Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim ”Holy Crap! Remember…?”
Among the news of DC Team-Ups and dreadful Marvel events becoming the sub-titles for their tentpole film franchise, several bits were lost in the shuffle coming out of San Diego Comic Con. One of the pieces that came about regarding actual comics (kind of) was the announcement from Dynamite Entertainment that Robotech would be joining their publishing family as their newest licensee. To the end, the publisher also announced a dream crossover mini-series for giant robot fans in the form of Voltron /Robotech.
This may have brought about fond memories of the era of giant robots, otherwise known as 1980s television. The two series above, along with Transformers and several others (including GoBots, believe it or not), dominated the airwaves in the 80s, providing kids of that time with wondrous giants that we couldn’t wait to get home and see having battles that rocked the imagination. Of the many shows that came and went in short order – although not because of disinterest or ratings – was Mighty Orbots, a short-lived Saturday morning offering from ABC in 1984.
Mighty Orbots tells the story of Rob, an inventor who is (secretly) under the employ of the United Planets, a federation dedicated to galactic peace. When that peace is threatened by the SHADOW organization, lead by the supercomputer Umbra, Rob invents six robots – Tor, Bort, Bo, Boo, Crunch, and Ohno (named after her favorite expression) – with their own abilities and personalities. When Umbra strikes with its latest diabolical threat, the six combine to form Mighty Orbots, ensuring peace for the United Planets for another day.
Despite its standard, just-like-almost-every-other-1980s-cartoon premise, Orbots had quite a few characteristics about it that distinguished it from its competition. For starters, the animation was much smoother than the shows imported from Japan and even than some of its American contemporaries. Orbots also went out of its way to include references and nods to other properties. Everything from Marvel and DC comics to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” to other anime were name-dropped or had some type of sight gag dropped in to a number of episodes.
Aside from just looking sharp and having cool references, Orbots went out of its way to give just about all of its characters distinctive personalities. Above and beyond the heroic and villainous stereotypes, Orbots gave all of its participants – both human and mechanical – specific qualities and traits that made just about every character in the show human whether they actually were or not. Nearly everyone and everything was about as relatable as a show set mostly in space would allow, which went a long way toward building an empathetic audience.
The show had one other main difference in that it had a definite ending. Whereas most action cartoons become a “never-ending battle between good and evil,” Mighty Orbots eschewed that format. SPOILER ALERT for a 29 year-old cartoon: the Orbots defeated SHADOW by destroying the organization’s home world, including Umbra. This happened in episode 13 of the series, which was the final episode…
…which brings us to why the series was so short-lived. Mighty Orbots was taken off the air due a lawsuit against TMS Entertainment, Intermedia Entertainment, and MGM/UA Television brought about by Tonka. Tonka claimed that the companies infringed on their trademark of the GoBots line (which itself was adapted from a BanDai property). Tonka’s grief was that the combined Orbots looked identical to one from the Godmars line from BanDai. Despite the fact that Tonka had no license on the particular BanDai toy in question, they were able to tie TMS Entertainment, Intermedia Entertainment, and MGM/UA Television up to the point that the show was ended quickly and has not appeared on DVD to this day due to the litigation.
Despite its short life, Mighty Orbots enjoys a cult following to this day – mainly of people who swear this thing existed. Those people enjoy spreading the word of the show because of its colorful look, sly references and deft character interplay. For a very brief period in the mid-1980s, Mighty Orbots captured the imaginations of cartoon enthusiasts and left a lingering mark on cartoon history.