Jump to content
MacrossMania

A Salute to the Chunky Monkey

Recommended Posts

I'm just gonna start this thread right out.  I collect Macross items because I'm stunned by their artistry, vision and the audacity of their thinking.  I don't believe what I'm about to write has any place in a toys forum, but I also know that as collectors on a collectors forum for Macross, there's really no other place for my voice to be heard.

I want to start out by point out some of the obvious that probably everybody knows on this forum.  That I love the chunky monkey and the original design work by Shoji Kawamori.  That he conceives of his designs from the very beginning with their mechanical properties in mind.  Will they transform?  How will they transform?  How do I design them for perfect transformation?  And how does that transformation fit into the world I am creating for them?  He is the complete designer from beginning to end.  No doubt about it.

To this day the Chunky Monkey in jet mode stands out with its peculiar combination of sleek angular design and robust framework.  The almost perfect image for a perfect time when both the perfection and the compromise of non-CGI, crude cartoon-work and the limitations of non-CAD toy design combined to form this audacious little denizen of the toy world.  But what came first, the chicken or the egg?  Was it the natural design limitations of the time that forced the hands of these toy artisans to come up with designs that flourished at the margins, or was it the natural limitations of the cartoon medium and the attendant limitations of culture, cultural history up to that point, and evolution of human thinking that put a limit on what could be produced, and thus created from the human mind?  Was the stunning appropriation of the simple tools of the time and the vision that it produced simply a byproduct of cultural history, or was the byproduct itself responsible?

I really don't know the answer to these questions, and probably not even the artist himself knows.  We may never know in fact.  But the fact that such questions are borne from the thinking that is produced by gazing at this majestic modern masterpiece of toymaking is proof enough to me that it is a worthy enough item to collect.

And boy have I.  I have all three chunky monkeys from all three of its makers.  I have the only AFA 90 Super Valkyrie in the world (and no, I'm not selling it, ever).  I have an AFA 85 Jetfire with high subs.  And I have the original Takatoku that Shoji himself oversaw the design of.

What also stands out in my mind though - and much less for its design work, for although it stands head and shoulders above the rest of her peers of that era, she, like all the rest of from that age, suffers from the ungainliness that is common to the robot modes - despite these inherent limitations, which she only shares in principal, but not with the same principle limitations, the Chunky Monkey's robot mode is in fact still to this day very iconic.  That bulbous jaw of his and lack of lips, combined with those Silon-eyes and perky, puppy-like antennae.  The petite little way that it all combines together with aft wings, stalky legs that flare open at the bottom, and stalky little arms.  Even the closed fists that could never do anything but hold an embattled gun hold a distinct charm all their own.  A sign of the times (or perhaps, a sign that took stock of the times, reflected their design, and thus influenced and pushed forward those times.  Like a true artist.  See above).

It's all to say that nothing can match the Shoji Kawamori that I know and love.

But let's take a moment to examine Macross, the franchise that I know and love too.  Let's be hard and true about this.  Macross and all of its anime ilk was borne from the nuclear ash of post-war Japan.  The country had been laid waste by the bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshimi.  Out of the nuclear fire was borne a new sense of purpose and consciousness, maybe perhaps a desperate need to survive.  And what did they create?  What did they amalgamate out of the chaos, the ash, and the destroyed buildings and decimated metropolises?  A mythology that stays with us to this day.  They created giant robots to battle giant monsters that for the most part landed here unwanted, unwelcomed, and unmoored, and battled them in the high towers of those cities the way they must have imagined them to have done before the great nuclear fire swallowed their cities.  Like many of the conquered before them, they reconquered the conquerors with their culture.  Japan is no exception.  And Shoji Kawamori one of the greatest stalwarts among them.  He along with many others created the Chogokin and super robot mythos that has gone on to conquer the popular imagination the world over - with the likes of Robotech, Transformers, Voltron.... the list goes on and on.  And Kawamori himself had a hand in many of the designs that those iconic franchises are based on.

