uniform! Hasbro, the toy giant, has stepped on the scene.


Hasbro's flagship product at the time was the Mr.Potato. With veterans ranging from creative directors to employees, Hasbro came out with the same 11.5-inch G.I.Joe line in 1964.

11.5-inch Special Forces (G.I.Joe)

He wears the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, with corresponding equipments. Unlike Barbie, his body has a variety of joints, free to play with the shape.

Hasbro has classified special forces as "Action Figures" to distinguish them from Barbie's "doll'.

The Special Forces are inspired by the action figures models in Art Shops

The Special Forces became a huge commercial success and a major source of revenue for Hasbro in the mid to late 1960s.


But aesthetic fatigue was a difficult threshold to cross, and the anti-war wave of the 1970s, triggered by the Vietnam War, seriously damaged the collection, with parents frowning at the sight of military toys.


Even changing the theme to a civilian one like adventure theme didn't help, and the final blow to the series was the oil crisis caused by the fourth Middle East war.

Because of the supportive and conniving attitude of western countries towards Israel, especially the direct military assistance of the Us, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by the Arab states, has raised oil prices, cut production and imposed embargoes. By the end of 1973, oil prices had nearly tripled in three months.

It triggered the worst global economic crisis since World War II, which has been called the 1st Oil Crisis. The three-year oil crisis has had a severe impact on the economies of developed countries.

The majority of toys are made of plastic, and plastic majorly comes from oil.

The toy companies were overwhelmed by soaring costs and the economic crisis, and in 1978, the Special Forces finally delisted. As western toy companies struggle to survive, so do eastern toy companies. But opportunity also came with revolution. 
Instead of going out of business, the Japanese toy company TAKARA with its ties to the special forces chose to find the magic code that made all the difference:
Plastic specialists had planned to make dolls' houses for Barbie, but TAKARA found that matching dolls' houses were too big for the cramped Japanese rooms. Apart from her size, Barbie did not fit the prevailing Japanese values, from her appearance to her independent role.

After developing products such as folding doll house, TAKARA decided to make dolls herself. Licca-chan was born in 1967.

Compared to barbie, an 11-year-old girl who is half-Japanese and half-French, Licca-chan makes Japanese girls who don't want to grow up feel more at ease.


The 21cm figure is more acceptable to children and parents than the almost 30cm barbie. Coupled with the popularity of Dakko-Chan, TAKARA's girl's toy department has been a hit.


While the boy's toy department s not to be outdone. There're also popular toys for boys like the Choro Q, but always seems to miss something. 

TAKARA decided to look at the West again, Hasbro's Special Forces this time!

At a time when Postwar Japan was sensitive to war themes, TAKARA redesigned and developed special forces toys to suit the tastes of Japanese boys.


But TAKARA's designers' imagination goes far beyond such tinkering. They made use of special forces molds and semi-transparent plastic materials to make the internal structure visible, with electroplating and other processes. The name changed from "Special Forces" to "Henshin Cyborg" (変身サイボーグ ).


The 1972 toy comes in 8-inch and 12-inch sizes. Compared with the regular special forces, its gorgeous appearance and abundant accessories made it an instant market leader in Japan.


It is only at this point that the problems faced by Barbie and the Special Forces resurface, with the huge size of the accessories and vehicles that go with them. The limited living space is again, a  great burden, which leads to high design and manufacturing costs and high selling prices. The oil crisis, which has brought special forces to a halt in North America, has also overwhelmed Japanese toy makers.

Of course TAKARA did not choose to end the brand. To keep toy costs under control, they came up with a simple but brilliant idea in 1974, reducing the 12-inch Henshin Cyborg to 3.75 inches and retaining the original moveability of the figure. Microman (ミクロマン) was born.


The original Microman was a direct reduction of Henshin Cyborg, without any structural redesign, and the size change was probably just for a quick profit. Perhaps 3.75, with no choice in mind, has entered the stage of history.

By all accounts, 3.75 inches is the perfect size. For manufacturers, in addition to the lower production cost, packaging, transportation, storage and other costs have also dropped. In children's eyes, there are not only dolls, but also matching vehicles to play with. In the eyes of parents, the space is less and the price is cheaper. How could it not be a triple win?

In turn, Microman, which originated in the United States and is now a big seller in Japan, has once again influenced American manufacturers.


At this time, the American company MEGO produced 8-inch figures were widely praised. But everything from Batman to Planet of the Apes is licensed from comics, TV shows and movies. They want to establish their brand. 

Seeing the success of Microman in Japan, in 1976 MEGO and TAKARA made a deal to bring toys to the West under the new name "Micronauts".

Folding ads for Micronauts

From Microman to the more sci-fi Micronauts, MEGO generated $45 million in sales in the 1960s and 1970s, when the US was exploring the universe.

After such commercial success, MEGO seems to be on the right track. The smug MEGO turned down a film, Star Wars, on the grounds that it "couldn't waste time on every one-hit sci-fi B-movie".


After being rejected by MEGO and several toy companies, Director Lucas turned to the modest Kenner. While others see an absurd low-budget sci-fi movie, Kenner sees a myriad of toyable concepts.

Kenner's once flagship product

Kenner, a toy company started with bubble guns, signed a 10-year licensing agreement with Lucas. That is odd in itself, since such licensing tends to go to the film studios, but the up-and-coming young director insists on holding on to it.


Star Wars swept across North America in 1977, and Kenner didn't even have time to come up with something to sell. But their Early-Bird Pack, which included pre-orders, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, even though it was just an empty box. The following year, Kenner sold 40 million Star Wars action figures worldwide!


From 1978 to 1983, when the film Return of the Jedi was released, Kenner sold an average of 22 million Star Wars toys a year, accounting for more than 80% of the action figure market. For the first time in history, a movie's toy revenue has exceeded that of the movie itself, thanks to frantic and continuing sales around Star Wars. The size, 3.75 inches, has since become the new industry standard.

To some extent, toys are one of the main reasons why the Star Wars series has become a social phenomenon. A burgeoning toy market is also emerging, and adults are starting to play action figures.


A Star Wars figure sold for nearly $190,000 in 2019, and adults have become a major consumer. Today, toys are no longer just for children. This magic code, 3.75, will continue.


- Postscript -

MEGO, which brought the 3.75-inch trend to North America, was jealous of its own release of Star Wars, and signed many sci-fi franchises without success. The former toy king went bankrupt in a few years.

Hasbro's Special Forces series was revived in 1982, also moving from 12 inches to 3.75 inches, and returning to the top with a plethora of military vehicles.

Inspired from Microman, TAKARA has derived a transformed man, DIACLONE. Under the trend of American manufacturers looking for cooperation opportunities in Japan, Hasbro formed a cooperative strategy with TAKARA, and introduced Diaclone to the States under the name of "Transformers", opening a new legend.




Share this:
Articles you might like ..