MEDICOM'S BALTAN SEIJIN FROM ULTRAMAN

Kew-ewll!!! Rubber-suited monster dolls, just like the real thing on TeeVee! I stumbled across Medicom's "Real Action Hero" (RAH) line of Ultraman monsters a little late and bought their Jamila creature. I was impressed, so I had to act quickly to get in on the dwindling supply of their prior release, Baltan Seijin. (Hey, you can always make room for stuff!) Most online boo-tique retailers were sold out or outrageously overpriced, but I found a less outrageously overpriced one on Ebay. So... this is another one of my irritating OESTHTF(&FPW) reviews: Oddball Expensive Stuff That's Hard To Find (and Few People Want).

medicom ultraman baltan seijinBaltan Seijin (Baltan Alien, or Space Ninja, or Baldan, or Barudan, or as translated by Google, "Val tongue alien"-- get it?) is probably the most well-known of the Ultra monsters... at least in Japan. He appeared in two episodes of the original 60's Ultraman series, and gawd-knows-how-many other episodes in the ongoing incarnations of the Ultra dudes & dudettes. Back in those innocent days of dodgy special effects, Baltan Seijin's initial appeal was probably due to his bizarre and distinctive lobster-like appearance, with rotating, lighted multi-faceted eyes as well as his signature monster sound, a peculiar slowed-down laugh. He also had strange alien powers, like teleporting and creating multiple images of himself. By the second episode he looked slightly different, could create a defensive shield of light, and had pop-open lobster tits to reflect Ultraman's powerful Specium beam. His huge claws shot paralyzing beams, explosive projectiles or a repulsion force-- sort of like a Swiss Army knife that did whatever random thing the writers wanted them to do. And of course he could grow to be 50 meters tall and fly. Then there's also the background detail of them actually being microscopic creatures (60 billion could fit into a regulation-sized ultra series flying saucer) who were capable of merging into a larger version. That's all par for the course for a 30-minute show in which 1) creature arrives, 2) heroes learn about creature, & 3) creature gets pasted. In the first episode he's easily dispatched by Ultraman's Specium beam, but in the second episode, two king-sized Baltan creatures are easily dispatched by Ultraman's amazing flying Skil-Saw blade 'o light-- slices 'em cleanly in half, lengthwise. Now that's something you don't see in most kid's show these days. Lobster, anyone?

Then there's the merchandise-- from action figures of all sizes to candy, and beyond. Somewhere on the WWW there's page that shows someone's collection of well over a hundred different vinyl figure variations, dating back to the vintage 60's. (And I thought that Batman figures had been overdone!) I have my own modest shrine of Bandai 7" vinyl Ultra monsters and aliens, but they don't even approach the 12" RAH stuff in terms of kewlness-- articulation, detail, and fidelity to the TV show costuming. Sure, this RAH stuff is expensive and overpriced, but that's as relative as money is to value: I couldn't very easily make rubber suited monsters that looked this neat, and it's not like there are lots of companies competing to sell them to me and the five or six other aging gaijin nerds.

Making rubber suits isn't easy-- after selecting/modifying a tight, poseable armature and making the sculpture, it requires moldmaking and castings supplies with a relatively short shelf life (use 'em or lose 'em). Casting uniformly thin skins isn't easy, and neither is joining the skin sections so that they don't look funky. I'd certainly never go through that trouble for one copy if a company had already done it, and especially if they'd done a fantastic job of it. That's especially true for the Jamila doll, but less so for Medicom's Baltan Seijin.

medicom ultraman baltan seijinmedicom ultraman baltan seijin

Medicom's Baltan doll looks great, and I don't have any trace of buyer's remorse. However, from a craftsperson/dollmaker's perspective, it's not quite as impressive: It's not absolutely necessary that some parts be made of flexible rubber, and a versatile craftsperson could make a decent version using their modest hobby supplies and tools. To explain, I should describe the guts and glory of Medicom's Baltan Seijin (duh-- this is supposed to be a review).

