THE RETURN OF ULTRASEVEN

Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2005 9:01 PM

ultraseven king joe

The good news is that I do listen to what folks have to say, and the result is this kinda-sorta "review". The bad news is that most folks probably aren't too interested in what I'm reviewing. This is eclectic, obscure and/or discontinued stuff, so this may seem pointless and maybe a little bit sadistic if the purpose of a review is to aid in making purchasing decisions... on the other hand, it may be useful to those few folks who might have bought this stuff but have waiting for my reviews to decide what to do with it. Riiiiight...

OTHER ULTRA STUFF
Jimbob's Ultraseven
Jimbob's Moroboshi Dan
Marmit's Ultraseven, Version 1
Bandai's Ultraman Type C
I'm not being intentionally sadistic. I happen to like Ultra-stuff, so therefore you get to suffer through it, nyuk, nyuk. This article is prompted by the cosmic-wide resurgence of Ultra-stuff, notably the recent release by Takara of Fuji Akiko (of the original "Ultraman" series) and the projected release of Yuri Anne (of "Ultraseven") a few months down the road. These are done in their popular "Cool Girl" format. Of course, everybody already knows this, right? The facial likenesses (at least in the case of Fuji) are astoundingly close in the sense that both the actress and doll have a pair of eyes, nose, mouth and black hair (versus Billiken's vinyl model, which is recognizable as the actress). That's similar to the approach Mattel's "Barbie" line takes where they do a popular media property, but it always looks like Barbie & Ken. I think that's an unfortunate deficiency, but it's compensated for by the fact that the doll looks really cool in its retro orange Science Patrol outfit. Folks who aren't fanatics about the 60's show won't care about the likeness factor, and probably prefer the typical prettygirl CG headsculpt. Personally, I've always thought the Science Patrol outfit looked a little funky (orange?), but I admit that it looks very familiar, like an old friend-- and it's nowhere near as garish and outlandish as some of the later Ultra series uniforms!

That's not what this review-thingie is about though... That's just part of the reason why I didn't buy the Fuji doll. While I love the original Ultraman series, I prefer Ultraseven and consequently have more shrine-like offerings for that show. Resources being limited (these are overpriced dolls), I thought it was better to focus my fanboy attention on a single show... So I await the release of the Ultraseven Anne figure later this year (and perhaps I'll tack a review onto this article, although I can't imagine what I'd have to say about it).

 

Someone's wisely reserving their rights (albeit without the usual 'See-in-Circle' thang). Watch out bucko, this especially applies to you and your evil Boardcasting ways!

ULTRASEVEN EVOLUTION DVD

While I'm doing Ultra-stuff here, I might as well mention that some newer "Heisei-era" Ultraseven video is currently available on DVD through various Internet sources. I don't know if it's bootleg, but the fact that it comes with both English and Chinese subtitles and is region-free should clue you to the fact that it's probably not something you'd find at Walmart. Anyway, this is a 3-DVD collection of the 5 video episodes commemorating the 35th anniversary of Ultraseven (2002) with behind-the-scenes "making of" featurettes. The English subtitles, though obviously bogus in a few instances, are a real plus if you don't understand Japanese (like me), since Ultraseven tended to be more concept and character driven than most of the Ultra shows. The newest shows seem to be even more so, tackling ponderous subjects like the fate of Mankind and our ultimate evolution. This collection of somewhat disjointed episodes is a mixed bag, and presents sort of a fresh start-- it's 5 years later, Moroboshi Dan isn't in it (except in voice-over), but everything else is there, including all the usual TDF stuff and appearances by some of the most well known aliens (Pegassa seijin & Godora seijin). Some of the shows don't have the expected monster/alien fight scene, so one might be fooled into believing that the shows were actually boring! (zzzzzzz... wha??? huh???) With the original series, you were rewarded with the fight scene after about 20 minutes, but the newer shows are longer so the payoff ratio is lower. Personally, I enjoy seeing the way they used to do it: Bad aliens being decapitated, with pink bubble blood foaming out of their neck stumps. Nowadays, they usually vanish into the ether after they've been dispatched. I guess it mirrors the theme of our evolution towards a kinder and gentler species, even if there's a severe disconnect with the real world...

