With the OAR Zoids already released, two new units would be introduced exclusively to the American and European market. It's a rare occurrence that toys of this nature are not released in their native homeland. The introduction of the "Power" Zoids was pivotal in providing direction and focus to the line known as Zoids. I do not consider the Power Zoids to be part of either the Original American Release (OAR) nor the Original European Release (OER), as they presented far too many differences and distinctions to be grouped alongside them, and deserve to be viewed as separate entities responsible for contributing to Zoids as we currently know them. Although they still retained the short poem on the front on the box, the additional qualities the Power Zoids possessed would be carried on for another 25 years. The front of each box featured the following short poem:
"This Zoid is a battery-powered
fighting machine that
ferocious and mean."
The first groundbreaking aspect of the Power Zoids was the use of batteries. Instead of using a small coil wind up motor, the Power Zoids ran off of one "AA" size battery. The second, and perhaps largest, quality would be the reference to Zoids being war machines. As evidenced on the back of each box (and later in print ads) Zoids were no longer cute little dime store trinkets, but full-on combative machines. Foregoing the rhyming, the back of the box featured the following verse:
"One Power Zoid has an awesome
neck and 2 large wheels. Another
Power Zoid has 2 wings, 4 wheel
suspension, and looks as
strong as a tank.
Collect them both and make your
Zoid force complete."
The back verse is interesting as it does not mention any of
the former OAR Zoids, and suggests that the set of Power Zoids forms a complete
force. Print ads were fresh in concept and featured the new Power Zoids as
"Ferocious fighting machines" that were brought to Earth by the toy
With a price point of around $8-$10, the Power Zoids were almost double the cost of the first five OAR releases.
Released at the end of 1983, Tank and Serpent would take on a dramatically more serious appearance. Although the build was still not a difficult process, the end result was a more "serious" type of toy. The block like structure of Tank would mimic actual military tanks seen rolling throughout battlefields, and the sharp angles of the Asian Lung Dragon like Serpent would lend the unit a more menacing feel. Delving further into appearances, the Power Zoids were the first Zoids to represent two sides. This was shown via two distinct colors that would later become the staple colors of each opposing side. Serpent's red would become both the OER Red Mutant and (later) the Zenebas Empire's primary color. Tank would bring the trademark blue to both the OER Blue Guardians and (later) the Helic Republic.
The Power Zoids would also bring an enigma to the Zoids line, a mystique that continues to this day: color variations. Serpent would be the first Zoid to offer a different color variation. The wheel spokes of the unit can be one of two different possible colors. If released stateside along with the OAR, the Serpent could have either black or green colored spokes, while the European released Serpents had silver spokes. There is no rhyme or reason as to which wheel colors you would get at purchase, as there are no visible variations between boxes. Tank also had color variation that changed only with release location. The reasons behind the color variations are not known, with the line being new I would not speculate batch variations, yet the line would have also been so new that any planned color deviations also seem highly unlikely.
The box art of the Power Zoids remains very similar to that of the Original American Release. A a stark mountain landscape background contrasted with the built Zoid in the foreground. The American releases did not have the prominent parts number featured on the front of the box as compared to the European released versions. Both American and European Power Zoid releases retained the same model number of 5040, but the European released Power Zoids went a step further, adding a set number after the model number, giving us a firm understanding that these were truly a set. The Serpent was the first of the set.
Below are both the front and back of the American and European Serpent's box. The box back remained nearly the same with no significant changes.
The instruction manual was the typical fold out sheet, yet offered another distinction that is still used in the hobby today. Under the name "Power Zoids" we see an important snippet of text actually defining the unit as a "Serpent Type". Previously, there were no distinctions of what the Zoid actually represented. Generic terms like "bird" were as close as we came to identifying exactly what the Zoid was supposed to mimic. I believe this is yet another quality unique to the Power Zoid, further crediting their creation as a huge contribution to the modern Zoids. The fact that this important information is printed on the instruction manual and not the box would suggest that this may have very well been an afterthought. To deviate from the finalized box art is a highly significant event, and in my experience, usually (if at all) involves the subtraction and not the addition of any graphics and/or text.