The body/skeleton/armature is touted on the box as "...ME301, the latest Medicom's original articulated action skeleton body." (Nope, it doesn't come with quad Xeon processors.) I've never actually seen one since they're pretty well sealed up in the unremoveable outfits, but it's fairly clear that this one has ganged elbow hinges and an elaborate shoulder/arm articulation assembly. For the most part, it's a tight, well-constructed figure, with lots of articulation. (Probably, a really ugly one too, not suitable for creating the near-nekkid figures I've made.) My only gripe would be the elbow hinges-- though relatively tight compared to most figures-- aren't tight enough for the huge and heavy pvc claws. It's not for lack of trying. My guess is that the forearm halves are screwed together by a single screw at the midpoint (a guess, because a plug is glued/forced in place over the hole). Ordinarily, this would be more than adequate. However, to make the hinge really tight, the plastic around the hingepins needs to compress hard. If the screw is compressing the plastic a 1/4" away from the hinge pins, the plastic in between is either gonna bend, or give up and crack. The telltale whiteness in the plastic at the stress point told me that the plastic was being driven too hard. The upshot is that either the screw needs to be at the hinge (shades of traditional doll design!), or a more rigid part (metal?) needs to be used to do the work. Or, they could have created a lighter weight claw out of styrene or something. Nevertheless, IMO, this is a design decision that wasn't fully troubleshot, or was willfully overlooked because it works in other dolls. Most dolls don't have huge clamshell claws though.

The claws and feet are plug-able, like a vintage Joe (but looser). The articulation of the claw-wrist is identical to most figures, with rotation swivel of the wrist post and a riveted hinge which allows a little bit of up/down travel. The foot is quite a bit more interesting. As expected, the peg plugs into the leg and there's a riveted (yay!) ankle hinge. But there's also a very tight (yay!) metal pinned hinge above that at a right angle, which allows the foot to flatten against the ground if the leg is angled out. In theory, this looks more realistic and improves the figure's stance stability. This has been done on other figures: Takara's CG use a ball socket (works well, but can't support a lot of weight and is prone to wear), and Sideshow Toys use swivels before and after the ankle hinge (IMO, a cruel joke since it's designed to cause aggravation). On the other hand, Medicom's design is butt-ugly, and something like this looks acceptable only if it's hidden in a boot; in which case, the benefit of the flat-footed stance (for stability) is largely lost because the boot doesn't track the foot all that tightly. Oh yeah, and it's got useless toe articulation too ...woo hoo.

Over this blue body, the figure wears a thin, rubberized brown full body suit that's been painted with the traditional Baltanese leg markings. This is a tailored item, and you can see the tailored seams along the pant legs and arms. It even has a zipper at the back, which is odd since you're not likely to be undressing this doll. Worn over this is the rubber torso armour (cuirass) with skirt (fauld & tassets). These are wrapped around the torso and glued together at the edge-- unfortunately, they didn't do anywhere near as good a job sculpting a seamless join as they did with their Jamila doll. The shoulder/upper arm armour (pauldron & rerebrace) is a slip-on flexible casting. His solid pvc head is similar to an old Sideshow Toys head, and although the articulation is built into the neck, the head has a limited range of poseability-- just like the TV version. For the photos, it's a shame that they didn't work in light-up eyeballs. But for 99.9% of a doll's life, they wouldn't be used and it would be just one more battery to worry about.

medicom ultraman baltan seijinAs I said earlier, this could almost be a home-brew project: Very few parts actually need to be cast in flexible rubber. It's basically an armoured suit, not a full rubber suit. For all practical purposes, the head is made of a rigid material. The rubber torso armour, while it allows a slight amount of flex, doesn't need to be flexible because it doesn't flex very much at all. For reasons which I discussed in the Jamila review, the rubber would have to be extremely thin and the articulation super-tight to permit really dramatic poseability of the torso area. The shoulder and upper arm armour don't need to be really flexible either-- the flex of the shoulder pauldrons could come attaching them to the body suit as floating articulation. The only place where flexible materials would most likely be required would be the skirts-- without flexibility, the leg articulation range would be restricted, and a rigid shape might look weird even if they were attached to the body suit as floating articulation. Because the shapes are so discrete and separate, it would be a lot easier to cast them in thin flexible materials, as relatively flat shapes-- you wouldn't need a rotocasting rig.

As you can see, the paint ops and finishing are outstanding, but that's not too unusual by today's production standards. Speaking for myself and the fact that airbrushes seem to hate me, I'd rather spend the $$ to have someone else endure that. The fact is, it's extremely tempting and much easier to spend the money than to spend the time and effort making stuff. Ultimately, it's not as rewarding and you don't learn as much, but heck... time passes and brain cells die. Life's short. Sometimes you go for the quick & cheap (or expensive) thrill. Can't wait for their Mephiras Seijin, due out later this year.

This was purchased for too much money on eBay from a seller based in Hong Kong. The transaction went very smoothly, with shipment notification from the seller. The usual overpriced international shipping took about 7 days, which may seem slower than Hobbylink Japan's equally expensive EMS shipping, except for the fact that HLJ sometimes sits on orders of in-stock items for days, negating any speed advantage of their Express mail. Happy shopping, y'all!

--06/28/05

 

medicom ultraman baltan seijin

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