 

ultraseven

MARMIT'S ULTRASEVEN- TAKE 2

Technically, this isn't a review of a 1:6 scale figure: While Ultraseven can appear human-sized, when he fights giant monsters and aliens, he's similarly giant-sized, but I'm waaaay too uninterested to figure out what that alternate scale would be. At the time I acquired Marmit's second version of Ultraseven (more than a year or so ago), there didn't seem to be enough "beef" to bother with a review. What the hell; sometimes you can't be too selective. I've already reviewed their first version, and the second one's basically their attempt to correct some problems in their original's design and execution that I didn't play up in my original review (hey, it was a new toy and I wanted to believe). The issue was a familiar one: Realism versus play-value, or sculpture versus toy.

Marmit's original Ultraseven kit was designed to be very faithful to the show's suit and was made of one-piece rubber, with molded-in "ultra boobs". While this pointed it in the direction of being a model replica, it created several problems in its concept as a toy, or poseable doll. It was relatively difficult to fit the articulated figure "skeleton" inside (without tearing the rubber if you did it repeatedly), and the figure didn't have tight enough articulation to hold poses against the stubborn tendency of rubber to return to its molded shape. To make this work properly, the figure would need much, much tighter articulation, or the rubber suit would need to have been cast with a much, much thinner skin (and thus be very fragile and tear-prone). The second version's suit solved this problem by using a less authentic but more practical material: sewn vinyl fabric. Vinyl fabric (plastic "leather") is stronger, more flexible, and much more appropriate for poseable doll costuming. Marmit selected a somewhat thick material which gives the doll a slightly padded feel-- this tends to restrict the articulation a bit, but far less than the rubber suit. The tailored suit also has seams where it shouldn't, and doesn't have the sculpted-in shaping of the rubber suit. I glued some homemade "ultra boobs" to the inside of the suit to restore some of the stylistic contouring which didn't exist in the tailored suit. Despite these shortcomings, it's really a much more practical approach for a toy doll. Folks wanting an accurate mini replica are probably better served by a fixed-pose garage kit sculpture.

ultraseven Another welcome change was that the second version kit was prepainted. A serious problem with the first version was that it's very, very hard --if not impossible-- to make common paints adhere reliably to rubber and be wear-worthy. Acrylics can be used on rubber in many applications like masks, and on surfaces where there are lots of pores and nooks and crannies. In those cases, it usually doesn't matter if a little bit of paint rubs off-- but painting prominent racing stripes on the flat surface of a suit is a totally different thing. I'd done a little bit of research to find a source for balloon paint, but came away feeling that the paint was not really a brushable consumer-grade thing, requiring toxic specialty solvents, etc., etc. I wasn't willing to settle for glued-on silver strips, so consequently, I was never very happy with Marmit's first version. When I found out about this version, I was ready to give my quest for the shrine-worthy Ultraseven doll yet another try (attempt#3, if you count my own first try).

Version 2's head is prepainted but cast in a translucent, thicker and slightly flexible plastic. In most respects, the kit is almost identical to the first version-- same hands, same boots. Being a kit, some assembly is required-- the head sections need to be glued together and the collar needs to be trimmed and glued to the suit. It's been some time since I've worked on this figure, so the particulars aren't terribly fresh in my mind... however, I do recall sitting in the living room with a minimal complement of tools, watching TV and casually putting the thing together (along with my modifications)... a relatively light customizing job.

As with the original version, a featureless, handless, and footless articulation figure is provided. They had beefed up the knee and arm joints, but I still wanted to use something different. At the time I was feeling pretty extravagant, so I ponied up a Volks super-articulated Neo Guy figure. Size-wise, this was a great choice and he filled out the suit well (although the figure's construction and hip/leg gaps create the illusion of a truly heroic "package"). While some of Neo Guy's mega-articulation is perhaps wasted on a thick suit which limits articulation, he's more poseable, has a neck joint, and the material was thin enough to balance against Neo Guy's somewhat weak hinges. Because of the slip-on hands and boots, the figure's hands and feet weren't needed, and easy enough to remove-- Extra hands and feet can always be used elsewhere (although Neo Guy's ankles are a bit too weak for my tastes).

Similarly, the Neo Guy head wasn't needed-- Not really a problem since I'd bought headless Neo Guys. However, the neck/head did provide some challenges. As the kit is intended to be assembled, there's really no neck/head articulation: The doll's head faces forward because it's part of a neck cover piece which emerges from under the collar-- this really limits head posing. I therefore slit the neck and head to separate them and enable head rotation. The seam degrades the doll's appearance slightly, but is made up for by the greater variety of poses the doll can achieve-- a worthwhile tradeoff, in my opinion.

