Sunday, October 11, 2020

More [Menko] than Meets the Eye

About a year ago I discovered the coolness of vintage Japanese baseball cards, also known as menko. Soon after, I added the first few to my collection. But since then I haven't added any more. In fact, I've hardly purchased trading cards of any kind.

Well, that changed recently when I had the opportunity to pick up a sizeable stack of menko. Not baseball menko, mind you, but something that'll be nostalgic for most 1980s kids like me:


There were 36 unique menko in the package: 16 Autobots, 2 combination cards, and 18 Decepticons. Quite a few duplicates as well.

I have to admit that for a little while I had buyer's remorse. Why did I need so many of them? I would have been more than happy with just a few, for a little nostalgia.

The other side of the coin, however, is that I don't think I've ever seen these menko come up on auction sites before. And I've already found one blogger who can use some of the duplicates (they're in the mail, SumoMenkoMan).

So enough with the rationalizing already. For many of you collectors out there, buying a few dozen cards is probably known as "a weekday". Let's get to the cards.

First, the Autobots.

Couldn't start with anyone other than Optimus Prime, autobot leader (Semi Truck). The grid lines in the background alone indicate that this card is from the 1980s. (1985, to be exact.)

A nice group of Autobot vehicles came with the stack. From left to right: Bumblebee (Volkswagen Beetle), Hound (Military Jeep), Wheeljack (Race Car), and Prowl (Police Car).

Next we've got Red Alert (Lamborghini), Trailbreaker (Camper Truck), Inferno (Fire Truck), and Sideswipe (Lamborghini). The colors on all of these menko are still impressively vibrant.

Also included were all five Dinobots: Grimlock (T-Rex), Slag (Triceratops), Sludge (Brontosaurus), Swoop (Pterodactyl), and Snarl (Stegosaurus). Kids love dinosaurs, kids love Transformers. Good marketing decision by someone at Takara/Hasbro there.

Here are Blaster (Cassette Player) and Perceptor (Microscope).

And two combo cards (Optimus Prime/Scrapper, Megatron/Perceptor).

Each card measures approximately 1.75 inches wide by 3 inches tall. They're pretty thick, too—I'd say almost three times as thick as a standard 1980s baseball card. 

Here are a couple of card backs, one Autobot and one Decepticon. On the bottom you'll see that kids could have used these cards for a rock-paper-scissors game, as well as a game that simulated some sort of dice throw.

Now let's get to the Decepticons.

Two of the fighter jets were included (Starscream on the left, Skywarp on the right). As far as names of evil robot fighter jets are concerned, I don't think you can get much better than Starscream and Skywarp.

Impressively, the stack of cards also included the complete Construction group. From left to right, we have: Hook (Crane), Long Haul (Dump Truck), Bonecrusher (Bulldozer), Mixmaster (Cement Mixer), Scrapper (Front-End Loader), and Scavenger (Power Shovel).

And when all six of those neon-green machines assembled together, they created this guy, named Devastator. Seems like it would be tricky for a robot to maneuver with a front-end loader as one foot and a cement mixer as the other, but by gosh Devastator did it.

Here are all three Insecticons. From left to right: Shrapnel (Stag Beetle), Kickback (Grasshopper), and Bombshell (Boll Weavil).

Next we've got Frenzy and Rumble (Audio Cassettes). I always liked these guys, because in the original cartoon they spoke with a slight "tough guy from Brooklyn" accent. Just watch and listen to this short clip, as Rumble gets fooled by some Autobots.

"I must have static in my rectifiers", he says. 

Here are another two audio cassettes, Laserbeak and Ravage. I think Ravage may have been the first Transformer I owned way back then. My dad bought it for me one night from a vendor on a Manhattan sidewalk as we were walking back to the apartment. 

And why are there so many audio cassettes, you ask?

This guy! Soundwave, the cassette player and recorder. He'd send the cassettes out to gather intelligence. Then they'd return, transform into their cassette mode, and Soundwave would play back the information they gathered.

Finally, there's Reflector, with a cameo on the lower left by Shockwave. I didn't know much about Reflector, but in my research I discovered that three smaller Decepticons (Spectro, Spyglass, and Viewfinder) would join together to create him. He's a camera in his other form.

These menko will always provide a great little trip down memory lane for me, and I can imagine they've done the same for a few of you folks who grew up around the same time. 

Did you have a favorite Transformer back then? Own any of the toys? Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading, as always.


  1. Of all, I like Blaster most. Love those kneecaps! I was a little too old to be interested in Transformers when they debuted. They've long been popular and likely netted the creator(s) a nice retirement fund. I love trips down M-lane. I fear the day I make that road a one-way. lol.

    1. Those are great kneecaps, aren't they? In this day of wearable, portable technology, maybe kneecap speakers will become a trend. (Although I sure hope not. There are already enough people out there who thoughtlessly blast music from their portable speakers into public spaces.)

  2. Soundwave was one of my favorites. I also liked all of the Decepticon G1 jets. And who didn't love Devastator? The bad guys had the coolest toys... but of course I rooted for the Autobots on the cartoon.

    1. Not sure how I forgot to comment on these Menkos. They're fantastic!

    2. You're right. Many of the bad guys did have a coolness appeal. Soundwave's voice alone was cool. But yeah, had to root for the Autobots in the cartoon. Transform and roll out, Fuji!

  3. These are definitely cool for sure! Thanks for the extras, got them in the mail today. Let’s hope we can find some more and thanks for the run down!

    1. No problem, MenkoMan! Hopefully we'll find more out there and complete the checklist.

  4. This set is so darn tempting! I really like it, but I've just got so much (too much) to collect already.

  5. Those are so awesome, I've been trying to find some since I saw them on SumoMenkoMan's blog!

    They really bring me back. From about 1984 to 1987 Transformers were one of my favorite toys and I had a few of those - Optimus Prime, Soundwave, Blaster and Slag, plus some that aren't in that set.

    I particularly remember getting Optimus Prime for my 8th birthday and just being so amazed by it. The only problem with him was that his hands were removable (you had to take them off and stick them behind the windscreen when he transformed into a truck) and I lost those within a few weeks of getting it, so for the rest of his time in my collection he didn't have hands, which always felt sad.

    1. Cool story Sean, thank you for sharing! It's too bad about the Optimus Prime thing. Seems like a design flaw. But then again, I think about how difficult it must have been for the toy designers and engineers to figure out a way to fold up a robot into a vehicle and vice versa. Yeesh.