Can't remember hearing the word 'Kronoform' before? Doesn't matter -- you've likely owned one of these things. Made by Takara in the early 80s, Kronoform is a series of watches that double as miniature transforming robots. Not 'Transformers,' mind you -- regular transforming robots without allegiances or energon cubes. As with so many of Takara's unique creations, the Kronoforms were eventually ripped off by other companies and sold at lower prices with appropriately lower quality levels. So, if you remember your Kronoform watch breaking easily or otherwise sucking, it was probably just one of the knockoffs.
Even further, Hasbro put out several Transformers toys that looked very similar and may have used some of the same molds, that were mainly available through mail-away offers. Actually, these were around long before Optimus. Kind of a combination of Japan's famous Diaclone and Microman lines, Kronoforms were sold overseas before most of us even knew what 'time' was. Admittedly, I'm a little sketchy on their history, and would prefer to avoid inspiring anymore 'you're wrong, idiot' e-mails by overlooking their distant past altogether. This is my constitutional right. Besides, the point of today's article isn't to delight Takara with a 'this is your life' skit -- I just want to remind you of how cool wristwatches were before Swatch fucked it up with that whole 'every bright color imaginable in a 1.5 inch circle' craze. After that, everyone was so sick and tired of interesting watches that they all became basic black. There hasn't been an interesting wristwatch in years. If you think you're wearing one now, it's an illuuuusion. If you see one in a catalog, it's a scam. Promise.
Part of the reason Kronoform's past is so obscured is because of the picked-bone advertising. Many toy catalogs and promotional inserts showed Kronoform watches, but didn't refer to 'em by name. The usual reason for this is because of Transformers' success -- if kids wanted to buy transforming Autobots, there was no reason to tell 'em that Kronoforms or any of their future knockoffs weren't Autobots. Most people who bought them only saw their real name for a brief moment on the package before throwing it in the trash. I needed proof, so I quested to track down the one Kronoform commercial I recalled having existed.
Well, I did, and I guess I'm glad for it, but not 100%. See, it's hosted by this kid who's trying to act all robotic and failing miserably. And it's not entirely his fault, either -- he would've been a small-scale Britannica Guy on his own, but they gave him really bad material to work with. As hard as I'm about to find writing another 1,500 words about a simple transforming watch to be, I can't imagine filling out an entire thirty-second ad spot for one. Robot Boy is forced to completely fabricate some abilities for the Kronoforms, and considering that there isn't much else on the black marble table to focus the camera on, it's pretty obvious that they took a few liberties with the watch's pro list.
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You've probably seen things that look like these a zillion times at the supermarket -- they're typically used as the teaser 'grand prizes' for mystery vending machines, though everybody who put two quarters in was usually rewarded with plastic eggs containing tiny, banana-scented stickers.
The robot's arms and legs convert snugly into each other, making the Kronoforms look much like any old watch at the start. The digital time-teller itself, inconspicuously gracing the figure's eventual chest, worked well enough most of the time. It wasn't exactly 'durable' though, and considering that most consumers preferred to manhandle the thing thirty times a day, the watch portion of this beast usually went into a coma within days. Remember, you were always going to have toys that you played with more than others, but this guy was on your wrist twenty-four hours a day. Even if you hated your Kronoform, he was always there. You couldn't escape him without either buying a new watch or opting to ask other people what time it was until you did.
Robot Kid begins fondling with the apparently simplistic watch, and lo and behold, IT'S GOT ARMS! Kronoform had a lot more than just that...
In full robot mode, Kronoform sort of looks like a baby Transformer. Interesting, since Transformers didn't really 'grow.' Eh, that's not interesting. This paragraph would likely be more interesting if I weighed in with my perspective on this whole Spike Lee/Spike TV scandal, but that's not really my thing. I could say that it'd be rather odd for a television station that promotes whitey-centric wrestling shows and The Dukes of Hazzard so prominently to want to name themselves after a director so proudly African American, but then again, I did catch a new show on TNN where Busta Rhymes reads from a bunch of on-camera cue cards. Incidentally, Kronoform's legs look like two miniature ghetto blasters.