The kit's head is made of a flexible plastic, cast in several pieces which needed to be glued together. A hollow head is just asking for trouble, since while the plastic may flex, superglue doesn't. My solution was to fill the head with the original figure's ball-head, and stuff the gap with filling. This also helps with another problem-- I thought the head originally looked too narrow.

Like I said, this was a pretty light customizing job, but sometimes that's all it takes. I basically achieved what I set out to do-- to improve the doll's poseability. Unfortunately, if I've convinced you that this is something you must have-- sorry, this is currently a discontinued product. However, this isn't likely to be the final word in the story though: Ultraseven is one of the most popular of the Ultra heroes, so Marmit may reissue it, or some manufacturer may pick up the license and produce an even better doll.

 

king joe

BANPRESTO'S KING JOE

There's some risk in shedding your blood, sweat & tears to make representations of popular media characters. Chances are, shortly after you spend months on your ultimate fanboy homage to your favorite idol, the legitimate license holders will assign a team equipped with 3D scan equipment and CNC mills to produce a product which puts yours to shame. The fact is, anything you can do, they can probably do better, including things like micro printing, precision sculpting, or putting tiny eyelash hairs on dolls. The average homebrew dollmaker excels at making unique stuff with artsy homemade "character", and has greater freedom to tackle original, unproven subject matter that would be regarded as less "safe" by large manufacturers.

If you're a patient person, you might be able to wait until the manufacturers produce the item you've been thinking of making. In my case, I started to make Ultraseven's adversary, super robot King Joe several years ago, but got distracted and ended up working on other stuff. And after digging out that long dead project, I'm able to confirm that yes, unfired Sculpey does melt plastic (and I've got diseased Dragon figure parts to prove it).

But it's a good thing I waited. As it turns out, there are at least a couple larger (12"+) scale King Joe figures available today. Pilot Ace recently released a 12" version, available at Hobbylink Japan. It looks pretty kewl-- very well detailed, but awfully pricey for a vinyl figure with what appeared to be limited or no articulation. A little additional searching turned up a BanPresto (subsidiary of Bandai) 2001 PVC figure that was advertised as 16" (14" actually) for about 40% of the price of the Pilot Ace-- at "Art of Toys", of all places (whom I'd previously panned for some outrageously-priced eBay stuff). The quality is on par with the old Bandai 6" figures-- that is to say, barely passable by today's standards, with all sorts of lumps and imperfections, and totally lacking in the precision that you expect from today's superior toy-making technology. But that's sort of charming, and fits the genre.

The figure is modeled after the original 70's version, which can be inferred by examining some of the way parts are sculpted, notably the chest and hips. It's finished in pale bronze (like Bandai's smaller version), which is odd since the box art and all photos I've seen indicate that he's supposed to be silver. Not a big deal really, since it's a kewl color and I'm not slavish to the canon. At 14 inches, the figure is slightly oversized for a 12" Ultraseven. In my opinion, it's less of an issue than it would be with an oversized non-mechanical alien (as much as any of this stuff can be taken seriously, LOL), and the size makes a tough adversary look even tougher. The show was limited by the size of a man in a rubber suit, but doll-making removes that limitation. Even with its token 3 points of articulation (knees and waist rotate), inaccuracies, and somewhat light detailing, the BanPresto King Joe looks awesome out of the box in its signature fighting pose.

There are a couple ways to look at this. On one hand, finding something like this ready-made is a sad thing because it removes the incentive for you to do it all yourself, and therefore lessens the likelihood that you'll be proudly displaying your very own "I did it all by myself" masterpiece. On the other hand, the easier path is always appealing, and you might be able to improve the figure-- all the basic sculpting work that would have taken a really long time has already been done, without you having to accumulate and study photos (which rarely give you a true and accurate picture). Chances are, the license holders have access to better reference materials and could do a better job than you (if they chose to). There may be some cosmetic improvements which you can make by virtue of the fact that you're not sales/production driven and limited by cost-effective production techniques and materials, plus you can ignore those killjoy product safety laws (Well, mine shoots streams of real acid!!!). You usually have the option of being more of a perfectionist or a sick puppy than the manufacturer.

king joe One obvious area of improvement for such a PVC figure is to add articulation. The advantage of having a ready-made figure like this is that the parts are already cast, hollow, durable and lightweight-- you don't have to go through the challenge of figuring out how to get your master sculpture into that form, and mucking with the sculpting, molding and casting of parts. Instead, you can devote your attention to figuring out how the articulation should work.

