The year was 1983. Giant robots were king.
Fueled by the success of Bandai’s Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) plastic models and the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom, model and toy manufacturers poured money into animated TV shows featuring merchandisable robots. From 1980 onwards (when the first Gundam film arrived in theaters and Bandai packed toy shelves with their now-iconic model kits), anime airwaves were dominated by all manner of mecha.
Eschewing the over-the-top theatrics of invincible robots piloted by A Chosen One, many of the shows produced during that post-Gundam robot boom took a more realistic approach with mass-produced robots designed for war that borrowed more from Gundam’s Zaku II and GM than the titular, multi-colored, seemingly invincible mobile suit piloted by Amuro Ray. Ryosuke Takahashi’s Fang of the Sun Dougram (1981) and Armored Trooper VOTOMS (1983) along with Studio Nue’s Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982) were pioneers in what would retroactively be referred to as “real robot” shows.
Premiering in the fall of 1983, Special Armored Battalion Dorvack was yet another of these robot shows with a more realistic bent. Sponsored by toy manufacturer Takatoku (best known for their iconic 1/55 scale VF-1 Valkyrie) and model kit company Gunze Sangyo (best known today for their uh… paint and hobby supplies), Dorvack featured strong mechanical designs in a show that’s largely been forgotten today. Indeed, Dorvack is a fantastic example of ‘80s robot shows utterly eclipsed by their designs – shows that still occupy some blurry, shared-recognition in a seemingly neverending pile of ‘80s robot cartoons because of the quality of the toys and models they were created to sell.
That Dorvack is remembered at all today is no doubt thanks to two of its robot designs (or more accurately, the Takatoku-produced toys based on those designs) being included in Hasbro’s early Transformers toy line. The model kits, to a lesser extent, are fondly remembered due in part to the work of Makoto Kobayashi and a photo series called Hyper Dorvack Document.
While the transforming robots immortalized as deluxe Takatoku toys might have grabbed most of the show’s limelight, a number of more realistic, non-transformable powered armor designs appeared up in Dorvack. These designs, which looked a bit like a cross between an early EVA space flight suit and Kow Yokoyama’s SAFS from SF3d, represented a secondary trend that was developing in the shadows of the Macross-inspired transformable robot trend then dominating TV robot anime — the powered suit.
Original mecha design duties for Dorvack fell on the shoulders of Katsumi Itabashi and Nobuyoshi Habara, but to help sell model kits Gunze brought in Mokoto Kobayashi to overhaul the designs and increase the appeal of the powered armor kits to hardcore modelers. Part of this push involved Kobayashi-designed variation suits not seen in the show, diorama photos in a brochure published by Gunze called “Dorvack News,” and the Hyper Dorvack Document.
Distributed to model shops, the Hyper Dorvack Document included eight double-sided prints on thick cardstock (think old school film lobby cards) to promote Gunze’s Dorvack kits. Each print featured a color photo of a detailed diorama on one side with lineart by Kobayashi and specs about each design on the opposite side. In the diorama photos, the influence of both Hobby Japan’s SF3d series (on which Kobayashi worked) and the more gritty Gundam MSV model kit series is readily evident. While Dorvack the show might have been a typical transforming robot show aimed at kids, Dorvack models were clearly being targeted at modelers who liked their robot kits ragged and war-torn. If you’re reading this site, you probably get it.
Dorvack kits and the Hyper Dorvack Document enjoy a certain cache among older mecha and model kit fans, thanks no doubt to the strength of Kobayashi’s artwork and modeling skill. In a broader sense, though, Gunze’s efforts to sell their kits were representative of a shift within the TV robot space – the robot boom was fading. In the years to come, Takatoku shut down and Gunze eventually stopped making model kits, although their Mr. Hobby line of modeling accessories should be familiar to modelers.
Gunze’s Dorvack power armor kits remain sought after and often go for eye-watering prices on the second-hand market due in part to the fact that they’ve been rarely rereleased, although Aoshima reportedly produced a run back around 2007. A copy of the Hyper Dorvack Document, distributed in a manila envelope and not designed for broad sale, is even harder to track down. After a couple of years spent scouring Yahoo Auctions and Mandarake, I unexpectedly found a copy on eBay being sold by a hobby shop in Hong Kong. The envelope it came was nearly falling apart, but with items like this, you can’t be too picky.
I’ve included full scans of the eight of prints below.
Hyper Dorvack Document Gallery
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