With pop-out hands and a lever-operated head, Kronny isn't one of those 'fake' transforming robots. He goes full monty with the morphin'. He's only around two inches tall, but in truth, just as intricately crafted as his larger, more expensive cousins. As an added bonus, the timepiece itself works just as well when he's in this mode. You'll look stupid with a naked, plastic watchband on your forearm, but there's really no other need to keep the two Siamese.
RHYTHM IS GOING TO GET YOU.
RHYTHM IS GOING TO GET YOU.
RHYTHM IS GOING TO GET YOU.
Robot Kid's already explained Kronoform's attributes, but there's still plenty of seconds to fill. This really hurt the commercial's flow -- a shame, since we were building to such magic here. Even when faking an android voice complete with 'echo' sound effects, Robot Kid manages to mix a tinge of the apologetic into his tone. He knows he's about to tell you a vast amount on untruths, and though contractually obligated to do so, Robot Kid can't escape his Human Heart. He's sorry, guys. He's sorry he has to lie about all of the 'other transformations' Kronoform was capable of.
You've probably owned a few robot toys alleged to have multiple transformations -- and in some cases, it might've been true. Still, we can't ignore the fact that most triple-or-higher changers featured a few modes that were...well, a little lacking. 'Boats' that look like robots laying down holding their heads on their stomachs, 'planes' with feet for wings, we've seen it all. Kronoform was one of the unfortunate forefathers of this industry, evidenced by Robot Kid's ridiculous claims about what it could do...
Folks, that's Kronoform in 'battle station' mode. It's so rare that anyone refers to a robot who's poorly performing a headstand as a 'battle station,' and I'm really not sure how to field it. For starters, that's absolutely the worst battle station I've ever seen. I'm assuming his legs are meant to be two skyscrapers, and though they don't really appear as such, it's a little better that trying to convince us that his arms have become access ramps for the handicapped.
Takara took a lot of risks with their creations, at least in terms of the money invested. Kronoform is a small toy in comparison to what's usually littering the airwaves. As we saw with Penny Racers, Takara never skimped on promoting even their smallest entrees. Never ever skimped, not even once. Totally without skimp. Also, and a little off topic, if you pronounce 'Takara' backwards, it still sounds like a Japanese company that makes transforming robot watches. Amazing, right?
Robot Kid continues on with the insanity, asking us to consider the picture above as Kronoform's 'galactic shuttle' mode. Riggght. Still, at least this'll justify all those times I called myself a spaceship whenever I was laying down. It doesn't stop there -- allegedly, Kronoform could also become a 'cosmic tank,' or even a solar creature.' It's like trying to promote emery boards as bookmarks -- true in some way, though a bit of a stretch. However young I may have been when this commercial first aired, I didn't buy it. They should've quit while they were ahead -- a wristwatch that turns into a robot was totally sufficient enough in itself.
While they're not widely talked about, Kronoforms represent one of the true classics. It's the kind of toy every kid had, despite the lack of cartoon series and clever character names. No stupid god damned pun intended, but they're also pretty timeless -- you can easily find similar entities today, and while they usually won't pack the high-tech, high class punch of Takara's originals, it's still fun to proclaim that your robot 'says it's 4:30!' when someone asks you the time.
As for Robot Kid, well, Lord knows what happened to him. Lord and only Lord. Nobody else. It's hard to imagine nailing too many future roles when your first assignment calls for you to appear as boring and wooden as possible, so I guess we owe the guy some thanks for sacrificing his career just to spread Takara's holy word. In tribute, click the picture below to view the original Kronoform commercial, complete with an all-but inaudible audio dub which, I swear, makes it that much more charming. Enjoy.
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