If you are put off by the liberties I have taken with Japanese and indeed world history, then just consider the opening of Macross.  An other worldly fire envelopes the earth and the denizens and cities with its infernal flames.  Entire cities are wiped out.  Buildings are blown to smithereens and evaporate into nothing.  And out of the ashes comes a searing image of a ship out from the opening envelope of the sky and crashing down onto earth, creating yet another wallop.  It cannot be that this is anything other than artists trying to grapple on a nationwide scale with what has happened to their culture, both past, present and future, and coming up with a lasting ethos as a result.  Super robot chogokin come to battle the big beasts that are coming for this land.  Those large aliens (the Zentradi) must have been in the minds of those artists the very image of the Nordic men who had invaded their country a quarter century ago. (It must be remembered, that the Axis of Evil was only ever started after the West denied one of the basic foundations of modern society to the Japanese, oil, which set off a chain of events leading to the invasion of the Asian archipelago and the eventual joining of the Axis.  After WWII, the killing of millions of people, and the first and only nuclear attack, the West would never make such a mistake again.)

Shoji Kawamori has moved onto other things.  Other franchises.  Like Sting from the Police he has shown his Protean talent.  It has outlasted all of the squabbles between Harmony Gold, Hasbro and their ilk.  It has outlasted all the bad creative decisions on projects that he wasn't consulted on, including the newfangled live version of Robotech.  It has even outlasted his own creative missteps, which, like Babe Ruth, are probably too numerous to count.  

He has even found a new creative birth of sorts.  I saw a recent picture of the Frontier Valk with the kids on it.  I say kids because unlike the old Macross/Robotech franchise, which concerned itself with innocent and naive children who were forced to grow up against their will and their better (if naive) judgment in the face of war, and in fact who were surrounded by their elders like Roy Folker who were adults themselves - and shall I say, even more, who were forced to embrace a more modern, mature kind of love as Rick Hunter, ever the man child, had to turn away from his crush for Minmay and embrace the adult, mature love he had for Lisa Hayes (Miss Hayase) - unlike this old school franchise, the modern franchise seems far more concerned with the sort of hysterical, superficial fascination with readymade entertainment - a la video games, a la Attention Deficit Disorder, a la every other gripe that can be said of the modern day Millenial - that is endemic in our society today.  Call me old fashioned (ironically, I'm not that old), but these are not the sort of rallying points that civilizations ought to pride themselves on.

It occurs to me though that as a true artist, Kawamori is much less concerned about judging a generation so much as reflecting it, and thereby shaping it.  (See above).  It occurs to me that the wastrel-esque look of those dainty, skirt wearing Millennials sitting on the Macross Frontier Valkyrie are in fact modern representations of this modern generation of ours, for better or worse.  Like it or not, he has once again captured the zeitgeist of our modern society.  And in an effort to hold up a mirror to ourselves, he has in fact set in motion the events that will come to shape how we perceive ourselves in the future.  Well done, Kawamori.  Well done.

So thank you very much, but I shall be keeping my old school Chunky Monkeys.  As relics of a by now distant past that will not and cannot be heralded by a generation that has no memory beyond the creation of the iPhone and the internet, I alone understand its historical significance.  And I shall be keeping them for that reason alone.  

Chunky Monkey, I salute you.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What is the AFA 90 Super Valkyrie? I never heard of the chunky munky referred to this way. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

AFA is a rating system for collectibles. So he has a super Valkyrie that's basically in as good a condition as you could find one back when it was first released. I'm sure there's a page somewhere that lists all the scores and what they mean... I think it's much more common for collectible cards than toys.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 9/12/2017 at 7:15 AM, MacrossMania said:

I have all three chunky monkeys from all three of its makers.  I have the only AFA 90 Super Valkyrie in the world (and no, I'm not selling it, ever).  I have an AFA 85 Jetfire with high subs.  And I have the original Takatoku that Shoji himself oversaw the design of.

Well, show us your toys already.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I never meant for this to be bragging rights.  I was just illustrating the depths (or heights??) I will go to to back up my words.  Solid collecting habits, that is all.  Someday I may, but not tonight.  And I've seen better collections too.  Especially one guy on this forum whose takatoku collection is the envy of the world.  Not me.  Mine is fairly mundane by comparison, although I do have some gems.  See above.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I only have one Chunky Monkey, but it's super precious as its been graced by both Kawamori-sensei and Tenjin-sensei.

IMG_20150823_194837.JPG

11887906_804986489619940_1361491063015374465_n.jpg

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×