King Joe is a relatively good choice for this type of customizing because he's a robot with (supposedly) hard parts and lots of natural seamlines. In reality though, the show's costuming didn't enjoy the ideal simplicity of a static molded figure. Because the actor needed to move, the original costume of the 60's King Joe (who sez "mwok mwok") was a rubber suit with few semi-rigid parts... and it shows in the funky crushing and wrinkling around the costume's hips and thighs (among many other places). The 1999 King Joe (who sez "danchi danchi") costume was considerably more refined with separate rigid hips and thighs. The mention of these nerdish things is relevant because of the nature of the problem: Turning a PVC rendition of a costume back into something which works sort of like the costume while trying to retain some of the superior qualities of the PVC statue. This customizing job is similar to what the 1999 version suit tried to accomplish.

I watched both versions for clues about how I could make things work, as well as for deciding what articulation I'd try to add. At the very least, the arms needed to be articulated, as this would greatly expand the posing possibilities.

The legs were a much bigger challenge, with a smaller payoff. With a klunky robot figure like this, there really aren't as many dynamic posing possibilities expressed in the leg positions as there are in the arms-- that's something I learned from converting 1:6 Maschinen Krieger kits. With this particular figure, the legs would be especially challenging since it was modeled after the 60s version. That costume made no attempt to create the appearance of an articulated mechanism at the hips-- it's like a rubber jumpsuit. A reconstruction would have to be modeled after the 1999 version, but I decided to leave that problem for another day when I was up for the challenge.

The torso articulation was a similar challenge. In that case, there's an obvious area which needs to be removed and replaced with a flexible material. Some revision and reconstruction of parts would be necessary, and the job overlaps with the problem of articulating the legs. I decided to leave this as another future improvement.

The process began with carving up the arms into parts. For this project, the BanPresto version was perhaps better than the more accurate Pilot Ace version. From what I could see, the Pilot Ace version more faithfully models the wrinkling of the original costume. This creates some difficulties if you're cutting parts off to be reconstructed and mixed with flexible materials. Ideally, you want generic, at-rest parts without any of the deformation that a specific pose would create.

Creating the articulation was easy. I used vintage Joe style arms (naturally), which required very little alteration, and no adjustment for length-- I snipped the fingers off the hands to fit within the robot's hands. I also made sure that the hands and forearms were fairly easy to remove, since the assembly steps required it. The arms were attached to the body and tensioned just like a vintage figure, so they too would be easily removeable.

The arm coverings were straightforward: The robot hands were attached to cover the Joe hands and the forearm covers were fixed over the forearms. The hardest part was adapting the upper arm segment coverings. These needed to be floating to compensate for posing, as they're positioned between two fixed parts: The body and the forearm cover. The segment consisted of a pleated upper section and a plain lower section. If left as a simple semi-rigid sleeve covering, the lower part would be too rigid and bind with the body or forearm segment when the arm was repositioned; it would make it difficult to bring the arms close to the body. Like the real costume, the lower section needed to be made of a more flexible material, and joined to the body. At the same time, the section needed to be somewhat rigid so that it would keep some of its shape. This could probably be accomplished by using a suitably thick piece of plastic fabric, but I developed a weird design where the original part was shaved thin and cut into a frame over which a thin plastic fabric was glued. Finally, between each section, rubberized fabric accordian pleat tubes were fitted (which is why the parts needed to be removeable).

ultraseven king joe
ultraseven king joe
ultraseven king joe

KING JOE PART 2

 

OBLIGATORY ENDING TRANSITION THING

The Japanese monster movie genre poses some interesting challenges for the dollmaker, and it's perhaps one of the most difficult to do correctly. This article's been about the exceptions-- the easy stuff, and I've taken the easy way out. Unfortunately, in most of these shows and unlike most of today's more refined aliens, these dudes usually didn't wear clothes! Creating articulated doll versions of the typical non-human characters of these shows would require extensive use of flexible materials like rubber or urethane and associated multi-step techniques, like molding and casting. That's a job for only the most rabid dollmaker, and explains why this subject matter is usually available only as fixed pose statues or minimally articulated toy figures.

--01/18/04

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