The build, although not complex, feels more compelling than the previous Original American Release Zoids. Hard to pinpoint, but it may be the inclusion of a battery powered motor. When holding the body of Serpent, it feels solid as compared to the previous Zoids, and mentally looks more complex with battery contacts and switches. With all the physical and psychological differences, some things remained the same, such as the chromed pilot, and the concept of the unit being a cross between a model kit and a toy. The head is assembled first.
The pilot is seated, and the dual set of cannons, as well as pair of single lasers, are attached. The head is then mounted on the front part of the body.
Last, the two large wheels are placed on each side.
Stickers are then placed and the unit is finished.
A crude metal tab served as the power switch on Serpent. When the switch was slid to the right, it powered the unit on. While activated, the unit would roll across the floor. The power of a single "AA" battery proved to be enough to propel the Serpent across many different surfaces, including those at an angle, while maintaining the upright position of the head. Click below to see a small video of the unit in action.
Serpent also may have introduced the concept of scale to the Zoids line. It's proportions are unlike it's predecessors. Serpent is a large unit almost dwarfing the Original American Releases. The head to body ratio also seems to vary drastically from the first five. We also know that there were two waves of Power Zoids. The first wave, in 1983, alongside the Original American Released Zoids and a second wave taking place a year later, in 1984. It was the release of the second wave of Power Zoids in Europe that brought factions into the Zoids line.
The second wave release of Serpent in Europe included new stickers. In addition to the regular sticker sheet, Serpent now included a set of Red Mutant (and later Guylos Empire) decals. A very significant piece in the history of the Zoids line, Serpent was the first "aligned" Zoid to have ever been released (technically: re-released). What brought about this change is unknown. Some speculate that the release of the European Zoids comic book may have inspired the change. Zoids toys came before Zoids comics, and I have never seen any Zoid featured in the comics that resembled either Serpent or Tank. With the comic book coming to an abrupt end, it is conceivable that the pair could have been introduced near the end of the story line.
I do believe that the red and blue color schemes initially originated from the creation of the Power Zoids, and was later ultimately fit into the comic story line, which states that all Zoids were initially blue (in color) and did not turn red until they were heated up (presumably to survive the arctic environment they were marooned in), successfully creating the "Red Mutants" of the Original European Release.
Moving on to the second part of this historic set, the Power Zoid known as Tank is an esoteric Zoid taking on a more vehicular appearance. Being well aware of the growing transforming robot trend, it seems as if designers almost wanted to "play it safe" with the release of Tank. Unlike the sleek and sexy lines of Serpent, Tank was purely utilitarian from it's boxy shape to it's saw blade styled wheels. Almost like an All Terrain Vehicle on crack, Tank also had wings and a protruding front cannon thrown in for good measure.
Tank's instruction manual carried on the new tradition of type designation. Categorized as a "Tank Type", the Zoid may have been the inspiration for more vehicular styled Zoids that would later become a separate short lived line by TOMY known as "Sci-Tex". As mentioned above, the Tank had two variations which, interestingly enough, also concerned only it's wheels. The American Tank has brown wheel hubs, while the European version features black wheel hubs.
A third version of Tank was rumored, likely because of the trio of Serpent releases. This rumored version was said to have had blue colored hubs and has never surfaced, making me pretty damn sure this was/is a complete myth. Tank was also not a very complex build, but looking beyond the mechanics and taking in the whole picture reveals Tank to have a bit more significance than one might think. The motor unit is strikingly similar to that which would be used years later on most four legged Zoids. Tank is also unique in the fact that it actually has suspension. Each wheel is mounted on a spring, allowing Tank to adjust for different environments. Tank did not have a faction-based sticker sheet in any of it's releases.
Pictures and build of Tank coming soon!
In conclusion, I think the Power Zoids are severely under rated in the hobby. Not only are they American and European exclusive releases, but they hold so many clues as to what the line was to become. From their battery powered engines to the first Empire issued sticker sheet, the Power Zoids are undeniable historic. Although they did not include the hallmark rubber caps that would eventually become and archetypical aspect of the Zoids line, they did bring about a sense of formality and even validity with their advanced motion mechanisms, as well as their appearance. A set of Power Zoid should be treasured as they are an honor to any Zoids collection..
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